Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nutritious People

Let me start by saying that I'm not sure where this one is going. Today's blog is a bit of an intellectual digestive process. It's all about me and not to be taken seriously.

The Users
When I listen to people, I tend to really listen. I follow their eyes, their gestures, their expressions. I really parse what they're saying. And more recently, thanks to my education from Alexander, I've also learned to interpret words based on how they feel versus what they mean.

One of the things I notice frequently when hanging out with a group of people is that many people don't do this. When the conversation shifts from one person to the next, the attention of the first person often doesn't follow it. As person B begins talking or answering a question, person A might drift out of the conversation (staring off, not reacting to what is being said, not interacting). My takeaway is that many people are interested in conversations when the focus is them, but not otherwise.

The Recyclers
Lately I've become less and less patient with the long and winding disjointed narrative threads that represent the inner workings of what substitutes in many people for thought, specially when the threads either have nothing to do with the stated intention of the speaker, or, when they've been replayed so many times they sound like the voice of an automated alarm system repeatedly saying "please exit the building."

The Conspicuous Consumers, et al
I long ago abandoned conversations with people who wanted to talk exclusively about their latest vacations or acquisitions or the latest gossip. More recently, I gave up on discussions of politics or business or education or the environment or psychology or medicine as I came to realize that oftentimes people are simply reciting well-formed (formed as in hardened cement) poorly-founded (thin on evidence and logic) opinions that they have little interest in changing. Even more recently, I've grown weary of diatribe of people who say they really want to change themselves, but simply can't because...

There are simply fewer and fewer conversations in which I want to engage. On Saturday, Mark K and Rachel J spent the night with us. As Mark was about 15 minutes into a 20 minute answer to a yes-or-no question, I stopped him asking him to drop the narrative and simply answer the question. If you're looking for rapid repartee and highly interactive conversation involving everyone at the table, talking with Mark can be like playing basketball on the beach.

Mark responded really sweetly curtailing his answers to yes/no and fill-in-the-blank questions to something under five minutes.

The Rigid
I approach most new tasks and challenges inductively, bottoms-up. I develop a strong intuitive sense of what I want accomplish (I can see it in my mind's eye) and then I jump right into the low level details and concepts; I skip all the stuff in the middle, all the hierarchical structures, all the frameworks, all the architecture.

If I'm working on software that requires me to learn a new language, I don't learn the whole language, just the parts I need to accomplish what I'm working on. If I'm writing a business plan, I first dive into the individual products and services to understand them and from that build the higher level structures. As I work with the lower level elements, the common threads reveal themselves and the overall structure emerges.

This approach has served me really well in designing and building new systems. The resulting systems are elegant from a design perspective, they easily adapt to change and new requirements, they work. This approach has also enabled me to be significantly more productive than my peers. While many are still trying to come up to speed on a new computer language, I've already finished the project. I won't be aware of all the nuances of the computer language that they've learned, but I'll have uncovered tons of undocumented features and capabilities.

The problem is this. When you work inductively, it's tough to collaborate with people whose thinking is reductive, top-down. They like to be handed the framework (the big picture) and a road map showing them where all the little pieces fit. If the framework isn't there, they don't know where to start. If you give them a framework without all the components, they'll start conducting an inventory and notice that some of them aren't there.

For me, the architecture just kind of pops out at the end; at least the left brain version of it. It's an artifact of the process, not the driver of the process. As a result of this, I can typically only begin collaborating with deductive thinkers as soon as I'm finished the project.

(Note: it's not that top-down doesn't work; it's just that it only works for well defined and understood systems, not novel ones.)

The Fearful
Since beginning this blog, Iris has received feedback on various occasions from some folks at the regarding format, content and changes they would like to see. Iris incorporated much of this feedback, but not all of it. Apparently some of the folks are of the 1% empty ilk and have therefore come to perceive Iris' efforts as not being supportive of the Institute.

Having spent time with venture capitalists and some fairly cutthroat business folks, and having witnessed firsthand what it can mean to be "unsupportive" (e.g., best make sure your D&O insurance is paid up), it's been a bit of a challenge to take this labeling of Iris' efforts seriously. But apparently there are people who have.

