Things We Take for Granted

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NaBloPoMo 2018:  What I’m Learning

When I’m sick the sinus congestion often resists the efficacy of all medication.  I lie awake at night mouth breathing, almost choking every time I have to swallow my own secretions.  Those are the times I really appreciate when I’m well.  The past year, even though I am mostly recovered from knee surgery, I’m still always aware of my one-sided non-normalcy.  When I do my single leg exercises, it’s staggering how I can just do it on the right, and on the left I honestly struggle, as if I could never do some of these things before.  This morning, driving the kids to school and then myself to work navigating slush, sleet, poor visibility, and the inevitably slower traffic, I was grateful that I could simply push the ‘SNOW’ button on my center console and suddenly I had a 4-wheel drive.  You can actually feel the incremental increase in stability and traction—amazing!  Thank you, my engineer friends and family!

Last night was the first real snow of the season in Chicago.  Part of me still hates living here—I absolutely abhor the weather.  But today I found myself grateful more than annoyed.  My kids are old enough to get themselves out of bed, dress, groom, and feed themselves.  We all leave together, and though that morning time in the car can be groggy and silent, it’s still time together.  I drive a car I really like to a job I really love, where I work with a team of generous, funny, kind, and collaborative people.  I have this really warm Land’s End parka with the big, foofy faux fur hood, and I can walk from the parking garage to the office in total comfort on most cold days.

I have job security, health insurance, a great house (with reliable heat and running water, a home gym, and plenty of space for us all to both spread out and gather together), more books than I can read (right now), two healthy parents, a boatload of amazing friends, a universe of information at my fingertips, digital connections with people all over the planet whenever I want, and a phone that takes and sends pictures, for crying out loud.  I don’t have a formal gratitude practice right now, but holy cow, this is a lot to be thankful for.

Not sure what makes me think of the things we take for granted:  Our health, the people in our lives, our homes, our livelihoods.  Think of the thousands of people devastated by wildfires all over the west this year.  In the blink of an eye, imagine all your possessions and the physical spaces of so many cherished memories—all memories themselves.  Imagine your sister, daughter, son, nephew, best friend–missing.  When did you last see them, talk to them?  What transpired between you?  Imagine going about your life, assuming you can handle flu if you get it, then an hour later feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck, then dying of flu a week later.

I’m not trying to be dark or macabre here.  I’m just noticing how much I have, and how much I don’t truly appreciate it most of the time.  I try to be present to the kids as much as possible, engage fully when they talk to me (and fail more than I want to admit).  I really notice their smiles and laughter.  I look through my Facebook feed for pictures of friends and their kids.  I stop to admire flower buds every day in the spring, and bugs on the sidewalk.  I have gotten better at seeing the trees turn gradually green in May and golden in October.  I see pictures of the kids as toddlers and it feels like a hundred years ago and just yesterday, all at the same time.  And don’t even get me started on photos from high school, college, and med school—OMG we were kids!

Another day tomorrow.  Who knows what will happen, how my life could be turned upside down or inside out?  Or not?  Will it feel mundane or miraculous?  I’m learning—reminded, really—that most days, I get to decide.  That’s pretty groovy, I say.

Living Large in Seventh Grade

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NaBloPoMo 2018: What I’m Learning

Did you know that Abraham Maslow never represented his hierarchy of needs as a pyramid?  I didn’t either!  To be clear, I have not read the paper I just linked; it was linked in a different article I read today, describing more about Maslow’s work than I have ever known before.  It’s in Scientific American, entitled, “What Does It Mean to be Self-Actualized in the 21st Century?” by Scott Barry Kaufman.

Especially later in his life, Maslow’s focus was much more on the paradoxical connections between self-actualization and self-transcendence, and the distinction between defense vs. growth motivation. Maslow’s emphasis was less on a rigid hierarchy of needs, and more on the notion that self-actualized people are motivated by health, growth, wholeness, integration, humanitarian purpose, and the “real problems of life.”

