Is it fair to puncture someone’s anger with active listening?

Writing to understand

I’ve been writing myself into this this morning.

Does active listening work? And who for?

When someone is angry, and we are genuinely curious about what led to their anger, won’t they calm down?

Is active listening fair?

Do they have any other choice?  If they have no choice, are we bullying them?  Do they lose out, in real terms or in psychological terms, when we really listen to them?

Will passive-aggressives let you listen to them?  Won’t that spoil their fun?

Of course, someone who is in the habit of passive-aggression, or who habitually plays a “double-bind”, might be very disconcerted.  They might feel deprived.  But how long will that last?  I think we need some clinical psychologists to comment on that!

Aren’t misunderstandings the key to getting along?

Earlier today, I wrote on the value of misunderstandings. If we go around the world looking for misunderstandings, relishing them, enjoying them, then aren’t we able to listen to people who seem to blunder from one misunderstanding to another?

So what can we do about people who enjoy being angry?

To give my thoughts a more real-world test, I ran my mind over several people I know who really enjoy being angry. It is their modus operandi.  I think they would prefer not to be.  But they daren’t not be.

When we listen to persistently angry people, they won’t let us listen.

They quickly side-step any inquiry about who they are or what they want from life.

Yes, we do have to hear their anger first.

  • We have first to deal with the immediate situation that has got them going.
  • And then the general situation about what made them feel disrespected by the world.
  • And then with what is deeply valuable about their contribution to our well-being.

Modern day maths helps explain being in love with anger

The maths of phase-states might help. This is a relatively new form of maths for me and I hope I don’t mis-explain or misunderstand it.

When we are healthy, we loop about through all moods  adjusting to reality and because of reality.  It makes no more sense to be permanently cheerful than it does to be permanently angry.

Systems flip out of control though.

We can get in a rut where we use a very limited range of emotions.  We go in circles, rather literally when our moods are drawn on a graph.

And when we are in a very bad way, we get stuck on a single point.  Let’s assume that people who are in a very bad way will get the help of a professional and put them aside for a moment. We don’t help them on a day-to-day basis.

Let’s just think about ourselves when we flip out of the swooping 3D butterfly that is normal and healthy and limit ourselves to an endless repetition of happy-sad, happy-sad, never growing and doomed to repeat ourselves rather precisely, often in the sad belief that this is normal.

Still thinking in numbers and graphs ~ it is quite normal to have fluctuations – a zig zag – Zig zags will remain and it is unhealthy when they are not there. Remember that!  The first sign of ill heath is the lack of a zig-zag – you know like the line on the heart monitor – when there is no zig zag you are dead!

Let’s keep using that as an analogy. Imagine your pulse is racing. We want it to slow down to a more normal level – for the graph to point downwards. For the line to move downwards, it must zig zag down. It is the zig-zagging that brings it down. If it was dead straight down you would wonder where it will stop – your instinct, and accurate instinct – is that you must slow-down the freefall – you’ll introduce some zig-zagging in other words!

We don’t wnat the zig zag to be so wild that we can’t zig afte a zag, or vice versa. But it should zig zag.

That’s why misunderstandings are so important.

Misunderstandings, however uncomfortable, reveal what is “true and good and better and possible”.  They are zig which we can turn into a zag.  And after a while we realize the line is going up (more mental health) as we muddle along.

Endless circles

People get on an endless repetitive circle when they shut down negative feeling rather than explore it.

And they shut it down, when no one believes in them enough to listen to them. Learning ends and they repeat themselves in an effort to be heard.

If only someone somewhere would just listen!

If only someone somewhere would afford them the respect of assuming their temper tantrum is about something important!

If only someone somewhere would give them the respect of assuming that their temper tantrum is valid because they are valid.

Then they have a chance of learning from the zag.

And we would too.  Misunderstandings tell us a lot when we start by assuming the other person’s point of view is valid.

I hope that active listening is not unfair

I hope I don’t spoil the day of the passive-aggressives.

No that is not quite true! When they are annoying me, I probably do hope I spoil their day because they are making mine worse.

But from the luxury of a sunny English autumn morning, I hope I don’t spoil their day. I just want them to be happy. I don’t mind that they are angry. Anger is a legitimate emotion. I just want to say that to them. It is OK. Be angry. We understand.  You are still important to us . You are still one of us.

Endless curiosity

And being endlessly curious, I’ll learn what they are about and why they are so important to our story on this earth.

Irrepressible enthusiasm. Damn, you can’t keep an exuberant person down!

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Misunderstandings are so informative!

We are what we say and do

When your eyes are tired, no part of the world can find you  . . .”  so says poet, David Whyte.  David Whyte doesn’t blog, but he has unwittingly captured the essence of the blogging and the inature of the internet age courtesy of Larry and Sergei at Google.