Over the past few days, I've witnessed several incidents of people who are distancing themselves from people like Iris and Joy, because they don't want themselves to be perceived as being "unsupportive". I had thought to post the emails themselves, but let it suffice for me to describe what happened.

For example, Joy from Denmark, who is one of the regular contributor to this blog, had asked a friend volunteering at the Institute for a month to bring back copies of the Adventures in Happiness book. When Iris contacted him to arrange his getting the books, he emailed Joy and her saying that he wasn't going to bring the books to Joy because he didn't want to be "perceived as being unsupportive of or disloyal to the Institute." He mentioned that he needed to be perceived as supportive and couldn't afford to be cut-off as it were.

Another friend sent Iris an email wishing her a happy new year. When Iris responded suggesting that they might spend more time together in the new year, the response of her friend was that she didn't see them getting together any more, but that she hoped they wouldn't end up "enemies."

I can't imagine that there's any substance to their concerns, but it's amazing to see what happens when people (friends) begin to operate from places of fear. In this case, they end up being neither friends to Joy and Iris (from whom they've simply walked away) nor to the Institute (whom they end up portraying as some type of cult rather than the amazing place it is). It doesn't serve anyone.

The Nutritious
Over the years, I've learned to adapt to people no matter where they're coming from. I've learned to engage the users in broader conversation, divert the conspicuous consumers into the depths of philosophy and meaning, knock the fence-sitters off their fences, loosen up the rigid, and de-fear the fearful. But lately I find myself wanting more.

The more needn't mean other people. I notice that I'm continually more and more happy on my own than with others. However, I also notice that oftentimes being with others feels like running in deep sand with ankle weights. I even find myself drinking extra glasses of wine just to slow myself down to the rate of conversation.

In the end, I think it's just about time.

I'm already crazy busy and there are so many more things that I want to do, so many ideas and concepts that I want to explore, so many things I want to learn. Pete recently turned me onto an application that transforms the Mac into an amazing synthesizer and I've been writing new music like I haven't done in years. As I've learned more about sensory integration from Kat and medical devices from Jonathan, I've become really inspired to start working on device that could help kids with autism improve their sensory processing. The work I'm doing with relate to autism is just beginning to take off. On and on...

I guess, although I can adapt to and enjoy time with pretty much anyone, it's time for me to more actively surround myself with people who are nutritious. Of course, nutritious for me may be lethal for someone else, and vice versa.

But the main thing for me is to decide what that means (for me), and then to become more proactive in deciding with whom I engage (and with whom I don't.)

If you made it this far, I'd love to hear your thoughts on my musings. Do you think about the people in your life as being nutritious? Maybe you've considered them in terms of net energy flow... the people who take more energy than they give... the people who give more energy than they take... and the people with whom the combined energy exceeds the sum of its parts. Are you nutritious?

Thank you for listening.


  1. Personally, Teflon, I'm invariably fascinated by your musings. I love the clarity you exhibit when exploring issues and usually find your insights useful.

    Re communication specifically, it's an absorbing topic, and like you, I enjoy observing how different people communicate, and all the different angles to effective communication. I can't say I've taken stock of the nutritional value of all the people in my life, but I'd say that I'm certainly aware of it.

  2. Hey Sree,
    Thank you for your comments. As I was writing this morning, I was finding everything really useful for myself, but wondering whether or not it would make sense to anyone else.

    I'm finding your words really encouraging!


  3. Tef--

    Incisive and refreshing, as usual--at least, the times I've stopped by and read your posts. I don't know about your other posts--maybe they sucked, he said nonjudgmentally.:-) Hey, maybe my dropping in is the cause in the future that spurs you to write insightfully!

    I had an "Ah-Ha" as I was reading your discussion about The Rigid. I tend to be a top-downer (go figure). I want to work out the whole system/framework to make sure I'm doing it "right" and not missing some important principle or detail. The consequence is that I tend not to be very productive. Instead I defer/delay and often don't complete projects--waiting until I can be confident about Every Aspect of the Big and Little Pictures. I've got several projects at work that are at 75%--on hold until I get them All Figured Out. I hereby resolve just to throw a couple of them out there and see what happens.

