'There is some distortion in exactly how we see ourselves and how others see us. This distortion explains why and how we misunderstand each other so quickly. Sometimes, others tell me that when focusing intensely on my work or project, I can appear angry, when nothing could be farther from what I am experiencing. This misperception often results in the other person interacting with me according to this misinterpretation of my appearance. If this type of misconception of my appearance continues, I may react, intentionally diverting energy to alter this distortion by changing how I appear. Each time I do this, I become a little less of who I am in the process or become someone else. This series of chain reactions is only one example in a series of distortions in our complex interactions as we each attempt to connect and be understood.
Now think about the language and the words we use describe ourselves, our relationships, beliefs, feelings, and actions, and you might begin to have an appreciation of why things can go sideways in a hurry when it comes to communicating. When we contemplate our beliefs, artistic expression, mythology, poetry, or the meaning of those things that symbolize or represent something significant to us, we enter the transcendent. In Bill Moyer's interview with Joseph Campbell in the PBS series, "The Power of Myth", referring to Immanuel Kant, Campbell says, "The best things can't be told, because they transcend thought. The second best are misunderstood because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can't be thought about. The third best are what we talk about." This difficulty in language and communication seems so much at the heart of much of what goes awry when we talk about our beliefs or convictions and can lead to a not so pleasant conversation and life long misunderstanding.
I was raised within a Swedish Baptist religious tradition for most of my childhood, up to young adulthood. Like a few peer believers, I began to question certain assumptions around my religious tradition. My views of the transcendent and the various associated symbolic meanings gradually shifted with further experience and study. This shift in beliefs led to change in self-image and what I might be transforming into and further relationship misunderstandings. I was, at times, a trickster, even to myself. As part of my reformation or transformation, I began to reinterpret certain assumptions based on more experience and contemplation over time. Wisdom is often gained based through the passage of time. Fortunately, I had not succumbed to the hostility or longer-term bitterness that followed for others who had parted ways with their religious traditions. I was lucky enough to have those who supported and challenged me in a variety of ways.
One significant transformation came from discovering new ways to engage with those who held different convictions or beliefs than my own. These conversations went beyond the personal declarations of a person's ethical or moral judgments of right or wrong or religious dogma. These chats were more focused on being curious and learning about the other's beliefs, religious and non-religious terms of reference and practices, and how these made a difference to the person's experience. While I don't believe these types of conversations rid relationships of all distortions, they often proved transformative and provide a window through to see the other person and helps build a more authentic relationship, that includes and appreciates those very differences.
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