Archive for the 'calibration' Category

How it feels to other people (and a little about free will)

October 23, 2013

I have wondered for a while whether some people perceive things with a different calibration system from mine.

For example, if I help them with their art project and let them take some of my supplies, are they going to feel put upon if I ask them for help on mine and the of use of some of their supplies?  Does it feel to them in that situation as it would feel to me if someone asked for my help and supplies out of the blue and without any idea of returning the favor in any way or having any on-going relationship to me?

I think some people actually feel indignant when they are asked to do unto others as the others have done unto them.  They seem to be very emotionally invested in an assumption that the system should be asymmetrical.  I don’t know why they feel a need for things to be that way.  I suspect that any change in outlook would have to come out of a change at a deeper level, such that they would no longer feel diminished by giving back.

I can find some compassion for a person who has such a hungry need, but I don’t have to try to feed it.  Eventually they usually explode or go away once I stand up for myself and insist on equality.  That wasn’t, apparently, what they had in mind, despite anything they may have said or despite social norms about relationships.  My contribution to the misunderstanding may seeing them as other than as they are (and accepting their own version of themselves for too long) and expecting them to do something they don’t do, or it may just be having been coerced by them to help them, that has happened, too.

Whether they could engage in reciprocity I don’t know, but it raises an interesting question about the existence of free will.  When I see things with compassion, I find myself folding “a will to not reciprocate” into “an inability to do better than having a will not to reciprocate” — in other words, I see them as not being able to do better than to assert their will in this way.  So from that approach I don’t see any free will.  In terms of what is actually going on when people think they are using free will, well, everything we tell ourselves is some kind of story.  We always have, in secular thought, the position of a participant on the field, we are never seeing the whole picture from the perspective of an outsider.

Performing tasks

January 16, 2013

I think I learned this from Gita, she to whom I go to hear what I don’t wish to hear.  It’s the idea that whatever it is we’re doing, we are doing it for God (or, if you prefer, we can do with the attitude that we are doing it for God).  I associate that idea with tasks that are tedious, difficult, too many in number for the amount of time, etc., but I mostly associate it with tasks deemed lowly in some way.

But today I was caught up in activities that involved technology, finances, and other things that suggest status and significance.  What I actually spent hours doing on the phone and online with these people in the financial sector was really unproductive and unsatisfying, and why it has any better reputation than cleaning bathrooms or shoveling snow, I don’t know — I certainly didn’t find it more satisfying than tasks lower on the totem pole according to our system of values, and it struck me that the people on the other end of my communications, while very nice and trying to be helpful, were being paid more than I think maids and plowers are paid.

It struck me that what we assign value to is pretty arbitrary, and that some of the current claims to an activity’s value are a little like the emperor’s new clothes.

But if the orientation is that whatever task is being done is being done for God, it doesn’t really matter.  That concept is a great leveler.


December 16, 2012

It has been clear to me for a long time that a person’s perception of something like an insult depends on many factors besides the details of the actual episode.  Different people are, or have come to be, calibrated differently, not only for insults but for things like unmet expectations, deprivation, etc.  Some people shrug those things off, others are somewhat bothered, others take the event quite personally and spin stories about what happened (including morality tales) in order to soothe themselves about the event and the way the world (allegedly) works more generally.  Some seek not only to right the situation according their own sense of what should be and what “should have” happened, but to punish those who seem responsible for what happened that they didn’t like.

For many years I worked on resolving a situation that turned out to involve this issue.  Someone had been claiming that their consent to something (a something that had become problematic) had been coerced.  I duly investigated how to help them heal and get back on track from what had happened.  I came to see that while they may have felt coerced, in fact they actively chose to engage in a behavior that was necessary for the transaction to occur.  The “coercion” turned out to be more like a combination of manipulation and withholding material information, not what we would usually mean by coercion.

The targeted person in this transaction was unable to perceive this nuance or communicate the true details of what had happened.  Their sense of self was too fragile to acknowledge their contribution to what happened.  They couldn’t see that their being vulnerable to the manipulation, etc. was also a contributing factor — that which had damaged them enough to make them vulnerable to this means of obtaining consent was relevant, too.  But they had a need to not recognize their damage.

What had happened, apparently, was that a situation had come up in which they were offered something tempting but something they knew they should have refused.  It was offered (first) in a guise that seemed to relieve them of responsibility for going along with accepting.  Then, it was temporarily withdrawn, and then re-offered, only this time when it was offered, they had to take an action at their end to make the transaction occur.  At that point, they had become emotionally invested in having the thing that had been offered.  So taking the action affirmatively to obtain it was glossed over by them, and they reported the whole mechanism as “coercion.”  Throughout all this, they really didn’t know the details of what this transaction would entail.

It turned out to be a disaster from which they could not extricate themselves without asking for help.  Which they wouldn’t do for all kinds of reasons, including that they liked some aspects of the situation and had managed to shift some of its costs to others and to blind themselves to the damage to themselves and others. They also felt somewhat paralyzed to act differently, as if they were under hypnosis, in a way.

Eventually they and/or others realized the situation needed to be ended.  I discovered that resolution of this situation was made difficult by the fact that the help tailored to the situation as they described it did not help end the actual situation that had occurred; they did not mention, could not admit to, their own contribution, and that was relevant to what needed to be done to resolve the situation.

My reaction to having finally unearthed this wrinkle, to having discovered why we were having so much trouble resolving this issue, was relief and tiredness.  I had worked through the “treatment” multiple times, each time on the basis of the information I had, and some of those work-throughs were quite taxing.  I was glad I stuck with it long enough to understand what really had transpired that had lead to the problem.  I could see with compassion why the person was unable to share the details more accurately.  And I could pause long enough not to fall into venting any frustration I might have had in their direction.  I admit I was glad when we had accomplished what was needed and were done.

For me, part of the lesson all along was that this case did not actually involve anything unique or esoteric or special, despite the sense of the person involved that it and they were special and unique.  Seeing the problem more accurately was important — its power could be reduced once it was seen differently — it was kind of like the story of the moth fluttering in a headlight that looks like a signal that it’s not, looks like something more exciting than it is.

Of course, even with seeing the issue as it was and applying an appropriate treatment, we still had to clean up the damage and to dismantle what we could and to dispose of what we couldn’t, as safely as possible.  One of the tools we used is a tool I have been advocating in the wake of the shooting incident in Connecticut on Friday:  people less affected by a difficult situation bringing in as much positive energy as possible, in the form of love and caring, for example, to buoy those who are most directly impacted.  It’s like when people say, in the context of fashion, that a smile is the finishing touch on an outfit — bringing in positive energy is a help.  I sometimes think of it as bringing in an air freshener, or opening the windows, in a stuffy and sour-smelling space.  Sometimes the whole world seems to me to be such a place.


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.