    Re: Nutritious Peeps (now there's an oxymoron)--I'm finding more and more that I enjoy spending time alone. In part because I'm less in the habit of seeing aloneness as a judgment about myself, and I don't crave others' nods/pats/amens as much as I used to in order to feel okay. And because, as you said under "Users," I experience many conversations as exercises in which two or more people selectively listen to others' statements for segues/off-ramps to get the conversation back onto themselves. (Yes, I've often been one of those people.)

    On the other hand, what is it that makes the difference for us in those interactions we find nutritious? Isn't there always a subtext about ourselves and what our participation in the conversation means about us? (Meaning, we're still looking in a mirror of sorts.)

    Re: The Fearful--As I told Iris once (and I'm sure you've heard this elsewhere), I think the blog's title invites a certain amount of misunderstanding and friction. Completely apart from the many wonderful and supportive things you say about the Option philosophy and lifestyle, it sets up an implicit contrast: New Option (you) vs. Old Option (the Institute). I've run it by a couple of friends here who don't know any of the background, and they immediately perceived it to be a deliberate positioning statement. (Maybe that's your intention?)

    Why not just take that particular source of tension/friction out of the equation? Grease the rails so you can channel all of that energy into your passion. Even if the Institute doesn't change its stance toward you. Lovem anyway, and keep on moving.

    Loving you (and loving me loving you),

  4. Hi Mark,
    This post has been like my life lately: so many inputs - and so many choises on what I want to do with it?

    I'm one of the persons who migth at times response in a completely different direction, because my brain makes completly different associations than many other peoples brains. I know that I can change it by deciding "to put myself in a mentors attitude" and just listen till the other person stopped talking and only then reflect, answer or pose a question.

    Lately I've been working on some reporting/ business case stuff which I had prosponed for a long time, because I kept beinning by drawing the hiarchies and getting confused about the goal. Now I skipped the previous work, started from the bottom, trusting that I new all the building stones I wanted, and I have made some nice progresses - and I felt good reading that this is how you are working. It seems so much more simple.

    I have realised that when I get annoyed with people it's very likely that they are lying to me. I would like to have Iris' clarity in questioning a behavior rather than the confusion I often create for my self in the situation. But now I know that the confusion and annoyance is not because "there is something wrong with me or my behavior" - it's very likely that "there is something rotten in the state of Denmark".

    - and I still don't get how there can be a big difference in how "loyal" you are being a friend of mine bringing me some books or being a friend of mine not bringing books. But I guess that it's because I know that I'm getting the books even if he is not bringing them, and since he has not complaint about overweight I don't see the big difference.

    Maybe I'm back to my starting point: my thought process might be different from the one other people have.

    Big Smile


  5. Joy, just wanting clarification, being certified and all, when you share "I have realised that when I get annoyed with people it's very likely that they are lying to me," are you not sharing a judgemental belief about what people, as a rationale for being annoyed? bw

  6. Hey Joy, Big smiles back! As I read your comments, I was thinking about my dad and my sister-in-law who seem to pretty much hate each other. I'm sure that neither would ever use the word "hate", but it's hard to observe their interactions or to listen to them describe each other without that word coming to mind.

    One day, after a long monologue by my dad regarding my sister-in-law, it occurred to him that everything he was saying might in fact be accurate. However, his assessment of her had nothing to do with his own actions or justifications. So I pointed out, "Hey Dad, just because she's being a bitch, doesn't mean that you're NOT being an asshole."

    As I've been thinking about all sorts of people over the past few days, I realize that the inverse of what I told my dad can also apply, i.e., "just because you're loving and accepting of someone doesn't mean that they're not being an asshole."

    Every time I find myself getting impatient or a bit frustrated with someone, I usually bring it back to myself and how I can be more loving and accepting. It's nice to realize that as good of a process that is for me, it doesn't actually change the actions of the other person. Nor does it mandate that I persist with them. I can simply lovingly and acceptingly move on.

  7. Tef......I'm a bit pleasantly tweaked by your last sentance about acceptingly moving on. What about being authentic and clear? about ones ability to accept, respect, but still fearlessly relentlessly, continue to play, in 'giving' another question? This 'moving on' often can be misinterpreted as disinterest, or not important, or their right you're admitting by your 'dropping' the dialogue....no?

