Archive for the 'interactions' Category

Coerced consent

July 28, 2015

I wrote a paper years ago about the validity of coerced consent in Roman Law, which focused on the person coerced and what responsibility they had for their subsequent (coerced) act and whether that act was valid from an external point of view.  But it occurred to me this morning that I haven’t much thought about the consequences of the coercion to the person engaging in — doing —  the coercion.  I don’t have any particular desire to go see how Roman Law thought about this.  I do know that rule over Rome by kings ended with Tarquin’s and that he was overthrown (the paper took as its point of departure Livy’s telling of the story of Tarquin’s rape of Lucretia).  How I myself would think about it is that a coercer cannot expect the same consequences to flow from a coerced act as would flow from an act freely engaged in by the other person.  Or rather, while a person who has engaged in coercion can expect whatever they want, I don’t think the consequences to the coercer from a coerced act will be the same as the consequences to them from what looks like a similar act but is freely given.


Rocks in the roots

May 13, 2015

A lot of trees fell down this winter.  In the various patches of woods I often walk in, I sometimes go up to uprooted lower portions of the trees and examine them, and I am fascinated when I find rocks embedded in the roots.  Seeing tree branches grow around fence pieces or telephone wires fascinates me too, especially once the majority of the tree is gone but these chunks encasing the wires remain because they could not be removed.

I tend to think of trees as independent, rooted in soil but not intertwined with rocks and wires.  Vines may grow around their trunks and entangle their branches, we may build houses in their limbs for kids to play in, but I still think of trees as basically solo entities.

But maybe I shouldn’t.  Maybe trees are more interactive than I give them credit for.

Back-filling instead of overriding

April 27, 2015

I wrote about my reaction to David Brooks’s new book, The Road to Character, here, on the PBS NewsHour website.  I thought I would expand on what I meant when I wrote,

One thing in the book that bothered me enough to want to comment on: I have a real problem with holding up as an exemplar writing people’s names on pieces of paper and then trashing them. No, I am not saying this is effective voodoo, but it is not the same thing as learning to view the people (named on the slips) with charity. That latter point of view (charity for flawed and damaged people) I think processes like the 12 Steps are more helpful with learning to achieve: identify our own defect of character (the excessive anger, what led in the first place to the friction that has resulted in anger, etc.), become willing to let it go, and ask for some help with that. That, I believe, roots out the problem; the approach Eisenhower used (the paper routine for defusing the anger privately) is clearly an improvement over injudicious confrontation, but it is a temporary and superficial trimming back, I think — I don’t believe it will result in the anger not arising to unhelpful levels the next time around, for example — and I believe it also has some negative impact on the general environment, if not the targeted person. Writing the names on paper and trashing them may be a step forward, but I don’t think it’s the destination.

I see the idea of confronting our unhelpful reaction to a difficult situation in the moment, or in the moment after, by trying to override that unhelpful reaction as a stopgap measure.  Yes, it’s preferable not to express too much anger in the moment, it may help some people to let go of the excessive anger in private by going through a ritual.  Overriding an initial reaction has its place.

But I find it vastly more helpful and reliable, not to mention that it also contributes to my greater peace of mind more generally, if I can root out the source(s) of my overreaction before I encounter the particular situations and moments.  That’s what I am referring to as “back-filling.”  I strengthen my foundation before I sally forth.

So, for example, I may feel frustrated with an acquaintance or neighbor or friend or professional I am working with because, for example, from my point of view they have tried to shift too much responsibility for a problem onto me and not taken enough responsibility for the problem onto themselves.  The attempt to shift the onus around may have hurt my feelings and negatively impacted my self-confidence, it may have also created new problems in my life that I needed like a hole in the head.

If I deal on my own time with my dissatisfaction with how things are, when a new situation comes up involving the person and myself, I will not feel the same strong and negative emotions when patterns repeat.  In fact, sometimes, after noticing I’m not feeling the anger I used to feel, I poke around in my mental apparatus looking for it, and it just feels as though smooth rubber has replaced something brittle and pointy — it’s just not there anymore and what has replaced it is something kind of neutral and benign.

