Guidelines for ‘Adult’ Conversation, #4 – Recognizing and Suspending Preconceptions, Judgments and Assumptions

Previous essays in this series are available here: https://reggiemarra.com/blog/ and here: https://killing-america.com/poems/.

So, yes, culture (in the broadest view that includes race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, religion, etc.), genetics, parenting, personal experience, health, trauma, propensity to learn, and many other factors lead us to hold certain preconceptions, judgments and assumptions about ourselves, others and the world. Some of these can be helpful in navigating our everyday lives: choosing to assume that many motor vehicle drivers are somewhat distracted (not necessarily, or just, with cell phones) by life in general can keep us safe – and both minimize the chances of overreacting when someone is careless and enhance the feelings of joy and gratitude when someone is unexpectedly courteous.

Arguably the most important words in the above example are “choosing to assume.” We don’t “know” that “every” driver is distracted, but if we choose to recognize the possibility that most (including ourselves) are, this choice allows us to be less reactive (sparing both us and other drivers from us) when someone is careless, and ridiculously grateful when someone is attentive. An intentional choice to assume, while it can be harmful or helpful, is easier to eliminate or enhance once we see the harm or help.

What we’re concerned with here are those preconceptions, judgments and assumptions that we haven’t chosen intentionally: more often than not, they have chosen us. They have us,* we don’t know it, and we think we’re seeing and hearing that other person, and the rest of the world, as he, she or it is, when we’re actually seeing and hearing who and as we are, filtered through all of those lenses noted in the first sentence above and in the previous three essays.

Obviously, this is not a new idea. Versions of it have been around for millennia: stop looking through that glass darkly, and get that plank out of your eye! Still, look at or listen to most ‘conversations’ in which people are disagreeing on issues across political (and other) divides – whether in the media, on social media, or in person, and whether they’re elected officials, news commentators, celebrities (or some combination of these three), social critics, ‘thought leaders’ or just ordinary folks, and most of them are certain that 1) they see things as things are, 2) they are correct, and 3) the opponent is wrong.

Now (I hope) the significance of essays #2’s and #3’s explorations of who we (think we) are in conversation is more apparent. Before we have any real chance of opening up and seeing and hearing another human being in conversation with even a basic level of authenticity and integrity, we need to have some idea of how our glass is dark, how dark it is, and what the dimensions and composition are of that plank, beam, log or speck that’s lodged in our own eye(s).

One way into this is to gain some clarity on a preconception, judgment or assumption we have, or that has us: why do we have it, or does it have us, and what’s the impact of the having? Byron Katie suggests asking ourselves these questions:**

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do I react when I think that thought (preconception, judgment or assumption)?
  4. Who would I be without this thought (preconception, judgment or assumption)?

That fourth question asks us to explore what it might be like to suspend our preconceptions, judgments and assumptions in conversation (or forever) – even if they are provably true (right now).

If I enter a conversation with strong beliefs about the superiority of the Yankees or the Red Sox (even my choosing sports and those two teams as examples tells you something about me), liberals or conservatives, gays or straights, wisdom or compassion, just or mercy, etc., my chances for authentic, open dialogue will be limited or enhanced by the extent to which I voluntarily, accurately and thoroughly recognize and suspend – or permanently let go, the historical beliefs and assumptions (aka scripts, tapes, films, stories, narratives, etc.) that hold me.

This is difficult, essential work if we are to speak from our hearts with, and deeply listen to, each other. Perhaps (re)read the second essay in this series, return to the six bulleted responses to the events of September 11, 2001. For each, go a little deeper with the second reflection question posed there: note your reaction to each of the six points, and explore the preconceptions, judgments and assumptions you have, or that have you, that lead to your reaction.

Do this neither to prove yourself “right” or “wrong” but to explore and get to know yourself better.

In the next essay, we’ll consider the effects of avoiding insults, labels and/or sweeping generalizations in conversation.

