In my reading today I encountered a truly outstanding description of how one man chooses to live with Climate Change, something that will affect all our lives. Dahr Jamail’s commentary As the Climate Collapses, We Ask: “How Then Shall We Live? (20190204, the first of a series) touches me deeply, both for his honesty and for his depth of knowledge and understanding. He is one of a small group of journalists in whom I have a deep sense of trust as to his integrity. (Joe Rohm is another source that I trust for his knowledge and his integrity.)
As I write these words, I also have a moment of profound cognitive dissonance. I am slowly reading Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken, a very well-researched description of 100 substantive solutions to reverse global warming. I also think of the DVD Tomorrow (2015) that I watched a few weeks ago, a video that deeply impressed me with its hopeful message of creative responses to climate issues.
Thus I simultaneously hold the honest searching and sadness of what we have done and do to our planet together with the incredible creativity that is available. All this with the recognition of how powerless we are to deal with the insanity of capitalism and neoliberalism, the power dynamics that run our system.
It truly reminds me to be humble of the limited yet important ways in which I can contribute.
A very clear presentation of the options for Albertans. What I find fascinating is the number of ad hominin attacks in the Commentary section, an indication of the amount of toxic discourse (as noted in the past few posts).
The past three blog posts have been fueled by James Hoggan’s
book I’m Right, And You’re An Idiot.
In conversation with Hoggan, David Suzuki (Canada’s leading environmentalist)
asked: Why aren’t people demanding action on environmental issues? To address
this question, Hoggan set out to interview a large number of some of the
world’s leading thinkers, specifically individuals who study human
communication, to gain their perspective on this failure.
As mentioned in Ways To Contribute, I am involved with the Suzuki Elders in exploring how to use this information in the management of difficult conversations. In Finding Common Ground and How Conflict Escalates, I proposed a simple (perhaps difficult?) methodology for this. Yet I also want to give credit to Hoggan for the immense amount of exploration he undertook.
The following are some of the major points with which Hoggan grappled. Most are from his Epilogue, and all are direct quotes, with the interviewee named (JH denotes Hoggan’s commentary). [Square brackets are minor changes I have added, hopefully without changing the meaning.]
Few of us are truly evil — and good people
sometimes [strongly disagree] for good reasons. (JH, p. 215)
Democracy works only if reasoned debate in the
public sphere is possible. (Jason Stanley, p. 98)
While contention lies at the heart of democracy,
it must be constructive contention. (Marshall Ganz, p. 115)
[People] don’t need not agree on the solution or
on the problem. They don’t need to understand each other, trust each other or
even like each other. But they do have to recognize that the only way to move
forward is together. (Adam Kahane, p. 123)
It is through narratives . . . that people learn to access the moral and
emotional resources we need to act with agency in the face of danger,
challenge, and threat. . . . [This] is one of the most important lessons set
out in I’m Right. (Marshall Ganz and
JH, p. 174)
At its most basic level, I’m Right is about how we tell stories and how we treat each other.
(JH, p. 115)
To create powerful persuasive narratives, our
starting point must be rooted in an attitude of empathy, respect, and
compassion. (The Dalai Lama, p. 211).
People don’t start out mired in hostility. The
situation evolves. . . . Our defense mechanisms kick in . . . and this provokes
. . . eventual gridlock. (JH, pp. 214-215)
It is hard to know who and what to trust. (JH, p.
An important key is to hold our beliefs lightly [so
that we are open to new possibility]. (JH, p. 215)
Facts and reason are fundamental to healthy
public discourse, but in our overheated adversarial public square, facts are
not enough. (JH, p. 217)
The initial strategy . . . must be inquiry, . .
. [exploring] what truly matters to people [the emotional energy]. (JH, p. 218)
We must appeal to people’s values and speak from
a moral position, . . . encouraging debate about matters of concern. (JH, pp.
A well-crafted . . . narrative helps tear down
barriers of propaganda and polarization. This theme of emotional communication
is grounded in the Golden Rule of treating others the way we want to be
treated. (p. 219-220)
If we seek change, we should learn to use speech
for its highest purpose — moral discourse. (JH, p. 222)
I propose that the methodology I suggested in earlier posts satisfies what Hoggan has identified, especially in providing narrative and compassion, and provides constructive contention.
Hoggan, J. (2016). I’m right, and you’re an idiot: The toxic state of public discourse and
how to clean it up. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
Several articles have recently struck me as indicators of where we currently are with respect to global warming. Some of the articles focus on the impact; two focus on the insanity that drives us. What are we thinking!?
I remain convinced that the major issues underlying global warming are those of:
acedia — our laziness, fearfulness and self-righteousness that prevents us from engaging in the most important issue of our species. There are, of course, reasons (good reasons, many of which were addressed in my earlier blogs), but reasons don’t count! Results count.
it is our acedia that stops our cooperation, the attitude that: “I’m willing to work hard on these issues if to my advantage, or if you are!” We see this with our international agreements — Russian, Turkey, and the United States (accounting for about 30% of the greenhouse effect) not engaged in the Paris Agreement. And the Paris Agreement is only an agreement to do something about the problem; if Canada’s duplicity is any example, we are a long way from actual results.
evil — this is not a topic we as a culture want to address, yet it is undeniable to me that evil exists. It shows up in greed and in the disinformation processes that feed our inactivity.
