My eloquence is in words; great communication is poetic. My mother in law calls it harmony to be so attuned. We see the same beautiful thing and celebrate it differently: effective communication.
My mom in law is a visual and verbal person, and cannot stand trying to contain her thoughts on paper. So her metaphor for great communication is harmonious, as if it were a song.
I am very much the complement. Words freely flow from my fingertips on a keyboard, but there they stop – I cannot think fast enough to collect my thoughts outside writing. I hold up the ideal of communication with wordsmithing and poetry, something I inherited from my liberal arts-loving mother.
Despite our differences, we both cherish the same thing. Today we talked on a meta-aware level about our own communication patterns. It went swimmingly, because we both understood ourselves and each other and could convey that.
My mom in law chatters ceaselessly, and can at times feel as if she is trampling others in conversation. Whereas I pick and choose my words with utmost care, overflowing with abundant reserve. Pairing those two styles together works for us, though it could just as easily lead to ruinous one-sided conversation.
It works for us because we're both comfortable with our boundaries. I can assert myself when I've heard enough, and she won't have her feelings hurt for being told to cut it out. We can more easily trade the conversational ball back and forth without jarring breaks or awkward pauses.
When you get two effective communicators together, you get harmony. Or poetry, or grace, or a dozen other metaphors that scrabble at the edges of a truth larger than words alone convey.
I wanted to reflect upon this, but to do so I first need to explain my family.
My family was once extensive
When I was young my life was packed full of vibrant friends and family, all close to my mother. She was the central connection in a vast web of uniquely strange but wonderful people.
This was perfect for me to grow up with, for I believe that "people sharpen people like iron sharpens iron." Without them around, I could not grow nearly as strong or as capable as I am today.
Then came that black night when my mother died. She gasped her last half-paralysed breaths as my weeping father held her in his arms.
Her passage tore a gash through the centre of the web of our lives. My few bonds that survived grew stronger, but without her there were so many people cut off from my life.
One by one my family dwindled down to just a handful of close connections. There were too many deaths, too much distance, and countless excuses for losing touch with people.
Which left me with a lonesome family experience... Until I met my dearheart.
Piecing together my own family
I needed to build my own network of connections, similar to what my mother did. One of the important places to start is with my in-laws. I saw what wonderful people were in my dearheart's family and said "I want to be a part of this." It was a major factor for why I married him at all.
Marriage to me has always been about combining families and practical matters such as taxes and legal rights. I never needed a marriage to validate my love or my relationship, and could have just as easily gone my whole life committed to my dearheart without involving the government in it.
Yet I'm overjoyed to have such wise, loving in-laws in my life to serve as role models. Their quality of character helps me sharpen my own character. Nowhere is this more evident than in their self-awareness and ability to communicate.
These skills are something that my dearheart learned from them, and it's something I've always admired about him. Even in the midst of his own emotions he can recognise what is going on within himself and explain it to me. It's a welcome relief after finding far too many people that throw up their hands in frustration and claim "I don't know why I'm like this."
My dearheart has also been a good conversationalist from our beginning, something I appreciated immensely. He was both open enough to tell me everything I needed to know on our first date, and engaging enough to keep our chat flowing long into the evening.
That conversational flow is like a two-part exercise to me, as if tossing a ball back and forth. You cast over questions that hook, or sprinkle in inspirations and tangents. Your conversational partner should return in kind such that the chatter rarely falls flat or stumbles.
What would my dead mother think?
I can't help but ask myself what my mother would think of all this communication. It's a constant tragedy that plays out whenever I learn something knew that I want to share with someone – oftentimes I'd love to share it with my mother and see what she thinks, but that opportunity has long since been barred.
For one thing, my mother is the one who taught me to be deliberate in my choice of words. She was a writer who understood the impact of word choice, and lectured to me on the various connotations subtly entwined in individual words.
Poetry was one of her pursuits, so would she see effective communication as poetic?
Or perhaps would she see it as grace? She taught me about that too, in the form of taking care of other people. Care in the form of making sure that others are engaged, fulfilled, and entertained. Or of finding mutual ground upon which you can both trod.
That form of grace is not people-pleasing, nor is it service. It is instead about finding win-win arrangements, where both parties are pleased for partaking in it. Which encompasses not just conversation and communication, but all interactions.
No matter what we call it – harmonious, graceful, poetic – we're all talking about the same thing. Communication. It's rooted in self-awareness, empathy, understanding human nature, and a devotion to prosperous interactions.