Recently at work, when sending an email to over 60 people, I made an innocent but dreadful, mortifying mistake. While I was writing the message, intending to send it with Mail Merge, I didn’t realize Word was tracking all the changes, and the message went out with red lines and replaced red words all over it. It looked like a something a child would do. It looked confusing and ugly and awful, not like an informative message.
I saw the first message in my sent items, in shock and disbelief and horror, and started wailing. Loudly. Luckily, the office was empty except for Lucy, who came running. I showed her the garbled messages, still trickling into my sent items. “I’m so sorry,” she said, and started rubbing my shoulders. “It’s really going to be ok.” But I couldn’t believe her, and the shoulder rubbing wasn’t calming me down.
Then my phone rang. It was one of the recipients. “I just got your email, and in case I was the first person you sent it to, it looks like there’s some problem with it.” I wailed and whimpered to her, and she was very sympathetic, and while we were still talking, my inbox pinged. It was from another recipient: “Am I supposed to respond to this?” His bluntness and confusion tickled my fragile emotions, and I started howling with laughter. Thankfully, it was a perfect storm in that my message showed simple, honest editing, and nothing incriminating.
But still. It took me at least 24 hours to recover.
Later, Lucy told me, “I felt so bad that I couldn’t help you feel better and that it was someone else who made you laugh.”
But Lucy was wrong because she HAD helped me enormously. She’d run to my desk the second she heard me wail. She’d asked questions and heard me out. She kept me from needing to process the stress alone. That was what I’d really needed in that moment. Later that evening, she brought it up again to see how I was.
There are older and wiser people who’ve said this with more explanation and insight, but my simple way of saying it is: Women need to talk about their experiences, and an experience isn’t complete until they talk about it.
What Lucy did that evening is one example of what many good, wise, solid, life-giving people have done for me all my life.
Talking is how we experience life. We tell about the details, the best parts, the worst parts, the emotions, and our responses to an experience. We tell the back story and the spin offs and the lingering questions. Sometimes we get a bad rap for it and sometimes we deserve that, but usually we’re just women experiencing life more broadly by talking about what just happened.
We tell someone about what just happened because we can’t just stay quiet about it. It happens every day all over the world:
- letters, texts, and status updates
- school children coming home from school talking about the day
- pictures and crummy, topsy-turvy, jerky videos sent to friends
- strangers talking to strangers in waiting rooms and grocery check out lines
- phone calls and Whatsapp voice messages
I hear and read:
- in a Facebook group post: “This is off topic, but I just had to tell someone.”
- “Can I tell you about what happened when I was at home?”
- “Thanks for listening. I just had to talk about it. I feel better now.”
The internet takes this to another level and feeds on our inherent narcissism and loneliness, but I want to say that it also taps into what is innately human: that we are more whole and balanced when we tell someone else about our experience.
I’m not promoting navel gazing and endless self-expression. I’m not encouraging everyone to start an Instagram account. I’m saying we are better people for getting out what’s simmering inside, and when we tell someone about it.
That’s why journaling is so therapeutic. It’s why children want to tell about what they saw on their walk to the barn. It’s why I tell my friend how blue the sky is. It’s why debriefing after a traumatic or unusual event is so healing. (It’s why I LOVE Whatsapp: I can talk to my friend about what’s going on and she can respond when she has time, and I don’t feel like I’m imposing on her.)
Sometimes you don’t have time or energy or opportunity in the moment to talk about what’s troubling you or making you ecstatic, but at some point, it needs to come out. There are women who talk all the time only about themselves. That’s not wise or healthy. There are seasons when you feel consumed with your latest crisis and feel more needy than you like, but hopefully that’s a season, not the shape of your life. In the talking and processing, it’s a good rule of thumb to talk to someone, or write them about whatever is simmering, or journal it out, before putting any of it on the interwebs.
There are two sides to this kind of life-giving exchange: the speaking and the listening.
If we live life better and more fully when we talk, we also offer life to others when we give them opportunities to talk. It’s very simple. It just takes time and ears and lots of heart. Oh yes–and staying quiet and not finishing the other person’s sentences are the skills I’m working on. I think the most whole woman has people she talks to and people she listens to.
I think about what I’ve heard from those inviting me to talk:
- I want to hear what happened yesterday!
- You said something about ________. Tell me more.
- What did you mean when you said that?
- What are you feeling now?
We can give life with words like these.
Women are good at talking and we are designed to be life-givers. What would happen if more of us would give and receive life by inviting and listening well, and also giving ourselves permission to talk to someone else?