Many small positive actions occur, many, but we still have not reached our own tipping point as to when we will move rapidly to resolution. Perhaps we will do so in time to prevent catastrophe for our civilization, perhaps for our species. Perhaps not.
A number of articles within this link point to the impact of global warming. Cape Town (South Africa) is considering mandatory limitation of water usage. China is refusing to be the dumping ground for plastic waste, especially plastic bottles, thereby forcing other countries to deal with their recycling products.
The highest weather station in the world, about 400 miles for the North Pole, has warmed to 43°F in the dead of winter! In addition to feedback loops that further increase Arctic warming (and loss of more ice), thus impacting the entire weather system of the northern hemisphere (the jet-stream impact), there is also the massive release of methane from permafrost and seabed melting, the rise of sea level (as the Greenland ice field melts), and the slowdown of the global ocean conveyor belt effect. These are just some of the effects; we simply do not know what tipping points will be reached and when.
Another factor in loss of both beauty and a basic food chain component — in addition to warming being destructive of coral, the acidification also is weakening the underlying sedimentary structure of the reefs. Our world food supply is thus at risk.
Comment: The final email. Hopefully you have gained from this program. I wish you well!
MacQuarrie Email Program — Loose Ends and Final Comments
You have completed the thirty emails of this program. I know that this has required a lot of work on your part. I also hope that it has been an effective program for you, and that you have obtained the outcome you wish from it (Email #01).
At this point, I would very much appreciate feedback from you as to its effectiveness, especially what parts have been most useful, and what not. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My thoughts as to how you can continue:
be aware that as you learn your triggers and become more skillful in managing yourself, you will be changing the system within which you function.
people will not like this, and will attempt to sabotage you. Don’t violate them as they do so; play with the sabotage.
it is not likely that they want you to resume being angry; they may actually want you to be more healthy. However, your changes require that they themselves change. Perhaps your anger has allowed them to avoid their own anger, or served some other purpose within the system. Now they must find another way to cope, and are not prepared for this. Hence, they sabotage you and others so as to avoid their own issues — this is the nature of systems.
manage your energy. People won’t like it; manage yourself safely (Email #02 and #25).
as much as possible (safely), stop violations by others.
deal with conflict. The only person who can initiate change is yourself.
practice the skills of creative communication, cooperation, and challenge
on occasion, dive deeper into your issues, perhaps with therapy.
be aware that these learnings of the past few months will fade. The activities and tasks must be practiced for an extended time before they become second nature. Expect this — come back (or find another program) in six months or a year.
And especially, recognize that you can act your way into a new way of thinking; you cannot think your way into a new way of acting (it is action that creates change). Growth is a balance of acting and assessing — risking is essential.
Challenge yourself. For me, I am often sad about the ways in which we have created ourselves as human beings, how traumatized we are. Learn how to step into the shoes of others so as to get how difficultly they live their lives, and why they may be criticizing you (Email #30 — Dealing With Other Angry People). For example, they have likely been traumatized themselves such that they are bitter; explore how the trauma arises for them in the present in your actual contact with them.
Most important — be a participant-observer of your own internal conflicts, watching for those sailors who demonstrate wisdom (Email #19 Why We Avoid). Develop your Captain.
I learned to deal with conflict by being challenged in how I functioned — overall a very painful process. When I had had my therapy practice for a few years, I was running a group within a community organization, supposedly an association with high integrity. Gradually I came to suspect that they had many undesirable characteristics, but I did not then have the skill to challenge them effectively. Eventually I refused to work with them, a decision that was hotly challenged. It took me three months to settle my anxiety, and come to terms that I was making a good decision for myself. But it was not easy.
Several years later, someone complained to the College who governed my license. I was able to defend myself, but it took me six weeks to settle my anxiety.
Again after a few years, another complaint — this time it took six hours to settle my anxiety. It was now simply an opportunity to demonstrate that I was living my own values.
I also learned how to function by requesting feedback from others. Much of this was part of the therapy processes I attended (as participant); later, I made it a habit to request feedback from the groups I was running. The skills of maturity are best learned through feedback.
If you want more from me, read my books (see below), subscribe to this blog, or ask questions of me (email@example.com).
If convenient, attend one of my workshops; usually they are listed on my website (A Place Two Be). I also do individual work with clients, usually by some kind of video conferencing such as Zoom (my preference compared to Skype). There is a cost for these, but I am open to sliding scale depending on need.
Keep well; you deserve it.
Thank you. I hope you have both enjoyed and benefited from this program.
MacQuarrie, D. (2008). Blowing out the darkness: The management of emotional life issues, especially anger and rage. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.
