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A very insightful lecture on the work of Carl Rogers. There are several variants on Peterson’s lecture on Rogers. The one from 2014 to me is the best. it’s actually interesting how different subsequent versions of this lecture are – he’s not just recycling and repeating his lecture notes.  It’s a long discussion, but quite worthwhile.

Here’s what he says:

We’re going to continue in our discussion of clinical personality theories today, moving away from the psychoanalytic theorists or the depth psychologists. We’re going to start to talk about the phenomenologist and the existentialists, and so I need to lay down a bit of background first. I think we’ll start with a discussion of phenomenology and existentialism. Now, for the phenomenologists, this is a tricky concept to grasp.

I think I’ll actually start by telling you something that Carl Jung wrote about in the last book he published, which was called Mysterium Coniunctionis, which means mysterious conjunction. He sort of believed, posited, that there were some extensions of moral development past the higher levels of moral development that Piaget identified, and there were three of them. He said they could be symbolized by masculine feminine conjunctions, or that they were in the literature that he had researched (mostly alchemical literature from the late middle ages). He said that one of the goals of moral development or of psychotherapy was to produce a union between the emotions, the motivations and rationality. And you can see that that’s actually been a theme for all of the theorists we’ve talked about so far. Partly what psychotherapy, or personality development seems to be about is the continual integration of the personality so that the person, the psyche, isn’t at odds with itself and it can move forward with a minimum of conflict. And that’s something related to the Piagetian idea of an equilibrated state. So if you’re in an equilibrated state you don’t have the sense that there are parts of you warring against other parts, because you’ve been able to weave everything together into a coherent identity that covers the past and the present and the future.

So the first stage in what Jung believed constituted higher development was the union of the rationality with emotion and motivation and he saw that was symbolized in the literature that he had reviewed by masculine spirit and feminine emotions and motivations – bang – together in one thing. So that then would be the united mind and spirit in a sense.

And then the next stage, which was symbolized again by the masculine-feminine symbolism, was the united mind-spirit with the body. So what that would mean was that once you got your act together, so to speak, you would implement it in your behavior so that there were no contradictions between who you were, in terms of how you thought and how you felt and what you wanted, and what you were actually doing.

And modern philosophers have described what they call a performance contradiction, which they formally described as another type of lie essentially, another type of deceit, that you say one thing and that you do another. And it’s interesting because it’s not a form of logical deceit in a sense because your conceptualizations are abstract and your behavior is concrete. But there can still be a contradiction between the two, especially when you start to understand that most of what your psyche are representing are schema for action rather than for representation. So the point is that once your emotions and motivations are working alongside your rational mind, really that your rational mind is properly nested within them, because that’s a much more accurate way of looking at it, then the next thing you should do is act consistently in accordance with who you are.

So that’s stage two. Both of those stages are pretty easy to understand. But the third stage is actually a phenomenological stage, you have to think phenomenologically to understand it. So here’s one way of thinking about it. Imagine that you go home and you’ve set up a room. And in that room, it’s not a very nice room, maybe you’ve got some posters hanging on the wall and they’re hanging a little cock-eyed and dust bunnies are mating under the bed. You have piles of paperwork that you haven’t done and homework and maybe there’s the odd crust f bread or so forth lying about. When you walk in there, it’s you and the room. That’s one way of thinking about it. But another way of thinking about it is that when you walk in there, you are the room. Just like you’re the room when you’re here, because the room makes up a part of what you’re experiencing. And the phenomenologist would say in a sense the best way to conceptualize the self in its totality is what you experience. Everything that you experience is you. And so what that would mean is that there’s no difference between putting the posters up on your wall properly and cleaning up underneath the bed and maybe making it and finishing your homework. Putting your room in order so that you feel confident and calm there and maybe so you can enjoy being there and maybe so that it’s even beautiful there. There’s no difference between that and fixing up your own personality.

So then you could say, here’s another way of looking at it. And I do believe this is a very profound way of looking at things. Then imagine that you could extend that viewpoint, it’s kind of easy to understand when you think about it as your own room, because you’re in there quite a lot, let’s say you’re in your room ten percent of the day. So we could say that the experiences that characterize your room are ten percent of you (at least for the time being) and that you can have a low quality experience in there or a high quality experience. Then start generalizing that to the whole house. So then you can start thinking, are there problematic places in the house? Problematic relationships among the people in the house? And those problematic relationships are also you? And you can tell when there’s a problem because you encounter undesired negative emotions in relationship to some relationship or in some physical locale within the house. And maybe you could fix that. Little incremental bit by incremental bit you could work on that. You could note that the negative emotion you don’t want to have arisen signifies something. It signifies that that situation in some sense is non-optimal. And then you could work on strategies to optimize that. And you don’t do that until you stop making the presupposition that there’s you and then there’s the house. The distinction between you and where you are is a very unclear distinction.

So then let’s say you’re walking down the street or you’re going into a store and maybe your manners aren’t as good as they could be. Because to be really socially sophisticated is a real art. It can take you decades to learn how to do that properly. And people who are really socially skilled have a much higher quality existence because no matter where they go, they immediately establish a relationship with the people that they’re talking to. And then it’s not an impersonal and dead or aggravating interaction. So maybe they walk into a store and the first thing they do if someone comes up and helps them is look at the person and ask them how they’re doing and how they’re day has been and make a little relationship and the person is kind of happy about that and it sort of pops them out of their persona role. And then you can have a discussion about what you’re doing in the store and what they want and then all of a sudden it’s a high quality experience. And that person, everywhere they go, if they’re skilled like that, they’re awake and they’re attentive and their listening, everywhere they go they can have a high quality interaction. And people who learn how to do that, learn to do it partly by noticing when they’re in an interaction with someone somewhere that if it isn’t going in an optimal manner, or if it’s producing undesired negative emotions then there’s something wrong with the way they are being in that situation. And they pay attention to that and try to figure out how to modify it. A lot of it is attention. And listening, which are key components of Rogerian psychotherapy – attention and listening.

So you can go into your room and you can identify little problems in your room that you could fix, that maybe you would fix, so maybe you could start fixing them and that would improve the quality of that particular environment and then you could start to generalize beyond the locales that are more specifically under your control.

If you’re walking down Bloor for example, and you go into a store and you talk to a clerk, the probability is pretty high that the clerk is at least reasonably functional, so you should be able to get beyond their barrier in a sense and have a genuine interaction without too much difficulty.

But then maybe you’re wondering down Bloor and you run across someone who’s schizophrenic and maybe alcoholic at the same time. Well that’s a part of your experience that might supersede your ability to transform.

