Archive for the 'patterns' Category

A variant that worked

July 11, 2015

Yesterday morning Jordan left the house before I left to take a walk around the Res.  Some documents had come in the mail that I needed first to photocopy so I could scan both sides, and then to scan and attach to emails and send off to multiple parties, making sure the attachments were not too big for my commercial email server’s settings and making sure that my email program was not inserting an email address other than the ones I intended.  Then I filed away those papers, and a couple of others I had put off filing because it meant moving around stacks of cartons of files in the attic, so by the time I got out of the house, Jordan had been gone for a while.

So Jordan reached me by cell phone as I got to the Res, and he asked if it was okay if he invited a couple of friends over in the evening, to play boardgames and card games, and whether one of them could do a load of laundry in our machines while he was over, and I said it was fine, after reviewing what Jordan needed to do that day.  So when Jordan asked when I thought I would be back, I thought he was calculating when he was going to do something or other, either a chore or some prep for the game night, that he wanted to do before I returned.  I told him I thought I’d be another hour, and I didn’t pay the exchange much mind.  He had said, earlier in the conversation when I had asked where he was, that he was coming up the hill to the house from the bus stop.

And I took a glorious walk.  Saw a Great Blue Heron flapping over the water, saw small dark fish with iridescent tails in the shallows of the water near the shore, clambered down to the shore in less accessible places that seemed to have things that needed to be seen, found a sea shell and saw a rabbit.

So I get back to my house, climb the front steps up to the porch, and notice, as I am fumbling for my keys, Jordan’s messenger bag on one of the chairs.  And then I notice other stuff on the middle chair, and no, not Goldilocks in the third chair, but Jordan himself — he hadn’t left his things on the porch by mistake, but he was there with his iPad doing his millennial generation screen engagement thing.  I was a little surprised to see him sitting there.

I thought he had taken his key with him when he had left, but, as I learned, he had forgotten to.

After we clarified that, he said, “I didn’t want to tell you because I wanted you to take your time and enjoy your walk.”

I generally don’t like being deceived, and sometimes an attempt involving deceiving me has backfired royally, as when someone says they will come and help in some way, perhaps thinking that that sense of back-up will encourage me to do more myself and that by then I won’t need their help.  When the person doesn’t follow through, I have found my reliance on the promise and my continuing need for the help to be a difficult combination to deal with.  The reliance produces a shift in me that is difficult to undo sometimes.

But Jordan’s variant on this mix of inducing an attitude on my part and not being completely straightforward actually worked for me.  I had a great walk.

Jordan was absolutely correct that had I known he had forgotten his key, I would have been at best somewhat distracted.  It’s summer and he’s 23, so I wouldn’t have worried, but his waiting for me so as to be able to get back in the house would have been in the back of my mind to some extent, and I might not have taken as much time as I did on my walk and in my explorations and gazing, even though it turned out that I got back from my activities in the amount of time I had estimated it would take me and which Jordan had accepted without any discussion.

For me, this was an iteration of a pattern that had been quite painful rearranged into something quite pleasant, including my appreciation of Jordan’s considerateness and thoughtfulness and that he knows his mom and her issues.

That this episode involved someone returning home and another person waiting for the return had resonance for me, reminding me of a tradition of stories in which someone is told that someone will be coming back.  I had been thinking recently of a version of such a story, in which the little girl left at an outpost in the wilderness would have been much better off without the promise of a return by the grown-up, who told her he’d come back in part to make himself feel better and in part because he didn’t realize she had better coping tools than a false promise.  So my experience of a deceit involving a return home and a wait in which the elements have been reshuffled to produce happiness all around meant a lot to me — I like to think it reflects that progress of some sort is being made.

And Jordan had brought back with him to share with me a free chocolate candy bar that he had been given at a table in front of a yoga studio near his gym.  Priceless.


August 11, 2014

I was having this conversation last night with someone, about some arrangements we have for a trip which includes a bunch of business and logistical tasks I will help them with.  They told me that maybe the arrangements would be different from what we had planned together.  Some of the differences arise out of circumstances beyond their control, some not.  In neither case was I asked for my views or response to the impact on me of the changes, and they did not even acknowledge that there would be a negative impact in both cases.

So I took issue with the lack of acknowledgment.  I observed that they did not seem to take into account what it was like to be in my shoes.  They did not deny it at all.  They went on about how they do what they want and just “express [themselves] as the spirit moves them.”  I suggested as politely as possible that adults are expected to edit themselves, and especially their behavior.  And they said that they don’t because their mother made them feel like a puppet.

I knew their mother.  She never made me feel like a puppet, but then again I wasn’t her child.

The detail behind “feeling like a puppet” was something about be expected to feel about a thing the way the mother felt about it.

So I actually got interested in the explanation in a way that distracted me from my irritation with the behavior that had sparked the discussion;  I was fascinated by the explanation that not putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is the response to feeling forced to see things and feel things the way another does.

