Share Your Humanity (A Toastmasters Speech).

The Following is the written version of a speech I performed at my Toastmasters club in July, 2017…

At one of our previous meetings, our thoughtful Toastmaster tonight, Michelle, asked me an interesting question during one of our Table Topics. And that question was: How do I approach having difficult conversations with other people?

To paraphrase my response – I said that I’d prefer to to apologize for my actions than explain myself ahead of time. What I was basically saying was the I’d rather not have those conversations until AFTER the point when it was really necessary.

After I sat down and thought about my response – I realized I wasn’t satisfied with my answer.  What that question revealed to me is that it’s often difficult for me to share my experience with other people.

For whatever reason – usually for the sake of not wanting to offend anyone, or not wanting to be embarrassed – I avoid sharing what I’m actually thinking, feeling, or dreaming about with other people. However,  as the famous speaker Jim Rohn, once said “The walls we build around us to keep out the sadness also keep out the joy”.

Tonight I want to speak about why it’s so important to share your humanity with the people in your life, and some suggestions for how to do so.

In our day-to-day lives, the different interactions we have can lead to infinite possibilities and outcomes. Yet, it’s really common to communicate in a way that delivers a predictable outcome.

For example – you’re at a café, you order a coffee, hand them the money, and then one of you will say “Have a nice day”, or whatever. But what’s more interesting is when someone reveals their particular experience, and one that doesn’t have a known outcome.

A few weeks ago, I was at home and my older brother came by to visit during lunch time. We were both standing in the kitchen, and I knew there was a lot on my mind that I had to say between the two of us.

Being the responsible older brother that he is, he’s gotten himself established in a career that he’s had some success in. I, on the other hand, have worked on an unrelated assortment of odd jobs and projects that have had, let’s say, “mixed results”.

Bringing this up around him felt like something I’ve been avoiding. I wasn’t quite sure how to put words to what I wanted to say to my brother, so I just said “When I’m around you, I feel self-conscious about my career”.

I’m not sure what I wanted to accomplish by saying that – I just knew that that was the experience that I was having.

And what came next was surprising to me – my brother said that, even in his seemingly good position, he still acknowledged that there were pros and cons to being in the career that he chose. Now, all of a sudden, where there was previously a wall between us keeping us separate – there was now a stronger connection between the two of us. We were reminded once again that we’re just two humans trying to figure this thing out.

And all it takes to create that connection is the willingness to share our humanity. Whether you perceive your experience as being positive, negative, or you’re unsure – just the fact that you’re having it makes it valuable in some way.

The alternative to expressing yourself authentically, which is loneliness, is costly in ways that we wouldn’t expect. A study performed at Brigham Young University found that having a single good friend, someone who you can openly reveal yourself to, can extend life expectancy by up to 10 years. That might sound a bit far-fetched and unlikely, but as I thought about it something clicked:

Sometimes when we have something heavy that we need to say – we use the term “I have something to get off my chest”. And when we finally do – we often let out a big sigh of relief and we can start to breathe a little bit deeper. I’m not a doctor, but I think being able to breathe well has something to do with our life expectancy.

So what can we do to make revealing ourselves a bit easier? There are two simple phrases that I’ve found helpful when it comes to sharing what you’re experiencing with someone else.  And those phrases are: “I feel” and “You seem”.

Before I go on, I have to emphasize how important it is to stay in your lane, and reveal only what you yourself are experiencing. I’m not saying “Kevin you seem really judgmental – like… what’s your deal?” I’d say… “You seem a bit concerned… Is there something going on for you?” And be totally open to being wrong.

If that sounds too difficult, and you’d like a bit more time to think about what you want to say – try writing a handwritten letter to someone. Because it’s such a rare thing for people to do these days, it’s always welcomed (unless it’s pure hate mail). Whichever route you choose to share yourself is less important – just make sure that you actually express what you’re thinking and feeling.

In a popular book called The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, written by Australian nurse Bronnie Ware, she recounts the wisdom that people share during the last days of their lives. And among their most common responses, was the sentiment: “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings”. And when I first read that, it made perfect sense to me. Because so far in my life that’s been one my biggest challenges and regrets – those missed opportunities and conversations – that I could have had with people who are no longer in my life.

The walls that we build around us to keep out the sadness really do keep out joy. But if we’re afraid to share our experience because we might offend someone or look strange, that sadness will catch up to us eventually. If there’s anything I want for you all who are here tonight – it’s to give the gift of your experience to the people in your lives.

Thank you for listening.

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