Saturday, April 30, 2011

Oh Man Like/Dislike Mind-F*** Continues

So to keep thinking about all this personality and like/dislike stuff – I’m trying to find the inner part of what disliking someone means to me. As Ferd noted in my comments (loving it!), repulsing people is pretty effective in a wheat/chaff sense, and you can end up repulsing the exact people you'd like to repulse, so, you know, win-win. Win-win since one of the major things about this is that in a basic way it’s pleasant to be with people you enjoy, of course. Connecting and laughing and joking and discussing things with people who resonate with you is pretty exciting. And there’s such a wide range of kinds of relationships that are interesting to have with people – for example, in some friendships I bet you like someone because they really bring out the sense of fun in you, and in other friendships you are the fun one. But in all the forms of friendship to have, the most fun to have with people is when there is some sense of life moving forward just in the being together. It’s sort of like exciting conversations, in which your ideas just feed off each other’s and by the end of the conversations you and your friend have figured out just so darn much about life and the nature of reality and perception etc.

And then, on the other hand, there’s those attempts at connectedness that just fall completely flat, where you or the other person just can’t pick up the other end of the interaction; either the idea doesn’t click with you, or they say it in a way that doesn’t seem to permit further interesting discussion, or just completely misses the point of what you were trying to say. It’s deflating energetically. But anyway spending time with someone who you dislike sort of takes the air out of the tires of life. Imagine spending the rest of time with someone you don’t like, bleh. I suppose you’d find common ground eventually, but it’s much nicer when you ring with someone.

So what makes one “ring” with someone? Right now I’m thinking about this in terms of my own disapproval. Not liking someone, for me, feels a lot about shaking my head or clucking about “the way someone is.” Some of these are personality/value judgments, like “she’s a know-it-all,” or “he’s a bigot,” or “she’s a complainer,” or “he’s full of sh*t all the time,” or “she’s too needy and reaches further in than I think this relationship should go.” Others of these are behavioral judgments, like “she chimes in with inappropriate nonsense just to be part of the conversation,” or “he jumps right in with advice even though I’m not done explaining this thing and if he’d let me finish he’d see this isn’t an advice request,” or “she drinks too much,” or “he pursues nothing beyond video games and it’s just sad.” All of these things come from my ideas about what kind of person it is okay to be. It’s not okay to ignore the conversation topic. It’s not okay to speak with total confidence about topics you’ve seen one documentary about. It’s not okay to complain all the time or make yourself out to be something you’re not. It’s not okay to play a lot of video games or drink too much. I mean, clearly I have a lot of rules in my head about what to do and how to act, and it is a person’s failure to conform to my normative imaginings that makes me dislike them. When I meet someone else who seems to have come to the same kind of behavioral/personality conclusions that I have come to, then this confirms something about my view of the world (Hey look, we both live on the same planet at the same point in history and both understand a lot of things in the same way! I must be on to something! This “rings.”). Disapproving of people also reaffirms my view of the world to me, of course.

So if I think of my disapproval in terms of looking for ways to confirm or reaffirm my view of the world, I am using my perceptions of other people as a way to stay as closed-minded as possible. If you already fit a certain mold, you’re part of the evidence of me being right about the world – and if you defy my model of existence, as luck would have it, you’re also part of the evidence of me being right about the world. Feels pretty convenient.

So then, this week's Boatmeal Challenge Continued? Why, critically consider my human-personality worldview, of course, in the hope that by loosening my concepts of what is acceptable in a person I can be a little less affected by feelings of dislike.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Besides Personality Problems, There's This Problem

Why oh whydee why why is it so upsetting to be nice to someone I dislike? I have a few theories.

*The Implicit Approval Problem*

Let’s say being nice to people functions as our implicit approval of them. Therefore, being nice to someone you do not like is a form of lying, which feels bad or insincere or whatever – I do not approve of you and your behavior, yet here I bestow my kindness as though I do. Even though, seriously now, I do not approve of you. Perhaps this makes a chink in our integrity armor? Maybe it’s a sort of Pride & Prejudice problem, in that we do not communicate sincerity in our kindness when it is indiscriminately offered (i.e., Jane Bennett was so nice to everyone that Mr. Darcy could not be assured she had any particular regard for Mr. Bingley)?

