About a year ago I had two people I care about reflect to me the impact of me not responding to their communications. Without putting words in their mouth, they both expressed feeling hurt and frustrated, and imagining that I didn’t care about them.
To start with, I want to highlight their generosity in sharing what the impact was. It probably would have been easier for them to shrug their shoulders and pretend like it didn’t matter (so) much. They could have written me off, and we would’ve had much more surface level relationships. I want to acknowledge their capacity (and the capacity of all of us) to do that, because it’s generous to share uncomfortable truths in relationships that matter to us, and although I felt challenged, I also felt honored by the fact they didn’t just walk away.
And I could have responded defensively: ‘I’m a single mother, with two kids, running my own business, and do they even know how many emails/texts/etc I receive every day?’ Or I could have gone deep into a shame response about what a bad friend I am and how I don’t even deserve their friendship. All of these would have been ways for each of us to disconnect from the tender place in our hearts that yearns for connection.
Instead, they shared with me and I took time to reflect, and what I realized for myself was two-fold:
First, I tend to assume I have no impact. When they reached out to me over email, I assumed my non-response wouldn’t matter. I imagined that my presence or lack of presence in a room didn’t matter, and my response, or lack of response, also didn’t matter.
Once I saw this in myself, I started to see it in people all around me. This is faux humility, and it’s actually a way to let ourselves off the hook for the impact we do have. To pretend that I have no impact and that it doesn’t matter whether I respond or not, is to pretend that I have no responsibility for creating the world around me, and this simply isn’t true.
The second thing I realized is that the ‘reason’ I gave myself for not responding was that I didn’t know the answer to what they were asking, and I thought I needed to know before responding. I told this to one of the people who shared with me, and she told me that she would have loved the response of “I don’t know yet.”
When she shared this with me and I imagined responding with “I don’t know yet”, I felt how deeply uncomfortable about not knowing. As a child, I built a persona around ‘knowing’, around being a ‘good girl’, around having all the ‘right answers,’ for teachers, my parents, and even with friends. So much of what I considered to be valuable about me was wrapped up in knowing. So I was sure if I told someone I didn’t know, I would lose not only their respect but also their love and friendship.
We also live in a culture that worships efficiency and demands that we ‘Buy Now & SAVE!’
To admit that ‘I don’t know yet’ is to claim the space to slow down and wait until I do. It’s a choice to value the unknown as deeply as the known. It’s a powerful stand that says: ‘My BEing is as valuable as my KNOWing’.
As for how these stories went: I apologized; I shared my process with them; I asked for their patience and forgiveness, and I am grateful they said yes, and these relationships were strengthened through this process.
Since this time, I’ve been slowing down more to allow myself to feel when ‘I don’t know’ is arising. Often it’s in the moments when my mind starts to rush and I am sure I need to act NOW that I feel a sense of urgency (as long as nothing is on fire), it’s become a signal for me to actually slow down. And, when I catch myself procrastinating, especially if I’m procrastinating about responding to an email or other communication, this is consistently a sign that there is something I don’t yet know and I am afraid of revealing.
More and more I have taken on the practice of:
Either simply saying “I don’t know (yet),” or, only responding with what I DO know and trusting that the next step will become clear. (I share more about this practice in this piece on Cultivating Your Intuition)
It’s still not always easy, since my persona of ‘know it all’ is old and strong! But I do feel freer and my relationships are better for it.
Watch the full video below, and feel free to leave your questions and comments, and I will respond asap.
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