Archive for the 'behavior' Category

Poor choices, damage, and choosers

January 27, 2016

I have been trying to decide how to explain, including to myself, what I meant in what I posted yesterday about characterizing behavior not meeting a moral standard as a poor choice.

What I realized is that for me, the action, the damage, and the actor are three separate strands that come together in the problematic situation.  Rather than dismissing the whole package and moralizing against it, I prefer to think separately about what to do about the damage, how to respond to the behavior, and how to relate to the person engaged in the behavior.

I wanted to jot that down because it’s not the case that I don’t see the damage that some behaviors cause others, or that a response may be required to address the behavior and a response may be required to address the damage.  I think I just am in favor of a more emotionally neutral way of dealing with the situation than the moralizing approach uses, and one that does not counterproductively create new damage in the person who has chosen the behavior.

I probably gleaned this approach from observing how special education handles behavior that does not meet a required standard and has also caused damage.

Waiting for someone to change

September 25, 2014

I was reading what Gail Collins and David Brooks had to say, in one of their Conversations on the NYTimes website, about people who want their spouses to change.  (They decried it.)  And I thought, “Well, what about the situation of old in which on the wedding night after an arranged marriage, one spouse discovers the other is way too young to have sex?”  In that case waiting for change I think would be seen by most people as a healthy response.

On some sort of continuum, that might be one extreme, towards the other might be expecting one’s grown spouse to enjoy team sports to the same extent as oneself, or to like cats, and then at the very end of that extreme might be things that involve superficial behavioral change (like replacing the toilet paper roll when it’s used up).

I realize these Conversations are meant to be light and airy, but I get distracted by underpinnings (cultural or class assumptions, worldview or thinking constructs) to the humor when I see flaws in them.  Kind of similar, but in a different direction, to the engineer in the joke who points out to their executioner what is causing the guillotine to malfunction.


August 11, 2014

I was having this conversation last night with someone, about some arrangements we have for a trip which includes a bunch of business and logistical tasks I will help them with.  They told me that maybe the arrangements would be different from what we had planned together.  Some of the differences arise out of circumstances beyond their control, some not.  In neither case was I asked for my views or response to the impact on me of the changes, and they did not even acknowledge that there would be a negative impact in both cases.

So I took issue with the lack of acknowledgment.  I observed that they did not seem to take into account what it was like to be in my shoes.  They did not deny it at all.  They went on about how they do what they want and just “express [themselves] as the spirit moves them.”  I suggested as politely as possible that adults are expected to edit themselves, and especially their behavior.  And they said that they don’t because their mother made them feel like a puppet.

I knew their mother.  She never made me feel like a puppet, but then again I wasn’t her child.

The detail behind “feeling like a puppet” was something about be expected to feel about a thing the way the mother felt about it.

So I actually got interested in the explanation in a way that distracted me from my irritation with the behavior that had sparked the discussion;  I was fascinated by the explanation that not putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is the response to feeling forced to see things and feel things the way another does.

My interlocutor sees cause and effect, and maybe it’s there, but I can see simple repetition of the same pattern:  the “I” does not take others into account as full-fledged human beings.

In some ways, if there is cause and effect, my interlocutor is claiming, in a sense, that their mother turned them into Pinocchio, a wooden puppet.  I find that fascinating, because I had previously thought of that story as showing the need for passing through developmental stages in a positive direction, starting from a difficult spot.  I had not thought about Pinocchio as representing a phase arrived at through regression, which is what my interlocutor seemed to be claiming:  they could take others into account but they did not, in order to demonstrate (I think to themselves) that they had their own feelings.

This may be common knowledge in psychological circles, but it was an eye-opener to me, experiencing the not taking of others into account as a way of making the self more visible, or as even a protest.

As I said, maybe it’s objectively true, that the person got squelched as a child by their mother.  I experienced this person’s mother as much warmer than this person themselves, but I’m not sure what that means.   I also didn’t know this person when they were a child  —  perhaps they really were different back then, before they began to feel like somebody else’s puppet.  I think I am somewhat suspicious of the narrative this person uses to explain how they got to be the way they are.  But I would very much regret claiming it wasn’t so, since for all I know it could actually be an accurate description of what happened.

