Asking Questions With Heart Behind Them

As a society, we have become so habitual and robotic in what we ask conversationally in social ­­situations. We ask really open ended questions, perhaps to allow the respondent freedom in how they answer, but I really suspect it is because we have gotten to be, well, rather shit at personalizing our questions.

Whenever I am in a ­­situation, for example, where I see someone for the first time in ages, I never know how to answer a very basic, universal question: “What’s new?” Let’s see. A nephew was born. I was promoted. I had some upgrades done in my kitchen. I got new a heating and air conditioning unit. I PR’ed my squat clean. I went to Bali. I went to Malaysia. I went to Mexico. I went to Guatemala. I have managed to keep a house plant alive for the last 6 months. I have been growing a lot spiritually. I started collecting vintage tea cups. I took a writing class. Oh? You were just asking, am I well and not in distress?

One of my biggest triggers is feeling like I am being asked questions off a checklist, like there is no heart behind them. It’s just an obligatory, polite adult thing to do.

“How’s work?”

“Same old. Stressful”

Check

“How’s your condo?”

“It’s good.”

Check.

“How’s CrossFit?”

“it’s awesome.”

Check.

When it comes to work, I am appreciative for my career and all that it teaches me about who I am and the leader that I strive to be. If you ask me about work, ask me because you want to know those things more so than you care about learning that my title changed to Associate Director. If you ask me about my condo, ask me because you want to know how fulfilled it makes me to be able to be a homeowner as a single woman, that it is something I acquired all on my own. Ask me because you have respect that I did it without financial help from family or a man. You should care more about that than the new lighting I had installed. If you ask me about CrossFit, ask me because you really respect that I have such a passion in life. Ask me how my journey has been now that I am injury free. Ask me about CrossFit because you are in admiration that I can get my ass out of bed every morning to grind hard. Don’t ask me because it’s just this “thing” I do.

When it comes to superficial conversations, I reserve those for water cooler chat or random encounters. I was once insulted when a friend told me I am “particular”, but I then came to take this as a compliment. It reflects that I put thought into my choices, which include who I spend my time with. So if I choose to spend time with someone, right or wrong, I have an expectation to find some common ground and connection. Call me hippy dippy but I am far more fulfilled when I do feel that connection. I do not expect everyone I talk with to take questions to the next level, but at the very least, have sincerity and heart behind conversations. Otherwise, just smile and move on. I am ok with that too.

I want to walk away from conversations feeling entertained, enlightened, inspired, even a bit smarter. I am sure anyone can argue that I do not need to rely on people asking the “right” questions for me to feel connected or validated. I agree to an extent. To me asking questions shows the other person’s interest. I do not want to talk about spirituality to someone whose eyes are dulled with an expression of “please make this conversation end”. I take questions, and the right questions, as an invitation of interest. It does validate to me that people want to know me, they want to understand me and they want to catch up with me. We have all been in situations where we are talking and the other person is “uh huh”ing and “right”-ing without even listening to what you are saying. It’s the same defensive feeling we may get in scenarios where we feel like the other person rather be elsewhere because they are not stimulating conversation.

I realize this blog may make me sound needy or even indignant. So be it. This has been a tough one for me to post (I’ve been sitting on it for days). I know though I am not alone in having these thoughts and as always, I welcome feedback, whether it’s tell me to chill out or to tell me you too have been there.

Boundaries: We All Have Them

I recently attended a Lit Walk in North Hollywood and absolutely loved it. I was so exhilarated hearing writers tell their stories so openly, candidly and without filters. There was something really relatable about how raw it was. They were sharing their most intimate feelings and personal details without apologies that I was genuinely impressed, moved… and a tad bit jealous.

They wrote and spoke without apology. Their stories ranged from abuse to rape to racism to politics to love to heartbreak. They were extremely personal, full of truth and extremely passionate.  I loved that they had the courage to tell stories that were not all about sunshine and rainbows. I loved that they spoke sometimes less than diplomatically yet still respectfully. I loved that they did not apologize for their words. Their words are their feelings, their frustrations, their passions. They are theirs to say and for us to listen or to not listen to. (Ok, I digress before I get all freedom-of-speech on you).

Since this eye-opening night, I have been thinking a lot about the breadth of writers’ boundaries.  Some writers are more bold than others.  Some are more crass than others. Some are more delicate than others. Perhaps the more unfiltered someone is, the more risk there is for backlash. The thing is though, whether they intentionally or unintentionally ruffle some feathers, I am realizing that is what is so unique to having a creative outlet. People can pick their voice and others can choose to pay it any mind or not.

When I think about life (outside of writing), there are some similarities around boundaries yet some very stark differences. Boundaries. ­­We all have them. They are different from one person to the next. They may baffle us. We may not agree with them. We may be intrigued by them. We may try to change them. I ask though, regardless of what we think about someone else’s boundaries, is it for us to do anything else beyond accepting them?

I truly believe boundaries are what keep us thriving. They are almost like rules of engagement which are quite different from creative expression. I have nothing but respect for people who establish and make their boundaries known, whether I agree with them or not.  I realize that acceptance means that I may have to tailor what I say or suppress certain sides of me in certain situations. I also recognize that anyone can argue “But you should be who you are at all times.” I think I am who I am at all times, but I pick and choose sides of me at the appropriate times. If I were to be the same person at all times, I would inevitably cross someone else’s boundaries, and personally, I do not want to go through life feeling like I am stepping on people along the way.

There plainly is an element of censorship when it comes to boundaries.  It is not to say it is a bad thing, it is to say it’s a juggling act. Being aware of people’s boundaries is a game of sorts that we all play. We learn to understand them and abide by them, not because we are complacent passive people, but because we are taught to treat others with respect and acceptance.

We have emotional, spatial, physical and mental boundaries.  Sometimes we may find it uncomfortable to be around someone who has more lax boundaries, or the opposite, much more rigid boundaries. Sometimes we like being around people with such drastically different boundaries as it may even push us out of our comfort zones.  When it comes to someone else’s boundaries, ultimately it is for us to accept or walk away.

When it comes to my writing mantra, I try to be as cognizant as I can of the tone.  I strive to be creditable without being self-­­­ righteous. I strive to be open without being offensive. ­­ Being at the Lit Walk did challenge my mantra and thinking, both when it comes to my approach in life and my style of writing. There was something freeing not just in hearing what others were reading, but in the choice I had to go from venue to venue as I pleased. It reminds me of the constant ebbs and flows of friendships and relationships. Often they fade and flourish depending on boundaries. Sometimes I have to analyze my boundaries or those of others. Do they mesh? Do they clash? Do they even matter? Do I need to reevaluate my own from time to time? Absolutely.

I still stand by that boundaries are extremely important to set, but I also recognize that what may work one day may not work the next. Perhaps there is something to be said for being more open, vulnerable and even less filtered. I tend to write “safely”. I have set my own writing boundaries and I do balance that with those boundaries of other people.

I leave you with this… yes, boundaries are important. Actually they are necessary.  When though do boundaries get in the way of what could be?

 

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