MacQuarrie, D. (2012). Acedia, the darkness within, and the darkness of climate change. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.
Both are available from AuthorHouse, and there may be a Kindle edition on Amazon.
Comment: Angry people tend to attract angry responses, likely from other angry people. If you are to live otherwise, you will need to know how to respond to other’s who are angry.
MacQuarrie Email Program #30 — Dealing With Other Angry People
In Email #01, I indicated your anger will tell you there is a difficulty, but it will not tell you if the issue is within you (powerlessness — something inappropriate within your own beliefs), or in others (conflict — something inappropriate with those around you). The primary intention of the Blowing Out method has been to release the Energy and explore the Message — to empty the Pot, and reduce the likelihood of the Pot filling again.
Hopefully, by this point in time, you have developed considerable skill in managing your own anger. However, as you undoubtedly realize, you are not alone in having difficulty with anger. So what do you do when you encounter someone else who is angry?
Previously, you might have escalated with them, with a less than desirable outcome. Your task for this email is to explore what you can do differently in such circumstances.
You probably know already that it will not do much good to suggest that they check out Angry? Change Your Life in 90 Days. Actually, the best way to recommend this program is to demonstrate to others that, compared with a few months ago, you are now much more able to manage your anger — actions speak louder than words.
So, how to deal with someone else’s anger (explore these suggestions to see if you agree):
first, monitor yourself, especially your voice tone, muscle tension, and body language. You want to be able to engage (or not) by choice, not by your own reactivity.
minimize eye contact, neither too little (often interpreted as weakness) nor too much (often confrontational) — be aware there are major variations within cultures. For example, sometimes lack of eye contact is a sign of respect.
assume a relaxed posture, and especially avoid pointing.
speak with moderate tone, and especially no profanity.
listen, listen, listen. Appreciate suggestions; be thankful for contributions.
if you will listen to them, they may be willing to listen to you.
invite time-outs to problem-solve; make an appointment to resume.
when safe, discharge your own energy so as not to contaminate your next event.
When complete, the following is a way to explore what happened (especially useful here, also in many other circumstances):
as usual, act out the situation — when you utilize your body, you are much more likely to access your other-than-conscious mind, and obtain richer data.
first, step into your own shoes (#1) to explore the event
second, act out the event from the perspective of the other (#2)
then, watch the action from the side (#3), as well as standing on a chair as you move around the event (elevated 3rd). You will gain different information from different positions.
finally, if you were dissatisfied with the original outcome, consider what else you could have done, similar to the exploration of Email #20 What Gets You Angry?
Dealing with ‘difficult people’ is actually a very complex process, partly because conflict is both normal and essential to the development of relationship, be it a group of two people or of twenty-two. When groups are forming, people are unfamiliar with each other — conflict occurs as people honestly sort their needs, and come to agreements as to how to act. Honesty is needed; niceness is often not effective in resolution. Everyone is doing their best to cope, some less effectively than others!
Those people who could be called ‘difficult’ are simply those with less skill (and perhaps have grown up in less than ideal circumstances). Most of the time, such people are demonstrating limited skill when the group itself is immature in its development. As a general rule, I assume that conflict represents immaturity of a group until it becomes very obvious that the individual is truly interruptive to the functioning of a group.
From my perspective, difficulties need to be corrected when they interfere with long-term relationship and/or the performance of tasks. Such correction however requires considerable time, often up to ten hours (or more) for resolution — a lot of work. My standards are these:
if I am the facilitator of a time-limited group, I will identify interruptive behaviors (simply name them so others are aware), tolerate them, or stop them as feasible.
if a long-term group (marriage, friendship, or work group), I will resolve, challenge, or stop inappropriate behaviors. I will also work hard to identify the ghosts and hidden agendas that often underlie conflict.
Something more needs to happen with truly difficult people — those who continue to be interruptive (major immaturity) and/or those who violate others (toxic). Some thoughts:
although much has been made of the concept of empathy in modern therapeutic circles, my experience (and that of my mentors) has been that empathy is very limited in its use.
empathy is useful for the development of safety and relationship, especially that of trust. However, it does not encourage growth, and is often conducive to continuing immaturity.
challenge (frustration) is much more promoting of growth.
early in my career as a therapist, one of my mentors pointed out the need for what he called killer instinct, best summarized by a definition from the 18th century: A gentlemen is one who does not hurt the feelings of another, unintentionally!
If I need to stop someone, I do so calmly and deliberately — it is a stance of clarity, not of anger! And I stop them.
it is important to recognize that people who violate others are limited in resources, and therefore are likely to escalate when challenged, possibly to dangerous levels.
another mentor pointed out that toxic forces are responsive neither to reason nor to empathy. Thus, the risk of escalation — be careful.
Comment: Child discipline is fraught with ‘shoulds,’ and thus a place of major difficulty. Child discipline is more accurately discipline of the parent so as to provide consistency and nurturing.
