WWJD? and Ego-Centric Bias

I am in the advice-giving business. At least I am when I am worn down from 8 hours of listening and I want to have a five-minute private audience for my thoughts and opinions.

I have discovered that most people are pretty bad at taking advice from me and probably from others as well. My client-friends don’t mind listening to my stories, smile at my jokes, engage some of my ideas, but they mostly glaze over when I get into my advice-giving mode. And I don’t really think that they will do much with the pearls once I have tossed them in their general direction.

Psychologists call this “egocentric bias,” that is, people generally figure that they can operate their lives best with their own hard-learned advice. I get this. I have people offering me advice all the time and mostly I ignore it. (Carole has been advising me for 40 years what vitamins and medicines I should take when I have a cold.) Still I carry on dispensing my treasured wisdom, knowing it will probably not be invested with the kind of thoroughness I think it should.

This egocentric bias happens everywhere: doctor’s offices, weight loss centres, guidance classes in high schools, used car dealerships, Starbucks (“you ought to try the …”). So, when someone turns to you and says, “What do you think I should do?” or “Do you think I should marry Jeff?” they actually don’t care much about your advice. They are probably just structuring the passing of time or looking for confirmation of what they already want to do.

I think I am okay with people, including my client-friends, ignoring my advice (“So, what did you get out of that homework I recommended from our last meeting?”). But sometimes my ideas are really great. So then why don’t I take my own advice more often?

One question works for me in advice-taking. WWJD: “What would _______ (Jesus) do?” (Fill in the blank with whomever you like?)

That question makes me receptive to advice and puts me in a mind space to not quickly resist the wisdom of others. It shifts my reactivity. Sometimes I say in my mind, “What would Mom do?” since I would really love to know (she died much too young). I sometimes put in the names of others that I admire or are mentors to me. Sometimes I put in the names of my kids, as in “What would David do?” or “What would Christine do?” If it has anything to do with computers or technology I ask, “What would Brent do?” He’s my son-in-law and is brilliant in ways I am ignorant. Somehow this “identifying question” makes advice palatable and makes me think outside of my egocentric bias.

This kind of identifying with someone helps me make decisions. I become part of a community of thorough opinions and applicable wisdom. I get to share in collected brilliance rather than thoughtlessly “dis” it. Amazing what an identifying question can do.

The idea of identifying questions is that if we can make a personal connection with someone we admire, then we can take the advice and apply the wisdom. If we are told what is right and good without having that personal identification, then we are more likely to reject it, forget it and not benefit from it.

The Excellence of Eric Bibb

I am not a big fan of perfectionism though I am in awe of excellence. Watching the Sedins pass the puck, or my grandson laugh eating a mouthful of banana bread, or driving a Porsche 911 as fast as it should go — this is  the experience of excellence.

But perfectionism robs the delight from a lovely object or a job well done. Perfectionism removes the joy from success and squashes creativity, courage and simple relationships while doing it.

You cannot find perfectionism and happiness in the soul of the same person — they are antithetical. Once a perfectionist succeeds, all he feels is relief, having dodged the bullet of failure one more time.

Perfectionism is the fear of failure. Whereas, excellence is the one who risks failure to succeed. There are excellent mothers and fathers, pastors  and churches, kids and teens, students and professors (I am in the middle of marking academic papers from my teaching in Kenya last December), but none that are perfect.

Last week David (my son) and I went to hear Eric Bibb sing and play at Capilano University. An amazing concert with gorgeous sounds, and tearfully touching when Eric introduced 90 year old Leon Bibb, his mentor and beloved father. Father Bibb’s voice is not what it was perhaps but there was an even more excellent thing. Hearing the Bibbs sing with arms wrapped around each other, weeping with the friendship of many years, the music was transported. And here I was with my son. Excellent it was.

And more… I read a Psychology Today article on”Perfectionism” for a parenting class I am teaching this Saturday. It is worth reading.

Baptist Handshake — About Boundaries

I always thought I had a pretty good handshake. A simple forward thrust and vertical pump is what I was taught by my Dad who told me “a good man has a good handshake.”

I met a pastor with a “Baptist handshake” (I know that this is an unfair caricature) where my welcoming hand was twisted sideways and horizontally mowed like a handsaw, all the while the boney back of my surprised pod was pressed by his aggressive thumb.

I reminded myself to wave at him in the future and I avoid pleasantries with him whenever possible. I remember the handshake and the bruising.

Handshaking is about boundaries really – who is in charge of your life and in this case my hand. I don’t like feeling trapped in a coercive handshake but I love to be welcomed by an open hand. I don’t like the dominance factor: “my handshake is more manly than yours.” Handshakes are not for competition but for camaraderie.

Handshakes are also for mutuality, a greeting of equals. It serves as a personal acknowledgement and perhaps as an expression of early affection. Vulnerability is implied in a way in which a “high 5” does not. It allows for eye contact, some greeting or departing conversation, a time to signal a connection that could turn into a friendship.

Boundaries are hard to set and even harder to explain. Try telling your spouse or parent or boss that their intensity is pressuring to you and that sometimes even the bonhomie bruises.

“Shit! I Think I’m Depressed Again!”

Depression is a word to describe feeling bad or frustrated or sad or fed up or mad and all kinds of other emotions and circumstances. Marriages get depressed and so do churches and businesses. Cities get depressed as when the Canucks lost the final game of the Stanley Cup (June 15, 2011) and hooligans rampage. It is such an encompassing term and confusing experience that any sensible person will misunderstand when someone says “Shit! I think I am depressed” (as a client friend said to me the other day).

So… here is some of what I see when a person says that they or their family are “sick of being sad.” (It’s like when…)

  • Persistent sameness and consistent sadness (like when a couple watch TV most nights to avoid conversation or conflict)
  • Heavy tiredness and sapping of energy (like when a young Mom can’t get out of bed to care for her newborn)
  • Zapped self-confidence (like when a real estate salesman avoids meeting people for fear of rejection)
  • Difficulty concentrating (like when the at-home computer consultant who does everything and never completes a task)
  • Not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or affirming (like when couples are too bored to make love)
  • Finding it hard to function at work (like when the restaurant server who keeps getting fired for flipping off guests)
  • Worrying about suicide and death (like when a church teen wonders excessively about heaven and hell)
  • Self-harm (like when a preteen girl is compulsed with avoiding food)
  • Undue feelings of guilt or worthlessness (like when the OCD who figures only 100% is ever good enough)
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness (like when a grade 4 boy who is scared of school)
  • Avoiding people (like when a friend is afraid of getting hurt or harmed so keeps away from even closest friends)

So what do you do? Find someone (a pastor, a counsellor, a friend) who will listen and care and maybe pray. Or contact us to see if we can provide some direction or a referral.