The phenomenologists and people like Rogers aren’t making the claim that you should be able to solve every problem that you come across or even that you should try, Because there will be things that you experience that will be so complex and problematic that you might make them worse if you fiddle around with them. You’ve got to be very careful not to extend yourself dramatically beyond your skill level. But you can certainly start in isolated locales. And if you stop presuming a priori that there’s some radical distinction between you and the environment you happen to be in, because it’s all your experience. If you stop making that subject – object distinction, which is one of the things the phenomenologists really objected to because they concentrated on being as such, which was sort of lived experience as the ground of reality rather than the objective world as the ground of reality.

If you allow yourself to step outside that dichotomy and you start to understand that wherever you go, including the places that you’re in a lot, that there’s no distinction between fixing up those places when you notice that there’s something wrong with them and you could fix them up and fixing yourself up. It opens up a whole new avenue to getting your life together. People always think they have to work on themselves. This is one of the things that I think the psychoanalysts didn’t get quite right, although Jung touched on it in his later works.

All of you isn’t inside your head. For the psychoanalysts a lot of the work that you were doing on yourself was on the relationship, say, between your conscious and your unconscious mind. But a tremendous amount of that was inside your skull so to speak. But the phenomenological approach enables you to start reconceptualising the psyche as something that extends beyond you and always will. And so that you can work on its reconstruction at any level of analysis where your own nervous system is signalling to you that there’s a problem. And the way it does that is, well a variety of ways, but two of the most reliable ways are negative emotion.

There’s a new paper, for example, that shows that conscientiousness is quite tightly associated with proneness to guilt, so that’s the negative emotion that seems to go along with conscientiousness. So guilt and anxiety and shame and those sorts of emotions, which are unpleasant, also simultaneously signal the presence of a problem. And resentment, that’s another good one. So instead of having those emotions as an enemy and just want that to go away, you can think “OK, my being, my embodied being is signalling to me that something is non-optimal here.” And then it’s not an enemy because it’s something that’s trying to improve the quality of your present experience and your future experience. If you don’t push that aside and pretend it’s not happening or assume instantaneously that it’s the fault of the environment or the person that you’re talking to, then that can be incredibly instructive. Negative emotion is incredibly instructive, but you have to adjust your attitude so that you understand that it’s signalling to you the presence of corrective information (if you could just figure out what that information is). And that can come from anyone, a person or a place or a thing or yourself. You don’t need to make the distinctions.

So if you’re having an argument with your partner and it’s not going very well, there’s a tremendous tendency among people who try to win the argument with their partner. But you can’t win an argument with your partner, because then you win and they lose. Then you have a loser on your hands. And if you do that a hundred times maybe you’re better at arguing than they are, for example, or maybe they think in a more intuitive way so maybe they can’t dance on their feet quit as fast as you, or maybe the situation is reversed. If you win the bloody argument a hundred times, you’re not a winner, you’re just someone who’s beat up your partner a hundred times.

What you want to find out is what the hell it is that you’re talking about. And sometimes that takes a tremendous amount of patience and they should be doing the same thing to you and very frequently the kinds of things people are arguing about are only the tiny, like the snow on the surface of a glacier. The real argument is deep, deep, deep underneath. But unless you listen intently and for a long period of time, you’ll never figure out what it is that you’re arguing about. And then if you win, the person won’t be able to talk about it and that problem will be there for the rest of the relationship. And maybe for the rest of your life. Unless you solve the problem, it’s not going to go away.

And now I’m going to start talking about Rogers by specifically going over some of the things he had to say about listening. Because I think I’ve learned more about listening from Rogers than from any other personality theorist or psychotherapist that I’ve encountered.

Now we could go back to the fundamentals of psychotherapy. Really what you’re doing in psychotherapy is trying to help the person become a better person. And that’s not exactly a scientific formulation, ‘better person’. And it’s a tricky thing to get at because people can be better persons in lots of different ways. Merely the fact that people vary in their temperaments indicates that your way of being a better person [points at student] and your way of being a better person [points at another student] wouldn’t necessarily be the same way. Like, maybe someone’s great on the violin and someone else is great on the piano. The great is the same, but the instrument is different and that’s a good way of looking at it. And so partly what you do in psychotherapy, and I think you do this in any genuine relationship, is not only is the dialogue about how to become a better person, the continuing dialogue is also always about just exactly what constitutes a better person. So you’re talking about the goal and the process at the same time. And what you’re doing is working it out so the people go into the conversation with a specific orientation. And the orientation is generally the client and therapist and the client comes with a problem – their life isn’t acceptable in its current form and they come with one more thing which is the desire to make it better.

And something you should all know, because this will stop you from tangling yourself up in your life to a tremendous degree, you cannot help someone who hasn’t decided that they want things to be better. Unless they make the decision that they want to make things better, forget it! You’re wasting your time and all it will do is hurt you.

And I should also tell you that that was one of Rogers’ necessary preconditions for psychotherapy. Another one was honesty in communication. But the person who was coming in for the therapeutic process had to be there voluntarily.

And it’s a weird thing, and I don’t know how to account for it, but I don’t think that you can talk someone who doesn’t want to have things be better into wanting that. They have to come to that decision on their own.

So they come in, with having made that decision. So it’s very, very difficult, maybe it’s impossible to do psychotherapy with someone who’s been remanded by the court. They’re there involuntarily and they’ll just put up a wall, not always, but a lot of the time they’ll put up a wall and just wait it out. You’re not going to get in there with a screwdriver and pry off that shell.

So the person has to step forward in a sense, and say, well, you know there’s something not right about the way things are going for me and it could be better. And somebody else might be able to help me figure that out. And that’s a really good attitude to have when you’re listening to someone, because disagree with them or not, there’s always the possibility they will tell you something you don’t know. And lots of times when people are talking, what they’re trying to do is impose their viewpoint on another person. You hear conversations like this all the time. Their arguments really and their often ideological arguments like you’re right and I’m wrong, or sorry…that never happens. I’m right and you’re wrong and I’m just going to hack at you until you shut up or you agree. Really you’ll never agree because you’ll just don’t get someone to agree that way, it’s not possible. But you might be able to cow them into silence, or anger. But that’s a dominance hierarchy thing, that’s not a real conversation. All you’re doing is establishing that you’re a lobster with bigger claws than the person you’re trying to pick at.