MacQuarrie Email Program #29 — Responding To Children
I chose this topic as part of the program because children are a part of the lives of everyone. Children are a source of major joy, and also of significant anger. Children are developing into individuals, and therefore resist the efforts of others to manage them. Thus, responding to children is equivalent to managing the third limb of a triangle — fraught with difficulty.
The task in this email is complex — learning to parent with care and consistency. Be aware that it is easy to become overwhelmed with all the ‘shoulds’ in this field. The bottom line is safety and respect. What are your beliefs as to how children should behave? What are you seeking?
Although most people attempt to parent well, parenting is still an isolated phenomenon within the private family. As children, many of us have been traumatized in families; I certainly had been. As such, most of us received almost no training in emotional or relationship dynamics, other than the emotional field of our own families. Because of this, we are at great risk of recreating such patterns when we themselves have children.
There is a lot I could say about why our culture frequently traumatizes children, but it would take much space. I therefore confine my remarks to skills that are needed in responding to children.
The needs of children are age-dependent; difficulties occur because of inherent age-related tasks. Children have more dreams; parents are more orientated to reality. Younger children are focused on family, learning to model family dynamics; teens are relating to peers, and learning independence. Note the directions children are moving (young children towards parants; teens away) People can only hear you when they are moving towards you; thus younger children listen; teens much less so.
For me, the simplest way to describe all these needs is in terms of safety, energy, and choice (the primary characteristics of the Triune Brain — Email #04). All children need safety (not rules, but boundaries within which they can explore), extensive nurturing (energy which adds to safety), and age-appropriate choice (risking within the boundaries of safety). Between ages 0-2, they principally need safety and nurturing.
Difficulties usually begin with the ‘terrible twos,’ and the ‘trying threes.’ Here the primary need remains safety — children between two and ten simply do not have enough life experience to make good decisions of safety; however, the additional need is to educate them towards good choice. This is called child discipline; however, it is more accurately ‘parent discipline,’ the need to provide consistency of safety and nurturing. Parents have difficulty usually because they want to control energy (the expressiveness of children), rather than safety and choice.
There are two systems I advocate for the younger age group: 1-2-3 Magic (Tom Phelan) and Inner Discipline (Barbara Colorosa). 1-2-3 Magic emphasizes the energy management (positive energy to encourage appropriate behaviours, and absence of energy to discourage undesirable behaviours (criticism is negative energy, and a form of energy reward — as is too much explaining; remember, children want energy, and negative energy is better than no energy). Inner Discipline emphasizes age-appropriate choice. Both systems emphasize safety; both require discipline on the part of parents — consistency of caring, rather than energetic negative reward.
For the age group of 10-18, the child is gradually allowed to assume responsibility and accountability for both safety and age-appropriate choice, transferring safety issues to the older teen — such that adult-adult relations can develop as the child enters their 20s, perhaps as a form of mentoring on the part of the parent. Sometimes, such consistency is encouraging that of risk-taking, and other times is restrictive due to safety concerns.
The most useful way I have of thinking about responding to children again arises from Transactional Analysis, the therapy I introduced in Email #13 Who Are My Sailors? (TA is generally very good at explanations). There I suggested each person consistently has five sailors (nurturing parent, NP; critical parent, CP; adult, A; adapted child, AC; and natural child, NC).
The Parents operate from beliefs, the Adults from thoughtful evaluation, and the Childs from feelings.
‘Grown-ups’ have all five states; ‘children’ only C states.
CP operates from ‘shoulds;’ AC is the sneaky Child.
In general, effective communication is with equivalent sailors (e.g., P-P or C-C), and poor communication when levels are crossed (e.g., P-C, P-A, or A-C). Thus, the most difficult situations occur between CP (‘you should’) and AC (‘I don’t want to!’).
Most parenting conflicts occur between CP and AC, a crossed transaction, in which the parent attempts to control the behavior of the child, independent of issues of safety and choice. Given that we all have Child sailors, younger children are predominantly Childs and teens are often Childs (while learning to have Parent and Adult sailors, eventually Captains — effective Adults).
Such crossed transactions are recipes for difficulty, especially with teens. The essential parenting need is Adult — set clean boundaries that you yourself can manage. The most effective way that I know is to ‘out-child’ the child — the skill of playfulness, together with an Adult (to provide safety). Can you be in a state of wonder? Do not lecture (P-C); do not argue (C-C). In each case, you will lose. Set boundaries (A), and wonder how the teen will respond (C).
For example, the teen wants to borrow the car, but never contributes gas. Set the car keys on the table with the instruction that the keys are available when they are replaced with $20 (to be refunded if the car is returned with a full tank of gas); otherwise the keys remain on the table. What will the teen do in response? Probably argue — do not engage. Possibly sulk or cajole — do not engage. Do not lecture. The discipline is to stay with the parameter of: Keys = $20.
Some other reading material to consider. Tom Phelan’s Surviving Your Adolescents is excellent; if possible, find the first edition — better information from my perspective. Also read Change: Principles of problem formation and problem resolution by Watzlawick et al.; it is the primary source whereby I learned to play.
