Archive for February, 2009

The Black Bag Gang

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

(A short story by Ned B. Johnson)

Louis Cabrillo was a world class slob and proud of it. He had spent his entire adult life perfecting the art of slovenliness and his time had not been wasted. He had never owned a vacuum cleaner, nor mop, nor broom. His uninterrupted years of bachelorhood had allowed him to practice diligently the art of untidiness and he devoted himself to that task with the ardent enthusiasm of a child at play. While he did make occasional contributions to the cause of cleanliness–after all, even he had his limits–they were minimal; he almost invariably carried out the garbage within a few days after it began to irritate his nostrils and washed dirty dishes fairly soon after he had run out of clean ones. Other than that, his record was spotless.

There were many advantages to this lifestyle, according to Louie. Being a solitary man by temperament, he eschewed visitors whenever possible. This was not difficult when one lived in the kind of filth and squalor that permeated Chez Louis. If they were persistent enough, he even allowed the odd person to visit, resting safely in the knowledge that, having seen (and smelled) his domicile, they would not insist on a return engagement.

Only once had a burglar broken a window and entered his home. The footprints in the living room dust cover showed that the intruder had taken only a few steps before stopping. The exaggerated length of the steps returning to the broken window revealed the haste of his retreat. Upon returning home, Louie laughed as he read this account of the break-in. His only regret was that he hadn’t been there watching from the shadows. He would have given anything to have seen the expression of revulsion on the would-be thief’s face as he scanned the surroundings with his flashlight. This image so amused Louie that he didn’t even mind paying to have the window replaced. He really would have to get around to sweeping up the remaining shards of glass some day, as soon as he got a broom.

The irony of his domestic delinquency was that he was by profession a janitor. Certain details of Louie’s formative years may be helpful in resolving this paradox. He was raised by a grandmother who gave new meaning to the terms obsessive and compulsive. In the decade before her death, when Louie was 18, failing health forced her to rely on her grandson to express her compulsiveness. During that entire decade, she hounded Louie relentlessly about all manner of cleaning duties. Her perfectionism being without bound, Louie graduated Magna Cum Laundry from her private school of household drudgery. He was her finest and only student.

Louie, on the other had, endured her constant badgering for only two reasons: when he was younger, he was afraid she would put him out on the streets if he did not do precisely as she wished, a not entirely unwarranted fear; later, as her health gradually deteriorated, he came to realize that she would not last forever and that when she finally went to her eternal reward (which he sincerely hoped would be spent in a celestial land fill) she would leave her only surviving relative, one Louis B. Cabrillo, all her earthly possessions. He was never quite certain just how much that was, but he was sure it was plenty. After all, his grandfather had left her a comfortable home completely paid for and she never seemed to want for cash. And the, of course, there was her porcelain collection which he had discovered, quite by accident one day, was insured for over $100,000.

Yes, Louie was confident that when the old mob-monger finally punched out, he would be sitting pretty. Once he even considered giving her a little boost but realized, much to his surprise, that he was actually quite fond of the old girl in spite of himself. After all, when he was abandoned by his mother after his father died, no one else had offered to take him in and he was still grateful to her for interceding on his behalf, thus sparing him many hideous years in orphanages and foster homes. He had decided to just put up with her for as long as it took. It was certain to be worth it.

Well, you can imagine his dismay when, after waiting so long and at such a price, she left him only the house and furnishings but bequeathed the prized porcelain collection to the A.S.P.C.A. for research into feline AIDS (no case of which had ever been reported).. Immediately after the reading of the will he pawned a number of items, including all five vacuum cleaners, to finance a week long Tokay orgy.

In the years since then, he had reveled in the utter absence of anything that resembled household maintenance. It was his way of getting even with her. Actually, he would have preferred to live in a modicum of orderliness but he just couldn’t bring himself to lift a finger. Not in this house. He had long since decided that if it ever got so bad he simply couldn’t stand it, he would just sell the house and move on.

