This article was originally published on Don Blackwell's website.
Recently, one of my favorite people on the planet, Glennon Doyle Melton appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday” to promote her new (and might I add exceptional) book, Love Warrior. During the interview, Glennon recalls showing up at a play group shortly after the birth of her third child and being asked by one of the other moms, “How does it feel to be a stay-at-home mom of three kids?” Glennon remembers thinking, “Awesome, we’re actually going to talk about how we feel” and then proceeding to enthusiastically share a metaphor she’d been developing to describe the experience. “You know how there are two kinds of volcanos,” she exclaimed. “The first is an active volcano and the second is a dormant one. The dormant one looks calm on the outside, but on the inside it’s bubbling with boiling hot lava that at any moment could just explode and kill everything in the vicinity! That’s how I feel as a stay-at-home mom – ALL DAY!” “It was a perfect metaphor,” Glennon recalls. But suddenly there was complete silence in the room and wide-eyed stares of disbelief among her fellow moms and she thought to herself, “Oh, we’re not doing THAT here.” So she immediately said, “What I really meant is that I love every minute of it! I hate it when they sleep. I just stare at them. And, I think if there is one word that would describe how I feel as a stay-at-home mom it would be ‘fulfilled’. And then we ended the moment and I thought, ‘Well, we’re not going to be honest at play dates. That’s a shame’.”
It is a shame and yet, as the humor of Glennon’s story-telling wore off, I realized how infrequent it is that any of us are afforded an opportunity to fully and honestly unpack our hearts, that, while we all profess to want others to “be honest with us” – whether we’re the boss in the boardroom, the teacher in the classroom, a lover in the bedroom, the judge in a courtroom, a preacher in the sanctuary, a classmate in the lunchroom, a sibling in a chatroom, or a friend across the table at a local coffee shop – our spoken and unspoken reactions to truth, not unlike the crickets and ashen faces that greeted Glennon’s, tell a very different, often truth-stifling story. Don’t get me wrong. None of us struggle to embrace truth when what’s being dispensed is the ego-stroking, joy-producing variety, let alone truth that mirrors our idea of how whatever’s being spoken about (e.g., politics, child-rearing practices, lifestyle choices, relationships, etc.) “should” look. It’s the truth that’s just a little too honest, too real, too thought-provoking – that is soul-bearingly raw, that makes us uncomfortable, challenges our beliefs, casts a light on things about us that we’d rather not spend too much (okay, any!) time dwelling on – that makes most of us want to run and hide. I know, because I’m no stranger to wanting to stay on the platform when that line of the Truth Train is pulling out of the station.
But, why is that? Why are we so afraid to be honest with one another? Why can’t we accept the fact that others’ truth (and the feelings attached to it) are just as real as our own – and not only provide a safe space for it to be spoken, but validated? Why, instead, are we so quick to take another’s truth, especially when it pertains to the way our behaviors or words have affected them, so personally? Why in the face of such truths do so many adults react like the moms in Glennon’s play group or, worse yet, like children who’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t be? Why do we grow angry, rush to disavow responsibility, slam things, storm out of the room? Why, rather than listen with gratitude when entrusted with a glimpse into another’s soul, even one belonging to a loved one, is our first instinct upon hearing their truth to shut down, strike back, become defensive or, even more hurtfully, seek to prove that the truth-teller is anything but? Why, when confronted with another’s truth, do we often try to shift the focus, if not the blame for the underlying act or omission, by reaching into the past for a truth of our own that we can wield as a both a sword and a shield? Why do we repeatedly play the shame, guilt or “you’re breaking my heart” card? Why is it so easy for us to be dismissive of someone else’s truth, while simultaneously insisting that they not only listen to, but embrace ours as their own?
I confess I don’t fully understand the “whys” of it all. In fact, truth be told, I’ve been as guilty as the next person of engaging in many of the behaviors described above. But, I’ve also been on the receiving end of them enough times to know that much of the way we deal with the truth (or don’t deal with it as the case may be) is terribly unhealthy and, at times, profoundly hurtful. I get that truth has weight and because it does it’s sometimes difficult for the recipient to saddle up next to it and share the load. But, what’s the alternative? To ask wannabe truth-tellers to bear the full weight of their truth alone? I also get that truth takes time – time to share and time to sit with. But, is there really a way to better spend our time than searching for or in the presence of the truth? It goes without saying that it’d be a lot easier on all of us if everyone really was as “fine” as they say they are and pretend to be. But the reality is there are lots of folks who are not fine at all, whose world is falling apart around them, who continue to feast on their truth out of fear that if they speak and stand in it instead they will be judged, shamed, misunderstood, disrespected or, worse yet, met by indifference or rejected. And so they suffer in silence – and we and the chorus of life of which all of us are meant to be a part suffer for lack of their voice and their truth.
We need to do better and we can, but it will require INTENTION (and patience) on the part of the teller and the listener, because feeling sufficiently “safe” to speak your truth – at any age – is an acquired skill and it takes practice. I believe the family dinner table is a good place to start and that a dear friend (Carolyn Costin) offers a simple strategy to light the way. She calls the exercise Heart Talks. Here’s how it works: Find a heart-shaped piece of glass (like the one pictured above) and place it in the center of the table. When a member of the family wants to share a piece of their truth (big or small), they simply take the heart in hand. As a sign of respect for the heart-holder and their voice, the others at the table become silent and listen attentively until the speaker finishes what he or she has to say. The speaker then has the choice to invite others to comment on what they’ve shared or simply thank those present for listening and allowing them to speak their truth (Yes, dads, sometimes they just want you to listen!). The heart is then returned to the center of the table. NOTE: There’s no obligation to speak, nor any limits on the number of times or length of time a heart-holder can speak – just a space where truth can be spoken, rather than swallowed as it too often is, and will be respected. By the way, expect some awkwardness at first, but, over time, the rewards will be great.
And here’s the good news: The heart is portable! It fits neatly into a purse, shirt pocket, lunchbox, backpack or suitcase and is ideal for road trips, field trips, date nights, coffee outings – yes, even play dates! Heck, if you really want to live a little, bring it to work! And, oh, be sure to let me know how it goes. (P.S. There’s a reason it’s made of glass).
Don Blackwell is a trial attorney at Bowman and Brooke LLP, who lives and works in South Florida. At various times, however, Don’s worn a number of other hats. He’s been a husband (for the past 36 years), a brother, a son, a poet, the editor of a creative writing publication (The Motley), a public speaker, a youth league baseball coach, a law school professor, a student, a friend, a college disc jockey, a boss, a classmate, a charity event organizer and fundraiser, a teammate, the new kid in town, a problem-solver, a shoulder to cry on, a peace-seeker and a dreamer – to name just a few. Most importantly, however, Don is a dad of two young adults, Greg (30) and Ashley (28).and recently became a grandfather. Don is a member of NEDA’s Parents, Family and Friends Steering Committee and is the author of “Dear Ashley – A Father’s Reflections and Letters to His Daughter on Life, Love and Hope” (Imbue Press 2013).