I was intrigued by this piece because I remember so clearly when I first learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy.  It was in seventh grade, and I can’t remember anymore the class or context.  I just recall that it made so much sense, and I felt such a swell of joy at the possibility that something so complex could be distilled and explained so simply.  It would have been fair to predict at that time that I would go on to become a psychologist.  The boy I had a crush on that year (and all through high school, actually) asked me where I saw myself on the pyramid.  I remember looking at the tiers and thinking, very clearly, oh, I’m at the top.  I felt a little sheepish, afraid I would be seen as bragging, but it was the honest answer, and I said so.  “Bullshit,” was his reply.  I can’t remember our verbal exchange thereafter, but I think I was able to convince him that I really felt like I was ‘there.’  And I left that encounter feeling both a bit more self-aware and also proud that I had stood my ground and defended a truth.  You could also have guessed I would later entertain a brief interest in law school.

Kaufman has revisited Maslow’s work, including his hierarchy of needs, and evaluated the components in the context of modern life.  Reassuringly, 10 of 17 of Maslow’s self-actualization characteristics still stand up to ‘scientific scrutiny,’ (not sure how he measured this).  He names the ten characteristics in the article, and you can ‘take the quiz’ to see how self-actualized you are today.  I love quizzes like this.  I have done the Myers-Briggs at least 5 times.  Others I love are Gregorc Mind Styles, Insights Discovery, and the Gallup Strengths Finder.  The most useful ones tell you what you already know about your strengths, and also offer advice and insights on how to manage your blind spots.

But the most interesting aspect of Kaufman’s article to me was Maslow’s interest in self-actualization and its relationship to self-transcendence.  We can understand self-actualization as ‘achieving one’s full potential’ and self-transcendence as ‘decreased self-salience and increased feelings of connectedness,’ (again, not read the paper; it’s linked in Kaufman’s article) or basically subsuming and/or integrating oneself within a greater whole.  At first you may think that these are mutually exclusive states of mind and being.  The coolest thing is that it’s not actually an either/or proposition; it is absolutely both/and:

While self-actualization showed zero relationship to decreased self-salience, self-actualization did show a strong positive correlation with increased feelings of oneness with the world.

Self-actualized people don’t sacrifice their potentialities in the service of others; rather, they use their full powers in the service of others (important distinction). You don’t have to choose either self-actualization or self-transcendence– the combination of both is essential to living a full and meaningful existence.

It reminds me of another subsection of Chapter 3 in Leading Change in Healthcare, wherein Suchman et al discuss holding the tension and balance between self-differentiation (clear sense of individuality) and attunement (deep awareness and acceptance of how we are connected and resonant with those around us).  It also reminds me of Brené Brown’s work on trust; she describes eloquently in Rising Strong how we can neither trust others nor be trustworthy ourselves without clarity and boundaries around who we are and our core values, and living in that integrity all of the time.

Once again, I find encouraging and validating evidence for something I really feel I have known since an early age:  We are all our best selves and our best communities not in competition, but in collaboration.   Cohesion in diversity weaves a stronger social fabric of connections, more flexible and elastic.  But that means we need to know exactly what we as individuals each bring to contribute.  Personal, intrinsic meaning and purpose are foundational for substantive interactions with others and resilient communal relationships.

Our world can meet each and every one of our physiologic, psychologic, and self-fulfillment needs—we can provide this for one another.  We can each strive for our own goals, alongside our peers, and still help each other on the rocky, uphill parts.  We really need to stop with the scarcity thinking and get on with the business of working together, maximizing each of our strengths, and making society better for all of us.

Onward.

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 I 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 car engine I tore into my bag for the journal I carry with me everywhere and scrawled the diagram as fast as I could.  It was 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.

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??

Kevin Kline, POTUS, and Death

NaBloPoMo 2018:  What I’m Learning

***NO, I do not wish death on the president.***

Have you seen Dave, the movie about the temp agency owner kidnapped by the Secret Service to impersonate the president, and then forced to prolong the charade after the president dies unexpectedly?  It’s one of my favorite movies, and I love Kevin Kline, who plays Dave/POTUS.  There is just something so genuine and relatable about him and his character in this film.

