Tag Archives: relationships

Review: Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic

The commodification of relationships hurts them. In Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy Bruce Levine discusses how the patient-psychiatrist relationship has been undermined by consumerism. On one hand, managed health care demands snappy diagnoses and generic prescriptions – not exactly a fertile scenario for deep friendships. On the other hand, exchanging money for a deep friendship feels icky (for lack of a better word).

The psychiatrist-patient relationship is particularly interesting because it is one which is nominally concerned with the healing of emotional wounds. This is something for which friendships and deep relationships are also really important. The dangers of over-commercializing or commoditizing a doctor-patient relationship are present for other kinds of relationships, too. I would suggest that virtually all relationships in the American Paradigm are seen in the context of the exchange of goods and services. Case in point: I regret something I once said to a significant other. I said that doing nice things for one another is what loving relationships are “all about.”

Doing nice things for one another is nice. Moreover, I like doing things for people who are important to me, and (of course) I like having nice things done for me. Even at the time, I didn’t think of it as a profound statement. It was just something offhand. But my point is that gifts are not what loving relationships are “all about.” In saying so, I had stumbled into a subtle and pervasive lie of our culture. The exchange of gifts (material or otherwise) is a natural consequence of a strong relationship, not the foundation.

The book explores good territory, and it’s an engaging read. It’s particularly relevant for those who want to think carefully about the kinds of professional relationships they want to build with their patients. But I think it has wider relevance, too.


jerks, leadership, and the consequences of living, or relationships and trust – Part 2

Continued from Personal interactions, management, relationships and trust – Part 1

“Do you know what makes people decent?Fear.”It’s a line from a speech in Dogma, that Kevin Smith movie that inspired protests from lots of religious people who didn’t watch it.The point of the speech is that people only behave well when they are afraid of the consequences of behaving poorly.I wrote a post a while back on the ways that people can motivate other people, and fear underlies all of them.

I had an experience today that made me think that some people have been privileged in their interactions with other people.They have always been given the benefit of the doubt.They have always been treated fairly.So when something annoys them, they have no fear of the consequences of speaking up.Because they don’t know that there could be consequences.

I am absolutely aware that any request I make, no matter how innocuous, has an impact on the relationship.If I am annoyed at something and I ask for it to stop, I have implied that I find someone annoying.That will have consequences.Maybe they will be consequences that I will see, or maybe they won’t be visible, but they are out there. No way around it.

Take this example.The neighbor comes up to the door and says, ‘would you turn your music down?’

The normal person gets a little annoyed.It’s his own radio his own apartment, he should be able to do what he wants… and it is embarrassing to realize that he has intruded on someone else’s space.He wants to keep the peace, though, so he mutters something about not realizing it was so loud or something and he turns it down.

What does the jerk do in the same circumstance?He pitches a fit like a whiny child.And many a time, he will get what he wants.What he wants is to live uninterrupted.And the neighbor goes home, fumes, but doesn’t want to get in a fight, so he puts up with the loud music.And the jerk’s life is uninterrupted without any visual consequences. But this relationship is going downhill.This is not going to become a friendship.

I’ll admit that I find myself really tempted to give the jerk something to fear: a visible consequence.The only reason he acts this way is because it has never blown up in his face. He wants to live life uninterrupted, but he doesn’t deserve it.He’s not entitled to it.Maybe a painful interruption would be good for him.But that’s not high level interaction.Sure, maybe his behavior would improve if he ran into someone who was as big a jerk as he was.Maybe if someone really hurt him for not being polite, he would think twice about being impolite from then on.But probably not, and I don’t want to be the jerk whose job it is to find out.


Personal interactions, management, relationships and trust – Part 1

On personal leverage:

Low-level personal interactions come down to leverage. We can get into high-level personal interactions some other time; suffice it to say that they are a function of trust.Frankly, most inter-personal relations that I see are low-trust affairs. These are not bad people, and they don’t (apparently) have a dysfunctional relationship.But there is very little trust being exhibited.So they fall back on leverage.

Leverage 1: Money.This one is widely used in the workplace, home-life and most everywhere else.It can be generalized to other commodities, like sex or a place to live.The whole idea is this:”you want something that I have, and you will only get that thing if your behavior conforms to my expectations.”

Leverage 2: Being a Jerk: Another widely used leverage point at work and at home, people will motivate other people to change their behavior by treating them poorly.”If your behavior is not what I want, I will behave toward you in a threatening and cruel way.”

Leverage 3: Violence: Although not so common in functional relationships, perhaps the oldest way to get people to do what you want is to hurt them physically. It’s what people use when there is very limited communication or extremely low trust, as between warring clans of cavemen or with small children with limited understanding.”If you don’t stop that, I will spank you,” or between so-called adults, “If you don’t think this song is the greatest song ever, I will fight you.” (Ron Burgundy)

Whole books have been written about how to avoid people who use the “Being a Jerk” mode of leverage, like The No Asshole Rule. But avoidance is not the best strategy.Violence is right out.Money is the common denominator, but it’s still a weak way to deal with people.The big upshot: there is a better way.It’s about investing in relationships, not about other peoples’ behavior.