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Tag: status

Anger: I am angry so that I am important?

Active listening

I thought I had a post somewhere on basic active listening.  It seems not.

Active listening is often required when we least expect it

Active listening isn’t hard.  Provided we remember to do it!  When we are needed to listen, simply listen, we are often in a rush ourselves and it is the hardest ever to slow down and pay attention.

Three situations require active listening

There are three classical situations when we must pay attention and listen

  • Requests: Please may I have .   .  .!
  • Help:  Everything is going wrong!
  • Anger:  Life is unfair!

We rarely miss anger!

The third, anger, is the one we don’t miss.  Angry people get in our face.  They are bristling with rage.  They want something to change now and they’ve decided that it is all our fault!  Can’t miss it 🙂

It can be hard to react with applomb

Sadly, because other people’s anger often takes us by surprise, we don’t react well.

If we have a moment to catch our breath, we are probably OK.  We give the person the attention they crave so desperately and reassure them of their importance in the world.  They calm down and feeling a little sheepish, become our new best friend.

But what of our anger. What we we are angry?

It strikes me that England is an angry country.  And people enjoy being angry.

Anger in Britain is a treasured state

Anger in England isn’t an unpleasant temporary state that people want to get away from. It is a treasured state to be sought.  People even seem to feel important when they are angry.  “There!”, they seem to be saying, “I am angry too!” It is almost as if their status is restored by being angry.

I get angry so that I can be important enough to be insulted?

It’s a perversion.  Usually we are angry when our status is diminished, and we want it restored.  When an angry person also has a triumphant gleam in their eye, I wonder whether they are also delighted to have found a situation where they are important enough to have been insulted?

Someone needs some deep respect

If I am right, and there is no reason that I should be, then a way to reduce anger is to help people feel valued.  Courtesy and politeness do this in part – but they avoid “dissing” the other person.  Courtesy and politeness isn’t respect.

If we want to help people find status without resorting to some bizarre form of tantrums, then we need to take the trouble to find out what about them is deeply valuable to us ~ and tell them.  I found a great quotation from E E Cummings yesterday ~ we have to mirror to people what is so wonderful and why we would be so much poorer without them!

Extreme experiments in life

Try that as you are next on a commuter train and your neighbour is annoying you.  Pay them some attention. Yes, I know you are English, but try.  It will be a fun experiment, won’t it?

What will happen when you pick on the one point that is so important to them and that you would really miss if they weren’t part of your life?

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Find the courage to apologise and invite by understanding the deep hurt

When we are outraged, we don’t make a lot of sense

I went to a fairly “diverse” university during a civil war: we had black students, white students, and others!

Life as an “other” was interesting. People who were partisan assumed that you were “for” them, or “against” them, on whatever criteria they thought relevant. It was nothing to do with you exactly ~ you just happened to fit in to some fantasy narrative they had in their heads.

As an “other”, you also spoke to people on both sides and you got to hear what they thought of “the other side”.

Conflicts are deadly. Don’t get me wrong, but if people knew how funny they sounded, maybe they would stop to hear themselves.

I don’t hate you because you are different ~ I make you different so that I can hate you

This is how it went.

Black students said white students were ‘thick’ and white students said white students were ‘thick’

The evidence, on both sides, was that ‘they’ had to work so hard!

I studied psychology and sociology, and even if I didn’t, I would have known that we are ignorant about people we never speak to and that we over-simplify their stories. We also describe common human failings as evil, rather than common human failings.

What was amusing is that both sides perceived working hard as an insult! That was what we all had in common.

Yaz stupid if you have to work hard!

Being lazy wasn’t an insult, but stupid was.

We make people different when we hate them but we are not all the same

Not all cultures believe that being lazy at college is cool. I taught in NZ for a number of years and we had many students from China.  Almost without exception, they would arrive talking about ‘working hard’.  Invariably, by third year, they would be saying, “These Kiwis might have something going here. They don’t do half as much work as I do and they get by”.

So what we value is not universal by any means. Our insults are not universal by any means. Indeed, when our families haven’t spoken for generations, it is a bit of a miracle that we think the same way.