Comment: In some fashion, we all want intimacy, but we are unwilling to risk, and thus we shift to psychological games with predictable negative outcomes. “Here we go again!” Sad.
MacQuarrie Email Program #28 — Intimacy and Relationship
A friend of mine, a cultural anthropologist, asked approximately 40,000 people how they wanted to live their lives? Essentially everyone said they wanted a sense of aliveness, personal integrity, authentic relationships, and the ability to contribute — to be able to gift to others. My friend also noted in his research that our culture is characterized by domination, greed, and self-righteousness — essentially these are the same 40,000 people, just different sailors present.
So how then do we get what we say we want? It is not easy — it is risking being vulnerable so as to give permission to the other to be vulnerable also. I summarize it as: 3Rs:
Risk not knowing what will happen, and
Requesting closeness — Let me know you. Please risk with me.)
The task of this email is for you to explore your vulnerability, and if you are willing to risk. How willing are you to have a successful relationship? Always it requires effort, and risking.
Vulnerability is the willingness to be powerless, bringing a clean thoughtful stance to issues, risking criticism (not knowing what will happen, and able to pick oneself up if the attempt does not work). Overall, men in our culture repress their feelings, and lack relationship skills; underneath this, they are actually terrified, especially of being criticized by women. Thus, the best example I have of men risking is in sexual approach. (What if the woman (or possible mate) says No?) Women in our culture experience the pressure to nurture, and do the dance of deception; generally, they are more emotionally mature than men, although they are often indirect, and act as victims. For women, the best example of being vulnerable is when they are willing to express unpleasant feedback directly. These features may be changing for younger generations; however, I do not have enough evidence to judge.
Be that as it may, we all want intimacy and connection. In Email #12, I identified what I call the three laws of experience: We want positives, it is easier to get negatives, and negatives are better than nothing. These laws determine the difference between intimacy and psychological games.
A therapy that helped me make clear distinctions here was Transactional Analysis. (Briefly I indicated this therapy in Email #13 Sailors On A Ship.) TA is about transactions — interaction.
In TA, intimacy is an unpredictable transaction with a possible positive payoff. It is high energy, high contact, and high risk, but when successful, it is very satisfying. In contrast, a psychological game is an other-than-conscious transaction with a predictable negative outcome. It is high energy, high contact, and low risk. Notice the differences between these interactions:
intimacy: high risk, positive outcome (very satisfying), unpredictable.
psychological game: low risk, negative outcome (negative is easier to get and better than nothing) , predictable.
Throughout these emails, I have repeatedly emphasized that life has required many of us live with major blocks to awareness, living into acedia rather than wisdom. Thus most people derive the energy they want via psychological games, keeping the process at the other-than-conscious level so as to block awareness of predictable negative outcomes. Sad. If you can say “Here we go again . . .,” you are a participant in a psychological game!
The classic game is known as the Karpman Drama Triangle. Here there are three roles: the persecutor (P), the victim (V), and the rescuer (R). P is criticizing V (giving energy to V), R comes along and attempts to stop this “obvious” inappropriate behavior, thereby giving energy to both P and V. Suppose each starts with 100 units of energy, and each transaction is 60 units.
Persecutor (P) blames victim (V), transferring 60 units. Rescuer also gives 60 units, 30 units to each of P and V. At the end of this round, P has 70 units, R has 40 units and V has 190 units. The basic question is: Who is winning? The victim always wins! But the game is unstable (sooner or later, someone runs out of energy). So, in order to keep the drama going, the players alternate roles. For example, Victim becomes Rescuer, and Rescuer becomes Victim. The game goes on. As an example, husband comes home drunk; wife (P) blames husband (V). Next morning, husband has a hangover (V); wife (R/V) says: “Stay in bed; I’ll get you breakfast. You had a rough night, so somebody (i.e., me) has to take care of you.”
As for resolution, Eric Berne (the TA therapist who studied psychological games in detail) stated “The only way to stop a game is to stop it!” Simplistically, you cannot play tennis with yourself (it takes two to play)! So when one player walks off the court, the game ends.
In comparison, effective relationship requires hard work. A host of skills are needed:
maintaining values — the groundwork, with often subtle differences between the individuals.
communicating and cooperating. Couples need to do much more than communicate — especially they need to cooperate in problem solving.
caring and resolving conflict. Caring is sometimes just as much work as resolving conflict. Problem solving (#27) is essential.
relationships do best when there are at least five positives for every negative.
blame has no place in relationship — blame is based on a right-wrong mentality, whereas everyone is always doing their best. When inappropriate behaviors exist, the basic question is whether the action was intended, or not. And do the individuals wish to act into better behaviors.
Sudden start-up of conflict is especially harmful.
it is necessary for the individuals to reveal themselves, especially their differences (a potential source of conflict) as feedback (not criticism).
Feedback (healthy) says “This is who I am;” criticism (unhealthy) says: This is who you should be.”
