Updated: Oct 3, 2019
by Jenny Leclezio
Clarity is defined as the quality of being clear, easy to understand, see or hear. Simple. This is an essential ingredient for healthy relationships. When we are able to understand, see and hear each other, then we can relate with the truth. I am reminded of the words to the classic Johnny Nash song written way back in 1972.
As I reflect on the idea of clarity, I am struck by how apt the words of this song are. Being able to see clearly is a powerful metaphor for clarity. Our emotions are like the rain, with our inner world often getting in the way of seeing what is.
When we are in the grip of intense emotions, we experience the world as we feel, not how it is
This realisation has proved an immense help to me with my personal relationships, especially with my husband. Like a storm, when the emotion is over, things are clear again.
Etsko Schuitema, the author of the Care and Growth Leadership model has a profound way of talking about clarity, which deepened my understanding of this concept. He speaks about the importance of quietening the inner dialogue in order to see things as they are. This means not buying into the voices in your head. It is only when we see things as they are, that we are able to respond to the world appropriately. This is the essence of healthy relating.
Making this insight practical, I can distil how I have worked with this into three things:
1. Awareness of my emotional triggers
Building on the analogy that emotions are like rain, intense ones are more like a thunder storm. The more intense the emotion, the more violent the storm and the less we can see, or hear or even understand. As the song so aptly states ‘the dark clouds that had me blind’. When I realise that I am in an emotional storm, I know that I’m not thinking clearly, never mind listening well.
2. Daily reflective practice
A daily habit of going inward, and quietening the voices in your head (your inner dialogue) goes a long way to creating space to gain clarity with yourself. The insights emerge when you stop and pause. The research on mindfulness indicates that as little as 10 minutes practice per day yields beneficial results. The trick is to make this a daily habit.
3. Listening with good attention
Good attention is the core ingredient in skilful listening and requires us to focus on the other person with our whole being, and to forget about ourselves for a moment. Good listening means not interrupting, and even more importantly holding the silence. Neuroscience has confirmed that each human being has his or her own unique neural pathways. This means we can never know what is in another person’s head. Never. Remembering this helps me to remain curious and open, with the objective to understand.
A short true story
I have an emotional charge around money. It’s a long story, but in short, my dad was not good with money, often leaving us in a physically vulnerable position as a family. Yes, as you can guess a lot of my personal angst is related to money, and in particular being in debt. Fast forward 40 years and one evening I’m having a conversation with my husband about money. He suggests that we take out a bond on our house, which we have paid off through much sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears… and suddenly I am experiencing an emotional hijacking! In other words, my rational brain goes off-line and I completely stop listening and freak out. This poor man.
I realised what was going on while it was happening, but I was unable to stop myself. I made a million unconscious assumptions about what he wanted to do which were both misguided and incorrect. This thought process spiralled into my complete over-reaction, which left him feeling irritated and unheard. This is a relationship disaster. Luckily, I came to my senses after sleeping on it and then doing my reflective practice. It was an old trigger, and once I realised, I was able to explain to him what happened to me, and then listen to the rest of his view, thereby achieving clarity.
I could see him clearly once the storm had passed
Just like weather storms, emotional storms come and then they go. Perhaps the best wisdom of all is to remember that ‘this too shall pass’ when we are caught, and when it does, we see clearly again.
"Allow sufficient time for emotional release
in order to restore thinking"
(from the 10 components of a thinking environment: Nancy Kline)
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