Will You Forgive Me by John Powell?

                   Will You Forgive Me by John Powell?

All the passages below are taken from John Powell’s book “The Secret of Staying in Love,” published in 1974.

A Healing Question

It is not strictly a part of dialogue, since it involves judgments and a decision, but it is an almost magical enabler and facilitator of dialogue. It is the simple request: “Will you forgive me?” The beginning of most human rifts that sabotage love and dialogue is what I have called a “wounded spirit.” For example, I speak to you in a condescending manner or I say something to you that hurts. I may or may not realize the effects of my manner or words on you, but to a greater or lesser degree you arc crushed. It may also happen that you do not tell me of your pain, but act it out on me. We can then easily be trapped in a getting-even game, a back and forth contest. When this begins, the lines of communication are down, the relationship is bleeding, and there is great need for healing. Our spirits have been wounded.

What I am suggesting here is that most ailing relationships can he restored to health almost miraculously by this simple but sincere request: “Will you forgive me?” In asking the question, I am not assuming all blame. I am not deciding who was right and who was wrong. I am simply asking you to take me back into your love from which I have been separated. The acknowledged need for forgiveness is the most effective means of restoration for wounded spirits. No relationship should go on for very long without it.[129-130]

Daily Bread of Dialogue

As we have defined dialogue, it centers around the communication or sharing of emotions. The purpose of this dialogue is to enable the partners to come to a deeper knowledge, understanding, and fuller acceptance of each other in love. Dialogue is always moving toward encounter, toward the mutual experience of each other’s person through this sharing of feelings. It is not for solving problems, exchanging ideas, making choices, giving and receiving advice, laying plans, or reasoning things out. All these belong to discussion. Effective dialogue is an absolutely essential prerequisite for fruitful discussions.

The assumption of dialogue is that all feelings are very natural reactions that are the result of countless influences spaced out over the whole of one’s life. They can be stimulated by another but never caused by another. They are in us, and most probably have been stored in us since early childhood. They represent no danger and have absolutely no moral implications. We never need a reason, excuse, or explanation for the way we feel. It’s okay to feel whatever we feel. The only real danger is to ignore, deny, or refuse to report our feelings. The repression or non-expression of emotions leads to a generalized distortion of the whole human personality and to a great variety of painful symptoms.

There is absolutely no place in dialogue for arguing. Dialogue is essentially an exchange of feelings and there cannot be any argument over the way a person feels. There is room for argumentation in discussion, and couples must pass eventually from dialogue into discussion. We have to know how the other thinks, what the other prefers, so that we can make plans and decisions together. Problems requiring discussion constantly enter our lives, and we must deal with them together. However, we must be sure that dialogue is really completed before discussion begins.

Finally, true dialogue is characterized by a sense of collaboration, not competition. If there is a sense of contest, whatever is going on isn’t dialogue. Dialogue is the simple exchange of feelings without any attempt to analyze, rationalize, or assign responsibility for those feelings. Therefore, a partner who thinks that the other partner should not feel a certain way has really missed the whole point. She or he is probably rejecting the whole idea of dialogue and probably rejecting his or her partner as well. However, if the couple is discovering a fresh beauty and new depths of goodness in each other’s person, if they have a growing feeling of getting to know each other, they are succeeding in the art of dialogue.

Motives for Dialogue

Many years ago I read a book on public speaking. The first chapter was entitled “Never Try to Be a Better Speaker Than You Are a Person Because Your Audience Will Know.” It was reminiscent of Quintillian’s definition of a good speaker: a good person who speaks well. The obvious implication is that our motives usually show through in spite of our attempts to camouflage them. We have all felt and been misunderstood at times, but over the long haul, the intuitions of others about our motivation are usually accurate if incomplete. People attempting dialogue should listen sensitively, therefore, to their motives. I suggest that there are three possibilities to be given special consideration.

1.Ventilation. When we ventilate a room, we air it out. We rid it of stale air or odors. Emotions, too, can accumulate inside us to the extent that we feel a need to ventilate them, to get them “off our chest.” There may be occasional moments when this is necessary, but the fewer they are, the better the dialogue and relationship will be.