A therapeutic conversation, which is a genuine conversation, is one in which both the people in the conversation are oriented towards a higher state of being while they’re conversing. And you can tell when you’re in a conversation like that: it’s very, very engaging. In fact, if the conversation isn’t engaging, then that’s a sign you’re not having a conversation. And that’s a pretty useful thing to know too because here’s another thing I can tell you, that if you take to heart can save you an awful lot of grief and misery: If you’re talking to someone and they’re not listening, shut up! Just stop. It’s like you can tell if they’re not listening, and if they’re not listening, quit saying words. You’ll just end up feeling foolish anyways, it’s like you’re throwing ping pong balls at a brick wall – you’re not getting anywhere. If they’re not listening that’s a sign that the situation isn’t set up to allow you to progress on the path that you’re choosing.

And so then you have to stop, and you think “Well, ok, what’s going on here? Why is the person not listening? Am I being too forceful? Do they not understand what I’m saying? Is it too much about me? Do they want to talk? What’s going on? Maybe they don’t want to be here?” There’s all sorts of possibilities. That’s when you need to wake up, pass what it is you’re trying to impose on the situation and explore and see what’s there. And that’s way more interesting than trying to impose your viewpoint. Another is that if you’re talking to someone, you know I like to talk to people whose political views are very different than mine because I can’t really understand  how someone’s political beliefs can be really different than mine. I’ve got a coherent representation of my beliefs, but it’s very interesting to talk to people who radically differ because they’ll tell you things that you haven’t considered. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but it’s much more informative to walk away from a conversation having learned something that you didn’t know than it is having won the stupid argument which you can’t win anyways. And that’s especially the case when you’re dealing with people who are close to you, who you’ll have around for the rest of your life. You cannot win an argument with them. All that’ll happen is if you win, they’ll get you back. Sooner or later. They won’t listen to you the next time you have something to talk about or they’ll get resentful and then they won’t be helpful. You just can’t win an argument with someone who you have repeated contact with.

What you can do however, is you can have a conversation that’s a real conversation and maybe you can come to terms about the thing you’re discussing. And that’s negotiation. It like, you now “Well what do you want?”, but you have to really want to know. We’re having an argument – what is it that I would have to do, because we’re having this argument, what would I have to do in order to satisfy you? And then the other person might say “Well, there’s nothing you can do to satisfy me – I’m so mad at you!” That’s not helpful. The other person has to think “What are the condition for my satisfaction?”

So maybe your partner says “You’re not paying enough attention to me.” Alight, what do you want? Exactly? Do you want to talk for 15 minutes at breakfast? Do you want to talk for 20 minutes at lunch? Do you want to spend an hour at night watching TV or you want me to act differently when I come home and I’m at the door? You’re feeling unattended to – what do you want? Well then they’ll say if you love me you should be able to figure that out. That’s wrong, because you’re stupid. You won’t be able to figure that out. What the hell do you know? So the other person, unless they want to corner you into being the kind of loser who can’t figure things out…why are they with you then? They need to think about that. What is it that I want from this person? What would constitute more attention? That’s making the argument much more high resolution. And then if you give the other person a chance to actually respond. And then you have to allow your partner to be a moron, because of course they are, and so once you tell them what you want you have to let them do it badly ten times because they’re never going to do it right the first time.

So sometimes when I’ve seen people (I help people with marital problems), one of the things I often recommend is they go on a date. They take themselves away from the home where the kids are. Maybe they don’t have kids – it doesn’t really matter – and they do something that’s just focused on each other. And of course first of all they tell me they don’t want to do that – it’s stupid. It isn’t, by the way. It’s not stupid – it’s like, oh, you don’t want to go out and have an enjoyable time with your partner? You think that your relationship’s going to survive when all you do is snipe at each other and do horrible things together. Well, that’s not going to work. So then they’ll finally say “OK, we’ll go on a date.” They’ll both look disgusted by the whole idea. And then they go and it’s like and it’s just miserable, right. It’s like one person says something to the other that immediately sets them off when they’re out on that date and they’re kind of mad about going anyways. And then they come back and go “Well that just didn’t work and we’re never going to do it again.”

Like, no – so you’re telling me you’re never going to go out and do something enjoyable with your partner again? Because it didn’t work very well? It’s like people don’t think about it. It’s like so maybe when you’re taking your partner out and you haven’t been getting along, it takes you like ten times before you have a relatively ok time. But ten times, if you’re going to go out with them let’s say go out with them every two weeks.  That’s around 25 times a year and let’s say you stay together 30 years, assuming you manage to get your act together, so that’s 750 times. So if you practice ten times, you might be able to 740 good times out together. And that’s an underestimate and so 10 times of practising is hardly a problem for that kind of return.

Following this path is all part of the Rogerian process of listening. And listening is trying to figure out what the hell the other person is telling you and understanding at the same time that they don’t know. Especially if they’re upset, they’re not even sure what they’re upset about and they don’t know what they want. You can corner them by saying well, you want to be attended to more, what do you want? And they’ll try some weird defense like I told you already, “if you loved me you’d already know”, which is a cliché and it’s a foolish cliché, so you can’t let that stop you.

I should also tell you the sorts of barriers people will put up if you listen to them too.

Well, usually what happens if you’re pushing someone, but this is in a listening sort of way, but what do you want? Why do you want that? What would be the conditions of your satisfaction? You’re pushing them fairly hard to articulate their concerns and sometimes their afraid to do that. If you’re trying to hash out an issue, people usually have like five routines they can go through.

One is they block you with some cliché. Or they say something annoying and then maybe they’ve got one other verbal trick after that. And then once you push through that, then they cry or get angry. And if you still don’t stop then they stomp off.

And so, if you’re going to have a successful conversation about something difficult you need to have a routine for each of those. It’s like, just because the person’s angry doesn’t mean the conversations over. And just because the person’s crying doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a sadist. Often tears are a trick, they mask anger. And what the person is doing in part, is they’re using their emotions as an exploratory technique to find out “How important is this? What happens if I just break down? Will the person shup up?”  And if the person shuts up, then they think, oh it’s not that important. Because they’ve been able to use a technique, I’m not saying this is conscious, it’s deeper than conscious. It’s just how people rub up against each other when they’re trying to figure out how things are structured. And so if you quit when they get upset, then they think, oh well, this thing isn’t so important that it’s worth this much upset.

But if you continue, well then they’ll run away. Well, one of the things you have to do, if you’re in any kind of relationship, you got to make a rule which is “You can leave, but you gotta come back.” We’re not done with this, you can’t run off because it’s breaking the contract of the conversation. You gotta stay and hash it out.

