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

Straight Shooter

Summer Inn, University of California at Santa Barbara, Goleta, California, USA

July 27, 2012

This essay, Straight Shooter, is the companion piece to

For starters: in this conversation, the idea of the straight shooter's  communication doesn't equate to "saying what's on my mind".

If I tell the truth about it, I actually don't have much sway over what's on my mind, and neither do you  - and if you say you do  have sway over what's on your mind, then stop thinking  ...   Rather, when I refer to the straight shooter's communication, I'm referring to communicating simply and directly, not being overly concerned with making a good impression (or with making a bad impression, for that matter), not being overly concerned with being liked (or with not being liked) for saying whatever I'm saying, and not being overly concerned with saying the wrong  thing or saying the right thing.

If you've got something to say, then say it without dressing it up, without saying it in a way which leaves an out. Most things are best said directly. In the end, in spite of some possible initial trepidations, that's the most appreciated way to say things.

Private Life

Recently a couple I vaguely know, invited me to have dinner with them at their home. They were entertaining friends and they wanted me to join them - they thought I would be a good fit with the group. Ordinarily I enjoy nothing better than being with people. The thing is I didn't know this couple well - at least, not yet. So spending an evening with them, and especially spending an evening with their friends whom I'd never met, would be tantamount to spending an evening in company in whom I didn't yet know if I wanted to invest my time.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not averse to meeting new people - the evidence of my life shows that's far from it. But given what I had on my plate, it wasn't a high priority invitation for me. I thanked the couple for their kind invitation, and declined.

Did it end there? Oh no. They insisted. They said it would be great. They wanted their friends to meet me. And I started to notice I was being drawn in. I started to notice "No"  was becoming harder to say. I started to notice where they had me was I didn't want to offend  them by saying "No" - which could eventually verge on me saying "Yes"  even though I didn't want to go.

I explained my priorities to them (that was a mistake because it actually was none of their business). Then I said I was "probably busy" that evening. Then I tried suggesting they ask someone else who may appreciate the chance to meet new people (weak, and patronizing). Nothing worked. No matter what I said, they came back insisting I come. I could tell they weren't going to let up until I did.

What it finally took was something I've only recently become adept at. "Thank you, but no" I said. Then I added "If you expect me to come, you will be disappointed. I'll be happy to meet with you one on one sometime. But I will not be coming to your gathering. And I appreciate you asking me.".

What's interesting is they got something new like a possibility  out of our exchange. No, they didn't get what they wanted  out of our exchange. But to their credit, they did get something new. "You're direct. You're a straight shooter. We like that about you" they said. "I appreciate you noticing" I said.

Business Life

A woman I know is doing very well in a new business. It's the kind of business which is sometimes unfairly characterized as multi-level marketing. That's not what it really is. There are some bona fide  business opportunities out there which do involve multi-level distribution and sales, a lot of them in fact. This was one of them - but it's minus the Ponzi scheme  overtones. She and I were engaged in a conversation about her life and our children and their lives. I was enrolled in her conversation, in the middle of which she told me about her new business and asked my permission to send me some samples and an introductory sales kit.

Now here's the thing: I really was enrolled in her conversation about her life and our children and their lives. And knowing the victory it is for her to have a business which works, I celebrated it with her. Who wouldn't? But I'm not interested in starting a new business venture myself. I'm neither looking at nor lacking in that regard. Her family conversation enrolled me. Glommed together  as it was with her business conversation, the two were almost one and the same. If I said "Yes" to her family conversation, could I say "No" to her business conversation? If I declined her business offer, would I be besmirching her family?

I did have the thought she may have intended that as leverage (Hey! Isn't leverage what business is all about?) ... but I let it go. Rather than being the truth, it was simply my interpretation of her intention. Yet neither did I intend to take any time with her offer of a business opportunity. So, without explanation, apology, or preface, I answered her question directly: "No. Do not send me any samples or the introductory sales kit.".

Not "I'll try them.". Not "OK, I'll read the material.". Not "Tell me more.". Just "No.".

I won't offer my opinion about what she felt  when I declined her offer. We all know when we make offers, they may either be declined or they may be accepted - that's also what business is all about, yes?

But she did get my "No". And it diminished neither her business conversation nor her conversation about her life and our children and their lives. The truth is people can get me saying "No" just as they can get me saying "Yes". The thing is to be straight about it.

Another's Life

He was wrestling with his decision to go on vacation in Africa, an extended vacation actually which might last months, even years. It had taken him a lot of time and careful planning to put it all together, to obtain all the required visas, to get all the vaccinations and boosters he needed, to do research into non‑hostile routes on which to travel, and much more. He had been planning it for a year and was so excited about it, it was palatable.

About a month before he was about to leave, he met a nice girl. He told her about his travel plans. Now he and I are sitting here drinking frappuccinos  as he pours out his heart. He's fallen in love with her. He doesn't want to go anymore. Although he didn't want to let anything get in the way of his plans, he's done exactly that. Now he doesn't want to leave her. And she, given her commitments, can't go to Africa with him. He's at an impasse - and he's about to give up his life's dream and everything he's so carefully planned.

We talk about it. - back and forth, back and forth, on the one hand this, on the other hand that. I have no vested interest in what transpires or in what he decides. I do, however, have a vested interest in him getting certainty about what he'll choose to do. Where he seems to be stuck is at "I shouldn't have done this" (ie fallen in love with her). "I knew I was going to leave when I started with her. I thought I could handle it.". I can tell he's distraught - torn, in fact.

Eventually after an hour or more of back and forth, I ask him "Well? Are you going, or not?". And he says "Of course I'm going. This is what I've always wanted to do. It just sucks  that she should come into my life just as I'm about to leave. And now I have to deal with these feelings  I have for her and about leaving her.".

I'm about to start a new conversation with him, about to go down a new track with him, a track about intentionality as distinct from feelings. Briefly (very briefly, but briefly nonetheless) I think it may be of some use to him in figuring out his dilemma. But I stop. We've been at this for an hour or more, and so far nothing at all has shifted. So instead I say "Yes, it does  suck ... and  ... you'll go through it.". That's all I say. Then I stop talking and just watch him.

* * *

I can tell by looking at his now no longer anguished face that he gets it. Maybe he doesn't like  it. But he does get it. He gets it from one straight communication, from one moment of straight communication in an hour or more of other attempts to resolve his dilemma, which went nowhere.

Werner Erhard And The Straight Shot

There's the story about a man who wanted to improve his chess. So he went to study with a chess champion.

He learned the Ruy Lopez and he learned the King's Indian. And after he learned those two new moves, he noticed he didn't win any more games than he usually did.

So he went to study with a grandmaster.

He learned to queen side castle  early, and he learned to set up an en passant. Yet neither did knowing those two new strategies give him an edge to win any more games than he usually did.

So he went to study with Werner Erhard.

And he learned to develop his pawns.

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