This post is adapted from notes to myself plus a bit of context I added for some friends I shared the notes with. It’s a cool example of how gradually making an unconscious pattern more conscious can lead to transformational insight, and the specific pattern also seems like one that’s likely to resonate for a lot of other people with similar experiences to mine. I’m willing to bet that other people who’ve interacted with me a lot directly are familiar with this pattern as it shows up in me—and I’d be interested to hear about that!
For the last week or so, my partner Sarah and I have been doing a lot of active noticing a particular tone I sometimes have, which Sarah hates, and she described it as being lectured. It took many months of work on both our parts for her to be able to articulate the feeling so clearly as “lectured” and for me to be able to acknowledge that there’s something there even though I wasn’t sure what or why and while I could tell it didn’t work (because it made Sarah defensive) I didn’t initially have any intrinsic motivation to speak any differently. More that work and on motivation to change, below.
Anyway, since we’ve gotten a better handle on that, I’ve gotten a lot better at noticing when I’m doing the Lecturing thing, often via Sarah making a 🤨 face at me, but sometimes from my own stance or tone. As I’ve been integrating that unconscious drive, I’ve started often interrupting myself midsentence, something like “So you see, it’s really important… (S: 🤨) …that I lecture you about this. You need a lecture.”
And speaking that explicitly defuses a lot of the tension, which has already been great. Yesterday some additional integration happened, via gentle prompting from Sarah. She was saying something and I was suddenly experiencing an immense urge. I had enough mental space to hold that urge, and I strained to speak: “It. Is. So. Hard. For. Me. To. Not. Lecture. You. Right now.” I started to try to convey something about my experience of that to her, and she very gently and groundedly suggested “is there something you might want to do for yourself, first?”
I tuned into that part of me and it voiced internally “why are you so fucking stupid?!?“
I shared that with Sarah and we were like “whoaaa, that seems important”. Including like, no wonder Sarah hates that tone, if it’s got that in the background. As with many things, once this sort of thing is explicitly articulated it’s a lot easier for both people to actually talk about what’s going on, vs when it’s implicit & underground (and kind of being denied).
My first step in noticing this was to do a lot of self-validation, just like “yeah, that is really really frustrating, and you/I feel really not seen in that experience, and how hard you/I have been trying, to be patient… and how huge the gap is that I can see between how sane we could be being and how sane we seem able to be”. And it helps to validate that vision too, like:
Yes, I see that possibility. I know how to do this myself. The Malcolm+Sarah system is unable to solve problems that the Malcolm system alone can solve when it has them, and it’s frustrating to feel helpless like that.
I reflected this to Sarah and we noted that of course the reverse is true as well—there are problems that her system doesn’t have on its own, that the Malcolm+Sarah system does. Our whole is more than the sum of its parts in many ways, but not in all ways.
At any rate, I considered this phrase—”why are you so fucking stupid?!?“—and I asked myself what it was all about, and where it came from. And a few things came to mind. One related image was of the common excruciating experience of a tech-savvy person watching an tech-illiterate person do something on a computer.
Another image was of a boss micromanaging an employee and saying “here—let me do it!” This can be a vital move in a situation where time or performance really is of the essence, but usually it happens primarily because the boss can’t handle their own experience of discomfort with the employee’s learning process.
The third element that arose was just a sense of feeling slowed down and stupefied myself, trying to coordinate around things that are usually easy for me on my own but hard for someone else. There’s stuff here around [[frame battle]]s and losing touch with one’s own perspective in the face of someone else’s.
But then the big wave hit: years upon years of being in school—particularly elementary school and middle school—and having to wait for other kids to catch up to where I was so that we could move on. I had some particularly nasty teachers who would punish me if I wasn’t paying attention to what they were saying, even if I was quietly reading a book in my desk. Others’ learning speed was thus very problematic for me.
It was pretty clear that this was where something like 99% of the intensity behind the “why are you so fucking stupid?!?” came from. How many of my life’s precious minutes were spent waiting for someone to understand something?
Holding space for someone’s learning process is a beautiful thing, but that’s not what elementary school was for me, it was my own learning process being stunted because I wasn’t able to go at my natural pace. Last summer I got a bit more in touch with a first-person experience of the opposite dynamic, of feeling dragged along into some sort of learning before being ready. And that also sucks a lot. And since then I’ve had a lot more empathy and deep care towards not creating that experience for people whenever possible.
Which connects with the whole process I went through above. We didn’t know how my inner Lecturer would need to learn & change in order to stop doing the thing that was bothering Sarah. In fact, even though we’ve got some clarity about where it came from, we still don’t! It still doesn’t feel like it’s something I’m consciously doing, but something that just kind of happens to me. But our capacity to allow it to become more explicit, without trying to change it directly, was part of what let us access this whole piece.
I’ve got so much more to say about how this sort of thing works in general, and how it might work for team learning on learning teams , but for now, here’s this short work-in-progress case study!
You can learn a little more about the Non-Naive Trust Dance in my yearly review blog post.
Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.