In the previous two posts, I reflected first on the extremes and then on the mild to moderate end of the Blue Wall spectrum. In these posts I focused on the difficulties people have in asserting and holding onto their perceptual truths when doing so puts at risk their vitally important relationships, ones on which they depend for their safety and well-being. I pointed out that people’s perceptual truths are most vulnerable and threatened when the other person with whom they are in a relationship holds the lion’s share of the power. This is especially true for children, because of their necessary dependency on adults, especially parents.
In this third post, I consider three core qualities that promote the retention of perceptual truth while diminishing the toxicities of blue wall choices.
Begin with a second allegory, Crossing the Street. The second one starts just as the first did. Aiden insists that the wall is blue, while Zeke sees it is white. And as before Aiden digs in, threatening to end their friendship if Zeke refuses to see it his way. Then something dramatic happens.
Stung and infuriated at Aiden’s intransigence and without a word, Zeke abruptly stands up, walks out and crosses the street. Surprised at the intensity of Zeke’s reaction, Aiden is suddenly gripped with a fear of losing his friend. Jumping up, he rushes across the street in pursuit. Aiden exclaims, “Wait, wait, Zeke! How it is that you see the wall as white when I am certain that it is blue? How can it be that we view it so differently?” The two old friends, mutually relieved at avoiding a rupture, sit down to hash out their differences.
This allegory has two noteworthy characteristics. First, Zeke refuses to let go of his own perceptual truth: he won’t give up his power and let himself be bullied. Second, by relinquishing coercion in the interests of friendship, Aiden is spurred to make sense of their stark differences. By crossing the street he sets out to learn how they can see it so differently. They will work out their differences on a level playing field acknowledging that each of their perceptions has legitimacy.
In dropping his coercion and crossing the street, Aiden recognizes and accepts the simple and profound human truth that people have differing perceptual truths.
In the Crossing the Street allegory, the conflict was easily resolved. In real life, not so easy! People have inevitable conflicts – contrasting interests, misunderstandings, opposing views, and combative struggles.
Getting along depends metaphorically on crossing the street, engaging others’ minds, working through conflicts and tensions, understanding and knowing their truths – in essence walking in their shoes.
We know that the Blue Wall choices in relationships occur when the other person, especially the person with power, fails to cross the street. The perpetrator who sexually molests a child cannot see the child’s mind. The mother who sees her son as monstrous and dangerous cannot cross the street to see that her little boy’s aggression is correctly attributed to his resentment of his baby sibling’s arrival – rather than mental illness or some innate trait. Peter’s wife fails in crossing the street to see her husband’s emotional reserve through any lens other than her own profound feelings of deprivation, these stemming from her own horrific experience of childhood abuse and neglect.
The Blue Wall dilemnas dissipate when people cross the street to practice and work diligently in understanding one another’s minds. Imagine a perpetrator stepping back to envision the effects of his violations on his victim’s mind – walking in the child’s shoes. Imagine Andrew’s mother putting her boy’s aggressions in its true perspective and relinquishing the monster demon attributions about her little boy’s behavior. Imagine Peter’s wife acknowledging the true nature of her husband’s reserve. The Blue Wall distortions would substantially fall away.
What psychological qualities undergird the capacity to cross the street? This is one of the most profound and complex questions that can be posed and has drawn endless attentions throughout history and into our scientific era from multiple disciplines – religion, philosophy, psychology, sociology, neuroscience to name some.
In pondering this, I am dauntingly aware that the question and the inquiries that follow from it lie at the core of our human social existence and are vast in their complexities. Any views that I put forward here can, at best, suggest skeletal ideas about the key mental constituents in the relational practice of crossing the street. Here are three of my thoughts about what counts in cultivating the practice of crossing the street.
The Capacity for Reflection. This capacity takes us beyond the day-to-day actions and steps of our concretely lived experience. Reflection consists of an abiding belief and deep interest in engaging one’s own and others’ minds. The reflective process recognizes that there are profound internal, often conflicting forces in the inner workings of our mental processes about which we are often only partially aware. Reflection compellingly takes us beneath the facing surface of our words and actions and into the inner landscapes and topographies of our feelings and mental constructions. I agree with Confuscius’s sixth century assertion that reflection is nobel: I believe that it underpins what is most uplifting in human social behavior.
Curiosity/Interest Directed towards Others. Another of the essential underpinnings of crossing the street, and a cousin of the capacity for reflection, is an attentive interest and invested curiosity in other people. It is the deeply felt sense that relationships matter, that others provide the connective tissue for what nurtures and sustains our lives. This is a key quality that activates and fuels vitality in the process of engaging the other person’s mind.
Ability to Go Back and Forth Across the Street. Relationships between people are vastly enriched and deepened when the participants can cross back and forth between each other’s minds. The process is infused with vitality if one partner engages and learns about the other’s mind and feelings and then additionally recognizes what the encounter evokes in his/her own mental process. Optimally this reflects a reciprocal exchange, with each person engaging the other’s mind but also encountering what gets stirred up in one’s own mind, on one’s own side of the street.