Like most everyone else, my Dialogic role shifts according to the scenario, circumstance, and how at ease I feel in a given moment. Generally, I am a Follower. Listener to a fault, very much invested in what the person in front of me is saying, what their sharing might feel like for them, and the effect of their shared experience on areas of their lives beyond the immediate. I’ve had to practice extracting myself from conversations that I’ve unconsciously encouraged with social skills that seem like common courtesy. I’ve been a Follower in the general definition, also, a great assistant, supporter behind the scene.
As a classroom art teacher, art teacher to adults in community center, and a recent year-long gig as an artist-in-resident at Baltimore Museum of Art, my Following changed it’s shape. In these environments, my role is to walk with my students or museum guests. I guide to an idea communicated with art. I allow the student or guest to walk ahead a few steps and contemplate independently while I observe from a distance, looking for signs that my assistance is needed, or that a thought has come up. Then we walk together, I ask questions for clarification and to excavate details. I listen, record, walk, follow, watch, reflect and hold.
The hazard of developing the skill of attunement, is that its hard to turn off.
One could argue that the Follower is actually giving the Mover momentum, and without the Follower, the Mover would be talking to the air. I’ve already practiced Standing-By, not investing, perhaps merely overhearing and chiming in once- mostly just watching the talking pass by.
I’m always craving my day to Move- or better, to Oppose! How does a nurturing empath do that?! Getting sick of stupid shit helps. Here’s where I admit that most times I don’t let minor things bother me until there’s a big pile of minor things, so is resentment. Resentment doesn’t need to get into the conversation, it’s just my threshold signal that something needs to be Moved or Opposed -like a boulder on my foot.
This week an opportunity to Move and Oppose came to me. I didn’t just walk up to it and start shoving it, because I’m concerned about feelings in confrontation. My habitual expectation is that no matter how I approach, some form of backlash will put me back in the role of Following. Maybe this has become a self fulfilling prophesy.
With new tools gained from a few weeks of class, I am ready to try afresh. The intended goal takes a terrific amount of sustained focus. Simultaneously holding validity, compassion, air-time for myself and my partner in conflict, all in a container is like lifting a bar bell in my own body weight. My emotions flood in for a moment or two, then I compose, and create another angle to gently apply. It’s beginning to be clear that I’m not a master, though I’ve had a good deal of practice with defensive people.
Spontaneously, the conflict turned a corner -I really can’t recall that tiny nano second. I’d been trying to Move my message clearly and respectfully. I began to think of third party interventions, to walk out, but I think what changed the direction of the conflict was my ultimatum. My point of view is that we really do work with degrees of unspoken ultimatums. You treat me like a friend and you can be my friend. You act thoughtlessly, then I move on. Its sort of the other version of The Golden Rule (particularly for people in my personal sphere). It’s not about passive aggression, it’s about establishing that respect is mutual.
I really think what changed the course of our conflict was that I spoke an ultimatum. Something like, “I thought we were going to be able to talk about this constructively, but it looks like we’re just going in circles. I don’t want to go in circles.” To be honest, I’m sure that’s when I started to cry. Do Movers cry? Hmmm. I really don’t aspire to use that as a technique! In fact, I get mad when tears interfere with my poise.
Whatever that nano-second held, afterwards my partner in conflict became receptive. And then I was really able to Move to risk exposure and be honest. I could see that my words were now being Followed. Could it be that my honestly spoken ultimatum became a container?