Ventilation is essentially egocentric. I want to feel better, so I am using you as a garbage dump for my emotional refuse. The occasional necessity for such ventilation is understandable, but nobody wants to be a habitual garbage dump or crying towel. Pouring out my emotional troubles to you so that I can feel better is self-centered. If it becomes a habit, a self-centered person develops, and such a person has little capacity for dialogue or love.

2. Manipulation. The second possible motive to be considered is manipulation. Love, we have said, is essentially freeing. Love asks only: “What can I do for you? What do you need me to be?” The unexpressed question in manipulation is exactly the opposite: “What can you do for me?” Manipulation is a sleight-of-hand way of pressuring another into fulfilling my needs.Now, obviously there are going to be times when I need you to help me, to stay with me, to listen to me. I should feel free to ask you without fear of rejection. Manipulation, however, as a motive for dialogue, implies that I report and describe my feelings to another so that the other will do something about them. As a manipulator I make the other feel responsible for my emotions. For example, I can tell you that I am lonely. It is simply a fact that I am going through a period of loneliness, and I want you to know that because I want you to know me. Or I can tell you in such a way that I clearly imply your responsibility to fill the void of my loneliness. By subtle innuendos of voice, facial expression, and so on, I make you feel the necessity to fulfill my needs. I am, by indirection and suggestion, using emotional leverage on you to get you to solve my problems.

There are no ways to uncover ventilation or manipulation as hidden motives in dialogue. We must remember, however, that if we fall into the temptation, we can protest our innocence to others and even convince ourselves, but others will know. Never try to be a better speaker than you are a person because your audience will know. When we are motivated habitually by the desire to ventilate or manipulate, we turn people into things. We value and deal with them only in terms of their value, function, and usefulness to us. When partners in dialogue do this, they degrade themselves and destroy their relationship. They soon drift off into monologue, and that is the way to alienation, to loneliness, to nowhere.

3. Communication. The only motive from which true dialogue can result is the desire for communication. We have said that communication means sharing, and that we share our real selves when we share our feelings. Consequently, the only valid motive for dialogue is this desire to give to another the most precious thing I can give: myself in self-disclosure, in the transparency achieved in dialogue.

Note: I’m sure you have felt at times, as I have, that others are not really interested in you. Not even those who supposedly love us and whom we supposedly love seem very interested in listening to us. I have certainly known many wives who feel this way about their husbands and many husbands who feel this way about their wives. The same thing is often reported to me by young people whose parents supposedly aren’t interested in them. I really think that many or most of these cases can be explained by the fact that the “put off” party was using one of the first two motives for self disclosure: either ventilation or manipulation. I know from my own experience that I get uncomfortable when I feel that I am being used or manipulated by another. I begin looking at the clock, looking for a way out. Human nature is essentially gregarious. The law of togetherness is written upon our hearts. However, this desire to know and to be known does not include the wish to be a garbage dump or a problem solver. We don’t want to feel “used.”

Trust Is a Choice

Anyone who has ever contemplated taking the risk of emotional transparency has also asked: Can I trust you? How far can I trust you? Will you understand or will you reject my feelings? Would you laugh at me or pity me? The usual procedure is to play swimmer, testing the temperature of the water, one toe at a time. Unfortunately, most of us decide to wait until we are sure and so never get into the healing waters of dialogue.

Waiting until we have an absolute guarantee of trust reminds me of a story I once heard. It seems that the mother of a young boy told his friends who had invited the boy to go swimming: “I am not going to allow Michael to go into the water until he learns to swim.” Obviously, the only way to learn to swim is by getting into the water. Likewise the only way one learns to trust is to trust.

Dialogue cannot be delayed. The court can’t bring in a verdict until the trial is held. And so dialogue demands an act of the will: I am going to trust you. I can’t be sure. Perhaps you will disappoint me. But I am going to risk, to take a chance, to open my most sensitive feelings to you because I want to give you this, my most valuable gift … because I love you. Because I love you I am going to give you, as my first gift, my trust.

The Myth of Privacy

One of our strongest needs, which can easily become a neurotic preoccupation, is the need to feel safe. And so most of us like to have a room of our own with selected signs for the door, like: PRIVATE-DO NOT TRESPASS or DO NOT DISTURB. We want a place of safety, barricaded against the invasion of others with their probing questions and inquisitive desire to know all about us. There is no nakedness more painful than psychological nakedness. Out of this need to feel safe and protected from the searching eyes of another grows a myth that everyone needs a private retreat where no one else can enter. It sounds good; it looks good; most people probably believe it. It is, nevertheless, a misleading myth: something we wish were true but is really not true.