When I feel as though my voice is not being heard and I am not being taken into account, I don’t feel the urge to not take others into account and not to listen to them  —  I think, rather, when it comes up, “Let me listen, because I know how it feels not to be heard, let me think about how things are for the other person, it’s so painful to be treated as if one were of no account.”

Why do some people seem to turn to wood and some people seem to have a different reaction?

I think about Apollo and Daphne and I think about people feeling they have lost their voice and become immured, turned to wood.  I have wondered what all that represents.  I have wondered about the different survival mechanisms different people develop when they intuit in situations that trying to insist on being heard is not safe.  I know I have my own.  I guess where I come out on all this is that recognizing a survival skill for what it is may help us move beyond that behavioral response in new situations in which our survival is not at stake.


Damage and intention

July 26, 2014

Maybe it’s a result having gone to law school, but I can easily distinguish the issue of a person’s intent from the issue of the impact of their behavior on others.  In tort law, as I recall it, we talked about the different standards that might be used when deciding whether to hold a person legally responsible — there were standards such as strict liability and negligence, not to mention a standard with regard to when someone intentionally causes damage.  There was also the issue I heard called “weak intentionality,” when we talk about how some consequences, say, of flailing your arm in a crowded subway car, are reasonably foreseeable and we deem them foreseen.

So I get kind of frustrated with people who say, “I could not have caused damage because I harbored no ill-intent.”  I am not talking about whether I can forgive a specific instance, I am talking about trying to improve a chronic pattern of behavior within a relationship so that I do not feel that I am hurting myself by participating in the relationship.

What interests me is my sense that the other person cannot tolerate the idea that their behavior has an impact beyond or different from the one they intend.  That’s what seems to me to be behind what can come across as callousness — the denial allows them to keep their sense of self as never causing damage and hence never having to _______  —  I don’t actually know what it is they don’t want to do, but I sense that they predicate something on their sense of a self who doesn’t cause damage — maybe what they don’t want is having to do something they don’t want to do or that helps the other person but not themselves directly.

I’ve wondered if something like this pattern is going on when a person is confronted by a situation in which they really are helpless to help another.  Then, I am thinking, maybe, to tolerate that pain, they extend the idea of helplessness in that particular context, under an umbrella of “my behavior doesn’t negatively impact others so long as I am well-intentioned,” to many other situations in which they actually could do something more helpful.

But, if you forget to pick up the baby formula on the way home, the baby goes hungry, regardless of whether the intent was good, bad, or indifferent, or medically explicable (in which case you should not have signed up for the task).  That’s my point.

Don’t know, I am not a psychologist, but I do get the sense of trying to teach people the difference between intention and damage.


Forced visitation

June 8, 2014

Years ago we encountered this notion among social workers charged with the care and protection of children:  if one had molested another, the social workers might still insist on visitation between the perpetrator and victim, if the workers had any reason to believe the children might be biologically related, even if the victim and their parents did not want the contact.  It was an eye-opener for me, the idea of forced social intercourse.

There’s another context in which I’ve seen this:  someone who insists on contact with another even though it’s pretty clear to the other that the person who wants the contact doesn’t like them;  why would I want to have social intercourse with someone who doesn’t like me?  I wouldn’t.  That situation I can simply leave behind and move on.  What makes it tricky, in my experience, is when the other person insists that they like you when they clearly don’t.  Then it’s more difficult, especially because when this happens, it seems to happen with a person who is so disconnected from their true self that they may not even perceive that they don’t like the other person.  And if they’re structured within themselves in a way that we commonly label as narcissistic, they may even see the other person as not liking them instead.

It’s tough, because people who are incapable of treating others reasonably may themselves incur great hurt from the responses they get from the people they unreasonably treat.

In any event, in these cases, I react to my sense from the behavior and underlying self, not the person’s words, about whether they like me, and I don’t want forced social intercourse in those contexts either.  Whether the person doesn’t like me because they feel intimidated by me or because they see me as intolerable competition or they just don’t happen to like the person I happen to be, or for any other reason, I don’t want an interaction that is predicated on pretending that something is the case when it isn’t.