I just finished listening to “Have a Nice Day,” an Audible* Original, written by Billy Crystal and Quinton Peoples.  It was recorded in front of a live audience, and once again Kevin Kline plays POTUS.  He brings the same lovable qualities to this role as he did to “Dave.”  Annette Benning plays FLOTUS, and Billy Crystal plays the angel of death with an anxiety disorder.  With more than a couple fun plot twists and the familiar voices of performers we know and love, I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up!

I appreciate humor more and more.  No other genre can tackle the hardest things about life and help us laugh about them, hold them a little more lightly, and continue with a slightly lighter heart.  Thinking about the immediacy and permanence of death can be frightening and acutely uncomfortable.  But it also often puts things in clear perspective, and it liberates.

It’s been both a dense and unproductive holiday weekend, relative to my lofty expectations.  Inspiration both overflows and stalls, thus no post last night.  Consider this to be the make-up assignment.  I have learned that true to my #1 trait as defined by the Gallup Strengths Finder 2.0 nine years ago, I have been inputting disproportionately and not leaving enough time to process, integrate, and synthesize.  But that’s okay, because little plays like “Have a Nice Day” help me reset.  I can forgive myself for falling off the NaBloPoMo wagon for a day.  Now I can regroup and catch up.  I’m so excited to share my learnings here!

My goal was to sit down, write, and publish this post before I started feeling cold from sitting in sweaty, post workout clothes.  Almost there!  If you have about 75 minutes, I highly recommend listening to this short, endearing little play.  Let me know what you think!

 

*I have no financial interests in any people, companies, or products mentioned here.

 

Humanity

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NaBloPoMo 2018: What I’m Learning

I have festered all day drafting this post in my head.  Procrastinating.  It’s still a jumble, so I’ll give it my best shot:

Donald Trump is a human being.  As much as I want to hurl epithets and lob rotten tomatoes at the television every time his face appears, or take a sledgehammer to whatever device I hear his voice on, I know these are unproductive responses to the emotions he triggers in me.  Breathe.  Must. Do. Better.

Ever since the 2016 campaign started in June of 2015, three and a half years ago already, I have felt an almost daily rage like nothing in my life yet.  I’m happy in some ways to report that it has not improved—I have not normalized this aberrancy of an administration.  But the constant animosity is not good for my health.  And the escalating divisions and vitriol between various groups of people, ever more visible on phone cameras and instant video, erodes our humanity every day.  I think I’m also increasingly sensitive to it all now.  On one hand I’m glad because awareness of humanity, and opposing those who diminish it, is good.  But again, it costs me.

Donald Trump is the personification of dehumanization (oh, the irony).  Some may feel this is an exaggeration, too strong a word to use.  It is not.  He is a hardened master of this insidious craft, and we are each capable of the same, whether we admit it or not.  It starts with making people abstractions—by seeing them, even very subtly, as less than whole people with feelings and needs equally important as our own.  Simon Sinek discusses it eloquently in his book Leaders Eat Last; you can read an iteration of his thoughts in this interview.  He describes CEOs like Jim Sinegal and Bob Chapman who, in hard times, gave employees raises and decreased workers’ hours, respectively, rather than laying anyone off.  I learned during a lecture, though I cannot find the citation (Boehm, 2015?) that only 17% of healthcare CEOs take the well-being of their employees into account when making decisions.  Sinegal and Chapman sacrificed some numbers to save people, Sinek says.  Too many leaders sacrifice people to save the numbers.  Turning people into abstractions is both akin to and a step toward dehumanizing them.

I have a friend who used to criticize people, ideas, or things by saying, “That’s (he’s) so gay.”  He would deny his negative attitude, deny that he was using ‘gay’ as a derogatory term.  He would also deny that he was biased against homosexuals.  I believe he would never treat anyone badly because they were gay, let alone commit any kind of hate crime.  But ‘being gay’ was a negative abstraction to him.  It was abnormal, something to be derided and shamed—to be scorned.  His objection to the idea of homosexuality made homosexuals, as a group in his mind, less than.  I think we all do this more often than we know.  I wrote about it last year, describing how doctors in different medical specialties talk about each other in pejorative stereotypes.  We dehumanize each other every damn day.

