The Art of Confrontation

In the middle of a holiday meal, someone says something unintentionally (but unmistakably) bigoted. What will you do? Diana Sanchez and Kimberly Chaney say you shouldn’t let it pass.” *

Really? They want us to engage that kind of negative energy. Who says things like that, right in your own family, terrible. But Uncle Joe is not an altogether terrible guy. So his bigotry must be coming from Eckhart Tolle’s “painbody.” Even so, I thought we weren’t supposed to let our painbody get triggered by someone else’s painbody.

Two out of control painbodies trying to have conversation. Picture that. We all know where that goes. Indigestion or worse, like maybe somebody walking out and never coming back.

But here we have a study to suggest that maybe we should get involved after all, that confrontation can make a difference in a good way:

“We found that participants who were confronted felt bad about their behavior, ruminated more, showed an enduring prejudice reduction,” said Sanchez, an associate professor of psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences. “And we didn’t just look at their immediate response, but looked at them a week later.” *

Seems to me that this news makes confrontation into a right and responsibility to do what we can to make the world a better place via confrontation. Then again, there is confrontation and there is confrontation.

We are not talking about an extended emotionally bloody locking of horns. We are talking about a calmly delivered short statement, like the one in the study:

“Gee, that’s kind of stereotypical, don’t you think?” *

And that’s all, because that’s all it took to help study participants to reflect on their responses in a way that reduced their bigotry scores. Easier said than done, you may say. What if in that moment we prefer to simply wring Uncle Joe’s neck.

Now, now…now we know how much good we can do from the high road, so first we will breathe, 3 luxurious breaths, in through the nose, out through the nose, belly out on the in-breath, belly in on the out-breath. This is how we ready and steady ourselves to do right things right – short and to the point – a simple confrontation, boom, done.

And sometimes it is not even necessary to address the person directly. Recently, I deliberately used the word “civility” in a meeting, and was amazed to see a typically uncivil woman** morph into the better angel of herself, right before my very eyes, like magic. All because of a word.

We call this “Name it to Tame it,” to say that there is something about bringing a name to primitive emotion that brings the executive function back online to calm the anxious or angry brain.

The holidays are here, and with them comes plenty of opportunity to try a well honed confrontation, when bigotry arises within our earshot. Short and simple. Just to plant the seed. Practice, Practice, Practice…And See What Happens.

For help with this or something else (by videoconference from anywhere you are), or to let me know what you think,

Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* “Speaking up against bigotry can reduce bad behavior,” Ken Branson, November 30, 2017, Medicine & Health / Psychology & Psychiatry

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Happiness: Inside? Outside? You Decide.

“Given all that, the next time you have the choice between meditating and sitting in a bar with your friends complaining about meditation class, you should probably seriously consider going to the bar, no matter what your happiness app says.”*

Oh come on. Please tell me she was kidding. The author of this anti-mindfulness article, Ruth Whippman, is highly praised for her humor, so who knows. She is an author, journalist, and filmmaker. It does not, however, appear that she is a licensed clinician – so here’s a perspective from one who is.

Of course, Ms. Whippman is right that people spend too much time with their phones and their apps and whatever else cloisters them away from the real joys and challenges of other people. As Aristotle said, we are social animals, so it is also true that our health and well-being depends largely on the quality of our relationships with other people in our lives.

In fact, the Harvard Grant Study, a one of a kind longitudinal study, found that love is the key to a good and happy life. In the words of the study’s pioneering researcher, George Vaillant:

As Vaillant puts it, there are two pillars of happiness. “One is love,” he writes. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

And therein lies the real key – and where mindfulness can help. How we cope with life. Surely we all know people who may not even know how much they stand in their own way of giving and receiving love. I don’t mean any old crap that passes for love, but the kind of love that nourishes, the kind that Vaillant is talking about.

One woman** told me that, just as the article suggested, she drinks with her friends at the bar to lift herself up when she feels down. But she noticed that while she was with her friend…she was not really with her friend – mostly because what ailed her on the inside distracted and removed her from the very human connection she craved. Intoxicating maybe. Nourishing not. She realized that her happiness would have to be as much an inside as outside job, and came to me to figure out how to cope with life on the inside in ways that did not prevent love.

That’s one end of the spectrum. At the other end, there are clients who aim to become perfect on the inside so they can feel worthy enough to risk an attempt to find and keep love. For them, the work is in finding the courage on the inside to get them out there to practice, practice, practice, as I like to say. This is how we grow. In relationship, I agree. Surely there is growth in our relationships, for my clients and me, but at some point they need to enact the learning in the real world for the real thing to happen for them out there for real.

For some, the inside needs caring and careful attention. For others, the outside job needs more of the mind’s attention that it’s been getting so far. Different strokes. Either way, all of my work is mindfulness-based, which is to say geared toward increasing present moment, non judgmental awareness of how the mind works, what makes us tick, and what gets in the way.

So, even though a number of experts I happen to respect make the point themselves that mindfulness is not for everyone and everything, they add that there are enough well crafted studies to indicate that there are ways in which it really can help. Some of it is in cultivating the kind of focus, calm, and compassion that finds and fortifies connection to inner and outer world love.

Don’t take their word for it, but let’s not throw this baby out with the bathwater either, just because someone has had some fun with it in print. Over time you might find that life begins to ease or even transform. I know mine did. But don’t take my word for it either. Practice, Practice, Practice…And See What Happens.

For help with this or something else (by videoconference from anywhere you are), or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Whippman, Ruth. “Happiness is Other People.” New York Times, October, 27, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/opinion/sunday/happiness-is-other-people.html

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

 

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.