Archive for the 'communication' Category


January 31, 2016

I’ve been to a number of antique stores over the years, and I am aware that in some, the policy is “You break it, you bought it.”  Some high-end dealers don’t use that policy, some low-end dealers don’t — I haven’t noticed a pattern with regard to the financial part of the issue about who insists on compensation and who doesn’t.  (And no antique dealer I have ever known supported themselves from selling antiques, there has always been another source of income for every one.)

So what goes into the decision of how to handle breakage?  I don’t know.  Personality of the dealer?  As I said, I don’t know.

But I think the fact that there are different approaches to this issue in the context of something so tangible and concrete is interesting:  who bears the burden of the cost of damage?

Well, first issue is agreeing there is damage.  That’s why I started with the title “Convincing”: some people will try to convince you the antique was always cracked, that they did nothing to cause it or even contribute to its creation.  I suspect they convince themselves, but the usual Achilles heel of their argument is that their perspective is the only point of view.  In some cases, it is an assumption that everybody agrees that the norm is whatever it is they are claiming, say, that it’s okay to pull what you see as weeds out of stranger’s garden.  Never seems to occur to them that a gardener might prefer to have their space invaded by weeds rather than by other people, or that they might actually want that plant in there where it is.  This is why looking for internal guidance that does not come from the ego is so helpful — the content of such guidance provides neutral space for our behaviors to intersect with each other with less friction and damage.  With a cracked antique, this assumption might be expressed by saying it’s a cost of doing business that “stuff happens.”

Once there is damage — uprooted plant, cracked antique, bills unpaid when the income check bounced — who absorbs it?  I am wondering about how people decide this as a social matter, not as a matter of law.

I think it was in Maureen Dowd’s column this weekend about Donald Trump that suggested to me that rich and powerful people may feel they can get away with never having to absorb the damage at their end:  “’I’m really rich and successful,’ he replied. ‘I don’t have to make up with everyone.’”

On the other hand, some rich and successful people will want to buy that cracked antique, not just as a gesture to the dealer or in acknowledgement that the value of the item has been diminished by the damage, but because they will feel better about themselves in the long run, they feel the mishap brought the item to their attention and are curious to see how it might enhance their life, they feel that’s what is called for, perhaps through their internal guidance,etc.

An antiques dealer may just write the expense off like the expense of having paid too much for a piece that won’t sell in their area.  A browser may apologize profusely and buy a lesser item they can afford if they can’t afford what they damaged.  A dealer may not care about the money at all or may eventually close their business.

What I think is actually most important in determining the bearing of the cost of damage is the process of working it out to a mutually acceptable arrangement.  I suspect there are no “one size fits all” remedies.  But I think the problem is made worse by a unilateral attempt to leave the other person with the onus of absorbing the costs.  And I can see in this context too the lesson of the blind men needing to pool their respective experiences of the different parts of the elephant — the lesson may be about communication, not about the underlying damage.


Changing words

December 25, 2015

I hadn’t heard of Eva Cassidy until fairly recently, and I’ve been listening to the singing she left behind ever since.  Many of the recordings are covers, and sometimes I prefer her rendition, sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes it seems she has changed the lyrics or left some out, and I liked the original version better.  Other times I am waiting for a particular vocal flourish that doesn’t come, or I find I am just too used to the original recording I heard.

While I’ve bought a couple of CDs of Eva Cassidy’s music, and tried to buy another (as yet without success), I’ve been listening to some of her work on YouTube, and there, the people posting a song aren’t always clear about who actually wrote it.

So eventually I looked into who wrote “I Know You By Heart.”  Diane Scanlon wrote the lyrics, Eve Nelson the music.

And I also learned that Eva Cassidy changed the lyric in the first verse from “I see your profile” to “I see your sweet smile.”  I learned that from the interviews on :

I love Eva Cassidy’s singing of the song “I Know You By Part.”  As Diane Scanlon says in those interview answers, Eva Cassidy “understood what I [Diane Scanlon] was trying to say.”  That comes through.  But the “profile” version of the lyrics resonates even better for me.

It’s clear to me that our guidance for others is limited because of our inability to see things exactly from where that other person actually is.  We look up, or down, from where we are and try to discern what they should do, but that’s not the same as actually being in their skin and hearing the guidance for them.

I guess I see the substitution of “sweet smile” for “profile” as a revelation of this Achilles’ heel from even such a consummate singer of songs.

