OPENNESS TO THE OTHER: BYPASSING ANGER BY REMAINING CONFIDENTLY ENGAGED
This week we have a special treat, a guest blog post by Dr. Robin Lynn Treptow, PhD. Dr. Treptow describes herself as a peace psychologist who lives in Montana with her family. She believes that sustainable world-wide peace is achievable via psychological wisdom, and she labors one-on-one in each human interaction towards this goal.
Here’s a little background to Dr. Treptow’s post:
A couple of weeks ago, I published a post titled FROM ANGER TO CHALLENGE: A STEP TWO EXAMPLE. That post provided a parable in which Audrey, a young woman, has just graduated from law school. When her father begins to urge her to begin her career at his Wall Street firm, Audrey becomes angry, and cries out, “Dad, we discussed this already! I’m going to get a job in the Department of Justice!”
Dr. Treptow, it just so happens, believes that it would be helpful for my readers to see the character in my parable act in a different way, one in which Audrey displays the principles of “Openness to the other” (The Virtue of Multiculturalism Personal Transformation, Character, and Openness to the Other, by Blaine J. Fowers and Barbara J. Davidovin, September 2006, American Psychologist, Vol. 61, No. 6, 581–594). I feel my readers could benefit from this point of view, and so I now turn this post over to Dr. Treptow.
Below, I will use blue letters when I am using Dr. Rubin’s words in his original post describing his parable of Audrey. Whenever I want to insert a comment into his parable or change his words to illustrate bypassing anger by remaining confidently engaged, I will use red letters.
Audrey is at a fine restaurant with her parents celebrating her law school graduation.
[This scenario involving primarily Audrey and her father has been adapted herein using a novel strategy for managing one’s emotions in a proactive manner: bypassing “anger” or other negative emotions altogether and moving towards a wholehearted focus upon “openness to the other.” Some aspects of the original script have been omitted as irrelevant and unnecessary to the more effective and streamlined process.]
“Well, your mother and I are so proud of you, Audrey,” says her father.
“Now you know, Audrey, I think it best that you begin your career in my Wall Street firm,” says her father.
[Audrey very momentarily takes an inner assessment of her emotional, cognitive, and behavioral resources—she had decided about a month ago to try a novel approach to relationships, an approach that keeps in mind that two people can communicate openly with one another even though they do not have the same backgrounds, heritage, and life experiences. A major goal with this approach is to clarify that others have ‘legitimate commitments to their own ways of life that are worthy of respect.’]
Having heard her father’s comment about beginning her career at his firm, Audrey’s thoughts follow in this line: “Emotions: I am pretty upbeat because this is my law school graduation celebration; though sometimes I can be vulnerable to reactivity to others’ comments at times of an ’emotional high,’ I think that in this case it will be ‘okay’ to honor my father by remaining open to whatever he should wish to say. Cognitions: Though it will certainly be reasonable to avoid agreeing to any immoral thought or actions, I do not realistically think that my father would put me in that type of position now or at any other time. I certainly ought to be able to listen openly to my father’s points of view as his daughter and as a competent law school graduate. Behaviors: I am an adult; I am fully capable of listening to my father’s statements about a matter close to his heart: it will be simply a matter of sitting here, looking at him as he speaks, and expressing agreement with anything about which I can concur.” Audrey’s mental evaluation—comprising something like 30 seconds—meanders to a close as she hears herself gently intone…
[Audrey is quietly cognizant of her primary goal: to be in a relationship with her father; she has set aside for this conversation any needs to justify her desire to work at the Justice Department—realizing that she is an adult and is fully capable to make that decision with or without her father’s input. In fact, it is this very confidence in her own ability to act wisely without her father’s direct counsel which enables Audrey to set aside any perceived need to convince her father that she has made (or will make) the best choice. Audrey remains aware that this approach is based in authenticity; that is, it will backfire if it is used as a “tactic” or “strategy” just to get her way or to convince her father that she is a capable adult: its purpose is to keep oneself in pleasant and amiable harmony with the other.]
“Dad, we discussed this already.”
[Here, in Dr. Rubin’s original script, Audrey is beginning to become angry and defensive. But in this revised approach, Audrey, instead gives her father a warm smile and pats him on his arm.]
[While Audrey’s words are almost identical to those she had said in Dr. Rubin’s scenario, with her new “openness to the other” approach, she is quietly conscious that her voice tone and facial affect are markedly more congruent to her inner feelings than they would have been if she had started to become angry. Specifically, Audrey notices that her voice is soft and connected: there is no harsh tone as she relates the truth of how she feels and the action that she is hopeful to take.]
