功夫 – gōng fu – skill; art; merit. In its original meaning, gong fu can refer to any skill achieved through hard work and practice, not necessarily martial arts.(Wikipedia)
When we discuss health we often discuss the essential categories of Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual health. But there is another kind of health that I think is just as fundamental to our well being: Relational Health.
What is the overall state of connection and intimacy with other living, breathing, imperfect human beings in your life? Can you imagine having a truly fulfilling life without healthy relationships?
While skillful, conscious, honest communication is not sufficient to have a healthy relationship, it is necessary. Of course there are other essentials, like chemistry, value alignment, favorable circumstances, bonding experiences, and acts of kindness. But of all these, communication is the one thing anyone can actually practice getting better at!
Focusing on developing better communication and listening skills is one powerful way to improve your most important relationships and overall Relational Health.
So how is your Kung Fu… of communication? What is the state of your practice? When the chips are down and someone is upset, when there is either explicit or subtle conflict, when there’s a “block” in connection or you are just not getting what you want, are you happy with the ways you typically respond?
Many otherwise high functioning people would admit that we are not entirely happy with the way we communicate (or just don’t) in these kinds of situations. Of course this is so! We have inherited our communication patterns from our family of origin.
Some of us have spent considerable energy rewiring those patterns and still fall short of our hopes. Most of us have not spent much at all.
Mastery (hell, even proficiency) at anything takes practice. Especially when it comes to such hard-wired response systems as this.
There seems to be a prevailing assumption that just because we have a certain level of mastery of grammar and syntax, we have that level of mastery of communication. I disagree. Just because you can talk doesn’t mean you can communicate.
Communication is one of the most essential arts humans can develop. It is essential to the health every relationship we cherish (and even the ones we barely tolerate). I find Nonviolent Commuication (NVC) to be an incredible Kung Fu in this regard. A powerful tool in our Relational Health tool kit.
Like the martial arts, NVC is a system of practice aimed at developing a complex fluidity of internal awareness, integrity and responsiveness in interpersonal exchanges.
Martial arts practice involves repetition and development of certain muscles and reflexive movements that are contrary to the habitual training of the body/mind.
This is often accomplished through choreographed “forms, ” or complex series of movements memorized and practiced ad infinitum by the artist. Many good arts also include “situational training, ” in which the Sifu teaches a particular set of responses to most elegantly deal with, say, a choke hold from the rear.
Good Kung Fu also involves “sensitivity training, ” transmitted through partner exercises that support the development of: 1) tactile awareness of the vectors of force involved in physical exchanges, and 2) reflexive responsiveness to such vectors that adhere to principles of flow, economy of energy, and the body’s integrity. This is achieved through various games from “push hands, ” to “sticky hands” to basic sparring.
As a Kung Fu of communication, NVC includes all these types of training as well.
We teach a form which highlights awareness and practice of basic principles. “When I see (Observation), I feel (Emotion) because I need/value (universal human Need). Would you be willing to (doable Request)?” We set up “role plays” in which to apply the practice personal life situations. And we strongly encourage “empathy partner” relationships as an ongoing “sensitivity training” where deep listening can be practiced in a non-threatening environment.
Everybody needs some form of Communication Kung Fu.
If just reading an inspiring quote or article were enough to create lasting change in our habits, we could credit Facebook with enlightening us all.
This is all aimed at developing the capacity to access these resources when it matters most: during that ragged emotional conflict with a lover, or one of the countless exchanges with our children that are imprinting life-long patterns into them, or that critical conversation with the CEO, or even in the face of an unexpected assailant or angry police officer whose humanity can almost ALWAYS be leveraged to reduce harm in an escalating situation given the proper Kung Fu.
This kind of communication–the authentically empathic kind that the world is so tragically in need of on every level–is not “habitual” for the vast majority of us. It is only something we cultivate through sincere commitment to practice. But this practice goes far beyond the dojo.
If they are lucky, a martial artist will never stumble into a conflict that requires their training. But a Kung Fu of communication is something we bring, in one form or another, as artists, into every interaction we have.
It requires the willingness and courage to “break the rules” of common communication and defy the scripts of casual interaction.
Every conversation is a new opportunity to “spar” with the aim of true connection and mutual understanding.
And let there be no equivocation here: The world needs your empathy, your understanding, and your superlative capacity to convey and attend to your needs in inclusive ways. The world needs your optimum Relational Health. And so do you.
So what would it look like to take your Kung Fu to the next level?
You might consider joining my FREE “Tongue Fu Basics” online Introductory Teleclass.
by Joshua Hathaway, M.A.