May 17th, 2013

Brutal and hard-core

I wrote to diatom about something we were doing and said that even if we find that we don't fit together in each others' lives it made sense to go forward with this plan. She said that I was "brutal and hard-core." My reaction, that of chardin and others I talked to was that yes, that's a fairly good description. Through a number of conversations that have followed I've managed to explore the more emotionally brutal side of myself, both the positive and negative. I'm incredibly delighted because I've been hoping to better understand these aspects of myself for a long time. Now, with the help of several friends, I have the words and concepts to do a much better job of understanding what's going on.

As Chuck put it, "As an engineer, I believe in the power of negative thinking." we identify risks, consider them, ask whether our idea still sounds good given these risks. Then we modify the idea, repeat finding the problems and fixes, until we're happy. And that's central to how engineering, protocol design, and computer security all work. Except of course in computer security you've got lots of people more clever than you coming up with extra bad ideas.

It's not surprising that I'd adopt a similar strategy for emotional issues. Probably at first I didn't even notice the difference. I guess it's more surprising how effective I've found the strategy. diatom pointed out that naming these negative things gives them power. There are a couple of ways I think that's true. The first is that if you're thinking about a possibility, it's more within the scope of things you could bring about. For example if you're thinking about what would happen if you leave a relationship, then it does make it more possible that you could leave the relationship. Secondly, there is a spiritual/mystical/magical aspect to names and power.

I find that by naming risks, by approaching them on my own terms, I can own them and control when i react to them. I can approach them while I'm still forming a plan and figure out how bad I'll feel if something negative happens. When I decide to go forward with a plan even though there are residual emotional risks, I can prepare for the possibility ahead of time. I'll know that this is something I chose as a possibility; something i accepted with full will and intent. That matters a lot. I was reminded last night exactly how much it helps to own your risks when something goes wrong.

Also, in my spiritual work, this sort of emotional examination is essential. I find myself asked to face challenges. There are significant benefits. However I need to understand how things can go badly because I need to know if I have the necessary emotional reserves. i need to know what to prepare for.

i think I approach negative language differently than a lot of people, particularly when there's a conditional. At the beginning of May I was at a Beltane fire. Someone stood forward, and asked people to consider all the pain offered to the fire, the deepest pain ever experienced by the participants. They asked us to ponder that and to realize that the strength of love is greater than that pain. Their timing was not ideal given some painful things that happened at that fire. I sat there pondering the strength of love and all the risks i had taken in the quest of love. It quickly became clear that's not how a lot of people took it. I've never heard a fire circle be that silent for that long before. Talking to participants, it was an intense and not particularly happy experience for them. I think a lot of people focus and are drawn to negative emotions rather than focusing on the context around them. That doesn't seem to be true for me, at least when they are invoked by reference rather than experienced unexpectedly.

However I've also been pondering how to get the affect I'm looking for more with my communication. Now that I have a better idea what I'm trying to accomplish I think there are a couple of approaches; both very NVC. The first is to show the positive side of what I'm feeling and emphasize that as the emotion. "I'm really excited when I think about this plan. Even when i consider the biggest potential down sides that I think are vaguely plausible, it still seems worthwhile." Then go on to request that the other person reassure that they are OK. "I'd like to share some of the down sides. would you think about how you'd feel if those down sides come to pass and confirm this still seems like a winner?" That is very much what's going on inside my head. However, that doesn't seem to be what I often communicate.

As I commented to one friend I was discussing with this, I need to pay more care for others feelings. I have a tendency to act something like the following. "Hey look at this! That was an emotional abyss; how did you feel when it was looking back at you?!" I need to acknowledge that I'm asking people to do something hard and to ask them rather than just subjecting them. I hope this will help me keep the aspect of brutality that feels very valuable and important while being compassionate.