Grudges and Boundaries

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Has someone wronged you recently?  Long ago?  (How) Does it still affect you?  Are you a grudge holder?  Does someone hold a grudge against you?

Last night I gathered with good friends and this topic came up—we go deep, my friends and I.  Of course, it started me thinking and wondering:  What does it mean to hold a grudge?  When I hold a grudge, what do I actually do?  What is the motivation?  What are the consequences?  When/how/why does it resolve, if ever?  As we talked, it felt straight forward at first.  Everybody knows how it feels to hold a grudge—but how do you describe or define it?

Google dictionary defines it:

Grudge: /ɡrəj/

noun

a persistent feeling of ill will or resentment resulting from a past insult or injury.

“she held a grudge against her former boss”

synonyms: grievance, resentment, bitterness, rancor, pique, umbrage, dissatisfaction, disgruntlement, bad feelings, hard feelings, ill feelings, ill will, animosity, antipathy, antagonism, enmity, animus;

informala chip on one’s shoulder

“a former employee with a grudge”

verb

be resentfully unwilling to give, grant, or allow (something).

“he grudged the work and time that the meeting involved”

synonyms: begrudge, resent, feel aggrieved about, be resentful of, mind, object to, take exception to, take umbrage at

“he grudges the time the meetings use up”

 

The more we thought about it the worse it felt to me.  I’m reminded of the saying that hatred hurts the hater more than the hated.  Grudges feel like dark clouds hanging over my consciousness, chilling my soul, or at least casting a cold shadow on my joy, freedom of emotion, and possibility for connection.  My friends and I contemplated the utility of grudge holding.   What good does it do, what need does it meet?  I think it’s protective—a defense mechanism, a way of not being vulnerable again—armor, as I believe Brené Brown would call it.

I asked my friends last night, “So is it holding a grudge, or is it setting a boundary?”  I wondered if they are the same or different.  After all, both make you behave differently toward the other person.  But I think it matters whether and how we judge the other person.  When I hold a grudge, I judge the whole person based on the bad thing (I perceive) they did to me.  I may generalize from my own negative experience and write them off as wholly selfish, ignorant, narcissistic, and unworthy of my compassion and empathy.  Perhaps I start to depersonalize them, make them into an abstraction right in front of my eyes—dehumanize them.  Does that seem like an extreme description?  Even so, doesn’t it still describe the feeling?   When I hold a grudge, I do not—cannot—like or even relate to the person.  I avoid them, don’t want to be in the same room with them.  I don’t trust them.

I listened to The Thin Book of Trust by by Charles Feltman (referenced by Brown in her book Dare to Lead) this past week.  He describes four distinctions of trust:  Sincerity, Reliability, Competence, and Caring.  He suggests that when we find someone else untrustworthy, it’s likely that they have disappointed us in one or more of these elements.  I have assumed for a long time that the person I hold a grudge against simply does not care about me or my well-being.  Feltman suggests that of the four distinctions, this may be the hardest one to overcome when violated.  My story about this person is that they don’t care about me, therefore they are categorically untrustworthy.  So I feel justified in denying the validity of their point of view, minimizing their achievements, and casting them as the permanent villain in my story.

Yuck.  That perspective does not align with my core values.

So what can I do?  Maybe rather than holding a grudge, I can simply reorient myself to our relationship.  Instead of harboring bitterness and ill will, can I instead learn, synthesize, and integrate some new information?  When I’m wronged, maybe I can say, with curiosity more than resentment, “How fascinating!”  Maybe I can take care of my own feelings, connect with people I do trust, and regroup.  Then I can decide how I want to present to this person hereafter.  I can set some new boundaries.

Rather than dismiss the person as uncaring in general and holding this against them, I can do other things.  First, I can withhold judgment on their caring and make a more generous assumption.  For example, I feel un-cared for by them, but perhaps their way of expressing caring is different from how I receive it.  I can look for alternative signs of caring.  Or perhaps they truly don’t care about me, but I need to work with them anyway, so I had better figure out a way to do it—are they at least sincere, reliable, and competent?  How must I attend to myself, so I can honor my core values, get the work done, and not get hurt (or at least minimize the risk)?  Second, I can set clear boundaries in our relationship.  I can point out behaviors that I will not tolerate, and call them out if they happen.  I can set realistic expectations about agendas, objectives, methods, and contact.  I can give honest and direct feedback with concrete examples of words or actions that require attention and remedy.

