Archive for the 'codes' Category

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.

Abstract rules

March 25, 2013

During our first year of law school, I suspect in the context of complaining about the work, we used to discuss things like which classes we liked or which we were having the most trouble with.  As I participated in these conversations, I came to realize that I appreciated Civil Procedure because it was pretty explicitly about a set of clearly ennunciated and formally created rules.  Torts to some extent was predicated on a certain way of thinking, even if that was never admitted, and if you didn’t happen to think that way, you were left to puzzle out a lot of implicit assumptions in the doctrines.  Contracts and Property were somewhere in between, Contracts closer to Torts, and Property closer to Civ Pro, along the spectrum I envisioned.

I wasn’t all that surprised not to be on the same wavelength of the people who had developed Anglo-American law case law in areas such as torts.  I had found even before this that for better or for worse, I don’t make a lot of the same assumptions most people do, and that when I am forced to try to guess what they are, I am often wrong.  This comes up when I’m trying to fill out forms or navigate websites.  Not making common assumptions does, however, come in handy when you’re doing academic research, because sometimes you see things in the evidence that prior, conventional thinking has missed.

If nothing else, codes give us a common text from which to follow, a same page on which we can all be at the start.  So I can see how they are convenient.  But I think their use has drawbacks, too, at least some uses in some contexts.  Maybe like many other things, they are just another tool — to be used more or less helpfully.


Stimulus and response

September 21, 2012

I know a few people who want to substitute being told exactly what to do for developing their own way of figuring out an appropriate response through understanding the impact of their behavior on others (the self-awareness and walk-a-mile-in-your-moccasins tools).  “Just tell me what to do, I want to be a good person,” one of them said to me a couple of weeks ago.

I actually can’t see what they’re supposed to do;  I can discern what I am supposed to do at such a point as they’re at if I pick up their stuff through my experience of them as an empath.  I can also mirror back to them their own behavior.

In one case what I could see I was being called upon to do with their stuff in my place was to locate and shower on them a deep and charitable love, so I suspect that’s what they were supposed to do for me, but maybe not.  In any case, I got coldness, literally (the room became inexplicably very cold — it was a topic of discussion in the ladies room afterwards) and socially.  I was surprised.  The person didn’t recognize me from previous communication (or lives), didn’t want to get to know me based on what I presented, either, and I accepted that.  I accepted that the coldness was the best they could do and I found myself doing my mirroring thing and leaving and then afterwards pursuing what looked like unvirtuous professional conduct (I’m going to guess that’s one of their m.o.’s).  I reflected back to them their own conduct so they could experience its impact, but then it’s up to them to decide what to do next, I don’t furnish a set of follow-up directions — they need to analyze their reaction to the experience and go from there.  If there’s a different reaction going on within them from what they presented to me, maybe part of the issue for them is to connect the inner and outer selves in a different way.  I suspect, though, that it’s really that they want to act one way but want to incur a set of responses from others as if they had engaged in different behavior.

In another case I found myself eventually actually telling the person that becoming the “good person” they claim they want to be is developed by the person themselves through a process involving increasing self-awareness.  This person seems to prefer asking for detailed instructions from others and then finding fault with them and rationalizations for not following them — of course, thus they do their part to demonstrate the limits of what another person can do for somebody else, which is helpful for me to learn from.

I know that some of these “I want to be a good person but I don’t actually want to do what it takes” sometimes resort to shattering the mirror (that would be me) either intentionally or inadvertently.  I have helped restore shattered mirrors — if I hadn’t learned myself from them, I’d probably be one myself.

Red dresses

September 5, 2012

I’m distracted by all theses ladies in red at the political conventions.  I don’t know that I’ve ever owned a red dress — dark red dressy wool winter coats with leggings when I was a child (not to mention red oxford shoes), yes, but never a red dress.  It had connotations.  Somehow there seems to be a current consensus now otherwise.  When the wearer is older than I, I also find it surprising, because I figure she’d be aware of those connotations, too, and hence uncomfortable with wearing one.  Interesting how I can continue to subscribe to some old patterns and codes but easily or even gratefully put others aside.