    I have oftenly chosen (freely,) to hang in, fearlessly, knowing the risk that another can still choose to make me up as tormenting, ignoring the simultaneously communicated lovingness, acceptingness, complete respect being spoken. I label it tenacious persistance, and yes, it is a simple free choice......to move on, to walk away, to ignore, or to value the immediate relationship engagement, or not. bw

  8. BW, I think my point is that I've pretty much got the "tenacious persistence" thing down. I've got it down to the point where it often doesn't occur to me to just walk away.

    I don't see any misinterpretation here. Indeed my moving on DOES represent a lack of interest and reduction in priority, not by way of creating a vacuum, but by way of displacement; I'm simply finding people and activities that are MORE interesting and MORE important to me. Rather than hanging onto previous interests and priorities simply because the happened to show up first, I replace them.

  9. Hi BW

    Being a certified mentor doesn't mean that I am never judgemental - it means that I can give a dialgoue with out being judgemental of me, the explorer or anything the explore is exploring.

    It also means that I have learned to be a student of my self. If I get annoyed with someone, I do not blame the other person for my annoyance, but I try to look into the thoughts behind the annoyance. This is what I have been doing recently, and I have become clear about my high preference for honesty and authenticity - and I have actually taken the step to make it clear to some of my new friends, that if they want to stay friends with me, they will have to improve on their authenticity.

    As I am reflecting on it now, the annoyance is part of a self-judgment: "if people are lying to me - there must be something wrong with me". - adapting Teflons point is very useful for me.

    "No matter how loving I am - you can still chose to be an asshole".

  10. Well, I can only speak for myself. I don't understand the necessity or usefulness of choosing to make-up anyone as an asshole. I aspire to see myself in others, and that we are all one, all ultimately wanting quite similar goals. I want when i am in relationship to be aware that everyone is a mirror of myself. So if I choose to 'see' another as an asshole, I'm seeing myself an asshole.

    If people in their relating to me, are not open and authentic, I aim to accept that it has something to do with Fear.....an absence of Love. I aim to remember the golden rule, and in my make-up to which my response is based, I always am of the belief everyone is doing the best they are aware of to take care of themselves, and the fears they might be entertaining. I loved the line used in "Therapudic Relationships" nothing you say or do will change the love I choose to hold/have for you. bw

  11. BW, I love what you have to say. I think the thing is this: there's a big difference between loving someone who's being an asshole, and denying that they're being an asshole. The first involves seeing everything they're doing straight on for what it is and loving them. The latter involves judging "being an asshole" and therefore making them something other than that in order to love them.

    I think that most of us say we're not judging when in fact we're simply in denial. I have lots of friends who rather than changing their judgments about the past, instead change their recollection of the past. Instead of saying, "Yeah, I was being a asshole and that's the best I could do at that time." they say, "I never did that. I wasn't ever an asshole!"

    The latter doesn't work.

  12. Yah, I hear you Tef.....I'm always amused by how fear is demonstrated. I don't believe it useful, or necessary to first judge one, or their behavior as being assoholic, in order to then decide to accept them as an assoholic. Seems like a lot of useless effort. Why not simply be like the martian Bears suggests, and be curious and loving, directly....rather than compulsed to label? (aka Judge)

  13. Aaahh, BW, we're getting closer here. I see that you are assuming the word asshole to be a judgment versus a description of a behavior.

    Here's the thing. There are times in life where we each behave as assholes. As long as we hold a judgment of that, rather than face our having been assholes, we instead deny that we were assholes. As a result, over time we simply become delusional. We can never actually address our being assholes because we judge it.

    If instead, we decided that it was fine that we were being assholes, then we could look at it straight on and decide what to keep and what to change.

    So, the first step is deciding that it's great to be an asshole, it's the best we know how to do, rather than debating the use of the word asshole.