Many thanks to my thoughtful and engaging friends who stimulate these explorations.  I can feel my grip on the grudge loosening already.

Recentering—Vaccine post #3

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NaBloPoMo 2018:  What I’m Learning

When you buy a red car suddenly you notice so many red cars on the road.  I write two posts on vaccines, and now I see all these vaccine posts on my Facebook feed. One made me sad for multiple reasons.

Dr. Jennifer Chuang , a pediatrician who ran for the state legislature in New Jersey, posted this:

In 2017, I was moved to run for office in the NJ State legislature because of bills being introduced that were harmful to public health. Among the areas that I stood firm on were the importance and safety of vaccinations, and I was harshly attacked for that, even threatened.
However, NJ should not be proud of introducing the most pieces of legislation that would have made our children at risk for vaccine preventable illnesses. The current measles outbreak in New Jersey has now grown to 18 cases. Legislative decisions have consequences, especially to public health.

“From 2011 to 2017, New Jersey lawmakers introduced the most pieces of legislation that would make it easier for children to skip vaccines, according to a new study by Drexel University researchers.”

She linked to this article, detailing the anti-vaccine legislative history in New Jersey and lawmakers’ rationale, compared to the scientific literature.

I’m sad that there is such a fight against proven public health initiatives, and I’m sad that legislative bodies, who write our health and medical policies, include remarkably few clinicians.  But I’m most sad at the meanness in the fights.

A woman immediately commented, “Shut up already” on Dr. Chuang’s page.  When challenged benignly by others, she replied telling them to fuck off and calling them assholes.  Her page is apparently public, so I visited.  The posts that I could see were vehemently opposed to vaccines of all kinds, at least in 2016 and 2017.  She apparently lost a son this year, in his 24th year of life.  She has posted about eating healthy, self-care, and seeing intelligence as ‘not because you think you know everything without questioning, but rather because you question everything you think you know.”  So while I feel acutely put off and dismissive of her vile reaction to Dr. Chuang’s post, I also imagine that she and I may have things in common and might even be friends, if circumstances facilitated.

Somehow I came across another woman’s page tonight, similarly militantly anti-vaccine.  She and the first woman both posted a lot of memes and sayings implying that people who advocate for vaccines are brainwashed and ignorant, and not worthy of engagement.  Huh.  Sounds to me just like many of the ad hominems hurled by vaccine advocates against women like them.  It’s exhausting.  Who does it help, this mutual shit-flinging?  In Rising Strong, Brené Brown points out the pitfalls of false dichotomies and binary decision trees.  If you hear people shouting that you have to choose one side or another, that it’s all or nothing, be suspicious.  Look for the beneficiaries of that feud.  Often it’s the politicians who leverage our warring tendencies to stay in office.  Or maybe it’s physicians who, when they refuse to care for patients who decline vaccines, can feel decisively self-righteous rather than uncomfortably ambivalent.  Or maybe it’s the anti-vaccine parent, who feels embarrassed to express fear and uncertainty (because she has been shamed too many times for questioning a sanctimonious medical community), and so finds her voice in combative rage instead.  And could it be that anytime one of us shows up in attack mode, we incite our counterpart to take a mirroring stance, even if that was not their original intent (this is a rhetorical question)?

Regardless, I’m tired.  Social media and loud, mean, public debate are not venues that yield any meaningful interactions (I see the irony of my writing this on a blog).  It feels too slow, but experience teaches me that we win hearts and minds face to face, quietly, intimately.  Nothing good ever comes from a collision of two oncoming bullet trains.  It’s wildly destructive more than anything else.

Thankfully, my good friend posted Max Ehrmann’s poem “Desiderata” tonight.  I first read, transcribed, and posted this poem on my wall in high school, and have not seen it in a couple decades.  It really captures the essence of inner peace and right relationship, with self, humanity, and the earth, and it soothes me.  It’s a late Thursday night of another long week.  I leave you with Mr. Ehrmann’s master work below.  Good night.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

 

Talking to the Opposed About Vaccines

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NaBloPoMo 2018: What I’m Learning

Go figure, I’m having conversations about flu and vaccines every day right now.  Today I described my post from yesterday to a new friend.  He stands firmly in the ‘vaccines are good’ camp.  His sister, however, does not.  Her son has autism.  After hearing about my post, he asked me what I would say to her, if she told me she would not vaccinate her child ever again.  It was a great opportunity to think and practice, and I’m grateful that he asked.  I had already thought earlier today about writing a separate post on communication around vaccines.  So here goes!

