Thursday, June 7, 2012
Ok.. here's some more stuff I wrote years ago. I apologise for my style, and also I confess to not disguising the anger I have felt (and continue to feel) about the way the so-called helping professions (and I know I am one of them) unwittingly fail to attend to some issues that cause great mental suffering. Disclaimer. While I am not a great fan of psychiatric diagnosis, I do believe that it has some merit when it leads to mutual faith in a way forward (which at this point of time in our medical culture unfortunately I believe is heavily biased towards prescription rather than positive co-operative exploration of suffering through enquiry, discussion and most importantly checking with the client that the proposed possible stories fit with their experience,values, beliefs, goals and hopes).
OK, so here it is... it will possibly be challenging to you as it questions some societal memes.
I believe that a prevalent practice in our culture is speaking thinking and acting in a way that creates the experience for ourselves that we understand other peoples motives, and creates the experience for those others of being misunderstood. They (quite rightly I believe) say..”Hey, you’ve got it wrong. That is not what I was intending at all”. Rather than accept their own story of what was happening, we look for evidence or justification of our own (unquestioned, or only partly questioned) belief that we have access to their intentions. Here the concepts of subconscious and personality (Thanks, Freud and others!) come in very handy. We can self-righteously say “You think you’re motivated by this, but I know (“in reality”) that the real, subconscious reason is... blah, blah, blah”, because that was MY EXPERIENCE of you in that context (hence it is the truth of you, your thoughts, your action and your “true self” (personality). The result here is that we retreat from self questioning and learn little about different ways of thinking, speaking or behaving. I believe that we are well practised in this, and need more practise in questioning ourselves and finding new ways. So I wish to challenge the idea that we can analyse others.
I call this process “INTENTRIBUTION”- attributing and defining someone else’s intentions to them without allowing them to have the final say. I believe this is another example of power abuse, sanctioned by a belief system which has been systematically absorbed into our culture. The high priests of this belief system are the psychiatrists, doctors, psychologists and counsellors who have been trained to believe that they have higher access to people’s subconscious, or “personality” than even the subjects have themselves. This knowledge can be gained by indulging in a 3 to 6 year course which includes a fair bit of generating stories about people without their consent, often behind closed doors without even their presence. These stories are then made accountable to current personality theory or theories, rather than accountable to the individual. Any deviation from either current theory, or current beliefs of the teacher (holder of the cultural beliefs “knowledge”). Is discouraged. Conformity or original re-interpretation of the dominant beliefs are encouraged and rewarded. Attempts by the subject to edit, oppose, correct or redefine the “knower’s” beliefs are labelled with terms like “manipulative”, “insightless”, “personality disorder”, “naieve”, “unrealistic”, “crazy” and other objectifying terms without giving air to the possibility that the knower might be experiencing fear about having their own reality questioned.
Unfortunately though, virtually all of us practise this Intentribution in our day to day life, and I believe it is another poisoner of intimate, understanding, compassionate relationships, or even practical working non-intimate relationships.
Put simply, I believe that we often think we know what is behind what another person is doing or saying, when in fact we have little or no idea. If the person disagrees with us, rather than confessing our ignorance we fool ourselves into thinking that we know more than they know about themselves, and we look for backup in the way our culture thinks about human behaviour.
“June thought she was doing me a favour, but I realised that she just wanted my approval. If only she could be more honest with herself and with me.”
“He was just trying to get back at me”
“Why do you always try to hurt me?”
“These type of fish prefer deep still water, especially under rock ledges, because they are safer from predators”
There are some great problems with this way of thinking. The most problematic is that if the person in question trys to explain themselves, and their explanation doesn’t fit with our understanding, we often re-indulge in the process of intentribution, relying on “deeper” and “deeper” theories (often our own, if we can’t find them in the popular or psychological literature) to explain their deficiency in self knowledge, rather than taking the opportunity to question our own assumptions.
