Food for Thought:
"The Power of Conscious Communication"
Friday, September 24, 1999
& Consumer Protection
for Spiritual Seekers"
Food for Thought 3:
The Power of Conscious Communication
Friday, September 24, 1999
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THE REAL FRONTIER
"In the twenty-first century
the real frontier will not be space,
or the oceans' floors,
or genetic engineering,
or a thousand other external pursuits.
It will be human relations."
Hugh & Gayle Prather,
From the book, "I Will Never Leave You"
THEORY & PRACTICAL APPLICATION:
The Power of Words
A Conversation With Linda Ellinor
The Mirror of Love
A Soft Answer
THE LIGHTER SIDE:
The Tandem Story
The Difference Between Men & Women
Well, I had planned to get an issue of SMORGASBORD out to all of you
this week, but another report that I have been working on decided that
it wanted to go first...
As all of you know, NHNE's primary mandate is to help solve the fundamental
mysteries of human existence. You also know that we are not alone in
this endeavor. Indeed, there are people, and organizations, all over
the world that are seeking to unravel the great mysteries. Whether they
are scientists attempting to unlock the secrets of our genetic code,
or astronomers probing the depths of space, or archeologists retracing
the footsteps of our ancient ancestors, a great many people are out
beating the bushes.
Like most of you, I am deeply interested in all of these areas. It is,
however, my personal belief that the greatest answers to the big questions
lie less in strands of DNA, the stars, or prehistoric bones, and more
in ourselves and the vibrant human beings we share this fascinating
This issue of FOOD FOR THOUGHT, then, is dedicated to taking a closer
look at one another and how we can use "conscious communication"
to probe our depths and expand our boundaries.
I hope you find it as educational, inspiring, and humorous as I did...
With Love & Best Wishes,
THEORY & PRACTICAL APPLICATION
THE POWER OF WORDS
There was once a wise sage who wandered the countryside. One day, as
he passed near a village, he was approached by a woman who saw he was
a sage, and told him of a sick child nearby. She beseeched him to help
this child. The sage came to the village, and a crowd gathered around
him, for such a man was a rare sight. One woman brought the sick child
to him, and he said a prayer over her.
"Do you really think your prayer will help her, when medicine has
failed?" yelled a man from the crowd.
"You know nothing of such things! You are a stupid fool!"
said the sage to the man.
The man became very angry with these words and his face grew hot and
red. He was about to say something, or perhaps strike out, when the
sage walked over to him and said:
"If one word has such power as to make you so angry and hot, may
not another have the power to heal?"
And thus, the sage healed two people that day.
--- Author Unknown
A CONVERSATION WITH LINDA ELLINOR
The following online interview/chat session took place on January 22,
1997 with Linda Ellinor, who speaks and leads workshops on "Dialogue".
The interview/chat session was facilitated by Joel Metzger, founder
of the ONLINE NOETIC NETWORK (ONN). Joel is joined in the session by
two other ONN members who are identified as Toni Michael and Trish.
For those of you who may not know, ONN is one of the finest, most deeply
probing and worthwhile organizations on the Internet. Among other things,
Joel publishes a regular stream of interviews, feature articles, announcements,
and creative works. His network also maintains a free announcements
mailing list. For information, including how to subscribe to these online
publications, please visit the ONN website:
JOEL: Let me introduce Linda Ellinor. Linda is an organizational consultant
specializing in the dialogue process of communication. I have a few
questions that were sent in and many I have thought of -- so let me
proceed with a couple. Can you give us a general description of dialogue?
LINDA: Generally, it is a communication process that involves deep listening
and inquiry between people. There are many traditions of dialogue. David
Bohm, the most recent inspirer of modern-day dialogue added a metacognitive
dimension which involves becoming aware of the unfoldment of collective
JOEL: How can one learn and practice dialogue?
LINDA: First, it is helpful to participate with others in dialogue.
(That is, with others who understand the dialogue process and who help
to hold the space.) Then, it is most important to take part in as many
dialogues with others as possible. In other words, one learns best by
doing or being in dialogue. After one has become familiar with the form,
one might start a local dialogue group and in this way gain more experience.
JOEL: What do you mean by "hold the space" ?
LINDA: Because dialogue is so different from how we normally communicate
in groups, we say "hold the space" to depict what it is like
to be in dialogue, that which is different. This is very difficult to
understand until one has taken part in a dialogue experience first hand.