  14. See? your responses are not logged here....what gives?

  15. ok, so now they are.......bit of a delay.....weird.. Is it free will or physics......I believe it physics. It's my free will whether I interpret it part of a physic's predetermiined conspiracy or not. lol

    Now, how would it be useful for me to judge/accept that I'm being an asshole? bw

  16. BW, that's a great question.

    It would be less than useless to judge your being an asshole. However, it would be wonderful to do the assessment. For example, if you were so consumed by your sense of mission or your being right about something that you started bullying people or disregarding their wants and interests or completely stepping on them, it would be great to see that you were being an asshole, i.e., someone who had blatant disregard for others.

    Seeing it straightforwardly and without judgment, you could decide whether or not that was someone you wanted to be and perhaps would decide not to blatantly disregard the interests of people. However, if you judged being an asshole, then you would likely not even see that you were doing so; you would become so defensive as to never even get to the topic.

    So, accepting being an asshole without judging it is the key to not being an asshole.

  17. I guess we could say
    Judgement = assessment + unhappiness

    The assessment is frequently useful; the unhappiness is usually not.

  18. ok....I have no intent to bully, or to blatently disregard the interests or choices of interpretation/judgement others may choose to label me with. That is their business, not mine. If someone feels compulsed to prejudge, and limit with such a label, rather than enquire as to clarify what I'm attempting to convey, this I accept. I accept I am not just an asshole, I am more, why do you think I'm an asshole? might be a useful question? bw

  19. I agree with Sree. It's the charge that transforms assessment into judgment. I like Sree's definition because it gets us out of the word game (i.e., judgment words versus assessment words.) In the end, it's all about the unhappiness associated with the belief not the word that we use to represent the belief.

    BW, I think my question would be, "what do you mean by asshole?"

    You guys are awesome. That's a judgment.

  20. Sree, BW, Joy, Chris K, I was sitting here tonight working and found myself feeling really grateful for the four of you and the opportunity to play with all these ideas. Y'all are a joy to me and I'm thankful for you. Tef

  21. I agree Teffy ;) it's the quality of the judgement....valuing or dissing

  22. As I play with these ideas myself, one thing that occurs to me as highly useful is to apply a 'judgofilter' (a fractionator might be the more accurate term, to borrow from the oil industry) to all incoming inputs, and make a distinction between the assessments and the accompanying feelings (happy or otherwise) for separate processing. The assessment would give me feedback about what my actions, and the feelings would give me information about the emotional state of the person. In a highly charged situation that calls for quick and precise action, I might discard the feelings input completely and go straight for the indicated action (example: son's having a seizure or other medical emergency). In a non-emergency situation, I might do the opposite - discard the assessment completely and address only the feelings (example: spouse offering musings on life in a rare quiet moment). If reinforcing a particular relationship is a high priority, I might act on both - acknowledge & address the feelings but also take action based on the assessment.

    Along those lines, here's some feedback for you, Teflon. Your choice of graphics to accompany your blog posts is pure genius, in my opinion. I'm constantly tickled, and often 'mind-boggled', and I now realize upon reflection, that my belief is that it takes extreme creativity to think up and create those images in such short order. But I can't help feeling that this creativity is inside me too, and it's up to me to release and foster it, and that's inspiring. And almost every post on this blog brings up realizations like this for me, and I'm extremely grateful for it too.

  23. Sree, wow! I love the concept that you're putting forth here. Essentially, the emotional charge and the event (word, belief, situation) are completely separable. In fact, they probably always start out that way (independent of each other) and it is each of us who puts them together in the first place. Yet, each of us can come to believe that the association between the emotion and event predate our experience of them.

    Understanding and acting upon any of the three components (the event, the emotional response, and the association between them) has value, but it's all in the timing. Really wonderful stuff.

    Thank you for your terrific insights and also thank you for the compliments. I was thinking this morning about the word "gifted" and how it can be a positively charged assessment that backfires on us. When we call someone "gifted", the underlying and often unspoken implication is that we are NOT gifted. Our fast logic often takes this to the conclusion: "I cannot do nor ever would I ever be able to do what the gifted person can do, because I am not "gifted".

    So you end up with the gifted diachotomy (i.e., people either CAN do things or they CAN't) coupled with the positive judgment (i.e., gifted is a good thing), leading to the backfire assessment/judgment, therefore being un-gifted, I won't ever be able to do that and (potentially) that's a bad thing.

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