It strikes me because I struggle with the issue of collaboration, of putting together the development of material with its dissemination.  I think there are trade-offs in terms of the skill sets needed for each, so a collaboration would seem to be optimal in a sense.  But maybe it’s the case that something is too often lost in the process, whatever the gains.  Maybe that’s okay, maybe the creator’s version and the covers all have their place.  But my sense stubbornly persists that changes in transmission of the original, as in the children’s game of Telephone, can make a difference and that we may end up “on a frolic and a detour” if we are unaware of the original.  I relate this hazard to the need for communication between human beings (I will forego yet another reference to the story of the blind men and the elephant), and that the resolution of the issue of collaboration lies somewhere in improving communication between creator and disseminator.

Subsequent conditions

March 13, 2015

I am in the process of transferring my mother’s accounts into accounts registered to her Estate.  This morning I had, in connection with that, an experience that I surely didn’t like, but which also allowed me to see other, past situations more clearly.

Last evening I was told that a second of my mother’s accounts at a bank was being transferred in to her Estate’s account and that I would see it, online, posted to the Estate’s account later that night.

This process has been an arduous one, because, despite what my mother was told when she moved, she really needed to have closed these accounts in the NJ branch and reopened them in a MA branch office of the same national bank.  She was advised that there was no reason to, that the only difference would be the deposit slips she would need to use if she left her accounts registered as they were.

It turns out it does make a difference to New Jersey and its taxing authority, in terms of demonstrating change of domicile and leaving NJ with a conduit for trying to tax assets upon death.

My mother moved to MA with the intention of living here permanently.  She sold her house, filed a permanent change of address card with the USPS, took a year’s lease on an apartment, found new doctors, etc., etc.  I know because I helped her with most of the heavy lifting involved.

When I didn’t see the money posted to my mother’s Estate’s new account last night, I thought that maybe it would show up after 8:00 a.m. this morning on the account.  It didn’t show up then either.

So this morning I called.  It turns out there is a note in the file that they need another document from me, a bill mailed to my mother showing where her residence was around the time of her death.  I faxed a copy of her January electricity bill for service at her apartment and sent to her apartment.

But I was most definitely not a happy camper (or happy Personal Representative).

I do understand the need for evidence showing my mother’s change of domicile, I don’t mind faxing copies of bills, leases, doctors, whatever.  But I found being told everything was all set when it wasn’t, not okay;  the imposition of a subsequent condition I found upsetting.  I had calibrated my expectations in relation to what I had been voluntarily told, I had worked my schedule and arranged my work on the Estate around things being as I had been told.  I probably wouldn’t have minded so much if this hadn’t been a big hump to have gotten over — I had been told we had gotten over it and now I was being told that we hadn’t.

I’ve had this sort of experience in personal relationships, where I find it upsetting, too, but in the midst of the he said/she said type of argument that usually ensues in such cases, it can be more difficult to see what has happened and the issues at the root.  The person does actually say one thing, it is relied on, not unreasonably, and relied on in a difficult situation that will be ameliorated by the assertion’s being true, and then later the person says something else, something that removes what has been relied on.  The root of the problem is probably that what was said means things of different importance to the the person saying them and person hearing them.

In the Estate banking situation, I have more detachment than I often do when this sort of dynamic comes up in other parts of my life.  I can more easily see that timing is an issue (they could have told me this last evening) but that so also is substance:  my mother did change her domicile, according to general legal principles (I don’t know whether NJ’s statutes replace those rules with something else — my lawyer, who thought everything was in order before she went on vacation this week, gets back next week), and the bank personnel did inform me the paperwork had been completed and the money was in the process of being transferred.  In personal relationships, on the other hand, for example, we are rarely so precise about things, and when we are, it is usually an indication that relationship is not working.

So what have I learned?  That some people really do mislead a person in a way that the person misled cannot see until the damage has been done.  Whether the situation can be cleaned up to an “all’s well that end’s well” conclusion probably depends on particular details of the situation.  Such a conclusion would probably heal the damage.  In its absence, there is always acceptance that people are limited, there is always the choice to take the experience as a challenge to find compassion for people when they behave in this way and to see people as they are, not as they tell us they are or as we wish them to be.


Post Script:  As I was editing this, I got a call from the bank that the rest of the funds are being transferred, and I can see online that they are.


New occasions for communication

March 7, 2015

There’s the Tower of Babel and there’s the blind men feeling the parts of the elephant, and with respect to both parables, I take it that we’re supposed to communicate with each other.  I’d go further and suggest that this communication leads to greater empathy, and hence compassion, through getting to know the other better and taking a look at things from their perspective.

