by Lynne Westmoreland
Often when we tell others about difficult or disturbing topics, it seems like we have hit a brick wall. There are so very many challenges in the world today that many people feel a real need to tune out and remain willfully blind to those problems and situations.
Instead of being frustrated with them, remember that they, too, may care very deeply about what is happening and feel overwhelmed by their own perceived impotence in the face of it.
They may not want to hear, because they are afraid that if they open their hearts to knowing about cruelty, unfairness, or entrenched systems that exploit or trivialize the Earth, animals, and other people, that the grief or frustration will overcome them.
If you get a bad reaction, or the person you’re trying to communicate with shuts down, be gentle with them and with yourself. Remember back to the time (maybe only a few weeks or days ago) when you did not know something or were not ready to act on what you know.
Having said that, people are often very grateful to have knowledge that they didn’t possess.
Look for a natural opening in the day’s activities or conversations to bring up your topic. Those openings exist everywhere throughout the day, and the more you listen and watch for them, the better you will get at seizing the opportunity to convey what you know.
Teachers call these “teachable moments.” There are many, many teachable moments every day.
Don’t force a topic or bring it up out of nowhere, because doing so can feel artificial or threatening.
For example, dinner with your spouse’s meat-eating family, who is extending hospitality to you with their offering of a meal, probably isn’t the best time to impart your knowledge of factory farming.
Or when a special someone with whom you have a budding relationship has just given you a Valentine’s heart filled with chocolate would probably be the less than optimal time to say “Do you know how much chocolate is sourced using slavery?”
If you share your knowledge out of a heart that simply wants to help and heal our world, your intentions will be clear.
Use gentle language; listen to the other person deeply; be compassionate first with them and their fears and protections; listen to your own delivery and try to imagine yourself on the receiving end.
Is it useful information? Are you being kind? Is your delivery calm, or are you trying to “convince” them of your opinion?
When I was in residency with my fellow classmates in IHE’s master’s program, I had an experience that was one of the best learning opportunities I’ve ever had.
We were discussing our frustration and anger over people who “just don’t get it” and trying to figure out how to communicate difficult information so that it can be received by the other person.
The then-executive director of IHE said something I will never forget, and which has guided me ever since. He said: “If my agenda is ever anything other than the relationship with the person standing in front of me, I am on the wrong track.”
Sharing knowledge, with compassion for the person we are in conversation with, almost always results in an experience that is positive for both people. It may not seem that way even in the moment, but if we are patient and kind, we can open hearts just as ours have been opened.
Contributing blogger Lynne Westmoreland is a long-time music instructor and a humane educator. Lynne is a graduate of IHE’s M.Ed. program, and served for several years as an IHE online course instructor. Lynne now delivers humane education through sermons in faith communities, local venues such as libraries and veg fests, and through compassionate communications and meditation courses.