Responsibilities of Friendship-Honesty in the Balance

 

moral-dilemma-empathic-concernAs I left the movie theater after seeing Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s latest film, I was not thinking so much about failed lives as about the role of honesty in friendships, a recurring issue for Jasmine, and one that looms large in my upcoming novel, A Fitting Place

It is all well and good to say that friends are honest with each other, but what does that mean in practice? Do we have an obligation to share our opinions just because we have them? 

Where is the boundary between honesty and cruelty, between honesty and interference, between honesty and acceptance of friends as they are?  How do you find the balance between being honest and being kind?  How do you find the line at which honesty—or the lack of thereof—makes a charade of the friendship without actually crossing the line?

Where does the boundary lie when people you care about make life style decisions you don’t agree with? It can be painful to watch a friend making the wrong job choice, or spending money unwisely, or picking an unsuitable romantic partner. But what do you accomplish when you offer an opinion that a friend does not want to hear … when you make a recommendation that a friend is emotionally or psychologically unable or unwilling to act upon? And who’s to say that your opinion is correct? What seems self-evident from your perspective may be inappropriate and/or impossible in a friend’s situation.

Where does the boundary lie when a friend is being betrayed, perhaps by a spouse or a business partner? Do you have an obligation to pass on that information? Put differently, do you have a right to pass on that information? What if your friend already knows and is trying to avoid dealing with the issue or trying to deal with it in a non-public way?  Confronting a friend with the fact of a betrayal may exacerbate the situation rather than improve it.

For myself, I lean towards telling my friends what I think and appreciate having friends who are forthright in their dealings with me. But I am much more cautious than I used to be. The fact that I have an opinion doesn’t mean that I have to share it.

How about you?  Where do you draw the line? 

 

 This blog continues the discussion on themes in my novel.  I welcome comments and guest blogs from my readers based on their own experiences.  Let me know if you’d like to do a guest blog on one or more of the issues relevant to A Fitting Place.  

 

Growing Past Self-Defeating Behavior

 

KathyPoolerBrighterToday, I welcome Kathleen Pooler as the first of my readers to comment on critical issues relevant to my novel, A Fitting Place.

Kathleen is a retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir and a sequel about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments:  domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.

Based on insights from her own life, Kathleen addresses the challenges faced by those, like my protagonist Lindsey, who come of age at mid-life rather than in their teens or early adulthood.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin

I haven’t met Lindsey, Mary Gottschalk’s protagonist in her upcoming novel, A Fitting Place, yet, but I already know we have a few things in common.

We both had self-defeating behaviors that kept us from living our lives fully and happily. I share my journey through these behaviors in my current memoir-in-progress, Choices and Chances: My Jagged Journey to Self (working title).

A Fitting PlaceTruth is stranger than fiction so I feel the advice from my own lived-experience may help Lindsay.  I have no doubt she is faced with overcoming her own self-defeating patterns.

What will it take for Lindsey to break the cycle of her own self-inflicted pain?  I only have to look at my own story to find the answers.  If I could sit across from Lindsey, I’d share my story with her.

I’d tell her that after years of mismatched choices and broken dreams, I finally figured it out:

  • Clinging to the familiar, the path of least resistance, kept me locked in unhealthy patterns for years. I was “safe” but the choices I was making were not in my own best interest.
  • Willingness to accept my role in perpetuating the pain takes courage. If I own my faults and failures, I can also own my successes.
  • My self-defeating patterns were repeated until the pain of holding on outweighed the pain of letting go.
  • Self-forgiveness was the first step in healing my past hurts. It helped me to move forward and make the changes I needed to make.
  • When I was willing to face my part in creating my own pain and forgive myself for pain inflicted upon myself and others, I could clear the path and move on to a life of peace and fullness. I have a choice. It’s like being in a prison cell with the door open and continuing to sit there. I can take a step outside that prison cell anytime.
  • When I look beyond an obstacle to see the lesson it has in store for me, I accept obstacles as part of my life.
  • I can be in charge of shaping my own attitudes.
  • In breaking my own cycle of pain, I can focus on all that I have to be grateful for, finding the support I need and nurturing my soul.
  • Once I am able to look honestly at myself, accept the role I have played in outcomes, and forgive myself, I am free to live life on my own terms.
  • Once I find this freedom, I can honor my own story, continuing to hope—never, ever giving up.

