Category Archives: communication

human, the storytelling animal

i just read too scared to pee – about women in nairobi’s slums for whom it is just too dangerous to go to the washroom at night.

details. it is details that make things real for us. statistics like “30% of men in a south african survey believed that women ask to be raped” are scary but they can’t grab us as much as the story of the woman who pees into a plastic bag at night because the 10-minute walk to the public latrine might get her raped. i haven’t even told a good story yet and already the imagination runs wild and questions pop up.

  • what do you mean, “public latrine”?
  • how come she doesn’t have a washroom in her house?
  • who are these animals that make her live that way?
  • i go to the washroom at least twice at night, how would i survive something like this?

it’s the same with other situations. the other day, a young woman talked about the things she has to do each morning because she has juvenile diabetes. a guy tells a story about the difficulties with finding work because as a single father, he needs to take his 6-year-old son to and from school each day; the son’s social anxiety makes it impossible for him to go to after school care. and when i was working with people with chronic pain, it was the daily details that people were talking about all the time: taking two hours each morning to get out of bed, not having the strength to make elaborate meals and therefore eating a lot of junk food, difficulty wearing shoes …

when we hear the details and the stories, we connect. why is it often so difficult to tell the stories then, when they are so crucial? and what is it that moves us when we go the other way and say, “spare me the details”? are the two connected?

what’s your experience with telling and hearing stories?

links: psychology, morality, social media and dogs

in my long-suffering attempts to organize my internet life better, i’m going to see what it’s like if i post the occasional link article.  so here’s a stroll through the links open on august 1, with the first paragraph of each post so that you can get an idea what it’s all about.  you may even end up reading something!

gifted relationships: on being “too much” to the right of the curve

for most of my life, finding friends and work that honored my intensity and intelligence wasn’t an issue for me.

make my psychotherapy plain, but with a twist
by tom ellis, PsyD, ABPP on july 23, 2010

jon allen‘s post “is psychotherapy going to POT?” is spot on in terms of describing the quandary faced by psychotherapists and their patients with respect to the double-edged sword of “prescriptive therapies.”

my hopes for mental health camp UK

the moment i spotted MentalHealthCamp toronto i wanted to help make it happen here. years ago i was a volunteer MIND mental health advocate in the old hackney psychiatric hospital (a former workhouse) which was a schooling in one side of mental health services. now that i’m an accidental digital innovator i can see the huge potential in a mashup of mental health and digital, which i can’t really put better than the MentalHealthCamp toronto mission statement :

dr. khalid sohail, a psychiatrist by profession has been passionately writing for the last two decades. his collections of poems, stories, travelogues, novellas and essays have been published in english, urdu and punjabi. his writings are an attempt to share his humanistic philosophy of life. he summarized his views in his book “pages of my heart” in the following words:

edge: getting at the neuroanthropology of morality
edge has just posted a new seminar, the new science of morality. you get lots of access to interviews, links to papers, videos, exchange of views, reactions from the press, and more. quite stimulating.

calling all social change geeks: it’s netsquared camp vancouver

a month from now, on saturday, august 14, i’ll be attending vancouver’s first NetSquared camp, a day-long event for people who work at the intersection of social change and technology. the goal of the event is to build skills and capacity through peer learning, and invites the participation of “nonprofits, activists and social entrepreneurs [along] with their friends and allies in the world of technology and communications.”

study shows possibilities for predicting how patients will respond to antidepressants

in a study of an experimental treatment for major depression, pretreatment testing to probe the function of a specific brain center predicted how patients would respond to ketamine, a medication that can lift depression rapidly in some people. the work suggests it may be possible to develop ways to use such assessments in the future, not only to better understand depression, but to guide treatment choices for individuals.

effective confrontation

basic principles to remember:

the 30 second rule: the first 30 seconds in a confrontation, or your response to being confronted, will determine whether or not productive dialogue will even begin.

