Never Shoot the messenger

(Did anyone else assume ‘messenger’ would retain the ‘a’ that ‘message’ has? Just me? Really? I am usually a fairly competent speller, but I was wrong on this one).

I used to be an enemy of implied communication, where information is being broadcast through indirect, non-verbal methods. It always felt manipulative, the idea that the person I was talking to wanted me to pick up on their clues and hints, instead of just saying what they wanted in plain english. As I think about it now, though, I can see it’s mostly my own insecurity pushing that decision. Human communication is complicated, convoluted and sometimes bafflingly contradictory, but it’s they way we do things. I had no confidence in my ability to receive these subtle missives and interpret them correctly, so I outlawed them. And when you’re already overly sensitive and afraid of any criticism, the subtext of any conversation will sound accusatory to you. With the near-normal levels of self-esteem I’m enjoying now, I don’t hear accusations in everyone’s voice or in their body language. Example time!

The little dude, the wife and I took part in the Alzheimer’s Walk For Memories fundraiser on the weekend. The wife’s grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, so there is a personal connection to  the event and an additional level of emotional response. Last year, we didn’t attend the event and my sister-in-law went on her own. Before this year’s walk started, the SIL and the wife were talking about how moved and affected the event was already making them, and the SIL said ‘it was like this for me last year and I was all alone’. Before, I would have become really defensive at this statement and the implication that we should have been there (if she was even implying that).  But this time, I took stock of what she had said and I thought about it. She wasn’t unfairly manipulating us, she was being honest about her experience, and instead of defensive guilt, I felt empathy and happiness that we were all there together this time. Felt pretty good about how things happened.

Trying to force someone to be absolutely explicit and abandon the more subtle communication techniques is pretty unfair. There’s a time for bluntness (the kitchen is on fire!) but when it comes to sharing your feelings and emotional reactions, there’s a lot of room for subtlety. I’m really glad that I can listen to those quiet messages now. And in the off chance someone is giving me negative information, I have to keep my ears open and listen objectively. There is always the microscopic chance that I may in some way, at some time in the distant future, be a teeny bit wrong about something.

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One thought on “Never Shoot the messenger

  1. We (especially children) are built to read (or misread) body-language first and words second. It all gets muddled when we live in the west and words and body-language contradict one another. Often. Pleased you had a great day and made some positive sense out of *that* comment.

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