First I would tell her that I understand why she would not want to vaccinate, if she blames vaccines for her son’s autism.  I don’t know any kids with autism, but I have friends whose kids are autistic, and I see how stressful and exhausting it can be.  As a mom of kids with anaphylactic food allergies, I also know the feeling of absolute guilt for being the one who gave my kids the things that made them sick.  If I were a mom whose kid was diagnosed with autism after receiving vaccines that I consented to, and I were convinced that the latter caused the former, I would definitely want to protect my kid from anything else that might hurt him, especially anything that I have control over.

Some additional background:  We are a lot better at recognizing and diagnosing autism spectrum conditions now than a few decades ago.  That diagnosis is commonly made in the toddler years, also around the time kids have received a boatload of vaccines.  So it’s easy to see a correlation, but causation cannot be proven.  One could argue that it also cannot be totally disproven, but given the number of children who receive all of their vaccines and the very small proportion of them all who go on to be diagnosed, the evidence definitely leans away from vaccines causing autism.  That is little comfort for a family and a child affected with the disorder, who may always wonder.  As humans, we naturally look to assign blame; vaccines are an easy target.  And why on earth would we repeat actions that have previously caused us trauma, real or perceived?

This year I read an article about a mom of three.   She had vaccinated her two elder children as per guidelines.  After her third was born, however, she started to read lay literature online stoking fear of vaccines.  She had no negative experiences herself, but started to wonder, what was really the best thing to do for her family?  She decided to stop vaccinating when her son was 6 months old.  At 18 months, he got pertussis, or whooping cough.  He almost died.  She posted videos of him coughing and turning blue, captioned with a heartfelt mea culpa, urging other parents to vaccinate:

“This is whooping cough,” she wrote. “This is Brody. An 18-month-old boy. Our third child. Our first son.

“This is a mother that sees ‘anti-vaxx’ all over social media and becomes terrified. Unsure whether or not to give vaccines (even though she did for both of her girls). Terrified to ‘pump her baby with poison’ … so she stops vaccinating after six months.”

“This is pure hell. This is guilt. Guilt of putting not only my son at risk, but my community too …This is embarrassment.”

She wanted to impress the fact that she’s not “bashing” the anti-vaxx community – or blaming or judging anyone.

“The decisions I made were MY decisions. Based purely on my lack of knowledge and fear,” she said.

“This is to show the consequences of not vaccinating my child correctly.”

I wonder about her conversations with her son’s doctors.  Did they try to shame her into vaccinating when she initially expressed a desire to stop?  If so, could this have just made her more resistant?  It could easily look something like a conversation that I would bet happened all over our country today:

Doctor:  Have you gotten your flu vaccine yet?

Patient: I don’t do flu vaccine.

Doctor: Seriously?  Why not?  It’s perfectly safe, you know, and tens of thousands of people die every year from flu.  If you don’t get vaccinated, you could pass it on to everybody you know.  Aren’t your parents elderly?  Don’t your kids have asthma?  You’re putting them at risk for serious illness or death, you know that, right?  And you don’t get flu from the vaccine, that is a total myth.  (Insert list of facts and evidence for benefits of flu vaccine here.)  Really, you should get it (suppressing eye roll).

Patient:  No, no thanks.  Can I go now?

I see and hear my colleagues complain all the time about vaccine-resistant patients.  When they are particularly tired or moody, they can get judgmental and even a little mean.  I understand.  It’s frustrating to watch people we care about making choices we think are against their best interests, especially when it also puts the community at risk.  I fear for my kids if their classmates are not vaccinated—both of my kids have asthma that’s triggered by respiratory infections.  Even if our whole family is vaccinated, they are still exposed to hundreds of snotty, sneezy, coughing faces every day at school.  Flu season is essentially six months long, most of it when we are all stuck inside basically slobbering all over one another.  High. Risk.

But does it really help for me to come at my patients with my ‘advice’ before I understand the origins of their decisions?  What are my assumptions about them when I do that?  Some patients claim science as the basis of their refusal; others admit that it’s totally irrational.  Regardless, how can I best conduct myself?  Here is my current approach:

Cheng: Do you do flu vaccine?

Patient: No, not really.

Cheng: Can we talk about that?

Patient: Do we have to?

Cheng: I would really appreciate it.  I won’t try to pressure you, I just want to understand your rationale.

