Today I spent a little time sitting along a stream. It started as a hike, but the high temperature, my mindset, and the appeal of the water brought me to sit on a rock along the stream bank. I sat still for about ten minutes before I started to see all the activity in the water. Dozens of tiny fish darting, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in a solitary search. As I started my hike, there were more folks swimming and tubing in the river than I anticipated. It was loud and somewhat crowded. People were engaged with their friends and their family, unaware or ambivalent to what was going on under the water.
I then noticed the surface changes, some abrupt and some subtle. The presence of underwater rocks and some large, exposed boulders created breaks in the smooth water surface. Underneath the surface, turbulence and current streams are created by the irregular rocks that comprise the riverbed. Those irregularities make the places for everything that lives and goes on underneath the surface. It made me appreciate how I should slow down when fishing, and it also brought me to how we see each other as people, even with people to which we are frequently connected. If we are looking at the surface and the busy interactions around us, we can miss what is below the surface. I thought of what things were below the surface for the people I care about, how things that are unseen often go unsaid.
Part of every relationship is the unsaid things. Part of every family is the unsaid things. Those unsaid things are often deep and powerful:
That hurt me.
I need support.
I want you to be proud of me.
That smile meant a lot.
I wish I wasn’t around you right now.
Do you even understand me?
How can you be so rude?
Don’t you see what I need?
How could you miss that?
Those things left unsaid often build up. They create a story (or add to an existing story) in our minds; we build a case around why they are true. But they go unsaid until they escape in futility or anger as demands, attacks, or exasperation. The recipient is bombarded and defensive. It doesn’t go well.
The unsaid is scary to say, and sometimes it is the message of our insecurities; it seems irresponsible to relay them. But sometimes we need to stand in our vulnerability. We need to say the unsaid. If we wait too long, they, our thoughts and feelings can lose connection to the moment. If we let them build, they become bigger than they should be. They’re not always rational; they’re not always even true. They are just unsaid and part of our mental models and stories. They miss perspective of those around us, those who care about us. They define and add to a story we’ve created without any input. That story is likely incomplete even if we’ve concluded it is true.
When things don’t align with our expectations they can go unsaid and add to the story. I’m writing this with many unsaid things in my head and many moments left without my input. I just carry the baggage and the stories of those unsaid things. It creates tension, it pushes people away. It creates misalignment where only conversation and understanding is required in each moment.
What do we need for the unsaid things? 1) a flashlight on ourselves and 2) courage to have a voice. I’m stealing the flashlight reference from Sam Parrotto. She has been a guide, support, and friend in my life for quite some time. The flashlight on ourselves is a concept she introduced me to. Knowing where we are coming from, what preconceived notions we are attached to, helps our unconscious self step up and be observed. We express a lifetime of experiences in each moment and each word. What aspects of our past help lead us to reaffirm those stories can be recognized and owned so that we can remove our self-imposed limitations to our own story. Knowing where we are coming from helps us own the parts of our story that are based on our past, that we bring to every new relationship and situation.
To share our stories and our unsaid thoughts takes courage to show our vulnerability. Brene Brown has a life-changing TED Talk on vulnerability. She defines courage as telling the story of your life with your whole heart. To find that courageous voice it takes self-belief, self-appreciation and the ability to recognize that what is vitally important is below the surface. Courageous people are compassionate, understanding, and have the audacity to do something with no guarantees of the result. They let themselves be seen, without hiding imperfections. They recognize they are imperfect and hard-wired for struggle, that’s what they signed up for. They know they are enough and all worthy of love. They give everyone a pair of polarized glasses and ask them to look under the surface. I guess by writing this, I’m hoping you will all look under the surface.