As we move away from speaking critically about others, we often move into collusion, believing no harm can be done there. There are three forms of collusion. 1) The first happens when we are witnessing someone being harmed by a perpetrator and we remain silent. 2) The second is a non-verbal agreement not to talk about the mistreatment we experience at the hands of some perpetrator. Examples might be the silence employed by victims of domestic violence and the lack of speaking out by those sexually abused by clergy. 3) The third expression of collusion is a non-verbal agreement not to speak out about another person placing himself or herself in harms-way. We remain silent as we watch a friend succumb to the influence of alcohol or drugs. We say nothing while noticing a sibling's unhealthy relationship with food is becoming dangerous. We can collude consciously or unconsciously, with the later being more comfortable. Remaining consciously silent can create more tension as potentially valuable information is withheld. We will be examining the third expression of collusion. Let's look at several alleged benefits of this form of collusion.
Alleged Benefits of Collusion
• Non-disruptive. The hope is that collusion diminishes tension and we don't have to experience the disruptive dynamics we may have grown-up with. It becomes an imperative of "harmony at all costs", in the hope of avoiding the trauma of the past.
• Perceived Favorably. By eliminating disagreeable feedback, we hope to be seen favorably. The delusion is "If I don't upset you, I obviously love you and deserve to be loved by you".
• Reassuring the Continuance of the Relationship. By withholding tension-provoking information, we believe the other will remain committed to the relationship.
Unfavorable Consequences of Collusion
There are a number of ensuing disadvantages of collusion.
• The person, whom we witness at risk, may be seriously hurt.
• If the person at risk is harmed, we may experience significant guilt as a result of our silence.
• Not taking the risk to interrupt collusion makes it easier to reproduce it in the future.
• To withhold what we believe to be valuable information can compromise integrity.
• As integrity weakens, gradual withdrawal from the relationship becomes likely.
• The rapport in the relationship becomes disingenuous as perceptions of potential or actual danger are withheld.
Beyond Attack and Collusion
Collusion is a natural compensation. We have heard either what was spoken as hurtful or how something was said as condescending or demeaning. In order to avoid toxic discourse, we slip into the alleged benevolence of silence. Confusion about collusion is not simply about the nature of collusion, more importantly, it's confusion about what to do instead of collusion or attack.
Truth Accompanied by Compassion
Rather than collude or speak hard-heartedly, we can learn to speak our truths, accompanied by compassion. Such a skill calls for life-long development. Let's look at what this means:
• Mindfulness. Speaking our truths being mindful or aware of several questions: Is there urgency in me to speak? If so, what is driving the urgency? Can I calm myself down before I speak, increasing the likelihood of clarity? What is the nature of my truth?
• Ownership. We do not possess the truth. We have opinions, perceptions and intuitions. Ownership means representing what we observe as our own without slipping into insinuating some profound grasp of the truth. An example of dis-ownership might be: "You definitely have a problem with prescription drugs." While ownership might sound like: "I'm aware that you have been on pain meds for several years. I'm concerned about the possible impact it may have on your emotional life and your relationships".
There are several ways to have our truths be accompanied by compassion.
• Recalling the old definition of the word compassion, which is suffering with the other. The definition can remind us that the roles could easily be reversed where we would be in denial of our own potentially injurious behavior.
• Making sure that the feedback we offer would be feedback we might see as helpful if we were in a similar situation.
• Making no mention of the person's character as we describe the potential harm.
• Being willing to let go after making the offering. This is a significant aspect of compassion. We offer the feedback and allow recipients to take it wherever they wish. This can be challenging either when we are attached to recipients appreciating what we offer or when they have a defensive reaction. Our feedback is compassionate when there is room for diverse understandings of a situation, even when we are convinced that our perspective is the best.
Our relationships suffer when they are breeding grounds for unnecessary pain. We can harm one another either by callous remarks we make or by withholding information that could have prevented unnecessary harm. We deepen our emotional intelligence when we are willing to develop the ability to speak our truths accompanied by compassion.
Getting serious about acquiring such a competency has numerous valuable results or any relationship:
• Mutual trust is enhanced; when each of us believes we will be heard, understood and accepted.
• Capacity for collaboration is strengthened.
• Emotional intimacy can deepen.
• Conflicts are more easily resolved.
• Problem-solving is enhanced.
• Decision-making is facilitated.
• Faith in the importance of the connection with the other is strengthened.