Once she died, however, Louie had to find work in order to support himself and, being virtually unequipped for anything else, he had reluctantly allowed himself to market his only asset: his not inconsiderable prowess as a cleaner of human environs. He had been a janitor ever since and was considered the Matisse of Maintenance by employers and peers alike. In some odd way Louie enjoyed the prestige of his professional stature.

One evening Louie was called upon to stand in for an entire crew who had been marooned by a landslide on their way from Oak Ridge School to the Flannery Building downtown. The boss called Louie at 10:30 on Wednesday, his regular night off, and begged him to test himself by attempting to clean the entire Flannery Building single-handedly by start of business Thursday. There was a big bonus in it for him even if he failed and a larger one if he succeeded. Louie couldn’t resist the chance to flaunt his talent and said that he would be on the job in half an hour.

He worked feverishly throughout the night and escaped detection the next morning only by taking the stairs down from the third floor as the first wave of workers were riding the elevator up. He was exhausted but strangely elated. No one else could have pulled it off, he boasted to himself on the way home. No one in all the civilized world. He had cleaned the impossible clean and lived to tell the tale.

When he arrived home, he was a little groggy and failed to notice, as he turned the key in the front door, that it was already unlocked. It was not until he had walked halfway down the entry hall toward the kitchen, not until he felt his steps slowing involuntarily, not until he raised his eyes by inches that he realized something was terribly wrong. Suddenly he was wide awake, Orphan Annie eyes flickering about incredulously, jaw hanging limp as a wet dish rag.

“I must be in the wrong house,” he mumbled to himself unconsciously. “This can’t be my house.” But as he gazed about him there was little doubt that this was indeed his house. Everything was just as he had left it, everything that is except his precious filth. No matter how hard he looked, and for the first half hour that’s all he did, he could find nothing in the entire house that was not appallingly spotless. Every time he entered a new room he expected to interrupt Dr. Welby in mid-brain-surgery.

To say that Louie was stunned would be like saying a man up to his waist in boiling oil was uncomfortable. His life, not to mention his life-style, was shattered. A decade of filth, grime scum and all manner of corruption was gone not just from this house, but to all appearances from the earth herself. It was a catastrophe of biblical proportions and it had Louie on the ropes.

Finally he collapsed on a chair in the kitchen completely exhausted and desolate. It was then that he noticed a note stuck to the dazzlingly white door of the refrigerator. He staggered over and pulled it off. After making his way back to the chair, he sat at the table and read.


Dear Homeowner:

Your home has been selected for cleaning (or in your case perhaps decontamination is a better word). We have taken the liberty of straightening up a bit while you were out. We are tired of living in a city where dirt, filth and clutter are allowed to prevail in so many homes and have determined to take action to fight this disgusting blight. Your home was chosen randomly and it was obvious the moment we walked in that it was the very kind of situation that our group was formed to wipe out. We will tolerate no more of this kind of slovenliness and will be back to check-up on you periodically. If we find that you have allowed things to fall into disrepair, we will set them right and remove such articles from your home as may be necessary to provide our workers a fair wage for their efforts. Please do not force us to do this as we have a terrible backlog already and would just a soon not have to bother.

We had to call in a full crew to accomplish the prodigious feat of servicing your house. For that reason our fee is unusually high (actually it is the highest we have ever charged). We can only hope that you will appreciate our efforts and trust that you will do what is necessary to prevent us from making another trip.

You will notice that one of the solid silver candlesticks formerly stored in the hall closet is missing. We feel that this will barely cover our expenses but then we aren’t in it for the money. We hope never to have to deal with you again, that is unless you insist.


Best Regards,

The Black Bag Gang


P.S. As you may have discovered already, there are 14 garbage bags stacked outside the back door. These we expect you to dispose of appropriately. We would have done it ourselves but we simply had neither the time nor the rolling stock needed to haul all the refuse we collected. Sorry for the inconvenience but we hope you will appreciate the uniqueness of your particular situation.


“Jeezus,” moaned Louie, “Jeezus H. Christ! What the hell is going on here? Has that old sadist returned from the grave to haunt me? Naw, couldn’t be. Not after all this time.”