All of this, especially cooperation and gift-giving, is the basis of effective relating. Repairs of harm (e.g., authentic apologies) are essential. Management of energy (Emails #25–#26) is mandatory.
The essential stances are:
if one of us has a problem, it is our problem! It is simply where the pain surfaces.
the person who has the pain has the responsibility to initiate discussion.
Comment: Very few people like conflict — however it is a major underlying feature of relationship. For trust to build, conflict needs resolution.
MacQuarrie Email Program #27 — Conflict and Resolving Difficulties
The task for this email is to explore how you handle difficulties. Please reflect on the following:
The resolution of difficulties is a major need in the management of cooperative conflict, and also a major need in any long-term relationship (see the next email). Conflict is always part of relationship — it is simply ‘difference in a closed space (a relationship).”
Two acronyms are especially useful: SOLVE and ACT!
S: state the difficulty, and recognize that the description is incomplete. If you could describe the difficulty appropriately, it would likely be resolved already.
O: outline the ‘solutions’ attempted. They aid in clarifying the nature of the difficulty. They indicate what does not work.
L: list alternatives (brainstorm). People do it often in business, but seldom in personal issues. Sometimes, unusual approaches are most effective (using play and wonder).
V: visualize the consequences (more accurate: associate into the difficulty, and explore).
E: evaluate the results, and re-cycle as needed. The future is not predictable; you can only make your best guess, based on homework and truth-testing. If your choice did not generate a desirable outcome, simply choose a new direction.
In my therapy practice, clients would often come to me with what they considered as difficult decisions (e.g., a job change), indicating that they had studied the alternatives, and could not decide on the best option. They did not know what to do, and needed to make a decision within a few days. I would simply tell them to pick locations around the room, assigning a specific location to each of the choices. At each location in turn, they were to associate into the given option, and live it as if they were six months beyond the decision; no words or descriptions need be spoken. They felt it in their body. Then they would stand in the middle, and sway in the various directions. Invariably they knew which direction felt best! A 5-minute process — a simple resolution. All that I had done was to guide them in truth-testing the options (Email #22).
ACT! (When you find yourself in a deep hole with a shovel in your hand, put the shovel down!) The following is a modification of the Serenity Prayer:
A: Accept what will not change (i.e., the third limb). It may change, but it is not in your power to accomplish this reliably.
C: Change what will (these are your personal options of Email #26).
T: Treat yourself well. Forgive yourself — self-criticism is only useful for about 10 minutes. (Again, the first thing in such a deep hole is to put the shovel down!)
! Get out of the hole! Only then explore how you ended in the hole in the first place.
Recall that only about 30% of difficulties are solvable; the remainder are resolvable. You may not have noticed, but I am here being very precise in language — describing difficulties, not problems. Difficulties are of two kinds: 1) solvable, or 2) painful but not solvable, e.g., death, illness, et cetera). Get on with it — solve them, or accept the limitations.
Technically speaking, problems occur when we insist on solving these latter difficulties (those not solvable, only resolvable), thereby generating further pain in the process (a major example of which is attempting to “fix” the third limb of emotional triangles). [If you want to explore further, find the book Change (1974) by Watzlawick; I learned how to play from this book!]
As such, when I encounter a difficulty, I seek to determine very quickly as to whether or not there is a solution (30% — generally some kind of logical solution). I learned a great deal from Plato here — he described difficulties as logical, ethical, or emotional. But we do some very strange maneuvers with these ideas:
Logical: there is a logical mechanism to be corrected. E.g., my toaster is broken. Logically I could take it apart, analyse the fault within the circuit, replace the parts, and have my toaster back in working order. In our culture, we regard this as too expensive.
Ethical: there is an agreed-upon set of rules as to how we respond. E.g., my toaster is broken; I bought it two months ago, and the store issued a warranty of three months. I take it back to the store, and the store gives me a new toaster (and the old is ‘garbage’).
Emotional: there is no agreed-upon set of rules, only pain-pleasure principles. E.g., my toaster failed at day 90, the warranty expires at day 91, but I’m busy. I don’t get it back to the store until day 92, and tell them it failed at day 90. They would be fully within their rights to refuse to give me a new toaster, but also know that they might lose many customers when I complain about how ‘unfair’ they are! So, I get a new toaster!
Ultimately, resolution of difficulties with others comes down to genuine interest. Thereupon, the management of one’s own energy is a private affair, whereas the seeking of resolution is public between the individuals concerned. All this requires time, intention, focus and flexibility (you can have a TIFF about the issues.
As mentioned in the previous email, keeping your word is essential. Actions speak louder than words, and if you are unable to do what you say you will do, re-negotiate another resolution with the parties concerned — otherwise trust will be compromised. No trust — no resolution!
Next most important is to decide concerning what you can agree before you explore what you disagree about — this exploration of agreement is the relationship, the umbrella under which the conflict can be safely explored. Here, positives are very important. Express lots of appreciations, ideally five positives for every negative.
