“Don’t move the way fear makes you move.” This line from the poet Rumi is good advice for a tough conversation.
Fear moves us toward anger or withdrawal. Toward hasty, negative assumptions. Toward defensiveness, self-justification. Or we can’t move at all: we’re paralyzed.
Rumi says, “Keep walking, there’s no place to get to. Don’t try to see through the distances.” I’d say, “Keep talking, though you don’t know where it will lead.” The “not knowing” opens new possibilities.
But to keep talking you have to start. Many necessary conversations never begin because of fear. Fear of being hurt, of hurting the other, of another’s rejection or anger. Going deeper, there’s the fear of being wrong, of having to change. Of having to apologize. Or forgive.
Okay, so how do we move away from fear?
Say the issue is a parent’s failing health and unexpressed last wishes. One way is to ask yourself, “If we don’t have this conversation, what’s the best thing that can happen?”
Maybe Mom will die peacefully in her sleep and you’ll never have to talk about medical powers of attorney or directives.
But you can’t bank on that. So what’s the worst possible outcome?
A parade of horribles comes to mind: disagreements with Dad and/or siblings about hospice, heroic measures, feeding tubes, hydration. Something Mom might hate if she were able to speak for herself. Prolonged suffering. Astronomical medical bills. Guilt. Blame. Family estrangement that survives Mom’s death.
This best-case/ worst-case analysis can move us from the fight/flight state of mind to a calmer starting point. Focus on Mom’s needs and the family’s love for her and try to put that into gentle words. “Mom, there’s something I’d (we’d) like to talk about. But it’s hard to know how to begin. We need to know your thoughts. Can we talk?”
Don’t move the way fear makes you move. Acknowledge the fear, then move with compassion through the fear to a solution and deeper family understanding.