20 Jun 2014, 3:17pm
Ponderings
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How to be Kind

How to build positive moments so you are around people you like and can enjoy those people. How many times have I walked away after a tea and thought of things I wanted to know about the person but I was so anxious being out, still caught up in being lost trying to find the place, carried by the river of their outpouring or carried by the river of their patter of questions…how to hold one’s own?

How to be attentive? Pile all the phones on the centre of the table at meals and no reading at the table will only take people so far. Being present and mindful instead of letting mind fret across to-do lists. Conversations can take the form of instrumental lists of what just happened or what’s about to happen. How to get deeper?

Conversations can be waiting for some chance to understand some point of reference so you can register and get into part of the monologue. How to get an informed question out? How to talk? It’s so hard.

A pile up of traded kvetches leads to a downward competitive spiral. Jokes alone and people are told to suck it up while being amused.

Masters of Love is an article in The Atlantic by Emily Esfahani Smith. It is one of the more worthwhile things I’ve read in a long while.

Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” [...]

The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.

Are we turning towards or signalling person and subject as unwanted with inattention?

Part of publishing and the crits of literary reviews is that people grandstand for themselves instead of engage with the book at hand. Part of that is active listening. It is turning towards the book instead of saying you dialogue with it but actually never get past yourself to what the intentions are.

Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. [...] One way to practice kindness is by being generous about your partner’s intentions. [...] Imagine her joining him for dinner, excited to deliver her gift, only to realize that he’s in a sour mood because he misinterpreted what was motivating her [late] behavior. The ability to interpret your partner’s actions and intentions charitably can soften the sharp edge of conflict.

How to talk? Talk back. How? If the person is happy, don’t be a stick in the mud. Empathy and compassion has some echo to it. What is support? Agreeing to common ground. Letting the other person have the floor.

All of this would be at home with buddhist lecture on practicing lovingkindness. or a Christian lecture on way to be loving in the world. She goes into exact details which for me are far more illuminating than guidelines. She backs it up with various studies which pleases my brain-side.

What makes people want to be around each other? No contempt towards each other, looking in the same direction, being an open friend instead of indifferent. Part of that is caring in the moment.

Another powerful kindness strategy revolves around shared joy. [...]

We’ve all heard that partners should be there for each other when the going gets rough. But research shows that being there for each other when things go right is actually more important for relationship quality.

Contempt and kindness are muscles. What does kindness look like? I saw my mom’s friend interact with her and how to put a finger on how she expressed that she liked mom? There’s an attitude of acceptance in tone. There’s a proximity, a bodily trust that doesn’t presume the other will flinch. There’s no meanness or contempt, o presumption that whatever comes out of mom’s mouth should be questioned as wrong, unlike say, when she interacts with her sibling who are default disrespectful by my standard and by default override and make speech acts of control or joke. You can divorce your family. Many do.

The principles of kindness work in any context. The retailer assumes I’m a jam-jar shoplifter or glances and assumes I can’t afford her clothes. Maybe they’re punchy from other people or from Having-A-Bad-day/life-phase. If someone is omnidirectional mistrustful it’s about what they fight inside themselves. Not about me, or this moment. It’s not productive to debate or engage. It is productive to disarm myself rather than bristle to signal they are safe to do so as well.

Back to that article, here’s a nugget:

in general, couples responded to each other’s good news in four different ways that they called: passive destructive, active destructive, passive constructive, and active constructive.

Let’s say that one partner had recently received the excellent news that she got into medical school. She would say something like “I got into my top choice med school!”

If her partner responded in a passive destructive manner, he would ignore the event. For example, he might say something like: “You wouldn’t believe the great news I got yesterday! I won a free t-shirt!”

If her partner responded in a passive constructive way, he would acknowledge the good news, but in a half-hearted, understated way. A typical passive constructive response is saying “That’s great, babe” as he texts his buddy on his phone.

In the third kind of response, active destructive, the partner would diminish the good news his partner just got: “Are you sure you can handle all the studying? And what about the cost? Med school is so expensive!”

Finally, there’s active constructive responding. If her partner responded in this way, he stopped what he was doing and engaged wholeheartedly with her: “That’s great! Congratulations! When did you find out? Did they call you? What classes will you take first semester?”

Among the four response styles, active constructive responding is the kindest. While the other response styles are joy-killers, active constructive responding allows the partner to savor her joy and gives the couple an opportunity to bond over the good news. In the parlance of the Gottmans, active constructive responding is a way of “turning toward” your partners bid (sharing the good news) rather than “turning away” from it.

Sometimes I don’t know what to say, or how to elaborate in that direction, don’t know what to ask so fearful of silence, zip back on autopilot to me, some safe verbiage. It’s a common strategy. Brainfreeze. But if the silence goes on too long it signals leavetaking. Conversation isn’t rife with patience.

Shifting topics sidelines whatever the other was saying. “Tell me more” works sometimes. Sometimes it is too open-ended and exasperates. The time to react is now. What reaction was just cued. Why is the person happy? What was the happy part? What reaction is in order?

Sometimes people tamp down their feelings. Unlike say a toddler who is cartoon joy or terror or overwhelmed. We can be more mixed as adults instead of a total displacement. The intent is to connect, or else we would be somewhere else Not with people, or that person.

Why would you not celebrate with someone’s excitement if you know that’s what to do. Or enter someone’s grief. We don’t need to have our intellect see if we would agree with the source feeling and say someone’s feelings are fine for them but we would be inappropriate by our morals to support. If someone has a rare steak dinner in front of me, I don’t want to share their steak, but I do want to enter their pleasure of it. If someone is sad because someone who mistreated them finally went away, that is a stage of loss to honour. Telling someone that it’s for the best doesn’t help the speaker or the unconsoled.

Sometimes it feels too risky to feel anything. Some people cycle fast. If someone is hangry and exhausted, and determined to be chipper, I can’t shift moods that readily. But I can acknowledge and look towards instead of shutting out. That’s not just human but what any mammal does in a natural response to another animal.

Except the occasional cat. Like Suzie of circa 1987. She was incredible perceptive and would come out of the woodwork if I was in distress, but as a time-limited offer. As if, Hey, I nuzzled you. You won’t take comfort. Fine Not dealing with this right now. Got toms to see.

  
 
 
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