Intent Listening is Indistinguishable from Love

A friend told me this – “intent listening is indistinguishable from love.” He meant this as a comment on my listening work, not on my need to be deeply and patiently heard.

I think that I am a listening purist. I don’t want listening to be cluttered with rephrasing, or questions that are supposed to expand my point of view, or “advanced accurate empathy,” or summary statements that are designed to show me that you hear what I am saying.

I just want you to listen intently, without glazing over. And I don’t even need to know your point of view on what I am saying.

My life is cluttered, as is probably yours. When I am listened to, my life becomes somehow less cluttered.

The other day I asked Carole to “just listen to me” without prejudice (my thoughts on “prejudice” in a future blog) and without comment. Being heard by Carole was an amazing experience. I realized that I am more used to listening than to being listened to and I really liked being heard! And I realized that while the tensions didn’t lessen nor were the problems solved, my icy grip on them relaxed and I was more at peace.

You might want to try “just listening” with people you care about. You might also ask someone to “just listen” to you.

“Who Knows What Is Good and What Is Bad?”

Today we are in Tallinn, Estonia unable to return home due to the volcanic ash from Iceland that has throttled European air traffic causing loss and hardship to many. Our losses are minimal but we experience them nonetheless.

In response to our circumstance, Laura North a friend and well-known Vancouver life coach sent me the following story.

Laura says, “Most of us divide our life experiences into those we like and those we don’t. But good things come from bad experiences and bad things follow from good experiences. It is better to accept the wholeness of life.”

Here is the story.

When a farmer’s stallion wins a prize at a county show, his neighbour calls round to congratulate him, but the old farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” The next day some thieves come and steal his valuable animal. His neighbour comes to commiserate with him, but the old man replies, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” A few days later the spirited stallion escapes from the thieves and joins a herd of wild mares, leading them back to the farm. The neighbour calls to share the farmer’s joy, but the farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” The following day while trying to break in one of the wild mares, the farmer’s son is thrown and fractures his leg. The neighbour calls to share the farmer’s sorrow, but the old man’s attitude remains the same as before. The following week the army passes by, forcibly conscripting soldiers for war, but they do not take the farmer’s son because he cannot walk. The neighbour thinks to himself, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” and realizes that the old farmer must be a Taoist sage.

Love, Sex and the Male Brain

Why do men “look”?

Wives almost universally hate the glance. Feeling insulted, diminished, measured according to the “vital statistics” of another seemingly more attractive woman, she worries that her spouse is unsatisfied and unfaithful. “Can’t he just want me?” she complains.

The blameworthy husband responds, “What’d I do? This is how I’m wired and I didn’t wire me. Blame God if you want — just don’t blame me.” And then he turns on the Canucks pay-per-view, not wanting to suffer more because of it, but feeling judged and aware that he has done something wrong that he didn’t intend.

And she fumes.

Sound familiar? If so, you might wish to read a recent CNN article written by Dr. Louann Brizendine entitled “Love, Sex and the Male Brain.” She is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. She is also the founder and director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic and a longtime feminist. She wrote “The Female Brain” and just released “The Male Brain.”

Her bottom line: “The best advice I have for women is make peace with the male brain. Let men be men.”

Their Kiss Still Works

There are lots of definitions of marriage. Few better than this one from Richard Selzer:

“I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. ‘Will my mouth always be like this?’ she asks. ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘it will. It is because the nerve was cut.’ She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles. ‘I like it,’ he says. ‘It is kind of cute.’ All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.” (Richard Selzer, “Mortal Lessons”)

Life ID: Identifying Your Life

The most influential thinker in the fifth century BC was Socrates whose dedication to careful reasoning is expressed in the aphorism that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a).

So how does one identify a life worth living?

Conversation, information, friendship, challenge, care – these are some of the elements that enable a life examination.

Also, unbiased psychological and vocational assessments and interviews – what we call Life ID – are helpful components in the process of identity discovery for adults in personal, relational and vocational work or transition. These kind of life changes call out for an examination of our lives so that we don’t make the same mistakes again and so that we can add wisdom to our experience.

We all have an identity – the person we know we are and the person that is lived out in our relational world. We can identify ourselves … mostly.

But there are hidden parts of our lives, aspects of our personalities that others can see but that we are blind to. Our “blindness” is carried into our family, business and team worlds and it is this area that limits our leadership and personal success.

For more about a psychological audit for your vocational and personal life, see “Life ID: Assessments for Life.”

Hungers: 4 Steps of Sexual Intimacy

Couple therapy is always about sex therapy eventually. It may not be the first thing mentioned but it comes up long before the 3rd thing, whatever that might be.

I think of 4 levels of sexual hunger for wives and husbands.

Won’t or Would (but) — Couples avoid sexual intimacy for lots of reasons (e.g. broken trust, lack of practice, fears, medical difficulties, etc.). When couples “won’t,” or “I would if you weren’t such a ______,” anger builds and the relationship becomes cold and parallel, only joined by non-intimate things.

Waiting or Watching — Some couples are watching for the other to prove their desire, rather than initiate themselves. They are “waiters,” hoping for more and usually blaming the other for the lack of sexual friendship they experience. Sometimes people are waiting for the right context or response, like a Jamaican holiday.

Willing or Welcoming — The willing spouse (usually the woman) will satisfy the sexual desires of the other (usually the husband) but not be satisfied themselves. This is like being a missionary to the sexual needs of the spouse.