Rather than a place reserved exclusively for self, what we really need is to have someone (a total confidant) know us completely and some others (close friends) know us very deeply. The pockets of privacy that we create for a place to run where no one can follow are death to the kind of human intimacy so necessary to the fullness of human life.

First of all, and it has become a cliche by now, I can know only so much of myself as I have the courage to confide to you. If I can feel totally free with you in a place cleared of “do not trespass” signs, I will no doubt go with the assurance of your companionship into places inside myself I could never have known existed. I will go into places I could never have gone alone. I need your hand in mine and the assurance of your committed and unconditional love even to attempt honesty about myself.

Second, your love will be effective only to the extent that I confide myself to you. When you say in one of the many ways that love is expressed that you love me, I will want to believe that you really know me. To the extent that I have hidden myself from you, the meaning of your love will be diminished. I will forever fear that you love only the part of me that I have let you know, and that if you knew the real me, all of me, you would not love me. Love follows upon knowledge, and so you can love me only to the extent that I let you know me.

It is true that, in all communication, kindness without honesty is sentimentality, but it is likewise true that honesty without kindness is cruelty. The genius of communication is the ability to be both totally honest and totally kind at the same time. It is one of the stern canons of dialogue that emotions should be reported at the time they are experienced and to the person to whom those emotions are related. Still, kindness should have much to say about the manner of communication.

But what about things that are not strictly emotions, but rather old “closed rooms” which have been a part of our human estate for a long time and which are the cluster point of many emotions? Oftentimes these “secrets of the past” have a definite effect on one’s self-image and behavior. Let us say, for example, that there is a secret shame, a humiliating failure from my past, or a neurotic inclination which I have never exposed to anyone. Perhaps if I told my partner in dialogue, he or she would think differently of me and might even begin to suspect me or my normalcy.

Some say that you cannot be totally open and honest with those you love. It would destroy them. These people say that we need only to be real in the part of ourselves that we do reveal. For the reasons given earlier I do not believe this. I do believe that these communications, which are not strictly and only emotions but which can have deep emotional implications, should be prudently timed.

Each person must make a fundamental judgment about the stability, the depth of understanding and acceptance in the relationship involved. The presumption is that these communications should be made now, or if that would seem imprudent, the revelation should be made at some time in the future when the necessary depth of understanding and acceptance has been achieved. Permanent withholding will always create a permanent deficiency in the relationship, an obstacle to the love that could have been.

No Judgments Allowed

Of all the threats to successful dialogue, the one to be most carefully avoided is the intrusion of judgments, either about oneself or about one’s partner in dialogue. We have said that no one can cause our emotions, but can only stimulate emotions that are already in us. The most common way that judgments enter into and ruin dialogue is through the door of my believing that you have caused my emotions. Or I might think that there is such an obvious connection between your action and my emotion that “anyone would have reacted as I did.” Both reactions are based on judgments and both judgments have to be false.

For example, we agreed to meet at a certain time and in a certain place. You arrive one half hour late. I am angry. I should tell you this as a simple fact, implying only that there is something in me that reacts angrily when I am left waiting. But think of the possible judgmental accusations that could enter into my words, voice inflection, or facial expressions.

“You could have been on time.”

“You acted inconsiderately.”

“You didn’t care about my feelings.”

“You don’t really love me.” 

“You’re always late.” 

“You’re very selfish.”

“You did this to hurt me or to get even with me.” 

“This is why you have no friends.” 

“You don’t think ahead.”

“Anyone else would have left on time to get here.”

Notice that all these judgments obviously put me into a superior position in our dialogue. This is the kind of “presumed advantage” that has no place in true dialogue. You might have emotions of your own, like embarrassment or frustration; but when I decide that righteousness is mine and suppose a privileged and superior position, it becomes obvious that my emotions must be handled, not yours. Judgments are death to true dialogue. Furthermore, the kind of judgments we are tempted to make usually involve a kind of indirect, destructive criticism that is fatal to self-acceptance, self-appreciation, and self-celebration. And when they have gone, love has been lost.

