The Lesson of E-meetings

September 13, 2020

I have been feeling particularly grumpy over the past several days.  The news has made me feel so angry, so powerless, so hopeless to do anything at all and I find myself mentally wanting to lash out – punch something – just give the world a piece of my oh, so wise mind!…..What is wrong with everyone?  Why can’t they all just be like me….sensible, responsible, self-controlled……

Then on other days, I am downright pitiful. I want to run away to a desert island and talk to a soccer ball named Wilson, like Tom Hanks in Castaway! Then I remember: Tom Hanks got mad at that soccer ball from time to time, so even that situation wasn’t perfect! 

Fight or flight – that’s where I often find myself these days. 

Such responses to life, however, are nothing more than a manifestation of my fears in the face of all that is happening in the world; I don’t have control over ANYTHING! 

But wait a minute! 

Actually, I do have control; I have control over myself and my responses to situations around me as I identify hot buttons that generate fight or flight in myself. 

I can challenge my fight responses by asking:

  • Do I really need to react to every mean-spirited email and postings on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like?  
  • Do I really need to strike out at those who don’t agree with me before I have had the time to formulate a thoughtful, measured response? 
  • Have I taken the time to listen to where others are coming from – what hot buttons in their lives have precipitated their behaviors and responses?  
  • Do I even care what others think, or do I just want my voice alone to be heard? 

Sure, fight responses are sometimes essential, but I believe such responses are only justified when ‘to fight’ is not about me and my ego, but rather for the greater good.  

Discerning which is which takes careful thought and time; knee jerk reactions cause bloody knees all around!

Okay, fine, so maybe I won’t fight! I’ll just declare those who oppose me – those who refuse to listen to my incredible wisdom – to be idiots at best, Satan’s spawn or worse – and cut them off.  No sense wasting my time on them, right? Just unfriend them, unsubscribe to their tweets and posts, don’t listen to their commentaries, or read their editorials.  I’ll become an island of one: self-justified and self-righteous – that’ll show ‘em!  Flight responses at their best!

But there are consequences to flight: we stop growing emotionally and intellectually when we don’t allow ourselves and our ideas to be challenged – even Tom Hanks needed more than a soccer ball in order to truly live!

So….what if there is another way – a way that doesn’t fight or flee?

Bet you’re wondering what this has to do with e-meetings, right?  Glad you asked!

+++

Over the past 6 months an unexpected gift in the midst of the pandemic has been the mute button when I am on Zoom or some other forum.  I find myself hitting mute so that I can listen to conversations rather than reactively jumping in.  

Unmuting myself in order to be heard takes an extra step. 

In that second, between mute and unmute, I necessarily have to pause; that pause is powerful, because it gives me time to focus on why I feel the need to speak.  

  • Do my as yet unexpressed views feel threatened?  
  • Do I just want others to see how very intelligent and right I am?  
  • And when I feel threatened and undervalued, do my thoughts bubble up in anger? 

Sometimes, it is not productive to press a point (fight) just because I know I am right; being right is not always as important as being kind.  

I am also paying more attention to body language.

Given the muted opportunity to quietly distinguish between those who want to dialogue and those who don’t, I can focus on all behaviors. What about the situation is causing fight/flight reactions? Is it me? Or something within them? How can I focus on those in the conversation so that they feel respected and heard, just as much as I long for the same?

In knowing when to mute or unmute, e-meetings keep me engaged in conversation with those folks in the little Brady Bunch squares even when I don’t like what I’m hearing.

How so?

It is impossible to drop out of a meeting without being noticed; I’m unable to ‘flee the space’ just because I’m uncomfortable.  Oh, sure, I can come up with some lame excuse to leave, but it is always just that – lame. Leaving is choosing not to hear what others have to say.  So since I can’t check out, I listen differently. WHY do they think they’re right?  After all, no one believes something that they think is wrong, right? So, I stay muted, stay still, and listen!

Still, we are so resistant to hearing each other at times; so resistant to making space for a non-combative exchange of ideas? WHY?

“Well, I already know what he/she is going to say!”  Really?  Have we actually listened to them or just spent the time he/she was talking preparing our rebuttal?  What are we afraid of?  That the other might have something to express that is worthy of consideration?  That we might have to change some of our long held beliefs or might actually be wrong?  Now that’s a scary thought! No one wants to be wrong! 

Here’s the thing: if we are willing to open ourselves to learn from each other and seek common ground from which to build a life together, to neither fight nor flee, but rather make space for each other to both speak and listen, everyone wins! Worth a shot, don’t you think? 

There’s a lot to be learned from e-meetings – it’s all about knowing when to mute and when to unmute!

And to God be the glory AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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