Archive for the 'feedback' Category

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.




Fishing out feathers

October 31, 2014

There were about a dozen swans on the Res yesterday, a heron, two cormorants, a bunch of geese and ducks.

Not surprisingly, there are feathers along the shoreline in places.  I sometimes clamber down to the water’s edge and fish a couple out.  If the shore is too muddy close to the water or the feather is too far off in the water, I look for a long branch.  And then I try to snag the feather using the branch.

It’s kind of like a sport or hobby.  I get a kick out of figuring out how to get down to the shore, what stick to use, how to employ it as a tool.

I am not always very good at the snagging part.  Sometimes I end up pushing the feather further away or sinking it or getting it further stained or covered with muck.

So I ask the universe for help.  I admit this is a pretty silly context in which to ask for the help of the universe, but on the other hand it is very good practice for “turning things over.”  I know I can’t get that feather back without help, and I throw myself on the mercy of those forces beyond me, my motions become more effective, and I lift the feather from the water with my stick.

The other piece is how refreshed I feel afterwards.  I have succeeded in completely distracting myself from all the cares and tasks seemingly on my plate, and for a few minutes, I am just in the moment of fishing out a feather, and in the arms of the universe if I’ve asked for help.  The physical activity I think also contributes to the catharsis.

Phone call

April 10, 2014

I wrote a post here a few weeks ago about how someone had not listened to me and I eventually expressed my dissatisfaction and we had a falling out.

Well, they called me yesterday.  Their proposed solution is they will be less insistent on having their way in the future.

I told them I appreciated the call.

And that’s probably where I see any improvement in the matter, that they reached out.

Because it does me no great respect to just have me have my way next time (which is their proposal);  I like a collaborative effort, but I want that effort to take me and my wishes into account as much as the other person’s.  Saying we’ll just do it my way doesn’t address that.  It just suggests to me they want something else from me, my business.

Yesterday I had something similar with a family member’s lawyer.

The document the lawyer prepared contained a material mistake, I called it to their attention, they told me I was free to edit the document.  I wanted them to do the editing.

I didn’t find their position respectful, either.  They yelled at me for being persistent, gave me the “I’m wonderful and have done everything right” speech, and threatened to no longer provide service at all.  This is a law firm this family member has used for over 50 years, they’ve been there less than a year.  The net result is that the family member will have a sizable delay before they can receive their sizable refund from the IRS.  We said we would revisit the issue in about two weeks, when the lawyer will be back and I will be back, but there’s an accountant involved (because someone else in the law firm mistakenly told me to have an accountant prepare the tax form at issue, which is not the tax form with the refund, but the accountant is holding everything up until all the returns are finished), so who knows when this will get done.

What do I take from all this?  That people find new and clever ways to protect themselves and make themselves comfortable at other people’s expense, that the very thing you want from them is the very thing they don’t want to do — collaborate respectfully and with consideration.


Revealing the absence or presence of willingness

March 22, 2014

I was thinking through what purpose a behavioral pattern of mine could possibly serve, and this is what I came up with.

I interact with someone.  Yesterday it was someone making something for me.  We go back and forth on materials and price and design, and then they do something I am not okay with, I protest, I am not heard, we repeat this sequence, I go silent, and then eventually I make my dissatisfaction known more unmistakably.

And then I don’t get compromising even then, I get a speech about the person’s integrity, how they know themselves to be this, that, and the other thing, so their behavior can’t possibly be a contributing factor to my dissatisfaction.

Which explains to me why I went silent during that interval between, on the one hand, protesting, while still trying to work it out, and on the other hand, letting the person know it’s not okay with me, while giving them what they want in the moment and then leaving:  there was nothing I could do that would make the situation work out for both of us.

They turned out, as I think I was surmising, not have willingness to compromise, to work together without friction or excessive self-interest.

Seeing this makes it easier for me to choose whether I want to, as they say, throw good money after bad.

I usually get, in addition to the “It can’t be anything I did, I know myself to be more wonderful than that,” some version of, “It’s your job to rein me in.”

No, it’s not.  It is written nowhere that I know that I have to substitute my energy through feedback for their energy in policing themselves.  It may well be that my unwillingness to take up this cost means the relationship won’t work out, but that’s a separate issue.  It may well be that my expectations are unrealistic, but, again, that goes to whether there will be a relationship, whether there will be subsequent interactions, not whether I am required by some objective standard to behave with them the way they want.  They are free to say and do on their end as they wish, I am free to walk away, instead of pushing back, especially after attempts to gain traction to work things out bilaterally have had no effect.

