Opinion: Wisdom Workout

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Interpersonal Manners

“Familiarity breeds contempt” is a proverb used as a warning that if you know a person or situation very well, you could act disrespectfully or become careless in the way you speak. Our society has become more diverse and many modes of communication are seemingly acceptable.

Standards of behavior vary widely, formal manners are an oddity and therefore, the façade of instant intimacy is the result.

If a casual acquaintance decides to give you unsolicited advice about who you are or what you should do, it is a fairly simple matter to decide that this is someone to be on guard with in the future.

What if your partner is in the habit of delivering the “truth” about who you are, what you are doing, what your motives are, or how you can enhance your behavior by following their explicit directions? Or worse, what if you are the one who is in the habit of dispensing your truth in a misguided effort to contribute to those you love? The habit of telling someone what to do often grows out of a sincere wish to spare others the pain of self-doubt and confusion.

The attempt to figure out and fix others’ lives has become a national pastime. The door opener is worry.

“I’m really worried about (fill in the blank).” Next comes over-thinking and over-analyzing.

You can’t fix a problem that isn’t under your authority. Once it is planted in your mind, it becomes lifeless and static. It is a transplanted problem plucked out whole and placed in foreign soil. It threatens to become a diversion that crowds out those issues that truly deserve your attention.

Put this way, cavalierly jumping into others’ lives with both feet is a violation of their boundaries and a misuse of your energies.

What then is right action? Do you refuse to listen? Do you tell them “That’s your problem, deal with it?” Do you listen quietly and put a gag order on your willingness to respond? Do you sympathize and agree with everything they say?

Just as there are table manners and social graces that can be learned, there are basic interpersonal manners that foster more productive outcomes and kinder interactions. These guidelines can help ensure that you treat yourself and others with respect and sensitivity when you are involved in another’s intimate issues.

First, listen with respect and the belief that we each are capable of grappling with our own life’s challenges. You can serve as a witness to allow your friend to hear themselves speak their confusions out loud. New awareness comes as a result of bringing too tightly held fears and apprehensions from the basement of a worried mind, up into the light of day.

You can practice giving feedback by being very precise in your communication. An effective tool is: “I notice (describe specifically what you hear and see) and I imagine (fill in what you imagine they are feeling, are worried or wondering). This formula of ‘I notice and I imagine’ makes you visible. It discloses your inner thoughts and feelings and allows the struggling person to respond and correct you, so that more mutual understanding is created.

If the problem is too mentally or emotionally overwhelming for you, you owe it to them to communicate that so they won’t waste their energy trying to open up to someone who cannot really hear them. Making them believe you are listening, while mentally or emotionally running away, will leave them feeling more isolated. It will add subtle invalidation and abandonment to their already stressed nervous system.

When opening yourself to the opportunity to be intimately involved in another’s life challenges, the most important rule to remember is this: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Susan is a Laguna Beach local since 1986 and is a personal development author and trainer, Reach her at susanvelasquez.com.

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