He sat in dazed silence for several minutes before his brain waves abandoned the Flat-Line Asana. It was then he realized that his favorite indoor sport was in all likelihood at an end. No more empty pizza boxes stacked on the kitchen counter; no more dirty socks artfully strewn up and down the hallways; it was the end of scummy toilets, tubs and sinks; or was it?

What if they were bluffing? What if they were just trying to con him? He would have to find out. Yes, they might beat him but they weren’t going to do it so easily, not a on a bluff at least. They’d have to put their mop where their mouth was and he would see to it that they worked their pristine little butts off in the process.

Then and there he got up and rushed out the back door. Well, at least they weren’t bluffing about one thing; there were 14 garbage bags stacked neatly in a three tiered pyramid. He carried them two at a time into the kitchen and when there was no more room there, he put the rest in the living room. By the time he had brought them all into the house, Louie was feeling quite exhilarated. He had not only recovered from the initial shock, but he knew exactly what he was going to do about it.

He dragged two bags upstairs and began dumping them with glee on the floor, bathroom counters and furniture. He developed his own techniques as he went about his work. He tried various grips on the bags in combination with assorted motions trying to achieve the desired effect. In the end, he had learned to replace the trash with such skill, such loving craftsmanship that it looked almost as if it had been there for years rather than minutes.

By the time the last bag was emptied and the last corner desecrated, Louie was barely able to stagger up the stairs to the bedroom. He sank into bed with a sigh so eloquent, so heart felt, so deep that it may still be warbling on. In seconds he was sound asleep with the vestiges of a contended smile still lingering on his thin lips.

For over a week Louie returned home anxiously after his nightly endeavors only to find no trace of the Black Bag Gang. He had almost forgotten them by the end of the second week. It wasn’t until the third week that he returned home bone weary after a particularly hard night of spit and polish to find the front door slightly ajar. He knew that they’d been back.

He rushed in and sure enough, Dr. Welby was back, this time with an entourage of interns trailing behind him like frosty white goslings. He tried to ignore the appalling sanitation as he made his way down the entry hall into the kitchen and directly to the refrigerator. There on the door he found the expected note.


Dear Mr. Cabrillo:

We are deeply disturbed at your recalcitrant attitude as demonstrated by your utter lack of appreciation for our initial efforts. As you can plainly see, we are quite earnest about our crusade for a cleaner American home and we implore you to take us more seriously. We mean business and are not the least discouraged by your contempt for our efforts to improve your living situation.

You will notice that the mate to the candlestick we collected on our last visit is now also missing. Next time, if there is one, we will feel entitled to a bonus of no inconsiderable value to fairly compensate us for the extraordinary demands of rendering your little sewer again inhabitable. For now, a word to the wise….


The Black Bag Gang


P.S. You will find no garbage bags out back this time. Since all you seem interested in doing is replacing all that pollution, we came prepared and have carted it all away. We are ready and able to continue this war as long as you are and even to escalate it if necessary. You will learn to honor our requests and your own best interests.


This time, more because of the note than the cleaning, Louie was incensed. “How dare they hold me ransom in my own house? Just who the hell do they think they are? Who do they think they’re dealing with? I’ll make them sorry they ever darkened [or was it lightened?] my door.”

He stayed up all the next day and his night off formulating a plan to defeat them once and for all. He decided to draw on his years of experience in the janitorial arts to contrive the most disgusting and difficult cleaning jobs ever devised with which to fill his house. Since he no longer had his years of accumulated trash and grit, he would have to improvise.

Louie was determined to make this a masterpiece of slime, stain and clutter. Every closet and cupboard was emptied and its contents scattered about. Bubble gum and candle wax was ground into every carpet in the house; stains of indelible ink decorated every piece of upholstered furniture; the kitchen sink was filled with broken eggs which, though it would take a few days, would have buzzards fleeing the North American continent by the thousands; he saved the coupe de gras for last–he spent one entire day writing, “A neat house is the sign of a sick mind,” in blood-red lipstick hundreds of times on the ceilings of every room in the house.