How to Speak in Dialogue

The disposition to dialogue is very briefly this: I want you to know me. I come to dialogue in search of mutual understanding, not in pursuit of victory. I want to share my most precious possession, myself, with you. Emotional warning flags are fluttering all over the place, telling me that this is risky business. Of course, I know this. But I want to take this risk for you because I love you and want to make this an act of love. I know that there is no gift of love without this gift of myself through self-disclosure.

I know also that I am asking through this self-revelation. I am asking first for your understanding and acceptance. I am also inviting you to reciprocate, to share yourself with me. You, too, will probably experience instinctively a sense of my taking this risk. It may be that my taking this risk for you will empower you to take a risk for me. Whenever you are ready for that risk, I will be here for you. Do not feel that you must respond to me on my terms or at my time. Love is freeing, and so my love for you must always leave you free to respond in your own way and at your own time.

The essence of risk is this: I have needs. When I reveal my feelings to you, you will know this. I will have to tell you about my loneliness, my discouragement, my self-pity, my fears in facing life. The myth of my self-sufficiency will be exploded. I will have no more of the old facades of nonchalance or bravado to hide behind. The pretense of my self-sufficiency was both ego-supportive and ego-defensive. But it has kept you from knowing the real me. So I am going to sacrifice it for you because I want you to know the true me. When I have left all my other games, the protection of my sham and pretense, and when I have left myself naked before you, will you stay with me and clothe me with the gentle garments of your understanding?

It is relatively easy to see why this risk is necessary in a love relationship. Love, we said, asks the question: “What do you need me to be, to do?” If I am not willing to acknowledge my needs honestly and openly, then there is no place in my life for your love. You could never feel that you are really important to me. You would eventually leave me. You would never want to be just another pair of clapping hands in my audience.

So I come to you in dialogue, wanting you to know me and willing to take this essential risk of transparency in the revelation of my needs. In doing so I must remember that what I will tell you is uniquely mine to offer you. The heart of my revelation will not be my thoughts. Everyone could know every thought I ever had and not really know me. I must share with you my deepest feelings. When I give you from the store of my thoughts, opinions, and preferences, I somehow know that I am giving of my excess. When I give you my deepest feelings, I am giving you my very substance. I am giving you the real meaning of me.

It should also be remembered that each person feels in a unique way the emotions common to everyoneMy feelings of depression or hurt are not yours. It is also true that each person reacts physically in a different way. Some people develop strong bodily sensations under the influence of certain emotions, while others react to the same feelings by turning numb and freezing. Likewise, social reactions are different. When some people are hurt, they want only to be left alone, while others instinctively look for someone to whom they can describe their hurt.

So speakers in dialogue must describe their feelings as uniquely theirs, and as graphically and vividly as possible. When Adlai Stevenson II lost in his second presidential bid, he said he felt like a little boy who had painfully stubbed his toe. “It hurts too much to laugh, but I am too old to cry.” Of course, having Stevenson’s gift of eloquence would help, but I have to work with what I’ve got, even if everything I say doesn’t become immediately memorable or quotable. I can still feel like “there’s a funeral going on in my heart … I feel like a pebble on a beach … I feel like a cancelled stamp in the great post office of life.”

In order to achieve the quality of emotional description which will enable the listener to experience the same emotions, the speaker must first try to feel his or her emotions as deeply as possible. Most people don’t spend enough time allowing their emotions to surface and sensitively listening to them. We are usually tempted to rush off into some distraction or into an intellectual analysis of the feelings. Only rarely do we fully and consciously have our emotions. It is obvious that I can communicate to you only what I have been willing to hear inside myself. If I do not listen carefully to my own fully emerged emotions, the sounds will be vague and my descriptions to you will be equally vague. And vague sounds do not lead to the profound sharing of feelings, to the peak experiences of communication which transform and deepen a love relationship.

I must, as a speaker in dialogue, be so vivid that you can feel and live my emotions. I don’t want to tell you about that emotion; I want to transplant it into you. I want you to taste my bitterness, to wander around in the debris of my failure, to feel the pumping adrenalin of my spectacular success. In dialogue I am not telling you abstract truths about me, but the unique truth of me at this moment in my life. Remember that it is my feelings that individuate me, that make me different from everyone else. And the feelings I am having right now make me different from what I have ever been or will ever become. I want to share with you this unrepeatable moment in my personal history.

