Bad day for barbecue
In Entry 4, I wrote that concerning Oligoamory, I regard “communication” as a “flexible variable” rather than as a set “value” carved in stone.
The vast majority of texts, podcasts and videos on ethical non-monogamy emphasise “communication” as one of the most important pillars of functioning multiple relationships – and, of course, rightly so and with good reason. Because of that I’m pretty sure that I will dedicate several bLog-Entrys to that elementary topic in the upcoming future.
At the same time, I noticed recently that “good communication” itself again also requires “flexible variables” on its own in order to take place at all.
Such variables are represented for example by the own resources or respectively the overall condition of the communicating persons.
This may sound strange at first – but communication fails many times already despite the first well-intentioned advice: “Sit down and talk reasonably with each other!”
Occasionally, family is a very suitable field of practice for conduct in small communities, so I’ll give you a personal example of the potentially underlying problem.
The story started Thursday when my daughter brought me one of those famous “information-leaflets” home from school. In it, as a parent, I was briefed on the details of the “school year-end feast” held on the very next Monday evening with both class teachers, parents, and students.
The letter began with the neat phrase “Dear Parents, as you have already been informed by your daughter/son, we want to conclude the school year together next Monday on our barbecue area […]“.
It was noon on Thursday when the note in question lay lonely on the kitchen table (where I discovered it when I entered the room because of my own lunch break) and – the readers will guess as much – I hadn’t “already been informed” in any way beforehand about anything.
Well – I have to admit that as a parent of two school-kids there are a lot of more or less important notes concerning school-activities in about 8 school-years that are handed in this way to catch the attention of a busy father. In fact there are so many that I – in order to keep track of them all – have become accustomed to prioritizing these announcements according to my own “rating-system of urgency”. E.g. I respond more promptly concerning an invitation to a personal one-to-one talk with the maths teacher on a breaking performance curve than on the appeal for donations to the sports festival or regarding the mere info with the opening hours of the cafeteria. And at the very bottom of my list are invitations to social events that are related to school only in so far as that the people who meet there have anything to do with class 8b (which in my case is also because I cannot muster any enthusiasm concerning social gatherings for the purpose of recreational activity with mostly strangers one way or the other).
Nevertheless, to subdue incoming messages to my system of “important” or “less important”, I have to read them at least once for this purpose (which is, at any rate, one bonus-point for me!).
Accordingly I knew that I would still be involved in my daily work “next Monday between 6 and 8 p.m.” – and thus would have a plausible explanation for my non-participation. Honestly however, I would have to admit, of course, that for personal summons by the maths teacher concerning a crisis talk regarding the above mentioned performance curve, I would have certainly made the time (and this wouldn’t have been too much of an effort fo me either…).
Anyway, I eventually met my 14-year-old daughter in the course of the Thursday evening and left it up to her whether she wanted to go to the barbecue or not (since: “The students tell the teachers until Friday how many participants from their family are to be expected […] “). I also offered her to buy anything she wanted to provide at the event.
Alas, parents of teenagers might have guessed the answer – determined and definite as it was delivered: “I just dunno…”
Even some guidebooks
recommend it: Perhaps this would have been the point to start a
conversation about communication culture – in a way a kind of
meta-communication – concerning the general way of delivering
school-relevant news and up to the precise verbalisation of an
opinion-forming process – on which in turn actions of other persons
(in this case mine) would have been based.
But I didn’t and left the matter at that.
Anyhow, even if this brief incident may not throw a rosy light on the organisational and rhetorical achievements of adolescents, it is essentially telling to a great degree something about myself.
This I realised when I was approached by my nesting-partner on Saturday whether I talked to my daughter about the school-barbecue. And if I had asked her about the neglected preannouncement “… as you have already been informed by your daughter/son…” (since my nesting-partner as mistress of our family-.schedule appreciates definite plans and observed agreements).
So what about “my share” concerning this (communicative) occurence?
First and foremost, I have to admit that I, Oligotropos, allocate issues that directly affect myself my top priority. In relation to the described example, therefore e.g. a letter from the tax office with my name on it would have impressed me much more – and would have led to a much more committed reaction. At the same time, the school tried its part to involve me – because the appellation “Dear parents” clearly included me.
Nevertheless, I was biased because I attributed the topic “school” to the sphere of my children. And not so much in the sense of “(That is) Not my problem”, but rather in the sense of “This is not primarily my problem” – and therefore not my main priority.
But in doing so, I started a “dwindling spiral of diminution”. Maybe it was supported by the fact that my children – on the whole – are quite good in school. Accordingly, I usually expect that the topic “school” isn’t coming down on me suddenly (but we all know that accidents are quickly going to happen here…). This way I downgraded the note and the barbecue-event to a “subsidiary occurrence” and my brain, always striving for coherent structures, equated “subsidiary” with “of less importance (to me)”.
