We are infinite onions, ready to be peeled, known, and understood.
Layer #1: Cocktail Party Conversation. “Hi! How are you?” “Good. And you?” “Good.” “Great. Good to see you.” “You too. Have a great day!” And on we travel through our day. No personal information is revealed. No impact has been made on either party. We have only engaged in a civil, social discourse. But, before we poo-poo its importance, it is the start to human contact. We have put words in the empty space which before divided us. We have acknowledged the other and initiated verbal engagement. After all, relationships must begin with “hello.” Furthermore, we may even feel some vibe which makes us curious and hungry for more. The fun has begun.
Layer #2: The Outside World. Once we move past the initial hello, we have begun some kind of relationship. Our big toe goes into the water as a potential bond begins to form. Conversation at this level entails subjects outside of us, such as the weather, gossip, sports, politics or current events. Like the first layer, we are still existing primarily in our comfort zone; however, there is a little more personal information revealed. The other party gets some sense of what interests us and what our passions are. We find things we have in common, and if we are paying attention, we might pick up on an energy that is connective. One that evokes our desire to get to know someone at an even deeper level.
Layer #3: Thoughts, Values and Opinions. At this level of contact, we are sharing with more ownership. We are letting someone in on the foundational principles that define our life’s frame whether they be political, religious or cultural. Such openness means that we have moved into potentially more treacherous waters in that judgment and rejection are now possibilities. Someone might not tolerate our opinions or the values that feel essential to who we are. Someone might discount us or shame us or even, ridicule us. In other words, hurt is now a real prospect. As I get closer to the prize of intimacy, the risk goes up exponentially. Both in terms of the pain I might experience but also the reality that the relationship we are starting to invest in might not survive the additional heat. We go deeper …
Layer #4: Facts About Me. At this level of relating, we begin to tell our story. We share the significant narratives that have come to identify who we are. Often the telling and re-telling is done from a cognitive, head-space. It is as if I am reporting a series of events outside of me. Yes, you are getting to know the facts about my life which are revealing and relating but not as connective as …
Layer #5: Feelings About Me. Now ask me how I feel about all those central stories of my life and we got a game-changer. The emotional temperature in the person talking and in the dialogue between the party’s plummets to an emotional and relational intensity. We now have a real possibility for presence, engagement and connection. We have crossed the grand chasm from head to the sacred space of the heart. It is in this place that relationships take root and bloom. That people go from strangers to intimate friends. But sadly, we often avoid this opportunity for such a gift because we fear the risk – the risk of showing you all my best wares – the insides of who I am – and your rejecting or discarding them. Thus, in such resistance, we often miss out on entering the candy shop of life. And just as the image portrays, this is where all the good stuff is. The magical content of poets and musicians, philosophers and artists.
If we are willing to open ourselves up and share what is most raw and real, we likely draw compassion, understanding, care and warmth. We humanize ourselves which attracts other people to us – for what is most personal is also most universal. Our fears, pains, longings and aches are alike. You just couldn’t realize this when I was hiding so well.
Layer #6: Feelings About You. At the core of human contact, the most intimate I can be with another person, is to tell him/her how I feel about them. The focus shifts from being about me, towards me and in me, to being about how I feel toward you. We stand naked, full-frontal, gazing at the eyes, heart and soul of the person across from us. Talk about risk at its height! Not only might the other not share the same feelings but he/she might not receive the feelings I have to offer. The cards are stacked to either stand tall or fall flat – something I won’t know or experience until I open my mouth and express my feelings toward the other person with my words.