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Garbage Detection and Brilliance Spotting

Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More

“You can’t talk your way out of problems you behaved yourself into.”
—Stephen R. Covey

Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner in their book Teaching as a Subversive Activity recall this anecdote: “In the early 1960’s, an interviewer was trying to get Ernest Hemingway to identify the characteristics required for a person to be a “great writer.” As the interviewer offered various possibilities, Hemingway disparaged each in sequence. At last, frustrated, the interviewer asked, “Isn’t there any one essential ingredient that you can identify?” Hemingway replied, “Yes, there is. In order to be a great writer a person must have a built-in, shockproof crap detector.”

The ability to differentiate the beef from the baloney, the bull from the bull-pucky, the real from the apparent, is crucial for honest living in the present. Hemingway was not only bluntly astute about what makes a great writer, but also what makes a great human being engaged in this present moment. Developing the ability to recognize garbage can open up a new perception of being as we train our sensibilities to accurately interpret this moment.

Recognizing five levels of garbage, all of which qualify to be called manipulation, provide a key set of perceptual tools for garbage detection. Each shines light upon the misuse of influence on another’s behavior through coercion, half-truths and whole lies. A tactic revealed is a tactic defused. Equally valuable, as we’ll see, are the five levels of brilliance spotting.

The following five levels of garbage detection are proposed:

  • Flea garbage is criticism, foolish comments and disagreements that are petty, trivial and unimportant. Arguments and gratuitous slights fit here. The ego-mind makes up anything and everything to be right and have another who sees things differently wrong. Not too deep, huh?
  • Chicken garbage uses illogic to deny reasonable requests, such as being turned down for a rental because you haven’t rented before. This includes the uninspiring mindlessness found throughout modern life, such as being put on interminable hold over the phone and then being dropped, someone unnecessarily withholding needed information, and arrogant or mean-spirited behavior. Inequalities of every stripe, whether between the genders with caveman era paternalism, any “ism” and the prerogatives that come to the in-group at the expense of the out-group, or any form of “special interests,” happen here. Blowing up small missteps into huge pratfalls, minor misunderstandings into gargantuan errors, are characteristic of the awfulizing and catastrophizing behavior here.
  • Bull garbage, everyone’s favorite, includes all rule-bound and self-justifying behavior. Memos longer than one or two short paragraphs circulating in government, organizations and corporations qualify. Overly strict adherence to the “rules and regulations,” without being flexible, forgiving or human, give bean-counters and door-keepers almost unquestioned dictatorial powers to say, “yea” or “nay.” Nepotism, preference to friends and cronies as well as illegitimate forms of influence and everyday politics that are taken for granted as “business as usual.” At this level is found gross manipulation, such as mind- and heart-reading, laying on of guilt, using should’s and passive-aggressive strategies. Since its always been done like that, that’s the way to do it, obviously. All of this comes across as presumptuous, insulting and demeaning.
  • Elephant garbage is seen in the bastions of politics, advertising and soap operas as well as the news and entertainment medias. This level includes the disguised lies, deceptions and prejudices that are the stock in trade of illusion-makers selling us on the fairy tales we dearly want to believe are true. One cannot say enough about the almost complete absence of ethics, fair play, integrity and dignity. Anything to sell a product or service, and make a profit or gain power, is fair game.
  • Dinosaur garbage transcends time, space and society. All cruelty, abuse, neglect and unkindness along with misguided human evil, greed, selfishness and inhumanity operate on this level. It is as well known as martyrs throughout history and as globally indulged in as wars, violence and a throwaway world. Unenlightened self-interest is its theme song. This level probably originated with someone’s idea to cunningly control someone else, to the benefit of the former and the detriment of the latter.

All five levels of garbage involve undetected manipulation—it isn’t detected until after its arrow has found its mark on you, and you don’t even know what hit you! Manipulation is defined by purposeful, disguised behavior aimed to gain a specific advantage or result and no intention in actions to stay true and honest. The manipulator maximizes personal gain using the illegitimate influence of mind-control, image-management and strategic behavior. Manipulation appears to succeed for a time until we have become sensitized or trained to recognize it.

A good way to become aware of manipulation is to notice when you’re doing what someone else wants instead of what you want. Feeling vaguely uncomfortable, unsettled, disconnected and imbalanced maybe signs you’re being manipulated. Likewise for growing irritation, frustration and anger. Perceiving your life as out of order, unfitting or amiss are warnings. Also nervous, jumpy behavior of your own or someone else’s are worth noticing, putting you on manipulation alert. These are all important signals that you are probably being manipulated. But the critical factor is that you are allowing yourself to behave in a manner different than how you would normally and naturally perform in your life. Call this your inner meter on manipulation.