To deal with my dissatisfaction and improve my foundation, I may do some of the following.  First, I can remind myself not to take things personally.  I can separate what I want from the person from what I actually need from the person.  I can find other ways to get my needs met.  That often lowers the temperature.  I can see the person more accurately, I can remind myself that they are doing the best they can even when I feel a negative impact from what they do or have done.  I can change my expectations about them.  I can wish for them positive things, but I often try to send my good wishes to them through neutral forces which can be more effective and less vulnerable to misuse than anything I could send directly on my own.  I can find a way to see the person that results in my keeping my own needs out of the way when I interact with them, for example, by seeing them as a sympathetic figure (like a young child) just trying to get their own needs met.  I can remind myself that they may not understand my dissatisfaction and that if I react too extremely, they too will feel hurt and bewilderment — like a puppy who does not understand what they have done wrong.  I can see their behaviors and attitudes shaped by things that occurred much earlier and have nothing to do with me.  I can see them as providing me with an opportunity to learn something new myself, for example, to keep my equanimity, not become defensive and not develop bitterness despite however I am treated — I can feel gratitude towards them for providing the challenge, I can even forgive them for being something like an executioner.  I can view intentional personal rejection as a signal from the universe that this is not a good relationship for me and thank the person for busting the relationship up when I did not have the ability to see that or the strength to do that, and doing what was needed so that I can move on.  I can deal with my fears unilaterally and reduce them by turning things over to forces greater than myself.

On the other hand, I probably won’t see the person or particular situations in which we have been involved or continue to be involved in the way they see those things.

That I think is a fly in my ointment I am still working to remove, what to do when the person keeps coming to me with repeated insistence that I accede to them and their view and behavior.  My provisional answer is “boundaries” and just repeating, to myself, my own understanding.  Then they can do their thing, I can do my thing, but the two will not combine and combust.  I just have to have sufficiently dealt with my feelings about the past and adjusted my expectations about the future:  this person does this, I don’t like it, but, as they say, “How important is it?”  There’s always a vantage point from which detachment may be found.  And I have to let go of my preferred way of seeing the person — as being more ideal than they actually are and as being more capable of different points of view and behavior than they are — and I have to do this letting go with some sort of love (I would characterize it as charitable love).  My problem with it is that it can feel to me like giving up when I should be pushing on to find a better resolution.

The Road to Character actually indirectly helped me with that last piece;  it finally put into perspective an old relationship, and helped me see that I was looking to repeat that relationship with others, when I should be rejoicing that I had had such a relationship once.  Realizing that helps me let go — of relationships, or at least of the expectations that the relationships will be of the same sort as that old one.

And as I said, when I do this work on my own successfully, I do not react — overreact — to the subsequent interactions in the same unhelpful way.  I can let people be who they are and take it from there.

New Year’s resolution 2015

March 15, 2015

I didn’t think about New Year’s resolutions when the calendar turned this year because I was so busy with my mother and her affairs.  But now that she is gone and buried and her affairs are at a point where they take up less room, at least temporarily, on my plate, the question of what I want to work on this year came to my attention.

I decided I want to work on my defensiveness.  I know it gets in my way.  It gets in other people’s way, too, I think.

My next thought was a memory of Willy sitting in an office with someone who was supposed to help our family, about whom I had my doubts and suspicions.  And there he was, sitting on the couch in her office, leaning back and with his arms so undefensively crossed above his head, his torso exposed (beneath shirt, tie, and jacket), talking so genially.

I can’t say how effective his attitude was in that situation, and I know it was not self-consciously produced.  But he was offering no resistance, and that, I am pretty sure, can be a good thing in some situations in which I unhelpfully introduce my baggage of fear about what may come next.  The thing I want to try doing is staying in the actual moment and worrying less about where it will lead.  I don’t mean suspending my practical judgment and not making a photocopy of an important document before I send it out, but I think there is a point of balance that I have overshot; perhaps I have learned to overshoot it, but we can unlearn survival skills that got us through one situation that are now getting in our way.

