When given 45 minutes to create and tell several different complex stories on the television screen, writers choose their words carefully. Each word in episode 3 of This Is Us was so masterfully written. Each phrase said much more than the actual words alone.
The words spoken explained the situation, but they also revealed deeper messages that not only connected each character more deeply, but sent a strong message to the viewers that we. must. communicate with each other . . . even when it’s unbearable.
So it’s no surprise that the opening line of the show commenced this journey revolving around different types of communication, as well as the negative and joyful results of sharing, connecting, and truly communicating with those we love.
“I promised my wife that we would talk more this time, but um . . . I’m finding that hard to do.”
Thank you, Jack Pearson for perfectly stating how many of us feel – we intend to communicate properly, but we just find it so hard to do.
It’s quite clear that in today’s America, though there is much good, there is also a whole lot of division. I honestly don’t know how much of this is new, or if our voices are getting louder and drawing more attention to what’s either already been put out there, or drawing out inner feelings that have been deep down and waiting to come out. So many voices. So loud and presumably clear. But where’s the communication?
I submit that communication is more than talking, and that’s probably one of the reasons that Jack found it so difficult to do.
When we communicate, we do so with the intent to be understood – to share something with a listener. This doesn’t mean that the one receiving the information is in agreement; rather, it means that they are listening with the intent to understand. This means at least two parties are together with pure intent to be understood and to understand. There is usually a back-and-forth.
Jack’s problems run deep, and perhaps even talking aloud to himself, working through this alone is difficult because he doesn’t want to dig and reopen closed wounds. But based on what we can observe, it’s a whole lot harder to talk to his wife – who has given him all her trust, whom he doesn’t want to let down, and who has the most potential to crush his heart – than to the other members at the AA meetings. And I believe it’s because he’s afraid that he won’t fully be understood – after all, he’s just learning to understand himself.
Kevin has a reputation of being the good-looking actor. He’s fun, carefree, and relatively tough. Not much breaks him, except perhaps, the love and loss of his father. Years and years have gone by, and he has not been able to talk about what he feels, and it is actually interfering with his life. Kevin, too, worries about what others will think . . . if they’ll understand that he has this side to him that is so vulnerable. Will he be considered weak? Kevin is deeply concerned with appearances and perceptions – understandably, since his career revolves around that. But since the very first episode that aired, Kevin was frustrated with not being understood. He was tired of feeling like people only saw him as a one-dimensional person when he is so much more.
Deja is a new child in the Randall and Beth Pearson household. She doesn’t dare share too much to begin with because of obvious trauma. But also, what’s the point? Who’s going to take the time to even try to understand her point of view? And I’m not talking about having sympathy for a foster kid. I’m talking about listening to her tell her story. And she may not ever even WANT to share it because then someone could potentially understand her and she’d have this deeper connection with someone who could end up being gone the next day. That’s painful. Randall is arguably the first person who has stopped to really connect in a way that she gets because she has lived it . . . and worse. He listens to her body language and her words and he knows that they share some similarities. Randall understands how important it is to understand someone before you try to tell them your words. That is precisely why he told Deja his story before he broke the news that her mom may not be coming back soon.
Sharing is hard because we are afraid we won’t be understood; listening is hard because we are afraid we won’t be understood.
We have this idea in our minds that others have only their own best interest in mind and are unwilling, or truly unable, to see something from a new perspective. It’s why Deja freaked out on Beth before they could talk. It’s why Kevin didn’t want Kate talking about their dad. It’s why Jack didn’t want to talk too much in the car with his wife. And it’s why social media has lost all decency. We assume that the other side is unable or unwilling to listen, so we feel the need to either yell or shut down. We stop communicating and nothing gets done.
This episode was so much more than weaving a story together. Though it was entertaining and well-crafted, I saw this episode as a commentary on how we live our lives – and the destruction, and also the peace, that can come when we communicate – not just talk.
It illustrated what we do every day that shuts down our own lives, our homes, our country, and then it offered a pattern to begin the process of healing from the cuts we’ve given each other. These characters offered a template. Did you catch that?
Rebecca was full of hurt, but she was humble and patient. In her calm frustration, and probably fear, she waited on him until he was ready to share, and she didn’t judge him. She honored his experience and lifted him up with her own words.
Kevin chose to call Kate. He apologized for his harsh words; she accepted the apology. He began to open up and she reiterated that she was here for her brother whenever he was ready to talk. She would listen – and, most likely, offer advice from her own experience.
Randall, Beth, Deja. They are a work in progress. True communication that touches the heart and prompts emotional evolution most often does take time. I believe Beth, Randall, and the girls are going to ride it out because I’ve seen a pattern within their own home of being patient with one another, listening, speaking, contemplating what has been said, and coming back together to discuss. They have healthy communication that creates a loving home and a loving life. In turn, because they have love, they have a lot of love to give.
Our world needs a lot of love, and we need to create that love to give.
We need to stop yelling and start listening. We need to hold our tongues (or our fingertips at the keyboard) and listen to others’ experiences. We need to be patient with one another, understanding that others want to be understood – just like us. Humility. Patience. Quietly listening. And if we’ve modeled that, then perhaps we’ll get that in return when it’s our chance to speak.
I have been called naïve because my answer to most debates lately is that we need to be kind. People are quick to tell me that things will only change if we fight and that I’m a part of the problem for not fighting. Perhaps. But I choose to do my fighting by listening. I have never regretted listening to someone’s side before speaking. I have never regretted extending kindness, even if it “wasn’t deserved.” And as a result, I’ve often gained a friend and we’ve grown and changed as we’ve learned from each other.
I have wept in the night, at my shortness of sight,
That to others’ needs made me blind,
But I never have yet, had a tinge of regret
For being a little too kind.
Growing up, this poem hung on our fridge, and I put it to memory quickly. I find it to be very true. If we want to change the world – if we want to change the relationships we care most about – maybe our communication needs to be filled with more listening, compassion, and general kindness, and talking will once again be a good experience.