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Friday, January 25, 2008


A good question came in as a comment in my last post...

What makes the difference between "genuine shape-shifting" and "applying your own thought patterns to the assumed "other perspective"?

I think what you're asking is how do you tell the difference between "shape shifting" and imposing a variation of your own ways that are really another brand of second-guessing?

The reason I would restate this question is I have gotten many benefits from checking out and clarifying meaning by communicating how I understand the other person who is responding to me. I might do that by asking questions or by responding to what I think they mean to check out if my guessing matches. I only learned to do this because my supposing was wrong! I also learned that, compared to shape shifting, it was a more respectful way of learning about a person's values - by asking.

People often tend to second-guess to address their own interests, so that's another main comparison between shape shifting and second-guessing. I would ask myself, does the motive for the guessing address an interest I have, and what is that interest? The answer usually is that almost every motive comes from some sort of self-interest. It's quite telling exactly what the motives are. Often there are many motives, and it's telling what order the hierarchy of this list might contain.

I first realized that my talent for shape-shifting originally came from a sincere desire for approval from others, coupled with not having any clue how to choose which one of the many codes of mannerly behavior I should be applying. So I would merely open myself and take away my own questions to experience what it would be like to actually be the other person.

As I suspended my desire for approval, I began to observe things about ways the other person felt about themselves and the world that went far beyond my own purposes. This is what allows me to emulate - essentially stand in another man's shoes for awhile.

I began to regard mannerliness as merely communicating a desire and intention to please - usually without the ability to actually do so because of an unfamiliarity with that person's unique values. So I assumed that it was more efficient to find a way to read or to directly absorb each person's unique values, rather than to merely be mannerly. Of course, when I eventually ran into some people who really did want mannerliness and felt there existed a code of how people "should" treat each other...I felt as if I was being held at arms' length!

The advantages are that you usually do have the other person present to ask and respond to what you do. But what you do usually isn't the point - it's how you read the way the other person interprets significance and meaning - which is usually different from the meanings that you would assign and sometimes wildly different. You can check out to see what your guessing means by asking the person. Or you can do whatever you are guessing at and note how they respond.

But all this is akin to conducting a scientific experiment and noting results in order to amass enough information to use. As a shape-shifter, I more often emulate what the other person seems to be doing, without question, to see where it takes me. I make observations what it is "like" to "be" the other person as I'm hanging out with them, while suspending my own goals and concerns.

The other means I use to enhance shape-shifting ability is to search for a positive motive of why another person acts the way they do. This can be a creative challenge. More commonly, when people confront a motive that doesn't make any sense to them, they are so quick to assign a negative motive to it. This is a clue that you are second-guessing and assigning your own values to another person's behavior, rather than shape shifting without value judgements being present. I believe that finding negative motives to explain other people's behavior usually comes from a reaction for self-protection.

Although there are many situations where the shit hits the fan in people's lives and leaves much to clean up later from their apparent purposeful behavior, I do not believe that anyone does anything for a negative reason. People merely can be terribly short-sighted and come up with some solutions to their concerns that have some serious drawbacks they did not count on or foresee. In some cases, people accept these choices come with these particular drawbacks and it doesn't even occur to them that there could be other ways or means that wouldn't include these problems that are occuring. I think that's where creative problem solving comes in. Finding out and agreeing on criteria is crucial in these situations. The ability to guess correctly the foundations of criteria will make you seem to another person as if you are reading their mind.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent! Upon reading your first paragraph (restating the question), I had goosebumps all over. To me, it puts the essence of both my question and your answer into a self-reflexive loop. Somewhat similar to the part in Douglas Hofstaedter's "Gödel, Escher, Bach" where he explains the structure of recursion in a recursive dialogue!

    Has it ever been difficult for you to "switch back" to your "native mindset" after emulating another person's perspective? Can such a shape-shifting process also be demanding for you when this person is exposed to larger amounts of stress, depression, grief etc.?

    I ask this because it often happens to me that I "identify" myself with such "external" emotions and mindsets, and then I seemingly cannot stop worrying about the other person, especially if they are close to me.

    Perhaps this happens more often when I actively "second-guess and impose" rather than emulate, or when I suppress that "proselytization" impulse and it still keeps returning to my mind. My basic motive behind it seems to be compassion, which gets distorted by impatience. So I will put the insights from your posting to practice and sharpen my skills! - Thank you! :-)