JOEL: Why do people learn dialogue?
LINDA: There are many reasons: to learn how to consciously create shared
meaning which lies at the heart of the culture-formation process; to
explore collective consciousness; to become aware of cultural and individual
assumptions; to learn and understand collective and interpersonal phenomena,
TRISH: Linda, in some ways, reading the materials, I felt it is very
Quaker in orientation.
LINDA: This is one of the traditions of dialogue. You are right. The
Quakers used a form of dialogue. They came from silence. We do the same
in Bohmian dialogue.
TONI: I had an experience that made me very glad I had learned dialogue.
My best friend asked me to intercede for her with her next-door neighbor
in an altercation that had arisen between them. So I went to him as
a mediator. We had a very long and earnest dialogue, where each of us
shared our feelings about the situation, and shared background stories
about the situation, and reached toward a solution. As I'm telling it
now, you have no idea how emotionally charged the situation was. But
I was very happy to have the principles of dialogue: listening in silence,
really hearing what each other had to say. And because I was able to
maintain a calm demeanor, so was the neighbor. It was a really good
TRISH: Today's society tends to be so judgmental. How do you help people
learn to lay judgment aside and listen with open minds and hearts?
LINDA: A very good question. This lies at the heart of why my partner
and I feel it is so important for those wishing to learn dialogue to
first develop some skills such as suspension of judgment and assumption
identification. It isn't something that comes naturally.
Most of us want to make judgments of everything and of everyone we come
across. In group settings or in interpersonal situations this means
that we often put others on the defensive before we have learned anything
about what it is that they have to say. It is really quite something
that we ever are able to sustain relationships at all without attending
to what we call the basic building blocks for dialogue. This doesn't
mean that we don't already do some of this all of the time. It is just
that in dialogue, we heighten our awareness around areas such as suspension
JOEL: Do you think it is hard to start a dialogue group in local communities?
LINDA: No. People are hungry for this kind of deep connection. They
may not be aware of "dialogue". But, if they are invited to
attend some local gathering that gives them some experience of the dialogue
process and a general description of what it is and how it is different
from discussion, in my experience, many will be drawn to it. Look at
all of the many study and discussion groups that are sprouting up all
over -- through UTNE READER, THE KETTERING FOUNDATION, THE STUDY CIRCLE
RESOURCE GROUP, IONS, etc.
JOEL: What are some of the difficulties people may have in the practicing
LINDA: As I stated previously, until people have had some kind of formal
training experience with dialogue, there will be a tendency to fall
back into what is a more normal way of group conversation -- discussion
-- "This is what *I* think and *I* believe I am right about this,
etc. Then they will not really be in dialogue and they won't understand
how it is different.
JOEL: Of the many places where dialogue can be used, is there somewhere
you see it first coming into widespread practice?
LINDA: I see it first and foremost as a grassroots phenomenon. I also
see it being used in organizations whose values parallel those found
in dialogue, such as spiritually-oriented groups. I also see it being
used by forward-looking business organizations that are trying to create
transformative structures and processes -- organizations that want self-organizing
teams, more fluidity, a sense of community and greater participation
JOEL: I know David Bohm spoke about dialogue being important for today's
world. Can you talk about this some?
LINDA: David had a very global perspective. He was continually concerned
about societal fragmentation and the damage that it is doing to the
planet. He felt that only through something like dialogue did we have
a way to bridge this fragmentation and to create new ways of seeing
TRISH: I find at work and other places that people assume they know
what you mean and therefore their listening then tends to funnel what
they hear into their assumptions and perpetuates the problem.
LINDA: Do you mean that they only hear what they already have come to
know and so don't really hear what the other is saying?
TRISH: Yes, their hearing is "blocked", so to speak, by their
preconceived ideas. Is there a way to help them see that they really
aren't listening to you, but to themselves?
LINDA: Again, part of the problem is that most of us don't understand
how our minds work. We are all confused about how assumptions work and
how the judgment process keeps us isolated and separate. This goes to
the heart of what David Bohm was concerned with in terms of fragmentation.
We think a thought and then we forget that it was our thought. We don't
see that we tend to perpetuate our own reality over and over again because
the thinking process is transparent to us. That is, until we learn how
to suspend our judgment in ways so that we learn to become aware and
conscious of not only our own individual consciousness, but of that
of the collective consciousness.
JOEL: Linda, how does dialogue "change collective consciousness"?