June 29, 2012

The Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act seems to leave a (potential) big hole in health care coverage in this country: people eligible for coverage under the expansion of Medicaid authorized in the law who may not have access to it if the state in which they live chooses not to expand its version of Medicaid.

This is troubling to me.  I think it has to do with my lack of trust in people to act for somebody else’s good in this kind of context.  I know that in economic terms, it’s actually a very good deal for the states to engage in the expansion — the federal government provides most of the money and the state saves money elsewhere in its own budget.

But in this current political and social climate — especially, it seems, among conservatives — helping those “other” people is either a low priority or rejected with convenient rationalizations that amount to, “If people can really be in difficult situations through no fault of their own, my own sense of safety is compromised.”  I worry that states, especially if they think it will make the current presidential administration look bad, won’t opt into the expansion.

I also worry they won’t because in my personal experience, people often decline to help in such situations.  I have learned they can do that, even if social, moral, legal, and other codes require that they do help, and even if they themselves have actually agreed to:  when push comes to shove, they don’t have to.  And often they don’t.

The world goes on nonetheless.  There’s always help at a spiritual level.

For me, then, this situation is a challenge about trust, acceptance (of other people’s free will and that things don’t always work out pleasantly for all), and faith — and hope.  Hope is actually the part I have the most trouble with.  Hope that isn’t wishful thinking or holding my breath.  I have felt hope on some occasions very deeply, I know it exists in the universe, just as the great love I have experienced exists.  It’s like trying to find that musical note in my voice again, this time on purpose rather than through stumbling into it.

This is not about affecting what (Republican-controlled?) states do about Medicaid, although that situation has prompted me to think about it.  It is about my own need to find a way to live in this world that is most consonant with the currents of the universe that move in a helpful direction.

Power codes

June 3, 2012

Fathers in ancient Rome who had patria potestas (a legal category for power of a father) had in theory the right of life and death over their children.  Even though we in this culture don’t include such power, parents do have power and children are vulnerable.  Most parents try to exercise their power responsibly, meet the physical and emotional needs of their children.

So far, so good.  What about power over people who are more remote from us?  What about politicians, CEOs, bosses, and teachers?  (I’ll leave out groups like doctors and law enforcement officers and judges who take an oath, I think, to use their power wisely.)  How well do we exercise our power then?

There’s clearly a lot of room for abuse, whether intentional, through negligence, or unwitting.  What interests me here are people who rely on themselves to follow rules, as if in a code, for exercising power over others.  How do they know when they’re not?  Where’s the feedback?

Feedback is only as good as the perception of the person at whom it is directed, who might not even receive it as addressed to them.  People don’t see themselves accurately through their ego structures, their need to see themselves as a certain kind of person, for example, allows them to distort or reject the feedback.  And they can have no idea that this is even going on; they can still be thinking they are behaving well and adhering to the code.

A parent may think, “Oh, I am following the rules and have put a sweater on my baby because it’s chilly.”  But if the baby is still shivering, we wrap the baby in a blanket, too.  If necessary, we call the doctor, we phone a relative, we look it up in Dr. Spock (at least, my generation did).  But we are concerned to make sure that baby is warm, and if the code of Dr. Spock or our own parents’ wisdom or the doctor’s professional expertise fail, we keep going.

This second piece of exercising power is lost when the connection to the people over whom the power is exercised is too distant and we are also relying on codes.  We can be insulated from the feedback.  That’s where empathy is important: can we put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and can we actually see ourselves from outside our ego structures?  No code or adherence to it is going to substitute for these abilities.  And without them, people using power over others cause damage, no matter what stories their egos are telling them.

I have people in my own life who, I can see, have no clue how their stories to themselves keep them damaging people they think they are behaving well towards, even loving.

How do we learn to put ourselves into the shoes of others and also to view ourselves more accurately?  The first step, I think is willingness, and some people with power just aren’t; the system as they use it is working just fine for them, and they even have ways of justifying this use.