So that’s, I think, going to be my approach, to try to stay in the moment, discern what I am called on to do without so much concern about what comes next, what sort of a limb I might be going out on or what trouble might ensue from the other end (will the office process my paperwork correctly and how can I, in how I prepare it, guard against it doing it incorrectly, for example) — I want to try to wait to see, to wait and see, and not get all tensed up about it.  I want to put my best foot forward instead of arranging it according to what I think may come next.

I got a sense of what that would feel like both when Willy died and when my mother died — it was as if I got a preview of how I could be, and I have to say, it felt great.  It wasn’t irresponsibility but something like allowing everything to take its appropriate place.  Having gotten that preview, I have to figure out a way, I think, of how to develop organically to get from where I am to that place — the sensation and attitude did not stick.

I think this may apply to personal relationships as well as to business contexts.

We’ll see.  At the very least, I am hoping that I feel lighter, that I feel less regret that I have contributed unnecessarily to the creation of vexed interactions with others.  I am pretty good at figuring out what I want to do in other ways so that I have least regret, but I think I have not yet addressed how my defensiveness can produce difficulties in that regard.

In some ways I think it’s a question of editing out that aspect in my presentation of myself to others — I doubt I will have no concerns about what will happen next — but in other ways I think it’s about “turning things over” more — I tend not to turn over my love life or my bureaucratic life enough, I think.  That would be about feeling less of the concern that produces the defensiveness in the first place.  If I give more space for the universe to work in those situations in my life, I am hoping I will feel greater peace, the sort of sensation I got a preview of when my loved ones died in my presence.


February 7, 2015

While I was helping my mother unpack into her apartment in November, we came across some pieces of lava, probably souvenirs from a vacation trip abroad.  My mother didn’t want to keep them.

I was thinking about them this morning.  I was thinking about a spiritual practice Gita was encouraging me in some time ago, to connect deep within in the direction of the earth.  I think it’s harder to conceptualize infinity in that direction, but, analogous to the idea of physics on a level of particles and strings and such, I think it’s possible.  This is in contrast with prayer connecting me upwards and outwards to the cosmos.

When I connect inwards and in the direction of the earth and its molten core, I tend towards conceptualizing in imagery of soothing reddish-brown substances welling up within me.  When I pray up and out, I usually end up with light or water images.

Anyway, it occurred to me this morning that lava can be so porous and yet it is a rock of sorts.  Can I use this combination to help me feel well-dressed to deal with other people?  I am protected by something hard and yet it is a porous substance allowing for exchange of some sorts of things.

I don’t know, but I find a theme of my life is looking for a way to interact, as myself, with others and without becoming too damaged by the interaction.  I don’t see sealing myself off, I prefer not to withdraw from interaction, but I am as porous as the day is long and I don’t think I am supposed to change that or to incur crippling damage either.  So I am always open to figuring out a way to feel protected and porous at the same time.  And while I can “turn over” to the universe particular difficult situations and interactions, and I do, I feel that I need to improve my overall posture so that I have a more continuous, baseline sense of well-being.

One practice is to let incoming assaults pass through me instead of engaging with them.  I can feel them become diluted and dissipate through my connection upwards and outwards, as clean energy mixes with such incursions.  But that does not speak to my sense of being a sitting duck sometimes for material from others I don’t want to deal with, especially stuff they should be addressing to forces greater than ourselves, not to other human beings.  In this category lies huge anxiety and distress and a sense that everything is terrible — I have people who try to interact with me who have more of those than I can process comfortably, and my posture is that they should stop trying to get me to process it on their behalf.  But they continue, I suspect because we have an instinct to survive that does not always get channeled in constructive ways.  And so I look for what I can do at my end to maintain my equanimity while they do, because it takes a lot of time and energy of my own to clean myself up after being slimed by such incursions.