coaching at work magazine – mark on a difficult case
mark mckergow is featured in the current issue of coaching at work magazine (http://www.coaching-at-work.com). in the troubleshooter column, a difficult case is presented and expert responses are sought. here’s the problem:

international online training program on intractable conflict
conflict research consortium, university of colorado, USA

non-violent struggle
the problem with the use of violent confrontation strategies is that they quickly escalate to the point where the parties’ only concerns are victory, vengeance, and self-defense. in these cases, the moral arguments of people who are being unjustly treated become irrelevant. what matters is that they have used violent strategies and their opponent is, therefore, justified in a violent response. this problem is complicated by the fact that both sides are usually able to argue that the other side started the violence.

eight steps for workplace confrontations
one of the challenging things about working in a team environment is that there are times when people behave in ways that we find unproductive, offensive, or hurtful.  when we ignore these feelings the relationship can suffer as our resentment festers.  yet fear at confronting others can prevent us from taking positive action.  today’s post contains a checklist you can use to determine if a confrontation is appropriate, and if so, how to move forward.

the missing ingredient in most social media strategies
what is the missing ingredient in most strategies i’ve seen? actual strategy.

expressive writing for the treatment of gay-related stressors

according to research published in the journal of consulting and clinical psychology, writing about stressful or traumatic events related to one’s sexual identity may be an effective treatment for gay-related stress.

forms in english haiku
keiko imaoka

japanese haiku have been traditionally composed in 5-7-5 syllables. when poets started writing english haiku in the 1950’s, they adopted this 5-7-5 form, thinking it created a similar condition for english-language haiku. this style is what is generally considered “traditional” english haiku.

gogyōka (五行歌?, literally, “five line poem”) is a form of japanese poetry invented by enta kusakabe (草壁 焔太) in 1957, in an attempt to escape the constraints of haiku and tanka poetry.[1] unlike traditional japanese poetry, gogyōka has no mora or syllable requirement for the length of its lines, which is instead governed by the duration of a single breath. the only defining rule of gogyōka is that the poem should be five lines long. in addition to japanese and english, gogyōka have been written in french, chinese, arabic, tagalog, korean, and latin.

on being chronically absent : “calling for my soul, at the corners of the world, i know she’s playing poker, with the rest of the stragglers”
i have always been an absentee.  sometimes by choice, sometimes by chance. i still do all of my work, and put great effort into it.  but i have never been keen on always attending class.  sometimes i feel that the time is better spent working from home, getting much more done. some classes i never want to miss, and am sad when i do.  i don’t play hooky, like i must admit – i did quite often in elementary school – but at times absenteeismt is necessary. sometimes i need “mental health” days off.  actually, i find it ridiculous that this isn’t expected at the “workplace”, since it has been found that most “sick calls” are due to feeling mentally worn out, than due to being physically ill.  if you get the flu, go home, best that you not spread it!  i feel the same is true of mental exhaustion and the need to get away for a while – a short leave of absence is simply necessary for one to “perform to the best of their abilities” (what any employer assumedly wants – accuracy, efficiency, obedience…, but when you  try to suppress the negative energy that fills your disposition, it spills out onto the people you are working with, and for (diners, students, etc.)

the rise of the psychopharmaceutical industry 1987-2010
written and submitted by mary ackerley ***md, mdh

mary beth ackerley md is a harvard and johns hopkins trained board certified psychiatrist. she now practices holistic psychiatry.

robert whitaker’s brilliant book anatomy of an epidemic asks a simple question.why , if psychiatric drug treatments are so efficacious, has the number of people on disability for mental illness more than tripled in the last 25 years? most doctors and researchers answered this question by stating that the numbers have increased simply because we are diagnosing more people with mental illness. in response to this stereotyped dismissal of his data, robert began to do more research on the efficacy of known psychiatric treatments. and then, while poring through the psychiatric scientific literature on treatment effectiveness for the last fifty years he found an even darker question beginning to emerge. “is it possible that psychiatric drugs are actually making people much worse?” could it be that far from “fixing broken brains” the drugs being offered actually are worsening, and even causing, the very illnesses they claim to heal?