Third, negotiate needs, not positions. Positions are stances that come out of needs. Notice the difference between “People should not smoke in the house” (a position) compared to “I have asthma — second-hand smoke really aggravates me. I need a smoke-free environment.” (a need). Positions often generates resistance and conflict; needs usually leads to compassion and understanding.
Finally, make appointments (spontaneous discussions of difficulties are fraught with pain). Especially important is that sudden start-ups generate anxiety and resistance — always give warning of intentions. This is especially so with questions — sudden questions both surprize and generate anxiety; it is always best to state your intention prior to asking a question. E.g., “I’m curious. I don’t understand why you did that.” Notice the difference from “I don’t understand why …,” especially if the voice tone is misinterpreted.
Even more destructive is sudden start-up of criticism! Give warning and time for processing.
Comment: Having established safety for all, the next most important aspect is to distinguish whether the issue is me, or my relationship with others. And then get on with resolving the issues.
MacQuarrie Email Program #26 — The Message of Your Anger
In the previous emails, I dealt with Safety and Energy. Here we will explore The Message and The Conflict, again so as to develop personal power.
The process of Blowing Out works in that I can reliably move from a full pot of energy to that of a relatively empty pot having three characteristics:
I can feel safe (accessing choice),
I can think more clearly (choice), and
I can make a significant distinction between what is happening within me, and what is happening outside me with other people (the choice to resolve conflict).
It is not an instantaneous process — it requires time, but not a lot of time. And there are two critical choices to be made. The first is simply that of choosing a time-out. In the heat of the moment, it likely requires 2-3 seconds to make this choice. My experience is that, regardless of how overwhelmed you have been in the past, you can create this time period using the Checkbox of Change. This then allows the Blowing Out process to continue to resolution.
The MESSAGE of Powerlessness (The Familiarity of Pain from Your Past)
The second choice is that of distinguishing whether the issue is that of your own powerlessness, or that the behavior of the other has truly been inappropriate. This distinction is available because you can now think more clearly, but may require additional learning. I suggest you return to the John James Game Plan (Email #10), for it is here that you can practice recognizing “this feels familiar” (question #8). Powerlessness is recognized by emotional pain familiar from your past, indicating the surfacing of unresolved issues, buried perhaps for years.
As indicated in Email #08, if there is any significant degree of familiarity, deal with this first, at least in part, before approaching the other. I normally allow up to ten minutes for energy release, and another ten for processing, before I return to the conflict scene (which I must do — so as to satisfy the requirements of the time out). To the extent that the issues are familiar, I apologize, and indicate that I am determined to settle these old issues so as to continue to be in relationship.
Depending on the skills developed in the preceding emails, much of this work may already have been done. Or — you may need to deepen the process by working with a good therapist, someone who will assist you in further skill development, not just tell you what you should do.
The MESSAGE of True Conflict (The Other Is Inappropriate: Lies, Broken Promises, et cetera)
There are essentially four options in responding to conflict:
I can forgive — simply let it go (see Email #24 for the options of EFT).
We can cooperate — we are not stupid; we can always find a resolution eventually.
Because I can manage my energy, I can always choose to cooperate — I don’t have to like it! I choose it because I want resolution. Essentials include:
Keep my word — if I say I will do something, I do it — or I re-negotiate!
I explore what actions we need for resolution, not what we believe is true.
One of us can violate the other! If the violation is physical, leave (when safe)!
This is the one situation where I tell someone what to do — it is too dangerous!
We do not cooperate! I always choose cooperation as my first choice (unless physical violations exist); it is also my second choice unless repeated violations occur!
the basic problem is that non-cooperation always risks ending the relationship.
There are two ways in which I can express myself in conflict:
directly in relationship with another person — this can be painful, but is almost always healthy if the energy has already been released. You are being honest, stating “this is who I am,” and potentially asking “and who are you?”
indirectly, into the third limb of the triangle — likely unhealthy.
There are six ways I can respond:
I can leave! A useful response if I know how to manage the issues, and simply no longer wish to deal with them.
leave (create geographic distance), and release my energy. Always useful.
leave, and plan my return. Always useful.
I can extend love and forgiveness into relationship (useful if no violations exist).
I can extend clarity by studying the emotional issues underlying the conflict. Useful.
I can play — the most complex skill! It is a profound skill!
Some thoughts (please reflect on them carefully):
leaving, especially to release and/or plan, are always a useful option.
Plan at least three different responses for the return.
the conflict is not the relationship! The goal of good communication is to go on feeling good about the other while resolving the differences!
extending love and clarity are useful in cooperative conflict.
It helps immensely to explore what we like about and want from each other before we argue about what we don’t like!
being playful is most useful in non-cooperative conflict.
tyranny is not susceptible to reason. Leaving is the best option when violations exist; the other may escalate dangerously if opposed, especially if challenged by playful interventions.
in non-cooperative conflict, I seek a resolution that works for me, without violation of the other. The other may not like my resolution! They may escalate. Safety is mandatory!
in true playfulness, I want to be in a state of wonder as to what will happen if I do ‘X.’ As such, I have no anxiety of the other, even if they escalate — the other must deal with their own issues.
