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A recent exchange with heliopsis helped me clarify a little further what it is I'm orbiting around with all this stuff about silence. I repeat it here with minor edits.

I have to a large extent embraced the silence.

I recognize that this probably strikes everyone but me as a ludicrous assertion. All I can say is, you have no idea how much goes unsaid.

I resent not being a telepath; I always have. I resent the absurd bandwidth limitations that speech imposes on inter-mind communications. "Language is a drum on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the while we wish to move the stars to pity."

But over the last five years or so I have, with varying degrees of grace, accepted that the attempt to overcome those bandwidth limitations often causes more harm than good. I have accepted that keeping my mouth shut often leaves people less upset, less tired, less challenged, less attacked, less angry, less hurt, less frustrated.

These are all good things.

Unfortunately, I have mostly done this by allowing myself to become alienated from the systems I had formerly been engaged with.

I am increasingly wanting to feel engaged with them again, while at the same time acknowledging that my former way of engaging with them just doesn't work, for many of the reasons that people have been explaining in comments: in a nutshell, they place unjustified demands on other people.

So I need to find new ways... ways in which I can remain silent, but still engage. Ways to help move the system forward while accepting that people sometimes lie about their motives, about their values, about their goals. Ways to share my motives, my values, and my goals without necessarily talking about them. Etc.

Don't misunderstand me... I still resent the need for all that. I still think that in a better world, none of it would be necessary.

But the world is what it is.

A little while ago I was writing about social bodies (here and here). That idea seems to alienate more than communicate, but it is valuable to me here, so I'd like to introduce it as a metaphor.

After my stroke, I had to learn to accept that my body did not work the way I wanted it to... neither physically nor mentally. It had failure points, and weaknesses, and I had to take those into account in order to make progress. Being upset at my body or my brain was understandable, but irrelevant... at the end of the day, it was what it was, and I had to get things done with it because it was all I had.

The same applies to my various social bodies. Yes, I would like them to be stronger, healthier, better integrated, in better health... but they aren't. And if I'm going to make progress, I have to find ways to work in them as they are. I have to be aware of the ways in which they are broken, and make adjustments to compensate for that. Being upset at them is understandable, but irrelevant.


( 44 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 9th, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)

You have a lot to say here, and you're trying to cram it into fewer words than can reasonably contain it. I suggest to you that "silence" is the wrong name for what you are trying to do, and that a better post-it to stick on it would be "pick your battles."

I am also working with social bodies that not only would I *like* to be stronger, healthier, better integrated, and so on, but they *are*, and refuse to take credit for it because it's *easier* being weak and helpless.

If *you* and those like you are going to go silent on me now too, it'd only be my extreme future-orientation that would keep me from slitting my own throat. The existence of cowards in our worlds is no excuse for cowardice of our own. A healthy grasp on reality suggests that we not try to make heroes from them, but instead let us concentrate on heroic acts of our *own*, so that we may at least *inspire* the Silent ones. *Becoming* them does not accomplish this.

Your being upset with them is not at all irrelevant. *Expressing* it may be inappropriate, but having and being aware of your own standards is vitally necessary, even if it's their violation that is drawing them to your attention. It hurts, and that sucks, but suppressing pain is *worse*; you *still* have the pain, and the damage it was warning you about, and now you *also* have the energy wasted suppressing it.

Frustrated? Appropriately, I'd say. Call me up at 310-918-8142 and swear about it, if that'll help you vent. Or tell outrageous stories, or vengeance fantasies, or whatever floats your boat. *You* *are* *a* *hero*, and that is a damned tough role to fill, and we your species *need* you. And hate you for it, but that's *our* problem, not yours.

Please don't go silent on us. Just exercise a bit tighter judgement on where and with whom you spend your words.


May. 10th, 2010 03:18 am (UTC)
I'm unlikely to go more silent than I've already gone... as I say, it's more of a question of learning to engage more, without talking more with people with whom more talking doesn't make things better.

