Looking for the radio signal

On our road trip down to the Ligurian cost, I was reminded of an almost forgotten experience: looking for a radio signal while driving in a foreign country and the channels are hard to find. I remember that feeling as a teenager. You had to turn the round knob for ages until you finally found a station playing a half-decent song. Do you remember the frustration? The crackling and swooshing in between stations? The nerve-racking white noise until you found a clear signal?

This is the frustration I have felt over the last two years. All this time, I have been turning the knob and looking for a clear message. I was stuck in a work situation where I couldn't speak my mind without provoking conflict. I wasn't able to be honest because I was afraid of the reaction. Many times I found myself itching to say something. But to avoid conflict I always either avoided speaking up by making excuses: “We all make mistakes. It must have been a misunderstanding. Shit happens, it's nobody's fault...” Or I sugar-coated what needed to be said. The sugar-coat was often so thick that the truth beneath it was hardly audible.

I know mitigating the truth is not lying, but it's not exactly saying the truth either. Plus, there's something incredibly frustrating about biting your lip and not feeling safe enough to say what you mean. It feels a lot like the white noise while you search for a radio channel.

The need to be loved

Like most of us, I'm inclined to avoid conflict. This is what we learn in our earliest relationships, with our parents and primary caretakers. As children, we are completely dependent on their love and care, so we intuitively shrink from pissing them off. Which is a smart strategy for a child. But is it an appropriate behavior for a fully vaccinated adult?

Unlike small children, we can feed and clothe ourselves. We still need other people to love us, but, as our psyche develops, we also start to feel the need for integrity. Most of us want to be able to say what we mean and mean what we say. Even though our personal truth can only be subjective, we want to be seen and heard for who we are. In my experience, bending over backwards to please someone doesn't feel good to anyone. An inner conflict unfolds. How are we going to speak our truth and still ensure harmony by not stepping on anybody's toes?

The truth stings. It's certainly a blade that doesn't need to be sharpened. I'd venture to say that we all have the reflex to sugar-coat or say nothing at all. We are afraid to lose somebody's respect, regard or – worse – somebody's affection. Still, I think it's imperative that we learn to negotiate these two needs: the need for love and the need for integrity.

In the long run, it's hard to feel good in your own skin when you can't be true to yourself. And when we don't feel good about ourselves, how are we going to send out and receive? I'm talking about love here.

The need to speak our truth

All this time when I wasn't speaking my truth, I felt slightly out of tune. It was not just that I wasn't being myself in this work relationship. When somebody asked me about how things were going at work, I would gloss over the true state of affairs. I would do the same in my inner dialogues.

While I was manipulating the truth for myself, I was also struggling to be authentic and creative when I was teaching public classes. It was as if I couldn't find my own voice. Whenever I taught, I didn't feel as free as I used to. This skill that I had honed over the years no longer flowed. I had lost the signal.

One day I was telling a friend how well this work relationship was going, now that our obstacles were a thing of the past. I thought the edge of this relationship had become blunt and that was something to be proud of. But my friend said to me: “Yes, but sometimes not speaking up is also a way of enabling the other person, almost as if you approved of everything.”

That hit home. In a flash I realized how much I had been holding back. And I was no longer able to discount my feelings. Tentatively, I began to speak my mind again. My hands were shaking when I finally did. But I also knew there was no going back now.

The signal is back

Maybe you remember the feeling, when on an old car radio, after frantically turning the knob you finally find the song that perfectly matches your road trip? Pure elation.

That's exactly how I felt when I taught again after finding the signal of my own frequency. Totally in tune.