When people don’t ‘like’ us, we make them different

People locked in conflict often do have heaps in common. Most of all, they want attention from the other side.

  • They want to be heard.
  • They want the ‘other side’ to acknowledge them.

Conflict is about status and belonging. We should never forget that.

The conflict spiral is a contorted, complicated process.

It goes like this.

  • I do something (following my imaginary but highly valued story in my head).
  • In that story, I am somebody.
  • My actions set up a relationship with you (good, bad or indifferent).
  • My actions may give you pride of place (or take away your status).
  • If I have taken away your status, you have a choice of reactions.
  • If I am very powerful relative to you and I have many resources that I could share with you, you might choose to go along with my abrogation of your status.
  • If I have power but I lack anything that you really want and can only get from me, you are more likely to react.
      • You might react angrily. In which case of course, my status is threatened and a new process begins. If I have more power than you and very little social sense, I will probably hurt you.
      • You might have great social skills and make a joke which would allow me to apologise quickly, should I be so inclined.
      • The culture that we share might have other solutions. There might be ways that I can “pay you back” that are understood and accepted. Irony is one such leveller.
      • The culture might have solutions that allow me to pay you back in ways that you don’t know about ~ you spit in my tea, for example.
      • Or you might choose to seek redress in other ways. The most likely way is that I lose status in your eyes. You stop believing that the status that comes with my power is legitimate.

In the short term, I might never notice nor care. I have the power, right?  Why should I care?

But I no longer have your respect. In time, you will slowly start to make me the mirror of all you worry about in yourself. If you think that working too hard is a sign that you are no intellectually-equipped to be at university, that will be what is wrong with me too. Not because it is true, but because I don’t talk to you any way. As I don’t talk to you anyway, you might as well be the place where I “dump” all that worries me about the world!  You make me different (in a way that is intelligible to you) to explain why I don’t like you!

And as our relationship descends in to one based only on power, I will be able to live out my fantasy narrative without worrying about how it affects you.

We are on a one-way hiding to nowhere!

So how could we have resolved the conflicts at my university?

We were in the middle of a war and on the whole, the university did a pretty good job of keeping things moving.

  • We were open and we were studying. Under the circumstances, that was pretty good going.
  • We did have a class of “others”. Some of us were crossing the divide and learning a little. Painfully, sometimes. But stripping away generations of animosity has got to be more painful than removing a sticking plaster, right?
  • We did have tutors who held up mirrors to our interaction. Social science lecturers often drew a map of where we sat and showed in other ways how we thought and behaved.

We needed more though. The trouble is that in a civil war, the attitudes of young people reflect the attitudes of their elders and who was going to do ‘more’?

What we learn from communities who’ve lived through intense conflict

The message for those of us not living in communities torn apart by strife is this.

Don’t go there! Don’t move along that path!

When you are ‘dissed’ by someone .  . .

.  .  .you will be angry, disappointed, powerless and dejected.   You will want to retaliate.  You should remember that your ultimate weapon is contempt. By diminishing your status, they have lost status too. The have last status enormously, actually, because the only way to regain that status is with your good will which is not available right now.

Maybe when they insulted you, they meant to be aggressive. It is possible.  Maybe they have got carried away with their fantasy world. We may be want to head that off gently!  Or, maybe their lack of sensitivity to us was caused because we were insensitive in some way to them. Maybe, we did something to inadvertently kick off the spiral of contempt and conflict?

The first possibility to avoiding ridiculous conflict

When we are over our initial irritation (which we feel like it or not), our first possibility is to attempt to restore their status. Just gently. Invite and apologize.

When you have power (and you may have more than you think) .  .  .

.  .  . you will probably be thinking something like “I am right”.  You will be justifying your actions to yourself.  That is a good sign that you are riding roughshod over someone.  Watch yourself!  Remember it is easy to do because it is easy to do.  When you have power, it is oh, so easy.  You more than anyone must bring to a halt this one way hiding to no where.  When you leave people with no alternative but to think “He, or she, has behaved badly.  I have to pretend to offer respect but that is all it will be.”  Then the spiral begins, so slowly that you may not notice at first.