LINDA: Dialogue changes collective consciousness through creating awareness
of the process of collective consciousness itself. In other words, we
place a lot of emphasis on how our thought process individually and
collectively gives us the reality that we live in.
TONI: Linda has a graphic showing that problem, contrasting discussion
with dialogue. It's two lists, really, of differences in attitude and
behavior -- traits of Discussion on the left, traits of Dialogue on
Discussion | Dialogue
Tell, sell, persuade | Inquire, learn
Gain agreement on one meaning | Unfold shared meaning
Evaluate parts | Integrate multiple perspectives
Advocate to convince | Advocate to contribute
Inquire to evaluate | Inquire to understand
Justify, defend assumptions | Uncover & examine assumptions
TONI: To me, this one page summarizes the difference between dialogue
and ordinary discussion.
TRISH: Silence is almost a foreign thing in today's world. Do you find
it difficult to teach people to be comfortable with silence?
LINDA: Yes and no. It is true that in normal social settings silence
gets the short end of things. But people are really quite hungry for
silence, reflection time, coming from a centered space. So, when given
permission and some suggested structure for valuing silence, most people
love it and do it quite naturally. Like many other social aspects of
life, modeling helps a lot.
JOEL: What makes the form of dialogue as proposed by David Bohm different
from the other forms of dialogue?
LINDA: What makes dialogue different, or what makes Bohmian dialogue
different, is that we are trying to pay attention to our thinking process.
This is the metacognitive element I mentioned before. Both Toni and
Joel might remember at the IONS Institute on dialogue, we always took
time at the end of each dialogue session to "reflect" back
on our process. This is a form of becoming aware of our process; the
collective work that is unfolding. In this way we can begin to learn
how process (collective consciousness) creates its own reality.
This is very hard to do, because we rarely ever reflect on what we just
did, or much less on how we just did it. But, this is the only way we
can become more aware. While many of us work on becoming aware of our
own individual process, we rarely ever work on becoming aware of our
JOEL: Bohm suggests a formal structure for dialogue. Does dialogue have
to be practiced in the formal sense that he suggests, or can it be integrated
in other ways in organizational life?
LINDA: Yes to both. It is best used as a practice in which participants
use it periodically over time. This would ideally be in a group that
is dedicated to its use, either because they share some task together,
or because they are committed to dialogue's exploration per se. The
other way groups might take advantage of "dialogic communication"
is for it to be integrated into work they are doing, normally with the
help of a facilitator trained in the practice of dialogue. They might
use it for problem solving in this way or for strategic planning or
for diversity work or in exploring group conflict.
JOEL: I have some questions about having a facilitator for dialogue
groups -- is one necessary? How long is it necessary for a group to
have one? What is the purpose of the facilitation role?
LINDA: It is important to have a facilitator in the beginning. I think
most groups interested in the dialogue process think that they can just
go and do it. They try. They have a few bad experiences, then they say
forget dialogue. A trained facilitator who has had a lot of dialogue
experience can help a group hold the space and experience it in a way
that will motivate them to continue its practice.
It is helpful to have a facilitator long enough for the group to be
able to facilitate itself -- this might be after an initial training
of 3 to 5 days plus two or three more sessions.
The purpose of the facilitation role is to model the dialogue process,
to point out and help the group develop the key skills of dialogue:
Assumptions Identification, Suspension of Judgement, Listening, and
Inquiry and Reflection, plus the guidelines (release of the need for
specific outcome, suspension of roles, respect for all perspectives,
JOEL: Do you have your trainings available on audio or video tapes?
LINDA: Yes. We have two tape series. One on the basic technology of
dialogue and one on how dialogue works to transform organizations as
well as individuals.
JOEL: Do you have plans to expand your work with Dialogue to applications
outside of the organizational setting?
LINDA: We have just formed a not-for-profit organization called THE
CENTER FOR DIALOGIC COMMUNICATION. We hope that this organization will
be able to expand the scope of the work. We are looking towards research,
service, and educational programs in a wide range of areas, all intended
to stretch the work with dialogue beyond business organizations.
JOEL: Do you, or anyone you know, teach Dialogue skills for family relationships,
private counseling, or for similar applications?
LINDA: Many, many therapists use forms of dialogic communication in
family work. They may or may not be aware of the work of Bohm. But these
concepts (dialogic) are in widespread use.
JOEL: Linda, have you participated in any dialogues online? Do you know
of any like that?