__________

*For more on the idea of having assumptions vs. being had by them, see Robert Kegan’s and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.  http://mindsatwork.com/

**From “The Work” by Byron Katie. For some context, and a deeper dive into each question, visit http://thework.com/en/do-work.   See also her Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. New York: Harmony, 2002.

Guidelines for ‘Adult’ Conversation #3 – Who (You Think) You Are in Conversation – Beyond Culture

Previous essays in this series are available here: https://reggiemarra.com/blog/ & https://killing-america.com/poems/

This third essay continues #2’s exploration of ourselves and our worldviews – those values, beliefs, biases and experiences that inform the lenses through which we see and interpret life. In #2 we noted the often invisible influence of culture; here we’ll zoom in and explore some of what accounts for other discrete differences both beyond and within these cultural influences.

A short list includes genetics (nature); parenting (nurture); personality; health; trauma; multiple intelligences (aka developmental lines); tendencies along the continua of feminine/masculine, interior/exterior, individual/collective; and Shadow. To the extent that we are aware of, choose to explore, and intentionally develop any of these, we will be more or less knowledgeable about ‘who we (think we) are’. Here’s a brief overview of each:

  • Genetics (nature) provides us with some basic input concerning our individual traits, tendencies and possibilities – from physical appearance to various aptitudes.
  • Parenting (nurture), which is influenced by culture, provides us with immediate follow-up regarding how our nature may manifest. Our parents (and other influential adults) provide us with an early view of life that may be more or less accurate and healthy, and which we may embrace, rebel against, or both.
  • Models of personality abound and can be helpful. One view of personality is that it emerges through the strategies we engage as children in order to survive, cope, and thrive in our family (and culture) of origin. Often, some of the things that serve us as children are no longer necessary or helpful in adulthood, and we can thank them and let them go as we develop.
  • Serious, persistent health issues at any age may teach us about vulnerability, mortality, resilience, compassion and hope, as well as anger, resentment, and despair – as may any form of trauma. Our parents’ and other caregivers’ attitudes, as well as the culture at large, often carry powerful messages – helpful or hurtful, true or unfounded, about various types of illness and trauma.
  • Decades of research confirm our ability to develop through intelligences such as linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, moral, kinesthetic, musical, emotional, spiritual and cognitive, among others. We may become highly developed in one or more of these, less so in others. There is not necessarily a correlation between what we’re good at and what we enjoy.
  • One way to speak about feminine and masculine energies (as opposed to the biological females and males) is that healthy women and men can develop a balance of and comfort with the tendencies toward communion, compassion and mercy – typically considered feminine traits, and tendencies toward agency, wisdom and justice – considered masculine traits.
  • Along the continua of interior/exterior and individual/collective, we may find ourselves attracted to and more or less competent with specific elements of what have become known as Ken Wilber’s quadrant model: the interior-individual (the world of my values, intentions, thoughts, beliefs – philosophy, psychology, spirituality); the interior-collective (the world of our beliefs, thoughts, values – relationship, culture, anthropology); the exterior-individual (the world of my physical body, action/doing, sensory experience, biology); or the exterior-collective (the world of environment, systems, infrastructure, ecology).
  • Finally, we repress those traits that our culture or family frowned upon – what it was not okay to feel, be or do when we were young – our Shadow. In every conversation, unaware of what we have repressed, we feel a disproportionate reaction when we notice it in some else: I’m not angry! You, and everyone like you are angry!

Yikes. Amid this complex mess, why even bother trying to have a conversation?

One reason is, in David Whyte’s words, “The conversation is the relationship” in any sustainable, authentic exchange, and while we are focusing on verbal conversation in these essays, the nuances of true conversation transcend and include what we say, as we are asked to “back them words up, pardner,” “put our money where our mouth is,” and “walk our talk,” among other annoying, relevant clichés.