handy google search tips: 19 simple tricks you need to know

google may be expanding into cell phones, operating systems, and tablet pcs, but it’s still known best for search.  google’s engineers have tricked out the search engine with a number of tools, shortcuts, and features that can help you better access the information you’re after–whether it’s finding out how many euros to the dollar, when your favorite team is playing next, or whether to leave home with an umbrella.

psychologists develop two potent new predictors of suicide risk

sciencedaily (july 30, 2010) ” two powerful new tests developed by psychologists at harvard university show great promise in predicting patients’ risk of attempting suicide.

saving the lives of 15 eight week old puppies
a better life dog rescue has just agreed to save the lives of 15 eight week old puppies that were going to be euthanized by a california shelter on friday. a rescue organization in los angelos asked numerous rescue groups in the states and canada for help to save these puppies lives.

dog breed selector quiz
ibizan hound size: medium. coat: silky. straight. coat length: short. grooming: easy, low-maintenance. very unlikely to drool. little to no shedding. very high activity level. bred as a game hunting companion. low intelligence. somewhat easier than average to train. very wary of other pets. tolerates strangers well. good with kids four and up. very affectionate. quite dependent. quiet. somewhat shorter than average estimated lifespan. in america, a rare breed. not well suited for apartment living.

body language and cyber language

my new-found friend sheldon from the kitzul connection wrote this the other day:

given the world we live in with social media dominating our relationshipscapes, why all the love??!

i have had this brewing in the back of my mind for a while now. but it really hit home during a recent trip to the interior. i am an avid twitterer and saw that a connection from there was also traveling to kelowna the same time i was there. i sent her a message and asked if she would like to meet for coffee or a drink. she agreed. my friend and i went to meet her one evening and during our conversation we talked about how easily we give up trust in people we meet this way. i have had many recent examples where i meet people from twitter or elsewhere for coffee. having never met each other, without fail, one party always leaves their belongings at the table after the hand-shake to go get a coffee. somehow, having never met you in person, i’m willing to leave my laptop, keys, cell phone etc with you. i have just transferred my trust to you.

in kelowna, the woman we met with told us that her husband had offered to come along and she declined feeling that she trusted us – two strangers. did she have enough information from our tweets and blogs to know we were trustworthy?

being the woman in question, i thought i`d say something about this. in fact, i, too, think that this is a very interesting phenomenon. just one observation, about what i’d like to call bodylanguage and cyberlanguage.

you know how they always say that social media is a poor method of communication because we`re missing the body language? it is true that in written social media we miss body language (not so much when it comes to video, of course) but there is an equivalent in social media – let me call it cyberlanguage. i’m sure linguists and postmodern woollymouths have created a term for it but – well, let’s leave that for now. this cyberlanguage is quite rich. let’s look at twitter and just some of the many ways we communicate outside of the informational content of the text:

  • mode of interaction with others. do we reply to others? is there evidence of actual conversation with others? what is the nature of that interaction? friendly, hostile, fun, etc.?
  • evidence of self-involvement. does the person tweet nothing but her or his own “wisdom”, or references to their blog or web site?
  • what do the avatar and twitter backgrounds say about the person? fun? boring? interesting? unusual?
  • what does the bio say? is there a link to a web site or blog?
  • what is the writing style? formal, informal, flowery, abrupt … ? can they spell? how do they use punctuation and symbols?

and the list goes on … i often think people are developing their own unique cyberlanguage, their own internet voice print, so to say. the more time we spend online, the better we are able to discern the subtle undertones and colorations of these voices. we can judge them according to more common standards (e.g. use of swearwords, uniqueness of twitter background, amount of retweets, etc.) but we can also attune to our own resonances. maybe the person uses certain expressions that really appeal to me. maybe the person has a ratio of conversation to just-talking-to-myself that makes me feel comfortable.

