Why does Life-Talk work so well? Human life is not well enough understood to be able to fully answer that question.
Which should not be surprising. After all, science doesn’t yet understand the physical world without relying on such unknowns as dark matter and human life is likely more complex. But we can hazard some reasonable explanations. Here are some key ones.
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As they consider those questions and hear others’ comments, their thinking naturally opens up, they become more curious, and their understandings of themselves and others gradually become more refined, expansive and personally useful.
Note that all questions are open-ended, without one correct answer. So fear of failure is not an element in Life-Talk. Further, our questions are custom-designed for different groups, depending on the age of participants and any special outcomes desired by sponsoring agencies. And for all populations we ask a wide variety of questions.
Some questions are designed to help timid people speak up about their accomplishments. (“What was something hard for you to do – but you did it?”)
Other questions help people recall experiences they might have neglected to learn from. (“Can you think of a time you decided to do or not to do something and now, looking back, you regret that choice?”)
Some questions offer an opportunity to vent and release negative experiences. (What was one very positive or very painful experience you once had?”)
Some questions might open up new lines of thinking. (“If you ask yourself, ‘What is holding me back?’ what comes to mind?”)
Some questions invite people to expand their range of behaviors. (“What an example of a new thing you tried?”)
Some questions help people hear that others suffer as much as they do. (“Can you recall a time you felt stuck, as if there was no way out, nothing you could do?”)
Some questions are designed to build self-esteem. (“What was a time you felt special or important?”)
Some questions help people feel less guilty, more self-accepting. (“People are born with different tendencies. Some are shorter, some taller. Some shy, some outgoing. Some sensitive to criticism, others tending to be bossy. Can you think of one or two of your inborn tendencies?”)
And some questions—like “What’s your favorite dessert?”—are included simply for a change of pace, and to add smiles to the meetings.
Happily, most questions seem to lead to multiple benefits. If nothing else, when it comes our turn to speak, we can enjoy the experience of being respected, being noticed, being heard, and being treated as a worthwhile human being, no matter what we say.
One of the first signs that Life-Talk elicits people’s best qualities is the honesty with which they answer questions. Life-Talk questions unearth more of what people feel and what they believe to be true and somehow inspire them to share that with others. That will become evident if you participate in a Life-Talk group yourself.
There’s little reason not to. After all, unless we’re in a group with old friends, we do not feel the need to live up to any image. So it’s easier to say what’s true for us, something all humans naturally want to do but, often, do not do. Why? Because it often feels unsafe to tell the truth. Yet you may notice how more comfortable you feel after telling the truth and how more uncomfortable, even stressed, you can feel when you suppress or distort the truth.
By providing a safe environment, one in which we need not worry about being criticized or rejected, Life-Talk reminds us that we can, indeed, tell the truth, to others and to ourselves, and that it feels good to do so.
Note that this message is never stated explicitly. We do not recommend honesty. We do not moralize or, indeed, need ever mention honesty. The very structure of Life-Talk elicits it. That is, our best selves naturally tend to shine forth.
You may have also noticed how often people blurt out whatever is on their minds, seemingly unconcerned if what they are saying is useful for others to hear, or if they are stepping in front of others who are ready to speak, or if a bit of silence might better serve the moment. Life-Talk calls for such impulses to be noticed and restrained.
That’s a step not only toward healthier interactions with others but toward healthier living for oneself. After all, it’s not healthy to be ruled by impulses. Far better is to learn to notice unhealthy compulsions before they are expressed and, then, to practice redirecting those energies in some healthy way.
We know how easy it is to fall into ruts. Same old, same old, today and, again, tomorrow. In Life-Talk, we hear questions that heighten our awareness of what it is we have been doing. We also hear what others are thinking and doing, which makes us more aware of our options. And the process proceeds in a way that gives us space to reconsider our current habits. All that is likely to be rejuvenating, enlivening, inviting to that part of us that wants to do better, to make more of our time on this earth of ours.