Now I’m going to read you some of the things that Rogers talked about. So one of the things he talked about is this idea called Unconditional Positive Regard. Now, I don’t think that’s a very good phrase cause unconditional positive regard is one of those things that can be turned into a new age cliché in two seconds, like “No matter what you do, I’ll love you.” Like, no. There’re lots of things you could do that are just not going to garner a lot of love. So unconditional positive regard, it’s not like there isn’t an idea behind that, because there really is an idea behind that. But like I said, it got all new agey after Rogers formulated it and it sounds like, well all you have to do is be consistently positive towards the person and you know, they’ll flourish.

First of all, you’re going to have unconditional positive regard for Hitler? Like, no! And not only that, you have a responsibility not to have unconditional positive regard for yourself or for other people because what you’re trying to do is make things better and so that means that the things that make things worse are bad. Right? If there’s better, there’s got to be worse. And if you’re in favour of better you have to be not in favour of worse. So I’m going to untangle unconditional positive regard a bit, and like I said, Rogers, his word choice wasn’t very good.

Here’s a different way of thinking about it. If you’re in a relationship with someone, and this could even be a very short relationship. It could be the kind of relationship you have when you go to talk to someone in a store. Like I said, you can get sophisticated about it. Let’s assume it’s a longer term relationship. You have to decide what, if you’re going to have that person’s best interests in mind when you have the conversation. You got to have that as sort of a top value in your value hierarchy. The reason we’re talking is because I want things to be better. Not better for me. Well, maybe better for me too, but the better for me is a subordinate part of the better. The reason we’re communicating is because we both want things to be better. And then we both aren’t absolutely sure what it would mean for things to be better. We’ve got to exchange information until we figure that out and neither of us are sure about how we’re going to get there and so we have to exchange information until we figure out how to get there. And that’s the initial axiomatic precondition for a true conversation. And that’s unconditional positive regard.

I regard the person I’m talking with as someone who could transform in a positive direction and who’s willing to attempt that and who will communicate to that end. Even though they might screw up, and there’s going to be things in the way – the sorts of things psychanalysts talk about as resistance. And then they’re going to regard me the same way. You know, I’m also going to make mistakes along the way.

Now, Rogers pointed out that in order to communicate with someone in that manner, you had to be willing to put yourself in their shoes essentially. And he said “You had to comprehend the alternative phenomenal field”, which is ok, I’m here, and this is my viewpoint coming out from this place [points at his head]. Now you have a viewpoint and they’re similar enough that we can communicate about them, but they’re different enough so that they’re not equivalent and the differences are actually meaningful. So I know I’ve got to pop myself out of my framework, put myself in yours and figure out where you’re coming from. And that’s the goal of the conversation. So sometimes that can even help you figure out where you’re coming from. You can say, looks to me like you’re really angry and the person will say no, I’m just sad. Like when they’re all red, eh? They look like they’re going to bite you, but they say no, no. But it really looks like you also might be a bit angry. And they’ll be angry about you saying that of course, but that their emotions are so jumbled together, in a sort of chaotic jumble, that they don’t actually know what it is that they’re experiencing. It’s this terrible, unarticulated, chaotic bodily state that is signalling something, but it hasn’t been articulated, so they’re kind of a mess.

So your careful observation, as long as they trust you, and they should trust you if they know you have their best interests, whatever that is, in mind (or at least that you’re trying that), then they can trust you and you can help them clarify what it is that they’re feeling. You know, what’s sort of coming up from the body and what that’s associated with and what they’d like to do with it.

Rogers says “Real communication occurs, and the evaluative tendency avoided, when we listen with understanding.” Now, the evaluative tendency he’s talking about is, well, let’s simplify this a little bit and say I’m radically left wing and I’m talking to someone who’s radically right wing, and we start talking about something like income distribution. And the right wing person says, well let’s say the left wing person says “Well, there’s all these people at the bottom and they don’t have a lot of money and a lot of the reason that they’re there is because they’ve encountered very, very harsh circumstances or maybe they have an illness or something like that and you know, there’s a real distribution of intelligence so a lot of time people are at the bottom because they just don’t have the cognitive resources to climb.” And the right winger goes “Rubbish, rubbish. The reason they’re at the bottom is they don’t work hard enough and they don’t take any care with their long term thinking”.  And so the left winger says “Well that’s just prejudice.” And the right winger says “You’re just a bleeding heart liberal.” And poof! That’s the end of the conversation.

And that’s the evaluative tendency, it’s like you just come away the same as you were when you entered the conversation and there’s been no exchange of information whatsoever. All there’s been is a hardening of prejudice and you can walk away feeling morally superior because, you know, you demonstrated what a scumrat your opponent is and how morally upright you are. Well, that’s the evaluative tendency. That’s not a conversation that’s going to lead to progress. If anything it’s going to lead to increased feelings of prideful arrogance on your part, cause you know everything. And on their part too. And increased polarization. Not a helpful way of communicating.

And this sort of thing, as we’ll see when we move into the more social and political consequences of failure to communicate, that’s a microcosm of what goes wrong in society when it really starts to fall apart. When the individuals within a society who have different viewpoints no longer communicate, the whole society shakes and trembles. And you can think about this from a democratic perspective too. You might say “What’s the purpose of elections?” Well, people who are aligned with particular ideologies think “We need to win the elections because our viewpoint is right.” But then you might ask yourself, then why are there these other viewpoints? And why do things go so bad when one viewpoint dominates so heavily that everyone who has the other viewpoint gets shot. That seems like a bad thing. So what exactly is going on in a democratic state and what’s going on is that there’s all these different viewpoints.

A lot of them are temperamentally informed so we know for example that liberals are higher in openness and lower in conscientiousness than conservatives. And conservatives are conscientious, but they’re not very creative and open. So they’re really good at running things. They’re good at being managers and administrators for example. But they’re not very good at being innovative. The liberals are good at being innovative because they’re open, but they’re not very conscientious. They have to be less conscientious in some ways if they’re going to be creative, because conscientiousness can constrain creativity. And so for the society to work properly, the people with the liberal temperament and the people with the conservative temperament have to interact with each other. The liberals think up all the new companies and the conservatives run them.

So and then in the political state per se, conscientiousness is a virtue, although if it’s exaggerated too much, especially the orderly part, then it can become tyranny.

Openness is a virtue too but you don’t want every bloody thing changing every second.

So there’s got to be some constant negotiated peace between order and innovation. And the way that that happens is that the two sides have to communicate. It isn’t that one side wins or the other side wins, it’s that the dialogue stays open so that the viewpoints can be represented properly so that as the environment moves, cause sometimes  maybe the environment is such that being conscientious is going to be better and sometimes the environment moves so that openness is going to be better. Because the environment moves, the conversation has to track those movements for society to be healthy across time.

