Saturday, November 21, 2015

owning your own story; the price of validation

Conflict is what happens when two different truths rub up against each other causing friction and, sometimes, embers and flames.

When each person insists on his or her side being “right”, this adds fuel to the flames, escalating conflict to the point where it threatens to blow up and leave only one survivor.  This is called a win-lose situation and is the adversarial model of court hearings where one person’s truth consumes another’s.

There is an alternative to this which involves validating both sides of a conflict.  But each side has to be willing to relabel his or her side as a story, to separate facts from feelings and stop trying to claim absolute authority.  Not easy to do when one is also seeking validation.

The key is letting go any notion of the objectivity of your point of view.  This means, aside from (agreed-upon) facts, you stop claiming to know anything which is not your own (and your only) experience.

This is also what is called “owning” your story.

The idea is to limit your truth claims to the only thing you really know about: your thoughts, feelings, intentions, perceptions and reactions, i.e. your personal experience. 
This amounts to making first-person statements about yourself as opposed to second-person statements about the other person or, worse, third-person statements about the world at large (unless they are claims which your interlocutor can agree to without argument, e.g. the sky is blue.)  This necessarily excludes claims about others’ experience or motivations and of course any claims to general knowledge about what is right or wrong, logical, rational, meaningful or just in the world.

Presented in this way, your truth becomes much easier for your listener to validate; for it leaves room for his or her truth too.

You need some self-awareness and a lot of good faith not to disguise claims about someone else's intentions as first-person statements as in “I heard you use an angry tone” or make third-person statements that pretend to be factual while masking a subjective interpretation of something other than your own experience as in “that was an angry tone you used.”  These are sure to spark conflict.

In short, there is a price to getting your story validated by someone with another story about the same facts, and it entails the humility and willingness to doubt the absolute certainty about anything but your own perceptions. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

immersive but incomplete

I’ve never reviewed a play and, as a former theatre student, don’t want to criticize theatre, but I have to object when TV-style sensationalism steals the stage.

Centaur Theatre is hosting a production of Butcher which promises to be about loyalty, revenge and justice when the play is in fact the mere portrayal of a violent act of revenge.

No plot.  No character development.  No ideas.


As my 15-year old daughter politely said when it was over, “It was incomplete”.  My 13 year-old son, a little more generous with his review, said it was “immersive”.  That may have been because we were in the front row on the edge of a set with actual rain pouring from the ceiling.  That was cool.  Well done.

The stagecraft was great, the atmosphere immersive but the play, alas, was incomplete.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

conscience as living awake

It is an extraordinary human ability to be able to shift from being me-focused to other-focused.  This can happen spontaneously like in an emergency when, without thinking, we put ourselves aside for someone else or, on a more regular basis, when we cannot rest knowing another is in pain.  This is compassion or sympathy, the human ability to suffer with another.

As quickly as we may open to others, we can snap shut again in an instant.  We turn away from others’ pain and shut down to feeling.  This is indifference or apathy- a form of ignoring others (literally, “not knowing” them).  As much as this may preserve individual survival at times and perhaps, even,
our bliss, ignorance causes tremendous suffering to others.

The Buddhist god of compassion, Avalokitesvara
is depicted as having one thousand hands and eyes with which to see and respond to suffering.  Central to Avalokitesvara’s name is the word “lok” or “look”.  To see, to know.  This is conscience, the root of which is "science" (knowledge) and literally means to know within oneself or be conscious of.

To respond from a place of compassion we must have access to conscience: to see, to feel, to know. 

That is the heart of living awake.