Lastly, some kind of context for the emotional content of dialogue should be a part of the speaker’s responsibility. The total communication might be visualized as having three parts: (1) a brief description of yourself in terms of physical, subjective influences that might be affecting your emotional state (for example, “I am very tired … I am on a strict diet … I quit smoking a week ago”), (2) the specific events of the day that stimulated the emotions to be revealed (for example, “I was refused the raise I asked for … I saw this movie and … I failed my chemistry exam … You told me you were too busy and couldn’t help me”), (3) the emotions themselves.

The first two parts can be handled very briefly, as their only function is to provide some kind of context and perspective for the emotions, which are the heart of dialogue.

How to Listen in Dialogue

God gave us two ears but only one mouth, which the Irish have interpreted as a divine suggestion that we should listen twice as much as we talk. Whether this be true or not, 50 percent of our personal success at dialogue is determined by how well we listen. Paul Tournier talks of the “dialogues of the deaf, in which no one really listens.” If people do not listen, it is either because they are not interested or because they feel threatened by what they might hear. Consequently, real dialogue and real listening belong to a world of understanding and love. Real dialogue can occur only here. Any suggestion or feeling of competition, of being in a win-lose contest is a certain sign that dialogue has not been achieved. Reuel Howe, in his book The Miracle of Dialogue, says that everyone “is a potential adversary, even those we love. Only through dialogue are we saved from this enmity toward one another. Dialogue is to love what blood is to the body.”

And so the special virtue of the listener in dialogue is empathy. The true listener wants only to understand, to arrive at that moment when he or she can honestly say: “I hear you. I am sharing your feelings. I am feeling them with you.” To be true listeners we must be available, be called out of ourselves in an act of listening. We are not afraid of what we will hear because all we seek is mutual understanding, not victory. We have no ready suggestions, no facile solutions, and no pink pills of pity ready to dispense. We don’t interrupt except when necessary for our own better understanding. We don’t think about our response while the other is talking. And when the emotions of the speaker take a clear shape, we accept them into ourselves. We do not merely tolerate them with a condescending: I will allow you to have that emotion.

Basically, the true listener acknowledges and respects otherness in the speaker. Many people carry around inside themselves a little checklist with which to run others through the test of conformity. Such people prefer the whole world to be a carbon copy of themselves. The classical figure of the non-listener is Archie Bunker, the television character. Archie talks at people, not to them or with them. He has certain prepared answers on all topics and for all questions. He is a living portrait of the closed mind. He either knows it, or it is not important. Such a person does not have to listen.

We laugh at Archie. He reminds us of somebody we know. But if we are starkly honest with ourselves, we will be able to admit that there is inside each of us a little Archie Bunker who really doesn’t listen. He is safe and satisfied where he is. Other people arc his pawns, to be manipulated into a position where they can best serve him.

Listening in dialogue is listening more to meanings than to words. It is listening with the heart more than with the head. Dialogue itself is more of a heart trip than a head trip. Such listening is a pondering rather than a quibbling over the meaning of words. In true listening we reach behind the words, see through them, to find the person who is being revealed. Listening is a searching to find the treasure of the true person, as revealed verbally and nonverbally. There is the semantic problem, of course. The same words bear a different connotation for you than they do for me. Consequently, I can never tell you what you said, but only what I heard. I will have to rephrase what you have said, and check it out with you to make sure that what left your mind and heart arrived in my mind and heart intact and without serious distortion.

Gabriel Marcel says that “presence and availability” are the essence of love. I must be free (available) to leave my own self and selfish concerns to go out to you in a total readiness to listen and to be concerned (presence). While I am listening to you, you become the center of my world, the focus of my attention. My availability supposes that I am not so filled with my own emotions that I cannot leave them and listen with deep empathy to you and to your feelings. Wrenching free from the narcissism of self preoccupation, especially when my emotions are painful, is difficult. However, it is a vital necessity for true listening and true dialogue. I cannot merely appear to be interested in you and what you are saying while I am in fact distracted by many other things. I must experience and convey the reality to you that my time, my mind, and my heart are yours. There is no one more important to me in this whole world right now than you.

If I have been successful in listening, I will convey to the speaker a reassuring: “I hear you!” And the speaker’s reaction will be something like this: “Thank God! Someone finally knows what it is like to be me.”