And the same thing applies to any long term relationship. You marry someone, now you’ve got two brains and they don’t work the same. It’s like do you want to have two brains or do you want to have one? That’s the first question. You’re going to do a lot better with two. So how do you optimize the functioning of the two brains? Obviously they’ve got to communicate. There’s got to be freedom of expression and there has to be listening. So that’s the evaluative tendency, which is “You’re wrong!” before I even know what you’re talking about. At least I should know what the hell you’re talking about before I decide you’re wrong.

And so back to the poverty issues, like what predicts poverty? Well, the sorts of things that the left winger talks about that produce poverty, so do the things the right winger talks about.

So if you’re really unconscientious, that’s makes you the sort of person that will rely on others to do the work. If you’re unconscientious, you’re much more likely to be poor. And so that’s a real social policy problem too because you have this horrible problem where you have to sort out what’s causing the poverty. And who’s taking advantage of the attempts to alleviate it. Do that’s more of an individual temperament problem, which is what the conservatives are talking about. And then you also have to figure out how to address it on a social level, which the conservatives don’t like to think about. But it’s not like either side has nothing to say. There’s information in both those perspectives.

It’s problematic though, when you put them together, the phenomena becomes paradoxical and it’s very difficult to come up with a solution that challenges your cognitive resources. What the conservative and the liberal want to do is just simplify it down to one explanation. It’s sociological, that’s the liberal. It’s temperamental, that the conservative. And so then they have one answer to how it can be fixed. We should fix society, that’s the liberal. Those people should just get their act together, that’s the conservative. Fair enough, except probably the problem is complicated enough so that there’s more than one solution necessary. Since it’s not even a problem. Poverty is not a problem, poverty is like ten thousand problems and some of them aren’t even associated with each other.

There’s the poverty that’s a consequence of alcoholism. That’s not the same as the poverty that’s a result of very low intelligence. And that’s a completely different problem than the non-conscientious poverty, or the abuse poverty. And there’s no reason to assume whatsoever they should be amenable to the same solutions.

“Real communication occurs and the evaluative tendency avoided when we listen with understanding.” Understanding, that’s an interesting word. You might ask yourself, what do you mean when you understand. And it’s got this sort of physical aspect to it, that’s the stand. And then there’s the under part, which sort of implies that to understand you have to be under it and standing. And so, partly what happens is if I can listen to you with understanding, what that means is I get a clear enough picture of what you want, so that I can change the way that I am. Maybe the way I look at things, like the perceptual scheme through which I view the world, but also my actions. But if I can extract that from you, then I understand. I would be able to take what you told me and change myself if I felt that was appropriate or maybe it would just happen automatically because now I have a deep understanding of you.

And people are afraid of that, right because let’s say you’ve got yourself all hemmed in with some ideology and you’re feeling pretty secure about that. And then you listen to some dimwit who’s got completely the opposite perspective from you and you listen hard and all of a sudden you’ve got cracks in your system. And then you have to think “Oh, maybe things are more complicated than I thought they were. Everything isn’t all tied together in this neat little package.” And that can be unsettling. In fact if you’re listening to someone, and you’re really listening and you’re not being unsettled, the probability is pretty high that either that you’re not listening, or you’re not talking about anything of real consequence. Because if it’s important and you’re listening, it’s going to shift you. So it’s going to set you at least a little bit into that state of chaos. And what you’re doing then, so you know, so that instead of identifying with who you were, which is the person you were before the conversation, you’re identifying with the person you could be as you move through the conversation. And that’s a way better thing to identify with.

Are you going to identify with your beliefs, this is a Piagetian idea, are you going to identify with your beliefs or are you going to identify with the process that allows you to generate beliefs? And often those things are in contradiction because if you identify with the process that allows you to change your beliefs, then you’re assaulting your beliefs, even though you might be correct in them. It’s demanding to do that. You’re reconfiguring your physiology. And there’s an intermediary period of uncertainty that goes along with that. What if they’re right? Well, then what?

“Real communication occurs and the evaluative tendency avoided when we listen with understanding. What does this mean? It means to see the expressed idea and attitude from the other person’s point of view, to sense how it feels to him, to achieve his frame of reference in regards to the thing he is talking about.” So there’s also, Rogers is very much emphasizing the idea of embodiment. So you can listen to someone, you can listen to their arguments with their mind. It’s a very logical process, it’s sort of a rational and logical process. In some sense that’s what you’re talking to when you debate. And the idea there is that the argument is a cognitive phenomena and that the logic is structured in a logical way and that the way that the argument is settled is by the exchange of information and the relative coherence of the two perspectives. A very rationalistic perspective. And it’s very useful to be able to debate, don’t get me wrong, and have your mind organized so you can put forward a logical argument. That’s why you’re in university, to learn how to do that (believe it or not).

But it’s not the same sort of thing that Rogers is after, because Rogers talks about the interactions between people as embodied, so if I’m really watching you when I’m talking to you, paying attention to your face, you’re going to be expressing emotions with your face screen, because that’s what it does, right? Your face expresses emotions so that other people can infer what it is that you’re up to, even more than you know, because if you knew you could just tell them. You wouldn’t even need emotions. What the hell do you know about what you want? That’s why you’re having a conversation with someone, to figure it out.

So you’re watching them like mad and you’re watching their posture and maybe you’re mirroring them and you can do that consciously to some degree, but it’s probably better if you just do it unconsciously. And then when you’re mirroring them with your body, they can feel what they’re feeling and you can start to draw inferences about what it is that they want by noticing how you’re feeling. This is often one of the things that will stop people dead in the course of the conversation because the other person will get upset and then you’ll watch that and that’ll make you feel upset and then you’ll go “I can’t deal with this anymore. It’s too upsetting!”

Well, maybe the fact that it’s upsetting is actually an indication you really should deal with it. You can’t just run away from it. It’s upsetting, you know – up setting – something’s being flipped over. That’s why it’s upsetting. Well you don’t want to bail out just because you’re upset; Like, you know, clue in. That’s not the time to quit. You want to maybe detach a bot from your emotions so you don’t get drowned in them, so you can use them in an informative manner, but you don’t want to stop. You’ve got things going.

“Stated so briefly, this may sound absurdly simple [well, I didn’t state it so briefly]. But it’s not. It’s an approach we have found extremely potent in the field of psychotherapy. It is the most effective agent we know for altering the basic personality structure in an individual and improving his relationships and his communications with others. If I can listen to what he can tell me, if I can understand how it seems to him, if I can see its personal meaning for him, if I can sense the emotional flavour it has for him, then I will be releasing potent forces of change in him.”

