Monthly Archives: February 2013

Feedback

When it comes to feedback, it feels better to give than receive.

Big Loud Mean Voice: No shit Sherlock!

Well, it’s good to know she’s still around. By the way when I say things in BLMV at home my partner now teases the shit out of me. He delights in wagging his finger and saying how I’m not much of a reformed asshole after all and be sure to put that in my blog. (done!) My daily pledge to remain non-violent stands, but back to feedback.

When it comes to critiques & questions, it feels far better to give than receive. I bless you all with pearls of hard-won wisdom, see how easy it is to give? Receiving feedback, no matter how well-intentioned, is very challenging. “Beware the trolls!” my friends say, pfft, I say, I fear not trolls.

BLMV: I AM the asshole the trolls should fear!

I then tun off the comments section on my blog. I suck at receiving feedback. Until recently I just criticized myself first, I was my #1 critic, that’s how BLMV got lots of experience and mileage. If, heaven forbid, you had a criticism that was valid I’d puff up and bluster like no one’s business.

When you are a puffed up asshole people are afraid to give you feedback, especially about when you are an asshole, so to turn the tide you have to ask for feedback. At first, no one will dare tell you anything is wrong, ever. They are scared of you. Remember the last time you bullied someone into silence or showed them up?

BLMV: YA, it was fucking HILARIOUS!

it kind of was…I mean…

One thing that seems to work at opening the lines of communication is to model giving feedback. Start with positive feedback, it’s easier and if you screw it up, because let’s face it, you don’t do this a lot, people will take it well anyway. I find it easiest to give positive feedback when it is genuine and timely. Right away if you can manage it. If this is hard you may actually have to plan to give positive feedback. Try one person a day. My eldest son is scheduled on Monday so he often get’s the “hey, you smell not bad today”. Yes, a teenager smelling neutral is positive, and yes, if you are a big asshole you will need to set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind yourself to give positive feedback to a person.

Once you knock a few genuine thank you type feedbacks out of the park you can start cutting your teeth on the doozies, the dreaded constructive feedback. My favourite is explaining the feedback rule to people. If someone asks you for feedback, give it, otherwise keep it to yourself! That is really, really hard to do.

I walk down the street and want to tell people not to keep their mouth in the “I just ate cat shit” position but they aren’t asking for my feedback so I shut the fuck up.

When people do ask for your feedback, admit it if you are not good at doing it, takes the weirdness down by about a thousand notches. Ask for time to compose your feedback, ask why they want feedback, get the lay of the land. Now this is the hardest part, imagine you are going to receive this feedback, how would you feel?

BLMV: WOW, you just had an empathetic moment, take a picture, blog about it.

Then do it. Try giving positive feed back 10 times more often than constructive feedback. ya, 10 times. Turns out people are so impacted by negative stuff you need 10 times the nice messaging for it to penetrate. So get out there and tell someone they are smart, funny, witty and only tell them their grammar and spelling sucks on the tenth time. I’m waiting…get on it!

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care for a living thing

One way to be less of an asshole is to start caring for living things other than yourself, this is called “nurturing”, not to be confused with the tone of this post, that’s called “patronizing”. Assholes are patronizing & self-centred so by looking outwards you can slowly, gently, begin to shift your focus out, a little bit. Be nice to yourself here, this is hard, way harder than even being nice to yourself so that’s saying something.

Now, if you are way down the asshole spectrum don’t start with a mammal or a reptile or even a fish or an insect. If you are more than say, 90% asshole, you need to set yourself up for success, start with a plant. Maybe try sprouting a carrot top then move on to a houseplant. Don’t pick a fussy houseplant, try something easy, like a spider plant. If you have any friends (remember this part is for folks who self-identify as 90% asshole so friends may be a little scarce on the ground, don’t worry, one day we’ll talk about friends) they may be looking to give away plants or, this time of year, there are lots of houseplants in your favourite community classifieds for cheap or free. The dang things are alive and one day you may need to gift the offspring before the foliage comes after you in a Day of the Triffids nightmare.

day of the triffeds

For those of us assholes who are capable of watering a plant on a semi regular basis you know the dangers of too much love. Admit it, the leaves all turned brown and your first plant died because you over watered it, another dried out to a husk due to utter neglect. That’s why you start with a plant, it limits the ethical problems of your broken love and commitment issues.

Big Loud Mean Voice (BLMV): For the love of all that is good and green on this earth do not start with a cat or a dog!

She has a point, it may seem like a good idea but seriously, nothing brings out your asshole side more than a cat who shit in your shoe or a dog who ate your couch. Start small. Maybe volunteer at an animal shelter or be a respite foster volunteer, or just donate some food and money until you nail this caring for a potted plant thing.

This is where I need to warn you, once one plant actually thrives in your care you will want more. Just looking at green things improves mental health.

BLMV: There are studies, go find them yourself, I’m not your mother!

It really does. Next thing you find yourself learning which way your windows face and what plants will survive. You might even be compelled to help plant trees and other things that nice people do, with others. You may even make some friends and they don’t know you are an asshole so bring your A game and give being slightly less of a curmudgeon a try.

Now here’s the problem, you likely already have living things in your care. A pet or a person and I know you are thinking “I fucking killed the PLANT!” but don’t worry, your patronizing asshole friend is here to say I did it and you can too.

