Repost: Being misunderstood

One of the worst things about being misunderstood is that very often the more you try to be understood, the worse the problem grows.

Most societies have strong proscriptions against too much talking, and Buddhism is no exception.

I want to discuss three people to whom I have tried to explain FIML with little or no success—a close friend, a Buddhist nun, and a close relative.

Continue reading…

Tone of voice

How do you know what your partner’s tone of voice means during an actual real-time exchange?

You can ask them and believe their answer. This would be a normal FIML query which resolves the question perfectly in almost all cases.

If you don’t do FIML, you will probably guess. This is normal non-FIML behavior which does not resolve the question very well at all. You could easily be mistaken. Moreover, even if you are right, you can’t be sure. If the tone of voice was significant, you may start a snowball of misunderstanding.

What if you do FIML but still frequently misunderstand your partner’s tone of voice in some situations? For example, my partner sometimes expresses mild alarm or dissatisfaction in a way that often makes me think the situation is more serious than it is. This happens once or twice a month, more or less.

How do I understand this small problem? Is my partner’s tone of voice non-standard or is the way I hear it non-standard? How would we check and even if we did why should we aim to conform to a “standard” that doesn’t truly exist? There may be a rough range of “standard” English alarm tones of voice, and I bet my partner and I know roughly what that is and already do it well enough, but it doesn’t help much in this case because I am still going to misunderstand her a couple of times a month.

A question that might be answered more satisfyingly is: How do I stop misunderstanding?

One thing we can do is have her make her alarm tone of voice a bunch of times while I listen and recalibrate my hearing. Maybe I can also say something about what I hear which will make her recalibrate her speaking a bit.

Doing that will work pretty well. We might stop the misunderstandings, but I am still left wondering about tone of voice. Is there any way to accurately say what it means? How should someone sound when they are alarmed?

Maybe brain scans and many speakers of English will be able to get a clearer picture, but even that picture will change in time as the language changes and those findings, should they ever come to be, won’t do anything for me and my partner right now.

When partners delve into tone of voice they will find that it is just like delving into subjectivity. Can you put an adjective to your subjective state right now? If you look at the object to your left, how should you feel about it?

There is usually no answer to how we should feel subjectively or often even what we are feeling. Tone of voice can be beautifully rich and elusive in a similar way.

Manipulative portrayals

There is surely much truth in the conclusions of the study summarized in this article: Why Are Mean People So Good Looking?

In the terms we have been using on this site, people who work on having “adorned good looks” are consciously plying the semiotics of appearance, often for selfish or even harmful reasons.

People also do this with how they portray their personalities, values, beliefs, backgrounds, incomes, and so on.

FIML partners have the technique to clear these sorts of false-fronts—these sorts of manipulative semiotics—out of their relationship. The clearing happens gradually, but it is possible to clear away all of it.

Moods and moodiness

It could well be said that all non-FIML relationships, or nearly all, are characterized by hierarchical rules/roles that are enforced by moods and violence.

Alcoholism is a type of relationship of this sort. Alcoholism can be seen as a caricature of all, or nearly all, non-FIML behavior. The enabler of the alcoholic is just as “guilty” as the alcoholic, and in a very deep sense neither of them is guilty of anything because neither of them knows of any other way to conduct a relationship.

If you find yourself feeling afraid of your partner or doing too much to accommodate them, your FIML practice needs work. Somewhere, somehow either you or both of you are letting small contretemps slip by without discussing them. This allows them to snowball and turn your relationship into one that caters to moods, moodiness, and ultimately control by moods.

If you find yourself feeling afraid of your partner, it is as much your fault—indeed, more your fault—than theirs. Why? Because you are not bringing up the small contretemps before they snowball.

Alcoholism, with its increasing cloudiness caused by booze, is “merely” a very obvious version of normal non-FIML dysisfunctionality. Much the same could be said about most/many “abusive” relationships, but more discussion is needed on that subject than can be done in a blog post.

AA recognizes in its twelve-step program that the “enabler” (the enabling partner) is as much a part of the problem as the alcohol-addict.

In like manner, in FIML, we can clearly and resolutely say that if you are enabling or feeling afraid of or accommodating your partner’s moodiness for pretty much any reason, you are just as much a part of the problem as them.

When is it OK to feel afraid of your partner? There are normal limits here that a reasonable person should be able to see. If you lie to your partner, cheat on them, do drugs behind their back, talk behind their back, etc. you ought to feel afraid of them because you are behaving badly and you know it. If you think that you have to do any of those things because that’s how the world is, you are participating in a classic non-FIML abusive or dysfunctional relationship.

FIML practice could be described as a technique for preventing the formation of relationships characterized by hierarchical rules or roles that are enforced by moods or violence.

Clear signs that you are in a dysfunctional non-FIML relationship are lying or feeling afraid of your partner. If you feel the need to lie or are being lied to and/or if you are afraid of your partner or they are afraid of you, you are in a very normal non-FIML relationship. It is as much your responsibility as theirs—no matter which role you are in—to correct the problem. FIML practice will correct it if you can get your partner to do it.

Ask your partner

What do you want/need/expect from communication with me?

After they answer, ask them to answer again: What do you want/need/expect from communication with me when our communication is:

  • at its best
  • normal/average
  • below average
  • something you cannot put up with?

Then ask: What do you want/need/expect me to want/need/expect from you?

Then ask this question in the context of the four bullet points above.

Then ask them: How do you signal what you want/need/expect?

Then ask them: How do they think you signal what you want/need/expect?

Ask: How much or what sort/level of detail do they want in their communication with you?

What sort of detail do you want?

Try to figure out what both of your core motivations for communication are. How do those motivations help you communicate? How can you optimize your communication?