I received an e-mail from a friend who is now a seminary student at age forty, and finds that many old friends want to have her listen to them, but do not offer an opportunity for her to be heard. Oftentimes I find that those of us who are good listeners and do work to help others, attract people who want desperately to be heard. As much as they want to talk, many times they are not good at providing that same space for us. It is rare indeed when we find the perfect balance of giving and receiving within a relationship.
In addition to the example of the one who listens and the one who shares, there is another form of communication difficulty. When we share with others, a dynamic of interchange is developed. We spark each other and continue along lines of thought until one or the other of us might not truly understand what is being said. At this stage we can go no further. Our mental frameworks have come to the fork in the road where we think differently. It is very clear when we pay attention to clues. The other person just doesn't "get" what we are trying to say (or vice versa). Explaining doesn't really help. The dynamic of the interchange shifts, and the charge is lost. We have reached the level of depth to which we can go.
An example of this from my own experience is when I've been with a physicist who is explaining theories of life to me. I am able to follow and feel the excitement of what I'm hearing because it sparks me. I have a frame of reference for what he is saying. Then suddenly, I cannot follow the strand any longer. I am lost. And that is the end of what we can discuss, because I have lost the "charge" that makes the connection possible. Similarly, when I try to explain something to someone from my own level of knowledge, we come to a space where there is a feeling of “flying” together, or the recognition that we are not on the same wavelength.
The truth of interactions is that you can only go as far as the person with the least capacity for understanding can handle, because to go further is to lose them (or us). The spark is no longer present. That is why Jesus and the other great teachers always spoke one step below the capacity of their audience to understand. The purpose of communication is understanding and comprehension, not a show of one’s intellect.
It is important to recognize who we are interacting with and what our respective capacities are. We cannot make ourselves other than we are. Where do we have commonality? Where do we hit the blank stare phase? In order to find kindred souls, we have to search...going to a level that is comfortable for us and finding those who feel comfortable there as well.
We may need to piece together a bouquet of friends and acquaintances that represent different meaningful attributes to us. Very rarely can one person be all things that match another. The more we are able to "see," the more varied our bouquet of friends.
Expecting others to be all things to us (or the reverse) is a dangerous trap. We need to appreciate our areas of connection, and respect our differences. When we no longer expect others to be all things to us, and can accept theirs and our own limitations, we can have satisfying relationships that bring us the richness of what they do offer rather than disappointment in what they don’t. As we attune ourselves to who the other person is, we can hold the charge of connection that is mutually enriching and worthwhile.