Patient:  Gives their reasoning.  If it’s like my friend’s sister above, or I otherwise understand that they are resolute in opposition, I thank them for sharing, shift to strategies for illness and transmission prevention (see yesterday’s post), and ask permission to talk again next season.  This happens in a minority of cases, actually.  Most often they say something like, “Well, I just don’t really think about it, I feel like I don’t need it, I think it’s strange that it’s recommended every year, it doesn’t really seem to work from what I hear, and what’s the big deal about flu, anyway? …Do you really think I should get it?”

Cheng: Yes, I really recommend it.  Can I tell you why?

Patient: Okay, sure.

This is when I go through all the evidence that I reviewed yesterday and the rationale above.  If I know something meaningful to them that relates, I make sure to highlight the connection.  At the end I make sure to reiterate that they are free to vaccinate or not; I am honestly unwedded to a particular decision. I invite them to consider and let me know, or just show up to a pharmacy clinic if they decide to get it.  Most people are appreciative of the time spent; many say they learn something they did not previously know.  We end the conversation at least with no hard feelings, and often with positive ones (at least on my end).

It occurred to me this morning, what is my primary objective when I conduct these conversations this way, coming alongside my patients rather than coming at them?  Initially I thought it was to keep people healthy, to prevent death, serious illness, and suffering.  But now I think my primary objective is actually to cultivate our relationship.  I usually have this conversation with new patients, because if I know them already then I know their vaccine patterns and I don’t have to ask, “Do you do flu vaccine?”  If they refused last year I can simply start with, “Can we please talk about flu again?”  When we are new to each other, the way I present sets the tone for our relationship and has an outsize impact on patients’ receptivity to my advice.  The flu vaccine conversation is a prime opportunity to prove that I can listen to, empathize with, respect, and honor their values and autonomy.

On the contrary, when I come at them, bent on convincing them to vaccinate now, what is my primary objective?  Thinking of other times I present this way, if I’m being honest, I’m just trying to prove I’m right and win an argument.  I don’t think that approach has ever really helped anybody.

 

 

Fear, Ego, and Control

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NaBloPoMo 2018:  What I’m Learning

In this post I will attempt to describe some exciting connections between readings from the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Anthony Suchman and colleagues, and Carol Dweck.

An HBR article landed in my inbox this week, catching my inner Imposter’s attention.  The title, “Ego is the Enemy of Good Leadership,” triggered my ‘Is that me?’ reflex.  Because much of the time, I think I’m a pretty good leader (“I’m awesome”).  But I’m forever fearful that my ego will get the best of me and make me exactly the kind of leader I loathe (“I suck”).  I saved the article to read later.

Meanwhile, I continued to Chapter 3 of Leading Change in Healthcare: Authentic, Affirmative, and Courageous Presence.  Basically this chapter deals with earning and building trust.  Chapter subsections include self-awareness, reflection, emotional self-management, clarifying one’s core beliefs, and accepting oneself and others.  In the part on core beliefs, the authors reference Dr. Suchman’s 2006 paper, “Control and relation: two foundational values and their consequences.”  In it, he differentiates between these two ‘foundational world views’:

Control

The beliefs, thoughts and behaviors of the control paradigm are organized around a single core value: that the ultimate state to which one can aspire is one of perfect willfulness and predictability. What one desires happens, with no surprises; all outcomes are intended. For the clinician, the control paradigm is expressed in the questions, ‘‘What do I want to happen here?’’ and ‘‘What’s wrong and how do I fix it?’’  Personal success or failure is judged by the clinical outcome, the extent to which one’s intended outcome was realized.

Relation

In the relation paradigm, the most valued state to which one aspires is one of connection and belonging. In this state, one has a feeling of being part of a larger whole – a team, a learning group, a dance troupe, a community, even the world itself. One’s individual actions seem spontaneously integrated with those of others to a remarkable degree, contributing to the evolution of a higher order process, i.e. one at a higher system level than that of the individuals of which it is comprised…  One asks the question, ‘‘What’s trying to happen here?’’ and, according to one’s best approximation of an answer, seeks to shape others and the world while also remaining open to being shaped oneself. This balance between control and receptivity puts one in the best possible position to recognize and make use of serendipitous events.

In Leading Change the authors write about control, “…This is a fear-based paradigm in which one trusts oneself more than others and holds tightly to power…  It predisposes leaders toward dominance, distracts them from cultivating relationships and leads them to set unrealistic expectations of control.”  And about relation, “This is a trust-based paradigm, anchored in the belief that the sources of order, goodness and meaning lie beyond one’s own creation…  It predisposes leaders to do their best in partnership with others, to attend to the process of relating and to personal experience (their own and others’) and to remain open to possibility.”