Very early in life we are moved to become self-protective. In an individualistic culture, this often turns into chronic selfishness and a general disregard for the welfare of others. In such cases, attending to others the way we do in Life-Talk meetings can be an important step toward a more inclusive, balanced awareness and, of course, a more healthy one. We do live as individuals, but it’s also true that we did not create our individual selves and we cannot live only as individuals.
As you may have noticed, selfishness sooner or later leads to discord and anxiety. A certain amount of togetherness seems to be required for us to feel safe, strong and contented. Acclaimed neuroscientist and author Abhijit Naskar gets to the heart of the issue: “There is no other cause for the absence of peace, but selfishness, and nothing else can cause peace except selflessness.”
Many people feel that few others listen to them, listens deeply, caring not only for what they say but also for themselves, the person saying it. The message they rather continually receive:
“You are not important.” Not a healthy message, for sure. In contrast, in Life-Talk everyone has repeated occasions to receive the sole attention of everyone in the group. And it’s an accepting, respectful attention. It’s the opposite of being slighted or ignored. It’s energizing and comforting and reaffirming. It tends to get us feeling we are worthwhile and we are connected and life is good.
We all have a body and mind, of course. But we each also have something more stable than our ever-changing bodies and minds.
Some call that our essence, or spirit, or inner self, or soul. In those moments when we feel we are living true to ourselves, we might say we have become an integrated self, a body, mind and inner self all beating harmoniously together. In contrast, whenever we feel discontented, off balance or artificial, we might well assume some aspect of our whole self is not in harmony with the rest of us.
Some Life-Talk questions are crafted to invite us to appreciate those deeper aspects of ourselves. (“Have you ever had an intuition, a time you knew something without having any idea how you knew it?” Or, “Children in one family often have very different personalities. Why might that be?” Or, “What might it mean to say, ‘Our heart knows’? or, ‘We know in our guts.’” Or, “What might explain the placebo effect, that when we expect something, it is more likely to come true?” For some people, these are profoundly mind opening.
In a way, just being together with others in the accepting climate that Life-Talk generates raises an awareness of our larger, beyond-mind, beyond-understanding self. Life-Talk meetings, like hugs and smiling babies and walks along a lake, usually feel good, even when we cannot explain why that might be so.
Life-Talk helps us move closer to understanding the concept of Oneness, that we are essentially together, all One.
We learn more about how good life with others can be. In Life Talk meetings we do not ignore or interrupt anyone. We do not belittle anyone. We do not waste time on issues of no importance.
We don’t criticize or complain or gossip. We do not indulge or generate negativity. In that way, any such habits that we developed in the past are ignored, not reinforced, and therefore lose their potency. New, more fulfilling habits and, speaking physiologically, healthier brain pathways are exercised and developed. We might say that we learn about good living by living good.
Coherent groups, that is, groups with a common focus, like work or sport teams, tend to generate strong energy fields. And when the goal of the group is positive and healthful, as it is in Life Talk, the energy field will also be positive and healthful. Spending time in such a field is like spending time sitting with friends around a cozy campfire or dancing in a crowd. It can be uplifting, energizing, profoundly nourishing.
It can even help people move closer to understanding the concept of Oneness, that we are essentially together, all One.
A worthy goal for, as is said in the Hindu Scripture, Upanishad, “Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.”
That is, it naturally inspires us to identify and exercise our best qualities. It doesn’t preach; it empowers. It doesn’t condescend; it dignifies. Yet it is not neutral; it sets and maintains positive expectations. In such ways, it helps people realize how good, wise and strong they each really are.
At the same time it minimally limits our freedom to learn or not to learn, depending on our individual readiness. One may sit in a group and seemingly be entirely unengaged.
We might say Life-Talk offers us a laboratory for discovering how to live healthfully in whatever ways are right both for each of us and for the ever-changing, not-always-peaceful world around us