People are victimized, yet the role of being a victim of other people and outer circumstances is largely optional. No one “did it to me”, “came at me” or “made me” anything, barring criminal actions or catastrophic natural circumstances. The handle on this is the dreaded “to me’s, on me’s, at me’s, upon me’s and made me’s.” Once you are beyond the age of reason, approximately nine years old, and the above exceptions, life simply doesn’t work this way. There are set-up’s or “lead on’s” in life, that is, you are lead to say and act in the way the other party wants. Examples include someone using guilt, obnoxiousness or anger to be right or get their way. How you behave in the face of set-ups remains your choice.

The way out of manipulative stratagems is straight-forward, tough and rewarding: continually practice awakening to recognize manipulation. While lightly not acting on the impulse to react emotionally or behave in a destructive way, sometimes called acting out, consciously behave as you would have if you had not been unexposed to this attempted misuse of your free will or apparent choice.

Illustrations abound showing manipulative set-ups and how to steer clear of them. Rescripting, or re-perceiving and rewriting old ideas, images and decisions in a new, healthier way that is workable today, is crucial. You can rescript each manipulative scenario and visualize how you would behave in each situation without becoming ensnared in the set-up. A phone solicitor aims to convince you to switch your long-distance telephone services or health insurance, when you are perfectly pleased with your present ones. Rescript this by briefly stating you don’t conduct such business over the phone, you’re not interested or to send you further information.

Other examples: an advertiser wanting you to buy some product, such as cologne or toothpaste, with the message that you will attract a beautiful or handsome mate; or your children demand you buy them specific clothes, toys or games you don’t approve of buying. You can rewrite each of these by plainly translating the truth about ads or demands and by making your choice concerning products or services that meet your or your children’s needs.

One last illustration: a relative uses guilt to twist your arm so you visit more regularly. Consider briefly informing this individual of your preference and, if you wish, your rationale. The truth is that you and I have choices, no matter what and it’s important to know and honor them. The non-manipulated life belongs to you and can bear your unique mark.

The everyday give-and-take of social relationships provides trade-offs, that is, each alternative considered will benefit you and others in ways that produce different gains and losses. For example, to attend a business function may be good business, yet socially intimidating. To date a new person can be exciting, yet scary. Our choices reflect these trade-offs and the complexity of life. Sometimes we bend in other people’s directions and sometimes we hold true to our own direction. This is social balancing. Manipulation, on the contrary, infers little respect for choice or well-being.

Equally important as detecting garbage is to develop the mirror skill set of “brilliance spotting” that recognizes excellence and genius in any area of life. How do you do this? Whether in ideas, expression of feelings, relationship or actions, I propose that brilliance shines forth and can be detected using two criteria: experiencing exceptional insight, quality, excellence or admiration; as well as outcomes that contribute to effectiveness and productivity.

I know each is tremendously subjective and imbued with values, yet, when actively understood, these factors have been useful in spotting brilliance. Meeting solely the first factor yields wonderful ideas and experiences, but lacks follow through and making a difference in the world. Producing successful outcomes is impressive but not always admirable, especially if illegitimate, illegal or unethical means were used and the experiential process lacked excellence.

Who hasn’t come across the exceptional teacher, professor or seminar leader that embodies what they teach by practically injecting their ideas into productive work? Each educator empowers their students with tools for learning how to learn and produce wonderful results in the form of contributing individuals, effective consultation to business boosting productivity, and enhances our knowledge base through meaningful research. Possibility the greatest number of people inhabiting brilliance on one or more levels is the unsung heroes and heroines found operating as parents and marriage partners.

Similar to the levels of garbage, I propose the following five levels of brilliance spotting for you to identify and ever more fully embody. Seeing each level inspires one to rise to meet it.

  • Common sense is the uncommon capacity to make practical sense of everyday problems and effectively resolve them, such as turning off the utilities after a severe earthquake, showing others consideration and courtesy as well as closing the barn door before the horse has left the barn. When an animal walks like a duck, smells like a duck and sounds like a duck, such a person recognizes that it is highly probable that he or she is dealing with a duck.
  • Innate intelligences can be thought of as the untrained capacities and talents we naturally come with. This includes the entire range of intelligences as proposed by Howard Gardner in his book Frames of Mind: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic (such as mechanical and artistic), and personal (that is, emotional and social) intelligences.
  • Developed intelligences are taking your innate intelligences and educating, disciplining and refining them as well as building new capacities. These intelligences are built and developed.
  • Contributing genius is recognized major contributions to a field, while alive or after death. Henry Ford in business, Vincent Van Gogh in art, Abraham Lincoln in government and Albert Einstein in physics clearly quality. Simplicity may just be the clearest indicator of this level of brilliance. Einstein, having the highest respect for simplicity, perceives five progressive and ascending levels of intellect: “Smart, Intelligent, Brilliant, Genius, Simple.” Since it is the fictive ego that complicates matters, simplicity is remarkably apropos for people who help their fictive ego out of the way of their contributions to life.
  • Becoming a spirit is to take the previous levels and make them sacred by communing and living with God while engaged in your contributing actions. In this way you imprint, build and grow the Divine qualities, sentiments and virtues as your whole soul and become a spirit eternally with our Source.
Keep Reading By Author Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.
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