Comment: I cannot emphasize enough — the primary issue of emotional management is Safety! Everyone must be safe, and idealy everyone must feel safe (Security).
MacQuarrie Email Program #25 — Managing Yourself While Angry
In the next two emails, I am going to expand upon the concepts developed in Emails #07 and #08, the process of Blowing Out the Darkness. This email will deal with Safety and Energy.
I hope by now that it is clear that the skill of anger management is the ability to turn your power of domination into your personal power to influence. Expanding upon the principles I presented in Email #07 Blowing Out, Part 1, please note:
safety for all is absolutely essential.
the high intensity of anger or rage interrupts my ability to think, preventing my ability to distinguish whether the issue is my own powerlessness, or whether the difficulty exists as part of my relationship with the other, i.e., true conflict.
This is the Darkness of anger and rage, especially rage.
when I mismanage this energy, I am at high risk of dumping the energy on someone else (or on myself, by criticism of myself) in an inappropriate fashion.
Either I blow up and dump it on someone else, and very soon recognize how inappropriate this is (“I should not have done this,” and I move into shame), or
I blow down and dump it on myself, often with slower recognition (“I should not have done this,” and I move into shame).
shame does not empty the pot (Email #06) — it puts a lid on the pot, such that the energy is sealed until the next episode. And the cycle starts again.
SAFETY Task #1: Negotiate an agreement for time outs with your partner (or the other participant in the issues)
In order to change this cycle, a new way of functioning must be instituted. It is difficult to do, especially with the potential hair-trigger issues which progress within seconds, or milliseconds. Question: do you want the 10-second plan, or the 10,000 year plan? Seriously — some people can talk about the issues for years, without resolution, without awareness. Analysis is an option, but frankly, it is not effective for many people. It is awareness (not understanding) that makes the difference! (Understanding is optional.) I may need to utilize the skills described in Email #11 The Checkbox of Change if the changes are happening too quickly.
The 10-Second Plan: Once I am able to recognize the build-up, the only thing required is a decision for a Time Out, a withdrawal from the situation. In so doing, I separate The Ghost (Email #22) from the current issue: I create geographic space between myself and the conflict, and by necessity I take the ghost with me. Anger work requires safety, integrity and privacy — I need to protect both myself and others, physically and emotionally, without guilt or shame. If possible, negotiate the exit, but exit nevertheless — to continue is (usually) to escalate. Instead, work with the Ghost.
If I am consistently having issues with specific individuals (e.g., my life partner), then ideally, the Time Out is pre-planned by negotiation with these individuals. I need to develop an agreement that, if I ask for a time-out, it means that I am becoming overwhelmed with my own energy. We agree that I separate from this individual for a pre-arranged time period so as to work through the energy, AND I will return within this agreed time period to continue the discussion. If I consistently keep this agreement, the other will learn to trust me. If I do not, they have no reason to trust — no positive trust, no relationship! It is the essential basis of relationship.
A time out could be as short as 20 minutes (10 minutes to discharge your energy, 10 minutes to explore the message!), or as long as a few hours — most people can wait this long. But the longer the time, the more difficult is the waiting for the return. And I still must return within the agreed time!
The Captain is responsible for safety: No SAD and Stop (Email #02 and #07). The Sailor is responsible for releasing the energy! The Captain is responsible for learning the Message!
ENERGY Task #2: Establish and practice at least three ways to release
So now — what to do with the energy? Anything that works! Anything that empties the pot effectively, anything that releases the energy within the Muscles of Stability (Email #23).
The two ways that work best for me are to utilize and:
use the emotional experience, and express what the muscles are asking.
such a process utilizes both the story (as fantasy) and the Muscles of Stability.
use Eastern forms of exercise — especially in “stillness,” the field of yoga.
here I can access the energy directly, while still accessing the story.
Because I am very well versed in hatha yoga, I can release tremendous energy quietly and in apparent stillness, easily satisfying the requirements of No SAD and Stop. But most people are not well versed, if at all. Thus discharge techniques are commonly needed — all have some risk of physical damage to self or furniture. So practice with care. Remember No SAD.
There are a thousand ways — they are directed at the Ghost (the Story), paradoxically recognizing that the energy is being directed both in fantasy and in reality. My favorite ways are:
taking a baseball bat or tennis racquet to a heavy bag or mattress (being careful of how I swing, and of the bounce-back of the bat).
screaming (simple noise, or yelling what I really wanted to say) — screaming from my pelvis with an open throat, not from my throat directly — otherwise it hurts my throat.
if I am worried about noise, I scream into a pillow contained within a bowl. Or I scream silently, breathing into the scream without noise.
pushing in a door frame, pushing from the pelvis, not the back. Or push with upper body.
The important point is full release to the point of exhaustion. Then the message is available.
The difficulty here is that of stopping before full release — we get scared of the energy (often at an other-than-conscious level) and stop before full release, “thinking” we have done enough.