I loved the call with Jim yesterday. Jim is by vocation an Episcopal Priest. We met a couple of years ago at a gathering of Episcopal leaders. I was co-hosting a workshop on leading in complexity. We’ve met many times since. At The Circle Way Practicum in 2018 on Whidbey Island. We’ve met in many phone calls. I love the shared experience of curiosity and wonder and sense-making — all needed commitments in times like these.
Yesterday’s call with Jim was for Human to Human, The Podcast. It’s where I offer periodic learnings in conversation with interesting people. Periodic reading of writings from this Human to Human Blog. I think of it as intimate conversations with self and other. I think of it as starting anywhere and following it everywhere.
The conversation with Jim was 19 minutes. Enjoy. I did.
I don’t think of myself as a communication specialist. However, most everything I do, from coaching to large group work, comes from the kind of premise articulated through this recent Brain Pickings by Maria Popova.
There are many layers that go into this exchange that is human being with human. There are many layers that go into merely understanding the myriad of exchanges within ourselves. Thoughts. Feelings. Associations. Memories.
Communication attempts to put what is real or becoming into words or actions or energy through an inherently representative (and thus reductive) set of symbols. It’s like trying to explain love with only the rolling of dice. You can make up a system to interpret it — on a scale of 1-6, but it’s inherently flawed.
From Brain Pickings…
Every act of communication is an act of tremendous courage in which we give ourselves over to two parallel possibilities: the possibility of planting into another mind a seed sprouted in ours and watching it blossom into a breathtaking flower of mutual understanding; and the possibility of being wholly misunderstood, reduced to a withering weed. Candor and clarity go a long way in fertilizing the soil, but in the end there is always a degree of unpredictability in the climate of communication — even the warmest intention can be met with frost. Yet something impels us to hold these possibilities in both hands and go on surrendering to the beauty and terror of conversation, that ancient and abiding human gift. And the most magical thing, the most sacred thing, is that whichever the outcome, we end up having transformed one another in this vulnerable-making process of speaking and listening.
The attention to good communication isn’t just about the right words. Nor the right pacing. Nor the right metaphor. These are interesting and important things.
My primary interest remains with the fundamental understanding that communication ain’t perfect, no matter what good choices we make. And it can’t be. Too complex. Too many layers.
That doesn’t me absolving ourselves of effort. It does mean, however, that we learn to embrace inherent and un-reifiable uncertainty. It means that curiosity always matters in our communications, and in our being.
That’s some life work that I feel committed to.
I fly a fair amount. My “home” airport is Salt Lake City, Utah. The airport sits south and east of The Great Salt Lake. The picture above is from the plane, on a September flight, of The Great Salt Lake. Doesn’t look like much of a lake, does it. This picture shows much that has receded in this year’s hot summer.
The Great Salt Lake is perplexing to me. Perpetually. It’s a shallow lake, averaging 16 feet in depth. It’s a long lake, 75 ish miles. It’s a big lake, 28 ish miles wide — but all of that varies widely due to spring runoff and summer evaporation. The surface area can vary plus or minus 50%! It’s salt water, which when combined with the heat, seems to produce really interesting colors in both the water and what is left on the dried land.
The Great Salt Lake isn’t a consistent image to me. Each time I fly (twice a month, generally), if I’m by a window, I’m not sure what I will see. There’s no fixed image — “Yah, whatever — that’s the lake. I’ve seen it before.” It varies a lot.
I suppose one of the impressions that I appreciate from the lake is that it is perplexing. It reminds me that in the work I get to do with groups, there is much that is also perplexing. Much that isn’t certain. Much that doesn’t look the way that one might think it should look. It takes some curiosity, perpetually.
Perpetual perplexity that requires perpetual curiosity. Yup, I’m OK calling that home, and inviting it with others.