Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Balancing Strengths and Weaknesses

Sometimes I would like to change one of my weaknesses into a strength but because I have another dominant strength that competes with it, which I highly value, I have a hard time being able to accomplish this task.

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." ~Ether 12:27

"Those who engage in self-congratulation over a supposed strength have lost the protection of humility and are vulnerable to Satan’s using that strength to produce their downfall. In contrast, if we are humble and teachable, hearkening to the commandments of God, the counsel of his leaders, and the promptings of his Spirit, we can be guided in how to use our spiritual gifts, our accomplishments, and all of our other strengths for righteousness. And we can be guided in how to avoid Satan’s efforts to use our strengths to cause our downfall." ~"Our Strengths Can Become our Downfall" by Elder Dallin H. Oaks 

Let’s say I desire to develop the ability to verbally express my thoughts and feelings in an objective, reasonable way but because I usually rely on emotions, body language, facial expressions, and my general demeanor to serve as my means of communicating what I need and how I feel, I may not be able to make this change.

Analyzing the spiritual strength of non-verbal communication and my motives for relying so heavily upon it enables me to let go of any inappropriate use of it so I can develop the ability to effectively communicate with others without making myself overly vulnerable or crossing their boundaries.

From what I can see, the purpose behind my use of non-verbal communication is to convince, convert, and persuade another individual to think like I do and feel what I am feeling.  In essence, my goal is for them to empathize with me.  I want them to agree with me.  "Agree with thine adversary quickly whiles thou art in the way with him" (Matthew 5:25-26).  Perhaps our Savior meant for us to empathize with others when we found ourselves with conflicting points of view.  But if I use too much emotion and explanation to elicit empathy from the person I’m talking to, I’m actually being more manipulative than communicative. 

What does it matter if someone else doesn’t agree with me?  If they can’t understand me, what do I care?  Well, this is where I need to analyze my motives.  Maybe I care because I want something from them or I’m relying on their opinion to validate my choices.  If I want something from them or rely on everyone and their dog to validate my choices, then yes, I’m going to want to manipulate others by pleading my case before them to elicit as much heart-felt sympathy from them as I can.  Well, I don’t want to do that.  I’m afraid I have done it to a certain extent.  So let’s analyze the reason I would want to use this form of persuasive communication.

I myself am not much moved by objective historical facts.  But when I read a historical fiction book, the author wins my entire heart.  I love to empathize with the characters in the story, walk through their trials with them, imagine how they would feel in their specific circumstances, cry with them, and rejoice with them.  I would say that is a huge part of who I am.  And so it follows, that when I explain things, I love to tell the story behind it.  I like to explain the doubt in the beginning, the emotional turmoil throughout the hard times, and the surge of triumph in the end.  When I explain myself, my actions, what’s wrong with me, or what’s right with me to a trusted friend, I like to use body language, facial expressions, and tones of voice.  When I write I like to use images, music, scriptures, talks, or books that describe and connect with the point I'm making.  I love to tell about all the details and get behind all the internal reasoning. 

If my goal is to help another person and be empathetic to their own situation, then I am convinced this form of communication is a total strength.  Music is a prime example of empathetic story telling.  We listen to it and feel peace because someone else has felt the same way we have.  What a relief!  We’re normal!  Sometimes a true friend will even let us tell our whole story, emotions and all, just so we can sort it out.  We may not be looking for their empathy and most likely are not looking for them to solve the problem for us but just being able to slow things down and talk it out is a way we can start to work it out ourselves.  Finding an empathetic ear in a friend actually assists with this process.

But let’s say we need to communicate with someone with whom we are in conflict or someone we don’t know very well like a police officer, the insurance company, a judge of some sort, a home owner's association, or even a medical professional.  In these situations it may be best to have the skill to objectively and summarily explain the situation.  We can keep ourselves objective by just explaining the key facts of the situation.  We can even describe the emotions or physical feelings in short order without reenacting them.  We don’t need to worry if they believe us or not.  They can choose.  In fact if we don’t come across manipulative, they will probably be more inclined to believe us.  When we do this we demonstrate through our actions that we respect the other person’s boundaries and their right to choose.  We honor their time and their agency.  If we're in doubt of our own story, position, or opinion, we don’t want to try to get others to believe us to reassure us.  That’s not going to solve our insecurity.  We need to go home, study it all out, work it out with our God and/or a trusted friend, hear his opinion on the matter, be sensitive to the confirmation of the Holy Ghost, and then decide whether we need to hold to our position or change it.  Our goal is to be honest, have integrity, and stand for truth and mercy.  That’s all we have to worry about.

So as I was working on these two forms of communication today, I saw very clearly that I had more of a strength in spiritual, emotional, non-verbal communication rather than objective plain facts communication.  It made me laugh because I could see how the Lord saw me.  I knew he understood me but now I'm suddenly seeing him understanding me and understanding him a little better.  I could sense he wasn’t condemning me.  He doesn't do that.  This strength, which is more abundantly found in women, is something he highly admires, values, and needs in his kingdom.  But because I also admire his predominant way of communication I have this desire to balance my strength with his.  So instead of being motivated by shame to curb my dominant strength, I am motivated by admiration and appreciation.  How can he be so beautiful?  I imagine a Man who respects our agency so much that he gives us the commandments objectively, tells us the way that it is, shows us the way that it is, and then lets us make our choices.  We can choose to get behind the reasoning and empathize with our God or not.  I happen to do that a lot because I absolutely love what I find.  But it’s so interesting to me that God does not force us to know who he is.  He allows us to choose how well we come to know him.

Last Thoughts.
I also know that Jesus Christ went through all that he did in order to obtain the greatest ability to empathize with all of us.  In a sense he objectively and subjectively communicated through his life and sacrifice the most intense degree of non-verbal, way-that-it-is communication.  He felt all that there was to feel and with no regard to his personal feelings (even though he had them more powerfully than any of us could imagine) obeyed the Father’s will, showing us all the way to deal with it.  The atoning power is a product of the marriage between non-verbal and objective communication.  I suppose that’s a good way of describing what mercy is.  It’s the balance.  It’s meeting in the middle between two extremes.  So even while he doesn’t force us to empathize with him, he stretched himself so far so that whenever we need his empathy, it is voluntarily there.