My interlocutor sees cause and effect, and maybe it’s there, but I can see simple repetition of the same pattern:  the “I” does not take others into account as full-fledged human beings.

In some ways, if there is cause and effect, my interlocutor is claiming, in a sense, that their mother turned them into Pinocchio, a wooden puppet.  I find that fascinating, because I had previously thought of that story as showing the need for passing through developmental stages in a positive direction, starting from a difficult spot.  I had not thought about Pinocchio as representing a phase arrived at through regression, which is what my interlocutor seemed to be claiming:  they could take others into account but they did not, in order to demonstrate (I think to themselves) that they had their own feelings.

This may be common knowledge in psychological circles, but it was an eye-opener to me, experiencing the not taking of others into account as a way of making the self more visible, or as even a protest.

As I said, maybe it’s objectively true, that the person got squelched as a child by their mother.  I experienced this person’s mother as much warmer than this person themselves, but I’m not sure what that means.   I also didn’t know this person when they were a child  —  perhaps they really were different back then, before they began to feel like somebody else’s puppet.  I think I am somewhat suspicious of the narrative this person uses to explain how they got to be the way they are.  But I would very much regret claiming it wasn’t so, since for all I know it could actually be an accurate description of what happened.

When I feel as though my voice is not being heard and I am not being taken into account, I don’t feel the urge to not take others into account and not to listen to them  —  I think, rather, when it comes up, “Let me listen, because I know how it feels not to be heard, let me think about how things are for the other person, it’s so painful to be treated as if one were of no account.”

Why do some people seem to turn to wood and some people seem to have a different reaction?

I think about Apollo and Daphne and I think about people feeling they have lost their voice and become immured, turned to wood.  I have wondered what all that represents.  I have wondered about the different survival mechanisms different people develop when they intuit in situations that trying to insist on being heard is not safe.  I know I have my own.  I guess where I come out on all this is that recognizing a survival skill for what it is may help us move beyond that behavioral response in new situations in which our survival is not at stake.


Damage and intention

July 26, 2014

Maybe it’s a result having gone to law school, but I can easily distinguish the issue of a person’s intent from the issue of the impact of their behavior on others.  In tort law, as I recall it, we talked about the different standards that might be used when deciding whether to hold a person legally responsible — there were standards such as strict liability and negligence, not to mention a standard with regard to when someone intentionally causes damage.  There was also the issue I heard called “weak intentionality,” when we talk about how some consequences, say, of flailing your arm in a crowded subway car, are reasonably foreseeable and we deem them foreseen.

So I get kind of frustrated with people who say, “I could not have caused damage because I harbored no ill-intent.”  I am not talking about whether I can forgive a specific instance, I am talking about trying to improve a chronic pattern of behavior within a relationship so that I do not feel that I am hurting myself by participating in the relationship.

What interests me is my sense that the other person cannot tolerate the idea that their behavior has an impact beyond or different from the one they intend.  That’s what seems to me to be behind what can come across as callousness — the denial allows them to keep their sense of self as never causing damage and hence never having to _______  —  I don’t actually know what it is they don’t want to do, but I sense that they predicate something on their sense of a self who doesn’t cause damage — maybe what they don’t want is having to do something they don’t want to do or that helps the other person but not themselves directly.

I’ve wondered if something like this pattern is going on when a person is confronted by a situation in which they really are helpless to help another.  Then, I am thinking, maybe, to tolerate that pain, they extend the idea of helplessness in that particular context, under an umbrella of “my behavior doesn’t negatively impact others so long as I am well-intentioned,” to many other situations in which they actually could do something more helpful.

But, if you forget to pick up the baby formula on the way home, the baby goes hungry, regardless of whether the intent was good, bad, or indifferent, or medically explicable (in which case you should not have signed up for the task).  That’s my point.

Don’t know, I am not a psychologist, but I do get the sense of trying to teach people the difference between intention and damage.


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.

Compare and contrast

March 17, 2014

I made a quip the other day in a reply to what I think was somebody complimenting my ability to distinguish different situations accurately according to what makes them the same or different.  I said something to the effect that sometimes having been trained to think like a lawyer comes in handy.

In law school students learn to distinguish a case from precedents and to try to harmonize seemingly disparate cases.  I think it is probably just a more intensive form of “compare and contrast,” which I think we all learn to do at some level.

It’s not as simplistic as dualism — in which there are only two categories.  With compare & contrast there can be many categories and gradations, there can be a continuum, there can be multiple axes and dimensions along which things are evaluated.

Compare & contrast I think is one skill involved in finding patterns.  It is probably related to metaphorical thinking, as it involves the use of analogies often.  Maybe it’s a bridge between dualism and unitary thinking, I don’t know, but I have thought that my learning to think like a lawyer, in the Anglo-American tradition and Roman law traditions, is not irrelevant to where I’ve ended up, although I think my first choice was learning such techniques through the study of Jewish law.