When I finally read the HBR article, the message about ego reflected the control paradigm:

Because our ego craves positive attention… when we’re a victim of our own need to be seen as great, we end up being led into making decisions that may be detrimental to ourselves, our people, and our organization.

When we believe we’re the sole architects of our success, we tend to be ruder, more selfish, and more likely to interrupt others. This is especially true in the face of setbacks and criticism. In this way, an inflated ego prevents us from learning from our mistakes and creates a defensive wall that makes it difficult to appreciate the rich lessons we glean from failure.

The ego always looks for information that confirms what it wants to believe [confirmation bias].  Because of this, we lose perspective and end up in a leadership bubble where we only see and hear what we want to. As a result, we lose touch with the people we lead, the culture we are a part of, and ultimately our clients and stakeholders.

Going to bed last night, I wondered, “Is Fear actually driving when we see Ego in charge?”  I think the answer is undoubtedly yes, but it’s more complex than that.  It’s not a fear that we feel consciously, or that we are even aware of.  It’s not sweaty palm, palpitative, panic attack fear.  Rather it’s a deep, visceral, existential fear—of being found out, of not being enough—akin to imposter syndrome, if not exactly that.  Control, Fear, Ego—they all seem lump-able with/in the Fixed mindset, as described by Carol Dweck.  The simplest example of this mindset is when we tell kids how smart they are, they then develop a need to appear smart, lest they lose their identifying label.  So they stop taking risks, trying new things, risking failure.  Their experiences narrow as they, often inadvertently, learn that control of outcome and outward appearance of competence is the primary objective of any endeavor.

Back in August I listened to Dweck’s book, having heard about it and already embraced its theory in the last few years.  I had already started making the connection between fear and fixed mindset, but this day I saw a sudden, reciprocal relationship between fixed mindset, confirmation bias, and imposter syndrome.  I love when these lightning bolt moments happen—I was in my car on the way to work, and this triad came to me.  As soon as I parked and turned off the engine I tore into my bag for the journal I carry with me everywhere and scrawled the diagram as fast as I could, as if the idea would evaporate if I didn’t get it down in ink.  Later I added the comparison to Growth mindset—holding space for learning, integration, and possibility.  I held it in mind for a while, and then forgot it (which is okay—that’s why I wrote it down!).  Then today, putting together this post in my head, I remembered it with excitement.

8-31 triad update

The point of it all is that we are at our best, both individually and as groups, when we are in right relationship with ourselves and one another.  It all starts with relationship with self.  If I live in fear of being found out as flawed or imperfect, then I project that fear onto others.  I act out in an effort to control how others perceive me—when in reality I have no control over that whatsoever.  The negative perception of my ‘Ego’ by others then provokes myriad responses including fear, insecurity, false deference, resentment, disloyalty, and subversion, and the team falls into disarray.  If, on the other hand, I cultivate self-love and connection with others, I never feel that I am going it alone.  I am an integral member of a high-functioning, mutually respectful team, one in which I can admit my weaknesses and maximize my strengths.  We all feel confident that we can handle whatever adversity comes our way, and we rise to each and every occasion–together.

I’m still putting it all together, working out how it translates into daily behaviors, actions, and decisions.  For now I’m definitely paying closer attention to my feelings, especially in conflict, and taking a lot more deep breaths before speaking or replying to triggering emails.  I ask a lot more clarifying questions.  I try to make the most generous assumptions about people’s intentions, and remember always that we are on the same team—Team Humanity.

More learning happening around the clock, I say!  Hoping to articulate better in the sharing hereafter…

What do you think about all of this, does it make any sense at all??

Debate Prep

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Debate Prep

NaBloPoMo 2018:  What I’m Learning

Families gathering for Thanksgiving present a perfect opportunity to practice some excellent communication skills.  How we each show up—generous, combative, kind, resentful, curious, or judgmental—will determine our experience and that of those around us.

For this post, I refer to a short, accessible list of tips for conducting ourselves optimally among friends and family with whom we disagree.  It’s from The American Interest in February 2016, “The Seven Habits of Highly Depolarizing People” by David Blankenhorn.  I recently joined an organization he founded, Better Angels, “a bipartisan citizen’s movement to unify our divided nation.”  I list here his 7 habits and my interpretation thereof.

