Self-help, leadership, and motivational literature is all about getting out of ruts and expressing yourself authentically. Much like religious devotional literature, they all riff off of the same sorts of human truths. Also like devotional literature, what you connect with is often more a matter of tone than content.
I like these pithy outlines that I found on Pinterest today. They appear to be outlines from a "Crucial Conversations" workshop that Jami Breese put together in a creative and accessible manner. These notes have piqued my interest in Crucial Conversations, so I'll be keeping an eye out for potential future workshops.
I'm going to go through a couple of the ideas that I like here. Since it seems like the outlines are each in a specific order, I'll follow that order myself.
Sketch 1: #crucialconversations steps 1 & 2
This sketch makes me think of the following:
Sketch 2: #crucialconverations steps 3 & 4
Sketch 3: #crucialconversations steps 5 & 6
Sketch 4: #crucialconversations steps 7, 8, & 9
I've printed off a few copies of these for my classroom so I can keep them on hand. Perhaps I'll post them to my filing cabinet with all my other resources. And then, once I get this apartment fully set-up, once the girls are settled in their new place, I'll be able to pick up the book and possibly try to adopt some of this. Maybe just one of them. Maybe just one.
Because I'm a dork and I have two whiteboards to put up in my home so I can lay out these ideas and try to get my life back on track. Because, as much as I'd like to deny it, I'm likely a teacher through and through.
For years, I've tried to see opinions from the opinionator's perspective. When I was religious, for example, I felt it important to understand how non-religious people saw the world and deliberately sought to understand my faith from "their" perspective; now, as a secularist/humanist/whatever, I think it's important to understand and remember how religious thinking frames one's overall mindset and do my best not to dismiss religious ideas. I think I'm fairly good at maintaining two separate truths in situations like this; empathy is something I'm generally at peace with, and it tends to work for me.
However, the social media echo chamber is a legitimate concern. On Twitter, etc., it takes effort and dedication to "follow" people who piss you off. I recently came face to face with this when I unfollowed a Twitter user whose raison d'etre had morphed into an anti-feminist MRA mouthpiece. I followed them for a long time despite my differing perspectives on things, but I could no longer handle (what I saw as) their closed-minded vitriol. It's perfectly OK to close out toxic people and perspectives; it's my right to do that. Right?
However, when I unfollowed them I simultaneously closed one more door to an alternate opinion and way-of-seeing-the-world, and I'm not fully at peace with that. I hate vitriol, but I want to understand the different ways our society disenfranchises different people. As much as I tend to see Men's Rights Activists as inconceivable, misguided, entitled whiners, I still want to keep myself open to perceived injustices. That's part of their angle on the world and the more clarity I have about their perspective, the more I'd hope that I won't fall into similar entitlement traps.
I think of this a bit when I see those articles about "Who are these Trump supporters," where writers try to make sense of Donald Trump's popularity in a population of people with whom they themselves likely have very little crossover. On reflection, I realized that I do not "follow" any Trump supporters that I know of in any of my social media feeds. I have "othered" that portion of the population and chosen to view them through my chosen people. In the case of Trump, just like with MRAs, I've justified closing my feed to their perspectives because I perceive them as misguided and intellectually and empathetically shortsighted. But I don't know if that's really the right thing to do.
As somebody who values empathy, I'm also aware of its weaknesses. Empathy doesn't help in every situation, and sometimes we can mis-aim it in careless directions, or people might aim it at us when we don't need or deserve it. Empathy is important in all relationships, but it's a skill we need to hone and practice every single day.
The following quotation, embedded below, describes a situation when empathy might be a little misplaced, since people might use your empathy as a tool for injustice.
In this case, it's important to remember that even if we can see something from somebody else's perspective, it doesn't mean they can see it from your perspective. The ability to empathize could be a rather narcissistic, assumptive skill; we assume we can do it and that our perception is accurate, and this very much might not be the case. Just because we feel that we're empathizing doesn't mean we are. Empathy is a sort of essential relational delusion that brings us together under seemingly common feelings and perceptions. We need it, but it's not necessarily accurate.
I guess what I'm struggling with right now is the fact that I feel as if I empathize with numerous different people and peoples, but I could very well just be narcissistically assuming something completely off-base.
I may empathize, but there's no way to prove that I can do it.
That means I have to trust myself. If I feel like I'm working hard at it, and if I'm trying to learn and practice empathy more, I also need to develop the self-confidence to trust my perception. And trusting myself has always been a very hard thing for me.
My empathy depends on my own self-trust.
I haven't been able to afford to continue therapy with my psychologist for the last couple months, but the therapy was effective overall. There, I was able to talk through childhood to the present and identify a few common patterns and issues that have culminated to my current mindset. I am fully aware that the psychologist was just working with what I presented him during the sessions, and that I likely gave him a skewed vision of myself and others, but it was something nonetheless and gave me some data to work from.
When he first suggested that I may be "codependent," I immediately got defensive and said "no," but I've learned to pay attention to my defensiveness and decided to look into it further. When I did, I was crestfallen by the familiarity of what I read, particularly when I realized that codependent characteristics were often considered virtuous in my upbringing.
