Points of View: Relationship Confusion
© 2010 Al Turtle
Though I have written many times about this topic, I still find it the hardest for people to grasp. And in all my experience of relating, in starting a relationship, recovering one, maintain a high reliable quality of connection, this is the most important. Here is another attempt to make the relational situation clearer.
Sometimes my readers think I am speaking of only Marriages or long-term partnerships. Tis true many of the things I share are focused on those unique, extreme connections between people. In this case I am speaking of all connections between people from the simple to the intense.
Also I want to be clear that this paper probably isn't a place to go for starting to improve your relationships with others. This is very much a result of years and years of work and a lot of looking backward. You will probably notice all the links I put in it. Those are to earlier ideas that culminate in this paper.
There seems to be one major trend resisting people learning about being dialogical. There is kind of encouraged blindness, often called the disease of Emotional Symbiosis, in our culture. Many scholarly books warn us of this trouble in one way or another. Yet the culture seems to continue to push poor ideas and defective relational skills in all forms of the media, in our schools, our churches, our homes.
One common experience I have when I share the structure of Emotional Symbiosis, is that people become fascinated, and even overwhelmed, by how commonly this pernicious teaching is visible. People tell me that they cannot not see the primary clue, what I call MasterTalk, everywhere. The behavior, which I call Master/Slave or the Valley of the Masters, seems blatantly obvious. If you think of this as a “relational disease,” then most everyone has it.
How do I get to know “you,” if I am trained to “fight” with you about whose ideas are right? Do I only listen to you to see if you “agree” with me, or to see if you have the “truth” I can agree with? Or do I listen in order to decide that it might be safer to pretend to agree or to be silent in order to avoid conflict.
I get a special kick out of novels that are written as if the author knows what is “really” going on. I’ve come to see that point of view, which I was taught is called the third-person-omniscient and is common in books and in the narration of movies, in reality doesn’t exist.
I recall Michael Meade, the storyteller, saying that “history is a conceit (a fantasy) based on the idea that on some day someone really knew what was going on.”
No one knows what is “really” going on. No one ever has. This thought scares a lot of people, but I find it warmly comforting. I can sit down peacefully with anyone who wants peace and we can be fully at ease as we share our views – our stories. We do not need or even want “agreement” save in maintaining peace.
I treasure the shift in my awareness over the years from seeking out people I agree with. Now it is more fun to sit down with people I strongly disagree with – much better stories to be shared. Now I just gauge people by how well they grasp the peacefulness of sharing new stories – how dialogical they are.
Many take the phrase “I disagree,” to be a threat. Many deliver the phrase “I disagree,” as a threat. Where is the peace in either reaction? I recall that you can really not trust anyone who agrees with you unless you hear them also freely disagree with you. “You cannot trust 'yes' men.”
Huston Smith's great book on comparative religions shared the view that most religious traditions create and maintain (frequently enforce) shared bodies of knowledge. They communicate via the written/published word. Many indigenous cultures create and recreate shared bodies of wisdom. Their wisdom is present whenever their communities come together, found in the bodies and minds of the elders. They communicate via stories that ever grow the future, recall the past, and inform the present.
In a way, learning to be dialogical is to give rebirth to an ancient way of relating – sharing stories.
Points of View – The Chart
Here’s a new chart with six points of view and a “meeting place” called Dialogue or Sharing. Let’s look at each point of view and savor its wisdom.
This is my view of the world. It includes everything I sense, recall, imagine, and even have forgotten. It includes the past, and the present, and my dreams of the future.
I use this view of the world as a basis for deciding what I will do next. It is the foundation of my actions all the time. I do not do what I am told – ever. I act based on my judgments that arise from my world view.
Many people still believe that you can be ordered around. Many believe in telling others what to do. Oh, does this cause trouble. Check out William Glasser’s book on Choice Theory. Humans are designed to remarkably independent. My favorite reminder poster is “All humans are disobedient. Learn to live with it.” This sure helps when my clients are late or when I ask someone to do something.
I build this world view all the time. I revise it constantly. Some revisions are via recovered recollections. Some revisions are through learning and practice. Some revisions are through taking in new information.
In general simple purpose of all revisions seems in one direction – improving the value/quality of my world view. I am always making it better, which also includes that it was necessarily poorer “yesterday” before I improved it. When I was a kid in 4th grade, I met each morning with all the kids in the school auditorium. In front of us on the high wall was sign that said, “Our best today. Better tomorrow.”
I am very much personally involved in this self-improvement project. I select what are my sources of new information carefully – what media I pay attention too, what views of nature I take in, who I meet and share with, what books I read, what websites I value, etc.
It seems a minute by minute project. I got a kick out of noting that when I listen to “the News,” and each item is presented as the “truth,” I am quietly deciding, sentence by sentence, whether I believe it or not. I am in charge.