In for a penny

January 28, 2014

I have in mind the saying, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

I was thinking about it in connection with a story I heard about a genie who kept abusing his power with respect to the person who had uncorked him.

At first he may actually have been unaware of the true impact of his interaction with this person.

He may also have done what he did on purpose, when he realized the “wrong” person had opened the bottle;  that is, someone who couldn’t really help him in return.  Of course, he was flawed and somewhat deceitful himself;  why he expected to be paired with someone who did not mirror that back, the story doesn’t say.

Then, the story goes, at some point he became aware that he was doing something harmful and he became acutely embarrassed, even ashamed, thinking this indicated some fault in himself he could not erase.

So he began to embrace an image of himself that was, at its heart, a consequence of his feeling bad about what had happened.  He wore black, he cultivated a rogue/outlaw image.  And he kept repeating the damaging behavior.

This was the “in for a penny, in for a pound” part.  He believed he was irredeemable.  He believed the person would not forgive him at that point.

The person actually, more than anything, just wanted the harm to stop.  In fact, the person was so harmed, they couldn’t speak for themselves and ask.  They sent someone else to ask on their behalf.  The genie didn’t recognize them, since, of course, they were not the person with whom he had the relationship.  Eventually, though, the genie became open to hearing the plea.

When he realized that just stopping now was in itself a good thing (perhaps even a significant good thing), and that perhaps eventually the harmed person would let go of any resentment, once they were in better shape, he stopped.

I think the concept of being “damned for all time” is a self-generated one, I don’t think the universe thinks in those terms, thinks at all, for that matter.  Things happen, some do cause harm, each party must then figure out a path forward.  There is grace for when that isn’t enough and it serves their greater good and the greater good in general to add some “outside” help to the situation.  I think people need to feel that there is always the possibility of forgiveness, at least at some level, even if another person directly involved can’t find it in themselves at the moment.  Moments pass.  When we feel better, maybe we can locate that forgiveness after all, unless we have willfully decided not to.  The problematic behavior does need to stop, though, for most of us to feel better enough to do this.

So the genie reforms his behavior, the other person eventually feels better, and in the ensuing iterations of the story, something else happens between them instead of the harmful behavior.  Perhaps both of them become satisfied with these next iterations, perhaps not, but they are making progress.


January 15, 2014

I found myself in Belmont Center yesterday.  I apparently hadn’t been there for years, because every time I asked shopkeepers about changes, they told me “about three years ago.”  Without Bildner’s (a grocery store) and Filene’s (a department store; the Macy’s replacement just wasn’t the same, and now the location is empty) and Charlesbank Books, it ceased to be a particularly beckoning destination for us.

I saw a gorgeous scarf.  It’s more of a shawl, it’s wool, cream colored with pinkish paisley, and it’s, tastefully, beaded.  It was not cheap, but nor was it unreasonably priced.  I braced myself and got out my cash.

The salesperson rang it up with sales tax, so what she asked me for was noticeably higher than the tag price.  I said, “But it’s clothing” [and so shouldn’t be subject to sales tax], and she and her colleague said, “It’s an accessory” [and hence taxable].  I inferred that my choices were to pay what they were charging or to put it back, and I went with Option A.

When I got home and had eaten lunch, I went to my computer and googled “scarves sales tax ma,” or something to that effect, and sure enough, it’s exempt from tax, according to a state government document I found right away.  Right there grouped with neckwear and ties.

I called the store, they were very nice, told me if I came back with the receipt, they would give me back the tax.  Which I did.  We had a lovely conversation, quite friendly.  I recalled I had actually been through this at least once before, with shawls sold by an antique store that used to be in Brattle Square in Arlington.  I think shops that don’t sell primarily clothing are more apt to make this mistake.  (This shop in Belmont told me, “That’s the way it comes up in ‘the system.'”  I won’t get started on my technology issues here.)

Why I bring this up is that I don’t think I could have gotten any further at the time of purchase than I got.  There was no willingness to entertain the issue at that point.  They, not surprisingly, had a computer, but I don’t think it would have been effective to have asked them to go online and check.  I ended up expending the extra time and gas to go back, but c’est la vie, it didn’t take long and it’s not that far.

This resonated for me with other encounters, including formal meetings with bureaucratic officials, I’ve had, where afterwards, I wonder why I didn’t press my case further.  The scarf situation didn’t have much emotional overlay to it, paying the extra money was not fraught with anything in particular — it was just money, enough that I noticed, not so much as to be upsetting — so I could see more easily that there really wasn’t an opening to pursue the issue further at the moment.  It made me feel better about similar experiences in past situations, reassuring that I probably really hadn’t missed real opportunities.

“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.

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.