• Ashley Ward

Learning A New Language…

All we need is love, right? If only life and love were as simple as The Beatles declared... Yet, we know love is beyond complicated. Personally, I'm called by my faith to "love one another." I admit this is hard, really hard, to do in its purest form. Thanks to an amazing opportunity I am experiencing through work, I'm learning a new language that will allow me to get closer to that state of pure acceptance. This language is about understanding people, including how they behave and why they do what they do. I hope this knowledge will help me learn to love others better, from a place of shared humanity and faith.

Loving others from our shared humanity is rooted in a simple truth, we are human beings worthy of respect, kindness and compassion. This type of love can be freeing because it does not mean I have to like other people's choices or their beliefs and values. I may disagree with everything they stand for and I still want to acknowledge their right to exist and have beliefs, just as much as I want that acknowledgment from others. This language I'm learning is expanding my definition of love.

Brené Brown was interviewed by Krista Tippet for her On Being podcast and their musings contemplated our connection to one another. I invite you to listen. I was moved by this profound statement from Brown, "...at the very heart of belonging is spirituality — not religion, not dogma, but spirituality, and a very important, specific tenet of spirituality, which I believe cuts across faith and denomination and belief system. And by “spirituality” I mean the deeply held belief that we’re inextricably connected to each other by something greater than us. And that thing that is greater than us is rooted in love and compassion — that there’s something bigger than us and that we are connected to each other in a way that cannot be severed." Contemplate that world!

What do I mean by a new language anyway? I am learning a new way to read human behaviors and what drives people to do what they do. I've studied human behavior most of my life and what I've learned over the past month is taking this level of understanding to a new level. I took a Psychology class in high school, then started down that track in college. That path was disrupted when I discovered the fascinating world of Anthropology. I studied abroad in Zimbabwe because I wanted to experience life in a country very different from my own. Then I moved into the world of social work early in my career and supported people who required constant care due to physical, emotional and/or mental disabilities. For the past decade I have learned how people engage in leadership. I get to encourage and support leaders to identify and live out their personal and organizational values and it's incredibly powerful to see people get in tune with what motivates them so they can do their best work and lead from that strength.

This learning is like diving into a pool many fathoms deep and it's humbling to realize how much I have to learn and discover about people. We are so complex and, often times, grossly misunderstood by those who are very different from us. When was the last time you had a powerful conversation with someone you thought you knew and yet, you discovered new insights into this person and who they are? When have you connected with someone who is very different from you, in personality, age, life experiences and belief systems? What did you learn? What made your ability to connect with that person so successful or what made it fail? What types of people and encounters cause you to really stretch so you can listen for understanding? When do you listen for the sake of learning about a person instead of listening to share your story, your perspective, your opinion?

I invite you to ponder the power of love in a new light. How can you approach each interaction from a place of love? How could that improve your ability to communicate and connect? Where can you be more vulnerable to open up and share? What are the triggers for you that cause you to shut down? What can you do to stand up for yourself and stay open?

I realize it's not possible to connect safely with everyone. There are truly toxic people in this world, but I believe they are few and far between. If you have someone like that in your life, do what you have to do to stay safe. Love can hurt and I am not in denial about that. If you are in a situation where love is hurting you physically and/or emotionally, please get help. I know there are many loving and compassionate people who work organizations and places for that purpose.

If you are struggling to understand how to work with someone who is different from you, consider a few things....

  • Is this person more introverted or extroverted? How do you describe yourself?

  • Is this person fast-paced or slower moving? How do you describe your pace?

  • Does this person focus more on people or on tasks? What is your primary focus?

  • Is this person more direct or indirect? And you?

Whatever your answers, consider how you can adjust your style and approach to better match theirs. This is only scratching the surface of this new language and it's only one aspect of who we are - our behaviors - and they greatly influence how we interact with others and how we approach our work, our relationships and our lives.

As this new language becomes more familiar and I learn more about another dimension that is as influential, our why - what motivates us to do what we do, I will explore that facet of human connection.

One thing feels certain when contemplating love...it's human. It can be terrifying and painful. It can be exhilarating and life-changing. It can also be simple, pure, and as predictable as the sunrise. Go forth and love...

I invite you to reflect on the following:

  • What is your natural approach when you want to connect someone? Is it different depending on the situation or are you the same person, generally speaking, at home, at work and at play?

  • What makes it easy for you to connect with others? What is hard?

  • When do you feel others are speaking your same language - what are you doing (or not doing) what is the environment like? It is buzzing and full of energy or is it quiet and still, or somewhere in between?

  • How would you describe your ability to flex and adjust to the natural style of others? What makes this easy and hard?

  • I invite you to dial up your observation of others' behaviors and take stock of what you notice. Then think about how you may want to adjust your style to better match another person and get curious about the outcome.