to go with our effective listening activity that we had to do for Professional Identity II last Friday [see yesterday's post] we also had to write a paper about some time when we felt like we were really listened to and how that made us feel.
because Professional identity II is a pass/fail class and because our grades don't really matter, and also because, what the fuck, how am i supposed to answer this!?!, i wrote the following in about twenty-five minutes over my lunch break at school last week.

On Effective Listening

I get into it with people all the time. Some of the reason for this is the nascent litigator in me, fighting to avenge the world's injustices. Other times I am just being a quarrelsome, belligerent ass. Either way, I find it difficult to go a week without finding myself displeased by some inconsiderate act of some other party, real or imagined. When this happens I find myself spurred to do something to avenge this perceived injustice with all the righteous indignation of Malcolm X. Often this will involve writing nasty letters to stores that did not want me to enter without my shoes on.

Maybe one time out of every ten that I find myself puffed full of indignation and on a mission to save the world, I can claim a victory. Maybe one time in ten will I be able to make my point to whoever has upset me on any give day and walk away from the situation feeling like I have done some good for the world. Eight times in ten, all my rage and thunder will quickly degenerate into a confrontational pissing contest that ends in name-calling and threats of reprisals. Admittedly, this is not a brilliant strategy. The last percentile, the remaining ten percent of the many confrontations I find myself in all the time end with a negotiated satisfaction. That is to say, I do not get my way, I do not effect whatever silly change in the world I am fighting for on any given day, but I am heard, and I walk away from the situation placated. Opponents who practice this strategy are by far the most cunning.

Several months ago, last semester, I had to come to campus late on a Sunday night to post a memo because of technical problems with my computer at home. Because my dog has emotional problems and my Partner was not available to sit with her, I had to take her with me to campus. I had done this once before with no trouble, but this second time, I was stopped by Campus Security almost immediately. A confrontation predictably ensued. It was one of those eight-in-ten types of conversations where hearts and minds were not being changed. I left campus that evening livid at my treatment, with every intention to return to campus Monday morning and raise some kind of hell. I would not be satisfied until this security guard had been terminated for cause and his children go hungry. That Monday morning, I was surprised to find that I had been cut off at the pass. Instead of bringing hell to the Administration to pay, I received an e-mail from the Associate Dean of Student Services requesting a meeting in her office. Her e-mail did not say what the meeting was about, but I assumed that I was being called to be scolded. How Dare They!!! I am the aggrieved party here!!! How Dare They summon me to the Principal's office to be dressed-down when I am the one who has been offended. I imagined a great big fight coming my way.

When I got to the Associate Dean's office, however, rather then the dressing-down I was expecting and prepared to fight tooth and claw, I was confronted with a strategy of empathy. The Associate Dean asked me what had happened and how she could help in the future. Mostly, though, she just listened to me vent my grievances, about how I thought that the prohibition against dogs in the school library was stupid and why did the security officer have to be so unfair!?! As I was complaining I knew I did not have much ground to stand on. The Associate Dean just kept on listening, nodding her head and showing her understanding in a way that made me think she had received special training on how to deal with crazy people. In the end, I just found myself meekly muttering “it sucks, the whole situation sucks!!!,” toothless and placated. When I left the Dean's office I even said “well, I'm sorry for all the trouble.” I firmly insist that I had done nothing wrong, but the Associate Dean's display of empathy had put me in a much different, much more conciliatory state then when I entered her office.

I left the Associate Dean's office having accomplished none of the goals I had intended to achieve. I did not have a formal, written apology from the school for my treatment, I did not have the security officer's scalp on a silver tray, but my indignation on the matter had escaped me. I was not satisfied, but I could live with the situation now that I had been listened to and understood.

Going forward, I am much more reluctant to enter into confrontation with this particular Associate Dean. I almost prefer an opponent who I can tear into a bit more. Confrontations end eight-in-ten in hostility, but one time in ten, I can score myself a victory. There are no victories to be had with this Associate Dean, only disarming guile and placation, and that is unsatisfying for getting results. But, the Associate Dean has pretty much assured that for the remainder of my time at this institution she will not have to worry about getting into it with me, I have been cowed by her kindness, so, that is certainly a victory for her.

//[ab irato ad astra]

September 2017

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