Three Painful Modes of Communication

Much of classic Chinese thought holds that human nature is originally good.  For example, take the first line from the “Three Character Classic,” a text which summarizes the teachings of Confucianism for children: 人之初,性本善 (People at birth are naturally good).

But if we’re so good, why are there so many ‘bad’ people out there?  The next line gives us a hint: 性相近,习相远 (Our natures are similar, but our habits make us different).  In this post, I want to talk about some of our habitual modes of communication which tend to take us away from our natural state of ‘goodness’ and bring us ever more pain and suffering.

The following three commonly used forms of communication are highly likely to lead to defensiveness and resistance from anyone (including yourself), making it more difficult to get in touch with our natural state of benevolence described by ancient Chinese wisdom.

1. Moralistic Judgments

“He’s such a jerk.” “You’re not cut out for this.” “I’m so stupid!”  Labels, criticism, insults are all forms of judgment.  On a theoretical level, all labels are inherently inaccurate because they don’t take things like relativity and constant change into consideration (this is why our Daily Zen program focuses on observing rather than judging or labeling).

But on a practical level, judgments can take

ve, which will make it ever more difficult to come to a mutually beneficial outcome.

2. Making Comparisons

It's all apples and oranges (and bananas)

It’s all apples and oranges (and bananas)

“I wish my Tai Chi form looked as cool as his.” “I’m way prettier than she is.”  ”I liked my old boss better.” Comparisons are another form of judgment.  If you’d like to experience the negative power of making comparisons, try out the following exercise:

  • At age 29, Mark Zuckerberg had a net worth of over $25 billion.  How much were you worth at that age?  Ponder on the difference
  • Ate age 12, Jet Li won his first National Wushu Championship, where he competed against the best athletes from all over China.  How were your martial skills at age 12?  Compare them with Jet’s.
  • At age 8, Mozart composed his first symphony, which I’ve embedded below.  Listen to the song and think about your proudest achievement at the same age.

After trying this exercise, how are you feeling?  Let that feeling guide your future decisions about making comparisons.

3. Denial of Responsibility

We are responsible for all our thoughts, feelings, and actions, but much of our language attempts in vain to free us from that responsibility.  One of the biggest perpetrators of this kind of language is statements involving the phrase “have to.”  For example, “I have to go to work,” “You have to do your homework.”

When we speak this way to ourselves or others, whoever we’re speaking to only has two choices: to submit or rebel.  If that person rebels, they won’t do the thing they ‘have to’ do.  If they submit, they’ll do it, but with an energy of negativity and resentment.

 In summary, if you’d like to be happy, you might be better off leaving moralistic judgments, comparisons, and language that denies responsibility out of your vocabulary.

Admittedly, it’s hard to do a don’t.  I’ll write another post soon on some alternatives to these negativity inducing forms of communication.

What has been your experience with communication like this?  Do you enjoy being judged, compared, or blamed?  Tell us your stories in the comments section.


About Eric

I'm a positive psychology nerd and I help develop the Daily Zen content for the Online Academy. I'm also an aspiring actor in China, and spend my free time getting beat up by the good guys in movies and TV shows.

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