… we are one.
‘[W]e expect reciprocity in all relationships.’
Edgar Schein writes about ’embedded and ritualised economic processes’ lie within our relationships.* We’ve learned so many and hardly notice these, even when they go wrong.
I believe the shop assistant owes me the courtesy of looking and speaking to me as I’m making a purchase. When they carry on a conversation with their colleagued, I think them rude. What lies beneath this is Schein’s reciprocity of relationships.
This reciprocity includes making it possible for someone to share something they feel to be important (the feel is important, but we’ll come back to this). People don’t tend to say, “I have something important to say and I need you to listen,” but provide signals – leaning in, beginning to form a word but not saying it, looking more energised … .
When these signals are missed or ignored too many times by too many people the person may simply give up. Over a lifetime, they learn to fit in. Obversely, when we notice someone and invite them to contribute by becoming their audience, it can make a big difference. Desmond Tutu didn’t forget the time a white man stepped off the pavement for him and his mother.**
We each have the opportunity to make it possible for another to voice their life.
There’s another kind of missing signals that caught my eye. We fail to pick up the signals (whispers) that our body and life is trying to tell us.
‘[T]he mind stalks the flesh; from our muscles we steal our moods.’^
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio noticed how some of his patients s uffering from brain damage were not able to pick up the messages their bodies were feeling. Damasio followed up his observation with some research – a study involving risky and less risky decks of cards – in which the electrical charges in the “players'” hands were measured. There was more electrical activity when hands picked up the risky cards – the player losing more money from one of the decks, yet their brain was unaware of what they were feeling.
What we’re discovering today, in regards to the interaction of body and mind, Walt Whitman made his life’s quest to explore through his writing and poetry. He called this the body electric:
‘We are the poem … that emerges from the unity of the body and the mind.’^
A lifetime of being ignored or invisible may have disconnected what we feel excited about from what we think we can do – there is no rabbit trail, never mind wondering where it will lead.
Here’s something simple to try out. Carry a notebook with you for a couple of weeks so you can keep a couple of lists.
Every time you feel excited at something you’re about to do or have just completed, write it down immediately: what you were doing, why you were doing it, who you were doing it with or for, when you were doing it? The other list will include every time you notice you are very de-energised, less than unexcited by something. Write it down using the same details.
Then look at these lists. What is your body trying to tell you to do? What is it telling you not to do? You are discovering your body electric.
“Come said my soul,
Such verses for my Body let us write, (for we are one).^^
(*From Edgar Schein’s Helping.)
(**Here, Desmond Tutu tells the story to explain why he become an Anglican priest: “My family moved to Johannesburg when I was twelve years old. In Johannesburg, in the days of apartheid, when a black person met a white person on the sidewalk, the black person was expected to step off the pavement into the gutter to allow the white person to pass, giving the white person this gesture of respect. One day, my mother and I were walking down the street when a tall white man, dressed in a black suit, came toward us. Before my mother and I could step off the sidewalk, as was expected of us, this man stepped off the sidewalk and, as my mother and I passed, he tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to my mother! I was more than surprised at what had happened and I asked my mother, ‘Why did that white man do that?’ My mother explained, ‘He’s an Anglican priest. He is a man of God; that is why he did it.'”)
(^From Jonah Lehrer’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist.)
(^^Walt Whitman, penned shortly before he died; quoted in Jonah Lehrer’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist.)