When you notice the spiral, stop.  Don’t worry where it began.  Don’t worry who began.  Just stop and say to yourself.  My loyalty to this person is worth more than anything else.  I can absorb a little irritation.  I can absorb a relationship where I don’t throw my weight around quite so much.  Let me acknowledge that they want my respect as I want theirs.

Let me just stop and show my respect.  Apologize and invite, as Ben Zander says.

Apologize and invite, no matter who is right and who is wrong.  Anything to avoid getting into deep conflicts where we make each other the bad guy to cover up our hurt.

 

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Mana: between ourselves and others

Introverts often enjoy solitary activities lik...
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In the west, we think about ourselves as individuals

We think of “individuals” as something real. Let me explain, what I mean.

You probably think of yourself as having a personality. You are introverted, or extroverted, for example.

And because that is “you”, you are always introverted or extroverted, wherever you are, and whomever you are with.  What’s more, because you are always the same, we can “measure” you, or your personality, with a test. And of course, psychologists do.

In other cultures, “individual” is not so central to thinking

It is quite hard to grasp, and quite hard to get our heads around the idea that people are not separate from their circumstances.

Where I grew up for example, people are described by their relationships to other people: mother of Jack, daughter of Sam, for example.  This not fuzzy thinking. It is very advanced thinking that we find hard.

People are not focusing on the person and the things around the person

They look at the space between the person and the things. Or, the space between one person and another.

Theory, philosophy, cultures, manners, all describe that space.

If you visit New Zealand, you will hear everyone, Maori and Pakeha, talking about Mana

Loosely, mana is a combination of status and respect.

Explained using our concepts, this is confusing. Mana comes partly from our character – who we are as an individual.  Mana also comes partly from our position, as a teacher, say.

Using our thinking, this seems untidy and undeveloped.

But mana, like concepts in other cultures, describes the space between people. When we we look at this space, mana makes perfect sense.

3 poetic phrases to explain mana for your new week

As a gift for the week, I thought I would share 3 phrases that I keep on my desk.   These quotations are from poets & scholars in the West who write about our need to look at the space between ourselves and others.

“put yourself inside the river”

“everything is waiting for you”

“strength is in contact with the environment”

Have a winning week!

And remember to look after your mana – the space between you and others.

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Can I give you some feedback?

An irritated face at my door

Some one came in to my office and said to me: can I give you some feedback?  Yes, of course I said.  Sit down.  Would you like a cup of tea?

My interlocutor had though, absolutely no intention of giving me feedback about anything.

Feedback is not about me

Feedback means the distance between where we are and the goal we want to achieve.  And preferably, contains information that allows us to steer towards the goal.

If my interlocutor had such information, they should not have been keeping it to themselves.  That would be poor team play indeed.  And if they really had feedback about our joint goals, why would this be cause for embarrassment?

Oh, you have a complaint?

Of course, my interlocutor really wants to make a complaint.  They feel annoyed or irritated with me about something.  And as these are rather hostile emotions, they feel embarrassed.

No one likes to feel embarrassed, so they’ve become indignant and righteous instead.

Am I feeling playful?

Now if I were in a mischievious mood, I could let them sweat.  But as I wasn’t, I thought I would let them off the hook of their own anger.  Grab a chair, have a cup of tea, and tell me all about it.

Anger is such difficult emotion

It can be so difficult to give up anger.  Anger is to do with status.  Someone has ‘dissed us’ and we want our status restored.  So often we want nothing else.  Just an apology, an acknowledgment, and a sense that we are appreciated.

But it is too embarrassing to begin the conversation – you dissed me – so we dress up our anguish in other terms.

So feedback was just a request for an apology?

Of course, sometimes there is more to someone’s complaint than anger.  And we can address whatever specific issues arise.

But most times, the redress and correction is easily done.  What’s really wanted is for status to be restored.

How was that cup of tea?  Do you feel better?

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