*The Invasion of my personal sense of . . . something*

This is the one I’m more interested in - for this example let’s say now that it feels gross to me to be nice to someone I don’t like. I don’t want to look in their eyes. I don’t want to make little I-am-amused-by-your-puns titters or express other niceties that indicate some version of “I’m listening to you, and you’re okay by me, man.” I don’t want to ask them regular, everyday conversational questions in the usual polite way because I do not want to invite them to talk or indicate in any way that I would like to pursue a greater level of intimacy than complete distance. It’s not that it would feel like lying, or insincerity, or anything like that to make eye contact, laugh politely, or ask banal questions, no no. Instead, it feels like kindness on my part would widen the very pores of my skin and let the disliked person’s invisible yuck-oil slime all over me. You see, the disliked person in my mind has a kind of abhorrent dander that intrudes on me. To stay “untainted” I go into shut down mode. No smiling. No eye contact. No questions. It’s like avoiding poison ivy. Look out, don’t get any on you.

Why? Why does it feel gross to be nice to people I don’t like? Why does it give me the ick-it’s-getting-on-me feeling?

Is this too brutal to share? Too late now. Really though, what is the deal with disliking people and its effect on me?

I understand a few things about the futility of dislike. One ridiculous thing is that there is clearly no “benefit” to me of disliking someone – what do I think, that I can dislike them so much that they become likeable eventually? That they learn their lesson a la the playground and re-align their behaviors to become re-ingratiated? Dislike them so much that it somehow makes being around them bearable for me? Yeah, no – it’s more like be so mean that they dislike me right back or feel kind of upset, or that I become so distracted by my loathing that it takes up way too much space in my brain. So basically my feelings have the potential for either imaginary or horrible outcomes. So what’s the plan here? What’s my strategy? What’s my problem?

One strategy I’ve heard, besides pretending you’ve never met the person before each time you see them (hi! What’s your name? ha ha), is to be nice. I know, this sounds pretty obvious, but it isn’t to me. Being nice has all those problems I mentioned above – I want to make no indication that I am inviting further intimacy or encourage what would feel like over-reaching, and there’s that sincerity problem in there related to how I express my affection. But I guess there is a way to be nice that has nothing to do with either of these things. This is really clear in some circumstances, such as marketplace interactions – consider being nice to customers in a store. It’s free, it makes things better for everyone, and it doesn’t crack anyone’s integrity to do it (from my point of view). But there’s a clear boundary there between people; the interaction is in a store and is limited to the five minutes you spend together, so there’s no long-lasting further entanglement consequence attached to the niceness here. This example is different with regular customers you see every day, with whom your relationship can become damaged, or over-reaching customers who think workplace friendliness is actual life friendliness - then it gets messier. And then there’s this thing about politeness – people’s knowledge, conscious or unconscious, that our culture’s type of politeness requires people to endure certain kinds of unacceptable behavior, another kind of over-reaching. Well I guess I'll still be thinking about this for a while. Book suggestions welcome.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Personality Problems

So one of my personality problems (flaws) is that I talk a little loud and bulldozer-ish and kind of know-it-all-ish in a class clown kind of way that is hilarious to me but not always hilarious to the listener. I like to start sentences with the phrase “here’s what you should do” and follow it up with something preposterous. I also like to roll my eyes about things and identify the problems in arguments or points of view. Nobody likes this. I also enjoy cutting off your sentences to say something funny to me. Nobody likes this either. But anyway.