This was a massive insight prior to the Google search engine.  In today’s world, anything & everything we do leaves a trace – a picture, a comment, a blog post.

That worries many people. And sometimes it should. Just because Google says “first do no evil”, does not mean that there is no evil out ther.e

But if we don’t do, if we sit at home talking to no one, then there is no one and nothing to be found.

People looking for ideas, explanation, activity, colloboration – even things – only discover us if we have left a trace.

The search words that bring you to my blog tell me a lot about you .  .  . and me

The search words that bring people to our blogs bring that home.  People search for strange things.  Many people want to take a test to find out if they are good looking.  This sentence may draw them to this post.

Simply, people don’t discover us for what we think we said.  They discover us for what they think we said. And if we didn’t say it, there is nothing to discover.  We are don’t exist. We are simply not there!

We have two choices:

  • Be silent and be, well not ignored, but not known at all.
  • Be misunderstood and be noticed.

Surely the latter is better.  When someone has noticed, then we can can engage in a conversation.  And they way they misunderstand us tells us heaps about them.

Misunderstandings are so informative!

Enjoy.  Maybe we should keep a curiosity diary.  What really surprised me today and what I should ask some more questions about?

 

5 important features of happiness

Happy people live longer

Image by M@rg via Flickr

Critical thinking must be rigorous. Otherwise it is just negative

I set up a comprehensive Google alert for happiness and I saw two reports today saying that thinking about happiness makes us miserable.

I don’t think these reports meant to be ironical.  I think they meant to be critical, in a rigorous way.  But frankly unless you are rigorous, then being critical is just proving the point – being negative for the sake of being negative.

5 points about happiness

I think it is helpful to repeat five points about happiness.

Emotion is highly contagious

Yes, emotion is highly contagious.  It spreads from one person to another like wildfire.  We carry it with us from one situation to another.

Negative emotions are more virulent than positive emotions.  When something goes wrong, as it will from moment to moment, we do have to make a special effort not to project our dismay to the next situation, which, after all, might not have bothered us had the last five minutes been fun!

Some people are highly emotional intelligent

Some people are more ’emotionally intelligent’ than others.  Of course they are.  Why wouldn’t we vary in our capacity to read emotions?  Why wouldn’t we vary in our ability to distinguish between what we were feeling about the problem five minutes ago, from what we are feeling about the situation we are confronted with now?  Why wouldn’t we vary in our confidence and experience of emotional situations?

Emotional literacy is learned

Emotional literacy can be learned.  Of course it can.   We have trained our children from time immemorial to understand and display emotion.  It is called good manners, character, backbone and all sorts of other things as well.

I was taught emotional literacy in school as well as at home.  After all from 5 to 17. we spend a good part of our time in school.  In sixth form, the time previously allowed for denominational instruction was given over exclusively to psychology classes.

Psychology is no longer about sick people only

What is new is that psychologists (a relatively new profession after all) no longer study negative events exclusively.

Positive psychology regards happiness and virtues, such as gratitude and hope, as normal,  and we study them as positive emotional and mental experiences in their own right.

This is the exact opposite of the therapeutic culture which assumes we are finding living a little overwhelming.  It is also the exact opposite of a view that we should be “hard”, “uncouth”, “non PC” or any of these varieties!  As these two views think they are opposites, let’s move on!

The models we use to study these phenomenon allow us to think differently

Psychologists are using new models to explore phenomena such as happiness, zest, justice, etc.  Psychologists are using ratios and recursive models.  For people who still remember their “Methods & Stats” classes, I bet you hardly every used a ratio and I bet you never ever used a recursive model.  That’s if you studied psychology.  It you studied economics or geography this doesn’t apply to you.   I also exclude from this bet people trained at graduate school in the States in the last five years.

We are happy when life is more positive than negative.  Ideally, we want to hit a ratio around 5:1.  At 11:1, or around there, we are delirious or “over the moon”.  At 3:1,  we are beginning to struggle.  We are going to start to find life threatening.  Life gets tough and hard and we develop tunnel vision.  We focus on our problems and loose the capacity for joy, warmth, celebration, etc.

We are happy when our behavior shows requisite diversity – when we smile at what is charming, when we laugh at what is funny, when we grieve for what is lost, when we celebrate what is won.

Good manners isn’t suppressing these emotions.  Good manners is expressing these emotions in a way that includes people around us.  I don’t cry at a funeral to make others sad.  I cry with others to share our grief.

Happiness isn’t silly optimism in the face of difficulties. Nor is it collapsing in a quivering heap.  Happiness is responding to challenge and threat meaningfully.  It is living – joyously when joy is warranted – courageously when courage is called for.

Hope this is of some use to somebody!

PS Happy people live longer – a lot longer.  And they are nice to be around!

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