The second is that in a patriarchal society, any attempt by others to define our own reality, by default (ie: by very early conditioning with possibly a bit of genetic programming to keep ourselves alive and feeling OK) is more often than not met with vigorous resistance, or covert undermining. This leads us away from co-operation, trust, faith and intimacy, and encourages the subject to isolate themselves from us, and encourages us to feel misunderstood and bewildered when we notice this happening. Once again, by our thoughts and beliefs we have encouraged INDIVIDUALISM. Self vs. Self. Western society reproduces itself. Lots of well meaning people, desperate for company and belonging, accidentally and systematically driving people, especially our loved ones, away.
So what do we do about this? Once again I believe that we need to reexamine our thoughts, our words and most importantly our actions when we catch ourselves doing this. In order to catch ourselves I believe there are some helpful and humble thoughts we could have.
Rather than thinking “What is actually happening here? He or she has got it wrong here. How can I make them aware of this?” I believe we have to first of all tune into our own discomfort when what we experience does not match our own version of reality. A helpful series of questions and thoughts here for me are...”
“Am I uncomfortable with what is happening here?”
“If I am uncomfortable, I must assume that this feeling is an indicator that my assumptions about what is happening are not the only possible assumptions in this context”
“Given that this is the case, what can I learn here, especially about this person’s own story of who they are and what values are important?”
“How can I question them in a way that I find out more about them, and they get a chance to put their own beliefs into words, in a way that they also might find helpful, either by having a voice, or by having the opportunity to re-evaluate their own story with my input?”
“How can I question them in a way that is compassionate and doesn’t disallow them the chance to voice their own story?”
“How can I encourage them to tell me as much as possible about their own intentions, purposes and goals here?”
“How can I do this in a way where I get to hear more than just one intention, assuming that we are multiply intentioned (See-”be an octopus”)?
“If my beliefs about this context, or about the consequences of their beliefs give rise to fear, anger, desire to control or to influence them, how can I do this in a way that clearly points out to them that I differ from them and that explains my beliefs while letting their beliefs stand there for them to re-evaluate?”
“How can I make it as clear as possible that I am not questioning their reality here, but that I want to open up extra possibilities for us both to learn from each other?”
“How can I check that I haven’t inadvertently squashed them if I what I am saying is experienced as challenging?”
“When I look back on this conversation, what have I done well, and what have I done badly?”
“How can I let them be the judge of what I have done well or badly without inviting them to feel guilty or defensive, or the need to prop me up?”
“What have I learnt from them in this process, and how can I acknowledge this to them in a genuine way, so that they don’t feel patronised?”
“How can I make sure that they don’t feel patronised, and more importantly, can I ask them how they would let me know if they did?”
“When all is said and done, have I been clear from the outset about my own multiple intentions for this conversation or process? Have I stated these intentions in a way that doesn’t allow them too much scope to do intentribution on me?”
“How can I be accountable to the other person, but also to significant others, making sure that I give privilege to the most culturally disempowered? (being aware of my own bias and generalisations that ageism and sexism are very disempowering, so children get my first attention, women next, then men)
By privileging the heterosexual nuclear family in my bias system, am I unaware of other biases that I need to evaluate here and put up for examination? (eg, heterosexism, ablenessism, racism, religism, lookism).
“How can I learn from the other person how I could allow them to feel confident to report their experience of marginalisation (if any) because of my unwitting prejudices, so that they are not put off by my possible reaction to this process, be it anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, fear or distancing?
Most importantly. Are my actions aligned with my purposes, goals, values, intentions?
If I am practising this well (and please understand, this is rare), then this empowers me to-
1. Be clear about my own intentions and purposes.
2. Express my fears in a way that is least “infectious”
3. Be clear enough about my own beliefs to put them “out there” for examination
3. Be open to learning
4. To be constantly reminded of both my own suffering and their suffering
5. Keep myself open to my belief that each and every situation of our existence is “multiply storied”. That is that there are many different interpretations, all of them equally real and valid.
6. Allow myself to find, with the other person, a shared story, or preferrably several shared stories that result in both of us increasing our understanding of the other, but more importantly reduces that person's feelings of fear, isolation and vulnerability.
7. And this is my prime goal.... ACT in a way that sends the message to the other person that I am humbly moving in a direction that they would want me to and that they are or can be secure and safe even while suffering.
Intentribution might be a helpful process if it fits with the person's goals, but if it doesn't, I believe it has potential to superimpose our story over theirs. That is rarely helpful.