Being upset with them is irrelevant in the same way that being upset with my right leg after my stroke was irrelevant. Not that I didn't feel that way; I did. Not that I shouldn't express it; as you say, sometimes I have to. (And while I appreciate the offer, I have channels available.)

Just that we have to start from where we are, always, and being upset doesn't change that.

May. 9th, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
I have to be aware of the ways in which they are broken, and make adjustments to compensate for that. Being upset at them is understandable, but irrelevant.

There are also the options of "work to change them" and "create new systems". I think that changing your own mode of interaction is a powerful tool and the one most under your control, but not the only one. I also think that being upset about how things work can be a great motivation, if channelled into productive action.

Remember: I believe that anger is energy and energy can move things!

And, to be clear, changing the system may not mean "getting everyone to engage with me in discussing things as fully as I'd like to in meetings" but "inviting engagement on more creative brainstorming, creating a venue for that, and attempting to nurture that as a stronger part of the culture". Or not "let's not have partisan bickering" but "how can I encourage non-partisan discussion of important issues?" or "can I focus my energy into an area that has bi-partisan agreement or transcends partisan bickering in some way?"
May. 10th, 2010 03:19 am (UTC)
May. 10th, 2010 12:46 am (UTC)
Can I suggest, not for the first time, that you need to go to Friends Meeting?
May. 10th, 2010 01:29 am (UTC)
I've never been to one, but I second this motion.
May. 10th, 2010 03:06 am (UTC)
I have been thinking this a lot, lately, myself.
May. 10th, 2010 03:37 am (UTC)
I have been thinking this a lot, lately, myself.
May. 10th, 2010 10:04 am (UTC)
We probably could go to Friends Meeting at Cambridge on 27 June. Though it means you'd be driving into the city both days we visited (since there's waffles with heliopsis on Saturday!). I'd like that, I expect, and I'm sure da_lj would. There are some dear friends of ours whom I've not seen in quite a while; it's been almost a year for one and more like 3 since I've seen her partner.
May. 10th, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)
Let's call that a plan.
May. 10th, 2010 01:07 pm (UTC)
OK. I'll drop a note to our f/Friends to hope they'll be there.
May. 10th, 2010 01:41 am (UTC)
The drift of this conversation worries me a bit, but I need to remember that I no longer know you even 10% as well as I used to (and I'm not sure how well I ever knew you in the first place, all the discussions we had notwithstanding...).

One of your strengths that I always valued was your ability to look at a situation in a different light, to slice it differently and ask questions that no one else thought to ask. I appreciated that, and I kinda wish I had more of it in my life these days. And really, when all's said and done, perhaps it says more about your work environment than about you, that they don't appreciate that thing you do...

May. 10th, 2010 03:19 am (UTC)
What worries you about it?
May. 10th, 2010 03:25 am (UTC)
it sounds like you've encountered some fairly stiff resistance to your methods of analysis and communication in a work context (and to a lesser extent in a personal context), and are considering making some fundamental changes in the way you communicate.

see my 2nd para above for why i'm not sure that's the greatest plan...
May. 10th, 2010 03:36 am (UTC)
Ah. No, as I say, it's more that I made those changes starting about five years ago.

It's not entirely clear to me what I'm considering now. I mean, it's clearly something, it's just not clear to me.

I think of it like this -- I had one way of engaging with people. It became clear that I'd reached the limits of that approach, and I started disengaging. I'm now at a point where I mostly don't engage with people that way when it's not useful... but I mostly don't engage with them at all.

Now, it's time to find another way.

Which is not to say that the original approach isn't available when it's valuable. If you would like more of it in your life, we can do that. :-)
May. 10th, 2010 10:05 am (UTC)
Do you feel lonely, or inauthentic or ...?
May. 10th, 2010 12:45 pm (UTC)
Ineffectual, mostly.

And frightened. That is, I'm being increasingly aware that engagement is the antithesis of fear for me, and that if I want less fear in my life -- which I do -- I need to find ways to invite more engagement into it.
May. 10th, 2010 01:11 pm (UTC)
Is this at all seasonal? (I know how much more complicated this is for you, given that we'd have to ask after, I dunno, spring of '08, which is Before, and so ...)
May. 10th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)
This has come up with my therapist, and our considered collective answer is "beats the fuck out of us."

