THREE NON-SHAMING PRINCIPLES
If we are interested in developing a manner of communication with others that does not activate shame or humiliation and is not disruptive to the bonds of friendship and collaboration, we would do well to follow the three rules below. By following these rules, we stand a lesser chance of shooting ourselves in the foot with respect to not doing damage to relationships that matter to us.
1. Do not assume that ANYTHING you say or write is obvious.
What is obvious always has to do with the person who says something is obvious.
When anyone says or implies that something ought to "obvious" to someone for whom it is not obvious, it is a shaming put-down. If it were as obvious to others as it is to me, why would I need to tell someone that what I said or wrote is obvious? We are most likely telling someone something is obvious only when it clearly is NOT obvious to the person we are telling this to.
We do well to make this our cardinal rule of friendly and non-shaming discourse--don't assume that ANYTHING we EVER say or write is or ought to obvious to anyone.
If someone does not understand me and asks you to repeat or clarify, and I then act with peevishness saying that what I just said or wrote ought to be obvious, then what I am doing is engaging in a top-dog/bottom-dog interpersonal shaming provocation in which I presume to be the top dog who tells bottom dog how stupid he or she is. Thus do I treat bottom-dog like a shameful fool because something is not obvious to him or her.
So Rule One is:
NEVER ASSUME THAT ANYTHING WE EVER SAY OR WRITE IS CLEAR, OBVIOUS, OR UNDERSTANDABLE TO ANYONE!
2. Don't talk in a condescending way that is haughty and contemptuous. How does one show haughtiness and contempt?
We show haughtiness and contempt with tone of voice and/or choice of words and/or facial expression and/or body language when we believe the person with whom we are speaking is not worthy to be treated with minimal courtesy and respect. The person is treated as a subhuman. This kind of communication is a form of cruelty. Haughtiness and contempt expressed toward a marital partner is the best predictor of divorce. Moreover, frequent expressions of haughtiness and contempt not only predict divorce but can almost guarantee it.
So Rule Two is:
NEVER SPEAK WITH HAUGHTINESS OR CONTEMPT TOWARD SOMEONE WHOSE FRIENDLINESS YOU WISH TO PRESERVE.
3. Try not to forget that forgetting is always OK!
Human beings forget all sorts of things, big ones and little ones. They also forget to remember that forgetting is OK.
Of course some kinds of forgetting may be a sign of brain injury, impairment or illness. But unless we are serious about helping someone get an exam to determine whether he or she has a brain disorder, we do well to accepting with calm and welcoming ANY AND ALL forgetting that occurs from someone whose friendliness we wish to preserve.
To become hurt or offended that someone has forgotten ANYTHING that I deem important and that should never be forgotten, according to some godlike standard I have in my mind, is to be picking a fight.
We all do better getting used to accepting that forgetting is always normal. Trying to even enjoy as much as possible any instance of forgetfulness can help us a lot to become non-shaming communicators and help us protect relationships that matter.
So Rule Three is:
TRY TO NOT FORGET THAT FORGETTING IS ALWAYS NORMAL....EVEN FORGETTING THIS RULE IS NORMAL!
We can get ourselves bent out of shape whenever someone seems stupid to us for not understanding what is so obvious to us. And we can get ourselves bent out of shape when we feel like treating people with haughtiness and contempt for any reason we decide merits our condescension. And we can get ourselves bent out of shape whenever someone forgets something we think he or she should not have forgotten.
And all of this bending out of shape is OK and understandable.
But if we then COMMUNICATE, person to person, that we are bent out of shape by someone's not understanding the "obvious," or by someone's acting in ways we decide has transformed the person into a contemptible subhuman, or by someone's forgetting things we declare that no decent person would ever forget, then we communicate that we are willing to talk to someone in ways that try to make him or her think s/he is defective just for being human. And this will damage the possibility of friendly feelings staying alive in a relationship. If we do this often enough to enough persons, we will shoot ourselves in the foot by ending up alone in a big world full of people who might have been friends or lovers.
With thanks to Prof James Duffy.
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