Wednesday, October 08, 2008

on my radar

I was reading an article about family therapy recently, and the author was talking about the level of noise that can occur in unhappy families. The idea is that there can be so much commotion, so much noise that important messages are lost, are no longer heard. So to be effective, a therapist sometimes has to up the ante -- has to give a message enough emotional "oomph" to make sure that it is heard. The example the author gave was of showing a family that scene of the traumatized horse from "The Horse Whisperer" (where they bind its legs while talking soothingly to it) in order to make a point about setting limits while communicating safety and caring.

But what struck me about that notion today is how things can fail to get our notice, fail to arise compassion in us. I think about Jacob's struggles at school (that I posted about earlier) as one example of this -- how it took him lying down on the garage floor before my compassion finally kicked in.

I suppose this is, to some degree, necessary. It's like how the biblical teaching to "love thy neighbor as thyself" can't be taken too literally because it would be all consuming and ultimately counter-productive. We need to insulate ourselves to some degree, to filter, to prioritize. I suppose it could be said that all of this makes some degree of "noise."

But I think it is also true that (to use another biblical metaphor) our hearts can be hardened if we are not careful. We can become so preoccupied with our own concerns, worries, and cares that the proverbial noise turns into a kind of cacophony that very little can penetrate. Or we could think of it as a kind of emotional armor that keeps virtually any touch from getting through.

It is better, it seems to me, to strive for a softened heart. Better to face pain, to be open to it, to face it and respond lovingly to it. Better to let our difficult emotions wake us up, soften our hearts, awaken our capacity for compassion, for love.

1 comment:

Katherine E. said...

What a lovely post. Thank you.

(And I agree with you about McCain and his rallies.)