Posted by: Renee | January 8, 2012

Lesson from a manatee

Gentle, curious creatures – that’s how I described the manatees that we went swimming with a few weeks ago – especially the one shown here swimming to my hand. When a friend remarked how nice it would be if we could describe people that way, I was struck by the insight. What if we were primarily gentle, curious creatures? I imagine we would be more carefree and peaceful, surely we wouldn’t feel so threatened by that which we don’t understand; instead we would be intrigued and eager to gather more information about that person or idea which is foreign to us – not to use against them but to know them and relate to them better.  I’d say genuine curiosity goes hand-in-hand with gentle inquiry, and that both stem from and breed respect for diversity.  

When I think of some of my best moments with people, times when the relationship deepened or the dialogue inspired personal growth, I realize all those moments involved at least one of us being curious and gentle. On the flip side, I look back and realize the times when dialogue seemed futile were times when I stopped being curious about the other person’s experience but rather wanted to defend my own. I wonder what might have come of those conversations had I talked less and asked more about where they were coming from. Certainly, they might not have returned the favor, and yet they would have at least felt heard. And being heard is a step toward trust, toward healing and reconciliation. At the end of the movie The Help, the character Aibileen says “no one had ever asked me what it felt like to be me, once I told the truth about that I felt free.” No doubt about it, it takes courage to tell our truth, but it also takes courage to do the asking. The beautiful thing about it is that such curiosity is a gift for both the giver and receiver – it is a gift and honor to know as well as be known. Gentle and curious – I think those are qualities we need to cultivate if we actually want to enjoy living with one another on this planet.

by Renee Sappington



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