OF TWO MINDS

Updated: Aug 31


MEET ALICE.



Alice knows her values: first and foremost, she identifies as a deeply compassionate person. She takes pride in her ability to empathize with others unconditionally, and she actively seeks out opportunities to attend to the feelings of those she loves. Although she is too modest to say so, her mission is to seek out sorrow and replace it with joy.



But Alice is a complex person. Where she is compassionate, she is also very blunt and forthright in her speech. This trait often works to her advantage; she has a unique talent for telling others just what they need to hear, right when they need to hear it. Nevertheless, the same trait often works to her disadvantage; there are moments when she can be insensitive, presumptuous, or even impatient.



When she comes to realize that she’s made a mistake, she suffers for it. She only wants to help others, and the idea that she may have hurt somebody instead fills her with insecurity. Alice is not a saint; she has flaws, and she grapples with them every day.







IT TAKES ALL KINDS


Alice, out of insecurity and frustration, may be inclined to resent her habit of being so direct to people. She shouldn’t. There is room in the world for people who are direct, just as there is room for people who take a more passive approach. Alice needs to know that compassion and directness are not incompatible; indeed, they can be complimentary.



These two opposing approaches serve opposing functions; either approach has just as much potential to be an asset as it does to be a liability. Passive people have a supportive influence; their specialty is encouragement and understanding, and they give others the strength to persevere. The potential negative side of passivity is that it can be an enabling influence.



Direct people, on the other hand, often have a stimulating influence. They give others the strength to take action and make change. Sometimes, they can present others with difficult truths and lead them to reconsider. Taken too far, however, their advice can lead to misunderstanding or resentment.



The world needs both. People who are only exposed to a passive approach will never grow, and people who are only exposed to a direct approach will always be fragile and insecure. It is possible to achieve a balanced, realistic perspective by being exposed to both. Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with Alice representing one side more than the other. If she does, she is acting as a specialist of the direct approach, meaning that she knows one side of the argument in greater depth than she otherwise would.





HEARING VS LISTENING



All of the above should encourage Alice to accept herself. If she does, she will actually already be on the path to solving her problem; insecurity is a powerful but subversive force that influences us in unpredictable ways. Alice also needs to be mindful of how her insecurities may influence her dialogue with others. In particular, insecurity can make proper listening impossible.



Ideally, listening should involve accepting another person’s perspective and methods. It should also involve empathy for the feelings of the person who is being listened to, and a willingness to learn. If Alice’s insecurities muddy her perspective, she is at risk of thinking only of her own perspective and methods. Likewise, she will be unable to empathize with the feelings of others if she is too distracted with her own. In short, Alice’s insecurities make her unable to attend to the needs of others because she is too distracted with her own needs.



The result is that Alice will give responses that have more to do with herself than the person she is supposed to be listening to. She will give advice that is suited to her own approach, but may be a bad fit for the person she is speaking with. This is an effort to affirm her own perspective and approach with others.



In other cases, she might spend a little too much time responding, without allowing the other person to speak. Or, she may get sidetracked, and talk about herself. This is an effort to affirm her own identity to others (and more importantly, to herself).



Lastly, if she gets impatient or angry, it is because she feels threatened by what the other person is saying. Maybe they don’t follow her advice, maybe they don’t understand it, or maybe they contest it. Maybe they outright accuse her of not listening. In any case, Alice finds herself being denied the affirmation she was hoping for.





Self-actualization in the broadest terms will help Alice generally, dissolving the insecurity that contributes to this problem. In particular, she should strive to become convinced of the legitimacy of her approach, without the need to persuade anybody of it. As she develops her ability to really listen to others, she will better fulfill her desired identity as a truly empathetic person, and the need to assert herself as such will fade.


TACT & DISCRETION


This is not the only reason Alice’s directness sometimes lands her in trouble, however. Even when she is secure in herself, Alice should come to understand where her approach is applicable, and where it is not. Directness and compassion are compatible. Insensitivity and compassion are not. She has to find a way to separate her directness from insensitivity. This is a subtle process that requires a great deal of context-specific learning; for example, if she is not the type of person to take offense, it may not be obvious to her when people might take offense. She should use her powers of empathy to understand why others might respond this way, and with time and experience, she can come to predict it.


If she decides that her compassion is more valuable to her than her direct nature, she will learn to make sacrifices. She will come to consider her own directness to be inapplicable in certain situations. In response to situations such as these, Alice may have something to learn from the more passive side. She should be willing to learn and adapt insofar as is compatible with her identity. She shouldn’t try to be someone she’s not; If she tries, she will find herself constantly fighting against her instincts, and the result will be mediocre at best. Alice may do better to make small, incremental changes that she finds emotionally acceptable.



A CATALYST FOR CHANGE


Alice should know that everybody faces internal conflicts like hers. The potential for conflict means she may have to work harder and be more self-actualized in order to reconcile her conflicting traits. Even so, it is this conflict that makes Alice so dynamic. It gives her a unique potential that nobody can fulfill quite like she does. Her adversity will help her realize this potential. Until then, she should remember what she really is: a compassionate person with good intentions.



Background by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

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