So, before we’ve even touched on the requisite skills and characteristics of civil, open, honest, ‘adult’ conversation, it’s clear that communicating authentically is not for the faint of heart, not for the faint of self-knowing, and not for the feint of authentic curiosity. No quick fix or magic potion works. We have to do the work, which takes time. Engaging any one of the bullet points above is a step in a good direction. Three prospective ways to start: 1) begin with what feels easiest; 2) begin with what makes most sense to you; 3) begin with what you know will be challenging. Then get curious about why you chose as you did.

Finally, and this will resurface in future essays, complement any work you do with getting to know yourself better with a sense of not knowing, especially, but not only with regard to what we call the self. Not knowing is the core of ongoing learning, growth and development. As soon as we “know for sure,” we close to other possibilities. Hold your knowing lightly. Stay open.

Thanks for reading this far.

In #4, we’ll explore the practice of recognizing and suspending preconceptions, judgments and assumptions in conversation.

Selected resources:

  • Among many personality type systems, I’ll mention three: the Enneagram; Myers-Briggs; and DiSC. Of the three, I have the most training in, and tend to use the Enneagram. If you’d like to explore it, visit https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-descriptions or https://www.enneagramworldwide.com/tour-the-nine-types/ and read the details of the types – noting what feels familiar and unfamiliar. Because of how I tend to learn, I recommend not taking online assessments (free samples or paid full versions) until you have some sense of your type. Then the assessments might be helpful. Plenty of books are available as well.
  • One of my favorite authors on Howard Gardner’s work with multiple intelligences is Thomas Armstrong: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/;
  • For a brief overview of developmental lines, interiors, exteriors, individuals and collectives (and the rest of his AQAL model), see Ken Wilber’s The Integral Vision (2007) a “pocket edition” of which was released in November 2018. See also many additional titles by the author.
  • For an exploration of how culture, illness and trauma can intersect, see Lewis Mehl-Medrona’s Coyote Wisdom: The Power of Story in Healing. Rochester, VT: Bear & Company, 2005 (among other titles by the author); Gabor Maté’s When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2003; and Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Penguin, 2014.
  • For an overview of Shadow that includes how a culture can have a collective Shadow, see “Revisiting ‘Donald Trump, Collective American Shadow, and “the Better Angels of Our Nature.”’”

Guidelines for ‘Adult’ Conversation #2 – Who (You Think) You Are in Conversation

Please scroll down for sample poems, which begin below the initial February 3, 2019 blog post.


The introductory essay is available here: https://reggiemarra.com/2019/01/29/guidelines-for-adult-conversation/

This second essay explores some components that each of us brings to conversation (and everything else we do) – beliefs, values, experiences and biases that make us who we (think we) are. This self-knowing (and paradoxically the ‘not knowing’ that accompanies it) is essential in conversation if we want to be clear on “what is mine,” “what is yours” and “what is ours” when we speak.

In “The Inner Experience” Thomas Merton implores us to “Reflect, sometimes, on the disquieting fact that most of your statements of opinions, tastes, deeds, desires, hopes and fears are statements about someone who is not really present. When you say ‘I think’ it is often not you who think, but ‘they’—it is the anonymous authority of the collectivity speaking through your mask. When you say ‘I want’, you are sometimes simply making an automatic gesture of accepting, and paying for, what has been forced upon you. That is to say, you reach out for what you have been made to want.”

Some forty years after Merton penned those words, Ken Wilber tells us that “You can be listening to someone coming from [a given developmental structure] and it is obvious that this person is not thinking of these ideas himself; almost everything he says is completely predictable…. He has no idea that he is the mouthpiece of this structure, a structure he doesn’t even know is there. It almost seems as if it is not he who is speaking, but the … structure itself that is speaking through him—this vast intersubjective network is speaking through him” [emphasis in original].

Both Merton and Wilber point to the often invisible impact of culture on our individual viewpoints; Wilber’s assessment adds a developmental component that wasn’t available to Merton; and culture is just one of the forces that influences how each of us shows up in the world.