I think lava may be a helpful concept for me to do that.  I think it can help me feel strong and soothed and protected and porous.  Hardened it is brittle, molten it is suffocating (I think), but like light being both wave and particle in some way (again, my caution that I may be misunderstanding the science), I think it is possible in some way to think of lava as both protective and porous, flexible and brittle.  If lava can participate in all of these characteristics over time, then I am hopeful that on a spiritual plane, without the constraint of time, I can participate in those characteristics simultaneously.  Surely one of our human difficulties is holding paradoxical ideas in our limited heads — doesn’t mean that such paradoxes cannot be understood in other ways.

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.

Intentional or unintentional

October 20, 2013

I don’t like dualism, but here I am going to contrast intentional mirroring with unintentional mirroring, an issue that’s been on my mind for a long time.

The mirroring that has power occurs not through behavior we engage in with the intention of mirroring.  Effective mirroring takes place at a deeper level, the level revealed when we manage to pull away our personal concerns, desires, and fears — that other strand is what produces the mirroring effect, it is not something we consciously craft.

When someone mirrors another in this way, they may not be aware of it.

Just as it is difficult to distinguish the difference between badly-intended behavior and stupid behavior, it is difficult to tell when a person is conscious of what is going on in their actions, including writing, and when they are unaware of what they are doing (“It’s just a song,” for example).  People may consciously write versions of their friends and relatives into their novels, but people may also write pieces of other, real people into their books, too, whether they are aware of it or not.  Maybe it happens when they think they are communing with a muse, I don’t know.

Contrived mirroring (self-conscious acts of trying to mirror someone’s behavior or attitude back to them) doesn’t have the same impact, I don’t think, as mirroring done through a deeper level of the person.  Contrived mirroring may be a technique to modify behavior, it may be a way of calling attention to itself, kind of like a friendly wave or a not- so- friendly gesture — some sort of indication of response — but I don’t see it having a very significant function in the great scheme of things.

Here’s, for me, at least, the rub:  how do you talk about the part of this that occurs unwittingly, with people who don’t “believe in it?”

One participant in the interaction cannot even tell you “where it hurts,” what is going wrong, the other claims they are not doing anything to impact the other person negatively.

People disconnected from their inner selves may actually not be aware of what they are doing, other people may have some degree of knowledge of what they are doing, but employ a defense of “deniability” — they hide behind how socially unacceptable in our culture it is to talk about any of this and claim they ain’t doin’ nothin’.

An abusive pattern can continue over and over again if neither party has a clue what is going on, just as post partum infections spread so easily in hospitals before people realized they needed wash unseen germs off their hands between examining patients.

What I think is true, however, is that we only need one member of the interactive pair to understand what is, wittingly or unwittingly, going on, to end the dysfunctional dynamic.  That person just has to tolerate being regarded as a little daft.

(Not) helping

March 11, 2013

I had a situation recently in which somebody admittedly made a mistake in a transaction.  They took some steps to rectify the mistake, but I could see that they actually easily could have done more, so that the rectification would occur sooner.

They didn’t.  They won’t.  They do what they do, which apparently includes a process for rectification that is skewed towards their interests.

What struck me, because I’ve encountered this before in much more loaded situations, is my incredulity that a person would not do what they could but would just shrug and say, in effect, “What I feel like doing, without regard for meeting the actual need or legitimate expectation I created, should be enough.  I am okay with letting the other person be not okay, even though I could help.  I can just look on and not help.  Not my problem.”  Because in some cases, the issue is not so much the timing of the rectification, but whether it is adequate to actually rectify the problem.

How do people do that?  I get when there really is nothing, or nothing more, the person could do, I don’t get it when there is something and they choose not to do it.  (I’m talking about when this happens within a preexisting relationship of some sort, not when a potential Samaritan happens by.)  I also get that that’s their prerogative, but I do then see their previous behavior differently after that happens.  I see, for example, a person who is available when they benefit, but not when the roles are reversed.  Maybe they are confused that for me, reciprocity involves meeting actual needs reciprocally, not a tit-for-tat same-kind exchange, that for me a relationship produces a pool of goodwill, not shelves of particular favors to be returned.  If a baby I’m caring for needs a diaper change, that’s what I do, I don’t just smile back at them or feed them a bottle.

