When I go to my weekly 12 step meeting, there is a tent card on the table titled “Cross Talk Guidelines.” These guidelines are what make the meeting one of the most life-giving, challenging, and nurturing places I’ve ever been. As I’ve been moving through my recovery, I’ve started to apply the Cross Talk Guidelines to the rest of life – work, family, and most of all, the internet.
The Guidelines are follows:
- I use “I” statements (I feel; I believe)
- I share my own experience, strength, and hope – no one else’s.
- I refrain from commenting on what others share
- I share for 3-5 minutes, keeping the focus on myself
- I help myself and others by being emotionally present and honest.
- I let others experience their own feelings; I keep my advice to myself.
Life is full of conflict, and challenging conversations that trigger our fight or flight response. Human beings are messy, and that includes myself. I easily feel wounded and attacked, and I often revert to sarcasm or shame to cope. So does most of the internet. We aren’t good at living with each other – we don’t seem built for it – and that’s why I find the crosstalk guidelines so helpful, so hard, and so redemptive.
Hardest of all is culling my hair-trigger self-defense response. Someone has a criticism (valid or not) of an article I wrote, something I tweeted, something I said at work, and I fly into the attack. I want to defend my honor. I want to paint myself as the valiant and righteous knight. It never goes well – everyone leaves the fight feeling wounded, I write angry posts that I end up deleting. I spiral into shame, and the whole day is ruined.
But when I apply the Cross Talk guidelines, I discover a new way – a path out of the swamp of shame, anger, and hurt. Someone explains to me why they feel hurt, or angry, or misunderstood, and I choose to say what is always said after someone shares at a 12-step meeting, “thank you for sharing.” That’s it. No advice. No self-defense. No righteous indignation at how I have been misunderstood. Just absorbing every word. It doesn’t matter how angry they are, how off-base I believe their criticism is, or how upset I may feel in response. When necessary, I ask what I could do better. When necessary, I apologize. I practice the Tenth Step with as much integrity as I am able: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” When necessary, I practice self care. I take my feelings elsewhere, and I process them in whatever way is necessary (it usually involves venting to my partner.) I unplug from the internet, or the person in question, and do things that bring me joy.
I’ve discovered that most people, when they share hurt, or anger, or just an opinion, don’t want a response at all. They simply want to be fully heard. If people want my counter argument, they will ask for it. I force myself to never give unsolicited advice or counter arguments, but only to listen.
Despite how excruciating these steps are, they make my life easier for myself and everyone else. The day is too short to spend it lost in interpersonal vortices of shame, attacking, and self-defense, and other people are far too beautiful and complex to be seen as nothing but an enemy.