Well, so you can imagine. Your brain is always trying to figure things out. Well, let’s extend that a bit. It’s not just your brain, it’s your psychophysiology, it’s your whole body trying to figure things out, right? And you can’t just think about it as a logical and mental process. Your emotions are evaluative processes, they’re trying to give you information, but they’re not very articulate. It’s like, you come home and you’re all angry and touchy and your partner says something that’s pretty mundane and you just blow. They say to you “Why are you like that?” and they say “Well, I hate it when your boots are in the way of the door!” “Oh, that’s why you’re having a fit is it? The boots are…” “Well, they’re always there.”

You can be sure that there’s a big mess underneath that. And it’s going to be hard to approach that person because angry people are kind of…well, they’re irritable for sure, but they also have this kind of shell on them that’s touchy. They’re touchy. You touch them, you know, they get irritated at you. And so if you mirror that, if you’ve been listening to them and watching them then they can start to figure out if they’re angry and maybe they’re more angry than the situation demands. And if you listen to them be angry for a while, which is very annoying because maybe they’ll be angry at you, then maybe they’ll calm down and they’ll start to differentiate that emotion into articulated statements.

“Well, I had a really terrible day at work.”

“Well, what was so terrible about it?” And they’ll tell you a story and they’ll say “Well, that’s happening all the time!” And then you ask them about that and they say “Well, my boss is unreasonable in his demands.” and so then you ask him about that and you find out that the person either has a tyrant for a boss, sometimes that happens, right? A real bully. And then the answer to why they’re mad about the shoes is because they should change jobs.

Or maybe you find out that they have no idea how to say no to their boss. They just say yes, no matter what he or she says and that means they’re too agreeable and then you have to figure out how maybe they could learn to say no and how they need to check their resentment when they feel they’re being taken advantage of. It’s very, very complicated. And it’s no wonder people want to avoid it, But that’s another truism, if someone is overreacting, then they’re not reacting to that thing, it’s that thing plus a whole bunch of things that are related to that thing, sort of. And they don’t know what it is. And so then if you listen to them and they talk about it, they’re actually thinking.

Because what you might think is that you think and then you speak. And so you don’t have to talk, you could just think. But that isn’t right. Most people don’t really think. They don’t sit down and meditate and think logically through a whole sequence of problems. The thoughts sort of appear in their heads spontaneously, sort of like a reverie. But they’re not really, they’re not philosophers. They don’t have that kind of command of the language. And so, then when they’re talking to you, they’re actually thinking. They’re thinking out loud. And for all we know, maybe thinking is more effective when you say it out loud because maybe I’m wired up so that my brain assumes that if I’m willing to tell it to you, to make it public, then it’s more true than those things I’d like to keep to myself.

And so one of the things you’re doing in a therapeutic session is you’re just letting the person talk. When I’m with a client they don’t want me to do anything for the hour I’m with them but shut up and listen. And maybe now and then I can just clarify something.

I have one client in particular who’s very socially isolated and this person hasn’t come to see me for a long time. And they just want to, this person comes every two weeks, and what they want to do is talk about the last two weeks. And they want me to listen and so I have to engage, right? I’m listening and that’s a communicative process because your face is changing and you’re nodding, you know, you’re reacting. So you’re in the communication but this person just wants to talk. And then they sort themselves out, you know, figure out what it is they’re upset about and that’s good and they can go off and operate in the world for two weeks. And that’s all just listening. Well, just listening…listening is hard. And people aren’t taught how to do it.

“If I can listen to what he can tell me, if I can understand how it seems to him, if I can sense its personal meaning, then I will be releasing potent forces of change in him. If I can really understand how he hates his father [that could be a conversation that could go on for months], or hates the university or hates communists, if I can capture the flavour of his fear of insanity or his fear of atom bombs or Russia [you can tell that this is a little old], it will be of the greatest help to him in altering those very hatreds and fears and in establishing realistic and harmonious relationships with the very people and situations toward which he has felt hatred and fear.”

So for example, let’s say someone comes into a therapeutic session and they say “I was just having a conversation with my father. I just hate my father. Every time I talk to him, he just makes me angry!” And like that’s all a low resolution representation, right? Like one pixel – father equals anger. It’s not differentiated. And that’s a problem because their body’s responding as if this person needs to be taken out like you might take out a prey object or something that or just destroy it. Because that’s what anger’s like, right? Anger’s sort of like you’re an object to be destroyed. And there’s truth in that because it wouldn’t be elicited by the father unless there was some necessity for the anger. But it’s so generalized and global it’s not helpful. It’s like “OK, let’s talk about your father.” Well, how would you do that? What did he do recently to upset you? Then you listen and you don’t give the person advice about what they should have done because what the hell do you know about what you should have done? You might have to listen for fifty hours before you could offer a helpful suggestion and even then it probably won’t work. So you listen and then they tell you some stories about…this is almost like the Freudian psychoanalytic approach…they tell you some stories about what their father as like in their childhood and then a bunch of things that pop up in memory and then, you know, they start laying out this story, like they’re laying cards out on a table. And they just lay out all these cards, a thousand cards, and they’re all representations of the father. And then they sort of exhaust themselves. They’re out of angry stories about their father.

And then maybe they say “Well, you know, it wasn’t all bad.” Then they start laying out some things about him that…well, he drank all the time but he was really…he always took care of us. He wasn’t an angry drunk and he stayed with my mother. So what’s happening now is the picture of the father is getting differentiated, right? It’s not just one pixel. It’s differentiated. And then you might say, well, ok, here’s all these angry things. How many of them are still relevant? How many of those do you have to deal with? And the person thinks, well eighty percent of these anger things are dead, they’re in the past. And seventy percent of these good things weren’t good enough to make up for the rest of this mess. But then you get a smaller pile of specific things. And then maybe you can start figuring out ways that – or the person can start figuring out ways that those might be addressed moment to moment in new conversations. Like it’s a strategic plan. What’s the situation? What exactly is going on here? Lay it out.

And the emotions are a great guide to that because the first thing you want to do is – everything that makes you emotional – those are things that aren’t dealt with yet. They’re not fully articulated. You don’t have a strategy, you don’t have a fully developed representational system. That’s why it’s still emotional. So it’s like your body and your mind come up with emotional representations first and only as you work through them, which means talk about them essentially, strategically. They don’t even turn into words until you do that. And that’s where I think Freud went wrong. Those things aren’t repressed (although they can be). They’re not repressed. They just never made it all the way up to articulated representation.