and then of course there is also the content, both of the tweets and of the bio and the web sites that the bio leads to. in my case, i did go to sheldon’s blog, where i had been before, and discovered that he spoke favorable of research on drug addiction by bruce alexander, one of my favourite psychology professors at sfu.

did all of this guarantee that sheldon was a good guy and not a serial killer? of course not. but how different is that from real life?

what do you think of the idea of a unique cyberlanguage?

divorce: a ballad

he screams at her
and she screams back
he in this corner,
she in the other over there.
the children, they run back and forth with
“who will fix our toys?”

she screams at him
and he screams back
but only in their heads.
their mouths are silent and
their eyes don’t meet.

the children look from one and then the other,
they smell something, or is it feel,
they don’t know where to go.

he screams at her
and she screams back
and often in their dreams.
a thick and heavy web of secrets
lies gray between them
and dusty spiders leave a trail of poison
for woman, man, and child and child
to trip over and fall into.
it’s best to stay and not to move
and not to say a word.

everyday life, it forces them
to do some things together.
out on the street, a bag lady
walks up to them
and whispers to them
from between her gappy teeth:

“i see, guys, what you’re doing.
your hearts so heavy
and your brains so hot.
your child covered in wounds,
and this one, too.
i’m talking quiet
and probably you two can’t hear me.
but still, you need to know
that you don’t have to suffer just like this.
you want, or need, or think you have to
go your separate ways. and that’s ok.
but your paths need not,
really, they need not,
be strewn with broken glass.”

with that, she disappears
into the shadows.

the four come home.
melissa finds her trains.
katrina talks to mom.

he scowls at her
and she scowls back.
the creases down her cheeks
are maybe just a little softer
than an hour ago.

love every day

is it valentine’s day yet?  what?  i missed it?  drat!  yup, that was one of the things that fell between the cracks during my trip to europe.  what also fell between the cracks was telling you about an ebook that chelle kindly invited me to participate in.  as a gift to her readers on valentine’s day, she put together love everyday e-book.  a nifty idea, the book looks at marriage and romantic relationships through the lends of the little things we do each and every day: waking up and hitting the snooze button, drinking that morning cup of coffee, sitting through traffic, going to work, doing housework, grocery shopping, logging onto the internet.  some writers use these lenses as metaphors (“how do you fuel your relationship?”), others talk directly about the topic; for example i write about how the internet and marriage interact with each other.  you can download the book here.

two entries particularly caught my eye.  one was “what are you waiting for?” by pat flynn.  i like the urgency of the tone:

what are you waiting for?

a sign? something to happen that tells you it’s the right time?

signs aren’t always things that happen. more often than not, signs come from the things that don’t happen.

what are you waiting for?

are you waiting for permission? someone to tell you that it’s okay?

permission from someone else is never as important as the permission that you have to give yourself first.

complacency is probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks in a marriage.  i like how pat challenges this attitude.

i was also impressed by lori lowe’s contribution, pour on love: how to love your spouse generously.  an excerpt:

gaining a little more happiness is like gaining a little more money; you always want more. but giving and receiving love generates fulfillment. there are myriad ways to show love, but we know love when we see it, hear it, read it, and feel it. love is in the details, the thoughtfulness, the caring.

when you act in a loving”even sacrificial”manner, you experience the paradox of giving. this is the secret your grandparents knew about: it is in giving that we receive. the joy and love you give returns to you. yes, it is risky to invest yourself fully …

how can you pour on love?

voraciously study your spouse. put as much energy into that research as in your career and hobbies. try to understand and participate in their interests as they change over time”recreational, musical, romantic, sexual and culinary interests. ask about your partner’s hopes, preferences, desires, dislikes, and fears. encourage their dreams. communicate your needs and desires as well. be the one who knows them best, and help them to know your heart.  …

do it without keeping score. do it without stopping. do it with love.