“We discussed that several months ago, and just briefly,” her father replies.
Audrey nods quietly with deep affection in her eyes. Because she has assessed her inner resources and found them to be fully ample for the task of remaining in a caring and a loving relationship with her father, she is free to fully acknowledge his side of the relationship.
“Now that the real decision is right before you,” her father says, “it’s time to get serious. I want to make sure you really think this out thoroughly to prevent you from doing anything foolish.”
Audrey smiles. She fully appreciates her father’s reasons for speaking with her about her career choices: he loves her very much!
“Thank you, Dad,” Audrey says, and she leans over and gives her father a kiss on his cheek.
Audrey nods from time to time with deep respect as her father begins speaking—keeping her heart decidedly open to his.
Audrey inwardly celebrates her success: despite so much well-meaning advise from law school colleagues and others in her social circle to be “assertive” and “tell your father that you have made up your mind…” she had tried a novel approach with wonderful results. Not feeling at all anxious as to how the course of the conversation might turn out—knowing at that very deep place within her heart and soul that the Justice Department job was most likely going to remain solidly in her sights—Audrey prepares her whole person to be fully engaged with whatever her father might have to say. She makes a mental note that she has researched her job options well; there is absolutely no reason to become defensive in discussing them with her father who obviously is highly invested in her prospects as a lawyer: “Why wouldn’t he be? He is a lawyer himself!”
When her father is done, Audrey carefully summarizes what he had to say.
Audrey notices that her “summary” is more than just repeating back her father’s words as if she did not really care about his feelings: “It has gone to a deeper level. I find myself wondering how my father might be feeling: ‘Does he think, I do hope she still takes the job with me? I really like her—she is a strong young woman and would be such an asset to my firm…” or ‘Might he wonder if I will grow away from him if I take another job—one that has differing ideas about a lawyer’s hands-on practice…what needs to be done and why…?’ She is pleasantly surprised and pleased to discover that her actions are not a “staged pretending to take my father seriously” but a genuine and honest interest in her father’s viewpoints on the matter.
Now Audrey decides to openly share with her father some of the thought process that has gone into her career choice—conveying by the congruency of her affect, words, and behaviors that she has indeed given her career a great deal of thought. She impresses her Dad with her knowledge of what it takes to thoroughly consider her job options, the type of research that supports the procedure she had chosen, and the information that she had gathered on the specific options that she considered. She then asks her father for his input.
[Audrey is not at all detached from her father and his needs during this exchange: rather, she is so confident in her own inner resources as to be fully available emotionally to her father during this difficult moment.]
Then she announces her decision that she is going to stick with her initial choice, a job with the Justice Department.
Her father once again objects, making a few final pleas for her to reconsider.
With a few moist tears in her eyes, Audrey gently reassures her father of her devotion and love for him as her father.
[Having adopted at her innermost core a commitment to be “open to the other” throughout their interchange, she now can fully understand the mix of emotions that her father might be experiencing.]
Audrey’s father observes his internal thoughts: “Wow! She’s a smart one: I am so pleased that she knows what she wants to do. Yes, I am sad that she won’t be working for me—but she will be a dynamo for the Justice Department… I wonder if she might agree to have an informal ‘father-daughter lawyer’s lunch every Thursday when I seldom have pressing matters at hand…”]
After summarizing what her father had said, using her most loving voice, Audrey says, “Dad, you make some very good points. Here’s what we’ll do. After one year of my job at the Department of Justice, you and I will meet again to discuss my career. I’ll have a lot more information by then about what I like and don’t like about that job. You’ll have a whole year to think up some new reasons for me to go into your firm. I’ll only be 26 by then, and so it won’t be too late to change my career path. And if I do decide to change, I bet at least some of the stuff I’ll be learning at the Justice Department will be helpful for a Wall Street lawyer to know.”
Audrey’s father looks a little sad as she tells him of her final decision. Still, he nods, and says that he appreciates that she will remain open about the possibility of changing her decision after a year. And then he adds,
“And do you think that the Justice Department’s new stellar appointee will grant her leave every Thursday for a leisurely lunch—“lawyer networking”? We can pick a place nearby the Justice Department—I have some flexibility to travel across town—and maybe one or more of those times you could invite some Justice Department co-workers to join us. I would be eager to hear more about how their branch of lawyering differs in both concrete and more theoretical ways from what I have done thus far in my career.”
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.