Imagine two adult friends who are the same age, grew up on the same street, went to the same schools through high school and the same place of worship – effectively the same national and local culture through the age of seventeen or eighteen. Now consider the influences of their genetics, health, personalities, parents, siblings, and unique childhood, adolescent and adult experiences, and to what extent they are aware of any of this – and you have the tip of a very significant ‘who I (think I) am’ iceberg.

Some of the ‘explanations’ offered in response to the events of September 11, 2001 in New York City, Washington, D.C.; and Pennsylvania include:

  • The hijackers were jealous of the freedoms, wealth and abundant way of life enjoyed in the United States. As they saw more and more of the manifestations of these freedoms, wealth and abundance via various media, they attempted to destroy what they could not have themselves.
  • God was punishing New York City for its sins – especially homosexuality and the greed inherent in the corporate cultures of Wall Street, Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue.
  • Islam is a violent religion whose followers are unable or unwilling to adjust to the modern world, have no respect for women and consider non-Muslims to be infidels who must be converted or killed.
  • Some Saudis were angry over their king’s welcoming tens of thousands of U.S. troops, rather than raising their own forces (as they had helped Afghanistan do against the Soviet Union) ostensibly to help prevent an attack by Iraq after that country had invaded Kuwait.
  • Israel had masterminded the attack in order to solidify U.S. support against Arab enemies (another version claims the C.I.A conspired with Israel on this), especially since there were increasingly more hints of support in the United States for Palestinians.
  • Thousands civilians had been killed in U.S. military action in the Middle East since 1980, and a group of men figured out a way to fight back against the superior power of the United States, much as colonists had done against Great Britain in the 1770’s.

There are more; these will suffice.

Two ways you can work with this right now:

  1. Spend some time inquiring into what beliefs, values, and experiences might lead someone to hold any one or more of the above responses. Really inquire; don’t just guess or mock those statements with which you disagree.
  2. Reread each of the above bullet points and pay close attention to how your belly, your heart and your mind react to each. What is it about you such that you react as you do?
  3. Do some research into which, and to what extent any, of the responses are true.

You can conduct a similar experiment with any issue, large or small.

In our third essay, we’ll explore several other components that influence who each of us (thinks he or she) is. Our goal is to begin to recognize the lenses through which we see and experience the world.

Thanks for reading this far.

_____

Merton, Thomas. “The Inner Experience.” Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master. Ed. Lawrence S. Cunningham. Mahwah NJ: Paulist, 1992, p. 295.

Wilber, Ken. Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. Boston: Integral-Shambhala, 2006, p. 277.

Guidelines for ‘Adult’ Conversation – An Introduction

Please scroll down for sample poems, which begin below the initial February 3, 2019 blog post.


This is an introduction to a series of essays that will explore “Guidelines for ‘Adult’ Conversation,” which we might also refer to as “Doing More Good than Harm in Conversation,” or “Disagreeing (and Agreeing) with Civility.”

The initial purpose of this writing, which will undoubtedly evolve as the essays unfold, is to become increasingly better able to deeply listen to others, and authentically express ourselves, in ways that foster understanding, appreciation and respect for everyone who is present, and everyone who is not. With some few exceptions, “we” seem to have lost the ability to disagree with each other without engaging in personal insult, labeling and sweeping generalizations. We also seem to have lost the ability to agree with each other without engaging in personal insult, labeling and sweeping generalizations directed toward those who are not present, with whom we disagree.

This loss of ability (or lack of skill, or chosen laziness, or…) is evident among just about anyone who wishes the world were different, who knows who’s to blame for how it is, and who’s sure that he or she is not part of the problem, but rather a victim, a prospective savior, or both. I had initially begun listing specific groups (elected officials, news commentators, etc.) after the word “among,” and then realized the list would be too long and inevitably incomplete. So, whether you believe that Conservative Republican Fascists, Liberal Democrat Commies, Independent Infidels or some combination of these are to blame for everything that’s wrong, YOU are part of the problem. That sentence is an example of what these essays will argue against doing.