A week later, when it was all done, every vile, gut wrenching, nauseating bit of it, Louie fell gleefully into bed and laughed himself to sleep, for he was sure they would be back the next night. And as he slept like a corpse he dreamed of buzzards flying in tight formation over Capistrano, casting fond longing glances downward and thinking better of the temptation, for even scavengers have their priorities.

That night, after a sound sleep, Louie could hardly wait to go to work, just as children can’t wait to go to bed Christmas Eve knowing that it is the sole means by which they can hasten the arrival of Christmas Morning. He knew that the sooner he got to work the sooner it would be morning and he would find, he was convinced, evidence of the final defeat of the dreaded Black Bag Gang. He worked hard in a vain attempt to keep his mind from thinking about the presents he hoped to find under his tree.

You can imagine his surprise when his boss showed up an hour before he was to get off.

“What are you doing here? You never checked up on me before,” said Louie.

“Oh I’m not checking up on you, son. I…I’ve got some terrible news for you. You’d better sit down.”

Seeing that the boss was clearly serious, Louie slowly lowered himself onto a nearby executive chair. “What is it? Tell me.”

“I hate to be the one to have to break this kind of news but, well, the long and short of it is…the fire department called me a little while ago–I guess they found me through one of your neighbors–and, well…Louie, your house has burned to the ground. Nothing left but the foundation and the fireplace. It’s gone and everything in it. I’m sorry, boy. It’s just awful. If there’s anything I can do…you know…we got a spare room you can have for a few days, just till you can find a new place of your own.”

Louie mumbled his thanks and said he wanted to go home and see for himself if that was alright. The boss said that it sure was. A minute later Louie Cabrillo was out the door and on his way.

The boss hadn’t exaggerated about the fire. There was nothing lift of the two-story Victorian but cement, bricks and piles of rubble strewn everywhere. Louie just stood there on the sidewalk for a while staring at the charred remains of the only home he could remember ever having. Finally, he meandered toward where the front door used to be and looked to see if he could find anything salvageable. Nothing visible from the front had eluded absolute destruction.

He worked his way around to the back to see if there was anything at all that had escaped. The only recognizable forms were the stove and refrigerator. He stepped carefully over the blackened refuse toward the center of what had only last night been his kitchen. Absent-mindedly he reached for the door of the refrigerator and pulled it open. There on the top shelf was a familiar-looking piece of paper. Without reading it, he knew what it was. He reached a trembling hand in and retrieved the note which he then read.


Dear Louie:

Sorry we had to get so heavy handed but you are obviously the kind of incorrigible person with whom we will never gain any ground. We are not a wealthy organization and our resources are limited. There is no way we could possibly maintain the intense kind of attention your case requires. Nor could we allow you to continue your irresponsible behavior. After thoughtful consideration and much confabulation we determined that the only way to end this war was to eliminate the battlefield–to wit: your house and its contents. We genuinely regret having to resort to such measures but we found it, all things considered, unavoidable. Of course we removed all the valuables needed to reimburse ourselves for our trouble.

Best of luck in your new domicile. We hope that you have once and for all learned your lesson. If not, we’ll be in touch by and by.


The Black Bag Gang


P.W. If you are thinking about moving to another area, feel free to do so but don’t think you can escape our scrutiny. We now have franchises in every major city in the country. Why not simply give in and learn to enjoy cleanliness. After all, you know what that’s next to, don’t you?


As it later turned out, the one decent break Louie got was from the insurance company. His grandmother’s porcelain collection was never removed from the homeowner’s policy and so was fully covered. Louie declined to correct the oversight and received a check for the house and contents just in excess of a quarter of a million dollars. The next day he cashed the check and disappeared.

A variety of rumors immediately surfaced. One had him living in Sri Lanka; one man swore he had seen Louie heading west into the Pacific Ocean on a converted garbage scow rigged for single-handed sailing; yet another story told of his suicide and subsequent resurrection as the primary deity of a small island tribe whose custom it was, when their refuse collection became too great, to burn the entire village and move on. Of course, none of these stories is true. The fact is that Louis B. Cabrillo bought a used trash truck which he made into a rather elegant camper. The day after he drove his camper out of town, the following ad appeared in the personals section of the classifieds:


Dear Black Bag Gang:

Thanks for making me all that money. It’s coming in mighty handy. If you want to continue your harassment, feel free to try, but you’ll have to find me first L. B. C

Lessons in the Art of the Gesture

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

When a college freshman, I had never taken a course in public speaking or debate. I decided it was time to correct that missing element of my education. So I enrolled in Speech 101 (or whatever it was called). I don’t know exactly what I expected, but whatever it was, it wasn’t much.