1.      Criticize from within.  “In other words, criticize the other—whether person, group, or society—on the basis of something you have in common.”  This is where DB invokes Abraham Lincoln’s reference to “the better angels of our nature” in his first Inaugural address.  Honestly I don’t know what he means here, but I have decided to take it as a recommendation to find common ground.  For instance, maybe we can all agree that our current healthcare system is deeply flawed and needs reform, and start our debate there.

2.      Look for goods in conflict.  Rather than accepting any false dichotomy of all good and right (your position) versus all bad and wrong (my position), which is the definition of polarizing, we can look for what’s good and right on both sides.  As a progressive, my opinions and positions revolve around inclusion, equality, and lifting up the oppressed.  I imagine my conservative friends’ chief concerns are individual autonomy, personal responsibility, and preservation of traditions.  If we withhold our usual default judgments of one another, we can recognize the importance of each and all of these core values.  We can also hold space for how they sometimes compete and conflict.

3.      Count higher than two.  Again, away with the false dichotomies and binary, all-or-nothing thinking.  We can do better than oversimplified arguments like single payer versus free market healthcare, or “You want a capitalist free for all” versus “You want to strangle us all with regulations.”  This point feels like a natural progression from the first two.  If we can first agree on some common perspectives, and allow that the ‘other side’ has at least one valid point of view, then we may be more likely to look together toward a more nuanced conversation/negotiation about potential solutions.

4.      Doubt.  This one is about humility.  We must practice holding space for the possibility that we don’t know everything, that we could be wrong about something, or a lot of things.  This is admitting that we each always have something to learn, and we may need to evolve and adapt our position based on some new learning.  “Doubt—the concern that my views may not be entirely correct—is the true friend of wisdom and (along with empathy, to which it’s related) the greatest enemy of polarization…  Doubt often supports true convictions based on realistic foundations, just as doubtlessness is nearly always an intellectual disability, a form of blindness.”

5.      Specify.  Avoid and shun overgeneralization.  Blankenhorn invites us to consider four ways to do this.

a.      Practice a “persistent skepticism about categories.”  Left and Right, Conservative and Liberal, even Republican and Democrat—avoid labeling as if all members of each of these categories or groups are carbon copies of all others.  “It’s… worth remembering that, in many cases, creative and categorical thinking are at odds with each other.”  Think about your friends who listen to both country and hip hop music, or those who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative.  Pigeonholing serves nobody.

b.      Consider each issue separately and on its own terms.  Avoid applying broad and heavy ideological frameworks to topics like healthcare, gun violence, immigration, or LGBTQ rights.  Again, this practice depends on the other habits: finding common ground, counting higher than two.

c.      Privilege the specific assertion (including the empirically valid generalization) over the general assertion.  To me this means evidence.  It means objective data; we must find facts that we agree to be demonstrably true, on which we agree to found our debate.  We are allowed to have and state our opinions, but we must acknowledge that they are opinions and not necessarily empiric truth.

d.      Rely first and foremost on inductive reasoning.  [Deductive reasoning works from the more general to the more specific…Inductive reasoning works the other way, moving from specific observations to broader generalizations and theories.]  This method of thinking and speaking, I think, may be less susceptible to bias, especially if we try our best to be objective in our observations.  It is the difference between “you have a fever, severe fatigue, and body aches that started all of a sudden; you were recently in close contact with someone eventually diagnosed with influenza, and you were not vaccinated—you probably have flu” and “flu is going around, you feel sick, you must have the flu.”

In general these practices are extremely difficult, and require significant attention and effort.  In the face of relationships with emotional baggage, raised armor, and close quarters, they feel that much more challenging and impossible.

6.      Qualify (in most cases).  Allow for our statements and assertions to be less definitive, more nuanced.  This is a corollary to practicing doubt.  Prepare to hold space for exceptions, to discuss how one size of anything really does not fit all, and things are never as simple and clear-cut as we would like.  “Of course, in today’s world of dueling talking points and partisan political warfare, qualifying—in the sense modifying or limiting, often by giving exceptions—is frequently treated as a sign of insufficient zeal and perhaps even wimpiness.  But for the serious mind, the opposite is true.  To qualify is to demonstrate competence.  And for the highly depolarizing person, to err is human; to qualify, to divine.”

7.      Keep the conversation going.  Relationships live and die by communication.  Communication is complex and difficult.  If we are to save and nurture our families and democracy, we must exert the energy to speak kindly, listen for understanding, seek shared goals, and see one another as fellow worthy humans rather than abstract enemies.  Avoidance may keep things quiet, but it does not facilitate true peace.  Engagement does not necessarily mandate confrontation.  We must learn to do this better.

