Tuesday, June 23, 2009
My home group meeting has several newcomers to Al-Anon. And they know each other from their church. So with their familiarity, the meeting becomes a bit dominated by the newcomers who like to cross talk with each other.
Personally, I find the interruptions distracting. Meetings are a sacred place for me. And to have chatter going on about shares is mostly a serenity breaker for me. I guess that I'm a bit rigid when it comes to meeting formats. It's that perfectionist character defect coming up.
Actually, the World Service Organization has no rule against "cross talk" though it is avoided as a matter of custom at most of the meetings I attend. Typically "cross talk" refers to people speaking out of turn, interrupting someone while they are speaking or giving direct advice to someone in a meeting. At most meetings, we each share our own experience and avoid giving direct advice or lecturing a group or individual.
Sometimes the cross talk can take a harmful format though. I've not heard it much but occasionally have heard from newcomers: "You really oughta" or "You need to" or simply not speaking from experience, strength and hope.
Because Al-Anon has no "rules", the ultimate arbiter of the subject is the individual group. I can see that newcomers often need to speak up and are seeing much of what is shared from their own painful perspective. That's really okay as they need to feel safe and just have the courage to speak up in the group.
And if members know one another well, as they tend to in small groups like my home group, they feel comfortable about adding to what another said. Often there will be a crisis situation that will be shared. Last night, a member shared that her son had gone back out and was arrested. She shared her pain and others chimed in to reassure or to share theirs.
But there is a different view point on cross talk too. Having come from a situation in which there was alcoholism, I often felt invalidated and ignored. What I wanted was to be heard and listened to. So giving each other undivided attention and acceptance at meetings is reassuring in many ways. I don't want someone to editorialize my share, belittle what I have to say, or offer advice in a meeting.
For me, cross talk is a fragile balance between being direct and to the point and between interrupting to the extent where I wonder is this helping ANYONE or is this just taking up space and using up oxygen in the room? We are only experts on us. Barring psychosis, we know what we did and where we were and how we felt about it. The "Why" isn't always so obvious and takes a lot of inventorying.
But people who are allowed to analyze other people have to have a degree in psychology and a license. When someone shares in an Al-Anon meeting, the value, besides letting them unload, is in letting us see ourselves through their stories. We may not be in all of them, but we will be in many. And in seeing ourselves through the mirror of another person we can be helped to change ourselves. It is not our responsibility to change that person, and we have no reason to assume we are qualified to point out what they are doing right or wrong.
Another viewpoint about cross talking can be inferred from the Traditions. It may violate Tradition One which speaks of our unity and common welfare. And it also seems that Tradition Twelve which says that we place principles above personalities comes into play. I like the idea of keeping the meetings principle centered and not personality centered.
It is to the particular credit of our program that each group, autonomous yet devoted to the principles of the program is free to develop its own personality and that in many places there are a number of meetings in which each of us can find the group which nurtures us in our growth.