Yesterday’s episode brought home to me that my sense that the other person is not open to adjustment at their end is not inaccurate, and how the story they tell themselves about themselves makes it so unlikely that that will change.

“This is your life”

January 7, 2014

Some people invite a “mirror” into their lives, perhaps unwittingly.  They may think they have merely coerced someone into helping them out, but when that person turns out to be one of these “mirrors,” they may find themselves like someone who has inadvertently ordered cooked internal organs from a menu written in another language:  they are treated to a “This is your life” scenario in which the mirror plays a role they previously played.  As liberals are quick to say about Congressman Paul Ryan about his attitude towards (dismantling) entitlements, after he allegedly financed a college education on Social Security Survivor’s Benefits (I’m not saying all this is true, I’m just referencing a paradigm using a popular example that people at least think is true), people sometimes have a really negative reaction to seeing the same scenario from a different perspective.  I think we think this is because the person has unresolved issues; in Rep. Ryan’s case, we might think he never dealt with his vulnerability and the randomness of losses that put one at the mercy of others’ helpfulness.  So people who are being mirrored, not for their present situation, but to revisit an old scenario from another perspective, they may be horrified and want to play the other role differently from the way it was played for them:  they may decline to be helpful where someone was kind to them, they may decline to take a chance on someone when someone took a chance on them, they may even become morally outraged at someone wondering whether there’s a sexual component to a relationship when they actually were involved in something similar — some sort of sexual relationship, or quasi-sexual relationship, or the dangled possibility thereof —  in their own past.  If a mirror has kept her perspective, she remembers that the person she is mirroring has free will and may opt not to play the role in the way it was played for the other person.  Her need is to handle the “energy” of the situation so that she is not shattered, especially if that energy goes back over many instantiations of the same patterns over many past lives.  As they say, “Don’t shoot the messenger;”  this is a case of “Don’t shatter a mirror [just because you asked for one and then decided you don’t want it after the fact].”  A mirror has to be careful not to accept somebody else’s stuff — “Your stuff, not mine,” she needs to model.  “If you don’t want a mirror, fine;” because if a person wants a mirror but tries to use it in a way that will shatter it, the relationship that included the mirroring will change, in some way or another — the energy has to go somewhere.  If the person being mirrored deflects it away, the energy goes somewhere.  A mirror does not owe it to anyone to take that energy as a direct hit on herself.  A mirror who is aware that others have been shattered trying to work with this lineage in the past will be careful to stay at a safe angle so as not to repeat the debacle.  Chances are, the person being mirrored does not see the situation at all from the perspective from which the mirror sees it.  It helps if the mirror doesn’t expect them to, but if they ask for an explanation, she may try to provide one.  It’s hard to find a secular cultural vocabulary in which to express such an explanation.

Holding two perspectives

December 29, 2013

Last night my cousin let me know his perspective on my putting a statue of the Buddha in my home.  Not only could I read his words and understand their content, but after I replied to his comment, I could actually see how the statue could look like an idol.

I can’t know whether what I perceived was actually what my cousin sees, but it certainly was a version of seeing the statue as an idol and not seeing the statue as I usually do.

I was reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today, about holding in tension what we know and what we don’t.

For me, a big lesson and challenge has been to recognize what is my perspective and what is someone else’s, instead of just getting swamped by someone else’s, which I am perfectly capable of doing, just as we are somewhat susceptible to effective sales techniques even when we don’t realize it.  And that’s just it; just as savvy shoppers are aware of advertizing manipulation or sales associates’ techniques, I can become aware of when I am picking up someone else’s perspective.

For me, in my context, what can be difficult is when the other person is completely dismissive of my own point of view, when there is no room in their perspective for mine.  It can happen when I interact with people who hold their atheism strongly, for example, or even with people who judge my family members or my life in strongly negative terms.  It can leave me, in a way, gasping for air; maybe it’s like a guitar player hearing from someone that a guitar is just a wooden box with strings with which they are making noise.

But there is something helpful about this experience.  It shows me how a perspective is just that, a perspective, my own included.  That helps me with detachment and with understanding our world and how we see it.

