Archive for the 'reciprocity' Category

Ulterior goal affects the experience

March 11, 2015

If I am merciful with the goal of having others show mercy towards me, I will have a quite different experience from the experience I will have if I am merciful for the sake of being merciful.  I think the latter gives rise to more peace within the person, more openness, and less baggage that gets in the way.  Of course, it’s a whole other situation if the situation from the get-go was entered into on the understanding that there would be reciprocity.  And it’s a (different) whole other situation if the situation once entered into is clearly one in which reciprocity is the norm and hence to be expected.  (In addition, if person A has no ability to be merciful, it also doesn’t mean, it seems to me, that they will not be shown mercy.)

Pace Rohr.  Or maybe I’ve misunderstood what he’s saying.

I just think it is too limiting to think of being merciful while one is thinking about whether others will show one mercy.  They may not, but that, I think, is a separate issue, to be dealt with, but not in terms of whether one is oneself merciful;  the decision, to the extent it is a decision, to be merciful has more to do with one’s own capacity, in general and in the specific situation, it seems to me.

My meager understanding of religions is that Hindus are more oriented towards an open-ended attitude than Buddhists or Christians are, who seem to tie together one’s own doings with their possible consequences.


Do it just because it’s better to have done it

October 13, 2014

I was reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditation, and I had a reaction to the idea he talked about and illustrated with a quotation of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel, about not judging and then not being judged, not condemning and then not be condemned, etc.

Father Rohr doesn’t seem to be saying we do these things in order to obtain them in return, so I am not criticizing what I read.

But it made me think that what I seem to learn from my own life is to do these things because it seems to be the better course — there seems to be less friction and more progress, but I don’t necessarily “get back” what I “give out.”

For me, this realization is important because I tend to get hung up on “What am I doing wrong?”  when the issue may well be a lesson in “You can do your part fine, but you don’t have control over how others do theirs, and all of you collectively may even do everything fine, but the situation may still come out in a way you don’t like.”  [There are other possible explanations, including that one is facilitating a problematic exchange between two other people, who without the facilitation would never have any exchange with each other at all.  And of course, sometimes the answer may very well be that I am doing something wrong — but just as one can be too thin or too rich, I have found that barking up the virtuous tree of self-correction isn’t helpful if it’s actually the wrong tree, if it’s really not about that — one can overdo self-correction, too.  A simplistic model — such as the answer is always self-correction — may well be inaccurate, as inaccurate as a model that it’s always somebody else’s fault.]

I think for me it’s a subset of faith, to do the not judging and the giving, etc., and to trust that that contributes to the greater good, even when the feedback is less than clear-cut.

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.

“Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses”

February 6, 2014

Someone in my family of origin used to say that as we got into the car after some sort of trying time — either what we were going home from had taken a long time and been arduous or unpleasant, or we had had to park far away and it had taken us a long time to get back to the car, perhaps in inclement weather, or we needed to get home quickly for some reason.  In any case, it expressed relief.

I can’t remember who said it.  I suspect it was my mother, and I suspect she said it regardless of whether my father was driving or he was not along on the excursion and she was driving.  It contained no condescension or disrespect, the way it was said and used.  As I said, it expressed relief.

It’s quite a different scenario from what Charles Blow describes in his column about his daughter trying out a princess routine when she was 7.  The role she had cast him in was unacceptable and so was hers.  He put an end to the script.  But the contrast of these two scenarios, along with others I have experienced, got me thinking about calibration, about how we are each calibrated emotionally and how that factors into how we perceive a situation.

When everyone’s expectations are the same, we probably don’t bother analyzing driving arrangements.  Sometimes one person prefers to drive and the other to navigate, and “who’s to navigate and who’s to steer” (Dan Fogelberg) is quite clear to both.  Sometimes one person supplies logistical support and the other supplies tactical support of a less concrete kind.  One drives, the other analyzes how to navigate difficult career situations.  In others words, there is specialization within the realtionship, and driving is just another specialized task.

Willy drove.  I did most of the snow shoveling, leaf raking, and lawn mowing.  It was not a “princess” deal.  But I’ve had people react to providing a ride for me, regardless of whether I’ve provided them with something else of equal or greater value, as if it was quite presumptuous of me, as if I were acting entitled in a very unattractive way.   For them my expectation felt that way.  For me it made sense.  For example, if it had been their idea to go to the event and I was coming along to keep them company.  No, I’m not going to do that and drive, too, especially if I don’t really have the time to go, I’m not all that interested in the event itself, and going will result in some amount of physical difficulty for me.  But they sincerely thought my expectation that they would drive was wrong.  It’s hard to argue with that.

