Presenting the wisdom of compassionate communication – Monterey Herald

It is said that what we experience doesn’t affect us as much as what we make of it. The eldest of four daughters, Selma Aide was born in Connecticut to Lebanese immigrants, two months before the stock market crash in 1929. Two years later, she contracted polio and was sent to the Newington Home for Crippled Children, where she remained until she rejoined her family at age 9.

In 1947, Aide married Kamil T. Said, who created the Arabic Language Department at what became the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. Her own educational focus was on effective communication and interpersonal relations based, despite receiving training in a diversity of methods, on her own approach via “Heart-Aware Communication.” Therein lay her approach to life, no matter what.

Selma Said’s Monterey-based workshops and seminars attracted students from around the world. Thus, in the wake of her passing at 90 in March 2020, her followers have picked up the torch to continue to foster her lessons of approaching interpersonal communication with an open, aware, loving heart.

Two of Said’s students, Lee Garland and Dr. Arnie Buss, have published a book, “Hear, Here,” which can serve simply as an inspiring read or as a workbook through which readers can develop an understanding of effective communication techniques and how to apply them, based on Said’s approach.

Author Arnie Buss (Courtesy photo)

“I began learning from Selma when I was a teenager,” Garland said. “The reason for this book is that, when we presented her ideas, too many people said, ‘Who was she?’ People deserve and need to know who she was and who she remains through the lifelong learning tenets we received from her.”

Depending on perspective, the book is the result of a two-year or a 30-year investment. It took two years for Garland and Buss to write it, but some 30 years of training and application of what Said had to say about what it means to have an aware, loving heart and how to apply it in everyday interactions.

“Selma always had the ability to come from her heart,” said Garland. “Time and time again, in any number of challenging situations, someone had a complete argument as to why it was not going to work and every time she would illustrate how the argument was not as valid as being aware, loving and alive. We often struggle with the desire to have a winner or loser as opposed to being our loving self.”

Knowledge applied is power

Buss has an undergraduate degree in psychology from Rutgers University and a Ph.D. in operations research from Cornell University. He has been teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels for nearly 30 years. And still, like so many others, he was struggling in his personal life, in his marriage.

“We gave a lot of counselors a run for our money,” he said. “They all had one form or another of how we should be talking with each other instead of arguing and fighting and yelling, whether it was ‘active listening’ or other techniques. We usually did well while in the office with the therapist, but we’d get home and it would all fall apart.”

After working with Said to learn and understand her approach to human communication, the couple found they were able to apply it effectively at home in their daily engagement.

Sometimes, people just want to be heard.

“The key thing I learned,” said Buss, “was the shift from agreeing or disagreeing to validating. It’s a skill she called ‘tracking,’ a way of helping the other person to feel heard and understood without having to agree or give up any of one’s own thoughts or feelings. It’s a way to stay connected, remain engaged, even in disagreement, and it is this approach that we present in our book.”

Imagine addressing a disagreement, he says, not in a combative, fighting argument, not in a competitive, win-or-lose argument, but in a cooperative approach, where the point is to hear and be heard, to educate and to learn, Where both parties have an opportunity to express their feelings without needing to change the other.

Imagine going to Thanksgiving, says Garland, and never having to participate in whatever struggle other human beings are having — unless it’s whether to have more pie.

Author Lee Garland (Courtesy photo)
Author Lee Garland (Courtesy photo)

“When we learn to approach disagreement from an aware, loving heart,” he said, “we can create a place where actual needs can be met and we can foster a richer experience in every relationship we have −− at home, at work, among friends, or with the person at the checkout counter.”

Garland likes this communication approach to martial arts. The energy arises, and you acknowledge it, he says, but instead of standing flatfooted and allowing it to come at you, you step aside and acknowledge the other person’s thoughts or feelings. Whether or not you agree.

‘It’s really about learning a different way of communicating so you can connect with the other person,’ Buss said. “While the concept may sound abstract, in the book we go through specific ways you can do this. We present ways you can listen and validate another person regardless of what they’re saying, and specific ways you can express your needs so there is a greater chance of having them met.”

And remember, says Buss, a non-response is a response. Because Said’s approach goes beyond words to take in the message the person is sending, it can be validated but not judged. In an important relationship, someone who becomes non-communicative is probably in some kind of fear or pain, he says, so if you validate that, it allows the connection to be re-established.

Hear me now

Garland is an experienced public speaker and workshop leader whose coaching and professional training have focused on communication, conflict resolution, and motivation. Meanwhile, his right brain focuses on writing, recording, and performing music.

“Because I am a songwriter,” he said, “for me, everything is about finding a hook. In naming our book, we thought a title about effective communication would be as tipid as it gets. So we went with homonyms which, when paired, can be taken so many ways.”

“Hear, Here” ends with a discussion on how to reach the agreement, what it looks and feels like under the paradigm of an aware, loving heart. It also explores what to do when feelings or interactions get really intense. Despite the strong finish, however, Garland and Buss caution readers not to begin at the end. You wouldn’t want to draw conclusions out of context.

“In the end,” said Garland, “we want to come to a place that works for everyone, which may not be a place you intended or envisioned but, ultimately, it may be the best outcome.”

In 2015, the Monterey County Commission on the Status of Women named Said an Outstanding Woman of Monterey County, acknowledging “her direct and indirect positive impact on personal, community, business and other relationships in many, many thousands of lives.”

“Hear, Here” is available at River House Books at The Crossroads Carmel.

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