Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

I Go First

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

May 24, 2017

This essay, I Go First, is the sequel to to 100%: A New Paradigm For Relationship.

Before you can really empathize with people when they're upset, you have to first listen for what's behind their conceptualization  of their upset, so you can really get  what's going on for them. I said to her "Tell me exactly what you're upset about.". This is what she told me.

She said she hadn't heard from her children in quite a while. Like me, she's a new empty-nester. Her children had recently left to go to college, and she missed them. Nothing remarkable about that. She stayed in contact with them though, through the usual channels: phonecalls, Facebook, text-messaging, e-mail, Skype, and the occasional greeting card.


When she told me that, it suddenly occurred to me: people don't write letters  any more.

Wow! When did we stop writing letters? 


What upset her was her children (whom she loved very much, and who loved her very much) didn't reciprocate or respond to her with the same frequency as she did with them. She expected them to create the relationship  (as she was doing) more - at least with the same frequency as she did. When they didn't, she got upset. Her upset, I could tell, was rooted in one of the classic three components of any upset: she had an unfulfilled expectation  (the other two components, as Werner Erhard says, are a thwarted intention, and an undelivered communication). Furthermore she hadn't distinguished  it as an unfulfilled expectation.


Watch: an undistinguished  unfulfilled expectation has power to upset us. The same unfulfilled expectation that's distinguished as an unfulfilled expectation, has no power to upset us.


I told her I've had a similar experience, some of it with my own children, but most of it with my greater family. It's from my relationship with my greater family that I got what I wanted to share with her. I asked her if she'd mind if I shared my experience with her. She said she wouldn't, and asked me to proceed (my job therefore, had become a lot easier, given I knew she was listening).

I'm the custodian of our family tree. I don't just mean the family tree comprising my three children and their mother and me ie the five of us. I mean our greater  family tree ie the six hundred and fifty eight of us. When I took it over from my cousin John, he had painstakingly compiled it into a manually built tree chart which he maintained in one of the very earliest versions of Excel. Prior to that, it was extremely laborious to maintain. John's earlier work was for the most part stored in indexed envelopes stuffed with printed, handwritten, and photocopied pages and notes, a nightmare in the making whenever records needed to be edited (corrections), updated (deaths), added to (marriages / births), then re-distributed.

Our greater family tree currently documents only the six hundred and fifty eight people over seven generations. To be clear, it's too much of a gargantuan task to document everyone  in it. Meaning? Meaning I add in the people who marry into  our greater family tree, but if I also added in the people who are connected to them  ... well, pretty soon I'd have to include the entire human race, yes? That may be a project to take on at some later time. But for now at least, our greater family tree only tracks my paternal  roots. And while it shows people who marry into our family, it doesn't then include their branches as well. Even so, edits, updates, and additions require a lot of work, not to mention managing distributing the updated family tree to the estimated two hundred and sixty nine family members who are included in its distribution list.

Now here's my point of sharing all this with her: expressed as a percentage of the two hundred and sixty nine family members who are included in its distribution list, the number of responses, thanks, acknowledgements, and reciprocal communications I receive with each distribution of the updated greater family tree, is negligible. People get it, and they get all the work that goes into it. Yet don't say much about it, many times not even "Thank You!".

So why do it at all? I mean, why bother?  Now as it turns out, in the context of a transformed relationship, those aren't great questions to ask. Rather, "Is this worth it?", "Does this have value for people?", and (most importantly) "Can I stand for being source  in this matter without expecting anything in return?"  are great questions to ask. If all three of their answers are "Yes", then I go first ie I create the relationship (in this case, I create the greater family  relationship like a possibility), not expecting anything in return. But if just one of their answers is "No", then I shouldn't be doing it at all. As it happens, all three of their answers are "Yes.".

What's interesting to me is what she got immediately ie what opened up for her in her own situation with her children not reciprocating as often as she expected them to: she said she saw the problem was expecting her children to reciprocate more, and until then she'd said the problem was her children not reciprocating more. The difference between the two is both subtle and profound. She clearly got the problem was her expectation. Her children on the other hand, were simply being her children. And now she'd stopped blaming them.

"Congratulations!" I said, when she finally stopped talking and took a breath. "Many, many people have struggled longer and harder over that one, than you. And by the way" I continued, "it's not 'the truth'  that the problem is your expectation, rather than their minimal reciprocity. Rather, it's a powerful place to stand. It's a platform from which you can take responsibility for something, rather than be at the effect of something.".

I waited for her to speak more, but she didn't. So I asked her "What are you going to do now?", to which she replied "I'm going to write them a long e-mail, telling them how much I love them and how proud I am of them.". "And what if they don't respond in the way you expect them to respond?" I asked. "Then they won't respond in the way I expect them to respond.". "And  ... ???" I pressed. "And I'll love them anyway, and I'll continue creating the relationship with them anyway, and being in communication with them anyway. I go first - no problem" she said.

"No problem?"  I echoed, "Good girl!". Listen: nothing had changed except  a distinction had been made. Yet now she was living in an entirely new world. "Ah! the sublime power of making distinctions ..." I savored (my remark was only secondarily directed at her; primarily it was directed at nothing in particular). She didn't respond. But I noticed she was relaxed and smiling. That was enough for me.

Communication Promise E-Mail | Home

© Laurence Platt - 2017 through 2022 Permission