This morning I got an email from the current accountant’s office letting me know that an email I had sent (with material from the prior accountant’s office — why the two offices, one in NYC and the other in MA, could not communicate directly with each other is beyond me) had not been received.  Said email was in my “sent” box, I had not received an “undeliverable” message indicating that the email would not be received, but I also wasn’t entirely surprised it hadn’t been received since I was aware that the file I had attached to the email was big.  I had marked a second email as transmitting Part 2 of 2 of the document, which the person in the accounting office had received, so they were able to realize that they were missing Part 1 of 2, which, apparently, had been too big.  And they really wanted the entire document, so they were motivated to figure things out and get back to me.

We were into “Part x of y [parts]” because the original file had produced undeliverable and failure messages at the outset when I tried to send it as one, unified attachment.

So this morning I subdivided Part 1 of the document into subsections (a) and (b) — and felt like I was getting experience in binary or dualistic thinking — and sent each of those in separate emails.  Those went through.  Bingo.

I have had the opposite experience, in fact with a professional who shares the same suite of offices with the accounting firm (although I don’t know that they share computer systems or service providers).  There, I had sent a large file (of something else) and gotten a failure notice, but the recipient told me they had in fact received it.  They went on further to say that they have learned not to assume a failure notice is accurate because it has happened to them so frequently that they get such a notice but their recipient actually receives the email.

So I am left with not being able to assume I know what has happened to an email — “undelivered” ones delivered, “sent” ones undelivered.

Tony-my-computer-guy happened to call this morning about something else, and when we got to discussing this, he confirmed the reality of what I experience and he offered some technical information to explain the gaps in the system(s).  We agreed that what’s needed, if something is important, is corroboration through a separate communication about whether the original message was received.

Later on, on my own, I reflected further on this need for further communication and it got me thinking that it could be seen as another version of the situation in which we humans are being prompted to communicate more closely with one another, like the Tower of Babel and the Blind Men and the Elephant.  We’ve developed email, and we can use it pretty impersonally and just send each other stuff, but this hasn’t meant that we don’t also have to check-in with each other if we want to make sure the message has been received and our intentions have been fulfilled.  This need for confirmation gives us another chance at communication that might lead to greater empathy and compassion.  We try to pull away and separate into respective silos of existence, but something pulls us back together and encourages us to interact, share, and engage in a flow.





January 16, 2015

After something like a month of “advocacy,” I finally was able to have the conversation with the specialist doctor that my mother has been wanting.  The doctor called me, and at this point, that was probably the best approach — I have relayed the information to my mother.

The conversation was supposed to occur in an office appointment, but my mother never recovered enough after her outpatient procedure to go to the appointment, even by ambulance.  It was scheduled long after her hospital release, and she has been declining in health since then.  One of the contributing factors to the scheduling was the doctor’s vacation.  When I was told that this was “reasonable,” it gave me the opening to point out that my mother’s wanting and needing the information nonetheless, despite the fact that the systems in place require her to do things she can’t, was also reasonable.

Yesterday I got a 21 minute, unhurried phone call and our questions answered.

It helps to know that a small localized disease diagnosed early on can cause systemic problems like general weakness and tiredness, it helps to know that an outpatient procedure can produce the same sort of domino effect as a fall in an elderly person  —  secondary consequences and all, and the person never returns to even close to the status quo ante, just keeps declining instead.

At least we got to fill in some of the information we have been missing as we try to understand what has been going on.


Losing one’s voice

December 7, 2014

I wrote a reply to a comment to a Ross Douthat column last night, in which I expressed my sense that if we put aside what we really perceive in order to be accepted and in order to make progress towards a goal such as having a media perch from which to influence others, we lose access to what we really perceive in the process.

I didn’t actually express it that way, I said that people who think that way probably don’t have a helpful message to convey.

The two ideas get at the same issue, namely that what we have to bring to the party — our contribution to the “stone soup” we are making, as it were — comes from deep in ourselves, and if we’ve lost our ability to locate that deep source, during the process of accommodating others and horsetrading in order to advance in our careers, we will in effect have lost our train of thought when it becomes our turn to speak.

I went through a stage of thinking that maybe a person who has done what it takes to have an influential perch could collaborate with someone who has instead cultivated the ability to locate that deep source, and who can listen and hear, but I came to think that’s a flawed model, too.

People who do what it takes and have what it takes to have an influential perch internalize the value of excluding outsiders, for instance, they won’t actually collaborate when the time comes.  They have their “reasons,” and to them they seem unassailable, but win, lose, or draw on whether the reasons make sense, they are an obstacle to collaboration, and that’s the thing:  when push comes to shove, will you do it?  A “no” is a “no,” however it is dressed up.

