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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:

Illustration by Eric Sailer

Illustration by Eric Sailer

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.

Illustration by Eric Sailer

Illustration by Eric Sailer

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.

“Thanks, Dad!”

“Now you know, Audrey, I think it best that you begin your career in my Wall Street firm,” says her father.

audrey7 [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.’]

emotionsHaving 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.  cognitionCognitions:  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.  behaviorBehaviors:  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…

audrey5“Hey, dad, that is a sweet idea!  Why don’t you go over again the primary reasons that you would like me to work there?”

[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.]  

Department of justice“As I mentioned to you before, Dad, I’m going to get a job in the Department of Justice,” says Audrey. “I made some connections there and that’s where my heart is.”

[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!

pleasureShe is consciously aware of the spontaneous pleasure welling up inside of her for being able to listen to and appreciate why her father might be so motivated to engage her in this discussion.

 “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.

audrey7Audrey 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. 

summarize3

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.

thinkingShe pauses for a good few minutes, showing her dad she is really thinking over all the information she has gathered. 

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.

audrey5Again, Audrey is pleased with her new approach: she is genuinely interested in her father’s advice, ideas, and practical approach to the job-search situation.  “This is rather fun,” she thinks.

[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,

audrey4“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.”

Audrey9“Sure, Dad,” Audrey replies with a smile, and they conclude their meeting with a sweet hug.

———————

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.

A COMIC STRIP LOVER'S GUIDE FOR TRANSFORMING ANGER INTO CHALLENGE
TOUCHING WHILE TRYING TO RESOLVE CONFLICTS:IS THERE A PLACE FOR IT?

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

8 Comments

  1. You would also find relevant lots of articles by Dr. Deborah Khoshaba, on her blog, Psychology in Everyday Life. Her approach emphasizes hardiness attitudes and skills in turning stresses from potential disasters (such as anger and acting out of anger) into growth opportunities instead.
    Cheers,
    Salvatore R. Maddi, Ph.D.
    Hardiness Institute
    University of California, Irvine

    • Dear Dr. Maddi,
      Thank you for your comment. I have gone to check out Dr. Deborah Khoshaba’s blog; she certainly has many, many resources there. Her approach would (I discern) differ a mite from mine in that I stalwartly forego any references to violence, violent images, and so forth; I believe that even attempts to “salvage” them by showing alternative actions ends up marring the overall attempt at peaceableness. I own that I may be misrepresenting Dr. Khoshaba’s blog–but I must say that I did not feel comfortable exposing my soul to further content therein based upon the images which I spied during just a brief glance-through of the site. I would be eager to hear your response/reply to this appraisal of Dr. Khoshaba’s work.
      Most sincerely yours,
      Dr. Robin Lynn Treptow
      Wisdom for the Body & for the Soul

  2. Hi Dr. Salvatore Maddi,
    I am a great admirer of your own work on the hardiness attitudes and skills. Your comment mentions Dr. Debora Khoshaba’s fine blog. I’ve looked at several of her posts and I am in full agreement that they are relevant to this post’s topic. Moreover, she writes well and offers lot’s of excellent ideas that complement my own approach, an approach that I readily admit has been significantly influenced by your research and writings. Thanks so much for your comment.
    Warm Regards,
    Jeff

  3. Dad, I’m not against that option but weighing everything out it seems to me that this opportunity won’t come around too often but, frankly, wouldn’t it always be possible to join you at the firm later if it turns out I’m wrong about this one? And frankly I certainly wasn’t planning on going this route alone … it would be even more valuable to me for you to help me through this when I’m not in so close by.

    • Hi Randi,
      Thanks for checking out this blog and for taking the time to comment. As I interpret what you wrote, it is your attempt to provide us with what you might say to your dad if you found yourself in the same situation as Audrey, the young woman in this post’s parable. I think it is very helpful for us to get these types of alternative reactions so we have some examples to compare with what we think we might do in such situations. It gives us fresh ideas from different points of view. I find myself wondering what tone of voice you might be using as you say these words to your father and whether or not you think you might, perhaps, start to be feeling some anger coming to the surface as you say these words. I also find myself wondering why you used the word “frankly” twice.
      My Best,
      Jeff

      • Thank you. I only wrote frankly twice because it was off the cuff. The tone of voice would have to be very humble and sincere and one should practice that kind of statement beforehand. And, for example, I would not say to Dad “What don’t you like about my choice?”, etc. She has to say ‘Wouldn’t you agree I’m young and this is hardly an all or nothing situation. Of course you’re going to say your firm is best! You wouldn’t be there if it was anything less. And the same applies for me in this opportunity. I want to see what’s there.’

    • Very good, Randy. That is an excellent extrapolation of Audrey’s thoughts in this situation: and frankly it shows an even more open stance than that portrayed by my writing. I like the tentativeness of her response (as you draft it) which follows in line with the novel concept of “social mindfulness” put forth by Van Doesum, Van Lange, and Van Lange just this year [Van Doesum, Van Lange, & Van Lange (2013). Social Mindfulness: Skill and Will to Navigate the Social World. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 105, Pages 86-103] wherein a person consistently leaves freedom of choice to the other person when making social decisions (e.g., choice of a red apple or a green apple by leaving one of each in the fruit bowl; choice of whole wheat banana bread or a whole grain oatmeal scone by leaving one of each on the plate; choice of driving alone or with a companion by offering to go along with someone–but making it clear that a decline would be acceptable at your end also). Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
      Most sincerely,
      Dr. Robin Lynn Treptow
      Wisdom for the Body & for the Soul

  4. Thanks, Randy for providing the additional information about your approach. I sense that you have a good deal of wisdom to offer all that you come to know.
    Warm Regards,
    Jeff

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