Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tone of Voice

A few weeks ago something happened which hasn't happened in quite a while.  (It used to happen all the time.)  I was talking about something that really bothered me, some sort of behavior that someone else was in the habit of doing - or not doing - I forget now what it was.  I was trying to be nice about it; I thought I was being kind.  

From the bemused looks on my family members' faces I could tell something was up.  "WhAT?" I finally demanded.  One of them pointed across the room behind me.  The dog had tucked her tail between her legs and scurried into her kennel, keeping her head as low as possible.  As if she had done something wrong.  

She'd done nothing wrong.  She knew I was frustrated and she didn't want me to think that she had anything to do with it.  She had read my tone of voice and was afraid of me.  She was going to go someplace safe until the storm had passed!  

Her reaction stopped me in my tracks ... and I was able to detach from the situation that was causing me grief, to find some perspective.  But the experience itself stayed with me - the realization that my dog was afraid to be near me when I was annoyed about something.  

Dogs aren't the only ones who don't like to be around angry or frustrated people.  Most folks just shut down or refuse to respond to someone who is obviously ticked off - whether the one speaking is aware of it or not.  The words themselves might even be meant to heal or to encourage - but the tone is another matter.  The tone of voice says, "You people are stupid."  

Such ranters walk away from the encounter where people have been politely (or uncomfortably) non-responsive and they say to themselves, "Why don't these people get it?"  And they conclude that the people to whom they were speaking must not understand or not care.  It isn't that at all.  The delivery is accusatory, the cadence of speech is driving, and all that is missing is the face being a foot away from the other person's face, and the index finger thumping onto the other person's chest.  Talk about an invasion of someone else's boundaries.

I recognize it because I used to do it ... a LOT.  Not so much anymore.  

By the way, when my dog was in her kennel hiding from me, she refused to come out until I got down to her level and spoke in a different, more relaxed way... and when she was convinced it was safe, she came out and was her usual silly doggie self.

It all comes down to tone of voice (i.e., attitude).  

When I candidly talk about my own struggles to grow up from the stunted person I was not all that long ago, and the struggles I have to live this one-day-at-a-time, rigorously honest lifestyle, when I am aware that without God I am helpless, when I am filled with compassion for people who (like me) are journeying through life, each at his or her own pace and place... that is when the people I might want to help will actually listen to what I have to say.  I've found that accusing, condemning, and ranting (even though I occasionally still do those things) just aren't worth the extra time and effort it takes afterward to convince someone I'm safe to be with.  It's so much better to come down off my pedestal and be myself - just another traveler - and realize that maybe I just might be able to learn from someone else.

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