But I also came to think that it is no mistake in the workings of the universe that people who have a more helpful message don’t have access to a more influential perch (through collaboration or through anything else).  If I ask “What would the lesson be if they don’t?” it becomes clearer that the “message” such people have to convey is not a substantive content but something else, a “something” that gets communicated through a different process, a more one-on-one process, not through expression to a large group en masse from a media perch.  Transformation comes from transformed individuals, and that happens, it seems to me, from their personal experience of others and their personal experience of their own life events.

Maybe it’s a little like turning over the pieces to a jigsaw puzzle before one gets started — we are each a puzzle piece who needs to be individually “turned over.”

I will say a couple more things on the issue of why I think the mixed model of “do what it takes to get a perch and then use it in a different way” doesn’t work.  On the issue of why they don’t actually want to collaborate when the time comes, I think the person with the perch has adopted in general the values of the context of their perch, whether or not they realize it, and those values interfere.  An example of that might be found in a positive regard for passing judgment on others.  And on the issue of locating their own voice, I think in some ways it is just a matter that they are really out of practice;  if one is not allowed to think that way, in order to gain and maintain one’s perch, of course one will get out of practice.

What do I think would happen if a person with a perch located their true voice?  I don’t know, I am waiting to see that.  And I have no idea whether to the extent that voice was gained, to that same extent the perch would be lost.  I think it would take a willingness to be open to that possibility and I think such a willingness is antithetical to the patterns of behavior and belief the person has developed in order to gain the perch, and probably at odds with whatever drove the person to be willing to put aside accessing their true voice to begin with.

If you’re talking about it at all …

March 23, 2014

I was listening to a recording of “Cold Day in July” sung by Suzy Bogguss (my internet searching turns up Richard Leigh as the song’s composer), and it struck me as providing a good vehicle for explaining the kind of things Willy saw, how he saw through the surface.

He would have offered as third party’s response to the lament, “Well, if you were already talking about his leaving or not, about your love lasting forever, your relationship was already in trouble, or the issues would not have come up.”

So he would not have been surprised that the cold day in July came.

But it’s a great song.

Joy of reconciliation

March 20, 2014

I get a real charge out of certain styles of conversation, when the exchange really flies and it feels exhilarating.  It’s the process as much as whatever content we’re discussing that I get a thrill out of.  (I suspect the experience arises out of a flow back and forth between myself and the person I’m talking to.  Of course, the downside is that while I pick up the ideas and good feelings, I also tend to pick up other things from the person, at least temporarily.)

Then there’s another process that can feel real good, too, the process of reconciliation through both people checking in with their guidance (the sort of guidance accessible through prayer and contemplation) and not just mixing it up as social beings.  If I listen for my guidance and they listen for theirs, and we each follow it, we end up, as it were, in the same place — through a process that involves less friction than even following the helpful rules of how to have difficult conversations.  And speaking strictly for myself, I can find the same idea much easier to accept coming from the Universe than coming from the other person — I think because most people coat their ideas with emotional overlays, and as my body does to the base in a vaccine, I react to the emotional coating (sometimes negatively).

There is, of course, something to be said for working out a disagreement face to face or email to email — it can be more satisfying if it works.  But depending on God as an intermediary is very helpful when the social part of the relationship is stuck, especially in what I see as asymmetrical relationships.  The other person just doesn’t want to interact socially with me as equals, and thankfully, there’s a way for me to deal with that without buying into that point of view or insisting that they accept social symmetry.  God provides a fluid interface and a way we can reconcile, if we have willingness.

Sometimes I wonder if the internet is a sort of medium and middle way through which the reconciliation through the spiritual part of us and the reconciliation through our social aspect can meet.  People can write their piece, others can react, and through links and comments and blogs and all kinds of less than personal communication online, things can be worked out.  While I am confident this method can serve a need, I do remain concerned that it leaves a lot of room for confusion and misunderstanding;  but maybe that’s a smaller difficulty than the difficulties that would ensue from pursuing a different method.  I don’t know, I just know my own difficulties with the method — and my own gratefulness for its allowing some sort of communication where, without it, there might not be any, or enough to move forward at all.  And I can always ask the Universe for guidance about how to think about and deal with the method and my reaction to it.


March 19, 2014

I think we all have flaws as we live in the material world.  Just as Willy used to chide me that when we have nothing on our “administrative matters” to-do list it’s because we are dead, when we have no flaws, I think we are just spirit.

But some flaws are more of impediments to navigating in the world and developing our potential than others.  So we try to reduce the big impediments, in order to reduce distortion to our perception and in order to reduce damage to others and to ourselves.

As to the rest of our flaws, I think we adjust for them through collaboration with others — like blind men feeling parts of the elephant, if we pool our perceptions, we might make up for one another’s limitations.


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.