I return to this list often, and find myself straying from the practices in my everyday thoughts and interactions.  Right now I’m really working on not calling people names in my head, so I’m less likely to do it out loud or on social media.  This is what I expect of visitors to my Facebook page, so I feel obligated to walk the talk.  Some days I fail—the plane goes down in crimson flames of ad hominem contempt and rage.  Nobody’s perfect.  So that’s why lists are helpful.  Should we expect to uphold all seven habits equally well all the time?  No.  And our families, communities, and country will be better for our honest efforts anyway.

 

 

Perspective Taking

Born a Crime

NaBloPoMo 2018:  What I’m Learning

I’m thinking a lot about empathy lately.  I am less cynical today than I might have been a few months ago, maybe.  I have uttered the words, “People suck” more this year than any other year in my life, perhaps.  But maybe writing about things I’m for rather than things I’m against, or reflecting on things I have learned and am learning, and from whom I’m learning them, has given me some hope.

Another person who gives me hope is Trevor Noah.  I mentioned in the first post of this month that I listened to his book, Born A Crime.  He really is an impressive and worldly young man, and I look forward to following his career and life for a while yet.

The best part about the book is the accents and impressions that Trevor does throughout his reading.  I have not actually read the book, but I am sure that hearing it on Audible is much, much better.  The second best part about the book is the actual book.  It’s a memoir, you must hear it!  In a series of non-chronological and yet expertly woven stories, he describes his childhood and adolescence in South Africa, son of a black Xhosa mother and white Swiss-German father.  Apartheid, outright racism, family conflict, domestic abuse and violence, crime, he lived it all.  Any of it would have probably killed me—jumping out of moving cars, for instance.  But he tells it both matter-of-factly, and with tremendous love.  I don’t mean that he loved all the terrible things that happened to him; rather I feel he has a deep and abiding love of humanity.  He accepts that it all happened and made him who he is today; I hear no resentment or bitterness.  He especially reveres his mother, and rightly so, she is a total Badass Mama Goddess.  I won’t give any of it away, you just gotta hear the book, she is UH-MAZING.  She is the best part of the book.

No, actually, the best part of the book is Noah’s ability to convey his understanding of everybody’s perspective in his life.  He translates for us the mindset of his independent mother, his stoic father, his wise grandmother, his friends from various, sometimes opposing, ethnic groups, and his hotheaded stepfather, among others.  At the same time he describes unbelievable atrocities committed by others, he does not vilify them.  There is never a hint of victimhood in a life story full of loss, poverty, and violence.  Hearing his perspective, and then his explanations of various other people’s perspectives, I was reminded that everybody’s point of view is shaped by so many things that I cannot possibly know even a part of it.  Every single human is a product and a manifestation of all of their genes, environment, experiences, and influences.  Every single one of us is unique.  And yet, most of the time, I make assumptions about what other people think, how they feel, what must motivate them, as if I know.  I think we all do this more than we’d like to admit.  I just wrote yesterday about how we humans have the capacity to relate, despite our disparate experiences.  Today I consider the flip side of that, which is ‘othering’ people by ignoring shared humanity, denying that capacity, repressing it.

Trevor Noah practices perspective taking as a routine.  I think that’s what makes him such a gifted comedian.  Comedy shows us our foibles so we might reflect but not so much that we feel shame.  He did this beautifully recently speaking about the migrant caravan from Honduras:

I’ve noticed other news networks in America specifically seem to focus on what the caravan means for America, and less on what the caravan means to the people in the caravan. 

He recalls growing up in South Africa, seeing news about Zimbabwe during the worst times of Robert Mugabe’s rule.  South Africans understood why Zimbabweans were leaving the country and coming to South Africa.  They may or may not have wanted them to come, but they nevertheless related to the motivations for migration.  He contrasts this with how Central American migrants are painted as threatening criminals, coming to pillage and plunder America.  This prevents us from acknowledging our shared humanity, from seeing ourselves in those around us.  It divides us unnecessarily and to the detriment of us all.

I have done a poor job explaining Trevor Noah’s comedic and humanitarian genius.  But seriously, just read (no, listen to!) his book, and watch his Between the Scenes videos on Facebook.  They are uplifting and fun.

Good night!