“Adult,” as used in this essay, refers to several specific characteristics that, while they may require a certain chronological age, are available to folks across a spectrum of ages. The word, again, as used here, may refer to folks who see the world through a “traditional” religious worldview, a “modern” scientific worldview, a “postmodern” egalitarian worldview, a “post-postmodern” integral worldview and beyond, or some blend of these. That is to say that “adulthood” refers as much to how one holds beliefs as to what one believes.

There are other ways to define “adult”; I will continue to clarify how I’m using the word as these writings unfold. Cutting to the chase, the guidelines (which will be explored in detail in subsequent essays) include, but are not limited to:

  • Getting to know yourself and your worldview – your values, beliefs and biases, and what experiences and other learnings inform them, and committing to this as an ongoing, lifelong process.
  • Related to the above, recognizing and suspending your preconceptions, judgments and assumptions;
  • Avoiding insults, labels and/or sweeping generalizations (note penultimate sentence in 3rd paragraph, above);
  • Getting clear on and honoring the difference between opinion and fact, where fact refers to an event or characteristic that reasonable competent individuals, regardless of their beliefs or opinions, agree on, and opinion refers to the meaning(s) an individual ascribes to a fact;
  • Related to the immediately preceding, providing specific, factual and preferably personal examples to support your opinions (as opposed to characterizing, generalizing and interpreting others’ opinions);
  • Getting and staying genuinely curious about yourself, others and the world;
  • Engaging (listening, speaking and asking) in order to learn, understand and clarify, and not to teach or persuade (unless teaching or persuasion has been agreed upon by participating parties in the conversation);
  • Committing to finding those places in which you actually agree with the other (similarities), and not just where you disagree (differences);
  • Agreeing to, and actually staying focused on, the specific content of the current conversation;
  • Feeling into and listening for the emotion(s) behind your own and others’ words;
  • Allowing yourself to understand, feel, embody and tell the other’s story as if it were your own (which goes significantly beyond the idea of walking in another’s shoes – which is a good place to start and useful, and has limitations that we’ll explore);
  • Honestly exploring and assessing how what you promote and what you protest impacts others, especially others who are “not like you” – in the broadest meaning of that phrase. Another way to state this is “Who stands to lose, and how and what will they lose, and who stands to win, and how and what will they win, if what I promote truly manifests and what I protest truly disappears?”

As these essays unfold, I am committed to exposing and owning my own worldview – those values, beliefs, biases and experiences that inform how I experience and interpret life. We’ll see how that goes.

Thanks for reading this far.

Coming Soon: Getting to Know Yourself and Your Worldview

This Day Our Daily Dead

This Day Our Daily Dead
                     after Naomi Shihab Nye

We wonder and worry what it will take for
our country women and men to feel again

this tender gravity, this pull of and toward
kindness, the way we did when we were

very young children. We do not need our
passports, we need not travel beyond our

borders, giving ourselves this day our daily
dead as we do, rarely really seeing them

though, protected as we agree to be from the
truth of what we do and who we are. Twenty

first-graders are not enough, yet another
unarmed black man or ambushed cop is not

enough, concert and movie goers and dancers
are not enough, a shopper, bus driver and

landscaper, still not enough, high school
students, not enough. We don’t know if it will

ever be time to look at the images no one wants
to see because they’re too disturbing, unless

they’re broken-or-burned-beyond-recognition
un-American bodies, but our relentless refusal

to look deeply at what’s disturbing is itself
disturbing. Our terrified turning away from

what is traps us ever more tightly in it, as if
that ever-growing malignancy will on its own

dissipate and disappear if we make believe it’s
not there, even though we feel its pressure

within our hearts every moment. Peek-a-boo, it
says. How much more of me do you need? How

much bigger do I need to be before you admit
I’m part of you, and you have the will to do

what has to be done to remove me, before the
lost voice of that vulnerable child within you

is truly able to remember and say, all gone?
How much more? Will you ever be enough?

