Friday, May 18th, 2012
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.
Thursday, April 29th, 2010
I think of prejudice as social, spiritual, intellectual laziness. It is also uninformed, undifferentiated, a cheap laugh at the expense of someone with feelings and aspirations.
Prejudice comes in lots of flavours. I remember in the 60s (those were my undergraduate years at SFU and the time of the Beatles) that we were told that Vietnamese peasants don’t feel feelings like “we” do. If I remember correctly, this was an argument for escalating the bombing.
Chinese drivers, homosexual degeneracy, women’s emotionality, native drunkenness, “if you can’t do it, teach it” (this was laughingly said to a teacher friend of mine the other day), Jewish political insidiousness, why women can’t preach in the church – there are lots of ways of pre-judging people.
Prejudice serves the relational task of keeping a grouping of people at a distance, whether they are men (“we all know what they want”), or teenagers (“indulged and lazy”), the poor (“they are probably drunks”). Prejudice conserves time and energy – those prejudged become depersonalized “others” not worth the time and energy to find out what they think and believe and feel.
This is becoming a rant and perhaps this is the reason why. I was assumed to be a “religious fundamentalist” in a psychology journal I was reading a while back. It wasn’t only me the author was writing about, but people like me. But it wasn’t the me that my friends and clients know — it was a stylized “stick me,” without depth or texture. And if I was like the “stick me” that was so efficiently dismissed, I would have done the same.
To judge people who love God, devote their lives to worship, and offer their time and finances in service to others, as “fundamentalists” is, it seems to me, religious profiling. I say this about Christians, or Jews, or Muslims, or Sikhs and all others who endeavor to discern God.
The term “fundamentalist” has been used so casually in describing anyone who holds some sort of faith belief – be they a TV preacher, a Hasidic rabbi, a Mormon housewife, or a soldier of the Islamic Jihad – that the word has become hopelessly prejudicial. To call a worshipper a fundamentalist is the racial and social equivalent of calling a black Canadian a “nigger.”
Makes me sad to think about how often God-worshippers like me have pre-judged others.
Thursday, March 11th, 2010
Imagine that you count your personal resources — things like time, money, spirit, hope, skills, those kind of things. Consider these resources as 100%. Not that you have more or less resources than others, but what you have is your own 100%.
Now imagine that you have problems – this part is not very difficult!
So your problem could be a roof rat that is eating your birdseed (this is actually one of my current problems that I am figuring out how to solve).
Some problems are more complicated: you have been married for 18 years and you have two pretty good kids and a pretty good life, but you are bored. You want more. “Good enough” isn’t good enough any longer. What do you do? Quitting comes to mind. So does bombing the heck out of your spouse with insults, innuendoes and bitterness.
Try this first.
First, measure your problem: add up the good and pretty good in one column; and add up the boring and the frustrating in another column. (By the way, most boredom is actually anger or frustration.) See what percent or amount is problematic.
Now let’s say you have 20% problems compared to 80% that is pretty good. That is, when you write it all down and count it all up, you see that your problems are less than you thought. But you want to solve them nonetheless.
Here is where you might go wrong. With your 100% personal resources and 20% problems, how much of these resources will you invest into solving the problem?
Think about it.
If you invest all of your personal resources into solving the 20% problem, the problem inflates! It becomes cumbersome, awkward, and then eventually the unsolvable “elephant in the room.” The investment of the totality of your personal resources exacerbates the problem.
But if you invested 20% of your resources into your 20% problem, what would happen? Probably the problem would get solved without a whole lot of hoopla. And this leaves you with 80% of your resources left to celebrate and strengthen the good and the pretty good.
This is one of the hardest things to figure out in problem solving and conflict management. Bombing Afghanistan just doesn’t work.
Saturday, January 30th, 2010
In October 2007, Krista Tippett interviewed Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche. Tippett is the host of “Speaking of Faith” on American Public Media, one of my favourite blog sites and a source of great spiritual-theological gain for me.
Of all of Tippett’s interviews, this interview with Jean Vanier is spectacular — I would say life transforming!
The 90 minute video is a much better investment than watching another edition of “House” (also a favourite of mine!) and you can also download an abbreviated version for your iPod so you can listen to Vanier’s “wisdom of tenderness” while walking or working out at the gym.
Find the interview at http://vimeo.com/462130.