Given that the term “radical” seems to be a buzzword in recent political news, a good topic to land on today seems to be the idea of “radical genuineness.” Radical genuineness is a term used in a type of therapy called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to describe validating someone’s distress which includes understanding their experience as equals, without viewing them as victims or as different from you. It is respecting and understanding someone’s experience on a deeper level. For those unfamiliar with dialectical behavior therapy, it’s a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy created by Marsha Linehan in the 1970’s for people struggling with intense emotional dysregulation, used today with good success and research support.
It appears to be a simple concept, but I think it’s what many therapists leave out when attempting to “go by the book” in therapy and a key ingredient that we are missing often in our interpersonal relationships today. It’s importance cannot be understated in creating a genuine human-to-human interaction which takes into account the fact that regardless of roles, we all experience the same human emotions. Real healing requires real human connection. I know, from experience, that simply to hear, “your experience is real and makes sense to me” can be in and of itself immensely healing, both in and and out of a therapist’s office.
The term radical genuineness, by itself, says a lot, in that there is a need for the “radical” clarifier. “Radical,” as defined by the Oxford Dictionary means “affecting the fundamental nature of something,” “far-reaching,” and “thorough”…illuminating the fact that often, our genuineness with each other, far from thorough, leaves a lot to be desired. Genuineness is defined as “authentic,” “free from pretense,” “sincere.” We all know what disingenuousness can feel like….cold, false, overly dramatic. There’s a deep sense in our bones when we come across someone who is genuinely being themselves, anchored into a real sense of who they are and what they wish to convey in the world. It’s from this place that often these radically genuine people can touch a deep part of ourselves and leave a imprint.
This imprint can be called any number of things: love, healing, calm, acceptance…..but the fact is that it comes from one thing: a lack of pretending to be separate. Separation from other people in our world is an inherent falsehood we have to live by. I live in these skin-and-bones and you live in those ones. I act this way and you act that way. I own this and that and you don’t. Our boundaries and differences are what makes life inherently interesting and diverse….who would want a world of all one mind-melded, molded humans anyway. But there’s one thing we forget in our eagerness to compete and differentiate….
If you are the way that you are….it means that it’s possible for me too. Perhaps I can’t snap my fingers and look like you, but I can most certainly have access to the same emotions, desires, and basic human stories. Separation is one of our greatest human illusions and one that gets in the way of most of our attempts toward genuine relating with each other.
So let’s start getting more radical. No, Trump, I do not reference radical terrorist clans. What I mean is can we radically attempt to love and understand even those who appear so different to us, hold different views, looks different, even act in ways that are thoroughly unappealing or even hurtful to us? Beyond foreign policy, political or lifestyle differences displayed on our facebook feeds, can we begin to listen to each other again?
Ernest Hemingway said it best, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
So the challenge I put to you today is to genuinely listen to what someone else wants to convey. Beyond their words, their views, their facial expressions, their mannerisms, can you find within this person something to radically relate to, to free from the confines of the mask they present to the world, to genuinely allow for connection. It may just be the most healing thing you do for them….and yourself all day.