LINDA: I do know that THE FETZER INSTITUTE, an organization that we
have been involved with over the past year, is just now organizing an
Internet site for ongoing dialogues.
JOEL: Would it work online? What are the differences?
LINDA: Yes, it will work online. We will attempt to integrate the principles
of dialogue. I do not have enough details as of yet to know how it is
going to work.
JOEL: Can we try it now, or set up another time?
LINDA: Perhaps another time. We need more people. We need more time
and better set-up for us to have a good experience. As I said previously,
most groups think that they can just do it and then try it and can't
figure out what went wrong. With only four of us online, with no agreement
as to what we are doing or for how long, etc. No, it doesn't feel right
TONI: It seems to me that an online chat is very much like dialogue
in that you have to wait and pay close attention to what others are
saying. But unlike dialogue, online chats are mostly anonymous. You
don't have the visual feedback from the speakers, as you do in dialogue,
and you don't hear their voices.
JOEL: Having done it before, I definitely agree with Linda. It would
be hard to introduce someone to it online.
LINDA: It is true that there is an artificial aspect to online communication
that makes it seem like dialogue. Suspension of judgment is easier,
as is listening, etc.
TRISH: I would like to hear more about the theory of the holographic
LINDA: Lots on this is from Michael Talbot's work and from David Bohm's
TONI: I recommend David Bohm's book, "Wholeness and the Implicate
JOEL: I want to thank you very much, Linda, for this interview. Dialogue
is a much needed skill.
LINDA: My pleasure. Thanks for including me in your work. I've loved
reading everything you have sponsored.
ORGANIZATIONS & BOOKS MENTIONED AND/OR RELATED TO THIS INTERVIEW:
ONLINE NOETIC NETWORK (ONN):
THE KETTERING FOUNDATION:
INSTITUTE OF NOETIC SCIENCES (IONS):
THE FETZER INSTITUTE:
"The Holographic Universe" by Michael Talbot
"Wholeness and the Implicate Order" by David Bohm
THE MIRROR OF LOVE
By Harville Hendrix
My wife, Helen, and I have known each other for eighteen years and have
been married for thirteen. Recently, we were asked to present a keynote
address on the subject of "keeping the dream alive." We were
asked to talk about our relationship and the techniques we have devised
to keep our love growing and thriving. At first, Helen and I were intimidated
-- we certainly didn't want to present ourselves as models, but we also
didn't want to present ourselves as too flawed. Finally, we decided
we'd just tell the truth -- that our current relationship is the result
of thirteen years of struggle, years that have been every bit as challenging
for us as for anybody else.
One of the major difficulties that we encountered over the years was
an inability to make romantic moments last. It seemed that every time
we created a romantic moment, whether it was reading poetry to each
other, going to a movie, or having dinner at a fine restaurant, we just
couldn't seem to hold it. It would last for that evening, maybe -- but
we would definitely blow it within a few days, if not that very night.
Then we'd be back into tension with each other. So, at a certain point,
we both just stopped trying to be romantic. Why work at what wasn't
Once we realized what was happening, we began to look at our relationship
with a critical eye. We found that our romantic moments were sabotaged
when we became analytical of a trait or behavior in the other person.
For instance, we would have different points of view about a movie and
we'd show little appreciation for the other's ideas. We would criticize
each other. And then we made an interesting discovery: We each possessed
the very same traits that we criticized in the other. And not wanting
to accept a particular disliked trait in ourselves, we would assign
it to the other. We came to understand that rejection of a trait or
behavior in the other was actually a form of self-rejection. We concluded
that unconscious self-hatred was the source of our conflict and probably
fueled the power struggles of many (if not all) couples.
Not only does this unconscious self-hatred get in the way of expressing
love, it also interferes with receiving love. You cannot feel worthy
of accepting love if you unconsciously hate yourself or even hate some
parts of yourself. We finally realized that in order to increase our
self-love, we had to learn to love in the other person the trait we
most disliked in ourselves. And we had to stop criticizing each other,
because the more we criticized a disliked trait in the other, the more
we increased our unconscious self-hatred. Putting it all together, we
came to the conclusion that self-love is the paradoxical achievement
of loving another, especially that part of the other which we reject
To this end, we created a system for developing what we call a conscious
marriage. In such a relationship, conflict is reframed as an unconscious
attempt to resolve issues and connect at a deeper level. We developed
a special form of communication that we believe is essential to any
relationship. This process, called "intentional dialogue,"
was inspired by the Jewish philosopher and theologian Martin Buber.
