Non-Shaming Principles to Help Us Not Shoot Ourselves in the
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
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
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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