The following happened in relation to my Toastmasters meeting. Not that I want to explain the actual event, not right now anyway. I want to discuss the odd aftermath.
The actual event, the primary one, happened a while back. I am keeping it to myself because I feel it should stay within Toastmasters…to be respectful and honor people’s privacy. Then there was a secondary event, possibly related to the first.
I have kept it to myself, mainly because I don’t know how to express it. My initial reaction was to promise myself, “It doesn’t matter. I should just learn from this and move on.” I didn’t really react at first. Now, of course, I know in my heart I didn’t react because I was in a state of utter shock.
When something seemingly comes out of nowhere, was not in any way expected, and also, doesn’t jive with everything else you have known, then to react by feeling numbed out and shocked is to be expected.
For the entire two-hour bus ride home, I tried to process what happened. I tried to tell myself I wasn’t fazed. I knew I had shown no emotion at the meeting and tried to make a happy face to cover just how floored I was.
In Toastmasters we learn to do that. We learn composure, even under pressure. Oddly, I must have done a great acting job because later on I learned that no one even knew.
Maybe a week or two later I realized I had feelings about the event. Not anger, but disappointment. Disappointment with my fellow Toastmasters. Disappointed in my club. Not only had they let me down, but no one approached me afterward to say they’d noticed what happened. Or, I told myself, if anyone noticed, no one said anything nor indicated they knew.
I broke the promise, or rather, promises I made to myself. I didn’t want to feel anything and I wanted to just let it go. I realized, though, that there were some feelings there, and I need to acknowledge this. Furthermore, I needed to realize that this little event was far more serious than I had originally assumed. Still, I was determined to continue calling it a “learning experience.”
While it’s true, I learned, and am learning, but not learning what I thought I would. I reached out to a friend of mine, another club member. I wrote about the event. I had forgotten that my friend was attending that meeting. He wrote back, telling me he remembered. He said that sadly, what happened was not unique, and that in his years as a member of many Toastmasters clubs, he has seen it far too often. He offered a viable solution. Part of it was to take a break.
I did. I continued to make excuses not to go, and I didn’t. Suddenly I realized these excuses were in fact due to feelings of utter dread. Since when could this make any sense? I have always looked forward to Toastmasters meetings. Now, I dread going inside the pit of my stomach and just can’t. I can’t do it. Something stops me.
While it is easy for me to speak up about, say, HIPAA violations, or speak up about changes in laws, or come to another’s defense (notably, I stick up for underdogs, don’t I?), I find it very tough to confront people I admire and see as friends. Here is where it gets sticky.
What I am doing constitutes avoidance. It is obvious. I’m not avoiding how I feel but I am avoiding confrontation. I am avoiding the discomfort of confrontation, not just mine, but the difficult feelings that others may experience. Almost like i have the need to protect others.
You can go to great lengths to protect other people when all you are doing is hurting yourself.
I also spoke with our District Director, twice, at length, about the dilemma. I was touched by this. Really touched. I am worth it. I was worth it to the point that she picked up the phone. You guys know how much that means to me, given my history.
Now many weeks have passed. Indecision isn’t a good thing, but that’s where I am at. I have now told my fellow officers that I very well may not return.
Oddly, I wasn’t asked why. Not at first. It was like “well I didn’t feel like coming for a while, too.”
I quickly wrote back that this wasn’t about feelings. I said that something actually happened at Toastmasters that shouldn’t have happened.
Being avoidant is common human behavior. Not always, just sometimes. People I have known would rather quit their jobs than ever confront their bosses about what bugs them. Abused spouses wait years avoiding taking action. This, though, is kinda not like me. I always speak up, and now I find I can’t. But I am not the only one.
After the meeting, where I was absent, other officers wrote to me. Oddly, no one has yet even asked me this very simple and obvious question. I bet you blog readers are asking it, asking yourselves, that is…
That question is so important. We humans don’t ask it enough.
That very same question, or rather, avoidance of that question, is why communication often breaks down. With the exception of an attorney, who focuses primarily on events (not feelings), at least professionally, we humans don’t ask that question enough. Or maybe I should say we don’t ask it in our culture, not these days.
We focus far too much on feelings, almost as if feelings are more important than events. Feelings are plastic, though, changeable. They evolve. Events do not. The past is fixed. We can only change how we frame it in our memories.
I would drop it entirely except I want my club to know. I don’t want to see it happen again, not to another person. The answer to that question is paramount. And yet, not one person asked.
I received three polite emails saying everything but. “would like to see you back…” or, perhaps, “Hope your summer is going well.”
Did anyone even ask why? Odd. But not. I don’t think it is that they don’t want to know. Maybe they’re just trying to be nice. It is odd, though, don’t you think?
I don’t know about you guys, but when I write an email I try to hit the nail on the head the very first time. I didn’t this time, mainly because I wanted the first email to be very brief. But that somehow didn’t work very well.
Or maybe they are very aware of the event by now. Could they have figured it out and now just don’t know what to do?
Unlike some other people, I like apologizing and I accept apology. I think the person who initiated this should directly own the event (not the outcome afterward) and just say, “I’m sorry.”
I do not want to hear, “I’m sorry you feel bad.” This is not an apology. It is shifting responsibility. No one needs to apologize for someone else’s feelings. A real apology might say you are responsible for doing your part in the event, and you are sorry you did it. An expression of regret might be appropriate, recognition of the inherent wrongness of the deed done, and to offer restitution in the form of, “I realize now that you pointed it out and I will not do that again.” Or something along those lines.
Human compassion goes a long way, doesn’t it? Humans are amazingly good at compassion. We love our pets to the point of spoiling them, we pet them, coo to them, hug them, even invite them to sleep on our beds. We feed them and walk them (or they let us know as soon as we’re five minutes late!). Our capacity for caring for one another is almost limitless. I can say that only because we cannot measure compassion. We are creatures that bond, form societies, even marry, and do this completely weird thing called sexual intercourse.
And yet, we have these moment of discomfort. We don’t always know how to handle that. Avoidance or even silence might be easier, but not necessarily the best solution.