The process includes three steps.
The first step involves what we call "direct mirroring." It
is designed to help the listener hear the other person without any interpretation
of emotional reaction: the listener merely reflects back the speaker's
words. All emotional interpretations of what the words mean are dropped.
The listener simply paraphrases back to the speaker what the speaker
just said, without judgement.
Step two is what I call "validation." Once the listener has
heard the other person without adding any interpretation, he or she
then must try to see the issue from the others point of view. An example
could sound something like, "What you are saying to me makes sense,
because ..." Then the listener completes the sentence, filling
in the blanks after because. Another example: "Given the fact that
I was late, it makes sense to me that you would think I didn't care
or that I didn't take my obligation seriously." This statement
forces the listener to see that the logic in the other person's mind
is equal in value and truth to the logic in his or her own mind. It's
a very self-transcendent act and a great equalizer!
The third part of the dialogue process is "empathic relating,"
or truly understanding the partner's feelings. When you are able to
mirror the feelings of the other person, validate the other, and see
through his or her eyes, then you have become empathic. An instance
of empathic relating: "Given what you are experiencing, I can imagine
that you must feel hurt or excited or angry." Amazingly, if you
keep practicing empathic behavior, you will eventually begin to experience
the actual feelings and inner world of the other person. Through empathy,
you will share your essential connectedness while remaining your unique
individuality. We call it freeing the partner from the prison of our
Helen and I, with the help of Buber, see this process as discovering
the "Thou-ness" of the other person without surrendering the
"I-ness" of oneself. I am not really capable of loving you
until I surrender the position that my way is the right way, until I
can see the logic of the way your mind works, and until I can experience
your feelings as yours, separate from mine. It's when I can truly see
and experience your "Thou-ness" that I can begin to love.
Up to that point, what I may profess to love is actually what I imagine
you to be. I am only really loving my own representation of you. True
love is when I can experience and honor your otherness, apart from my
needs and expectations. And I can maintain that love, even though my
experience of you may not always be either satisfying to me or a way
to serve my needs.
We have also been able to use this process when dealing with our children.
Just recently, I was frustrated with Hunter, who is ten, and began to
express my feelings in a strong way. Instead of reacting by defending
himself, he began to mirror my thoughts and feelings, which rapidly
brought the tension to an end. Another time, during a car trip, I was
expressing some anger to my wife about something she had done. My daughter
Leah then leaned over the front seat and whispered into Helen's ear,
"Mirror him, Mom." That effectively ended the scene! But the
best part of all this is that the level of emotional connection between
Helen and me is now being experienced by our children.
Helen and I also use intentional dialogue with our adult children. Whenever
they are upset with us, we invite them into dialogue. The conversation
sometimes is very long, but it always ends with connection rather than
conflict, distance, and alienation.
You can also use this process for responding to positive experiences,
not just conflictive ones; it enhances the communication and deepens
the connection between you and the other person.
Feelings of being unloved have more to do with a person's own unconscious
self-hatred and self-rejection than with a true absence of love. So
the question is, "How can you get in touch with your unconscious
self-hatred and begin to modulate it?"
You can do this by becoming aware of what you really don't like in your
partner or your children or in humankind in general. What is it that
really bugs you? I find that I get annoyed when my wife Helen overindulges
in sweets or spends what I think is too much time on the telephone.
But then I also sometimes overindulge or withdraw from people by spending
too much time on the computer. Once you can truthfully figure out what
bothers you in other people, you probably have accessed your own self-hatred,
which has then been projected on someone else.
How do you transcend this projection? I have found that I can learn
from looking at the function of a behavior in Helen's life (let's say,
talking on the telephone) and seeing what it means for my life. Then
I try to figure out if there's some part of my own behavior that is
like hers (being on the computer too long). If I reframe Helen's behavior
as functional for her, serving her in an important way, and value it
-- even support it and love it -- I can then begin to experience what
I call parallel self-love. While I am loving her, I am also loving myself.