This is actually where I am finding my own challenge: how to deal with people who lack willingness but with whom I seem to be trying to find a way to interact, a modus vivendi.  I can walk away (and in the past I have), just as I could lead a much more contemplative life and be even less involved in this world, I think.  But my sense, especially from the repetition of this pattern in my life, is that my own challenge is to figure out a different resolution.  It probably involves getting my own ego out of the way, letting go, and allowing the forces in the universe greater than myself to have more space to work.

Indirect approaches

February 17, 2012

I suppose politicians and pundits and other high profile people have a sense, that goes with leadership, that the important task for them is to affect other people directly.  That’s what I would call driving the front end of the firetruck.  But there’s also the phenomenon of how, when we figure out our own personal challenges, we affect others indirectly, how some things fall into place when another issue, seemingly separate, is resolved.  This could be steering the rear end of the firetruck, in that it’s less obvious but it’s still important.  I also think of it as the lining of the coat (and yesterday I was talking to a woman whose red wool winter coat had a gorgeous inner lining).

Maybe it’s like repacking a suitcase that won’t close — it may not be the items on the top that need to be refolded, it may be something packed at the bottom of the valise that needs to be rearranged.

So, I look at the Republican presidential nominating contest, and I think, maybe these folks need to get their own houses in order before they go out trying to change things through repealing this and passing that.  Maybe if we had politicians who had their own personal issues resolved, other things would fall into place.  So much focus is brought to bear on building the platform necessary to command attention or the campaign needed to influence others through ads and debates and interviews, but I sometimes wonder what would happen if we all spent more time resolving the issues that really are within our reach, like unresolved competition with parents (Romney), unresolved fears that fuel conspiracy theories (Paul), unresolved sense of inadequacy that may manifest as grandiosity (Gingrich), conflict aversion (Obama).

I see personal issues among those providing the media coverage, too, but without trying to take everybody’s inventory, I would just observe that when we hear ourselves saying something analogous to “we need to go to war to make peace,” we should reconsider — we are, if not what we eat, we are what we actually manifest in this world, not what we claim we’ll get to later.  If the media goes for the gotcha takedown on a candidate deemed “deserving” of the technique, then that becomes a more generally accepted tool across the boards — if ends are used to justify means, we are still left with the presence and consequences of the means.  If we act belligerently on the rationalization that it will allow us to do something constructive later, we are not reckoning with the consequences of the damage we are creating through our method and with the fact that we are going to be belligerent people, rather than be peaceful people masquerading as belligerent people.

We tell ourselves stories, especially the kind in which our role in the stories is what we want to do for other, unexamined reasons.  Sometimes it is pretty clear to me that the way towards progress is to do something very immediate and seemingly minor, like to recognize where we are indulging our desires but framing it as if we are rigorously following a moral code, to stop believing our own stories when they are feeding our pre-existing biases and attachments.  When I studied torts in law school, the professor used to talk about the person who thought they could make better use of the book than its actual owner — when we hear ourselves using similar justifications, I think we should be skeptical and reconsider why, if we think we should have such a book, we don’t have our own, and try to become a person who comes into possession of such a book, organically.


Combining letter and spirit

November 19, 2011

I get frustrated when my dad assumes I am just like him and that my situation is identical to his, in part because then his thoughts about what I can be doing or what I need seem, at least to me, to miss the mark.

But I suspect I do the same thing to other people; at least some of the time, I expect that if they try to do that which works for me they will find help.  I suspect they find that from me equally frustrating.

Which leads me to what occurred to me this morning, which seems to combine a bunch of fragments from last night and earlier today:  it’s not, either follow moral codes or transcend that need by looking to inner guidance, it’s both.  It’s both/and, not either/or.  It’s both self-restraint and love.

I think I, or maybe some form of “we,” have been trying to hit a note that combines both in a way that really and truly feels like a blessing.  I suspect the world as a whole is struggling to do that, too.

It’s humbling to catch myself needing to overcome dualism in my own thinking.

