Book recommendation: “Barfuß auf dem Sommerdeich” by Katja Just

I just finished reading this book. First of all, I’m quite proud of having been able to read it all without looking at the dictionary!

9783959101172

I picked it up in my library, attracted by the wilderness and remoteness of the Halligen, small islands in the North Sea, near the coasts of Germany and Denmark. The story of the city-dweller who leaves the busy streets for a remote, natural environment invariably fascinates every human heart.

Katja Just’s journey from Munich to Hooge is however not so close to a dream. She had hard times, not only because of the trying living conditions on the island, but, according to my impression, the deeper cause was her approach to those hardships. She does an amazing journey of introspection and acceptance, of herself, of the life on Hooge, that is unique and brave. This makes me think that just following her example and move to Hooge myself would not necessarily be a good decision: my starting point and my mindset are different. Nevertheless, the lessons I wish to learn from her experience are:

  • observe, assuming that the information is out there and deserves to be noticed
  • learn more about myself through the analysis of my reactions – being honest and open, rather than intolerant to my weaknesses
  • be ready to stand for my ideas, firmly and politely

I hope there will be soon an English translation, so that more readers can have access to the book. I’ll update the post accordingly.

Until next time, good reads everyone!

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On miscommunication: filtering inputs

Today I have been thinking about how communication can be inefficient or broken. There are times when I feel misunderstood by people, even when we speak the same language and we already spent plenty of time together. I realised how I feel estranged, as if instead we had no common language, and that all that time together didn’t count.

How can this happen?

My current hypothesis is that there is a form of filtering on the receiving end, that is dropping a lot of input, because it comes in forms it doesn’t understand. For example a baby is crying: as it can’t speak yet, I have no information about what is making the baby uncomfortable – but it doesn’t mean that the crying has no reason at all, and I can ignore it. Or a friend keeps mentioning a book, or a particular event, that doesn’t say anything to me – it doesn’t mean it means anything at all: it means a lot to them!

Most people live in an environment that bombards everyone with an insane amount of input -most of which irrelevant- so the filtering is actually a great protection for the mind. I would only warn not to leave it on all the time, especially with loved ones.

In some cases, there is no active filtering of information, but rather the listening on an inefficient channel: for example, when a person doesn’t know a language well enough, they will speak very little and very simply. I could derive that that’s just how they are internally. But if I switch my attention to body language, or any other channel that the person is comfortable with, I will probably get closer to the actual thoughts and inner complexity of that person. I notice that it’s also how I interact with animals, observing, trying to parse the silent input, to find the language that expresses their internal world.

Icelandic friends, by Alessandra Barilla (Flickr)

I am trying to become aware of these filters of mine, by asking myself: “Is there really nothing more than this input? Can I increase the amount of input that I can understand? What are the inputs I am collecting, but not considering?” Sometimes these questions are painful, because they show me my limitations, and remind me of the situations where I was not able to listen and understand. Nonetheless, I feel the obligation to explore my limitations, because I can’t forgive myself if I said “I don’t understand” and I meant “I don’t care”.

That’s all for now… as usual, let me know your ideas in the comments!

I prefer to say “I love you” only after I have specified what it means in detail

These days I have been thinking about what it means for me to say “I love you”. I realised I have said it very seldom, even to the people I loved – I found it very difficult to say. Until recently, I vaguely thought that such a sentence should not be said lightly, so I always went for alternative formulations:

Source: imgur

With the passing of time, I have been able to articulate my thoughts in more detail, and I realised yesterday that “I love you” would be too compact, too vague, and could imply things that I don’t mean, but that the other person automatically includes in the idea of love. Therefore I would rather say:

  • I love your attention towards me
  • I love your joy when you receive a present, when you get good news
  • I love your respect for yourself and for others
  • I love that you don’t compare me to a standard, so I feel free to act natural all the time
  • I love how your presence calms me
  • I love how little we have to talk in order to understand each other
  • I love how we respect our silences and how they are meaningful to us
  • I love how consent is fundamental for the both of us
  • I love that we don’t feel obliged to walk up the relationship escalator
  • etc …

… while I would not automatically mean:

  • I want to live our lives together
  • you are my only love, you will always be
  • you are perfect
  • I want to build a family with you
  • etc …

There is an Italian song (Patrizia, by Eugenio Finardi – lyrics here) that is indeed a list like this one. It has been one of my very favourites since I first heard it, and now I am happy to have realised why.

My point is that I want to make clear what are the reasons of my attraction/love for the other person, instead of just saying that I (will always) love them, no matter how much they will change, and implying plans for the future that I already have removed from my list. So my current decision is to say “I love you” only after having specified what it means, therefore making it a safe summary. I really wish that it will keep misunderstandings away, especially in such a delicate and emotional matter.

