The days are getting shorter and darkness is coming earlier each day, and so in just the last two nights I have had the experience three different times of driving down the road and encountering a car coming towards me with its lights off. On each occasion I flashed my lights at the oncoming cars to signal that their lights were off and each time the drivers immediately turned them on, most likely grateful, I assume, for the feedback I had given them. I am sure we can all relate to this experience as we have all been on both sides of this exchange countless times.
These simple exchanges between myself and these three drivers who were completely unaware that they were driving with their lights off, led me to thinking about what a great metaphor this is for thinking about our personal well-being. I know for myself, that when my wellness is compromised, when I am tired or irritable, or when I’m just out of sorts emotionally or spiritually, I am often the last person to realize it. It’s as if I’m driving down the road completely unaware that my lights are off. It’s often not until a loving family member, friend, or colleague signals to me that my lights are off that I become conscious that I have been moving full speed ahead, but completely in the dark.
While this metaphor may work up to a point, in reality it is much harder to give and receive feedback regarding personal wellness than it is regarding driving with one’s lights off. It takes courage to offer honest feedback to someone you care about when you experience them as not being in a good place. It’s not easy to tell someone you care about that you are concerned about their increased negativity, their rising level of stress, their increased use of alcohol, or the growing distance you experience between yourself and them. It takes, perhaps, even more courage to be open to receiving such feedback. And yet I truly believe that the ability to engage in such authentic and honest conversations is one of the most essential keys to creating and maintaining personal wellness and wholeness.
Both our personal wellness and the wellness of our relationships are created and sustained by the commitment to having courageous conversations based on honesty and transparency. Relationships that encourage open and honest feedback are relationships that are healthy and growing. This is equally true within families, between friends, and relationships in the work place. Being able to kindly let someone know that you have experienced them as being a little out of sorts lately means that a relationship with the person has been created that is emotionally safe and trustworthy. Relationships with low levels of trust and emotional safety are created by just the opposite types of communication–by an unspoken rule that the truth will not be spoken and that people will pretend that things are okay even when they are not.
Driving with our lights off–both literally and metaphorically, is clearly a safety hazard, both to ourselves and to others. It can and will happen though to all of us from time to time. As long as we have others around us who can let us know, and as long as we are open to receiving their feedback and making the necessary changes, we’ll all be okay. We truly need each other from time to time to help us get our lights back on so we don’t drive around in the dark.