Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Provocation of the Ego

In interacting with people, how important is it to take cognizance of their egos and their attachments? Is consideration of another's feelings a pandering tactic and a form of manipulation? Or can it be helpful to lessen unnecessary friction?

What do you think? After all this is a slippery slope where one can indulge in manipulation and justify it as saving others from themselves? Spiritual teachers, in particular, are fond of being disingenuous, mystifying, distant, acting as veneration-worthy towards their disciples "for their own good".

Also, it is quite dangerous to presume to know what is good for the other. Is it acceptable to assume, at least in some cases, what is in another's best interests? In those cases, is manipulation justified?

I think that in general, provoking someone's ego and self-defense is counter-productive. The best conversationalists are those who can communicate in a way which does not raise others' defenses needlessly. It is, in my opinion, important to be wary of what can flare up another's tempers and ego and leave him not just where he was or worse, but also distant and angry with the one who is trying to communicate, and so closing the possibilities of further engagement.

However, since ego, temper, passions are what I consider the source of human suffering, how useful is it to sidestep them in order to apply a therapeutic balm? Will it not postpone another's freedom? Is it not more important to point out what is causing the problem, rather than to address it in a temporary way?

The balance that I strike is this: I take care not to provoke people at all when dealing with them functionally (i.e. when my association with them is mandated by circumstances). But between friends, those interested in the human condition, with people who have chosen to associate with me, I assume that they will not be offended no matter what I say.

However, it gets tricky with people who are neither very close, nor entirely functional in one's association with them. In such cases, it is best (I think) to start tentatively, and if the person shows gusto and a non-offending attitude, to amp up the mutual enquiry and questioning. Otherwise, to back off. To try to "do good" to everybody despite their reluctance, is, I think a tad compulsive.

Again, what do you think?

11 comments:

naivecortex said...

Any particular instance that would provoke the other's defense mechanisms while conversing about actualism/human-condition, Harman?

Now I understand that being cynical, etc.. would cause us to say things that would inevitably introduce such defense mechanisms in the listener.

But when you are /not/ being cynical, etc.. and being carefree in conversing, just what could possibly 'insult' the other person and raise his defenses?

In textual conversations, Richard-like strict/precise conversation style could raise the defenses. But I don't see that happening in face-to-face conversations. Do you?

Jack said...

I don't like to use one approach consistently and indiscriminately. I prefer to play it by ear. A lot depends on the intentions and the style/attitude of the other person.

As long as there's a mutual intent to communicate, being a bit flexible, tactful, non-uptight and non-defensive helps the conversation flow smoothly. It prevents unnecessary tensions and side-tracks.

If someone's ego happens to be stung, I just treat them as I'd like to be treated in that situation (ie. not create a fuss, not press the advantage, not rub their nose in their mistakes, not make them feel stupid, or start acting superior and patronising; just clear up the mess and get back to business, with no hard feelings).

But if there's no mutual intent to communicate -- eg. if someone isn't really interested in the subject or wants to dominate me personally -- then fuck 'em. I'm no saint or martyr and I've got better things to do than play their games. (Having said that, if they come back and try again, I don't hold grudges either).

All this assumes that *their* ego is the problem. ;-) If *my* ego happens to be the problem -- which it may well be -- what can one do? Notice it as soon as possible, and "get over oneself"!

(Nothing is more annoying than a correspondent who acts like s/he's always right, and the problem is always someone else's ... so I'd hate to inflict that on somene else. Some willingness / capacity for self-criticism goes a long way).

Surbhi said...

a very pertinent post. and very apt and sensible comments. please allow me to continue through Jack's responses:

"I don't like to use one approach consistently and indiscriminately. I prefer to play it by ear. A lot depends on the intentions and the style/attitude of the other person."

Yes, this is what i do too but with a difference that i pay lesser attention to egos being inflamed and sometimes i do commit the folly to rubbing people's nose in their mistakes, prejudices , beliefs. This happens only with people whom i think can or apparently can stomach tough conversations (which blows into my face many a times, with people misunderstanding me).

So the most sensible approach has been laid out:
"If someone's ego happens to be stung, I just treat them as I'd like to be treated in that situation (ie. not create a fuss, not press the advantage, not rub their nose in their mistakes, not make them feel stupid, or start acting superior and patronising; just clear up the mess and get back to business, with no hard feelings)."

However, at the end of the day, (while cogitating over *remains of the day* :-))what i draw from the conversations is an understanding from all the words/ideas beings exchanged.

I am, without exception, always ready to communicate to remove any misunderstandings which arise out of conversations and make my intentions clear as well and let the person decide if she/he is willing to do so either.

and so i quote this brilliant passage and i admire another fellow being's capability of self criticism and I practice itself and endorse it fully:

"If *my* ego happens to be the problem -- which it may well be -- what can one do? Notice it as soon as possible, and "get over oneself"!"

and i speak from personal experience: as soon as the above happens, world around one begins to change.

best regards to the blogger and the commentators....keep those thought and responses coming in , Jack.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi naivecortex:

Any particular instance that would provoke the other's defense mechanisms while conversing about actualism/human-condition, Harman?

People generally get provoked by Richard's claim of being totally, actually, first-of-a-kind free, since it sounds like an egoistic claim.

But when you are /not/ being cynical, etc.. and being carefree in conversing, just what could possibly 'insult' the other person and raise his defenses?

His/her humanity will be insulted if you say love and compassion and nurture are part of the rotten self. And if you criticize any hallowed spiritual teacher. Or, as above, point to Richard's claim.