I love this project of growing myself. My experience is that others are more or less actively involved in their own self-improvement projects, but still I believe we all do this. Tis just to be human.
I think the drive to build and maintain personal view of the world comes directly from each person’s need to be safe. The Lizard is in charge and wants “things to be predictable.” That little feller is happy when I say, “I knew that was going to happen.”
What all this means to me is that whenever you approach me, you are in the presence of my current best view of the world upon which my current actions are based. My actions are at any moment the best I can do. I can share or not, but that excellent world view is there.
As with most of my charts I create the two parts of the I-thou situation. Here is your world view, your version of the same situation, except that every single detail is different. No matter what we see or recall and dream, there are always differences.
Again I recall Michael Meade saying that “a symbol is something that people approach and come away with different experiences.” I think this is the situation with “reality”. All of us can experience it and have different experiences upon which we base our world views and thus our actions.
My self is over in that #1 and yours is here in #2. I like the idea that your self-hood exists only when I am around – someone to be different from. You need a contrast to distinguish yourself. And vice versa.
In summary, what all this means to me is that whenever I approach you, I am in the presence of your current best view of the world and your best, most improved, self. You can share or not, but it’s here. My best self meets your best self. What a meeting this can be!
Dialogue – the Meeting
And so I can define dialogue as a meeting of two people, fully aware of their unique selfhood, fully participating in their unique self-improvement projects, two people being and doing their best and ready to share.
I find conversation often shifts back and forth between dialogue / sharing and the conversation of control. Two sentences may be “sharing” and the next is all about power. When a couple slips into the Valley of the Masters, sharing seems to vanish. Full sharing will keep you out of that trouble.
Sharing is regulated by the habits taught via Mirroring and is expressed in PreValidation, seeking to understand each other, and Validation – bearing witness to the other’s person sense. And this all means getting clear views of your partner’s current view of the world view and sharing yours.
Who-I-think-I-am is one part of my view of the world. This is my view of me. If you ask me about “me,” this is where I will get my response. This set of information changes as I grow and learn and recall. Quick changes are often called insights. “Oh wow, that’s why I’ve always done that!” Some changes are pretty darn slow. “Heck, I am getting older!” Still this view of me is an ever changing, improving “Me.”
It seems that to build this view of me I often need the help of others. I need their curiosity, their interest. If someone shows interest in why I did such and such a thing, then I will often dig in to understand or grasp more of myself. Often others will notice me doing something that I am unaware of. Their gift of PreValidation (“I know you are doing your best. How come you did that.” “I know you make sense, what is it?”) invites me look at myself with interest and anticipated understanding. My discoveries, insights into myself, add to my story of me – which I can share or keep secret.
Self-esteem. I think of this a durable sense of pleasure and contentment with the current who-you-are, the current point of view you have of yourself. There might seem to a bit of conflict there between the word “durable” and the idea of continual self-improvement, but I don’t think so. Self-improvement implies better tomorrow. By sharing my story with people who are interested in my view of the world and my project of self-improvement, who thus help me in building my story, I can create a firm sense that I am a “good guy” who is always doing my best. Tomorrow I will recall today, and note how I have improved on the “failings” of yesterday and smile. Good job, Al.
Solidly learning your own growing story can makes “mistakes” and “guilts” things of the past – ha ha. A “mistake” I define as something you did, which was your best at that time in the past, and which now you would not do again because you have done some self-improvement. Recognizing the glory of “mistakes” is a big part of self-esteem. How about this: “Embrace mistakes as they teach wisdom?”
Sharing: It seems to me also that the more often people are interested, the better I become able to tell my story. Each time I share it, it becomes a smoother story. My guess is that some kids have caretakers who are gently interested. As adults, you ask these people about themselves and they talk easily about themselves.
My guess is that other kids have caretakers who are not interested or who are obnoxious to the young story teller. As adults, you ask these people about themselves and they frequently have no words – their stories and skills of storytelling are yet to be developed.
I love the phrase I heard from the Makah Indians, “if you don’t encourage the storyteller, you go home with a humped back.” Seems to me many caretakers of children have “humps” that only the wise can see.
Put the two ideas together and whenever you want to dialogue with a quiet person you have challenges: a)you have to display interest/curiosity in their stories that doesn’t overwhelm them and b) you need the “patience of Job” while they learn and share their own undeveloped story. Practicing Mirroring a lot teaches both these skills – though patience is a special learning.
So here in #3 we have my view of myself, my best shot at who I am right now. As I write these words it changes a little bit.
Who-you-think-you-are is similar to my #3. But it is yours and it is different in every detail from mine.
Let’s talk of details for a moment. You have access to millions of factors that make up who you are. And so do I about me. I once had a psychology professor who told me of the thousands of bits of stuff that go into just wiggling a finger. Each of us is made up of such complexity that is to me astonishing. I use that sense of wonder/astonishment whenever I watch someone doing something. I think that “tone of wonder” is a good way to speak of about dialogue – of meeting someone.