The class was small as was the classroom, probably filled to capacity at about a dozen students. The professor took us all off guard by informing us immediately that we would begin by giving a short extemporaneous speech about–of all things–ourseles.

He was a soft-spoken and gentle soul with a disarming smile. So even the most timid of us were not as fearful as we might have been. Yet there was one young man who was clearly in some distress. I later learned that he was extraordinarily bright, but on this day it was his shyness and naivete that were more important. This farm boy from the wilds of Idaho was in way over his head. And he knew it.

When his turn came, he walked haltingly to the front of the class, and stood behind the lectern, which he then grasped firmly with both hands. As he began speaking he was as stiff as a telephone pole and just as motionless. It was positively painful just to watch.

Afer half a minute or so, the professor mercifully stopped him. He said, “You’re doing pretty well, so far, but I think it would be more effective if you included a few gestures along with your words.”

The lad said that he didn’t know how to gesture. That was understandable, he was told. But it wasn’t really that hard to do. Was he right or left handed? Right, he said.

“Good. So I want you to hold your right hand out, palm up, in front of you.” The young man obliged. “Now start talking.”

The student looked a bit confused as he turned to the teacher, and with a flourish of his right hand, as if conducting an invisible orchestra, he asked, “What do you want me to talk about?” The lesson in gesturing was finished and he received a grade of ‘A’.

There was much more to our lesson that day than met the eye. In fact, there were several valuable lessons that I have never forgotten, and which have served me well in countless situations, some involving speaking or hand gestures, but most not.

  • Lesson #1: You cannot gesture while simultaneously holding onto the lectern with a death grip. You have to let go first.
  • Lesson #2: Once you have let go and have opened yourself up to your own inner spontaneity, all you have to do is start talking, and the gestures just happen of their own accord.
  • Lesson #3: Gesturing, or any form of sponatneity, cannot be taught.
  • Lesson #4: None of us needs lessons in how to gesture. We already know how.
  • Lesson #5: Once you are open, it is far easier to gesture than to not gesture. It’s how we are made.

Translated into more general terms, all we have to do to live our lives spontaneously and harmoniously is to let go of our death grip on structure, and begin to express ourselves freely from that open position. Everything else flows automatically as long as we stay open and honest.

Not bad for Speech 101, eh? :-)

Antioxidants: Myth or Malignance

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

In my post here, “The Parallax View of Thrill Seekers,” I cast light on the prejudice of scientists to intepret experimental and observational data to infer causal relationships where none are indicated. Today I read one of the few highly-visible examples of both that propensity, and its polar opposite.

In an article in Science Daily, a recent study at McGill University, in Montreal, biologists found some very interesting evidence regarding the role played by antioxidants in the aging process. Specifically, they found that there was actually a decrease in degradation of some tissue when oxidants were suppressed. This is exactly the opposite of the popular–and officially validated–position to which millions of people have become devoted over the last few decades.

It is not my purpose here to settle the debate about the efficacy of theories about antioxidants and aging, though that could be an interesting and worthwhile debate. My purpose is to again point out–as I have in this blog–that there is profound and invisible prejudice in the scientific community, and among the vast majority of lay people, to jump to conclusions as to the proper interpretation of data, scientific or otherwise. Nowhere is the more true than in the area of assigning causal relationships to mere correlations. 

Correlations simply state that two variables seem to chage their values in tandem. It does not imply, let along affirm, that there is any causal connection whatsoever between them. Yet people who, for reasons of their own, want a causal relationship to be present, feel no compunction about assigning that causality erroneously.

