Calibration

December 17, 2011

I was talking the other day about accepting change, and how while I might tend initially to think of that in terms of accepting negative changes, I am perfectly capable of not accepting changes for the better, of worrying about when that other shoe is going to drop.  That’s no better than not accepting negative change, it’s a form of self-sabotage, I think, and thinking about multiple kinds of not accepting change helps me see more clearly that it’s more than about coping with difficulty, it’s about being open to whatever is going on in my life.

I’m thinking that there is a similar point of needing to be accurate about how complicated or unusual a personal situation may be.  On the one hand, there is the illusion of “uniqueness” — the usually inaccurate belief that no one else has ever experienced this.  But there is also, I have discovered, a countervailing pitfall, of not realizing that the people in your audience are actually misunderstanding and underestimating your situation, perhaps because through their own experience, including of other people’s ways of communicating, their system of calibration does not match your system of representing the information. (One of the ways I first discovered this was when I had a physical (post-surgery) problem that could be measured, and when I finally got the nurses to do something, and they could see what had been causing the pain, they said, “Oh, if we had known it was so bad, we would have done this a lot sooner, we didn’t realize …”  Well, I thought I had made it clear how much pain I was in, but clearly I hadn’t.  Someone later told me that they expect patients to exaggerate, and hence I needed to have artificially amplified my communication.)

In both the calibration scenario and the accepting change scenario, it’s not just the most common version of the problem that needs to be considered but the more general point.  Leap-frogging to the common manifestation distorts the insight and makes it less helpful:  accurate communication is not always arrived at by discounting, by dismissing the possibility that the circus is in town and the hoof-beats are that of a zebra and not a horse, and open acceptance of change is not the same thing as dealing with actual loss.

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