 

Learning to learn (from now on)

A few days ago I read this tumblr post and resonated with it like a gong:

Source: Tumblr

I have the sensation that in my childhood I found either things I could master right away, or things that required me some practice. I suspect that I received a lot of encouragement when I did the first kind of activities, and something in the lines of “don’t bother to practice that, you’re not as good at it as with the other things you can master right away” when I tried the others. I think I missed the opportunity to learn that some things are hard to master, and that I could not avoid practice forever.

I’m not a fan of the “if you ain’t sweating, you ain’t doing it right” either; but rather of a reasonable amount of practice, mistakes and lessons learned, that make the goal worth reaching. I feel like I am learning how to learn only since last year or so, because I had the privilege (or curse?) of mastering enough necessary skills without (perceived) effort, and I lived off this treasure until recently. The downside is that I am a bit old to start learning how to learn, so it looks odd to most other people who encountered this hurdle in their childhood, and I get more puzzled looks than helpful hands. Anyway, now that I realised where I am, and which path I want to follow, I can start walking.

Source: The Latest Kate

Shopping strategies: focused and scanning

I noticed I have two main strategies while grocery shopping, that strongly depend on how much time I have and how much optimisation I need to achieve. When I’m in full focused mode, I set up a kind of filter and I only pay attention to what I have to buy. On the opposite extreme, when I’m in scanning mode I am looking at everything with interest.

OK, this is barely new information to anyone. What I want to share is the surprise I felt when I thought: when I’m commuting, am I more focused or more scanning? And when I’m in a queue? When I’m home? I realised that I tend to travel around in a very focused manner. I wait at the bus stop with only my destination in mind. I check the phone to see if the bus is late. Only few times I have managed to look around in a more scanning-like way, and I discovered a woman on the balcony, reading among her flowers; the different greens of the trees above me; a crow walking across the street; the nice evening light.

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Source: my Flickr

This way of looking around didn’t take long, and filled the few minutes of waiting time in a very enriching way. I want to practice it more often, especially when I feel that the focused mode can be switched off for a while.

Find the differences #1 – accepting people vs. accepting their issues

I want to start a series of posts about two sentences who say something about a topic, in slightly different ways. I start with this pair:

  1. accept people for how they are
  2. accept their issues: assume nothing can be done when they look distressed

For me in such cases, words are really hard to match with thoughts. I find there is something very respectful in accepting people for what they are – the opposite would be consistently pushing them to change towards “acceptable behaviour” and “normality”.

Still, I don’t think that it implies that the best choice is to be passive. The second sentence sounds painfully familiar to me. I see a huge difference in stepping in when someone is doing something odd but seems happy with it (reading a lot? drawing minute details? be silent for long bouts of time?), versus stepping in when someone seems unable to cope with an input that makes them suffer (too much noise for them? too much stress? too many interactions?).

I admit that I over-think about this. Especially with kindergarten children, I am always asking myself: am I accepting the child’s behaviour with an open mind or am I passive when I should chime in? Am I encouraging obedience or am I offering support adequately? The same I think about my interaction with adults, because I am never sure if someone is in control of a given situation, or is overwhelmed and would benefit from external help.

I suppose I can learn by experience, but I am relieved that I have put my doubts into words, instead of erring on the cautious (but dangerous) side of non-intervening. I would love to continue exploring this topic with your inputs: please use the comment box below!

Being tough, being sensitive – no other option, really?

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Source: Flickr

I just listened to BBC Four Thought “Sensitive Souls” (and I have recently read Auf die leise Weise, i.e. the quiet way) and my mind wandered in several directions, like a wild animal walking around a part of forest and exploring it attentively, one corner after the other, following scents and interesting plants.

It seemed to me that the most common behavioural model is a line, with “tough” and “sensitive” at the extremes. That would be OK for me, in theory – but not when these words actually mean “bully” and “bullied”. I therefore tested the following translation, from:

  • “Toughen up! Don’t be so sensitive! You’ll never reach any goal while being sensitive!”

into

  • “Be the bully sometimes! Don’t always be the bullied one! You’ll never reach your goals if you keep letting others bully you!”

… and I realised that this translation awakened the horror I felt anytime someone urged me to toughen up. I didn’t want to swap sides. I didn’t want to be rude to others, just because these are (or appear to be) the rules of The Game. If these were the rules, I couldn’t force myself to play – even if that meant that I would automatically lose.

I don’t know what people telling me those words actually meant. What I know for myself is that I have been very close to shut down my sensitive side, because it made me hurt a lot and the only choice seemed to move along the line, away from the sensitive corner and right into toughness. I am thankful to my closest friends, that offered me (and still do!) a safe space where I could be as sensitive as I needed, and investigated with me new ways to protect myself without hurting others. They took me away from that line, showed me other paths, that we walk as a group.

I hope that readers who find themselves sensitive can count on such friendships and safe spaces, and can see a way for growth that doesn’t sacrifice any of their skills.