The Feels Are Good

IMG_4436

NaBloPoMo 2018:  What I’m Learning

I’ve been working for many years now on feeling my feelings rather than thinking them.  Rationality and analysis in service of self-awareness and understanding are great, but I have tried too long to will my hard feelings away, or experience them all as anger rather than what they really are—sadness, shame, fear, etc.

With books like The Art of Possibility, Mindsight, and Rising Strong, after multiple readings, along with years of therapy, I have acquired the skills to allow these feelings to emerge, engage, and pass.  I understand much better now the purpose of emotions: they are simply signals.  They are meant to draw our attention to something meaningful in our existence.  This could be a threat, a connection, a relationship, anything.  We modern humans spend a lot of time judging our emotions (and thus one another’s), trying to suppress the ones that make us feel bad, masking them, numbing them, and offloading them.  For whatever reason, we are not good at simply allowing them, learning from them, and letting them go.

I started following Nate Green on Facebook just before he deactivated his page.  He now communicates with readers through email newsletters, and his is one of the few I actually read.  This week he sent a rare second message, linking to his recent article for Men’s Health, “There Will Be Tears: Inside the Retreat Where Men Purge Toxic Emotions.”  If you read nothing else this weekend, read this.

Nate participates in an Evryman retreat in Big Sky, Montana, a project “aimed at teaching men how to access and express their emotions.”  When I saw the headline I felt a squirming in my gut, which surprised me.  We, especially we women, are always urging men to be more ‘in touch’ with their feelings, right?  Don’t we always want our men to be more sensitive and caring, more empathic and expressive?  Don’t we want them to role model all of this for our children, especially our boys?

Nate describes the retreat and its exercises:

My thoughts are racing. I shift my feet. Andrew shifts his. We continue to stare at each other. Finally, Andrew takes a deep breath and speaks. “If you really knew me, you’d know that I smoke too much pot and use it as a coping mechanism. And you would know I’m ashamed of it.”

His gaze lowers, embarrassed. He looks back up and we lock eyes. Now it’s my turn.

“If you really knew me, you’d know that I sometimes drink too much alcohol and it worries me.”

I have never spoken those words out loud before. I instantly feel lighter, like a giant
weight I didn’t even know was there has been lifted. Andrew smiles, happy to not be alone in his confession.

“Thanks,” he says.

“Thank you,” I say.

…To our left and right are 16 other men, paired off just like us. Behind us sits a gigantic log cabin that will be our home for the next two nights. After that, we’ll carry 50-pound packs into the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park, where we’ll walk and sleep among the grizzlies, mosquitoes, and stars for three more nights.

We all met maybe an hour ago.

Yikes.  I’m pretty emotionally confident and open, and this would be hard for me.  Imagine (or maybe you don’t have to) how hard it would be for outwardly strong, independent, and stoic men to do this.  What would it take for you men to go on a retreat like this?  Women, how do you picture the men in your life going through something like this?  How would we react if our men disclosed their innermost fears to us, cried openly in front of us, at home, at work, on the field?

For a long time I did not understand how hard this is for men.  I thought they were all just shallow and simply did not have emotions (other than anger and sarcasm).  In Daring Greatly Brené Brown writes how she learned about the severe threat that vulnerability really is for men.  After one of her presentations she was approached by an older man, a husband and father of her superfans.  He pointed out to her that though we say we want men to show more vulnerability, the moment any man does, he immediately pays a steep price.  I like to think we would welcome it, but I have a feeling many of us would react with shock and dismay, at least initially.  We complain about how women are perceived as weak and ‘hysterical’ when showing emotion, and if I’m honest, I might feel the same or worse about a man doing it.

So our mission should be to make it okay for all of us, men included, to ‘be emotional.’  That does not mean losing control and acting out.  It does not mean using emotions as an excuse for abusive behaviors.  It means allowing and holding space for our common human experiences to affect us at our core, and acknowledging how it feels.  It means helping each other breathe and walk through it all, holding each other up through the hard parts.  In Rising Strong and Dare to Lead, Brown takes us through steps she and her team have developed for working through hard emotions, called the Reckoning, Rumbling, and Revolution.  I’m getting really good at the first step, also known as the Shitty First Draft.

I know I have included multiple links here with minimal explanation.  It’s late.  And you can click and read at your leisure.  Or maybe you don’t need to; maybe you know exactly what I’m referring to and you march with the same mission already.  If so, let’s connect.  Let’s find all of us who understand the profound need for this shift in culture and society.  Let us form a chorus and sing loudly to whomever will listen, and make the world better for all of us—men, women, children—all of us for one another.