I have bypassed the unconscious self-hatred. Every time I look at another
person without judgment but with understanding and empathy, I am doing
the same thing for myself. The result is that I experience the love
As Helen and I have increased our own self-love through loving each
other, we have found that we don't need to set up romantic events and
times to express our love. We have created a safe place and, as a result,
feel romantic all the time. If we get too busy, then we can just go
back to the intentional dialogue system and give ourselves some time
to reconnect. And there doesn't have to be a conflict for us to communicate
in this way. It is my belief that it's in the safe space of seeing the
other as a "Thou" that love is born and sustained. One of
my favorite sayings is that love does not create marriage -- intentional,
conscious marriage creates love. The same is true in all relationships.
This is how we have been able to keep the dream of love and romance
From "Handbook for the Heart: Original Writings on Love,"
edited by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield. Harville Hendrix, is
the founder and president of Imago Relationship Theraphy and the author
of "Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples" and "Keeping
the Love You Find: A Guide for Singles."
"Handbook for the Heart: Original Writings on Love"
"Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples"
"Keeping the Love You Find: A Guide for Singles"
A SOFT ANSWER
By Terry Dobson
A turning point in my life came one day on a train in the middle of
a drowsy spring afternoon. The old car clanked and rattled over the
rails. It was comparatively empty--a few housewives with their kids
in tow, some old folks out shopping, a couple of off-duty bartenders
studying the racing form. I gazed absently at the drab houses and dusty
At one station the doors opened, and suddenly the quiet afternoon was
shattered by a man bellowing at the top of his lungs--yelling violent,
obscene, incomprehensible curses. Just as the doors closed the man,
still yelling, staggered into our car. He was big, drunk, and dirty.
He wore laborer's clothing. His front was stiff with dried vomit. His
eyes bugged out, a demonic, neon red. His hair was crusted with filth.
Screaming, he swung at the first person he saw, a woman holding a baby.
The blow glanced off her shoulder, sending her spinning into the laps
of an elderly couple. It was a miracle that the baby was unharmed.
The couple jumped up and scrambled toward the other end of the car.
They were terrified. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back
of the old lady. "You old whore!" he bellowed. "I'll
kick your ass!" He missed; the old woman scuttled to safety. This
so enraged the drunk that he grabbed the metal pole at the center of
the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion. I could see that
one of his hands was cut and bleeding. The train lurched ahead, the
passengers frozen with fear. I stood tip.
I was young and in pretty good shape. I stood six feet, weighed 225.
I'd been putting in a solid eight hours of aikido training every day
for the past three years. I liked to throw and grapple. I thought I
was tough. Trouble was, my martial skill was untested in actual combat.
As students of aikido, we were not allowed to fight.
My teacher taught us each morning that the art was devoted to peace.
"Aikido," he said again and again, "is the art of reconciliation.
Whoever has the mind to fight has broken his connection with the universe.
If you try to dominate other people, you are already defeated. We study
how to resolve conflict, not how to start it."
I listened to his words. I tried hard. I wanted to quit fighting. I
even went so far as to cross the street a few times to avoid the "chimpira,"
the pinball punks who lounged around the train stations. They'd have
been happy to test my martial ability. My forbearance exalted me. I
felt both tough and holy. In my heart of hearts, however, I was dying
to be a hero. I wanted a chance, an absolutely legitimate opportunity
whereby I might save the innocent by destroying the guilty.
"This is it!" I said to myself as I got to my feet. "This
slob, this animal, is drunk and mean and violent. People are in danger.
If I don't do something fast, somebody will probably get hurt. I'm gonna
take his ass to the cleaners."
Seeing me stand up, the drunk saw a chance to focus his rage. "Aha!"
he roared. "A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!"
He punched the metal pole once to give weight to his words.
I held on lightly to the commuter strap overhead. I gave him a slow
look of disgust and dismissal. I gave him every bit of piss-ant nastiness
I could summon up. I planned to take this turkey apart, but he had to
be the one to move First. And I wanted him man, because the madder he
got, the more certain my victory. I pursed my lips and blew him a sneering,
insolent kiss. It hit him like a slap in the face. "All right!"
he hollered. "You're gonna get a lesson." He gathered himself
for a rush at me. He'd never know what hit him.
A split second before he moved, someone shouted "Hey!" It
was ear splitting. I remember being struck by the strangely joyous,
lilting quality of it--as though you and a friend had been searching
diligently for something, and he had suddenly stumbled upon it. "Hey!"
I wheeled to my left, the drunk spun to his right. We both stared down
at a little old Japanese man. He must have been well into his seventies,
this tiny gentleman, sitting there immaculate in his kimono and hakama.
He took no notice of me, but beamed delightedly at the laborer, as though
he had a most important, most welcome secret to share.