And lots of things are like that. When you’re in a bad mood, it’s like “I’m in a bad mood!” Well, what does that mean? Well, you don’t know. Why don’t you know? Are you repressing it? No, you’re just too stupid to figure it out. And so then you’ve got to talk to someone. You know, “I’m in a bad mood!” well, you know, “How are you feeling?” and they’ll get all spiteful and tell you how they’re feeling and then to differentiate it and maybe they remember something that happened at work and then you can kind of map out the mood. And that starts to loosen it.

“We know from our research that such empathic understanding, understanding with a person not about him, is such an effective approach that it can bring about major changes in personality. Some of you may be feeling that you listen well to people and that you have never seen such results. The chances are very great indeed that your listening has not been of the type that I have described. Fortunately I can suggest a little laboratory experiment which you try to test the quality of your understanding.” OK, so this is lovely because you don’t often actually get a technique from a therapist that actually works. You get sort of vague techniques like help the person lay the cards out on the table. It’s kind of at a high level of abstraction. But this exercise, you can actually do. And you can do it a lot and if you do it, it will teach you to listen.

“So the next time you get into an argument with your wife or a friend, or with a small group of friends, stop the discussion for a moment and for an experiment institute this rule.”

Well, you don’t have to be that formal about it, you can just do it, once you know the game.

“Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately and to that speaker’s satisfaction.”

Now that’s so cool. Here’s the typical argument. So we’re arguing and I want to win, so you tell me a bunch of things and so then I take those things and I turn them into the stupidest possible representation of those things – I weaken your argument and make you look like a fool and then I destroy it. And you’re making your opponent into a straw man, that’s the strawman argument. You take what they’re telling you and you caricature it and that way you can make them look absurd and make them be ashamed and then of course you set up this skinny little opponent that you can just demolish with one punch. It’s really crooked. And it shows that you’re a coward. Because what it means is you have to have an opponent that’s, you know, crippled and thin and starving and inarticulate before you can possibly win, before you could possibly progress. It’s a pathetic way of having an argument.

What you should do is listen to the person and help them make their argument as strong as you possibly can. And then deal with that. Because then you’re sure that you’re taking them seriously.

“And to that speaker’s satisfaction.” And that’s so cool. So we’re having an argument. Well I don’t know, maybe we’re having an argument about who going to be responsible for grocery shopping or for doing the dishes or for cooking or any of those domestic things that continually cause couples to be at each other’s throats. Like so, you’ll have some arguments about why you should do whatever it is that you’re going to do. And in order for the argument to progress I have to tell you back what you said. And you have to agree that I put it properly. Well that’s so annoying. It just runs so contrary to what you want to do. Of course you want to make the other person sound stupid so you can beat them. This way you can’t do that because you have to listen well enough so that you actually understood what they said. And then you have to formulate their argument so that they’re willing to agree that that actually constitutes their argument.

Well, that’s really difficult. But so useful because first of all it does mean that you understood them. And second, it immediately indicates to them that you’re not just trying to win. You’re trying to listen and they’re much less likely to get all irritable and angry at you because at least you’re trying to listen. You’re not making them into a fool. And you know, often when people are trying to tell you what they want – because they’re all afraid of telling you what they want – because maybe they never got what they wanted in their whole life. They had a history of bad relationships and poor parenting and that sort of thing. They’re just bloody terrified to tell you they might actually want something.

And so as soon as you indicate to them that you actually heard what they said, and you’re willing to take it seriously enough to formulate it properly, well then, it’s like one step towards trust. “I see you did listen. At least you know where I’m coming from.” That doesn’t mean you agree. Just because you understand someone’s argument doesn’t mean you have to agree, but at least you know what the argument is.

“You see what this would mean.” One of the things Rogers does continually in his therapy, and I do this a lot, is like I listen to the person and they kind of go through a narrative, a spontaneous narrative, often following a chain of association as Freud pointed out. They’ll tell me a spontaneous narrative and I’ll say ok, it sounds to me like this is what you said. And I’ll try to lay out the argument. And maybe now and then I’ll ask for clarification if there’s a part I didn’t understand or if I see that there’s a part that seems contradictory, you know, they said this thing here and this thing there and I’ll tell them that. You know, seems to me you said this here and this here, I’m not sure how to put those together. I don’t say, you know, that makes your argument incoherent. I say, well I don’t get how to understand that and they kind of go “Oh, ya.” Because people will admit to that if you just point it out flatly. It’s like I’m not involved, I’m just listening. It’s not my problem, it’s a problem.

And that’s another thing that’s useful too. The other person is entitled to their suffering. You don’t get to take it away. It’s their destiny. So you can listen to their problems without having to think that you have to take them on as if they’re yours. You have to mirror them, but it’s their problem and they have to figure it out and that’s good. You need a problem to figure out, it’s not necessarily a terrible thing that they have a problem.

“It would simply mean that before presenting your own point of view, it would be necessary for you to really achieve the other speaker’s frame of reference, to understand his thoughts and feelings so well that you could summarize them for him.” And that’s useful too because the way we remember things is, you tell me a long story and I tell it back to you. I do not tell it back to you! What happens is I listen to it and I try to figure out what the thread of the argument is and then when I tell it back to you it’s way shorter. And tighter. And that means in some sense it’s got all the essentials, but less of the baggage. That’s what you’re trying to do when you ask someone to get to the point. They tell you this long story, like this tree that’s full of dead branches and it hasn’t been pruned, and they’re standing there and maybe the living branches you can hardly even see. But you’re concentrating on them so when you tell it back to them you just tell them the part of the story that’s alive. And they listen to that and they go “Oh yes, that’s what I meant.”

And then, that means you’ve changed the memory, right? If they agree, you’ve changed the memory, you’ve divested it of all the excess baggage just like pruning. And that’s what you’re doing, so that’s a dialogue, it’s mental hygiene. And that’s what people do.

You’ve got to wonder, why do we talk? Well, to exchange information, ya, and there’s utility in it. Like if you know how to do something and I don’t you can tell me. But, that isn’t the sort of thing people are doing most of the time. Most of the time they’re telling you their story. This is what happened to me. And then another person will say, well, this is what happened to me. And there’s this mutual attempt to organize…that’s how people organize their brains. We organize our brains by talking. And so if you don’t have someone to listen to you, well especially if it’s over a few decades, you’re going to have a brain that’s like a whole forest of trees that needs a forest fire, it doesn’t need just some trimming. It’s really in trouble. So you need to have someone to listen to you and the best way to do that is to find a bunch of people and listen to them, because that’s a friendship, it’s a real friendship because you’re both trying to move towards a better place, whatever that place is. And it’s a great relationship then.