Brené Brown describes this clearly in her book Braving the Wildnerness:

Dehumanization has fueled innumerable acts of violence, human rights violations, war crimes, and genocides. It makes slavery, torture, and human trafficking possible. Dehumanizing others is the process by which we become accepting of violations against human nature, the human spirit, and, for many of us, violations against the central tenets of our faith.

How does this happen? Maiese explains that most of us believe that people’s basic human rights should not be violated—that crimes like murder, rape, and torture are wrong. Successful dehumanizing, however, creates moral exclusion. Groups targeted based on their identity—gender, ideology, skin color, ethnicity, religion, age—are depicted as “less than” or criminal or even evil. The targeted group eventually falls out of the scope of who is naturally protected by our moral code. This is moral exclusion, and dehumanization is at its core.

Dehumanizing always starts with language, often followed by images. We see this throughout history. During the Holocaust, Nazis described Jews as Untermenschen—subhuman. They called Jews rats and depicted them as disease-carrying rodents in everything from military pamphlets to children’s books. Hutus involved in the Rwanda genocide called Tutsis cockroaches. Indigenous people are often referred to as savages. Serbs called Bosnians aliens. Slave owners throughout history considered slaves subhuman animals.

Again, you may think that I over-exaggerate here.  What’s the big deal, you say, when surgeons say internists wear flea collars (stethoscopes)?  Or when Trump calls Mexicans criminals and rapists?  When he calls women dogs, Miss Piggy, and Horseface, you say, it has no real effect.  Sociology begs to differ.  It is a slippery slope from thoughts to words to action, and Donald Trump has poured oil on the Slip ‘n’ Slide by the bucketful.  Don’t believe me?  How else could we countenance forcibly separating toddlers from their parents when they arrive on our doorstep, fleeing violence and seeking asylum, sending the children across our country and deporting the parents, with no intention of ever reuniting them?  If that’s not dehumanization I don’t know what is.

Once again, Brené Brown says it much better than I:

Today we are edging closer and closer to a world where political and ideological discourse has become an exercise in dehumanization. And social media are the primary platforms for our dehumanizing behavior. On Twitter and Facebook we can rapidly push the people with whom we disagree into the dangerous territory of moral exclusion, with little to no accountability, and often in complete anonymity.

Here’s what I believe:

  1. When the president of the United States calls immigrants animals or talks about grabbing pussy, we should get chills down our spine and resistance flowing through our veins. When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardless of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t make people subhuman.
  2. If you are offended or hurt when you hear Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters called bitch, whore, or the c-word, you should be equally offended and hurt when you hear those same words used to describe Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, or Theresa May.
  3. If you’re offended by a meme of Trump Photoshopped to look like Hitler, then you shouldn’t have Obama Photoshopped to look like the Joker on your Facebook feed.
  4. When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, “Is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?”

When we engage in dehumanizing rhetoric or promote dehumanizing images, we diminish our own humanity in the process. When we reduce immigrants to animals… it says nothing at all about the people we’re attacking. It does, however, say volumes about who we are and our integrity.

Dehumanizing and holding people accountable are mutually exclusive. Humiliation and dehumanizing are not accountability or social justice tools, they’re emotional off-loading at best, emotional self-indulgence at worst. And if our faith asks us to find the face of God in everyone we meet, that should include the politicians, media, and strangers on Twitter with whom we most violently disagree. When we desecrate their divinity, we desecrate our own, and we betray our humanity.

So I resolve to stop participating in the erosion of humanity.  When I hear dehumanizing language from anywhere, especially among my own tribes, I must resist the urge to respond in kind.  I will look for opportunities to call it out.  It is so damn hard, I feel so often like a pressure cooker waiting for the valve to release.  So I must practice patience, kindness, mindfulness, deep breathing, and all of the habits I reviewed here yesterday.  I must find it in myself to always hold another’s humanity as sacred as my own, even (especially?) the people I despise the most.  It will be a lifelong exercise in discipline and agape love.  As the Obamas teach us, we must stay Fired Up, Go High, and Be the Change.  I can do this.  Donald Trump is a human being.

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!