here are the other contributors to the book:

the power of denial

i had a conversation with a client the other day about his brother who is presenting him with quite a bit of bafflement. “he (let’s call him noah) is such a nice guy; wise, funny, understanding, compassionate, self aware. and then – there is this part of himself that he seems to be completely unaware of. whenever his brother-in-law gary shows up, he turns into this macho, obnoxious, beer-guzzling football fanatic. even gary is embarrassed. and he just can’t see it.”

my client can’t ignore or avoid the behaviour, either, because he spends a lot of time at noah’s place. “i don’t get it! noah is such a great guy otherwise. but as soon as gary shows up, i can’t stand him, i don’t want to be around him. what’s worse, he loves to make plans when gary is around and drags us all into it. we’re at our wits’ end. we can’t talk to him about it because he insists that nothing is wrong and points out how we trust him otherwise and rely on his sensitivity. which is true. i don’t know what to do.”

i don’t know what the outcome will be; there are many possible scenarios. maybe noah will wake up one day and realize what’s going on. maybe people will start retreating from him. maybe his family will tell him often enough how uncomfortable they are with his behaviour that he will change it or take it elsewhere.

what interests me here is the incredible power of denial that can put a chink into even the most self-aware, conscious person. and i wonder – do i have a blind spot like that, too? how would i be able to tell? as we can see here, such blind spots can exert considerable negative power over people – and i mean that in the plural; noah is by far not the only person who is affected. swiss psychoanalyst adolf guggenbuehl-craig says that one of the best ways of minimizing such situations is to constantly make oneself vulnerable to those dear and near. scary! but what’s the alternative?

i’ll make sure to show this post to my friends and family. if there is a blind spot that they would like me to see but haven’t found a way to do it, maybe this will open a door.

speaking the truth

you are reading an article about truth right now.

at this moment, your eyes are working sufficiently to be able to read this article, which is written in lower case, and involves a quote by nietzsche. in the alternative, you are listening to an audio program that is translating these words into voice, or someone is reading this to you.

you have taken a breath in the last five minutes.

you are riding a live dolphin right now.

four statements. i am 99.999% certain that the first two are correct and that the second one is not. three, we could say, are true, and one is a lie.

certain. correct. true. lie. words that seem so easy to use until you start thinking about them. “honesty” is another one. i remember years ago i went to a series of training sessions for therapists who were conducting therapy groups, and one of the guidelines was that we should tell the truth. very soon it became obvious to me that that was easier than done. here are some of the challenges:

  • in order for to tell the truth, we need to know it
  • “knowledge is but a small drop in the vast ocean of truth” – quoted by one of my revered philosophy professors, norman swartz, in reference to newton’s famous saying
  • is truth fixed or variable?

there are many more questions, but let’s start with these three.

how about the last one – is truth fixed or variable? notice how the statements at the beginning of this post all have reference to a certain moment. if something is not tied to coordinates either in space or time, can we know anything for certain about it? (and let’s leave aside the question whether truth is about “knowing for certain” – something that philosophers love to argue about).

now of course i am interested in how the concept of truth relates to human interaction. so here’s a somewhat scary thought: when we say “i love you”, we really want this to be the truth, and when we hear it, we want that even more to be the case. now try “i love you now”. not quite the same, is it? often we skimp on “truth” in favour of hope, beauty, comfort and other noble sentiments. is that a good thing? should we stick with truth no matter what? would it be a good idea to practice being more precise? because the truth in a romantic relationship is closer to “if i don’t get bored with you, and don’t fall in love with someone else, and we don’t have too many fights, and raising children and paying mortgages doesn’t wear us down, i hope i’ll love you for a long time.” i don’t know if truth is conditional, but it certainly seems that the things we say to be the truth are. kabbalah scholar michael laitman, appears to be thinking along these lines when he says that what we call truth is directly related to desires.
nietzsche’s words that “all things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth” are interesting in this connection as well.

let’s move on to another idea, the one about the ocean of knowledge. the first three statements above imply that a bit. the moment you read the first word of the first statement of this entry, you and the world around you are faced with an immense amount of truth. which one will you focus on? which one do you want to or can you pay attention to? which one will you be completely oblivious to or will insist to exclude?

