So many times, compassionate communication must begin with oneself. As in these hot days of the Mediterranean summer, when it is easy to get impatient believing that the whole world has entered a lethargy from which it will never wake up. “That who waits, despairs”, says our popular wisdom. But I propose another reading about the wait, and one that has to do with a more conscious communication.
Not long ago, I let myself be rescued from this impatient state by some verses of Antonio Machado that I already knew but had forgotten (please allow me a free translation, just for the sake of comprehension):
“Learn how to wait, trust for the tide to flow -as the boat on the coast- without the leaving worrying you. Everyone who waits knows that victory is theirs; Because life is long and art is a toy. And if life is short and the sea does not reach your galley, wait without leaving and always wait, because art is long and, in addition, doesn’t matter.”
(Antonio Machado, “Consejos”, Campos de Castilla)
I copied this fragment in one of my youth diaries more than 30 years ago. Back then I didn’t understand anything about the world and used to copy quotes and poems that seemed like luminous messages written just for me. Of course, I copied them without understanding their depth. In terms of consciousness, my adolescence gave for what it could. And because the intuitions of our heart take shape when they can, I kept the hobby of retaining the words of others, like floats where I could grab and come up to breathe.
It’s nice that Machado, so many years after I copied it, today helps me to present a new ingredient in compassionate communication: patience. We talk about that trusting without despair -or despairing just the necessary- that everything comes when it’s the time.
So why patience in a more compassionate and conscious communication? Because so many times we ourselves will not know what to say and will better wait for the message to mature. Or because we will know the what, but we will not be clear on how to say it. A close example: a friend tells me that she had a conflict with another person and how it took weeks to be clear about the questions she needed to ask to resolve the issue. Here is a full-fledged act of patience, in this case and first with oneself.
While waiting, we can take the opportunity to clarify emotions, or to think about the other party and how he/she will or will not receive our message; or we can simply elaborate a more intelligible and generous speech.
I often find another example in professional settings, when it is necessary to give constructive feedback. I usually recommend a very simple but effective process consisting of 4 steps, the first one being to ask for permission. Managers look at me upset when I explain this: “Ask the other person for permission to give feedback? I don’t understand, why is that necessary?”
If we think about it, it will seem obvious: you have to ask the other for permission because, although it might be the right time for us, it may not be for the other party. Perhaps the other person has a horrible day or a busy head, and will not listen to or understand anything we say, no matter how constructively we say it. Asking for permission, and knowing how to wait for the right time for the other party, builds a more efficient and respectful communication.
Perhaps the most extreme example of the value of patience in our interpersonal relationships is in the processes of forgiveness. Many will have lived it in their own skin: sometimes it takes years, or a lifetime, to reach the right point where two or more people can communicate in sincere terms of forgiveness. Knowing how to wait and trust for the tide to flow is in this case more daring than ever.
But be careful that knowing how to wait should not mean giving up what we want or should say. There will be cases in which knowing how to wait ends with a silence, of course. Because sometimes silence is the best and most compassionate form of communication. But then let it be a conscious silence, convinced that this is the best option for everyone.
In the end, knowing how to wait for the good moment in interaction with others resembles learning to accept the tempo of things in one’s own life. Here I think of myself, of my own impatience, or that of close friends, and of the flirtation with the despair that impatience brings. We are human and it is true that we all do what we can at every moment.
Over the years, I have understood that patience goes hand in hand with trust. Maintaining confidence while exercising patience, each in its own way and at its own pace and to the limits it deems appropriate, even if said so may seem like an oxymoron.
Yesterday I was strolling and, passing by a fig tree, I got its fantastic aroma of figs in the process of ripening. I immediately thought of patience and how to expect the fruit to reach its right point. With figs it will not be until mid-September. In these latitudes, only then will they be delicious. Not before. And this image once more reminds me of Lao Tzu‘s great aphorism:
“Nature does not hurry, and yet everything is accomplished.”
I leave you with it. Happy and relaxed summer to all! We will return after the rest, with new ideas around compassionate communication. A warm hug!