I Finally Understand "I Statements."

A couple weekends ago I attended the ManKind Project retreat. I found the whole thing to be a transformative experience for myself and the men around me. In addition to learning about myself, one surprise take home from the training was that I finally understand the true power and value of "I statements."

Historically I've long been aware of the value of speaking from my own experience. I get that I can't assume to speak for others. I also understand that my perspective is as important as others' perspectives. All perspectives need a place at the table. I understood this as a fundamental piece of conflict resolution. I also understand it through the lens of anti-oppression and the value of owning my own stuff. 

Another way that I've understood "I statements" is through the lens of Non-Violent Communication (NVC). NVC offers the famous "I statement" formula: "When (X objective experience) happens, I feel (feeling). Would you (request)?" This model is as powerful as it is clunky. I often have found myself arguing that it is a teaching tool to learn the elements of NVC: learning to see events without judgement, figuring out what you need and asking for it. I also find myself needing to point out that speaking through set and rigid formulas is a quick way to lose one's natural voice. Anyway, NVC I statements are the bedrock of effective communication for people in conflict, but still didn't understand their power until the ManKind Project retreat. 

At the MKP retreat two of the men did a skit where they modeled people speaking about experiences. They first told their story from the universal "we" and "you," and then they told them while speaking from "I." Something clicked for me and I saw that "I statements" can serve me far beyond managing my perspective relative to others or expressing my needs. "I statements" simply make a better story. 

When I speak from my experience, and I choose not to generalize it to a wider population, my story becomes both more compelling and more precise. The precision is fundamental. When I speak from "I" I know that I can speak in absolute detail about my subjective experience. I can be clear and honest about what I experienced and how I felt about what I experienced. My unique perspective is then validated by its accuracy. The real key piece for me, however, is that when I tell my own story it becomes more compelling. I am inviting the listener or audience to step into my mind's eye imagine the world as I see it. It stops being a story that I'm trying to impose on another or make someone feel. Instead it becomes an invitation to share in my vulnerability, and that is what makes it easier and more interesting to hear. 

Finally, speaking for myself clarifies something about my own life experience. I am the one here in this skin, with these experiences, with these hopes and dreams. As much as I imagine that everyone shares them, it is not true. My contribution is unique, and it feels courageous to celebrate that. What a mysterious and profound thing to be anyone at all.