“I’ll call you, we’ll have lunch”

November 15, 2011

This is an innocuous social subterfuge, one most adults in our culture know how to deploy and interpret safely.  But I’m wondering whether it grooms us for treating other verbal exchanges or even unilateral uses of speech (even dictates in laws and rules) as if they were just words that people use to grease the machinery of human interactivity, and not to be taken literally.  So, by the time we get to the “Thou shalt nots,” maybe we don’t take them completely seriously, even if we think we are switching modes of thought, because our habit of mind of discounting the meaning of words has had a lasting impact, made a change in our outlook.

Delayed gratification is a concept that plenty of people understand, and they realize they can’t both buy the fancy coffee and save up for the new furnace.  I get concerned that we do something similar but less noticeable when we persist in the comfort of social customs we like without accepting that to do so means we keep ourselves from a benefit we also desire.  We want to have it both ways, and I don’t think that’s possible.  If we want to use words to mean what we want them to mean, then maybe we have to accept that we can’t then control when other people will do likewise in contexts in which we don’t want them to.

The benefit of a spiritual approach to issues like improving behavior is that we become less dependent on external coercion, words, and the like, and our progress is more reliable when we do make progress.  I see the issue of trying to substitute other means of attempting to make progress on behavior as like trying to use tape and paper clips to do what requires nails and real carpentry.  The frustration of people like me over this issue is related to the apparent fact that the resistance to spiritual development of some people impacts the ability of people like me to develop adequately in the mundane world — we mirror the spiritual stunting of others with want in our own earthly lives, it seems.  I think this is supposed to be motivating to those who are spiritually stuck, but my experience is that those people merely give to us (the mirrors) a “to do” list of how to muscle our way to the material lives they would prefer us to have, rather than help this happen by making progress in their spiritual lives.  But all I can do is my own part, and however much I would like to be part of the team that accomplishes a break through, I can accept that maybe what I will have contributed is just a piece of what is needed for someone else to experience that part.

Particles and waves, codes and listening

November 13, 2011

Some people seem to perceive the world through observing discrete data points and then storing massive numbers of them for future reference.  Other people seem to look for patterns and use those as predictive models for navigating future encounters.  Maybe we actually all do some of each, but in different proportions.  Each has its pros and cons.

I have been wondering whether how we determine what the right the thing to do is may correspond to our preferred mode of discerning in the world: people inclined toward collecting data points gravitate to codes and compilations of rules, laws, and regs, people who surf the world using patterns strengthen this tool by developing their ability to listen for internal guidance.  Again, maybe most people do something of both and each has its place.

So why am I working on this as if it were a problem?  I guess because I think at the extremes that it is.  People who use particle collecting to navigate the world almost exclusively, “particle people,” if you will, can approximate “wave people” (people who use patterns to navigate), and may even surpass them along some measures, but if a person gets stuck, whether through inability or lack of practice (with surfing waves), and uses only particle parsing of the world, they, I think, find it more difficult to connect with the universe in other ways, for example, to feel viscerally and not just cerebrally a faith in other forces.

I think one teaching method has been to remind particle people of how it feels to love; loving may be an activity most people remain able to do throughout their lives in ways similar to the way they engaged in it as a baby.  So, it would be a way of showing a particle person how wave surfing feels.  But a particle person, or whole masses of them, may take the teaching in quite a different way, and focus on loving the teacher, while continuing to persist in pure particle parsing of the world —  instead of imitating the teacher and becoming aware of how to surf the world themselves.

Once a person becomes aware of how to surf this world, it becomes easier for them to surf the universe.  I think.

I do think the student is supposed to love the teacher, and the teacher love the student, because it is through that love and observing it that the surfing awareness lesson is learned — I think that love is real and wonderful —  but that loving relationship, I think, should not become so all-consuming that there is no room for awareness and observation.  I think it’s a tricky balance.  Both teacher and student may experience some tumbles, bumps, and bruises (I’m not sure there’s a protective helmet for this sport).  But if both teacher and student are willing, they can keep trying.