#35 Colorful Character


1. This photo evokes a burstiness of Character. Boldness. Play. Clarity. Fluidity. Firmness. Patience. Allure. Beauty. Serenity. Integrity. Delight. Life in all her splendid colors, lived unabashedly and with purpose. What do you see when you think of Character? 



2.  People Skills: I have none, so I've been reading this. And now maybe with extended practice, I'll have a little more than none. There's a lot in this book that's extremely useful because people don't know how to listen deeply (they're fine at hearing stuff sometimes), they are aggressive or passive when they need to be assertive, and they run away from conflict or try to dominate others, which only leads to more conflict. This "people skills" is the kind of stuff we should teach everyone, instead of, say, how the three boats Columbus sailed on were called the Nina, Pinta, and the FountainofYouth.

Really, though: communicating skillfully with other humans so that everyone involved feels heard, has their needs articulated and met, and so that conflict is handled skillfully––why is this stuff not taught as a foundational skill in all schools and in all workplaces? Maybe even during the halftime show at NFL games? Since humans make most of the decisions around here––often stupidly because they're stupid to each other––why don't we take the time and care to teach people how not to be giant non-listening-argumentative dicks?

Robert Bolton, thought my above suggestion was a good idea, and did his best to offer us this kind of education, and although this booking isn't the most page-turning thriller you've ever read (that would be The Long Goodbye), it's really good because it's so immediately useful. 

More specifically, the most useful thing I've learned from this book is the importance of reflecting back to the person you're speaking with what you heard them say and the feelings conveyed in what they said, before you offer your counter argument. This is THE magic step that most people miss and that can save your marriage. 

Here's how conversations typically go:

"You careless jack-ass! You drive like my grandpa after he's had six bourbons and three pecan pies."

"Go fuck yourself, princess!"

But after applying some reflective listening skills, this same conversation might go like this:

""You careless jack-ass! You drive like my grandpa after he's had six bourbons."

"You're angry I cut you off in traffic."

"Yeah I'm fucking angry! Learn how to drive." 

"You're really angry and you want me to pay closer attention to driving while I'm actually driving."

"Wouldn't that be nice?"

"It would be safer, that's for sure." 

I don't quite have an ear for dialog, so this conversation would be even saltier and more authentic in real-time, but you get the idea: our first move when we're confronted is usually (almost always) defensive––"No I didn't." "It wasn't me." "But you..." Instead, what I learned is to reflect back what the other person is saying to you first, focusing on the emotions they're feeling and the objective reality you can actually name. That makes the other person feel heard, and if you misrepresent what they're saying or feeling, they have a chance to correct you. That way lies genuine understanding instead of escalating anger. 

Read the book if you care about fostering fulfilling relationships that are less driven by needs for self-protection and control and more by your ability to see, hear, and love others more easily. 


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3. Remember how in the last issue I wrote about the problem of Kanye West's historical ignorance

Here's a much more insightful response written by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I'm not Black, I'm Kanye

"What happened to America in 2016 has long been happening in America, before there was an America, when the first Carib was bayoneted and the first African delivered up in chains. It is hard to express the depth of the emergency without bowing to the myth of past American unity, when in fact American unity has always been the unity of conquistadors and colonizers—unity premised on Indian killings, land grabs, noble internments, and the gallant General Lee. Here is a country that specializes in defining its own deviancy down so that the criminal, the immoral, and the absurd become the baseline, so that even now, amidst the long tragedy and this lately disaster, the guardians of truth rally to the liar’s flag.

Nothing is new here. The tragedy is so old, but even within it there are actors—some who’ve chosen resistance, and some, like West, who, however blithely, have chosen collaboration.

West might plead ignorance—“I don’t have all the answers that a celebrity is supposed to have,” he told Charlamagne. But no citizen claiming such a large portion of the public square as West can be granted reprieve.The planks of Trumpism are clear—the better banning of Muslimsthe improved scapegoatingof Latinosthe endorsement of racist conspiracythe denialism of sciencethe cheering of economic charlatans, the urging on of barbarian cops and barbarian bossesthe cheering of tortureand the condemnation of whole countries. The pain of these policies is not equally distributed. Indeed the rule of Donald Trump is predicated on the infliction of maximum misery on West’s most ardent parishioners, the portions of America, the muck, that made the god Kanye possible....

The consequences of Kanye West’s unlettered view of America and its history are, if anything, more direct. For his fans, it is the quality of his art that ultimately matters, not his pronouncements. If his upcoming album is great, the dalliance with Trump will be prologue. If it’s bad, then it will be foreshadowing. In any case what will remain is this—West lending  his imprimatur, as well as his Twitter platform of some 28 million people, to the racist rhetoric of the conservative movement. West’s thoughts are not original—the apocryphal Harriet Tubman quote and the notion that slavery was a “choice” echoes the ancient trope that slavery wasn’t that badthe myth that blacks do not protest crime in their community is pure Giulianism; and West’s desire to “go to Charlottesville and talk to people on both sides” is an extension of Trump’s response to the catastrophe. These are not stray thoughts. They are the propaganda that justifies voter suppression, and feeds police brutality, and minimizes the murder of Heather Heyer. And Kanye West is now a mouthpiece for it....

[All this cultural critique finally gets us to the Character design part, in which the/our sense of "I" starts to become more and more expansive:]

It is often easier to choose the path of self-destruction when you don’t consider who you are taking along for the ride, to die drunk in the street if you experience the deprivation as your own, and not the deprivation of family, friends, and community. And maybe this, too, is naive, but I wonder how different his life might have been if Michael Jackson knew how much his truly black face was tied to all of our black faces, if he knew that when he destroyed himself, he was destroying part of us, too. I wonder if his life would have been different, would have been longer. And so for Kanye West, I wonder what he might be, if he could find himself back into connection, back to that place where he sought not a disconnected freedom of “I,” but a black freedom that called him back—back to the bone and drum, back to Chicago, back to Home."