this is something that gets in our way a lot when it comes to interpersonal communication. the myers briggs instructions for making pumpkin soup are an amusing example of that. the “intuitive” personality approaches making pumpkin soup as an interesting creative project; for the “sensory” personality it is a technical challenge (“chop mushroom and onions. caliper will be helpful here. 3/16th inch thickness recommended.”) making pumpkin soup, even though it may result in the same product, is experienced from two totally different points of view: the intuitive type lives in a world of possibilities, so that in thinking and talking about truth, she will select from the “ocean of truth” those aspects that she sees as belonging to that world; the sensory type lives in the realm of measurement and tangibles, so in describing the truth, her language will spring from that realm.

“in order to speak the truth, we need to know it.” and in order to know it, we need to be able to recognize it. this recognition is very difficult when we have the blind spots that we just discussed, blind spots that are caused by numerous conditions. personality type is one of them but it gets even simpler: a car mechanic, for example, has a totally different take on the truth about my car than i do; i would not be able to tell the difference between truth and fiction when it comes to carburetors. and going back to the group i mentioned earlier, there are some things that i knew i didn’t know about myself, some of which i know now. the “honest truth” was elusive. the consequence of that is a judiciary use of “i don’t know” (without using it as an excuse or escape) or “this is what i know right now.” this, of course, reopens the can of worms i touched on before: truth is one thing, knowing about the truth another, and then talking about it yet another. saying “i don’t know” isn’t always popular (it definitely often isn’t perceived as popular), and saying “this is what i know now” can often be taken as weasely.

okay – so now what? the truth is, it’s late at night, i’m tired, and i’d like to know what you think so far …

christmas, love, agape

these days i really seem to enjoy to quote from books.  here’s one i have talked about before: the priority of love: christian charity and social justice, by timothy p. jackson.  let me give you some quotes.

jackson puts the christian virtue of charity in close context of agape.  according to the stanford dictionary of philosophy, “‘agape‘ has come, primarily through the christian tradition, to mean the sort of love god has for us persons, as well as our love for god and, by extension, of our love for each other”a kind of brotherly love.”  says jackson, in his often woolly and overly academic yet nevertheless deeply touching way:

agape is beyond all economies of exchange, all questions of desert or contract

one does not determine love to be the universal human good the way one might discover a dime in one’s pocket.  love makes itslef the good by enriching whomever it touches

the love awakened in us by god’s own love has priority in relation to other basic values … it is their necessary source and end

he quotes liberation theologist juan segundo

to love means to lose our autonomy and to become dependent on another … all love is a gamble … it is an act of faith launched into the air, without any precise name or clear content.  it is a belief that love is worthwhile …

then ..

there is a sublime excessiveness to charity manifest in words as diverse as jesus’ sermon on the mount, lincoln’s second inaugural address, and etty hillesum’s letters from the concentration camp

jackson maintains that their charity (and by extension he points to all christian charity, i would assume) is indiscriminate, indomitable egalitarian, “made perfect in weakness” (2 corinthians 12:9) and almost paradoxically expansive.  he also suggests that

because of its chronological priority (loving care is the first thing we must receive as infants), its axiologocal priority (without care individuals do not mature into responsible persons), its lexical priority (without care we have no substantive access to other human goods) and its priority of itself (care’s agenda is to make others caring), agapic love is rightly deemed the first virtue in all contexts.

and of course jackson cites the famous, beautiful words of saint paul in first corinthians 13:4-8

love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  it bears all things, believes all things, endures all things.  love never ends.

if the jesus religion (or any religion, for that matter), please don’t throw out these words with the biblical bath water.  while they are written from the point of view of a theologian deeply rooted in christianity, i think they still have something to offer to anyone who thinks about and wants to contribute to good relationships among people, or/and with the divine.

and, what can i say, it’s a fitting post for christmas day 🙂