I noticed a couple of incidents at my job this week that reminded me of how annoying I can be to people and it got me thinking about what aspects of myself I should want to change, and what aspects I should accept as being part of “myself.” Sometimes I don’t care if people don’t think I’m funny, in what my dear pal calls the “joke ‘em if they can’t take a f***” approach to things. Under this perspective, I am in charge of my half of the interaction, which is My Personal Intention, and everybody else can worry about themselves and it’s not my problem. MPI is not (usually) to be hurtful or mean or dismissive, but rather, to be funny and interested and interesting and bat around ideas and critiques of things for fun and banter (and to get laughs, which is a vanity/insecurity thing). The listener’s experience my boisterousness might be different from MPI, of course. The listener could be offended or feel misunderstood or get the impression that I think s/he is foolish or whatever, so it’s not always effective.

The examples at work were as follows: two gals in the workplace were discussing Eat, Pray, Love, and one had seen the movie but not read the book, and the other had the book and brought it in to share. I saw the book on the table and immediately launched into some version of “oh lordy who’s reading THIS,” fully believing that I was effectively opening up the channels of communication for fun discussion of the book and its problematic and successful qualities. This belief of mine that saying how much I hate stuff is actually a great ice breaker is funny in itself, and of course, "channel-opening" is not what happened. Instead I prompted the gal who brought it in to say “yeah I guess only people with terrible taste, like me, like this book.” It took me a minute to catch on that this was the hurt-feelings kind of sarcasm and not funny self-deprecating humor, so I said “yeah only dumb-dumbs like this crap.” And then I realized that I had provoked hurt feelings, and I had to let the crankiness settle for a minute and then explain that I didn’t want to be mean or superior about it, I was trying to be funny and that I was sorry.

So that’s one incident. Another one was a different set of gals chit chatting about stuff, and one of them starts saying how she got an iris reading the other day – yes, someone looks into your eyeball and tells you all about yourself. I guess the premise is that there is information in the iris of the eye that says stuff about you and your choices and your life – and the first two things that the iris reader told this gal were that her deodorant was clogging her breast tissue lymph drainage and that she eats too much dairy. Yawn! These are totally generic and I said so, again, thinking that I am funny. Instead the gal’s face fell a bit and I have probably effectively inhibited her from ever wanting to share anything about her life with me ever again for the rest of time. Here’s how that conversation could have gone in my ideal world with a friend who “gets” me:

“Hey Marth I got my iris read last week, and it was so rad! This chick looked into my eyes and told me my lymph stuff wasn’t draining because of my deodorant and that I eat too much dairy!”

“Dude, she also tell you that you had a hard time high school, and detect stress and confusion in your life? That stuff is way generic!”

“Ha ha whatever lame-o, no way, you had to be there, it was different than that – it was really right on, for reals!”

“Whoa, that’s nutty! Are you going to go back? Tell me what else she said!”

See, was that so hard? Fun! Shows my attention and critical thinking and delight in life, no? I mean, I recognize how snarky and combative and potentially offensive it is, so yeah, maybe not.

So now here’s the real problem: I don’t want to alienate people, but I also want to be myself. I don’t want to maintain relationships with people who willfully misunderstand me or who are too sensitive or serious about themselves, but I want to be relate to lots of different kind of people in my life and not use my personality as some kind of filter or friend deterrent. I want to do my half of whatever it is that happens between people to make sure everyone knows that everyone is cool with everyone else being exactly how they are. And I want to be around people who can do their half of not taking things the wrong way, or being too attached to their decisions or preferences or anything else such that disagreement on books or iris readings is really offensive to them.

But I also don’t want to become so settled in my personality or defensive about my characteristics such that I deny the possibility or necessity of improving myself when it comes to my personality problems. I mean, it’s maddening to be around people who are really protective of their bad personality traits (lots of old people do this, and I think it can be pretty lazy sometimes). But how do I know which things to work on changing and which things are okay to keep? My friend suggested that I can get comfortable with this idea by thinking about being myself, but just adjusting my behaviors to what is "appropriate" for the situation. This is a nicer way of thinking about it than just saying I need to change myself or censor my nature. Even if it’s just semantic that’s fine with me, I can work with it. So that’s what I’ll be trying to think about for a while.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

