Archive for November, 2012

Meeting my Anonymous Friend

In my post, Gifts from an Unknown Artist, I described the artful arrangement of natural items along a wooded path I like to walk.  Each time I walk along the river, someone has come before me, arranging limbs artistically, ornamenting a bare branch with pine cones or petals, or draping a flower or branch of berries over a stump.

On a recent walk, I stopped to photograph a red rosebud on a stump surrounded by a heart shaped arrangement of bark.  A passing dog walker said he had just seen the woman who creates this art.  Later, while noticing another of her creations, a different dog walker said the artist was up ahead on the path, and,  “If you hurry, you might catch up with her.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to catch up with her.  Over the past year, I had intuited a great deal about this person and her work.  What if I didn’t like her?  What if she turned out to be shallow and was doing these things for a joke?  I didn’t want to risk disappointment.

Well, now I knew this artist was indeed a woman, and I had been certain of that. Although I thought it could be a hormonal teenager, I was sure most of the time that the artist was a woman in her forties.  I saw her as someone who had design in her blood; she couldn’t help arranging beautiful things wherever she went.  Did I want to know if I was mistaken?

I wanted to slow down to avoid meeting this person, but I was walking with a friend who was anxious to meet the artist.  We came around a stand of trees to find a woman in her forties.  We greeted her and spoke for a bit.  Except for looking far different than I had imagined, her personality was pretty much as I had imagined.  Meeting her turned out to be a good experience and I was able to express appreciation for her creations.

As she talked to us, her gaze was drawn here and there to the trees, stumps, leaves and branches.  She seemed to be sizing up design elements.  As soon as we left her, she was arranging branches and pinecones.  I guess she is a compulsive designer.

I was not so happy to learn that one of the dog walkers in the area enjoys knocking over this woman’s artistic arrangements.  He thinks they are a menace to his dog.  Really?  I wonder what kind of dog’s well being is threatened by a rosebud on a stump.

Asked about this, the woodland design artist shrugged as if to say, “Not my concern.”   Obviously the anti-artist is not keeping up with her creations, as something new is revealed each time I walk that path.

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Can you reason with a predator?

If you want someone to comply with your wishes you can ask them and perhaps negotiate a compromise with them.  In an enlightened interaction, this can work beautifully.  But if you have tried it in a less-than-enlightened relationship with, say a teenager or a domineering coworker, then you are probably still seething about their failure to respond to reason.

Amy Sutherland has written a wisdom-packed book called What Shamu Taught Me About Life Love and Marriage. Sutherland applied what she learned from animal trainers at SeaWorld and other places to her close relationships.  She found their conditioning methods effective in influencing others without nagging or arguing.

Conditioning is considered manipulative in human relationships, but humans are animals, after all.  We assume that language is the most straightforward way to communicate with others, but it is my experience (and Sutherland’s) that people are far more responsive to physical cues.

The lessons Sutherland learned are worth considering in any relationship, and can be very powerfully applied to relationships with difficult, dominating or controlling people.

Animal trainers working with elephants or giant killer whales cannot simply dominate the animals without serious danger of paybacks.  This is similar to relationships with people who have power over you.  The intelligent person does not beat an elephant; neither does she push the company CEO aside to get on the elevator first.  Influence is achieved by positive reinforcement only.

Not surprisingly, this sort of enlightened approach to training has been found to work with all animals, even those we could easily dominate.  All respond best when not dominated but influenced with positive reinforcement.  The enlightened animal trainer neither dominates nor allows himself to be dominated.

A critical rule for safety in influencing animal behavior is: do not act like prey around predators.  Certain behaviors register in a big cat’s mind as prey behavior; such as falling or stooping.  An animal trainer learns never to engage in these behaviors in close proximity to a big cat.

This is the direction my coaching often takes and is also a strategy of martial arts and self defense training.  Do not act weak or vulnerable around those who are waiting to take advantage of the weak and vulnerable.  Develop a strong state of being that makes you appear to be a lot of work for anyone who would attack you.

Unfortunately, it is not always obvious which humans are predatory.  Be watchful of anyone whose interactions with you leave you confused or give you a stomach ache.  And you can avoid dating people with violent criminal histories or protection orders filed against them.   But most people you meet don’t share their criminal histories or regale you with stories about how they manipulated their friends and coworkers.

The human animal can also dissemble and follow attacks with disclaimers, like the husband who follows violence with flowers.  We often give this behavior the benefit of the doubt for a while.  Many of us naively believe in, and appeal to, the predator’s better nature for awhile before we discover that she doesn’t have one.

Rather than identifying predators, my lion tamer advice would be to avoid acting like prey in all situations.  Develop and maintain strong posture. Stay centered and grounded and aware of your physical body.  Confide only in people who have proven trustworthy.

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryantaylorphotography/6782702649/”>RyanTaylor1986 via http://photopin.com”>photopin</a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/