On Communicating Freely: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
One of the things that we don’t consider we can change about ourselves is our ability to speak. Speaking to others is a skill we can manifest in our lives like any other. Whether it’s speaking to someone over the phone, over a video call, or speaking to a close friend or a family member, or during a fight or a disagreement. How we communicate is a barrier that only with conscious awareness and understanding can be overcome.
This is quite a challenge especially when we are unable to communicate exactly our knowledge or belief or opinion or feeling on something. And what happens is that while we’re communicating or at least trying to, our first instinct is to blame our own emotions or feelings as a shortcoming rather than ask an uncomfortable question which is – am I communicating to the best of my abilities?
The answer to that question is almost always no.
The psychological and emotional pressure keeps building as we struggle to really express ourselves. And this over time manifests as resentment, alienation, and anger.
One of the most thoughtful and humbling books that I’ve read that have helped me confront this sour spot of mine was Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations.
This book was a personal guide to a lot of things. It grounds you in a very stoic and philosophical manner.
It also offers a very practical and strategic understanding of how humans communicate with emotions and words. And how it’s very common that for most of us, that disconnection between emotions and words is what gets in our way of reliably communicating with someone. It’s that one thing that clouds our judgment of words and interferes with our ability to communicate effectively.
I think I know what you might expect from this. A very broad and vague statement that is an obvious fact about communicating. Stuff that tells you not to be scared of people judging you based on what you’re saying. I usually encounter such words and I know instantly that they are written or prophesized by someone who has never experienced real suffering in their lives. Not at least with regards to communicating.
Because if they had, those words would seem less plastic, much less false because I think it’s quite a half-assed suggestion when you say that you need to get over your fear of judgment or use those negative feelings to learn more about yourself and what you want to say. And that automatically will help you speak more effectively.
I personally haven’t found that advice helpful.
And from that point on, I deliberately stopped searching for the right answer to this question. It’s quite amazing how naturally and intuitively I created the right answer for myself.
So here’s something that Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations that I will always consider, above everything else, the best reflection on communication and self-expression.
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
Perspective is more moldable and more acquiescent than the truth.
When you are conversing with someone, understanding your position as a listener is perhaps more humbling and productive when you listen to others. It helps you be more compassionate and open to their ideas and thoughts and beliefs.
Because when you lower the expectations of what you’re about to listen to, it’s easier to express yourself more freely. Because when you perceive anything that you hear as the truth, and that is not your truth, you will continue to sort use words either in support of that or against.
So you’re not really using your words to express yourself but you’re simply dishing out sentences to validate and justify the truth you want to prove.
This brings me to another very relevant quote from the book:
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
I did say something about expectations and how it interferes with the way you communicate.
You are expecting something out of most conversations you have. It is the one thing I have personally struggled with. Expecting to be entertained, inspired, motivated, persuaded, whatever it is that you want to gain from a conversation.
Much of my awareness of the words I chose to say out loud because of those expectations were completely destroyed. I was disconnected from that conversation.
And this estimation that Marcus Aurelius writes about, that’s causing the most pain and resistance because of something external - that is what this expectation was. My estimation of what I wanted to communicate and what was communicated to me was out of proportion. It became about gaining something from a conversation rather than the act of conversing itself.
The denominator, I think, to match words with emotions in everything a person does is to pay attention. Get off one’s high horse and stop evaluating things as if everything in the world has a rating system. And you play an integral part in the scale of things.
We identify so strongly with what we believe in that we forget that they are just words. And there’s so much attached there.
I’d like to end with another quote from the book:
“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”
Isn’t that the point anyway? Of life, of meeting new people, of carrying on endless conversations, and of you reading this article, if you’re still here with me.
To find within us something that is universal across the wide spectrum of thoughts, emotions, and feelings that humans are privy to. It’s the core of the human condition that we are so afraid of discovering. Just a bunch of symbols all tangled up into infinite formulaic concoctions.