Tuesday, September 15, 2015

People of the Lie or why people so tenaciously hang on to dis-information…A Buddhist perspective

Michele Happe MA
September 14 2015

I was on the radio recently talking about the work of Brendan Nyhan who is conducting research at Yale Law school.  His experiments indicate that when people have a partisan stance about certain issues like Gun Control, Climate Change, and WMD’s in Iraq that they are very tenacious to their views even when presented with evidence that contradicts these views.  In fact he points out that at times there is a “back fire phenomenon” which causes people to become even more further entrenched in their views.  He says that this is true about both liberals and conservatives when they are partisans.  He says that it is folly to try to convince these individuals using facts and that using this tactic  is generally a waste of time.  

There are many psychological issues that prop up this research.  For one the concept of cognitive dissonance makes it very difficult to change our minds when a paradigm shift is required to accept the contrary evidence.  A book by Thomas Kuhn called the Structure of Scientific Revolution is about how difficult it is for paradigms to be shifted when it necessitates a change in world view.  There is a critical amount of discomfort required for these kinds of fundamental paradigm shifts to occur and before that point, humans will go literally to war and resort to violence to prop up their ill informed views.  

John Dean, former legal adviser to Richard Nixon wrote a book about another psychological tendency around issues.  He talked about the authoritarian type.  This is a type of person who needs to be lead (follower) by another authoritarian (leader).  This psychological condition amounts to being childish and fearful.  Just tell me what to do and I will be ok.  Fox news is full of authoritarian leaders but John Dean used Dick Cheney as a perfect example.  

  I don’t think it is any mistake that a common reaction after 911 was mass fear and many on the right used that fear to prop up their plans to make the conservative agenda popular in order for the Republicans to win into perpetuity.  Of course the supreme court helped out by stopping the vote count  in Florida in the election between George Bush and Al Gore who by the way would have won the popular vote.  Fox news started spreading fear with the imminent possibility of a “mushroom cloud”,  another attack and lack of safety in our “homeland” and they used many other wedge issues such as abortion and immigration to increase peoples fear of xenophobia.  The conservatives also capitalized on nationalism after the attack on the twin towers which also stokes xenophobia and fear of the future.  Jeb Bush, not George bush was a signatory to the Product for a New American Century or PENAC which knew that an attack on our country would sufficiently foment fear so that the conservatives could gain and keep power.  When it happened they were ready.

 I cannot tell you how many women have complained in my private practice that their husbands are obsessed with Fox News and that since listening 24/7, they have become angry and hateful in other words terrified and attached to the lie.  It has even broken up a few relationships due to excessive anger in the partner and attachment to hateful right wing policies.  Fox news has been proven to be very inaccurate in their reporting but the disinformation used by them causes more fear and hatred which in turn causes people to be ultra opinionated and even more attached to their world view(backfire effect)  

We do see this in some on the left as well such as liberal Jews supporting right wing political leaders in Israel, Also extreme attachment to Obama and also to Hilary Clinton even though both support neolibral policies which the supporter might be against.  This is due to partisanship. Here is a definition of partisanship: an  inclination to favor one group or view or opinion over alternatives

  In Buddhism we look at the primary causes of suffering.  Basically they are attachment to opinion, hatred, fear, anger and selfishness.  We are taught over and over that we are instructed to abandon  all views in order to created joy and happiness.  We are instructed to have a neutral mindset regarding all concepts that are the result of the egos beliefs.  This is a very tall order because most of us have fear about so many things from fear of death to fear of another attack like that which happened on September 11, 2001.  When we train our mind suffiiently we are able to better disengage from the emotional attachment that leads to partisanship in the first place.  We are more able to enjoy the ride and be humble about not knowing.  

Most importantly we need to divest ourselves of the need to change other peoples minds.  They have a right to their delusions just as do we.  As the Dali Lama was asked his opinion after meeting president Bush, His response was, “he had very good cookies”.  