"C'mere," the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning
to the drunk. "C'mere and talk with me." He waved his hand
lightly. The giant man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet
belligerently in front of the old gentleman and towered threateningly
"Talk to you?" he roared above the clacking wheels. "Why
the hell should I talk to you?" The drunk now had his back to me.
If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter, I'd drop him in his socks.
The old man continued to beam at the laborer. There was not a trace
of fear or resentment about him. "What'cha been drinkin'?"
he asked lightly, with interest. "I been drinkin' sake," the
laborer bellowed back, "and it's none of your god dam business!"
"Oh, that's wonderful," the old man said with delight. "Absolutely
wonderful! You see, I love sake, too. Every night, me and my wife (she's
seventy-six, you know), we warm up a little bottle of sake and take
it our into the garden, and we sit on the old wooden bench that my grandfather's
first student made for him. We watch the sun go down, and we look to
see how our persimmon tree is doing. My great-grandfather planted that
tree, you know, and we worry about whether it will recover from those
ice storms we had last winter. Persimmons do not do well after ice storms,
although I must say that ours has done rather better that I expected,
especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. Still, it
is most gratifying to watch when we take our sake and go out to enjoy
the evening--even when it rains!" He looked up at the laborer,
eyes twinkling, happy to share his delightful information.
As he struggled to follow the intricacies of the old ma@n's conversation,
the drunk's face began to soften. His fists slowly unclenched. "Yeah,"
he said slowly, "I love persimmons, too..." His voice trailed
"Yes," said the old man, smiling, "and I'm sure you have
a wonderful wife."
"No," replied the laborer, "my wife died." He hung
his head. Very gently, swaying with the motion of the train, the big
man began to sob. "I don't got no wife, I don't got no home, I
don't got no job, I don't got no money, I don't got nowhere to go. I'm
so ashamed of myself." Tears rolled down his cheeks; a spasm of
pure despair rippled through his body. Above the baggage rack a four-color
ad trumpeted the virtues of suburban luxury living.
Now it was my turn. Standing there in my well-scrubbed youthful innocence,
my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness, I suddenly felt
dirtier than he was.
Just then, the train arrived at my stop. The platform was packed, and
the crowd surged into the car as soon as the doors opened. Maneuvering
my way out, I heard the old man cluck sympathetically. "My, my,"
he said with undiminished delight, "that is a very difficult predicament,
indeed. Sit down here and tell me about it."
I turned my head for one last look. The laborer was sprawled like a
sack on the seat, his head in the old man's lap. The old man looked
down at him, all compassion and delight, one hand softly stroking the
filthy, matted head.
As the train pulled away, I sat down on a bench. What I had wanted to
do with muscle and meanness had been accomplished with a few kind words.
I had seen aikido tried in combat, and the essence of it was love, as
the founder had said. I would have to practice the art with an entirely
different spirit. It would be a long time before I could speak about
the resolution of conflict.
Terry Dobson was a holder of a fifth-degree black belt in aikido, coauthor
of "Aikido in Everyday Life" (North Atlantic Books), and author
of the book "It's a Lot Like Dancing: An Aikido Journey" (Frog,
Ltd.), among other works. He died in 1992 at age 55. This article, published
in NEW AGE JOURNAL in 1981, first appeared in the "Lomi School
THE LIGHTER SIDE
Now that we've seen how human beings can communicate with one another
in a healthy, mutually-empowering fashion, let's take a look at the
other side of the coin...
THE TANDEM STORY
This assignment was actually turned in by two of my English students:
Rebecca and Gary
English 44A SMU
Creative Writing Professor Miller
In-class Assignment for Wednesday
Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story. The
process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting
to his or her immediate right. One of you will then write the first
paragraph of a short story. The partner will read the first paragraph
and then add another paragraph to the story. The first person will then
add a third paragraph, and so on back and forth. Remember to reread
what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent.
The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached.
At first, Laurie couldn't decide which kind of tea she wanted. The chamomile,
which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded
her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked
chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off
Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him
too much her asthma started acting up again. So chamomile was out of
Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron
now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about
than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with
whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago. "A.S. Harris
to Geostation 17," he said into his transgalactic communicator.
"Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far..."
But before he could sign off a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere
and blasted a hole through his ship's cargo bay. The jolt from the direct
hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.
