About talking, and being scared

I’m on tour in Singapore for the next fortnight and the iPad isn’t really cooperating so I’m going with the flow and keeping it simple. A short text post this week, therefore.

I’ve been thinking a lot about communication and dialogue. Last night I had a long, intense conversation about moral theology, doublespeak, homosexuality and transgender issues, the principle of double effect, relativism, and diagnoses of madness coming ever closer to the boundary of ‘normal’. It got slightly charged at some points, and if I had been feeling vulnerable, the way in which my language and opinions were criticised would have cut pretty close to the bone. In the past I have mostly shied away from discussions like this as I have always felt unable to confidently articulate what I believe – I have felt intimidated by what I perceive to be others’ superior knowledge or intelligence. As it was, I think I held my ground. I asked questions and sought clarity, and was forthcoming in expressing my objections about the language of some of the criticism. My interlocutor withdrew the term of criticism that I’d taken exception to. We found we agreed on more than we may have initially thought, and politely respected each other’s positions where we disagreed, recognising that our different life experiences and influences will have shaped the views we hold. The me of five years ago would have avoided engaging with what turned out to be a rather valuable conversation in the end.

Separately, Trump and Kim are coming to Singapore next week for what will undoubtedly be an interesting conversation. And separately again, a close friend is having a meeting this week which is really significant in terms of opening up the channels of communication for important future dialogue.

What determines the quality of our interactions? We all come to the table with various assumptions, preconceived notions, biases, hopes and expectations. Sometimes we take risks in entering that dialogue. Sometimes potentially major ones, in the case of North Korea vs America chez Singapore, but more often than not, the risks we perceive are simply to our comfort and emotional and psychological security. To put it bluntly, on some level, when it comes to conversations that are emotionally charged in some way or which can trigger our insecurities, lots of us are scared.

So what do you do, if you are? Well, in the words of Susan Jeffers, face the fear and do it anyway. We don’t get less scared through avoidance; we get less scared through accepting that we’re scared and then engaging with the fear, because you need to practice to get better at anything. Progress can be slow, but you don’t grow unless you start the journey. Three things that have helped me: learning how the art of questioning can help you; being absolutely clear about what you think and what you want (if you’re going into a conversation with a purpose); and realising that you often know more than you think about any given subject.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Drop me a message!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

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