Anyway, with the recent, fairly innocuous situation that arose for me, I could finally see my own incredulity that someone would just choose not to do what they could.  I guess it’s my version of not being able to take “no” for an answer in certain situations.  The kicker is when the person then has a negative reaction to my having a negative reaction to their “no.”

Expecting too much

February 27, 2013

I have been thinking about how I fall into the pitfall of expecting more than a person’s level of emotional development allows them to give.  This is in connection with a pattern of how relationships often run aground in my experience.

It’s for me the equivalent to a man at a club realizing, before it’s too late but after he has already got his hopes up, that the young woman he’s got his eye on actually is underage, just all dressed-up, all made-up to look all grown-up.

For me, the key is how I can find an alternative way of getting my needs met if structurally in my life the person in question is the one who could meet my needs.  With minor children, we use foster care and adoption when their parents can’t meet their obvious needs.  What do we do when other people in our lives can’t meet our less obvious needs?

Insisting that they do I have never found to be effective.  Walking away at least gets me out of my expectation that they will and allows me not to be damaged further.  And walking away opens up the possibility that someone else will enter my life who might.

That somebody else might even be God.

The piece I can actively work on is seeing the person more clearly the way they are, and not having unrealistic expectations.

If I can go back to my club analogy, if the other person has the trappings of maturity — older than I am or materially successful or claiming to be smart or inter-personally astute, for example — I assume a level of emotional maturity that actually turns out not to be matched by the child that they actually are operating as.  This image is actually somewhat accurate — they are operating as a child under the make-up of success or age.

The helpful thing for me is that it is pretty easy for me to have compassion for a “child,” regardless of their age and success.  I can love that damaged child, feel compassion for them.  I may not stick around to enable them to remain a child or to damage me further, but I also wish them no harm and in fact I wish them all the best, including healing.

If they lash out at me if I “leave,” whether metaphorically or literally, or if they become angry with me or even retaliate if I indicate my damage, dissatisfaction, or negative experience of them, then I can have compassion for that, too.  I’m sure I have my own moments, too.

Wrong number

December 30, 2012

I was going to write, “Sorry, wrong number,” but that wouldn’t capture what happened.

Once, years ago, a medical provider to a family member called me, thinking I was another medical provider, and I got to hear how medical providers talk to each other when there’s a problem.  It was not flattering to either of them — to the one who called or to the one he thought he had called.   (It took awhile before he would hear that I wasn’t the person he thought he had called.)

There’s a spiritual story about a man who discovers he can “call” people through their subconscious and manipulate them, like a hypnotist with a self-serving agenda.  Eventually, his mother gets curious about how he comes to amass all kinds of wealth and benefits he clearly hasn’t earned the old-fashioned way, and goes undercover like a cop on a chat site. Or maybe she is recruited out of the old-age home to figure this out on behalf of others, who feel victimized and frustrated but don’t understand what’s going on.

In any event, she engages in an interaction and ends up intercepting one of these instances of manipulative hypnotic communication.  Only, at the time, she actually isn’t aware she’s his mother or that she’s on this mission, because if she were, he would know it, too, and evade her and it.  This ignorance leaves her vulnerable to his manipulative charms, but the beauty part is that he will have a very negative reaction to her if they meet, and that will puncture the manipulation for her and allow her to reconstruct the problem and her role in dismantling it, so all she has to do is engage with him, fall for it, and then meet him on the physical plane.

She does, the illusion is exposed, and she reports back to headquarters how it is that somebody who has no idea what they are doing has come to assume positions as if he does — he is like that impostor whom we hear some people claiming a particular religious or political leader to be.

What happens next?  I’m not sure.  My suspicion is that it’s the beginning of a long process, that what will improve the situation turns out not to be trying to persuade the impostor to climb down from his pedestal, or trying to embarrass him or shame him into getting down, but, rather, trying to dismantle the pedestal piece by piece while he’s on it.  Because it’s actually the pedestal that’s the problem.  And we thank him for his service for bringing that to everyone’s attention.

Maybe I should have called this, “You can’t fool (your) Mother.”