He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt
one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who
had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless
hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. "Congress
Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel." Laurie
read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited her
and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth -- when
the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspapers to
read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder
at all the beautiful things around her. "Why must one lose one's
innocence to become a woman?" she pondered wistfully.
Little did she know, but she has less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands
of miles above the city, the Anu'udrian mothership launched the first
of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who pushed
the Unilateral Aerospace Disarmament Treaty through Congress had left
Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined
to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the
treaty the Anu'udrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough
firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them,
they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile
entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret mobile
submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt
the inconceivably massive explosion which vaporized Laurie and 85 million
other Americans. The President slammed his fist on the conference table.
"We can't allow this! I'm going to veto that treaty! Let's blow'em
out of the sky!"
This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My
writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic, semi-literate adolescent.
Yeah? Well, you're a self-centered tedious neurotic whose attempts at
writing are the literary equivalent of Valium.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEN & WOMEN
Let's say a guy named Roger is attracted to a woman named Elaine. He
asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time.
A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves.
They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither
one of them is seeing anybody else.
And then, one evening when they're driving home, a thought occurs to
Elaine, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: "Do you
realise that, as of tonight, we've been seeing each other for exactly
And then there is silence in the car. To Elaine, it seems like a very
She thinks to herself: gee, I wonder if it bothers him that I said that.
Maybe he's been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks
I'm trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn't
want, or isn't sure of.
And Roger is thinking: gosh. Six months?
And Elaine is thinking: but, hey, I'm not so sure I want this kind of
relationship, either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so
I'd have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going
the way we are, moving steadily toward... I mean, where are we going?
Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy?
Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together?
Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this
And Roger is thinking... so that means it was... let's see... February
when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the
dealer's, which means... lemme check the odometer... Whoa! I am way
over due for an oil change here!
And Elaine is thinking: he's upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe
I'm reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship,
more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed -- even before I
sensed it -- that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that's
it. That's why he's so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings.
He's afraid of being rejected.
And Roger is thinking: and I'm gonna have them look at the transmission
again. I don't care what those morons say, it's still not shifting right.
And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this time. What
cold weather? It's 87 degrees out, and this thing is shifting like a
darn garbage truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves $600.
And Elaine is thinking: he's angry. And I don't blame him. I'd be angry,
too. God, I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I can't help
the way I feel. I'm just not sure.
And Roger is thinking: they'll probably say it's only a 90-day warranty.
That's exactly what they're gonna say, the scumbags.
And Elaine is thinking: maybe I'm just too idealistic, waiting for a
knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I'm sitting right
next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person
I truly do care about, a person who seems to truly care about me. A
person who is in pain because of my self-centered, school girl romantic
And Roger is thinking: warranty? They want a warranty? I'll give them
a warranty. I'll take their warranty and stick it right up...
"Roger," Elaine says aloud.
"What?" says Roger, startled.
"Please don't torture yourself like this," she says, her eyes
beginning to brim with tears. "Maybe I should never have... Oh
God, I feel so..." (She breaks down, sobbing.)
"What?" says Roger.
"I'm such a fool," Elaine sobs...
"I mean, I know there's no knight. I really know that. It's silly.
There's no knight, and there's no horse."
"There's no horse?" says Roger.
"You think I'm a fool, don't you?" Elaine says.
"No!" says Roger, glad to finally know the correct answer.
"It's just that... It's that I... I need some time," Elaine
There is a 15-second pause while Roger, thinking as fast as he can,
tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one
that he thinks might work.
"Yes," he says.
Elaine, deeply moved, touches his hand.
"Oh, Roger, do you really feel that way?" she says.
"What way?" says Roger.
"That way about time," says Elaine.
"Oh," says Roger. "Yes."
Elaine turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him
to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if
it involves a horse. At last she speaks.
"Thank you, Roger," she says.
"Thank you," says Roger.
Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured
soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Roger gets back to his place,
he opens a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes
deeply involved in a re-run of a tennis match between two Czechoslovakians
he never heard of.
A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something
major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there
is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it's better
if he doesn't think about it. (This is also Roger's policy regarding
The next day Elaine will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of
them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours.
In painstaking detail, they will analyse everything she said and everything
he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression,
and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification.
They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks, maybe
months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored
with it, either.
Meanwhile, Roger, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual friend
of his and Elaine's, will pause just before serving, frown, and say:
"Norm, did Elaine ever own a horse?"
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