So there we were, five old friends sitting down to a sweet New Year’s Eve night. We’d planned to do a ceremony of sorts – not your typical New Year’s ritualizing with champagne and reflections – but something that would involve a little concoction we’d brewed up, and there would be groovy lights and an 8-hour soundtrack that my friend Jed had put together, plus we’d put pads down on the floor so we could lay down in front of the fire and relax. And just as we were getting this party started, Jed, who has been a solid brother to me for the last 30 years, says “Laurie, you talk too much, and sometimes, I believe you use words to escape your experience. I think you’ll get more out of the evening if you hold most of your thoughts to yourself tonight.”
It was a stunning moment of straight talk. The eyes at the table went wide, everyone watching me for my reaction.
I went wide too because I recognized the significance of the moment, that I was with someone who had the courage to speak plainly to me, even possibly hurting my feelings.
He didn’t soften the blow either, he didn’t say, “you know, I think you’re really interesting, I think you’re great, I love you, but you might consider being a little quieter tonight, know what I mean?”
No, he said it straight. And there was no cruelty or emotion in it, and no qualifiers or caveats either. He trusted himself and he trusted me to hear it straight, and I did.
It doesn’t matter if he was right or wrong – that’s not what’s interesting to me – though there was definitely merit to what he said, and it’s true that some of the most important moments of the next few hours happened for me in silence. What interested me more than the content of what he said, was his ability to speak to me like that, to reflect something that he thought might be beneficial to me. And this is something – this kind of straight talk – that I’d been wanting more of in my life, something I’d spoken aloud in the last year, this desire to have what I had been calling difficult conversations. Conversations that terrified me because in the name of telling the truth to another person, I might hurt them, or they might misunderstand me, or I might do it badly and they would hate me.
And so as Jed spoke, so clearly and without fuss, I paid attention, because even though it triggered some of the people at the table – “I like your talking,” said our friend Chris, and “are you okay?” said Jed’s girlfriend when she met me on the stairs a few minutes later – even though it was an awkward social moment, I was aware that he was teaching me something about how to speak plainly.
In fact, I’d spent much of the last year talking with my coach, Sandy, about how to do just that. Practically every session with her had the two of us role playing something I wanted to say to a friend or a student, or someone I was dating. For as strong and articulate as I am, and for as much of a truth teller as I can be, I still want to keep people happy with me – and this is partly what keeps me from being as honest as I’d like to be – in person and on the page. I just made that connection, but I think it’s true.
So Sandy and I would get the script down, she’d give me a confident pat on the back, and then I’d leave her office and totally bomb with people. I could do it in Sandy’s office, but when the golden moment presented itself, I got nervous or weird or left the honest talk to the last 15 minutes of a get together, totally dropping some “truth bomb” on a friend as we were saying our goodbyes, leaving one friend sort of stunned and confused. In at least two situations with good friends, there was a lot of clean up, and in one case, months of repair. At some point I decided that I was no good at this and I backed off from the kind of intimacy it took to get in there with people and say real things to them. And it is, I believe, a real act of intimacy to tell the truth to people. It’s intimate because we’re stirring the pot, because we’re saying things that might trigger each other. It’s intimate because we might do it badly, even if our hearts are in the right place.
But that’s who I want to be. I want to be the kind of person who can simply, without a lot of hemming and hawing, address what’s going on. The kind of person who doesn’t stew over things I want to say, wondering whether I should or shouldn’t, and maybe it’s all in my mind and I’ll just let it go. Because those things pile up and then they end up causing distance between us – all because I’m afraid to open my mouth and speak. If I have something I need to tell you, something that has possibly gotten in the way of our relationship, and I don’t say something – as responsibly as I can, by the way – then I’m not really in real relationship with you – and that’s what I want – with everyone. That doesn’t mean I want a million best friends, but I want to feel that when I’m with you, I’m talking to you straight.
I keep wanting a road map to make sure I do this right – as though there’s a way to go about it without messing up and hurting people I love – but I’m not sure there is. Of course I don’t mean to hurt anyone – I’m a lover not a fighter – but I can see that when you risk getting super real with people – as Jed did with me – some feelings can get pricked. Jed said it straight. I don’t know if that’s my way, exactly, but I admire him for his courage – and also for my courage to hear him and take it in. I’ll start with that in 2019, a little more courage to tell the truth – and some compassion for myself when I do it poorly.
Friends, I have four open spots in the brand new Wild Writing series, live in Alameda – 3 spots in the Tuesday morning 10AM-12PM class, and one spot in the Wednesday 10AM-12PM class. Classes start the week of January 14th. The time to jump in is now.
I also have one spot in the Wild Writing class held online on Tuesday mornings from 8-9:30AM PT. The entire series is full, we just have this one seat open. Jump on it.
And if you’ve had your eye on my Wild Writing Teacher Training, which starts on the 14th of January, I have one spot left. If your resolutions this year include risk taking and creating beautiful new things in your life, play with us here.
Every word and sentiment absolutely brilliant Laurie.
That’s all I can say.
Thanks for sharing your messy journey into honouring yourself & your relationships so fully. You’ve planted a potent- and timely- seed in me.
Thank you for this post, Laurie.
I set up an extra journal on New Year’s day for Honest and Plain as Dirt Conversations with Myself. I need to get some hard and hidden things aired out and laid out straight between body mind and spirit.