But with all due respect to feedback from others and from visiting their perspectives, in the end I have to find the view that supports my greatest good, not adopt one that suits somebody else out of people-pleasing or trying to reach some other social goal.

So I go back to seeing my statue as an encouraging reminder of how, while we may go from dust to dust, we also go from enlightenment to enlightenment — we have been enlightened before, we will be so again.  And that is a source of joy, that we can be reborn into that consciousness.  This stream of thought for me gets collapsed into just being thrilled when I see my Buddha statue.  I don’t see it as an idol but as a concrete reminder of an ethereal process in which we each can become a buddha.

I come by my joy not easily, whether that’s intrinsic to me or a result of my experiences.  But when I do encounter joy, the deep, child-like kind, it feels like a blessing.  And part of the ability to encounter it seems to come from having found the perspective that allows me access to it, so I am not in a hurry to give that up in favor of the perspective that allows someone else access to it.  It’s not de gustibus non disputandum est (tastes cannot be argued about) exactly, but that is the phrase that keeps bubbling up in my mind, and I think the concept is something similar.

Stories we tell

December 25, 2013

I was talking to Gita about how sometimes recently I become so aware that something that occurs is just what happens when some energy happens to manifest in a certain way, like what happens when the wind meets a flag or a sail and we see the flag wave or the sail billow.  It’s just stuff that happens, the tail wagging on the dog that we happen to be able to perceive far more easily than we are able to perceive the rest of the dog.

Because so often we instead accord these tail-waggings (greater) significance.  We put them into narratives.  Illness occurred in this person because they ate the wrong foods (did the wrong thing), that person met their soul mate because they networked appropriately (did the right thing), this person found a treasure in their attic because they were industrious (were deserving), that person lost their business because they were not industrious (were not deserving).

This isn’t the “you didn’t build that” issue, it’s the “things happens as the result of long and complicated processes most of which we are not aware of.”

Some of us accord even more significance to things.  We see patterns, we see synchronicity, we see metaphor.  I got clobbered in a class once when I tried, with my best technique I had learned elsewhere, to analyze what the monsters in Cavafy’s poem about Odysseus might represent.  Different styles of literary interpretation or criticism use different techniques or assumptions — I think we accept that.  When we apply different techniques to the interpretation of life events, we sometimes get clobbered, too.  Exhibit A is the  label “conspiracy theorists.”  Some secular rationalists clobber people with religious faith, and vice versa.

But what I’ve observed is this.  Our accepted way of combining events into stories is just that, an accepted way of combining events in stories.  To see this, a person has to view what goes on in this world from “outside” of it.  If people do this in some ways, they fall into distress and dysfunction and we have mental illness.  If people do this in other ways, we have witnessing and detachment — which some people also consider pathological.  But once you go there, you can observe that consensus reality is just a group choice, it isn’t necessary or compelled by anything.  You just have to make sure you can toggle back and forth between consensus reality and witnessing it from without, if you want to be able to continue to navigate in society.

Once a person “bursts the bubble” of consensus reality, then they can see that “stuff happens” not in a fatalistic way, but in an observational way; it is that which happens.  It is that which happens that we are adapted to seeing.  Our attempts to make stories out of what happens that we see is more the aberration, more the foreign intrusion, than the occurrence of something that looks like an outlier, that doesn’t quite fit with our storytelling assumptions.

Maybe a person can get to the point of having a perch from which to perceive the world from the outside without first seeing the world through more intensive patterning.  But it is certainly one way to do it.  And once a person does it, then they can see that not just the intensive patterns are an artifact of perception, but that the more widely accepted patterns of most people are, too.  And then a person can process what happens, as simply what happens.  Gita called that “beginner’s mind.”

I sometimes say that I go to Gita when I need to hear what I don’t want to hear.  This time I could see the category is really “what I need an outsider to observe and relay back to me.”

Sometimes Gita  clarifies for me the name for a concept in a different way.  For example, I was using “unisex” where “androgynous” was the more accurate label for what I was referencing, and she corrected me.  We humans do pick one another’s nits, they just aren’t always material nits.

What I personally got out of what Gita observed back to me is not actually the point of this post, but I will end with it anyway.  For me, what she did was to tell me, in effect, that I had arrived on the outskirts of where I was headed, namely my beginnings but with an “I” aware or conscious in a way that I hadn’t had before.

