I listen to and understand other people’s stories.
I have learned how to interview people, to remember what they have told me in the past and ask good questions based on that information.
I listen closely to answers and ask thoughtful and relevant questions.
I comprehend and integrate new information quickly, so I am always an engaged and thoughtful listener, actively creating safe space where I can draw out other people’s thoughts and feelings in a way that makes them feel heard, understood, valued and cared for.
People love it when I listen to them. They love it because I really care about their shit, really help them get their shit together and communicate it well.
But my shit? Well, my shit is hard and challenging. It’s already been thought through, so there are no easy answers. And the emotions are potent and large, so they are hard to engage.
I’ve always been the smart and sensitive one. To others, that has always meant that I have an obligation to help them with their shit, but they don’t really have an obligation to help me with mine.
After all, I have proven that I can enter their world, can understand their worldview and challenges, can offer enlightenment and compassion, so if I can do that, I should, right? And since they haven’t proven that, well, their obligations are different.
“Fine,” I said to a lost friend. “I will write a piece from your partner’s viewpoint showing her that I understand her concerns, that I have heard her.”
“That would be great,” she agreed.
“And she can write a piece from my viewpoint, showing me that she understands my concerns, that she has heard me.”
“That’s not going to happen,” she told me. “You know she can’t do that.” Shit.
There is an old rule in communications that no one can hear you until they are sure you have heard them. They need to feel understood before they can move on to considering your points.
That’s a rule I know how to honour. I always make sure people know that I have heard them, that I get their point and their position. My discussions almost always start by outlining our points of agreement, trying to find common ground.
But it is almost never a rule that people honour with me. They don’t acknowledge and validate my views, because they just don’t have the chops or intent to do that. After all, if I understand them, isn’t that enough?
I’m empathic and compassionate, thoughtful and aware, able to enter other people’s worlds, other people’s shit. I make safe and warm space for them.
But do they make safe and warm space for me? Well, you know, I am big, smart, emotional. Too big, too smart, too emotional, too queer, too intense, too overwhelming, too complicated, too incomprehensible, too sensitive, too scary.
When others act out at me, I need to be compassionate and understand their actions are about their shit, but when I get upset, it’s just because I am full of shit and need to get over it.
When my sister calls, she gets frustrated because I ask her what she wants, what she needs, what she wants to do. Of course, in the end it always turns out she has an agenda, and she just wants to soften me up before she hands me her shit. She has taught me that she is not a safe place for my shit, that it gets ignored, like when I told her it was a bad week and she needs to press on with her shit.
I’m sure that many people will tell me that they are willing to deal with my shit if I just package it better, but I find that to be a fraud. In the first place, they think that because they aren’t queer they don’t have any obligation to package their shit nice, and in the second place, if my decades of learning to be clear and graceful with my communications haven’t packaged it well enough, then nothing can.
I get the notion that my shit stirs up their shit, and they just haven’t done the work to face, engage and manage their own shit. They don’t have the practice and discipline to make themselves into a safe space for other people’s shit.
Just because I have done that work, though, does that mean that all their shit has to be my shit too?
What does all this mean? It means I not only swim in a sea of my own shit that no one else want to help move, but I also swim in a sea of other people’s shit that they need help to process. It’s all about their shit, no matter what shit I have to manage, because to them, everything is about their shit.
My experience of my life is that I swim in shit.
And I see no hope of that changing.