A good listener has an abiding respect for the inexhaustible mystery of the human person and its infinite varieties. Each experience in dialogue is a new discovery, an adventure into the previously unknown. The good listener does not have definite, prefabricated, inspected-and-approved expectations or anticipations concerning the person and revelation of the speaker. Having such expectations about what another can and cannot say gets a listener trapped in the “should-ought” box. And the one category that is not applicable to the riches of human emotions is that of should-ought.

Finally, a word of warning about “suppressive techniques.” As everyone knows, communication can be either verbal or nonverbal. We can suppress intended communication in either way, and we probably will do so if we are threatened by dialogue. I can say something that is cynical or disruptive, or I can sidetrack you in subtle, nonverbal ways. I can yawn, look at my watch, tighten my jaws, narrow my eyes, raise my eyebrows, suddenly lean forward, change the volume or pitch of my voice. In any case, I will be communicating through “coded signals,” and you will know that something is wrong. Those psychiatrists who use the traditional couch usually sit out of eye range of the patient so that none of their inadvertent reactions will be misinterpreted and cause the patient suddenly to clam up.

In evaluating our ability to listen in dialogue, we should check up on our possible use of these suppressive techniques. However, more reliable than our own recognition, and certainly more important to the success of our attempts at dialogue, would be the reaction of our partners in dialogue. We should sincerely ask them how often, by what mannerisms or “coded signals” they feel “put off.” Remember: It’s not what you say to people but what they hear that counts.

The Case of the Uncooperative Partner

The objection most often raised and the question most often asked in this whole area of dialogue is this: “What if I try but my partner simply will not cooperate—will not open up his or her feelings?” Many people claim to have this frustrating experience of unrequited self-disclosure. The fact is hard to ascertain, and the causes of unreturned self-disclosure are very difficult to diagnose.

There are, however, some presumptions and suggestions that a person in this position should investigate and evaluate with as much honesty as possible. First of all, I presume that all human beings want to be open, to be known and to be loved. Loneliness and alienation are painful conditions, and will be endured only when and if something worse is feared. If my partner in a relationship remains closed, he or she either has something to fear or thinks so. There is some reassurance that I have not been able to convey to him or her.

Most psychologists are of the opinion that if one of the parties in a love relationship really and truly opens up to the other as an act of loving self disclosure, the other will soon reciprocate. The underlying reasoning of such reciprocity is You have trusted me; I will trust you. Therefore, people with uncooperative partners might well ask themselves the following questions:

1. Am I truly opening myself to you as an act of love? Or have I been simply ventilating my own emotions, manipulating you?

2. Have I truly wanted unity, to know and to be known, or have my efforts of dialogue really been a pursuit of my own happiness and satisfaction?

3. Do I invite your openness only through my own openness, or do I pressure you? Do I poke with probing questions into areas that you have not voluntarily opened? Have I driven you into a defensive posture by my intrusive attacks on your privacy?

4. Do I have a sense that we are collaborators or competitors? Do I want you to be open more for your sake or for my own? If you did open up, would I feel that it was a victory for my perseverance or your victory over your own inhibitions?

5. What suppressive techniques might I be using without even knowing it? In general, do I look so depressed and fragile that you would not dare tell me the truth? Or do I look so domineering that you would not want to risk your secrets with me?

6. How have I received your attempts at openness in the past? Have I ever used your self-revelation to “hit back” in an argument?

7. Have I exposed my own needs, deficiencies, and incompleteness in such a way that you know that you do not have to fear me? Do you know of my need to know you, to share whatever you are and whatever is in you?

8. Am I, in general, the type who is always ready to give advice? Do I often feel that I know what is best for people even when they do not realize it themselves?

9. How do I speak of the confidence I have received from others? Do you see in me a judgmental, harsh, or condescending person? You may have seen the dried blood of others under my fingernails, and not wanted to risk your own tender flesh.

10. Am I too filled with my own emotions to be truly present and available to you and your feelings?

Negative Emotions

Obviously, the thorniest question about dialogue is that of negative emotions. What do I do when I feel hostile or even homicidal toward you? It happens, of course, in the best of families. There is a very definite risk and danger in telling you of my resentments, anger, bitterness, or hostility. Usually there is little or no risk in telling you of my grateful and loving feelings.