This is, in my view, a blatant breach of intellectual integrity, and an affront to all who sincerely seek the truth of things, rather than salting the mines of science as a way of grinding our own axes as a means to furthering our own agendas.

I am on the lookout for other examples of this type of pseudo-science, and will report it here as available. If you have an opinion, an example, or a wish to see light shown in a particular direction, leave a comment below.

The Parallax View of Thrill Seekers

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

In an article in New Scientist magazine, neurobiologist David McCobb, of Cornell University, says he has found evidence linking a preference for extreme sports to a pair of proteins in the adrenal gland.

Adrenaline is secreted by the adrenal gland through tiny channels made up of two types of protein chains called ZERO and STREX. The ZERO protein is always present, but STREX is present in differing proportions in each individual. STREX tends to inhibit the free flow of adrenaline to the degree it is present. The more STREX you have, the harder it is for your adrenal glands to flood your system with adrenaline. People with high levels of this protein become thrill seekers because it’s the only way they can experience an adrenaline high.

Actually, the high isn’t produced directly by the adrenaline. What creates the euphoric sensations is a rise in the levels of dopamine in the system in response to adrenaline.

The conclusion Dr. McCobb arrives at is that because of these higher levels of the “thrill-inhibitor” STREX, people seek out dangerous situations to create the kind of excitement others might experience under far less extreme circumstances.

What is completely ignored is another equally plausible scenario in which the person develops an intention to experience bungee jumping, sky diving, or just the simple adrenaline rush, and their bodies start producing STREX to keep the levels of adrenaline low enough to support the experience.

This kind of view would never occur to the vast majority of researchers in a million years. They are completely seduced by the assumption that it all starts with the body to which we are simply reacting. This assumption is invisible to them. What’s more, since virtually the entire medical community shares their beliefs in this regard, peer review consistently approves of such conclusions despite their lopsidedness.

Similarly, in the 1960s it was announced that the DNA of people who took LSD was altered. Never did we hear anything about the possibility that people’s experience while using LSD so profoundly changed their sense of self that their original DNA was no longer appropriate, necessitating modifications.

Although there have been more and more examples in the last decade or two of traditional medicine acknowledging that the mind may be involved in the condition of the body, as a group conventional scientists are still at the bloodletting/leaching stage of maturity. The idea that we essentially instruct our bodies to make changes that encourage or forbid diseases and other bodily states is completely anathema to them. They are not bad people, or stupid, or careless. They simply suffer from the same form of dementia we all do in our own ways. Mark Twain’s contemporary and doppelganger Josh Billings might have called them fools according to his most oft-quoted assertion: “It’s not what a man don’t know that makes him a fool. It’s what he does know that ain’t so.”


Rules Of Engagement

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Full and effective communication is the most important single factor in any human interaction.  This is especially true in a loving relationship.  It is easy to overlook the fact that the information that is being communicated, even non-verbally, does not tell the whole story.  Nor is it necessarily the most important factor in determining the net outcome of an interaction.  The motivations of each individual and the purposes each is trying to serve often have far more impact than the information being exchanged.

This is especially true when people respond emotionally to finding themselves at crossed purposes with each other.  The intents and purposes of the participants become especially critical as such conflict escalates toward unmanageability.

It is important to realize that the intentions and purposes underlying the tactics are often unrecognized by the individual who is acting them out.  This does not mean that they are in any way unknowable, but rather that most of us become blind to certain motives in certain situations.  In other words, unless we choose, consciously and willfully, to look for and at our real motives at the time, we are unlikely to see those motives in their truest light.  In fact, if someone else points them out to us, and particularly if it is someone who has been cast in the role of an adversary, we are likely to go into a knee-jerk defensive posture.  This is particularly counterproductive with individuals who believe that “the best defense is a good offense” or “might makes right”.  Then animosity and even violence are never too far away.

While there are a great many traps for us to fall into,  there are even more ways in which to prevent them.  This does not mean that these ways and means will be used effectively in a given situation.  Practiced sincerely over time, however, even those who are most prone to counterproductive tactics can learn to deal with almost anything that comes up in the relationship.