College is Dumb

I have ranted about this before, but it deserves revisiting. I was talking with my friend the other day about what college means. I think a lot of people my age have parents who treated the college degree as some kind of success-measurement-threshold in launching their kids into the world ("well, at least they're educated, I did my job"). I think by now most people understand this as a socialization and class status exercise, because the bachelor's degree draws a line between the lower classes and the slightly less lower classes. Having a bachelor's degree, my friend said, is a just handy vetting qualification to weed out the people who didn't have judgment enough to figure out they should smoke someplace besides the boys' bathroom in high school. Having a college degree indicates all kinds of things to employers that we can't really say are the actual qualifications for a job: college degree = probably has enough sense to lay low and do his/her misbehavior out of sight, and participate in a scheme of expectations involving respect for hierarchy and maybe a little independent decision making. "Values"-wise it also probably indicates that someone comes from a non-threatening, bourgeois, SAT-prep-course-attending kind of household that most bosses (the ultimate bourgeois) can relate to. It's just a class indicator. I mean, my job requires a college degree. I load and unload a truck. Bachelor's degree required.

Yoga instruction, however, requires no college degree. You can teach yoga after a month of training for anywhere from three to seven thousand dollars. So there's that. There's a class thing involved in yoga-doing, but that's another story. Maybe later.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Not Yet the Boss

I am sort of supposed to be in charge of some stuff and a few people at work, but the transition is a little slow going. I've spent the first month being told what to do by the people I am "in charge of," because they definitely know how to do the job way better than I do, which makes it a little tough to start telling them what to do and overriding their judgment calls from time to time. And plus the old boss is still definitely in the mix, and still definitely in charge-charge, so that is still happening.

But most of all I have been missing my chance to assert my authority, which is really hard to think about today. Today especially, since something happened at work that I didn't stomp down on immediately - it took me a little while to process what was going on and figure out how I felt about it and how to articulate it, and only now am I recognizing the exact moment that I missed to make an important point about expectations and behavior and stuff like that. It was pretty minor event-wise, but still, I'm going to have to adopt a little bit sharper of a "persona" about stuff. I don't like the idea of having to be armed and ready to shut stuff down all the time, but it's pretty interesting to see myself in this position of letting things slide by and then thinking I shouldn't have, or I should have reacted differently. Blerg, whatever.

What it really makes me think about is parenting. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made right on the spot, or the moment slips by. There is some kind of stop-gap solution sometimes, like saying, "hey, hold up a minute, this is not cool," and then just sort of using that as a place holder to pause for a bit and figure out WHY it isn't cool and what you mean to say about it. It was so different at my old job - being in charge of stuff just meant rational delegating and sensible deadlines, clear instructions and cheerful demeanors. The cooperation was pretty easy in that sense. This job is like waitressing - team effort, team dynamic, team drama. Anyway back to the parenting thing: my friend CheetahDress told me a story once about working at a day care, and having to reprimand two little girls for not including a third child in their fun. When they were instructed with the disappointing directive of including the third, one girl said to the other, "that's okay, we weren't having that much fun anyway," so that the third kid could hear it. When I heard this, it was pretty shocking to me - this comment shows a pretty sophisticated kind of malice. What the hell do you say to a kid who says something like this? Something is way wrong with that comment, but what is it exactly? And what to do about it? There's no way it would be okay to let that go without consequence. (It's like parenting or working at a day care just becomes one huge exercise in doing that thing where you think of a great comeback two days later!) So when I heard this I instantly imagined myself in that situation and tried to think about a quick way to snuff that behavior, and I couldn't think of anything to say at all. Some lame adult thing probably would have occurred to me, like "hey, play nice." Lame-o! My pal CheetahDress, on the other hand, said, "whoa now, that's a pretty sneaky way of being mean," to the little girl. This was perfect - it's fast, and identifies the problem happening, and isn't so complicated that has to be the exact thing (describing passive aggression or the whole complexity of the girl's cruelty would have been pointless), it calls the little girl out specifically on her bullshit . . . I mean, this was an A+ thing to say in the moment, in my opinion. How to stay this present and direct and crap-cutting in life? How?