In the context of social intercourse with people who claim to but don’t actually like me, they are usually wanting something from me (and too much from me, as it turns out), whether or not they are aware of it, and what comes across to me is that I am being asked to enter into their distorted view in order for them to draw a benefit to themselves from me, at my expense.  In a word, as my younger son puts it, they are needy, and they want me to meet their extremely large needs.  And the fact of the matter is that I can’t, whether or not I want to try, and I would harm myself if I did what they want.  And I’ve learned that by having tried.


December 21, 2013

I was writing about confabulation in response to Charles Blow’s column about the Duck Dynasty controversy, and one of my replies came too late to be posted, and I closed my browser tab, so it’s lost and I can’t even post it here.

So I thought I’d write a few words on a related issue.

I do think we often have trouble distinguishing between (1) bad intent, (2) ignorance, and (3) distortions in processing and other aspects of communication.  And I think sometimes the explanation for a situation is not malice or even ignorance but that the person is saying something not to communicate any truth but for some other purpose in the course of trying to engage in social relations.

What I thought I’d mention is that I think that just as school administrators often misunderstand student behavior, liberals often misunderstand why people who disagree with them are saying what they are saying.  I think some of the things people who wind up being politically conservative say, they say not out of malice or even ignorance, but just because it seems like the thing to say to fit the situation in terms of social expectations.  As a friend of mine would say, they are “just talking.”

Now, “just talking” can create all kinds of damage, depending on content, but to get a person to stop doing it, browbeating them with reason or morals is not terribly effective.

I suspect the habit of confabulation arises out of a number of different scenarios, including avoidance of childhood abuse and a discovery it gets positive results of some sort.  I think that to dismantle the habit, whatever is the underlying cause must be addressed.

So when liberals rail at conservatives in a way that assumes bad faith or ignorance or difficulty thinking, sometimes I think they miss the mark.  The person is damaged, limited, and doing the best they can.  But I don’t think we ignore any damage they create, I think we have to show them the impact of their use of this mode of communication while we supply them with alternative and support them in overcoming the underlying causes for engaging in confabulation.

And failing that approach at resolution, we can just not take at face value what they say and avoid situations in which we might need to.

Of course, liberals have their own patterns of thought and talk, arising out of their damage and limitations, and enabling seems to figure prominently among people who end up being politically liberal.  That kind of posture and behavior causes damage in its own way, too.

Unfortunately, the combination of the conservative and liberal profiles seems to be one of those “deadly embraces.”  How we break our civic polity out of this merry-go-round probably involves everyone trying to address their own damage.  Come the millennium.

We may be social animals, spiritual creatures, and instinctive organisms, but we are also damaged goods, most of us, and we don’t tend to function at peak operational performance.

Behind damaging behavior

November 26, 2013

I’ve written about this before, I’m pretty sure, but I thought I’d follow up my last post with a brief explanation of how I see the rest of what other people call “Evil,” the part of the phenomenon that lies behind the behavior.

It’s a force, I think.  Like the force I’ve heard when people in the throes of suicidality or psychotic depression speak and can’t be reached through rational thought.  May not be the same force, but I think the same process is going on.

My sense is that it’s an energy that the person is encountering, that it’s welling up within them.  If the person can’t get enough of themselves out of the way, either through applying a technique in the moment or through having cleaned up their issues and trained in techniques in advance, then the force spills out embedded in difficult behavior, including in damaging behavior.  It impels such behavior.

Maybe we see this state reflected in brain chemistry, but I don’t believe brain chemistry, or anything else in the material world, is the prime mover or original source of anything.

I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically “bad” about the energy, just as there’s nothing intrinsically “bad” about a horse that gallops fast.  You just have to be a better rider (I know very little about riding, but I suspect that there’s an analogy in there somewhere that works).  With energy from what I think of as “God’s Dark Side,” there’s nothing wrong with it, but to let it pass through you without harm to self or others requires either the innocence of a baby in an original incarnation or a lot of clean living, prior interior work, and technique;  otherwise it gets caught on our fears and desires in a way that produces big-time problems.

It could be thought of, in the alternative, as a force of creative destruction, if we don’t want to use the vocabulary of faith.

My point is that it does not have a nasty attitude, it’s more like a tornado.  It’s when it mixes with human emotions and behavior that we get the kind of package that we find so difficult to handle, whether it’s implosion or explosion, and label “Evil,” I think, in some ways out of desperation, frustration, a sense of impotence, and fear.