This does not mean that everyone always lives happily ever after.  Sometimes, when a relationship has outlived its value, the best thing to do is to alter it radically, or even dissolve it.  In such cases, the goal is to reach unanimity as to the outcome and the reasons that necessitate it.  Doing so through a process of interaction that all participants feel good about is important too.  This does not mean that everyone has to happy at every juncture.  It does mean that there is an absence of rancor, bitterness and blame.

This leaves great latitude to support a wide range of emotions and their expressions.  It would be almost inconceivable that a couple who have just decided to divorce after 20 years of marriage would feel no sadness at all once the decision had been reached.  Nor does it seem likely that neither of them would have had any moments of strong emotions other than joy during the process.

What follows are rules for relating which, if followed persistently and sincerely, will improve the quality of any interaction in which you find yourself.




The Rules

1.       You must know what you want.  This is not always possible, especially at the outset.  It is also very common that what you think you want has very little to do with what you will actually be happiest with.  In such cases, the first order of business is to arrive at the truth about what each person actually does want from the process.  If you think you already know, double check.  If you really don’t know, find out.

2.       Whenever possible all parties involved must agree on the same set of rules.  You can still improve the quality of interaction even if you are the only one who is following the rules but you must be very skillful to get the same quality of result.

3.       Each individual must agree to follow the rules even when others do not.  In other words, believing that someone else is breaking the rules is not sufficient reason to abandon them yourself.

4.       Name calling is never acceptable.  In is nearly impossible to improve the quality of an interaction by making remarks that you have reason to expect will be interpreted as insulting.

5.       Making and expressing judgments about yourself and others is not allowed.  Judgments are moral, ethical or other pronouncements such as, “You are a bad person” or “He doesn’t deserve to live.”  This is only one step removed from name calling and at least as destructive to any useful outcome.

6.       Each individual is totally and solely responsible for their own feelings and reactions.  Phrases like “You make me angry” are contradictory to this rule.  The one who feels the feelings is the one who is responsible for them.  Period.

7.       All emotions must be expressed.  This seems to contradict rule 6, however it does not.  For example, “Stop intimidating me”, can be restated as “I feel intimidated when you do that.”  In the latter version, the speaker is owning the feeling of intimidation and simply identifying it with an action of their partner.  Feelings like this must be resolved, though not always instantly, but in any event they must first be expressed.

8.       Everyone has a right to change.  It is fruitless to try to deny anyone, even yourself, the right to change.  We are all changing in one way or other virtually constantly.  Over time these changes add up to significant alterations.  The obvious application of this rule is in cases where someone has changed in some way that someone else finds troublesome.  The same principle applies equally to situations where a person expresses the intention to change in a way that their partner believes they will prove to be too difficult to achieve or will cause some other kind of problem.  If the intent is expressed to change, it must be honored as a valid intent.  The question of its sincerity or practicability may be questioned, but not blatantly refuted a priori.  If the seriousness of the intent is in doubt, some way of ensuring it or limiting possible damage in the event of failure may be in order.

9.       Each individual must sincerely believe that the success of the process takes precedence over all other purposes.  The principle behind this rule is illustrated in the question “would you rather be right or happy?”  Restated, “Would you rather have this work or ‘win’?”

10.   In every interaction, either everyone wins or everyone loses.  The principle here is that if anyone loses, we all lose.  Only when everyone wins does any individual win.  Winning here is defined as the feeling that you have achieved what you really wanted to.

11.   Compromise is never necessary.  This sounds absurd at first blush, but it isn’t.  Compromise involves giving up something you genuinely value just to come to terms.  It is a form of losing and if even one person compromises, everyone loses.  A “fair compromise” is one in which the losing is spread evenly among all participants.  It also means that there are no winners.

12.   Each person bears responsibility for their own adherence to the rules and for pointing out the violations of others.  This rule is necessary but very volatile.  It is easy to abuse the rule by attacking everything someone says as a violation of the rules (which is, of course, a violation in itself) thus igniting World War III.  It may be helpful to identify the specific rule that is being violated, how, and why.  The greatest protection from abuse if this rule is the sincerity of those involved.  One who really wants the process to succeed will not make accusations frivolously.  Conversely, they will take such assertions seriously and respond with honestly and gratitude.