So anyway not that my job is a preschool, but really life is a preschool, and I'm going to have to call people out on their sneaky ways of punishing each other or blaming each other or whatever, and I'm using this preschool example as my template.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Networking" and "Energy"

My thesis is pretty shaky here, folks, so bear with me - something about how personal energy and networking and friendship are all related. We'll see.

Yesterday I was talking with someone about how the term "networking" is kind of icky. It can suggest that other humans are available to you for your selfish interests and that you should schmooze them enough to get things you want. So my pal and I were agreeing that it feels yucky and why can't we just want to make friends, since friendship in all its degrees is the way that life opportunities arise, for the most part. It's pretty tough to be a successful jerk, in other words, since your peers will eventually ostracize you, and your reputation will blow. Unless you become the powerful jerk in charge somehow - hmm, well this is sort careening out of control already, but let's just stick with the premise that it's better for you life dreams and opportunities and basic connectedness to be likable and sociable and convivial etc. So then "networking" is this way of meeting other people who are into things that you like, and demonstrating to them that you are, in fact, likable and reasonable to work with and maybe funny and nice and punctual, and then you exist in their mind as someone who would be good to bring into the fold of whatever they are doing.

So why can't we just say we're going to go out and make friends? Since this model works for friendship, too - you meet people who are into stuff that you like, everybody sniffs each other out as being fun or game or whatever, and then you end up calling each other to go camping or something. And then you use your connections to people and your reputation to create more relationships, and find other opportunities, and to accumulate ever more and further ways of expanding your life and perspective etc.

So I was all about hating "networking" and loving "friendship" when I thought back to lawyering. Man, you ain't need to be friends with people for this stuff. You need to be reasonable to work with (reliable, friendly, responsive) and good at what you do, and it's important to be in contact with people and spread your good reputation around so that you can gain access to contexts that will let you do the work that you want to do. And this is important, too. It's different from friendship of course in that a company or something will dispose of you regardless of your awesomeness from time to time (but maybe it's not all that different - some friendships are good for one reason but not another, and one friend who goes camping with you might not be the friend you take bowling). But really friendship is still at work in business/law situations. I saw this a lot at my old job in the big firm - the presumption was that everyone was capable of doing the work. You can write, research, finish stuff on time, and it'll be usable etc. Even better if you are capable of being confident and an expert about whatever you just did. But really, the opportunities came to the likable people who made friends with other people or who were somehow charismatic and nice to be around and could joke on the phone, because it really helps your work efforts to cooperate with someone who has pleasant energy to offer, not just a pit of limp availability, even if they are highly capable and productive. I think it's the pleasant energy thing that I'm trying to get to here while thinking about networking vs. friendship.

And speaking of energy, I guess I'm really thinking about this stuff for yoga teaching. This past weekend at the yoga workshop we talked a lot about attracting the kinds of students you actually want, and what that's about and how that goes. Our teacher talked about having a field of energy that is bigger than the situation, and that having a broken energy attracts broken students and then you all end up in a vortext of craziness. Students who don't like you have something else going on, and it could be that you just aren't their teacher at this point in their life, or it could be that the student is toxic and you don't want their energy around anyway - having your own sense of command and presence and power in the room will deter this kind of student. I've been to classes with teachers who don't have a clearly authoritative and compassionate vibe, who are hesitant or feel vulnerable, and the students' vibe feels like an out-patient psych ward. I mean, you can tell that the vibe in the classroom is a down spiral, and it sure doesn't feed the teacher to attract draining clients. And the teacher should want to feel fed by teaching, not drained - isn't this interesting to consider? I hadn't really thought about it this way, but really, even though yoga is for everyone (even, and maybe especially, the crazies), I don't want to share my energetic space with draining or toxic people. This is going to be the next hurdle in my yoga teaching - right now I just teach a small group of my young, fit, emotionally well friends, and it really feeds me to do this. I have to broaden my reach a little bit here, you know, network and make friends, so that I can assert my energy field a little and see how it goes. I guess I just hadn't really thought about treating students as a kind of co-worker or friend before, but it really is the same thing - we all get our best work done with the kind of people who are responsive and inspiring to us, whether they friends, co-workers, students - we don't want desperate or confused or draining friends or co-workers or students. I mean, a bad friend will want a weak and desperate friend to use. A bad boss will want insecure and frightened employees to control. A dangerous teacher will want needy and broken students to manipulate. Yep, it's all the same, I guess, we're all auditioning for each other for reciprocal energy exchange all the time.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Yoga Energy Feelings Weekend