In textual conversations, Richard-like strict/precise conversation style could raise the defenses. But I don't see that happening in face-to-face conversations. Do you?

No, not as much, as friendly facial expressions and body language can negate perceptions of hostility (but then again, smiles and smileys can be considered pacifiers). I have also found that it is very important to listen to the other to the very end and not be too impatient in rebutting.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Jack, good points. However, I would like to probe the "fuck 'em" category a little more.

My probe was this: Sometimes, to build bridges for a conversation and to build trust, one needs to play someone's game for a while... E.g., not to immediately say that he is all wrong, or that everybody is all wrong as regards noble feelings. Even though trust and "affinity" are sorry surrogates for intelligence, they might be helpful in catalysing a life of self-awareness (at least initially) if done well, don't you think?

A child can become self-reliant and outgrow the coach quicker if the coach is trustworthy. That is a quandry for me. And I don't mean to act as somebody's father, coach or teacher, but in many discussions one is aware that one knows much more about the subject, has thought much more about it, than the other. The problem is how to approach from a position of better understanding so that the other is not needlessly offended.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Surbhi:

I am, without exception, always ready to communicate to remove any misunderstandings which arise out of conversations and make my intentions clear as well and let the person decide if she/he is willing to do so either.

I also think that asking neutral (as opposed to presumptive) questions might go a long way in furthering amicable discussions. It hurts people immensely to be accused of wrong intent. Do you agree?

Surbhi said...

"I also think that asking neutral (as opposed to presumptive) questions might go a long way in furthering amicable discussions. It hurts people immensely to be accused of wrong intent. Do you agree?"

yes, I agree. presumptive questions imply judgments and prejudices which will not take cognizance of the answers objectively.

However, the 'self' is too cunning. "I did not mean that/it was not my intent" is often used as a self defense against opposing ideas or utterances ( during a discussion). it is also a self-defense mechanism most people use to diffuse further escalation 'heat' in a discussion.

And it is not possible to always punctuate questions with rejoinders of the intention at work. Much of intention can be detected from speech patterns(body language during face-to-face discussions, linguistic skill in written exchange).

Surbhi said...

::In textual conversations, Richard-like strict/precise conversation style could raise the defenses. But I don't see that happening in face-to-face conversations. Do you?

No, not as much, as friendly facial expressions and body language can negate perceptions of hostility (but then again, smiles and smileys can be considered pacifiers)."

# perceptions of hostility: this needs to be probed further because prejudices/impressions run deeper, for example, gender, social/economic status, something as harmless as clothes the speaker is wearing can cause perceptions of threat and not just the body language. Perceptions of hostility are not always linked only to the speech utterance of that moment or in that exchange.

for example: a male speaker may irrevocably elicit perception of threat in a female listener, or an emphatic female speaker may up the male ego antennae of a male listener.

and then smiles of of 36 kinds or more and "one can smile and smile and be a villain" (Shakespeare)


" I have also found that it is very important to listen to the other to the very end and not be too impatient in rebutting."

:-) :-)...i am singing this song these days ...listen to others and read more carefully...and this had made a sea of difference.

Surbhi said...

Richard's style of writing ( on the list and on the AFT website) is meant for a particular purpose. It cannot be clubbed together with casual conversations one may indulge in.

1. because he is clarifying, explaining, and going to great lengths to archive it/ make it available for anyone who wishes to read it, he needs to be precise with his words/implications.

2. The concept he is positing is radical and hence the responses will , inevitably, be equally emphatic. Hence people's reaction will range from being hurt to being hounded; to squealing, to howling.

3. He does not use any *deliberate style/strategy* to either read intention or meaning ( which he is able to cover almost , always, very precisely) , so the person communicating with him 'feels' exposed. So, Richard , as a free person does not 'care' for the 'feelings' but actually cares.

Of course, his conversations/exchanges on any list or website are meant for the purpose of explicating about AF. Anyone who wishes to engage, for this purpos, with him must have some interest in being free and ought to be ready for some 'bloodletting'. It is highly unlikely he communicates like that with the guy he buys eggs from.

Jack said...

Hi all. Following on from Harman's comments on the "fuck 'em" category:

I agree that it's well worthwhile to establish mutual good-will and shared understanding up front. Conversations that start without that are likely to get rapidly worse, especially when the subject is highly contentious.

I find some of the most common triggers for lingering resentment and ill-will are: (1) someone assumes your intent is malign or insincere when it isn't; (2) someone assumes you're stupid when you're not; (3) someone acts as if they consider themselves inherently superior to you in some way (not just in terms of knowledge/expertise on the subject under discussion); (4) someone assumes they know everything already and is impervious to rational criticism and/or unable/unwilling to even hear/understand it.

I wouldn't like to antagonise anyone in any of those ways, if I can help it.

Speaking personally, I used to be vulnerable to all of the above, but especially (1) and (4) (the others to a lesser extent). Now, it's only (4) that would prompt me to put someone in the "fuck 'em" category ... and even then it's a temporary thing. If their attitude changes, so does mine.

Cheers,
Jack.

Jack said...

Oh, I also agree with you (Harman and Surbhi) about listening to the very end ... not immediately pouncing on the points of contention, but letting a few things pass and waiting for the big picture to emerge. Then one can recognise and acknowledge the points of agreement/similarity as well as the points of divergence. People do have different ways of describing the same things based on their different intellectual and cultural backgrounds. (But then of course there's the opposite problem too: some people are too ready to overlook important differences because they are blinded by a few similarities...)