Sunday, January 13, 2008

GWCC redux (My Sacred Life, Sunday)

Over the last couple of days, Olivia, Kelly and I have had a conversation about GWCC-free living and what it means to each of us, and I'm going to recount (and, quote from) those email messages back and forth. First, enough background to let new readers know what I'm going to be talking about: this program, also known as Complaint-free World, was started by a minister a couple of years ago as he challenged his congregation to stop gossiping, whining, criticizing, or complaining for 21 days.

Christine Kane picked it up, and upped the ante. Then Patti Digh did so, as well. By this point at the end of October, the challenge was to go 37 days without GWCCing. (thanks to rebecca for the abbreviation--it comes in handy)

The challenge is not only to be complaint-free, but to do so for many consecutive days. Should you slip up, you return to day 1, starting your count over. It is a daunting challenge, yet one from which I have learned more than any like it before.

Each of us--Olivia, Kelly, and I--took up the challenge, and each of us has had our own experiences and growth from participating. For me, once I had gotten past the initial stages of the challenge where the only way to succeed is to consciously monitor one's behavior and speech, I reached a point where I knew my base, that central point within from which everything comes, had been changed. I no longer needed to monitor myself consciously because I had a different set of root behaviors which didn't include the troublesome ones.

This doesn't mean I am perfect now in not exhibiting GWCC moments. It does mean, though, that they are not part of my core tendencies any longer. My natural response now to a situation which would have caused me to complain is different.

Once I got to this point, which was probably close to a couple of months after beginning the project, I realized that counting was no longer relevant for me. In a way, I had moved past the goal of the project, so continuing to count days would have been disingenuous. Worse, it would have been a waste of energy. So, I stopped counting. This is not to say I was somehow too good to need to count, only that GWCC-free had become part of me, so counting would have been as senseless as counting how many days I wake up, and reporting that to others.

Olivia's experience was one of paying close attention and finding herself falling short each day, even as she felt she was learning a great deal. More on her experiences shortly.

Kelly is the most successful of the three of us in reaching new heights both in numbers of days and in transmuting old anger and frustration into compassion and love. Her contributions are included later, as well.

On Friday evening, I responded to a pair of video posts Olivia had done on her blog. She did one post which was, as she terms it, "nicey-nicey" which didn't involve how she was really feeling. She did a second, shorter post in which she revealed her feelings quite clearly.

I never watched the nicey-nicey version, and I told her how much I honored her courage in saying how it really was at the moment when she taped her unfiltered version.

Saturday morning, I read an email message she sent me Friday night. This was the real beginning of the conversation I'm focusing on this morning.

Olivia recounted a couple of examples where she believed she was violating the GWCC rules. This was the heart of the discussion: what is GWCC meant to be, why are we doing this, and how can GWCC work better for us?

She wrote of needing to stand up for her own personal boundaries, and she did so in a way I found admirable. Yet, she counted herself to be in violation.

In another couple of instances, she was in discussion with another person, the two of them talking over future decisions and how they would impact others. Olivia was counting that as a gossiping session.

At this point, I suddenly knew why she was repeating day 1 over and over: she was holding herself to a standard which was not the one I understood GWCC-free as being.

Here is part of what I said, edited for privacy purposes:
In my opinion, GWCC is counter-productive as you are trying to implement it. It is not intended as a squelching technique, at least that's not how I use it.

Your example, where you stood up for yourself, is not a violation at all. You did no name-calling or otherwise insult the other person, you simply told them they had crossed the line and were invading your space.

Now, that's not to say you could not have found a better way to make sure the other person knew why you were speaking with a raised voice, but I think you did a good job of emphasizing that there are times when you are going to keep doing something someone else dislikes in the moment because you need to do so more than you need to be liked in the moment.

Your other example is most-clearly not a GWCC violation, either. You were working out what the possibilities were, and weighing the consequences. Sure, there has to be honesty in such a discussion, and if some of what was said was not flattering to people not in the room, so what? It is not gossip to discuss things frankly in an effort to come to a resolution when facing a choice.

Gossip is defined as talking unflatteringly about someone not in the room to no good purpose other than to feel superior. You were not doing this in discussing your plans. You had a specific purpose to the discussion, and honest recognition of another person's limitations played a part in the discussion as a matter of course.

For me, GWCC-free is a decision toward civility, toward responsibility for one's own feelings and actions, and toward compassion for others in our lives. It is not about perfection, or playing nicey-nice all the time or putting yourself last on the needs list. I think there probably is a little self-governing needed, particularly early in the game (and you are well past this stage!), to get out of the habit of using GWCC-style behaviors to shift responsibility away from oneself, or to feel superior to someone one doesn't like.

The beauty of GWCC, and of human beings, is that by adapting our behaviors, we slowly learn to change internally so that there is no longer any conscious self-governing needed. You simply don't think the same way any longer. If you don't like someone, you simply don't talk about them because you would rather have interactions with people about things you enjoy, or you *do* talk about that person in an effort to understand and get along with them better. Same with whining and complaining. Instead of the pointless whining and complaining, one can focus on "this is wrong. How can we change it so that we don't have to suffer with it being wrong any longer?"

I remember Christine Kane's example. Sitting down to a wobbly table in a restaurant and saying "this table sucks!" is a clear GWCC violation. However, sitting down to the same table, and saying, "this table is wobbly. Lets stick a folded-up napkin under one leg to stabilize it" is clearly not a violation, as one sees a problem and proposes a solution.

