Monday, 24 May 2010

The Politics of Love

We’ve just had a general election in the UK, and, while watching a political debate I was struck by how poorly the politicians communicated. They were well able to put their own points across, but they did not listen to the points being made by the others. There was no genuine discussion or communication, just a competition as to who could make the most convincing points. When a politician made a mistake in what he was saying and tried to correct himself, the howls of derision – from his opponents and from the studio audience – drowned out what he was trying to say. They were not really interested in what he was trying to say, in fact. They were only interested in hearing what reinforced their own point of view. The debate was not actually a space for communicating and discussing ideas, but a competitive forum, in which it actually did not matter what anybody had to say except in so far as it reinforced each individual’s own pre-conceived notions.

It was so dysfunctional that I found it unbearable to watch. I started wondering whether any of these people had ever actually grown up and got past playground politics. Because what I was seeing and hearing on the TV could easily have been played out in a primary school playground. The mocking, the jeers, the interrupting, the refusal to allow the other person have their say; the wilful lack of engagement with the points being made by the other candidates. Wherever possible, each candidate, when it was his turn to speak, repeatedly emphasized those things they wanted to focus on, twisting the topic of debate until they could make their chosen points.

These are the same tactics we employ in personal arguments, if we are not careful. We try to sweep our deficiencies under the carpet, emphasize our strong points, apportion blame rather than taking responsibility, refuse to listen to what our partners are saying for fear that we may lose the argument. We are not communicating, we are competing. We are not trying to find a win/win resolution, but trying to win the argument, regardless of how it leaves our defeated partner feeling.

Real communication requires us to make ourselves vulnerable to the person we are communicating with. It requires us to be open to hearing what they have to say and to genuinely consider their point of view. To be open to the possibility that they may be right and we may be wrong, and that that is OK, because we can move on from there to make things right between us again. To be open to the idea that, even if we are certain that they are wrong in their assertions, they honestly feel that way at the time they are speaking, and that in itself is a genuine response that needs to be addressed with love and empathy.

Real communication, in my opinion, recognises that there is no fault, there is no blame, just that we are each speaking from a different position. Once we can see that, we need no longer regard ourselves as victims or as wrong-doers. It becomes easier to see one another’s point of view, and therefore work out what we need to do to bring our positions into alignment with one another.

We have to trust that our partners love us and would never deliberately hurt us. That if they have hurt us, it was inadvertently, and that once they understand what they have done that they will do their best never to repeat that hurt. Because if they do not feel that way, then why are we in a relationship with them? And if they do not feel that way, then the sooner we find out about that, the better. Protecting ourselves by turning a false face to our partners can only hurt us. Either we keep loving partners ignorant of how they can avoid hurting us, or we prolong poor relationships with unloving partners, because avoiding communicating hurt also means that we can excuse their poor behaviour for longer. How many times do we hear: 'He's a man; I can't expect him to understand' or 'Women are over-dramatic: I just have to learn to live with it'? People are people. We can learn to understand and we can learn to manage our behaviour. What greater incentive is there than that it hurts our partner/s if we don't learn?

Bite the bullet. Be vulnerable. Trust your partners with your pain as well as your triumphs. How else will you ever know whether they can be trusted? But be prepared to hear some painful truths in return, and to address them in yourself.