Thanks for sharing…

One of the phrases often heard in the circles of 12-Step recovery meetings is “Thanks for sharing.” How this phrase started and became regular practice, I do not know. What I do know is that it is in place for an important reason. When someone shares their personal experiences, feelings, fears, worries, etc. in a meeting, one of the traditions of the group is geared toward accepting that the person sharing is exactly where they are supposed to be in that moment. Interruptions by the group while someone is sharing are frowned upon; and it is strongly suggested that advice not be given. All that anyone in the room can do to help another person trying to recover, is to actively listen when someone else is sharing, and then to share their own experience, strength and hope without judgment of anyone else. Therefore, when a person has completed their “share” in a meeting, the group responds politely and respectfully with, “Thanks for sharing.” Then, the meeting moves on.

Lately, I have been noticing that this phrase might come in handy outside of the rooms of recovery. Let’s take the arena of political “discussion” as an example. When someone is talking about politics and their opinion is completely different from mine, what usually happens? My insides start to get all twisted around. I immediately go on the defensive. I can actually feel my blood boiling as my mind starts to think of a clever comeback to show that person how wrong they are. My positive energy is zapped with an incessant need to be right, and to make sure that you – whoever you are – know I’m right! As this is happening, not only do I miss most of what the other person is saying, but I also start laying the bricks to a barrier that will block any kind of relationship with the other person.

What if, instead of all those mind gymnastics, I choose not to get into a long-winded argument where that person attempts to sway my opinion and I attempt to sway theirs? What if I just accept that the other person has an opinion that is different from mine? What if I choose not to pass judgment on the person because I think they just don’t understand or know enough to help themselves? What if I just choose to listen, nod occasionally so that they know I’m listening, and then say, “Thanks for sharing.”

Maybe, while I am listening, I will hear something I haven’t heard before that makes me re-think my point-of-view. Maybe, after I have listened without argument, the other person will walk away and feel “heard” for the first time in a long time. Maybe both of us will have a better day because of it.

I have hope in these maybes because of my experience in saying “Thanks for sharing” in those 12-Step recovery meetings previously mentioned. When I leave one of those meetings, I feel better, lighter, and more hopeful than I did when I arrived at the meeting. Perhaps that is because I have listened actively, showing respect for the need of another person. Perhaps that is because I know my words have been heard and valued for the first time all day. Perhaps it is a little of both. Whatever it is, wouldn’t it be a nice thing to carry with me as I leave that meeting and walk throughout the rest of my day?

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