Finally, people with narcissistic qualities regularly perceive any help they are asked to furnish, that does not profit them more than the person being helped, as an imposition.  That I’ve learned over the years.  They, too, I think, truly process a request others would find eminently reasonable, as an imposition by a selfish person.  Their well is dry, and that’s that.  What can you do?

So I try now to let go faster situations in which I and the other person don’t see the driving issue the same way.  If they don’t see that I contribute, or have contributed, something to their benefit and this driving would be a contribution to my benefit, well, then, I guess I goofed in thinking we could be on the same page.  That’s on me, disappointment or not.  I don’t berate myself for “allowing someone to take advantage of me,” either, I figure there might have been a way in which our interaction has served the greater good, whatever the likes and disappointments of my ego may be.

I did a lot for Willy and he did a lot for me.  We never weighed it out and discussed it, it just worked.  In retrospect, I can see it was probably more unusual than I had realized that it worked without discussion — I just took it for granted that it was the normal way people interacted with one another.

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

Cleaning up after others

November 16, 2013

I took in my garbage cans and recycling bins this morning.  The yard waste hadn’t been collected yet.  Instead, it had been added to.

Someone put very old Christmas decorations on top of one of the garbage cans I use for some of my yard waste.  It turned out to be a wreath and some sort of garland.  I clipped off the plastic cords and labels.  Jordan put them on the ground next to the can so that at least the collection folks will take our leaves.

The issue is that there’s a collection date (one) for Christmas trees and, I think, these other kinds of evergreen decorations.  It comes in early January.  I don’t know that they will be accepted as part of the regular collection program.  If not, then I’ve got somebody else’s detritus to dispose of, kind of like a game of hot potato.

It is more interesting to me than just that sort of potential hassle, because of the discussion about whether people with good health and particular lifestyles should need to contribute to the same insurance pool as people with bad health and lifestyles that contribute to their ill health — do we help clean up after others?

I’d say part of the answer has to do with, simply, whether we can and whether we are better positioned to provide the help than the other person.  If we can provide it, in some way that is effective and does not harm ourselves, I think we should at least try.  I think it’s a continuum, between no cost to ourselves and some cost to ourselves, and that different people draw a line in different places.

How it feels to other people (and a little about free will)

October 23, 2013

I have wondered for a while whether some people perceive things with a different calibration system from mine.

For example, if I help them with their art project and let them take some of my supplies, are they going to feel put upon if I ask them for help on mine and the of use of some of their supplies?  Does it feel to them in that situation as it would feel to me if someone asked for my help and supplies out of the blue and without any idea of returning the favor in any way or having any on-going relationship to me?

I think some people actually feel indignant when they are asked to do unto others as the others have done unto them.  They seem to be very emotionally invested in an assumption that the system should be asymmetrical.  I don’t know why they feel a need for things to be that way.  I suspect that any change in outlook would have to come out of a change at a deeper level, such that they would no longer feel diminished by giving back.

I can find some compassion for a person who has such a hungry need, but I don’t have to try to feed it.  Eventually they usually explode or go away once I stand up for myself and insist on equality.  That wasn’t, apparently, what they had in mind, despite anything they may have said or despite social norms about relationships.  My contribution to the misunderstanding may seeing them as other than as they are (and accepting their own version of themselves for too long) and expecting them to do something they don’t do, or it may just be having been coerced by them to help them, that has happened, too.

Whether they could engage in reciprocity I don’t know, but it raises an interesting question about the existence of free will.  When I see things with compassion, I find myself folding “a will to not reciprocate” into “an inability to do better than having a will not to reciprocate” — in other words, I see them as not being able to do better than to assert their will in this way.  So from that approach I don’t see any free will.  In terms of what is actually going on when people think they are using free will, well, everything we tell ourselves is some kind of story.  We always have, in secular thought, the position of a participant on the field, we are never seeing the whole picture from the perspective of an outsider.

A continuum

October 22, 2013

Giving a gift, reciprocal giving, profiting, profiteering, behaving greedily, embezzling.