Make one new commitment to care better for your living thing right now. Walk the dog, brush the cat, make the coffee, well, maybe buy the coffee supplies, let’s stay realistic. Afterall, success really counts here when we move beyond plants and the ethical implications of neglect are not funny.

Do it again tomorrow and once it’s easy, try adding something else. One day you may wake up and realise you are a bit better partner to your beloved, a better parent, a better pet owner and a little less of an asshole.

teacup planters

Hey Asshole, get out of your car!

One sure-fire way for me to channel my inner asshole is to drive. Clearly, I possess the skills of Mario Andretti (I don’t really know who that is but you probably do sense he was a good driver, yay pop culture) and the rest of you are simply obstacles in my way. I rage at the poor driving skills, the lack of signalling, failure to yield to pedestrians and outright ignorance of proper behaviour at four-way intersections.

Big Loud Mean Voice (BLMV): HEY! I’m on the right, you didn’t get here first! <insert stream of profanities even I won’t post>

Sometimes my window is down, I have no shame. I am a parody of an angry driver. Worse yet, I am a nervous passenger who tramps on imaginary pedals, winces, sighs and is generally unpleasant. I try to hide this from my friends but my beloved partner knows all too well my shortcomings, the facade, once broken, is hard to repair. This, my friends, is the epitome of asshole behaviour I try to mitigate against.

These bad habits are so ingrained, one of the only successful methods I have for changing is to get out of the car all together. I started walking, almost everywhere. The first thing I noticed is that it only took me an extra 20 minutes to get to work. Traffic at rush hour makes the 5 minute drive 15 and since I’ve been walking I’ve even gotten a bit faster, although, even now, I saunter along at a 4km/hr pace.

Suddenly I had time to ramp up for work while going through the park. People smile at me. I know the guy at the Horton’s near the tracks will ask me for change only on the way home, he knows I never leave the house with cash. I see the window displays in the boutiques, I smell the bread baking, bacon frying. I am in the moment and I am ok. Feeling lonely? I pop in my ear buds and call my grandmother or sister or parents and chat about the weather. I never seemed to have the time to call often before. Now, there’s a whole hour a day up for grabs and my extended family is scheduling themselves accordingly. It puts me in a better mood. I still get a flash of anger when splashed by the bus or nudged by a car that didn’t “see” me walking, in a cross walk, with the light.

BLMV: Hey! I pay taxes! yield, you’re supposed to YIELD!

I live in a city and close to work so this makes walking an easy choice. I also moved closer to where both my partner and I work, the extra cost of rent is nothing compared to the cost of paying for parking for either of us or a second car. The moments of mindfulness, living in the moment, have really enhanced my wellbeing.

Now I have my whole family onboard with walking more. On the weekends we walk to the movies, brunch at our favourite restaurant and shop at all the awesome nerdy places, like the comic book store. We play “parallel world” trivia (Imagine a world where dinosaurs are the ruling species. What food do humans eat on their birthdays? Defend) We laugh, we wrestle. I’m a lot less grumpy when I don’t have to look for parking. Such a small thing has a huge impact on my well-being, my budget, my family life and the environment.

What change have you done that had unexpected benefits?

You start by being nicer to yourself

Brace yourself, big shock, really hard to be nice if you are an asshole to yourself. This took me about 10 years to discover. If you’ve ever done therapy or support group type things the advice they tell you is to re-write all the negative messages you give yourself. This is hard. I mean, ridiculously hard, because of course when you catch yourself saying mean things in your head you follow-up with a little insult. For me it typically goes like this:

Big Loud Mean Voice (BLMV): Well, no one cares what you have to say so why start a blog, idiot.

Quiet Doubting Voice (QDV): ah fuck, I am so mean, I need to stop beating myself up.

BLMV: See, can’t even do that right

QDV: Crap

BLMV: delete that, stupid

And on and on it goes, all day long, so you get lots of practise, skads of practise. In fact, you get so good at being your own number one critic it makes it really easy to do that to other people. Next thing you know you’re saying Big Mean Loud Voice out loud, to other people, because they too can benefit from your wisdom.

BLMV: I can’t beleive she said that, what an idiot.

This, my friends, is how one can become quite an asshole. I remind myself that this was my number one way of interacting with the world when I was a teen. Being catty and mean meant I had less time to turn that inward. So I try to be compassionate to others when they say mean things to me, I once was Queen of Meandom, now I just travel through from time to time.

I hadn’t realised I had changed until a friend, a few years back, stated I was the nicest person she knew.

Pardon? NO, not me, I’m really mean, actually. I flushed red, embarrassed. She insisted that I did things that nice people did, like complement others, smile, hug and laugh. Turns out, along the way of fighting my depression and inner critic, I’d become a bit nicer to others too. Huh.

BLMV: took you long enough

Ok, so BLMV is still,like, 10% of my inner voice and, sometimes, she is fucking HILARIOUS. Some of my best laughs come from her, but she’s only funny in small doses. When Big Loud Mean Voice is your whole world, life is dang depressing and awful.

Speaking with another friend (I have lots of amazing people in my life, I’ve fooled them into thinking I’m not a total asshole) about my whole self compassion thing she said I was a Buddhist. I laughed. Buddhists are nice people and I’m only just starting to be nice so I couldn’t imagine that they would be up for an asshole to hang out with. After a few months though, I read about Buddhism and a central theme seems to be compassion, for yourself, and others. So I’m going to go hang with some this afternoon. Maybe their niceness will rub off on me.