“Thanks, my friend, for asking the perfect question.”

By Alice L Maher - Last updated: Saturday, February 2, 2013 - Save & Share - One Comment

My goals can seem pretty abstract and lofty – emotional literacy as a new language, mental health and “thought process differences” as a social movement, dialogue and creative problem-solving among people with different ideologies… I’m writing a book affectionately referred to as “Hamlet 2.0. “ Come back in a century or two and you might begin to understand.

A colleague recently asked me a simple question. How can my model be made useful to him in the present moment, as a husband, father, and citizen of the world?

At first I thought I had little advice to give him.  I was afraid that any reference to “wearing the shoes of the other” would sound too simplistic, too touchy-feely, too much like a self-help book.

On second thought…

Here’s what I would tell my friend:  If you’re going to get better at empathizing with the emotional experience of others and discover creative problem-solving techniques, you have to begin at the beginning.  You have to stop doing something that you probably do all the time – something so socially acceptable that all of us do it – before you can figure out a new path.

You have to stop thinking in terms of criticism, judgment and ridicule, and begin to think in a new way.

We tell our children not to bully, but truth is that criticism, judgment, and ridicule are an acceptable element of discourse and communication in today’s adult world.  One need only listen to Fox News and MSNBC to hear it.  “The other guy” is obviously stupid, misguided, absurd, bad, silly, crazy, or evil. “Gotcha” moments are scary, funny, or both.  Specially selected sound bites are more entertaining than context and meaning.  Life has become a sporting event; winner takes all.

My advice to my friend would be to pay attention to every thought that emerges as criticism, judgment, or ridicule, ask if this way of thinking is something he would find acceptable if his children said it, and find a different way of framing the problem.  Who is the person who believes this idea?  How did s/he come to believe it? Where is the element of truth that lies beneath a point of view that seems absurd?  Rather than arguing, laughing or walking away, how might he respond in a way that bridges the divide and preserves the relationship?  Once he can learn to do that – with enough practice it’s not so hard – he can figure out his own answer to interpersonal and societal problems.

Thanks, my friend, for asking the perfect question.

One Response to ““Thanks, my friend, for asking the perfect question.””

Comment from jfreedland
Time February 3, 2013 at 8:13 am

Try this next time you find yourself in a situation that tempts you to judge the other person. Identify, don’t compare. Finding common ground allows for open, nonjudgmental discussion. If you compare your ideas to the other, without identifying, you’ll always seem to yourself as superior or inferior

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