So this weekend I went to a three-day yoga thing hosted by a teacher that I really like. Her yoga thing is pretty slow-going, with a lot of holding of poses, some less typical takes on the poses (like doing bridge, for example, is really different and I really like it), and the room is pretty warm, like 80 to 85 degrees. The practice she offers is meant to bring up emotions, and for the most part, I say, well done. Nothing gets me pissed for no reason like holding a yoga pose forever. But that's the magic in it - I love the mind bending in her classes. There's also a lot of energetic semi-psychological talk in her class, about things like resentment and forgiveness, and accepting our lives the way they are, and cultivating patience for ourselves and others, and all that jazz.

So normally super touchy-feely isn't my thing, but I am pretty receptive to it in the yoga context. And even though this teacher does a lot of it, she is so completely practical and regular and crap-cutting that her way of talking about feelings and energy just sound like she is articulating reality, just without leaving out the magic like we usually do. I don't know, whatever, but I like her thing that she does and thought I could get some good perspective or new tools from her, and I think I did. Although this is not without caveats.

We practiced using our empathic skills and trying to translate it into actual yoga poses, and we practiced reading people and touching them intuitively to "run energy" for them in a give/receive way that benefits both people. Sound too fluffy yet? Yeah, maybe, but it really wasn't. The teacher even said at one point that she was trying to take the "woo woo" out of energy healing and empathic intuition etc. So we did some energy drawings of each other, which just involves a basic gestural mapping of the body and the impressions we get from someone by looking and feeling (not by thinking though, no no no). I had so much fun doing this! I wish I were smart about the computer, I'd put up the drawings I did, I'm sort of pleased with them. I'll see if I can figure it out. Anyway I loved doing it, it really felt relaxing and fun and creative and great. My pal Electrical Storm was there for the training too and she is a great illustrator and her drawings were rad. It was neat to see them. And we did fun theater-exercise type stuff like take turns teaching while people distracted you with noise or questions or a game of tag, or singing the instructions, or dancing while you talked. I love love love doing this stuff, even if it's just because it's fun. It didn't have to be extra deep for me to love it. I have a hang up about not getting to go to camp enough as a kid and I'm probably sort of working it out a little, but that's for another time.

Things got a little hairy at the end when we did energy readings of each other, having to say out loud what we saw and felt from someone and then put them into a yoga posture to adjust their energy field (I know, corny, but really, my resistance to corniness is coming down pretty fast). I had to do the reading on a student who was pretty imbalanced. I was actually nervous when I saw her at the training because I was sort of aware of her from the scene and her vibe is pretty stressful to be around, and I was concerned that negotiating her vibe was going to take up a fair amount of the weekend, and be distracting or something. It wasn't bad at all - and she read my energy at one point and was DEAD ON with all her "feelings" about my body and what I was working on. It was pretty rad. But anyway yes she's pretty hyper-juiced up and a little imbalanced, and estranged from her family and children, and a total devotee of this particularly strict type of yoga and was pretty vocal about it, and I just found her to be a little nutty and stressful, which I acknowledge as very much blended in with my own judgments about things, but that's also another story. So when I did her reading I was truthful up to a point, stating the panic and chaos I felt, and then held back a little because she was starting to cry and key-rice-st I'm not a therapist and I didn't want to provoke some kind of emotional event so I eased off, and our teacher called me out on it, which was pretty wild since I thought I had covered it up pretty well. Guess not! Anyway it was a little intense and maybe more than I was ready for - but it was also very immediate and natural and I enjoyed it. SO ANYWAY long story short if I become a full-blown crystal-rubber I'll try to be a grounded one. And that's what happened this weekend.