I think these postures all exist on the same continuum.  They have to do with where we draw the line between our self and others with regard to sharing and exchange.

One of the flaws, in my opinion, with many popular forms of conservatism (whether it’s an inherent flaw with conservatism, I haven’t thought through) is that it focuses on the perceived shortcomings of other people.  Conservatives would do well to keep the focus on the self.

The other people are deemed takers, apparently, not makers.

Making may be all well and good, and even necessary and wonderful, but it matters what else is accompanying it.  Once we get beyond reasonable profits, in my list, I think we’ve got a problem.  I think we’ve created a wobble in the spin that will eventually make the system collapse and turn into a different system.

It’s easier, maybe, to see the problem at the level of relationships between individuals.  Relationships with people who take emotional support from another and never provide it, for example, collapse.  The person who has given and not received may collapse or they may figure out what’s happening before they collapse and leave or get the emotional support elsewhere.  Or it may be that friend who always asks for a more tangible favor but never does one in return.  Eventually that relationship founders.  It may be the spouse put through med school who then divorces the spouse who worked to pay the bills.  It could be the kid with the bike who takes the money to buy the sodas at the store a mile away but drinks them all before they get back to the group.

In some way there is exploitation.

At a personal level we probably don’t endorse this kind of behavior, either, whether or not we engage in it.

Why, then, should the same basic dynamic be acceptable or even laudable at the level of the group?  And why should we expect it not to have a negative impact on the functioning of the group as a whole?

Moral codes rail against greed for a reason.

Capitalism without greed I think is a very different beast from capitalism with greed, especially greed that is not even recognized by the people whose behavior is rife with it.  Conservatives, in my opinion, seem to confuse and conflate the two systems, how they work, and whether they are morally defensible.

Betrayal and revisiting the past

October 7, 2013

I came across the piece in the NYTimes on betrayals and lying late in the game yesterday, after the comments had closed.  (It’s called “Great Betrayals” and is written by Anna Fels.)  Which maybe is a good thing, because my experience of having to consider a revisit to the past, in order to revise it in light of later information, was not really about lying.  It was about an abrupt change in a very close relationship on account of our having adopted children with African heritage — a close relative of the person in question insisted that they break with me and my family because of them.

In addition to having feelings of incredulity and hurt to process, I found myself wondering how to look at the twenty-five years of history I had had with this person (from the time I was a child, until well into my thirties).  Did I know them?  Had I ever really known them?  All those long conversations over so many years, over so many cups of tea, I think I thought I did know them and had known them.   But clearly there were other aspects to them which I hadn’t known.  Had I known about them, I don’t think we would have been so close, and certainly I would have been more prepared for the relationship to end over the adoptions, and would have tried for it not to have been so abrupt.

Intimacy premised on incomplete or inaccurate understanding — the flaw in the understanding certainly explains why the intimacy ends.  Does it somehow invalidate the intimacy as it happened?  No, I think the intimacy was real, it was just that the person was an illusion.  Kind of like the concept of “Mama’s Bank Account” (by Kathryn Forbes), you rely on something that is not really there but it benefits you to think it is.

(I know, some people think this is what God is, too, but I actually find God a whole lot more reliable than human beings — if we’re going to use reliability as a measure of existence, for me, humans wouldn’t “exist” first.)

Anyway, I do think the intimacy is real, and in the case in question, that the relationship allowed me to experience a love which I am sure helped me grow into a healthier person than I otherwise would have been.  That, in turn, allowed me to handle my life more easily, including when this relationship ended.

To me, the hard part are the transitions, the beginnings of “moving on,” when there is no obvious next such relationship.  I think I’ve actually tried to replicate this past relationship a number of times since it ended.  They all end similarly, with the person’s commitment to me being much more vulnerable to being sacrificed to other needs than either the person or I realize.

What’s the lesson I’m not learning?  Maybe, as my friend Kelley from high school used to say, “Take what you can when you can and be grateful,”  maybe not to expect relationships to last indefinitely, and maybe to try not to give more than I can comfortably give as a gift.

As to what people might learn from reevaluating a relationship after a lie has been revealed, maybe it’s similar to what I’ve described for this other pattern of surprise and hurt.  And maybe both such kinds of experiences serve as ways of breaking the ties that bind, so that we can move on to new relationships or move on to a life oriented towards something else.