Sunday, September 29, 2013

Leaving Lovers and Skinning Cats

In the comment exchange back in "Sometimes", Teflon said,
"Someone insists that he can't possibly do something. I see fifty ways that he could."

As that comment continued rattling around in the back of my head since then, I noticed a few occasions where I found myself in that situation too. I'm fairly sure those occasions were nowhere close in nature to the ones Teflon faced, but in the moments of utter befuddlement that they caused me, I couldn't help feeling some kinship with him. I'm also sure that in my blissful ignorance, I must be presenting other souls in my life with similar moments, but it's up to them to blog about it.

Most of these situations seem to do with people skills, with a large subset of them being about oneself. In those cases, when the "fifty ways" moment hits, my first reaction often is a quick trip through sadness, anger and resoluteness. Sadness that I'm witnessing a full grown adult (usually) without an adequate set of tools and techniques for this most basic of needs for living in our world. Anger at our education system that continues to churn out such inadequately equipped products by the millions. And then I firm up my resolve to continue my own education process, and to promote that awareness to anybody I have responsibility for (or at least any influence over).

For instance, I see somebody intending to communicate a message. They try once, don't get anywhere, and throw their hands up in frustration, usually blaming their target for being obtuse or resistant. I see the whole thing play out, and go Huh?! In my mind's eye, a pulldown menu appears, with the following:

Ways to communicate a message:
  1. Verbally, with no affect
  2. Hammer the point home with a 2x4
  3. Indirectly or obliquely
  4. Nonverbally, using gestures and expressions only
  5. By example, in action. 
  6. Via a third party who may have a special connection
  7. Thru a Socratic dialog, asking Questions only, and letting him come to his own conclusions
  8. By hypnosis or other trickery in a weak moment
  9. Using leading questions
  10. Using thundering or flowery oratory
  11. Talking down to somebody, with the attitude that you clearly know more than him, and he is lower than pond scum if he questions that.
  12. Bullying somebody - using verbal force with someone weaker
  13. Diluting your own impact by using too much humor or too many nonsequiturs
  14. ... 
The ellipsis indicates that further scrolling will reveal more options. (Of course, not all the ways listed above are necessarily recommended, but being aware of them is critical, both to recognize when they are being used, and to know what to do if their effects need to be undone).

Other recent variations of this example occurred with trying to influence somebody's behavior (habitual or one-time), opinion or state of mind. Sometimes I see " I WANT X. I DIDN'T GET X" situations. My menu of exploratory questions unfurls: What are the other pieces of this picture? How big or complex is X? How big is the wanting? How many routes to X have been tried? How many times have any of those routes have been tried? How complex is the wanting? Of the steps in each route, how many are actions for me to take, and how many for others? How am I feeling? Why? ... What I see is an exciting landscape to explore, not a brick wall with a STOP sign.

This outstanding classic from the popular culture comes to mind:

I'm convinced that it's an innate part of being human to be innovative, to learn, to never say die, to believe that there is a solution for every problem - that there are infinite options for the way forward, limited only by what we know at the moment and what we decide to see.


  1. Sree, I've been mulling this topic of late and have come to a realization. The realization sprang not so much from my mulling, but from Iris' experiences at school with Quinn. (About a month ago the two of them began spending half-days together in a third grade class at the public elementary school.)

    The same phenomenon seems to occur each time Iris describes an interaction between Quinn and a would-be teacher or therapist.

    The adult asks Quinn a question or to perform an activity.

    Quinn seems not to understand.

    The adult repeats the question or request.

    Quinn seems not to understand.

    The adult changes the phrasing or adds gestures.

    Quinn seems not to understand.

    And so it goes.

    As I considered all the interactions that Iris described, it occurred to me that the problem is not one of articulating the question or request; it's one of having establish a context for the question or request.

    The context varies, but seems to a least include answers to question as:
    1. What are we trying to accomplish by doing this?
    2. What's in it for me?
    3. Who are you and why are you talking to me?
    4. Why should I be paying attention to you?
    5. And so on...

    It also seems to including having established rapport and having synchronized energy and rhythm.

    With all that Iris has told me about her days with Quinn at school, it would seem that few people focus on establishing context before trying to communicate. I believe that, without having done so, there's little that can be accomplished.

  2. Funnily enough, a very similar situation happened with me & Rithvik just this weekend. I've seen it often in the past - when we take the time & energy to set up moments of meaningful communication, he makes changes, genuine cognitive changes that stick and take no energy to maintain. Special-needs kids, and everybody else, will generate astounding change when somebody 'gets' them, and connects with them at a deep, meaningful level. In my case it made the difference between having dents in the wall and not.


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