First of all, I feel sure that the growth of real love requires a commitment of total honesty between the two partners. They must agree from the outset that negative emotions will be just as welcome in dialogue as positive emotions. To see our way clear to this commitment of total honesty, we must face the fact that the only alternative to sharing in dialogue is somehow to “act out” these negative feelings. We can act them out on our selves (headaches, ulcers, and so forth) or on each other (in periods of silent pouting, in little games of spite, in the withholding of signs of affection, and the like). Or we can act them out on innocent bystanders (in yelling at the children, in being irritable with people at work or school, and so on).

Second, we must be convinced that the “friction” of negative emotions is not a bad sign at all, but rather a sign of health and vitality in a relationship. The absence of tensions or frictions is always a bad sign: The relationship itself is either dead or dying. Where there is life there is always some vital tension. Gibran says that we can easily forget those we have laughed with but we can never forget those with whom we have wept. It is also true that every relationship must have crises. They are really invitations to rise above those level plateaus, to go outside those “comfort zones” where we want to linger permanently. Crises are definitely invitations to growth, and those who courageously accept these invitations will find a new and fresh dimension in their love relationship.

More and more people today, educated by the world of advertisement that instant success and gratification are a law of life, are quitting. They are backing out of their love commitments without ever really challenging themselves and their coping abilities. Almost as sad are those who refuse to have a crisis because they refuse to endure the painful tensions that are part of a growing love relationship. They sadly settle for that twilight zone called “truce.”

However, if you have really been buying what I have been selling, it will be clear that there is very little danger of disaster through the communication of negative emotions. I have been stating as a fact that no one causes our emotions and that all other judgments, accusations, and assignments of responsibility are alien to true dialogue. “So I’m angry,” says the master of the dialogical art. “I’m angry because you were late. I well know that this anger is simply my reaction to the situation because of something in me. I also know that there are others, less scarred than I psychologically, who would react differently, maybe even sympathetically. But this is me at this moment in my life. I feel angry and even vindictive. I feel a vengeful urge to put you through some kind of frustration or inconvenience, to make you wait on a lonely street corner for me. Of course, I won’t do this. My emotions don’t make my decisions for me. However, I just wanted you to know that this is how 1 feel. I’ve got anger and vengeance in me, I guess, and I want you to know that because I want you to know me.”

A Healing Question

It is not strictly a part of dialogue, since it involves judgments and a decision, but it is an almost magical enabler and facilitator of dialogue. It is the simple request: “Will you forgive me?” The beginning of most human rifts that sabotage love and dialogue is what I have called a “wounded spirit.” For example, I speak to you in a condescending manner or I say something to you that hurts. I may or may not realize the effects of my manner or words on you, but to a greater or lesser degree you arc crushed. It may also happen that you do not tell me of your pain, but act it out on me. We can then easily be trapped in a getting-even game, a back and forth contest. When this begins, the lines of communication are down, the relationship is bleeding, and there is great need for healing. Our spirits have been wounded.

What I am suggesting here is that most ailing relationships can he restored to health almost miraculously by this simple but sincere request: “Will you forgive me?” In asking the question, I am not assuming all blame. I am not deciding who was right and who was wrong. I am simply asking you to take me back into your love from which I have been separated. The acknowledged need for forgiveness is the most effective means of restoration for wounded spirits. No relationship should go on for very long without it.

The Emotional Reward for Perseverance

We have said that any suggestion of competition undermines a love relationship and the practice of dialogue. The opposite and appropriate spirit is that of collaboration. It is a spirit that takes for granted that we are committed to each other in love, that we are willing to bear each other’s burdens and share each other’s joys. We have lost two I’s to become one We. We will work at life’s challenges together. We will succeed sometimes and sometimes we will fail, but we will be together. This sense of “togetherness” may well be the nicest and most sustaining awareness we will have. It is the joy of achieving together, of collaboration, of unity.

If self-appreciation and self-celebration are really the beginning of love and the fullness of life, we will achieve it together. You will look into my eyes and see there the great cause you have for self celebration and I shall see my beauty, my value in your eyes. I want to be the first of the invited guests at your celebration-of-self party. And I want you to come to my party, because without you there never could have been such a party. Where there is unity like this, the butterfly of happiness cannot be far away. [107-130]

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