November 26, 2013

I don’t get it.  I’m reading Father Rohr on discerning good from evil, and vice versa, and yet he’s also talking about becoming liberated from dualistic thinking.

I tend to see “evil” in terms of damaging behavior.  Behavior has impact.  Damage is just one kind of impact.

Close but no cigar

August 16, 2013

I was talking to someone about how I had recently gone through my father’s financial records looking for particular information regarding two investments.  I eventually found the information for one in handwritten notes by my dad, the other in a very old and unusual (in his records) slip of paper.  The person who needed the information was impressed, and I was trying to explain to this other person (the someone I was talking to) why I kept at it until I found the documents.  (It took a while.)

What I was trying to communicate was that I believed the information was there, somewhere in the files — I had faith.  In this case, because I knew my father kept good records — sometimes on scraps of paper, perhaps — that he was thorough and he knew what he needed to have on hand.  That kept me looking, because I knew the information was there, would be there, that all I had to do was keep at it.  It may have taken me multiple passes through the relevant files, but indeed, it was there, it did turn out to be there.

My interlocutor responded by saying that they understood — that I pursued the search because I knew the information was there because my father kept his files in a logical manner.

It’s not that there’s no connection between logical record keeping and thoroughness, but I would say the emphasis is different.  I knew the stuff had to be there because I knew my dad knew the information would be needed and I knew he felt this stuff is important — he would have a complete set of records.  His arrangement of his records may be “logical,” although I’m not sure it stands out to me that way, but the structure of the organization only indirectly implies completeness.

I take two things from mulling this over.  First is that people see things from different angles, through their own set of lenses.  My interlocutor is heavily into logic and seeing my father as logical.  I know that.

Second, that there is a difference between articulating the idea directly and only implying it.  I think that difference can make a difference in other contexts.  Here are two:  spiritual union and human relationships.  There is a huge difference in outcome depending upon whether union itself is desired or there is just willingness to serve (regardless of whether it turns out that experiencing union is part of what serves).  In human relationships, some people think they have succeeded in only implying a commitment and can claim they never actually made it through their actual behavior.  However, what they were communicating from their heart matters, even if they did not themselves hear it or they would deny it now.  On the other hand, people have the free will to believe their own versions.  They can cling to them, too, they can remain disconnected from what is going on deep within them.  It surprises me, though, that they would prefer the version that allows them to look superficial and manipulative — I would think they’d want to unify themselves and be connected with as much as possible of what is going on inside of them.  To me it’s like having closets you’ve never opened.

But I think that’s just it:  I think some people are afraid of themselves.  When I’ve encountered them, I’ve found nothing cosmically significant of a negative sort — just garden variety pettiness, greed, selfishness, and the like, used in an attempt to assuage some fear, doubt, or insecurity.  Nothing special, nothing terrible, just human characteristics some of us make more of an effort to minimize.  I suspect being more open to minimizing has to do with learning to accept sharing and loss, which, I think, in turn, requires being strong enough from within to not be dependent on external indicia of worth.  We learn we are no better and no worse than others, and I think that makes us more generous and compassionate towards others without our having to dwell on these things on each occasion.

Calls in the morning

June 22, 2013

Last night I wrote a comment in connection with dueling.  I was joshing David Brooks about his predilection for codes of behavior — he was decrying his hero Hamilton’s death as being the result of uncivilized behavior — sort of — and yet, as I understand it, dueling was a highly structured and accepted mode of interaction with its own etiquette.  For me, it is an opportunity to point out the limits of championing adherence to codes as David Brooks often seems to do.

I was trying to reference the scripted nature of the behavior, quoting, “My seconds will call on you in the morning.”

So this morning, I was awakened by the phone ringing.  The one in my bedroom doesn’t have a caller ID screen, so I picked up, having been trained for years to receive phone calls at odd hours regarding family emergencies.

It was the investment broker.  On a Saturday morning.

The coinciding of the comment and call is allowing me to find some humor in having been unceremoniously awakened (this was hours ago).  It triggered my internal emergency response system, which I am not happy about.  It resonated with past unpleasant phone calls, some of them emergencies.  The humor gives me a way to create a little distance from my reaction.