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Rev. Vicky's Message May 12, 2022

If we are to work together more intelligently, we will need to choose processes that evoke our curiosity, humility, generosity and wisdom.

--Margaret Wheatley

In preparing for the Conversation Skills zoom class I’m currently teaching on Wednesday nights, I’m discovering a lot of new information about effective communication, much of it coming from findings in neuroscience.

One particular article, Words Can Change Your Brain, which is an interview with the authors of a book by the same title, (Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman), caught my attention because Unity teaches “the power of the word”… i.e., that words are creative.

The authors begin acknowledging that “Language is one of the most important tools we have. In fact, our newest research show that it’s essential for actually building the framework of consciousness itself.”

But then they then go on in detail about the difference between “language” and “communicating;” i.e., effective communication requires much more than knowing a language. They also note that, as a species, “we’re very poor communicators, and we don’t even know it!”

The authors explain that they wrote this book to talk about the power of words, but ALSO to make (the often noted, but seldom integrated) point that “words are the least important part of the communication process.”

Specifically, they say, “We spend years teaching our children how to read and write, but we don’t teach them how to speak. We give them the basics, but by the time they reach 11 or 12, we say to our kids, ‘Okay, we’re done learning about speaking and listening skills, now let’s start to read books and study other things.’ So it’s not surprising that most people still communicate with each other on the level of a 12 year old.”

When one realizes that “a 12-year old doesn’t possess the neurological ability to experience empathy and compassion;” meaning, we’re never taught how to relate to how other people are feeling OR tell them about our own emotional needs - it becomes clear why so many marriages end in divorce.

If we can’t communicate effectively with those we love - it’s no wonder why we have almost no capacity to communicate and build trust across our current social, cultural, and political divisions. And the more diverse our communities become, the more important it is for us to learn how to communicate effectively. As the authors note:

“As far as we can tell, the brain’s default mechanism looks for signs of threat in the world. If we see a face, we immediately identify if it is a frowning face or smiling face; is it a threatening face or nonthreatening? Our brains enter the world in a state of anxiety and uncertainty. The first thing it does is it looks for a sign of threat because it is a survival-oriented mechanism.”

The good news is - good communication skills can be learned! In short, “the newest findings in neuroscience can teach us how to become better communicators, how to build deeper bonds of trust, and how to resolve conflicts without getting frightened or mad.”

And here is their first, “most important,” and very doable skill/practice:

Explaining that the most important part of communicating is hidden in our facial expressions (which “masking” has severely jeopardized, possibly explaining the uptick in violence in our society) - they teach the use of “a specific type of positive facial expression — a soft eye gaze and a half smile” — which will result in people automatically trusting us.

The thing is - kindness can’t be faked. So, they offer “a really cool trick to develop that soft eye gaze and Mona Lisa smile.” Namely, “before you engage in a conversation with someone else, visualize someone you deeply love, or recall an event that brought you deep satisfaction and joy.” It takes practice, but has measurable results.

Clearly there’s more to communicating than our initial facial expression - but again, it can be learned! And what better way to “walk our talk” of compassion and oneness than learning to be better communicators?

Our Leadership Council will be studying the book over this coming year; and if there is interest - we will offer it as an in-person class for the entire community. Watch for future announcements!

Namasté - Rev. Vicky


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