I can feel interiorly that reading this post (three times) has kicked the process to a clearer and yet more honest level.
Wow. Powerful and brave.
Love this, Laurie! Thoughtful and brave.
Yes. The words “honest” and “truth” have been coming up for me a lot lately. Thanks for modeling courage for me…us.
Oh Laurie, This hit me in the gut because I often find myself filling silence with words. And yes, perhaps talking too much – definitely in the extroverted-speaker end of the spectrum. But for a friend to tell me I talk too much, and to do so while we are surrounded by others? I have to admit, I would take it as an attack on who I am and run for the door.
So I think you are very, very brave in being able to react to his words in positive light, and to continue through the evening, and to not take it as a personal attack on who you are.
The question that leapt out at me while reading your story: Who do these ‘truth bombs’, the ‘plain speaking’ benefit? The teller or receiver…
p.s. can’t wait to meet you in person in SMA in March!
Once again, Laurie! Wow. Love how you were able to be in the curiosity of it in the moment too. That is no easy feat.
Getting words down to the heart of the message is something you do so beautifully.
We did this work in Leadership and it was powerful. Having hard conversations. Being clear and then staying to clean it up if needed. An opener I find helpful is, “The story I am making up…” Because our truth is our story.
That was a tremendous thought for starting off the new year. We could all use a little more “kevlar underwear” to handle not being hurt by the world/people when it is shaping us. Thank you Laurie
Thank you, Laurie. I’m SO excited we’re spending quality time together soon!! <3
Great post. And good thoughts to ponder as a person who talks quite a lot myself and sometimes fills up silence with words. I have learned to love and be comfortable with moments of silence with friends
Thanks for this post. I think it’s courageous of you to put out such an intimate vignette. Good on you for staying true to your principles in what could have been a destructive moment. In this writing, I see your commitment to use everything that comes in to your field of awareness to fulfill your deeper intentions for your life. I admire that. However, I would suggest to Jed that he be open to the same kind of truth telling and self examination. Even with those with whom we are truly intimate, we cannot know what someone else’s experience should or will be. We can only speak truth about our own experience. Jed’s commentary would have seemed more truthful to me had he said that his experience of the evening would have been deeper and more valuable to him if there was silence. He could have made a request for silence for some or all of the ceremony, without deciding how much talking is appropriate and/or beneficial to you. Yes, you opened yourself by expressing an intention for more truth telling and we know that it sometimes shows up in surprising, not always delightful ways. If the post here accurately quotes the exchange, what Jed said was judgement and opinion, not truth with a capital “T”. Someone can know if you talk more than they would like but only you can know how much talking (or anything else) is right for your growth and development. True intimacy and honesty is nurtured through empathy and compassion, not judgement and unsolicited instruction.
I have to agree with Beverly’s comments. I think your friend took the easy way out—in fact I’d go as far to call it chicken-shit way out by telling you “his truth” in front of others. Whether or not what he told you was true he used public shaming to get his way. Now, shame is actually a pro-social emotion and not always toxic as many people misunderstand it to be. It lets people know what is needed to be more connected to the group. He got you to do what “he” needed and wanted by how he chose to impart his information. I am purposefully refraining from calling his words “wise” because I don’t know how much of his own “stuff” is involved–as well as the way it was done—no matter how well-meaning. How does the saying go–“the road to hell was paved with good intentions.” Let’s chat soon! I love you! If I were there I probably would have exclaimed, “Ouch! Really? You couldn’t have said this to her privately?” I might have even said much more depending on the vibe. Got your back and love your post. xoxoxo
What if those words that are hard to say and perhaps, hard to hear were said as an offering? A simple offering of what is in your mind, not with an expectation of consequences, not as the beginning of a transaction but here, this is something that occurred to me. I wonder if that might work. You know that saying these things aren’t a test of a friendship, but proof of your love. Here.
I might add that it needn’t be delivered with the little bit of shock therapy as from your friend, Jed. But telling someone who lives and breaths words, knowing that words can be a hard filter on experience, to give them up for a while in the company of friends… well, that’s quite an offer. It seems you’ve been blessed.
I don’t know anyone involved or their histories together or separately. So, without any context, I have to say that Jed’s comments struck me as entitled and a bit selfish. He wanted more quiet. And if he felt it would benefit Laurie to speak less, could he not have said that privately beforehand?
Declaring his opinions in the group doesn’t strike me as courageous but rather as unthinking and careless. Take it up a notch, Jed.
I’m in agreement with Samantha and J. Anne. I have limited experience with Non Violent Communication, and and also Susan Campbell’s “Getting Real” work, and neither of them advocate telling another what to do. I would much prefer hear how my behavior is effecting another and having a conversation about it, rather than assuming my behavior is the problem. In Susan Campbell’s workshops she creates a safe place for us to try our projections out on other people, but it’s never assumed our perspective is the correct one. If there were others in the group who felt similarly, that you talked “too much”, that in my opinion would be helpful truth telling. One person, making an accusation? Not so helpful in my opinion. I’m curious about the truth of how Jed feels? Why does he not share his more vulnerable feelings to you? No, I’m tired of finger pointing. Tell me how you feel and own it.
what a gift to receive these words today. thank you.
Another beautiful post, and an enlightening series of exchanges in its wake. Thank you sweetheart. I don’t know about Jed, but you definitely “took it up a notch.”