And alas, as shown above, I had supplied my “internal filing system” with another demur yet, because my brain knew my dislike concerning “social activities” very well – and thus was an easy target to succumb to inner temptation.
And my inner temptation in turn had already the upper hand anyway because that week I was on the edge of exhaustion due to an immediate increase in workload.
Still, I managed to address my daughter concerning the parent’s letter because I’m responsible for our family-shopping and the letter had informed me that “everyone brings their own food and drinks”. “Shopping” and “Caring for the family” seem to have a heightened priority in my classification (since I actually maintain those activities under almost all circumstances, even if I’m pretty battered).
However, my daughter’s indecisive response regarding participation was in my view halfheartedly and I couldn’t tell any more if I would contribute to her well-being in any way by badgering her about the barbecue.
And that nailed the last nail into the communication-coffin: The “Dunno…” of my daughter confirmed to me that the barbecue-event was probably of low priority to her, too, and I ticked off the topic – literally: Hardly worth mentioning.
This way, any conversation about “how” the note was conveyed was buried alongside the whole subject as well. After all: Why take the risk of disharmony because of a topic that was pursued by all parties involved with so little urgency?
That’s what I meant in the beginning with the terms resources and overall condition of the communicating persons.
Genuine communication – no matter how the quality would have been – regarding the subject, in which all parties could express their concerns didn’t take place.
And that’s why we will never know how this conversation would have turned out – and only you, dear readers, will learn about my motivations – although it would have been much more important if I had managed to convey them in time to the members of my social group (here: my family). Since “family” is, strictly speaking, also a kind of “multiple relationship” (even if some relations – those of children to their parents, for example – are not utterly based on free choice).
So – how was my above behaviour influencing my multiple relationship?
On the one hand, of course, I can attribute myself and my own needs a high priority, even in social settings. And in Entry 11 we have agreed that I am the “hero in my own life’s movie”.
On the other hand I am not above or beyond these social settings since I participate willingly – and I want to contribute to the “mutual we” (which I quote so often concerning Oligoamory). In Entry 11, therefore, I also have shown that it is not a contradiction for Homo sapiens to combine self-interest and group-interest in individual actions – providing that a being perceives itself as part of that very group.
►As a result, it is extremely important – in respect of this social group – to separate the topic of a conversation or the reason for communication from the conversation proper or the act of communication itself (at least in your head).
Because otherwise I impose my personal reasons that I associate with the topic (such as exhaustion, convenience, individual priorities…) on any opportunity for communication – and thereby on my entire social group. As a consequence I strip the other participants at the outset from their voice – and thus place my own motives at the highest rank for the entire community: thereby forfeiting the “mutual we”.
And this was not even a deliberate-intentional process of mine, but rather based on a series of individual reasons and counterarguments, which in my view, due to my situational condition, intertwined quite comprehensibly.
Nevertheless, in achieving a short-term success (Now I do not have to go/contribute to the barbecue) I have spoiled several important opportunities for me and my community:
First and foremost, I’m not going to know know whether my daughter really wanted to attend the barbecue-party or whether she had sensed quite clearly that I had already dismissed the matter beforehand. After all, the other participants in our social group also act “reciprocally” – in other words, the sensitivities of others are incorporated into their own wishes and decisions (especially children or sensitive individuals are affected).
In the same way, I avoided a talk which might have led to the possible improvement of the overall conversational culture – and, to be precise, even contributed a paramount example of sloppy conduct myself.
Thereby I had deprived myself of the opportunity to show myself in my true colours towards my loved ones: To explain my situation, my condition, my wishes and needs.
That way the core-competence of “the mutual we “, the resource-pooling and the power of support – which I regard as the backbone of Oligoamory – didn’t unfold.
Of course, in the end, the result might have been the same: Maybe we all wouldn’t have mustered the capacity to include the barbecue-party in the common schedule. Or maybe it would have become apparent that no one would have been in the mood to participate anyway.
But more minds might have found amazing possibilities or showed surprising motivation – which I myself couldn’t have foreseen in my own preoccupied and exhausted head.
In addition, communication, like any skill, can best be improved through practice. Even if a not completely harmonious conversation would have been the result because the touchy subject “transport of information” (by means of the kitchen table) would have been part of the talk.
Sometimes we need courage not to work things out just on our own. Especially when we see ourselves as part of a close-knit community. Even things that we classify allegedly as trifles may probably affect our whole relationship-network in some way – and thus all the others involved.
Therefore, we can strengthen our mutual trust the most by making our personal motivations transparent.
It is possible that at the end of the day it will become apparent to us that our own “good reasons” weren’t quite as heroic or comprehensible to the others as to ourselves.
But the likelihood is much greater that we will benefit from our relationship-network because it is “more than the sum of its parts” and we will gain unexpected support or at least mutual understanding.
I hope that next time, this friendly thought will help me if I avoid a conversation from the very start, because I assume that I am not up to it.