This also means that if you want to understand me, to grasp who I am, you will have to become curious and get me to share – the best I can. And for me to get to know you, I have to listen and witness whatever you say or do as evidence of your self, your best. I have to be satisfied that I only can see actions and words while the thousands and millions of factors that make up who you are at any second will be unshared.
Getting to know who someone is, or sharing who you are will always be an artistic or abstract effort. Sharing is necessarily shallow. There will always be more depth. There will always be limitations.
Who-I-think-you-are is another part of my world view. Without the principles and skills of Boundaries, people may not be clear about this. This view is my dream, my fantasy, my model of you. Again I build it a bit more each time I meet you. I can keep building it when I am alone and reflecting on my memories of you. It is my best view of your at this moment. Fascinating!
This view is always a limited dream. Never can I get all the details of who you are. At best I can only know hundreds of things about you. But I can compact what I know, and have learned, into a manageable set of ideas and factors. I do this as part of improving my world view. My view of you contains ideas of why you do what you do, what your goals are in life, how did you get that way, what are your plans, what are your likes and dislikes, how you deal with your emotions, what forms of logic you use, what you look like when you are tired, etc.
In many ways the purpose in my building and improving this view of you has to do with my safety and intimacy. The more I know about you the more you are predictable – I can relax with you. Also the more I know about you, the more you share with me, then the more you want me to share with you, the more you want to know about me. I think the Biological Dream steps in here and invites both to share safely and reliably their uniqueness and drive to be.
The troubles, I have found, are when lack of safety becomes a problem. Then intimacy and sharing can shut down. I begin to believe my view of you is “the right” view. Well, it’s the best I can make anyway! Then I use my-view-of-you for my survival. To heck with your survival. Remember, the Lizard doesn’t need relationships. And remember that “you can either be right or in relationship. Take your pick.”
This is probably part of the dysfunction our culture has in relating. Instead of connecting to the “other” intimately, we are trained to prefer connecting to our fantasies of the “dangerous other” and our fantasies of the safe partner.
Who-you-think-I-am is again a part of you. It is your built-up picture of me. I think it very important to repeat that your image of me may have 100 factors to the millions I have of me. Still it is the best picture you have of me at any moment. Since it is your-picture-of-me and it is your best, and you will always be acting and sharing based on it. It is just another part of who you are, just as my-picture-of-who-you are guides me in dealing with you.
Story: One day I was driving home from work. I was having an argument with my wife and I was trying out my best lines. I was alone in my car. That wasn’t a problem. I would say a line and “her” response would come back from the steering wheel. I’d try another line and get “her” response to that one. Eventually I honed my line to work perfectly, just as I drove into the drive way. I walked to the house, ever so cheerfully. My first line had worked half a dozen times – in the car with the steering wheel. I had tasted victory! I walked into the house and a delivered that carefully perfected line. My real wife came back with a response I had never ever anticipated. I was struck dumb. “It is not fair,” I said. Seems I had prepared myself for a verbal battle with my fantasy of who she was. And she wasn’t that fantasy. In fact, my best view of who she was at that time was pretty far off from who she was. I savor this story of my mistake.
Avoiding the Trouble – staying in Dialogue / Dialogical Resilience
In chatting with any person, I find it very important to remember the six points of view and be able to track where actions and sentences are coming from. Lots of trouble occurs when I or they forget. I think the chart makes relating much easier. Below are examples of different uses of the chart.
This is a situation where you want information from someone. It is also a typical Clinger – talking to – Avoider situation.
If I want to know about you, I have two tools: you (the actual you, #2, and also my current vision of you #5. Every word that comes out of your mouth, every gesture you make is the sum total of who you are, your best self at this moment. These are all clues to who you are and who you are becoming. These are, each and every one, the results of the millions of factors playing around inside of you. You cannot be otherwise. This is #2.
Yet, I do have an image of you #5 that is not as exquisitely detailed. It is my current best guess about you. If you do something that surprises me, it is because my view of you #5 is currently inaccurate. Surprise is a valuable clue to improving my view of you, #5. I want it to be more accurate and so the rational and dialogical thing to do is to be inquisitive. I seek to get some details about #4 your view of yourself so that I can improve my view of you #5.
One possibility is that you won’t talk to me. It is possible you won’t tell me, will not choose to satisfy my curiosity. First, I remember that your choice (in this case to keep quiet) is a best/wise choice for you, somehow. I am observing #2 and your decisions/actions are your best. If I am surprised, I again reminded that my #5 view of you is in need of upgrading.
