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April 17th, 2019
Whether we are trying to fall asleep or relax in a meditative pose or concentrate on some new problem, our ability to focus often encounters that nagging phenomenon of an itch brightening up on some random part of the body. Our concentration is broken, our relaxation is impeded, our venture into those realms of slumber is blocked. To ignore an itch seems only to give it power, like gas to a flame.
Another ubiquitous phenomenon that we see and hear from others and may be unaware of within ourselves is a particular variety of complaint. Such complaints are often predicated by introductory statements like
“You know what I hate?”
“I can’t stand the fact that…”
What remains unrealized for many people who gush such cranky observations is that they are automatically qualified as serious candidates to change things regarding their complaint.
Naturally, most people told such a directive will rebuff with something along the lines of “it’s too big of an issue, there’s nothing I can do.”
But this logic suffers a further lack of specificity, like an itch that we can’t immediately locate. With the physical itch, do we simply give up? Or do we hunt around for relief?
In the case of the complaint, it needs to be sharpened with questions that whittle it down to some kind of actionable size. Just as questions can sharpen each other, such sharpened tools can then be put to use upon the object of our complaints, hacking away the hazy fat, drawing the problem into sharper resolution, caging in the aggravating little demon at the center of the trouble.
In so doing we can eventually find a solution, or at the very least a starting point from which to begin solving the problem that’s been so acute in our attention.
Many entrepreneurs and business guru’s often use this metaphor of the itch as a way to guide people about what they should do. The language surrounding this image is more directed towards the pleasure of actually scratching an itch. But here the goal is to highlight it from the totally opposite direction. Whereas most people who hear such a metaphor employed are already actively seeking to create something, those who don’t have such aspirations on the mind may not realize the potential of their own problems: what we complain about may be a guide, a compass by which to steer our efforts towards a better, more productive life.
When these two different realms of psychology come into contention, as when a mover and a shaker hears someone complaining, another directive often gets blurted out:
“Well then do something about it!” says the mover and shaker.
If it were actually possible to calculate, it would be interesting to note the percentage of times this kind of command is actually effective. Chances are it’s low.
The command works like a volley from one perspective to another. In essence it’s saying “Stop looking at the world the way you look at the world, look at it the way I look at it.”
This almost never works, unless a fair amount of that perspective already exists within the target.
Instead of an abrasive command that usually comes across as an offense to a person’s complaint, we can benefit from wondering what strategy might be more effective. How can we evoke the same perspective within our companion in dialogue instead of trying to throw a billboard with the answer into their face?
As with riddles and puzzles, no one really likes to be handed the answer. We want the opportunity to ponder and succeed, even if it’s just the smallest possible instance. What part of conversation and dialogue fits this description?
Instead of rolling eyes and saying “Do something about it!” We might grow a bit sneakier, and ask questions that make a person further investigate their own complaint.
Under the guise of eliciting sympathy, a person stuck on their own complaint will dive into it further, but if that exploration is guided with well formed questions that help a person arrive at facets of the issue where action can be taken, then “Do something about it!” can turn into “what would happen if you took this little action?”
A person complaining is like a person who can’t find an itch – a person who may not even realize that they can be relieved of such pain if only they take the right action with the right target.
This applies to even the mover and shaker who is likely to get fed up and say “Well just do something about it!”
The mover and shaker is in essence complaining about the complainer in this case instead of investigating more fully the nature of their own discomfort. Such a mover and shaker might benefit from a question like “is there a way I can more effectively help this complaining person instead of just telling them to do something about it?” Chances are very good the answer is yes.
Seeking to engage with questions is far more effective, with others and with ourselves.
The right question is far more likely to evoke one’s point of view in another, or develop our own point of view if that question is self-directed.
To disagree with a statement like “do something about it!” is easy.
Questions, on the other hand can function like welcome invitations into new and unknown territory within a person’s own mind – territory where your own perspective might also exist, or territory within one’s self where a better plan of action might reveal itself.
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