He made it very clear that I have codependent characteristics and tendencies. Based on what he heard from me, he identified my sense of responsibility for others' feelings, my willingness to sacrifice and martyr my own needs for the sake of the perceived needs of others, my habit of acquiescing to pressure in order to maintain harmony, and a few other classic codependent traits. I fit the bill.
Most importantly, we talked about personal boundaries, a topic that made me cringe. I'd associated personal boundaries with selfishness until I read about them in Nonviolent Communication, and I couldn't even make sense of them for a while in the therapy room. And I've been working through this, concussing myself through my childhood indoctrination, and it's tough.
I don't mean to be cyber-redundant. I've tried to write about them here, and I tried to talk about them here, but I don't think I've got a full grasp on them yet,
But I think I've figured out two very important personal boundaries for me:
I'm working on it. It's hard. But I'm getting there.
I admit that privilege is a thing: as a white, cisgendered, middle class, educated male, I have some privileges that others don't have to deal with. Even as I tentatively plan to go back overseas in a few years, I am keenly aware of the privilege I will carry with me, and chances are I will use that privilege to my advantage. My white, male forbears have set up the world for my success, and have even provided excuses for me if fail. Lucky me.
One of the most discouraging things about having privilege is the fact that there's no way to escape it. Once I've admitted to it, it becomes an immediate, abstract, indefinable burden. My privilege becomes a weak structural support for any argument, a fallacy that I can't escape. If ever somebody doesn't like what I have to say or think, they can make an appeal to privilege and I will likely shut up, not wishing to create a power imbalance. For a sensitive person, the "You think that way because of your privilege" is an effective silencer; I don't want to contribute to the social structures that put me in this position, but my inherent privilege makes it impossible to escape the attack. Silence is the only option.
I'm already feeling stuck in the cycle as I'm trying to discuss it and want to abort this post right now, but I'd like to try to explain the problem I find myself in right now:
I admit that I have privilege, but I'm getting weary of trying to find a way around it. There's a cycle of powerlessness associated with all "You're privileged" attacks. "Privilege" and "enabling," both legitimate, real psychological and social phenomena, can also be used to silence and disempower. I don't know how to articulate this without digging myself into a hole, but perhaps I can do it with a bulleted dialogue:
But I also believe that we need to hear individual voices, that understanding one another comes first. Accusations of "privilege" should not be used as an argumentative bludgeoning stick. Any accusation that decreases empathy and sympathy will breed resentment because they take away agency, take away a voice. Privilege is a real thing, but using is as a tool to derail arguments, to silence ideas, or to decrease the power of empathy, seems like a misuse of the term.
Of course, I'm probably using my own privilege to redefine the term in a way that benefits me.
And the cycle continues.
I've been enjoying taking bite-sized intellectual chunks out of The Book of Life for the last few weeks. Here's how they describe themselves:
WHAT IS THE BOOK OF LIFE[?]
That's pretty stankin' ambitious. I like it. It's an easy "food for thought" source for when I'm hungry for thought-food. And although I may not agree at times, I enjoy it.
Most appealing to me at this moment is their advocacy for what they call "The Melancholy Position" in relationships. On their entry for "Loyalty and Adultery," they write,
There is in a sense only one answer of sorts, and it can be called the Melancholy Position because it confronts the sad truth that in certain key areas of human existence, there simply are no good solutions. If we embraced the Melancholy Position from the start, we would need new, sadder, vows to exchange with our partners in order to stand a sincere chance of mutual fidelity over a lifetime. Certainly something far more cautionary and downbeat than the usual platitudes would be in order – for example: ‘I promise to be disappointed by you and you alone. I promise to make you the sole repository of my regrets, rather than to distribute them widely through multiple affairs and a life of sexual Don Juanism. I have surveyed the different options for unhappiness, and it is you I have chosen to commit myself to.’ These are the sorts of generously pessimistic and kindly unromantic promises that couples should make to each other at the altar.
This is something I can connect with a little. I understand that "there are no good solutions." I have meandered through a few of these this year where I've encountered, enabled, and instigated problems that cause heartbreak all round, where no solution brings anybody out on top. And week after week I find myself more and more resolved to Melancholy because none of the other solutions look particularly appealing. If there was a good solution for my problems, I'd embrace it. But there isn't one.
As I take responsibility for the social and mental places I've put myself, my desire to make music and art has plummeted. Perhaps if I can embrace the Melancholy Position, I can rebuild my relationships with my partner, my friends, my self. I know that some artists have been able to embrace the heartbreak and change in their lives to create something beautiful.
I'm not a romantic. I don't revel in my sadness and heartbreak. Even when I stumble into sulkiness, I don't do it as a personal expression in order to show people how sad I am. But as a non-romantic, perhaps I can jive with my musical side again if I can just embrace the Melancholy and build from there, to build from a place where I know that things won't change that much, where a singular step forward is always a comparatively important one.
But I can't fully embrace the Melancholy Position yet. I still have a bunch of self-help and psychology to get through and I'd like to get through all of this in as methodically as I possibly can.
YouTube: ephemeral ideas
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