Someone put this funny on our writers’ WhatsApp group this week and after snorting my tea, I began to think about how many people go through life feeling like they’re on mute, like no one can hear them or worse doesn’t WANT to hear them.
The Husband and I went to marriage counselling a few years ago (eye-wateringly expensive but I highly recommend it) and the one thing the dude taught us was something called Imago therapy. Our homework was to practise this once a week. I don’t think we ever did it properly but still, even our inexpert version was so incredibly useful and although we had been together at that stage for almost thirty years, we learnt so much about each other, things we would never have learnt if we hadn’t stopped to listen.
How imago works – and this is a layman’s idea (first year psychology about a hundred years ago at university and an AIDS counselling course about fifty years ago) is that you tell your significant other all the things that are pissing you off BUT instead of responding, your beloved has to keep track so that they can summarize and repeat back to you what you have just said. Then they have to validate what you’ve said and make sure they understand it and finally they empathise with what you’ve told them. This is to stop us from doing our usual trick where we’re not listening because we want to get our own point across and we are just waiting for the person to STFU so that we can go “What about when you…”.
Imagine if we applied these same principles in everyday life and particularly over social media.
For example, when someone says something about farm murders, we don’t roll our eyes and go “ugh, typical bloody right-wing whiteys. What about all the crime in the townships?” we listen carefully and reflect back to them what they have said. It might go something like:
- You feel that the government doesn’t care.
- You feel like everyone thinks you are blowing this out of proportion.
- You cannot afford to move anywhere else, but you are scared for your family’s safety.
And perhaps at the end:
- What you have been through sounds horrific and I am so sorry.
Likewise, when someone complains about systemic racism, we don’t roll our eyes and say “Apartheid ended 26 years ago, FFS. Get over it.” Our reflection might sound like this:
- You see other people being promoted above you.
- You have to listen to hurtful racist comments.
- You are never invited to any of the social events at work.
- You are paid less than the white employees.
And as we repeat this back to the person, suddenly the penny drops, this person has had an appalling time, we really do feel for them and if we are part of this organisation, we need to DO SOMETHING about it.
Imago therapy also works when someone is telling sexist, racist, homophobic jokes. Your response might be:
- Oh, so you’re saying all women are stupid?
- You mean all black people are corrupt?
- All gay people are excellent dressers?
The response is: “No, it’s a joke.” And your response is: “I’m sorry, I don’t get it.”
End of joke.
I am totally guilty of rolling my eyes – particularly if I don’t want to be lumped with a particular group or if I’m personally being attacked. But I’ve found that trying to put my own prejudice in my pocket and listening and really hearing what the other person is saying is life-changing. I have a friend who is a farmer, who comes from farming stock and was speaking about the attack on his father (which his dad survived) and then a separate attack where his uncle did not survive and his elderly aunt was raped. That shocked me to the point where I resolved not to be dismissive of other people’s pain even if it doesn’t fit with my own political beliefs.
I also have my moments of getting defensive.
I was on the phone with a black colleague (the head of a project we’re working on) and I said “he’s my boy” referring to a young guy I had mentored. She called me out about calling him ‘boy’. I was confused, said that’s what I call my son. She corrected me and said that I should not refer to adult black men as ‘boys’, it could be misconstrued as racist. The more I tried to explain, the more of a tit I sounded. What I should’ve done was STFU and listened, because guess what, all my intellectualising about the term doesn’t beat the lived experience of having your father or your uncle being referred to as The Boy (Kitchen Boy, House Boy, Garden Boy). Lesson learnt.
My husband and I were doing one of our marathon walks around Zoo Lake (I have become a champion walker during lockdown – my personal plea – please pick up after your dogs. Your dog’s poo does not enhance my experience), he took me through this rather secluded bit and I said to him, “I don’t feel safe here” and he tried to persuade me that it was safe, there were loads of people around usually (M’lud, I would like to point out for the record that there was no one around at this point) and I eventually said, “I don’t think you can understand because you are not a woman.”
And I could see he wanted to argue with me but being the FANTASTICALLY mature man that he is (he turns 53 in a couple of days), he simply said, “Yes, you’re right.” And that shut me up because I felt heard.
Also, I WAS right, but that’s an argument for another day.
I said last week that cancel culture was a crock of excrement and I do believe that. I was *chatting to one of my children who was referring to a popular author as a TERF (a feminist who’s transphobic). This author was having a run-in with the trans community over her comments. Whether she is a TERF or not, my issue was that the child had not read any of said author’s Tweets, or the rebuttal she had written trying to explain her point of view.
The child was willing to cancel the author basically on hearsay, and then because I didn’t agree, the child was willing to cancel me too.
On a side note, both my children are such firebrands (I do not know where they get that from. Yes, my mother is cackling in the ether), everything we say gets dissected and “okay, boomer-ed” which makes me want to slap the aforementioned children even though I do not believe in corporal punishment (we are NOT boomers.) Also, when we speak about how they tried to bath the cat, refused to be potty trained, threw the most appalling tantrums, nearly got chucked out of school, placed their own turds in a cupboard after pooing in the bath, they both shake their heads, laugh merrily and say “I’m never having kids. Sounds horrible.” As if the behaviour had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with them.
I’m getting off the point. What was the point?
Tolerance (menopausal porridge brain is real, folks.)
I am not suggesting that you stop employing your mute, block and unfollow options on social media. Not at all. Do not put up with ugliness.
But there is a difference between someone trying to have a rational debate and someone trying to troll you. Also, kids let’s all be cognisant of the fact that trying to have a nuanced debate on social media is often not possible.
People will say HORRENDOUS things that they would never say to your face. The only issue I’m willing to debate on social media is WHY THE HELL they think it was acceptable to cancel Lays Salt & Vinegar chips. I am still not okay about that.
Recommended movie for this week:
The Old Guard. It stars our ghel, Charlize and it’s really rather fabulous. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Lovely friend and neighbour, author Boykey Sidley stopped us in the street (yes, during one of our walks) and said, “Loved Unsolved“ (recommendation from last week) and started talking about it whilst the husband and I looked completely baffled. Turned out I had been speaking about the unsolved mysteries doccie, he had been referring to the Tupac movie.
Also watched The Confession Killer Tapes this week. Beyond bizarre and quite riveting, although Henry Lee Lucas’s teeth are possibly more disturbing than the murders he describes.
Recommended book for this week:
Long, Bright River by Liz Moore. Cop thriller set in Philadelphia. Magnificent writing, with wonderful suspense. I got my copy from Love Books Jozi.
Final thought: don’t only follow people you agree with on social media, engage with people that are different to you, and read books about people that are different to you. I was sent these lovely books from Jacana. Why not try one of them?
I’ve started reading Khamr, The Makings of a Waterslams and I’m finding it utterly compelling.
Happy reading and stay safe! xxx
*having a stand-up fight