I’ve had this quote (“Jesters do oft prove prophets,” from King Lear) on various of my walls for about the last twenty years, ever since I saw a live version with a friend at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I picked up a beautiful piece of art with the quote on it and fell in love. It’s not my favorite of Shakespeare’s tragedies (not enough ghosts), but I’d always enjoyed it. And really, I’ve been meditating and marinating on and in this quote for… a while now. And humor certainly is a way that we humans can say difficult things – both the sort of things other people don’t want to hear, and the sort of things we have a hard time admitting to ourselves.
Honestly, one of the things it makes me think deeply about is the way we communicate with one another, and with ourselves. Because sometimes it is just so damn hard to be clear, honest, and direct, even if we agree in theory it might be a better way. And there’s a lot hindering a person from doing it automatically in every situation, this clear, honest, direct communication:
- Not My Cradle Language: Not everyone was raised in a household that actually used it, or was safe enough to use clear, honest, and direct communication; when this is the case, it has to be learned later in life and that’s always a) an intentional effort, and b) much harder and more time consuming.
- Home Isn’t Safe Enough: Not everyone has the luxury of feeling safe enough to have clear, honest, and direct communication at home in the present moment, even if they know how, and if we can’t have it at home where we’re supposed to be able to relax and recharge, how can we have it other places? Reliably? Every time?
- I’m Normal, Everyone Else Is Fucked Up: Not everyone has the self-awareness or insight to realize the way they’re communicating isn’t clear, honest, and direct.
And you know, if the first one is your issue, I feel you so much. It wasn’t my cradle language, either. God bless my two best friends from my graduate school and seminary experience; I was hell on wheels as they taught me and kept me accountable.
If the second one is your issue, there are always options, always things that can be done about that, if you decide its worth your while. Talking with a therapist or a close friend might be step one.
If the third one is totally not your problem, you just happen to be completely normal I have two questions for you:
1. If you have something difficult and important to discuss with someone trustworthy in your life, do you (choose as many as apply to you):
- a) you don’t have to say anything, they can see the writing on the wall
- b) hope it will actually go away before you have to discuss it
- c) avoid it until you can’t anymore
- d) say as little as possible to get the job done
- e) talk around it, dropping hints; they’ll get the idea
- f) mention it in passing, the day before, no big deal
- g) make a joke about it; there, you’ve officially mentioned it, problem solved
- h) complain about it to someone else but fail to mention it to the person directly involved
- z) gather your courage as soon as possible, sit them down, and tell them as clearly and kindly as you can, giving them enough notice to do what they need to do
2. If you have been hurt by the words or actions of someone trustworthy in your life, do you (choose as many as apply to you):
- a) not applicable: I have never been hurt by anyone close and trustworthy to me
- b) just let it go; it doesn’t pay to rock the boat and it wasn’t that big of a deal
- c) sweep it under the rug until you get really angry, then remind them of it
- d) bite your tongue, but maybe drop some hints that you’re annoyed
- e) give them the cold shoulder; they’ll get the idea you’re pissed off soon enough
- f) cut off all communication; friends/family/significant others don’t act that way, they’re not worth it
- g) drop the bomb and walk away; they hurt you, so it’s okay to hurt them back a little – if they love you, they’ll get over it, and now you’re even
- h) get angry and eviscerate them; how dare they treat you that way?
- i) make a joke about it; sarcasm is your friend
- j) rant to someone else, possibly on social media; it blows off steam and now you feel better!
- z) take some time to calm yourself and as soon as it’s feasible, sit them down and tell them as clearly and kindly as you can that you are hurt and why you are hurt and why you don’t want it to happen again
These are two general scenarios which are fairly common in human life, so you’ve probably encountered them in the last year, at least. If you chose any answer but Z, congratulations! You have at least once in the last year failed to engage in clear, honest, and direct communication asap with someone who was trustworthy in your life (ie, someone safe enough to do so, and who actually deserved it). It doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means your communication style isn’t quite what you thought was. (Welcome to the club.)
But as GI Joe taught me at a young age, ‘knowing is half the battle.’ As I have learned at a somewhat older age, the other half is in realizing that life is not a battle, it’s a rescue mission. And we’re all going home.