Sunday, December 26, 2004

Listening to Voices

In my mind’s eye, my readers are divided into three groups: the ones who experience the world in much the same way I do, the ones who are intrigued, and the ones who think I am simply nuts. An unanticipated joy of blogging is that I encounter readers and other writers who interact with me in ways that enrich my life. It turns out there are a lot more people in the world like me than I suspected. Oh wow.

From the intrigued readers, I hear back a question. Okay, so you look for answers outside your own consciousness, and you hear responses. Exactly how does that work? Mechanically, how does your brain get a message that comes from somewhere else?

I’m never really sure that the answers I get come from outside myself. Sometimes I think getting a different slant on an issue is simply a matter of being quiet enough. Silence helps, rhythmic exercise helps. Then thoughts, instincts, images otherwise drowned out float up to consciousness to be sifted, weighed, deliberated. It is important to respect each and every one of these subliminal messages, no matter how social mores or our own sense of appropriateness or “decency” might leap in with edits. We ignore these voices at our peril.

On the other hand, even without delving into the mysteries of prayer or of intuition, sometimes I think that the world delivers explicit messages to me cloaked in serendipity and synchronicity. There are several mechanisms I have come to respect, among them the tendency that exactly the right book will be in front of me in bookstore or library.

When I went to the library a couple of days ago, a book leapt off the shelf and into my arms. Repulsed, I put it right back. The title suggests the lowest common denominator, lurid self help daytime tv kind of thing....title of What Can He Be Thinking? by Michael Gurian.

I swear I had to force myself to remember that when a book pushes itself into my consciousness like that, I really ought to pay attention.

Gurian’s book turns out to be a thoughtful discussion of how men's brain chemistry differs from women's. Really very insightful. Just a bad title.

As I read through it, I had several aha depression equals having your limbic (emotional) system flooded by stress chemicals. As an old Southern girlfriend would say....well, huh. That makes sense. That I can manage.

Descriptions of how men tend to deal in transactions while women tend to deal in relationship. How a relationship means different things to men from what it means to women. Underscoring that it is essential to hammer out what is “the deal."

A section for me that was important describing how, "Each woman could recall the edict of her ancestors to follow a man no matter what the costs--and know that this was an unreasonable and superficial edict, not a deep truth of marriage." Well huh. This holiday season makes 21 years since I left my husband, and I am STILL struggling with this one.

Explanation of how when many men's brains are triggered in anger, they need uninterrupted time to let the rational parts of the brain take over again. How one should NOT attempt to talk to them then. How women especially should not try to talk them out of having their brains work like this…it’s a given, unlikely to change once a man is out of his twenties. All the person can do is manage the experience; being told “just be different” only makes things worse. This explains a lot about several men I have known in various circumstances, not to mention about my own need to withdraw in some situations, to take my time.

Emphasis that women process interpersonal information much more quickly than men do. Hah. You can say that again! The lesson for me: just because I have an insight does not mean that another person—male or female—is ready to hear it. Let the conversation wait until both parties are ready. Of course, taken to extremes this rule could deteriorate into a condescending attitude that I can manage the pace and content of my interactions with other people. But like most rules for living, its opposite rule is also true; we simply dance between the poles.

The book is written by a man and may not have as much insight for other men, but I found it very useful. Guys really are different from us.

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