Roast beef sandwich

November 28, 2013

Jordan looked at me sheepishly this morning and said he had something to apologize to me for.

He had eaten a roast beef sandwich he had bought for me.

He had gone out with friends after class yesterday, and at a restaurant they ate at, had ordered a sandwich for me as take-out.  On his way home, he had stopped at the home of a friend he’s known for ages, who was home on break from college, and he stayed there into the evening.

He got hungry while he was at the friend’s house, and “there wasn’t anything to eat,” which was plausible, not so much because of want but because of what I might call “food issues,” so Jordan ate the sandwich he had with him.

I told him, that despite the fact that he doesn’t agree with my “karmic nonsense,” I was going to tell him how this was actually great news to me in a way;  my nagging issue that some guy “done me wrong” and took from me something that was mine, had been reduced to my child eating a roast beef sandwich because he was hungry — that scenario didn’t bother me, and, he was apologetic about it (not to mention aware of what he had done — and he said he plans to get me another sandwich).  I have a very strong sense that this pattern of feeling wronged by a guy who doesn’t give back, and takes advantage of my having given to him first, is a very old pattern for me, or possibly for someone I have been helping (I do think I help people clean up their old and difficult karma when they get too stuck).  When the pattern reaches an innocuous iteration, it’s like the last ripple of a wave, or the boat getting close enough to the dock that one can step or jump out onto terra firma.

So I am quite happy, in a way, to hear about my missing roast beef sandwich.  I like feedback that progress has been made.  I feel like I have successfully let go of something that was impeding me, finally.  And I am grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving

Log jams

October 21, 2013

All the discussion in the media about the technological problems with the federal website for buying health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act got me thinking about other situations in which a system was overwhelmed by more users than it can handle.

In the spiritual context, this can involve trying to achieve enlightenment, or even just basic connection to God, in order to take in fresh spiritual oxygen, through someone else, or it can involve trying discharge our spiritual detritus through someone else, looking for a place to discharge our carbon dioxide or worse, as it were.

Systems are overwhelmed, conduits become clogged.

These things can be fixed.

But to do that in the spiritual realm, religions need to become more flexible than many of them are and make corrections as needed, in my opinion.  And I am leery of systems that rely on using conduits — spiritual development requires everyone to get up off the couch and learn how to do it for themselves if they possibly can.  Accommodations are available for the truly disabled, but most people are not truly spiritually disabled, they are more like I was when I had a speech impediment and was using the wrong part of my vocal apparatus to make sounds.  It’s about finding that part of the self that comes to the fore when we pull aside the part of ourselves we identify with most of the time.  That’s kind of like the getting pregnant part of the process — it’s not the entire shooting match, but it’s a huge and necessary part of developing a spiritual life, that is, finding the part of the self through which this can actually be done.  And it’s where philosophy and other secular systems seem to me to fall down, whether or not that is a necessary result of their axioms, and where even many religions do not, in my opinion, place enough emphasis.  And don’t get me started on books in the popular press that overlook this issue.

When opposites are the same thing

October 9, 2013

I was thinking about how being overly criticized, unjustly and frequently criticized, or treated worse than one’s behavior warrants can lead to walling up the self, refusing even reasonable feedback, and coming across as overly self-confident, or it can lead to a loss of confidence and too great a willingness to acquiesce.  I am sure it can lead to other states of mind and behavior, too, but what struck me is that these two extremes are in a way the same thing, namely, damage to an accurate sense of self manifested in an inappropriate relationship to feedback.  Deriving a core sense of self from some healthier source is needed as something against which to measure criticism:  is the criticism reasonable?

There are plenty of social and business, private and public contexts in which the feedback we get about ourselves is unreasonable and needs to be acknowledged, even responded to, but ultimately seen as not really being about us.  Being treated by a customer service representative or a boss rudely or as if we are stupid, being ridiculed by a teacher in front of the class, being punished for something we didn’t do, receiving more negative feedback for a behavior than others receive, not receiving the reward after successfully completing something for which a reward is given —  we need to have a way of processing these experiences without ending up with a distorted self-image and without ending up dismissing all feedback as a result.

So, I think, the overly self-confident person and the insufficiently self-confident person are probably really the same in the sense of having a damaged barometer of self.