Hope matters.

Lindsey, the choice was mine all along. I can be empowered to create my own happiness, avoiding any future self-defeating behaviors. I have gone on to live a life of peace and joy, on my own terms.

I hope the same for you and I am looking forward to hearing your side of the story.

 

Kathleen’s experience is relevant to all of us, but I welcome points of view based on other experiences.  What advice would you give Lindsay on facing and overcoming self-defeating behaviors?

 

Kathleen blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog: http://krpooler.com and can be found on Twitter @kathypooler and on LinkedIn, Google+, Goodreads and Facebook: Kathleen Pooler

One of her stories “The Stone on the Shore” is published in the anthology: “The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment” by Pat LaPointe, 2012.

Another story: “Choices and Chances” is published in the mini-anthology: “My Gutsy Story” by Sonia Marsh, 2012.

 

The Enneagram and Instinct

 

How do your characters respond when they are in survival mode?

In blogs over the last month, I’ve discussed The Enneagram approach to individual behavior in two different dimensions: 1) the nine personality types that describe the fundamental but often unconscious desire line that drives people’s actions and 2) the three “centers” that determine an individual’s typical response to the environment, SONY DSC

There is considerable overlap between these two dimensions:

  • three personality types (the challenger, the peacemaker and the reformer) tend to respond intuitively, and may not consider the intellectual or emotional consequences of their actions;
  • three (the investigator, the loyalist and the enthusiast) tend to respond intellectually and can miss critical information about their emotional environment; and
  • three (the helper, achiever and individualist) tend to respond emotionally, and may fail to understand what is really at stake.

There is a third dimension—the three survival instincts—that apply equally to all nine personality types. They are:Wedding rings and condoms on a dark background

  • self-preservation (safeguarding of the body or the mind),
  • sexual (intimate relationships and generational continuity), and
  • social (security within with the community).

While everyone has all three instincts, individuals may prioritize them quite differently.

Take for example, Lindsey, the protagonist in my forthcoming novel.  As noted before, she is a “thinker” or “investigator” who generally tries to avoids situations she file000297667593can’t explain in rational terms. But the range of her responses to those situations might vary dramatically depending on how she ranks these three instincts. With a dominant self-preservation instinct, she might well close herself off from all sources of support and comfort, a “circle the wagons” mindset.  With a dominant sexual instinct, she could be vulnerable to someone who approached her with an overtly nurturing style. With a dominant social instinct, she might become fanatical in her efforts to “explain” the seemingly incomprehensible events around her.

Do you draw your characters with an eye to their survival instinct?  Would it add depth to your characters?

 

The Enneagram and Inner Conflict

 

EnneagramDiagram(1)As Donald Maass points out in Writing the Breakout Novel, the most interesting characters in fiction are often those who do or say something that seems “out-of-character,” something that, as they look in the mirror, they know they would never say or do or think.  

This is where The Enneagram comes into it own, particularly if your character’s personality is one with which you don’t have much personal experience.

For example, a primary character in my novel (A Fitting Place) is an attractive woman who makes friends easily. She sees herself as loving and generous. Her desire line is based on being helpful and making a positive difference in other people’s lives.  But my story arc requires that her help be rejected.  How does she respond?   

Being an introverted observer of life, I had no intuitive way of answering that question.  The Enneagram, with its spectrum of healthy and unhealthy behaviors, offered priceless assistance.

      Enneagram Levels of Development: “Helpers”

  • Healthy:        Compassionate, Nurturing, Caring 
  • Average:        Appreciative, Encouraging, Generous, Intimate 
  • Unhealthy:   Manipulative, Possessive, Martyr-Victim-Guilt Producer

The Enneagram table above offered so many possibilities for making this character multi-dimensional, for behaving in ways she would just never admit to.  Along the way, these actions served to ratchet up the pressure on my protagonist, Lindsey.  Would Lindsey recognize the manipulation, the attempt at guilt production? If so, how would she respond? And, if not, how would she respond?

As I’ve noted before, understanding your characters does not replace good writing.  But the converse seems equally true … a way with words is not a substitute for understanding your characters, in all their complexities.

I would love, as part of this post, to start a discussion on the challenges you’ve had creating the important characters in your fiction.  And—of course—how you dealt with that challenge.