13.   Anyone has the right to ask anyone else “what are you feeling right now”.  The other party, has however, the option of finishing what they were saying first but not declining altogether.  “I don’t know” or “Nothing” are not valid responses.  If you really don’t know, you’d better stop everything and find out.  If you are really feeling nothing, then you are closed down emotionally in a strong defensive bunker and should deal with that directly before continuing.

14.   You can’t deal with an emotion that you are not feeling at the moment.  For this reason, you should avoid trying to deal in any substantive manner with feelings that you are not presently experiencing.  Doing so is at best useless and at worst misleading and destructive to the purposes at hand.

15.   Saying you’re sorry does not constitute a confession of blame.  You can be genuinely sorry that someone else is suffering without being the cause of that suffering.  If you feel sorry about something, say so and know that you have not entered a plea of guilty in the process.

16.   Successful relating is a team sport, not an individual one.  You are in this together and the success or failure of the process is up to everyone, not a single individual.  If you make it an individual event, everyone with their own agenda, you will more than likely be in a dog fight that no one can win.

17.   Digression to irrelevant subjects is not allowed.  Most of us has at one time or another resorted to creating a distraction to avoid or at least postpone some anticipated unpleasantness.  If someone asks you a question for which you have no answer, or none that you are comfortable sharing, you may find yourself saying something like “Oh look!  There’s Halley’s comet.”  Anything to change the subject or create a break in continuity that will give you time to think or make it more difficult to get back to the same place afterward.  Feeling a sudden urge to visit the bathroom or realization that you forgot to make an urgent phone call, baste the turkey, or feed the dog, all qualify as unacceptable digressions.  If you really do have to do something, it can almost always wait a minute or two until you have faced the present “crisis”.

18.   Never ascribe motives, thought or feeling  to anyone else.  Most of us are lucky to know precisely what we ourselves are really feeling, thinking or intending at a given moment.  To pretend that you know the thoughts, feelings or motives of another is ludicrous.  Questions like “What are you feeling?”, “Do you feel angry?” or the assertion “I think that you are angry about that.” are all acceptable.  They do not accuse, label, brand or judge the other person.  Even in the last case, you are expressing a feeling or opinion, not a pronouncement.

19.   Right and wrong have no relevance.  The rightness or wrongness of a feeling, thought, attitude, or act is not germane to the process.  The single purpose is for the process to succeed and everyone to win.  If you feel that you are being misquoted or that facts are being misstated, then you should say so.  but in no case is it useful to say things like “I know what’s wrong with us: you!” or “The trouble with you is…..”.

20.   Listen with both heart and mind. Your partner needs to be given an opportunity to be heard, and so do you. That is just as true if what is being heard seems absurd or untrue. If you were in complete agreement, something else would be happening in the first place.





The tricks and techniques available to us are limited only by our imagination.  Here are a few to prime your creative pump.


1.       If you seem to wind up talking at the same time, use an egg timer or similar device to regulate who has the floor.  When you get the floor, start the timer.  No one else is allowed to interrupt until the timer has expired.  Then you pass the timer to the next person.  There can, and often should, be exceptions such as asking a clarifying question or correcting a misstatement fact.  Any exceptions should be agreed upon in advance.  Exceptions can be terminated by anyone at any time.

2.       If you find yourself starting to panic or knee-jerk, stop for a moment to get yourself back on track.  Anyone can be caught unawares by a question or some other emergence.  Before you start shooting from the hip, give yourself time to look at what is happening, especially your feelings.  This is an extremely effective way to prevent deterioration or even collapse of the dialogue.

3.       Some form of meditation before starting can get you off on the right foot.  This needn’t be any kind of formal procedure.  It can be even better if it involves all parties.  For example, you can simply stand or sit face to face, looking at one another, perhaps holding hands and spend a couple of silent minutes thinking about the purpose (as stated above) for being there together.  Think about what you would like to outcome to be for everyone and then visualize them happy with it.