I don't think it used to be, Before, but I'm not sure... I might just be being aware of seasonal emotional patterns I wasn't previously paying attention to. Even if it wasn't, it's entirely possible that it is now... hitting your thalamus with a stick will do that. There's some evidence to that effect, but there are so many confounding things going on and the data collection period is so short that there's no way to say.

I mean, I've come to expect February to be an extended dark night, and I've come to expect a surge of energy in April and May. But is that seasonal, or is it associated with things like the anniversary of my Dad's death, my birthday, yadda yadda? Who knows.
May. 10th, 2010 01:33 pm (UTC)
Isn't it simpler to presume it's seasonal and act on it as though it were? (This is my general attitude towards a lot of things cognitive: if treating them as though they had simpler etiology works, then, well, hey, who cares what the real etiology is?) [Indeed, in an entirely unrelated note, this is why I think research about the etiology of homosexuality is not very interesting.]
May. 10th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure.

Certainly, if engaging actively with my emotions around my Dad dying helps me be less unhappy around February, I would much rather do that than simply medicate the symptoms, for example.

But perhaps that's just a sort of snobbery on my part, some misguided sense of "I'm more than just my biochemistry, dammit!" or something similar. I'm not sure.

In any case, I certainly agree that what matters to individuals is results, not etiology.

Although I think you jump ahead too far when you ascribe the same statement to researchers. Knowing the real mechanisms of action of depression doesn't necessarily help depressed people, but the fact that their doctors and pharmacological researchers know this stuff does help depressed people.
May. 10th, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
Sure, I suppose.

It's funny to me, given that my means of treatment is clearly biochemical (my light box is mucking with my biochemistry) but not pharmaceutical, so that way I get to claim moral high ground (I do?) while simultaneously getting better. I do prefer the idea of not taking medication. But this isn't about me... :-)

Right--I guess I don't care about the research on the etiology of homosexuality because the research sucks and mostly has to do with stupid researcher biases. And really, it seems about as interesting, nowadays, as research on why my hair is lighter-coloured than yours.
May. 10th, 2010 02:08 pm (UTC)
Sure, I agree with you about homosexuality, precisely because I don't think of it something to be treated.

In that sense, it is a bit of a digression, much like the genetic underpinning of hair color, as you say. Or height. Not that it isn't interesting, but it has nothing to do with treatment.

That said, and embracing the digression: from a research perspective I do think it would be useful to develop an understanding of the biochemical markers of sexual orientation, as a way of getting at questions about the distribution of orientations within a population that isn't as utterly swamped by the effects of socialization as measuring their behavior (or worse yet, measuring their reports about their behavior) is.

Though, of course, that has chilling political implications, given the world we actually live in.

And, yes, I agree with you that most of the actual research being done in this area is stupid.
May. 10th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
(I just want to say that I really like this parenthetical and may quote it in the future)
May. 10th, 2010 02:51 pm (UTC)
*smiles* OK. You're more than welcome to.
May. 10th, 2010 01:51 am (UTC)
I feel like I should describe how we worked through some issues about how our meetings worked, in my team, but I keep trying and it just keeps coming out as a disorganized mess.

One of your talents is in grappling with tough things. One of the things r_ness says about you is that you walk right up to those tough things and face them directly.

I think that this talent of yours works very well who are similarly strong in that area, but there are a lot of folks who may need help in seeing a safe space to challenge assumptions, and I think you can work on finding little ways to help them see that context so that they can join you.

You may be able to ask for more a spot for brainstorming activities in work meetings. A lot of people need really clear ground rules for "we're brainstorming now" and "we are now narrowing down our choices and we need to make a decision about how to go forward." Some of them also need to see a clear progression from brainstorming and examination of first principles, to later planning and decision-making, so that they feel the group is moving forward and not working in circles. Asking for stronger facilitation, for a retreat with someone who teaches groups to plan and execute meetings cooperatively, and for clearly designated times for brainstorming, might help, depending on who is having what problem.