It is possible you don’t feel safe to talk with me. That is the most common reason that people don’t share. If so I suggest you need to work to remove threat from our conversation. “What do I do, which is my best, and which is a threat to you? I really need to work with you on safety. Is there anything I can do right now to make you more safe?”
It is possible you don’t know how to put into words what is behind your actions. If I am surprised, perhaps I need to learn about your abilities to tell your stories and how much work it is for you to find the “right” words. I suggest you need to develop patience and a tolerance for imprecision. I find it useful to encourage people to make guesses. I use the phrase, “I don’t know how to say this right. Let me say it wrong first and then let’s clean it up afterwards.”
It is possible that your words/actions arise from some parts of you that you are unaware of – yet. I suggest you need to remain curious, but gently and patiently. A phrase I use is “I am wondering why you did that? If you ever figure it out, let me know. In the meantime, let’s have lunch.”
Validation, getting accuracy. By the way, I am successful when I can Validate you – when I can bear witness to at least some of the factors that lead you to do what you do. I can always validate you if you tell me and I listen about who you are #2 and particularly #4.
Validation is easy to understand if you have these six points of view in mind. Validation is me sharing some details of (#5) my understanding of you and you experiencing that those details match your own view of yourself (#4). A sense of “feeling understood” or validation can come along with simply your awareness that I am interested in learning about you (#4). Of course if I push too hard this won’t work – safety is broken.
This is a situation where someone is telling you or acting toward you in a way you are not. “He's mad at me for telling a lie, when was telling the truth.” I feel misunderstood. This occurs when I listen to my partner’s view of me (#6), and it doesn’t sound right. Or it occurs when their actions indicate they think I am someone other than I am. This is extremely common. The bottom line is that I become aware that their view of me is inaccurate. I suggest this is a good time to speak up and let them know you feel misunderstood or you sense their view of you is off. Remember that they want an accurate view – a best view. My wife and I often use a gesture and a phrase in this situation. I raise my hand and say, “If you want to know who I am, I am over hear.”
This is a situation where I stubbornly prefer my view of you to learning about you.
When I am not interested or curious, you will probably start by feeling invalidated and uncomfortable. This occurs most often when I forget that my view of you #5 is just a wild guess – the best I have, but still a guess. The clue to this dangerous situation is the use of the word “you” at the beginning of a sentence.
Let’s imagine that I say, “You are cheating on me.” “You are a cruel person.” Where is that sentence coming from? From my view of you #5. And it is my best at the moment #1. If you respond, “No, I’m not!” then things can get really confusing and ugly fast.
Here’s an internal set of sentences. “Ok, Al just said I am cheating. That is his best, and I don’t like it, but he got it from his ideas about me. Hmm where did those ideas come from, I wonder. I sure am surprised by his statement. I didn’t expect it, because my view of him doesn’t include some factors. So I’d better get some more information.”
A suggestion is to respond with “So you are thinking that I am cheating on you.” Or “So based on the information you have, you think I am cheating. Tell me more about what you are seeing.”
One possibility is that I see you doing something and you tell me you are not doing it. Part of the trouble here is about interpretation. Let’s say I blink, #1. You interpret (#6) that blink as a sign “I am mad.” You then ask, “Why are you mad?” (#6) Another way of saying this is “Why are you like my imagination of you?”
There may be several reasons (#2) surrounding my “blink.” I might be unaware that I am angry, I might not be angry, or I might not be aware that I blinked. But I am aware that you think I am mad (#6), and that interpretation is your best, #2.
Another possibility is that you are lying to me. Telling lies is an issue of safety. People lie because they believe it is unsafe to tell the truth. I suggest you remember that if they are telling lies, that is somehow their best (#2). Again I suggest you focus on developing safety in your conversation. This situation is often a rich source of growth in a relationship. Removing the need for telling lies seems to me the doorway to intimacy.
I suggest you stop, slow down, breathe, and become curious again. Reconnect to your desire to have an excellent view of reality and your partner.
This is a situation where someone seems to be stubbornly misunderstanding you and is acting threateningly based on that misunderstanding. (Oh is this common.)
You are doing a, b, c. This is your best (#1). They are trying to hurt you, diss you in public or behind your back, get you arrested, etc. because they think you are doing d, e, f, all of which they think is “bad.” So here is the situation where you are doing your best (#1), and they are doing their best (#2) and they are asserting that you are dangerous and using that assertion to be dangerous toward you (at least this is what it looks like in #4 your best view of them). Their dangerous/threatening actions are their best (#2), remember. My suggestion is that a) you back off, visibly, to protect yourself from getting hurt; and b) hang up that flag that says you feel misunderstood, and c) wait. When they calm down or whatever, and reconnect with their desire to improve their view of who you are, be ready. Learn to take a “you” message as information about the other person’s view of you (#6), but not about your view of you (#3). Learn to stay dialogical in this situation. Internally it is sometimes good to mark where sentences are coming from.