__________
Note: After Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness” – especially “Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness / you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho / lies dead by the side of the road.”

Copyright © 2018 by Reggie Marra. From Killing America: Our United States of Ignorance, Fear, Bigotry, Violence and Greed (September 2018).

Longing for Leadership in America

Longing for Leadership in America

Early on in more or less
healthy childhood she lives
as the central character in a
magical world until she
meets others who also think
they’re central characters,

and she begins to sense that her
point of view is not the only one
and that she can play other roles and
understand others’ rules, and then

she learns to play with the rules and roles
themselves, to see beyond what seems to
be given, to reflect on herself and others,
to wonder what if,
and to embrace the notion
that she not only need not fear or try to change or
kill those whose skin, hair, genitals, eyes, language,
food, music, interests, beliefs and laughter differ
from hers,
but that it’s good to embrace, learn
from, share, and fully and freely be with
them in a way that broadens and deepens
both without diminishing either.

Another way to say this is that she and others can
recognize, respect, wonder at and love each other
in increasingly more comprehensive, balanced and
complex ways that invite and allow a shift in
identity from   me  to some of us         to
      all              of   us  to all    that     is      and
the good news is that me, some of us
and all of us remain and expand within
her embodiment of all that is.

She still eats, sleeps, goes to work and the bathroom
and enjoys chocolate chip cookies and kale. She finds
it easier to embrace compassion and empathy for herself
and others.
Killing, abuse, harassment, hatred, bigotry
and insult become increasingly troublesome and
useless.

She meets other women and men who live this way
and feels safer around them.

And she observes that widening her embrace
tends to be more difficult amid
absolute certainty.

__________
Copyright © 2018 by Reggie Marra. From Killing America: Our United States of Ignorance, Fear, Bigotry, Violence and Greed. Forthcoming, September 2018.

Revisiting “What You Should Worry About at Night”

Revisiting “What You Should Worry About at Night”

  1. Frighteningly Ignorant and/or Dishonest Words
    from a, Like, Very Stable Genius

They’re bringing drugs.
They’re bringing crime.
They’re rapists.
He’s not a war hero.
He’s a war hero because he was captured.
I like people that weren’t captured.
I know more about ISIS
than the generals do.
Believe me.
Now this poor guy,
you ought to see this guy.
I would bring back waterboarding,
and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse
than waterboarding.
If she gets to pick her judges,
nothing you can do, folks.
Although the Second Amendment people −
maybe there is,
I don’t know.
He’s the founder of ISIS.
He’s the founder of ISIS.
He’s the founder.
He founded ISIS.
I would say the co-founder
would be crooked Hillary Clinton.

  1. Like, Really Smart: Found Poem #5

Actually,
throughout my life,
my two greatest assets have been
mental stability and
being, like, really smart.
Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard
and, as everyone knows, went down in flames.
I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star…..
….to President of the United States (on my first try).
I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius
….and a very stable genius at that!

__________

Sources:

  1. “Frighteningly Ignorant and/or Dishonest Words from a, Like, Very Stable
    Genius”

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/29/us/politics/at-least-110-republican-
leaders-wont-vote-for-donald-trump-heres-when-they-reached-their-breaking-
point.html
| by Karen Yourish, Larry Buchanan and Alicia Parlapiano. Accessed August 29, 2016, January 6, 2017, February 13, 2018 and June 7, 2018.

  1. “Like, Really Smart: Found Poem #5”
    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/1/6/16857492/trump-tweets-mental- health | by Emily Stewart. Accessed January 6, 2018 and February 13, 2018.

Copyright © 2018 by Reggie Marra. From Killing America: Our United States of Ignorance, Fear, Bigotry, Violence and Greed (forthcoming, September 2018).