No, it isn't easy. And it makes you feel crappy while you're sorting it out. It's _hard_ to model good behavior around speaking and silence while talking about tough issues with people who may not be as committed to modeling good behavior. You'll be happier with yourself in the end, though.

Does that make any sense at all? I'm still not sure I'm understanding what you're trying to work on, but I'm hoping this might give you a little encouragement.
May. 10th, 2010 03:23 am (UTC)
It kinda sorta maybe makes sense, albeit a very non-implementable kind of sense at the moment.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to work on, either.

Basically, what I'm engaging in is a large-scale circumlocution strategy... I'm just sort of talking, and sorting through what comes out, and trying to remain open to the sense that "This, this is important" and letting that shift my focus. The process is as unpredictable for me as it is incomprehensible to others.

May. 10th, 2010 02:18 am (UTC)
So I'm getting a lot of different issues all being jumbled up. In your second social bodies link you talk about boundary issues, in the first one you talk about boundaries of the brain/soul or however you want to classify those distinctions.

And it seems that you are roughly trying to tease out the boundaries of investment in this commentary. You seem to wish to withdraw your investment of self in various situations because you do not see them paying any positive dividends. And yet you feel a compulsion to still be part of those relationships anyway.

What is it you are actually asking of yourself? I get that you are trying to change the way you interact with the world so as to create a healthier environment. And I get that what's NOT happening is others meeting you half-way?

Not everyone is interested in changing or making their world healthier. They are already prioritizing their world for something that doesn't match that scenario. Is the problem that you can't tell what that is so cannot either convince them otherwise or match your stride to theirs?
May. 10th, 2010 03:30 am (UTC)
It's not clear to me that I'm talking about wanting to withdraw, so much as I am talking about being aware of the degree to which I already have withdrawn.

Others meeting me halfway isn't the issue. I mean, sure, that would be lovely, but it's not particularly relevant, and I don't expect it. As you say, they are all off on whatever paths they're on, and that's where their attention rightfully is. Demanding that they align their paths with mine is both unjust and pointless.

Mostly, what I'm asking of myself at the moment is clarity. And I think I'm getting there, slowly.

I'm sorry it's being frustrating.

Thanks for listening.
May. 10th, 2010 06:58 pm (UTC)
So far, you're not being frustrating at all, although I'm sure you feel frustrated by the whole thing.

Mostly what I meant was 'in your ideal world" as opposed to 'what was actually happening'. Thus, if you're the only one making changes and they're not matching you, the communications failures will continue and you will continue to be alienated.

Then again, I'm the one who thinks if we can just talk more, everything can be fixed.
May. 10th, 2010 07:23 pm (UTC)
I think I could summarize a lot of what I've been saying as that I used to think that if we can just talk more, everything can be fixed.

And gradually I came to understand that sometimes, we just can't talk more, and so things can't be fixed.

And now I'm beginning to explore the possibility that maybe, even though we can't talk more, some things can be fixed anyway.

In my ideal world, we are all telepaths, and it's less about communication and more about sharing underlying models. But I don't live in my ideal world.
May. 10th, 2010 03:58 am (UTC)
hmmm... so many things to think about.

I get your analogy on many levels and with all the social bodies I am in volved in. "Pick your battles" is a good way of expressing the conundrum of to engage or withdrawl.

I think the difficulty in trying to initiate any kind of change in a group where you have no direct authority is tough...sometimes really tough. My thing now is to:
1. Do the Ghandi thing; "be the change you want to see..." yadda, yadda, yadda
2. Learn your group, their motives, their agendas, so you can help them see how the change will complement their goals.
3. Learn who shares your views and make small changes to your corner of the group. When people see that working they are often more likely to want to be in on things.
4. If the change produces unanticipated, undesireable results own it immediately and fully and come with ideas on how to right it. This seems to confuse everyone who was aniticipating a fight and disarms them before they can respond.
5. Be patient. This is not always my strong point. Some of us work through problem solving much faster than others... some of us are great at the conceptual and have the ability to see how to implement it... many are horrible at this.