Wanting or Wishing – This is sexual hunger, a loving lust and longing that produces a marvelous merging. That is, if both partners are on the same step.

Sometimes one partner is on one step (e.g. a sad waiting) and the other is on another (e.g. a needy wanting). Frustration and fractious conflict is usually the result of this misstep.

At other times the couple are together on step 1 (e.g. exhausted from work and caring for a sick infant) and at other times they luxuriate at level 4.

I tell you this to give you a vocabulary for your sexual hunger. It helps to know where your spouse “is” rather than guess. It helps to know where you are as well.

Bombing Afghanistan Doesn’t Work

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.

“I’m Sorry” – The Steps of an Apology

Sometimes I feel like I am in the apology business. Helping kids make apologies to their parents (or the other way around), husbands to wives (it seems to go this way most often), organizations to individuals (e.g. when a church leadership apologizes for insensitivity to a neighbour who complains about a building project or a late night rock group) – this is some of what my work is.

“I’m sorry if I did something wrong” is not an apology. It is non-specific and the ‘if’ avoids personal responsibility. It is more of an inquiry than anything.

“I know that I hurt you by (e.g.) coming home late for dinner. It certainly was not my intent.” This is not an apology either – it is an acknowledgment. And it is a helpful acknowledgment to offer.

“The reason I was driving so fast was because you were late again — that’s why I’m so frustrated” is an explanation intended to spread out the responsibility and pain. Not an apology.

Here is an apology: “(1) I am sorry. (2) It is my fault. (3) Please forgive me.”

Imagine that the problem is about a woman’s insensitivity to her husband at a family get-together. Here is the apology: “I am sorry I left you out of the conversation with my family on Saturday. I know this isolates you and you feel lonely. And I know we talked about how I could include you. It is my fault. Will you forgive me for this?”

Every apology has (1) an honest expression of regret, (2) authentic accepting of responsibility and (3) a request for forgiveness. Without these three steps, what we think of as an apology is something else.


[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

“So, A Guy Walks Into a Bar…” (Sex and Laughter)

There are lots of reasons to laugh. First, laughter is fun – and fun is reason enough for all of us to laugh lots. Secondly, because non-laughers are usually boring and uptight people. The kind of people we don’t want to laugh with anyways. Thirdly, because laughter cleans out the psycho-social pipes when things are bad.

Now you need to know that there are two kinds of laughter: “laughter, the funny kind” (LFK) and “laughter, the mean kind” (LMK). LFK brings people closer and LMK breaks, butchers and belittles that which is important.

I am talking about LFK or “laughter, the funny kind.”

Cleaning out the pipes: You saw it in “The Bucket List” when Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson laughed until they cried. Well, they needed to laugh. They were both dying and they were leaving those who wanted them to live. (Go rent the film. You will laugh and cry and get your pipes cleaned all at once.)

The laughing contagion: Do you remember in high school when you couldn’t stop laughing and when your teacher threatened you with “whatever” (you were laughing too hard to remember) and that she began snickering too? Laughter is contagious and that is a good thing. You avoided a detention or writing lines or visiting the principal. The laughter contagion brings people together when they are opposites.

“No laughing matter”: You have heard that truism; that the severity of the situation requires solemnity or reverence or some other form of sadness. A best-selling Norman Cousins book and a popular Robin Williams film, “Patch Adams,” teaches us that laughter might even heal people. Still, even if you die, laughter is the best way to go. It’s called “dying well.” It’s a funny way to go.

Getting unstuck: Unsolvable problems are usually better solved through laughter than “serious, urgent, important” strategies (“SUI” sounds like a pig call doesn’t it?). If your life has 20% problems and you invest 80% of your resources in strategies like problem solving, worrying about things, and “daring to discipline,” well, you are likely to add to the unsolvability of it all. Makes you want to laugh. Or cry.

“So what’s this all got to do with sex?” you asked.

Good question. Of course if you have looked at yourself naked recently, laughing is way better than crying! And if you think about orgasms, erections, the “missionary” position, all that wetness, well, it is pretty funny isn’t it?

And of course, all orgasms don’t call for the “Hallelujah Chorus!” (That’s a joke.)

“So, a guy walks into a bar…”

70 is My New 100

Like many other rabid Canadian hockey fans, I watched the Canada — United States final in men’s junior hockey where the US won 6 to 5 in overtime. The Canadians played as brilliantly as the US team and, as needs to happen in competitive sport, one team won. The US team put in more hockey pucks in the net than did the Canadians.

The defeat on the Canadian players’ faces made it clear that they could not appreciate the excellence of their game and the entertainment that they brought to millions of people. Their lack of ability to celebrate their success and even to smile, let alone be delighted in their silver medals, robbed them as it did us.

They couldn’t be grateful. They couldn’t be appreciative of the quality of their opponents. They couldn’t see further than their own losses. They wouldn’t celebrate the other’s victory. They couldn’t enjoy the excellence of being in the company of excellence. They couldn’t reflect on the reality that they have the privilege of doing what the rest of Canada only dreams of.

Being satisfied with only winning destroys much of life and everyday relationships. I see it in myself and I see it in my clients. Couples tell me about it. Teenagers complain about it.

Good is never good enough.

I tell my clients [and almost anyone else who will listen] that “70 is my new 100.” I also tell them that perfectionism does not help them do the job better, it only ensures that they will enjoy the success less.

Celebrating more, being grateful more, enjoying more, laughing more – these are the kind of “mores” that lead to success.