Until next time be well

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Brief Guide to Effective Communication

A Brief Guide to Effective Communication
Michele Happe MA
September 8 2015

Being trained in effective communication can be the booby prize.  This means that in everyday life my training separates me from most people.  I must modify my standards and understand that most have not had this training.  I love teaching these principles to my clients but in all other arenas I am an outsider.  This little blog is my attempt to spread the word in the hopes that these principles may catch fire and ultimately change the world.

My Buddhist perspective demands that we must understand that we are all Buddhas, and that our shortcomings are just obstacles and obscurations which don’t allow us to express our clear Buddha-hood.  We all have the potential for clear and clean communication.   The task is to clear away the obstacles of poor training and egocentric desire to be right rather that to be clear.  Here are some of the principles I teach.

Speak clearly with enough volume

Many of us learn that we should not have a voice in childhood.  When we carry this into adulthood we may speak with low volume or we might slur our words together in order to not fully commit to what we are saying.  It is a way of avoiding getting into trouble.  This includes speaking under ones breath while walking away which is a form of passive aggressive attack. 

Make sure you are answering the question that was asked

When we don’t listen attentively and are more invested in being right we often muddle the message while formulating our response.  It is important to let go of all agendas and compassionately participate in empathetic listening.  My mom was famous for jumping ahead in the conversation and answering a question that she thought might be coming, completely ignoring the actual question or statement.  The ego will do this to us so when sitting down for a discussion meditate first on eliminating all ego from the conversation. 

Respond rather than react 

Avoid defensiveness while listening to the other.  Remember that there is nothing to defend.  We are adults, not children who are afraid of getting into trouble.  If you are aware of your own shortcomings you don't have to defend yourself over something you are already aware of.  When my husband points out my fussiness over detail I am generally able to respond by affirming his statement thus defusing a potential argument.

Use I statements and active listening

When having a discussion, state your case with I statements.  This eliminates the potential for blaming and labeling.  So you don't say “I feel that you are an idiot who never listens”.  You would rather say “I don’t feel heard or understood”.  This allows the other to actively and empathetically listen.  It is best for the responder to rephrase the statement such as “you are saying that when I don’t have eye contact with you and when I interrupt you, you don’t feel that I am listening to you”.  This is a very high level communication skill that whole books have been written about.  I suggest Getting the Love You Want by Harvel Hendricks for a deeper discussion on the subject. 

Refrain from tit for tat tactics

When the other has a problem with you, just let that be the problem that is discussed.  It is combative to respond with “well you do this or that”.  Pick another time to air your grievances in a direct and compassionate way, which brings us to the next principle.

Be direct with kindness:  eliminate hinting and loaded communication

Hints and innuendo are the death knell of effective communication.  A hint leaves us to our own imagination and if you are like me, I imagine the worst.  This can also fuel an angry response from the other because when one is passive the other can become aggressive.  Loaded communication also is passive aggressive.  Unpack everything you need to say and unload it with clarity and kindness. 

If you have an ultimatum be sure you are willing to follow through otherwise don’t make them

Never make a threat you have no intention of carrying out.  If you do this the other will learn to not take you seriously and will discount even a clear and heartfelt request.  Ultimatums will then be ignored. 

When entering any kind of  relationship communicate bottom line issues.

Essentially discuss the basic ground rules of the relationship such as monogamy, honesty, and the like.  If you never want children it might be a good idea to put this out early in the relationship so the other can exit gracefully before falling in love.  Many of these boundaries can be spelled out in the first weeks of dating just as you would get the  policies and procedures at the outset of a new job.

Use time outs effectively

Time outs are a wonderful tool when things get heated or you are in a stalemate with the other.  When calling a time out it is very important to negotiate the length of the time out.  This reassures the other that you are not exiting to avoid resolution.  When the time out is over it is equally important to readdress the issue at hand in a more calm manner.  Sometimes it is important to remember that it is ok to agree to disagree. 

In Summary:

Remember that relationships are born out of our innate need to connect.  This connection creates a synergy which renders that partnership so much more powerful.  We always must remember that we are on the same side, that it is you and me facing the rest of the world.  All of our relationships are opportunities to learn more about ourselves.  As we learn more we become better people and better partners.  This is how the world can be changed into a more peaceful welcoming place.