I think learning to pick my battles (when to talk, and when to withdrawl, and when to just ignore) has been the major life lesson of the last 2 years and one I am still working on.
May. 10th, 2010 02:11 pm (UTC)
(nods) I think this is right.

My reaction to it is still about 90-95% "But that's HARD!!! Can't it be, you know, easier?"

May. 10th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
Like the women say, hardest to learn is the least complicated.
May. 10th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC)
LOL... yes it is HARD, particularly at first! I still know I have plenty of room for improvement myself, and there are days when I seem to forget all of those points. In calm moments though, I can say that it gets easier with practice and self-patience.

pssst... it wont get easier until you start. ;) Join me on this crazy path and we can laugh at all the silly people and their roadblocks, and how we fall into the pit holes they stick in our way.
May. 10th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC)
*leaves a pebble*
May. 10th, 2010 02:11 pm (UTC)
May. 10th, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
Well, now I understand why you're so good at understanding the brick walls gentlescholar smacks his head against so regularly.
May. 10th, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)
Oh, hell, yes. Nobody ever believes me when I say this, and I understand why, but Rob and I are a lot alike in this respect.
May. 10th, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
When you go into a group of people, what do you think of as your "job" during that interaction?

Perhaps you could try on different hats for group interactions and see if any of them make you feel good.

- Making sure everyone has a chance to speak
- Keeping track of lost conversational threads
- Mirroring other people
- Counting the number of times "the" is said in the room and doing something special everytime it is prime
- Getting through the entire exchange without using the top five buzzwords of that context
- Eliciting a new idea from someone who is normally not contributory
- Getting someone who is normally contradictory to agree to something.

Hmm, I guess that I look at meetings as a collection of people, rather than a forum for ideas. That's possibly different from how you look at them.

(Oh hey, this is the sort of thing navrins was talking about; LJ lets people brainstorm individually and then share each other's responses)

(And because it's all about me I will say that I wish I had the reading comprehension I had 12 months ago but that will have to wait until I can sleep for six hours at a stretch again. Apologies if I am dramatically misreading things here.)
May. 10th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
It varies, but generally I think of my "job" as to understand what everyone is saying and help everyone else understand what everyone is saying.

If the group is trying to solve a problem, I generally think of my "job" as to ensure we all have a shared understanding of the problem and of the strengths and weaknesses of various possible solutions (which is pretty much the same as what I said above) and also to suggest potential solutions that other people may not have thought of.

And, yes, part of the last decade of learning not to bang my head against the wall too hard has been learning to resign those jobs.

I often talk about my "every argument has to be with me" reflex, and learning to let it go and allow other people to have the argument they're having, even if I think I can have it more efficiently than they are.

Mostly my alternate hat is "Check my email." Which, I realize, doesn't accomplish much along the feel-more-engaged dimension.

I occasionally adopt the hat of "Take notes," which works moderately well.

(I did this very deliberately recently, at a meeting where I was pretty certain that most of what I had to say would be unwelcome, and where I didn't see any real chance of anything productive being accomplished by the meeting whether I said anything or not, but I didn't want to be visibly rejecting the meeting itself. So I volunteered to take notes, and tried hard to keep my mouth shut. Which, you know, meant I was probably only the second most frequent speaker in the room. Or at least that the gap between me and the second-most-frequent speaker wasn't too large.)
May. 10th, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
LOL... see there is a reason I like you so much... you remind me of, well, me. ;)

(thinking they are inefficent arguers and keeping mouth shut means only being the second most speaker)
May. 10th, 2010 05:36 pm (UTC)
(nods) I have frequently had the thought "Why don't I just go off and have this argument all by myself and let you know how it comes out?"
May. 10th, 2010 05:43 pm (UTC)
RFLMAO... yes. That is the best way.
( 44 comments — Leave a comment )

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