“Sound simple doesn’t it? But if you try it you’ll discover it’s one of the most difficult things you’ve ever tried to do. However, once you’ve been able to see the other person’s point of view, your own comments will have to be drastically revised.” Well that’s partly because now they’re sort of vague complaint is tightened up into a specific problem and you have to reconfigure how you’re responding to address that specific problem.

“You will also find the emotion going out of the discussion, the differences being reduced and those differences which remain being of a rational and understandable sort. If you’re really willing to understand a person in this way. If you’re willing to enter their private world and see their life the way their life appears to them, you run the risk of being changed yourself.” Which is…that’s a good thing. If you’re involved in a real conversation, the way that you will change will be beneficial to you, but it’s a challenging thing because it will mean that you can’t stick to the little rigid framework that you had entering into the argument. You have to loosen that up and be willing to open the door and, you know, change the walls of your house.

“You might see it his way [that would be good]. You might find yourself influenced in your attitudes or personality. The risk of being changed is one of the most frightening prospects most of us can face.” Well, imagine, you’re trying to build yourself into a fully-fledged you. Well, here’s one way of doing it. Hang around with people like you, who think the same way you do and then whenever you talk they just reflect back whatever you have to say. Or you could start putting yourself in situations that you’re uncomfortable with. You know, pushing yourself a little bit and go out where there are people that aren’t like you. And then you think, well how am I going to get to understand these people? And the first thing you do, is you got to pay attention and you’ve got to listen. And then maybe you’ll be able to interact with them and – poof – that’s another environment that you’ve mastered. And then there’s more of you. Because now you can operate here and here and maybe you think, well that was kind of fun. So now I’ll go here and I’ll try this. And you go there and you listen and you pay attention and all of a sudden – bang – you can operate there. And if you do that over a fifteen year period, you’ll be someone who can go anywhere. And not fit in exactly, that’s like you’re visible. It’s not like you’re fitting in, it’s like you can operate there. You can talk and listen, you can gather information, you can trade, you can be useful there. And you’re not going to run up against people and risk unnecessary conflict.

Because if you listen to people, you just cannot believe what people will tell you if you listen to them. If you can listen to people, they will tell you profound things so fast it makes your head spin. Because people are really weird creatures, they’re like Dostoevsky characters, they’re peculiar, they think in weird ways, they have weird experiences and bizarre dreams and ideas about the future and their political theories are just about as crazy as you could possibly imagine. If you listen to them, they’ll tell you why they think these things and it’s not boring. That’s another issue, if the conversation’s boring you are not listening. Because if you’re listening, the conversation will change so that it won’t be boring. You can tell, if you’re in a conversation that’s boring someone at least is not listening, so it could easily be you.

“If I enter as fully as I am able into the private world of the neurotic [or psychotic] individual, isn’t there a risk that I might become lost in that world? [Most of us are afraid to take that risk] The great majority of us cannot listen. We find ourselves compelled to evaluate.” And the evaluation is I’m going to keep you away, I’m going to pigeon-hole you, classify you, make the classification negative, describe you as irrelevant and push you aside. Because then I don’t have to pay attention to you, I don’t have tom listen and I can stay in my box of certainty, my little narrow box of certainty.

“The great majority of us cannot listen. We find ourselves compelled to evaluate because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage and we do not always have it.” OK, so Carl Rogers, he’s a phenomenologist, it’s your experience that’s real. You need to represent that experience and you need to communicate it to other people and you have to communicate it within a frame. And a proper frame is we’re trying to make things better here. And you know, in order to adopt that frame, that’s not just a simple statement, right? I mean you can tell yourself that and try to put yourself in that state of mind, but to do that you have to really think through your value hierarchy. You have to decide, what are you up to? Are you here to make things worse? Or are you here to make things better? And you might think, well clearly I’m here to make things better. Ya, sure. No. That’s hard. And people are full of resentment and fear and anger and they’ve been hurt in all sorts of ways, they want to take revenge and their just full of contradictory impulses.

And so to weave all those contradictory impulses together, and to overcome all those hurts and disappointments and reasons for revenge and resentment, you’ve got to do all that before you can say I’m here to make things better.

Because if you’re still possessed by those sorts of experiences and contradictions, you’re going to be motivated to make things worse all the time, just out of revenge and spite. You know, you’ve been hurt, you’re going to hurt.

And so, you adopt the framework that Rogers is talking about, it’s a difficult enterprise and partly it’ll come about the more you listen, you have the chance to exchange information. The more you’ll deal with those inner contradictions and that collection of hurts and irritations that’s corrupting you and twisting you in the wrong direction.

So the Rogerian perspective is very useful. The reason I concentrated on that one quote of his today is that’s such a useful thing. You can try it right away, the next time you’re talking to someone. Maybe you have a friend who wants to talk things over, it’s like listen to them. And when there’s a pause, say “Well, it sounds to me like this is what you meant.” And they’ll go “Yes, that’s exactly what I meant.” Maybe. If you were really listening they’ll be real happy about that. They didn’t know what they meant, they’re just telling you this story about why they’re annoyed. And so then you’ll think “Oh, wow, I got it!” and they’ll be happy and they’ll tell you something else and they’ll walk away from that conversation just much lighter and you will too even though, it’s a weird thing. You might think if you listen, people are going to dump a bunch if trouble on you. Like, well, yes. But if you’re willing to listen despite the fact there might be a bunch of trouble dumped on you, then you’ve also told yourself that you’re the sort of person that can tolerate having a bunch of trouble dumped on yourself. And that’s an extremely positive attitude to take towards yourself. And you’re not just saying it, you’re acting it out. And so that’s a sign of faith in yourself.

And you’re not stu…well I said you were stupid, like you are in relationships, but you’re not totally stupid. You know, you’ll be able to notice that you’ve been willing to expose yourself to a risk. And when your body and mind are watching that, they’ll think “Oh, I’m the sort of thing that can voluntarily expose itself to a risk.” Well, that’s like the secret to making yourself strong. It’s exposure. And so you can do that in very conversation. And that toughens you up as well as informing you. It’s a very powerful technique and I would recommend try it and see what happens. It’s also fun because it’s like you’re following a thread of the conversation. If you’re really listening the conversation will continue and it continues in a meaningful way. And then you that you’re in the right place and it’s like a challenge to your capacity to pay attention. And then you get engaged in the conversation, all conversations. You get engaged in them and then you’re in engaging conversations all the time. That’s a good thing.




From his autobiographical work Memories, Dreams and Reflections:

“As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know. Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”