The bottom line is, GWCC should never stand in the way of honest communication. What it does do is provide a framework within which one can evaluate their own intent. If one is seeking to solve a problem or reach a decision, as you described several times in your message, it is not a GWCC violation. If one has no positive result in mind as they criticize someone else or gossip or whine, if those actions are occurring only to relieve a sense of frustration or shift the blame to someone else, then Day One, here we come.

Lastly, a word about absolutes and their limited value. GWCC is set up as a purely black or white test. There is no way to measure the fact that, on a day when you do really well at staying away from the old behaviors, but you go off on a driver who cuts you off in traffic at the end of the day, it would be a white day with a drop of black. So, a really light-gray day. But, the result in the GWCC program is the same as if you had whined and gossiped all day long: a purely black day. So, progress can only be demonstrated by lots of days with zero violations. Well, it is also progress to reduce GWCC behaviors a great deal, even if there are occasional violations.

It was the diminishing benefit of the absolute which led me to stop counting days. Now, I have a built-in part of me which twangs whenever I am wandering into GWCC behaviors. Yes, I do have them, and yes, they occur much, much less often than before I began the program. All I do is utter an internal "oops!" and move back to my new center where such things simply don' t happen. In fact, it is no longer really my "new" center; now, it is home.

So, my advice is to reconsider how you are defining GWCC. If you define it as helping you interact with people so as to have more-clear communication without the need to bash someone (in the room, or not), if you use it to guide you toward action to defuse instead of action to incite, if you see it as a way to help you move toward solution rather than basking in the heat of the problem, you will have a great tool you have learned to wield with confidence.

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It was at this point that we invited Kelly into the conversation. Here are tidbits of what she said (edited for privacy of others):

Yeah, I agree with what you, Rick, are saying about the definition of a violation. What GWCC is teaching me is to communicate my needs MORE, not less. But I see now that I need to communicate them using I statements, not you statements. Instead of "this is driving me crazy," I can say, "I am feeling a need for some time by myself now and I am going out for a while. See ya." In no way could my behaviour during a string of successful GWCC days be called nicey-nicey. I am not putting others' needs before my own. That was the modus operandi that was doing me in, in the first place. That is what GWCC is rescuing me FROM. It's the old airplane oxygen mask analogy. I have to put mine on first or I won't be alive to help those around me with their masks.

Sylvain says I'm easier to be around, but that is because I am training myself to take good care of my needs, the result being that there is little left to complain about. Then those things that it's not time to change yet, I work on accepting. So again, no need to complain.

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For more on how Kelly is feeling and thinking on this same topic, see her recent post on her blog. She does a marvelous job in painting the picture of how it is working for her. And, she brings in another area that the three of us are studying and learning from: Transformational Weight Loss.

Olivia is the queen of putting it out there, never hesitating to detail what I'm sure her ego would consider to be unflattering portrayals of herself. I have mentioned in my own posts more than once how much I admire her willingness to go within, and then shine a big spotlight on what she finds, disregarding any fear over what others might think.

It's where the common ground is often found, in those supposedly unflattering scenarios we all experience and are reluctant to talk about. It is what writing from the heart is about, because your heart doesn't know from flattering or unflattering. Your heart only knows what is real to you, what you consider precious, and how you know how to love without condition.

Here's another bit from yesterday's thread, this being a part of my response to Kelly:
What I have learned is that having a good reason for getting upset doesn't mean you have to get upset. It only means you have an excuse if you waste the time and energy building up all that self-righteousness and being mad. It is perfectly alright to shrug, deal with the event with calmness, and as Kelly points out, fix it for the future or figure out how to let it be and move on.

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The bottom line is, GWCC-free is a means to an end, it is not the end itself. Discovering where it can lead is what I have found to be most valuable.

Written by Rick, who never made it past Day Six of the GWCC-free challenge, yet is all the wealthier for the journey.

4 comments:

ladybug said...

Good for you Rick!

And frankly, good for all of us, for the world can only improve with the more people who communicate in an open and honest way without falling back on the old and easy habits of whining, complaining or gossiping.

Nicely done!

Angela said...

Rick,

Such a great post! I considered joining this challenge several times, but the truth is the day counting really turned me off. Day counting turned into such a counter-productive tool for me in getting over drinking that I have a real aversion to it.

I did find reading all the posts about if helpful in raising my own awareness about complaining and gossiping. I really like your point that it's not about stuffing down feelings in any way, but in finding a way to reframe them that will move us forward. I think stuffing and repression only lead to more negativity and destructive behaviors.

Rick Hamrick said...

I heartily agree with your comment, Monique! It is also perfectly aligned with my wife's teachings: by raising our own consciousness of the behaviors which serve no one well, we help infinitessimally raise everyone. And, the more of us who follow any of the thousands of paths which help us help everyone, the easier it gets!

Angela--it tickles me that you would comment, because you were the example I used in explaining why I had stopped counting when O and Kelly and I were conversing. I did not include that part of our email exchange when I created this post because I had not talked to you about it, but it boiled down to the fact that you had already noted in your own blog that AA and you were not a good fit, that the ranking their culture focuses upon was not suitable, and that you had created your own recovery system which works for you.

So, go for your own GWCC-reduction program, Angela! Being aware is all it takes, because you will find yourself doing less whining or critizing, and that's the goal.

Thanks to you both for making it through this longish post and for letting me know your thoughts on it.

Olivia said...

Rick, I gave you an award over at the happyluau. Thank you for always earning it :) xxoo, O