Are You Talking to Me?

by Dan Secor, Committee on Ministry

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We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
~ Epictetus

Communication is a topic that has transfixed me the past few years. As I evolved in my second career as a Mental Health Counselor, I find myself working hard helping others develop positive communication skills.

Much of my work has been with couples or with teenagers and their parents. By the time they come to see me, they have already developed communication skills, but most are negative and ultimately damaging. It never ceases to amaze me how complex some of these interpersonal interactions have become. Body language, eye gesturing, tone of voice, as well as the presence of certain words can turn a seemingly benign conversation into a major battle.

I have always been fascinated by human behavior and the little cues we develop to gain advantage over others. Getting people to change these behaviors is very difficult, especially if they dig in and defend themselves without hearing what the other person has to say. This has always been a problem, but the internet age has made it worse.

It seems that the reality that many people choose to inhabit is populated with people who are nameless, faceless and voiceless. All you need to do is find a news site and look at some of the comments and see that there are a lot of folks who say things about/to other people that were/are rarely done in person. Before my transition to the field of psychotherapy, I spent close to twenty-five years in the world of corporate sales. For the first half, I was an inside sales coordinator but eventually found myself on the road. It always amazed me that the same people who swore and marginalized me over the phone were more civil and human in person.

Over the summer as our Committee on Ministry transitions to a Committee on Right Relations, we will be working on a communication plan that will engage the community on what Right Relation is and how it fulfills our covenant. Our committee will maintain a higher profile and will encourage the entire congregation to communicate with us on how we can all communicate together.

Shortly we will be publishing results of our survey on the first two covenant themes. During the next year we will be rolling out more of these surveys, but will also make the earlier ones available as well. The purpose of this is to keep a constant dialogue maintained within the congregation so that we can all bring our best selves forward.

This best self includes inclusion of people who are different than us. As Unitarians, we all have causes that are dear to us and fight for the rights of people who are seen as disadvantaged in our society. This means that we sometimes have to be tolerant of those who are passionate about a viewpoint that threatens our personal narrative.

We hope that as the Committee on Right Relations evolves, we will all learn to listen with both our ears as the Stoic Philosopher Epictetus points out. Unitarians are traditionally more open-minded and empathetic than most, but we are human and have contrasting values at times. By learning how to communicate, whether it be by speech, body language, or in our virtual lives, we can continue to grow and learn from each other.