How to Talk about Other People: Summary of a Class Presentation

Here is a summary of yesterday’s class on how to talk about other people (i.e., when they are not present). The basic idea that I gleaned from a number of passages in Helen’s notes, as well as a passage in the Course itself, is that what we say about another should overall be a loving, constructive message, something that could be considered a courtesy to them, seeing that person in their best light, placing criticism within an overall positive vision of them. This is the opposite of caricaturing them, exaggerating their errors, making what’s wrong with them the overall context within which any positive details are placed, laughing at them, and joining with the person we’re with at the expense of them.

I’d be very interested in continuing this discussion here on the blog.

“So why not try to help him instead of blowing it up?”

[Helen:] “I don’t think Bill wants this course, and I’m not sure I do, either. He is very snappy.”

[Jesus:] “(I think this is slightly true because something is bothering him, but he certainly is not very snappy. So why not try to help him instead of blowing it up into an obstruction? He helps you all the time.”

[Helen:] “(I resent this.) He is supposed to help me, but I think I resent a reciprocal arrangement, because he is a man. Men are supposed to give to me, but this is not reversible.

Note: I do not always feel this way. It’s a danger signal now, and just means something’s wrong.”

Helen is taking Bill being bothered by something and “blowing it up,” making it an obstruction. Jesus suggests just the opposite: accurately assessing the level of Bill’s upset and then helping him get free of it. 

Helping someone get over his misperceptions of your enemy

Jesus: “And don’t underestimate your cooperation either. You don’t listen, and you would save yourself a lot of pain if you did. But you did get Chip over his misperceptions of Wally with very creditable integrity.”

This involves three friends of Bill’s: Helen, Chip, and Wally. Chip was clearly struggling with uncharitable perceptions of Wally, which Helen became aware of. The problem is that Helen absolutely detests Wally. So Helen talking to Chip about his issues with Wally was the perfect invitation for a major “bitch fest” about Wally. But instead, she stayed true to her principles (which is why Jesus describes her action as “very creditable integrity”) and did the opposite. Instead of reinforcing Chip’s perceptions of Wally, she helped him get over them. 

Seeing someone as they should be and thus helping them be that way

[Helen:] “Dreams—one was of great distress—Esther left Amy with us (the us is ambiguous) and we were stuck. I was very tired after an incredible day, in which a lot of strain was involved, and wanted to go to sleep but couldn’t on account of Amy. I was trying not to get angry at Esther, because I think I was aware that she had a very good reason for having to go away just then, and I should help her even though she did not know the reason, or maybe was giving her usual show of maximal impulsiveness and no sense, but really did know the reason but was hiding it because she did not want to take credit for herself.”

[Jesus?:] “(That’s how you see people as they should be and that helps them be that way.)”

True, this is Helen writing down a dream, but we can make it applicable to our topic by imagining that Helen is talking to someone about a real-life incident. In this incident, Esther leaves her daughter Amy with Helen, and so Helen is stuck taking care of her, rather than resting after an incredibly draining day. Helen is tempted to get angry at Esther, but then takes another tack. She says that she thinks Esther had a very good reason for having to go away, and that maybe she knew that reason but was acting like she was just being impulsive in order to not broadcast the good deed she was doing. It seems that Jesus steps in here and says that seeing someone as they should be—which is what Helen is doing—actually helps them be that way.

Expressing desire to tell someone that they are forgiven

“Some day I want to tell Esther that not only is she forgiven, but that the effects of all her sins are cancelled. This is what I have already told you.”

This is where Esther wrote a report to secure funding for an institute for retarded children that was dear to Helen’s heart, but the report was badly written. So Helen rewrote it in Esther’s name and thereby secured the funding. Jesus is saying to Helen that some day he would really like to tell Esther that her sins are forgiven and all their effect cancelled. Is that how we talk about someone who has just screwed up like Esther did? 

Pointing out a positive role model

“Look carefully at Mrs. Albert. She is working miracles every day because she knows who she is.”

This is the beginning of a fairly lengthy discourse in which Jesus repeatedly points to Mrs. Albert as an example of a miracle worker. How often do we talk about someone and say, “You know, I really could learn from their example?”

Making sure criticism has no harsh overtones

“Bill thus placed himself in a condition to experience a fear rather than a love reaction. (Helen Schucman notes that she was going to write ‘an excellent position,’ but did not do so. Answer: You are right about the misuse of “excellent” here, and please do cross it out. You are still angry. An excellent position for miscreation is not a meaningful approach to the problem.). It was indeed discourteous (‘indeed’ is not necessary—it was your own error here; I am not saying this with any harsh overtones at all.”

Helen is taking down criticism from Jesus about Bill’s mistaken thoughts, and because she is angry at Bill she starts making Jesus sound judgmental by exaggerating his language. He, however, corrects her, in order to make sure his criticism has no harsh overtones. It is purely an observation, with no condemnation added on top.

Balancing criticism with praise

“It would be most ungrateful of me if I allowed his work to produce a generation of witch doctors [a reference to Cayce’s prescribing of various “magical” remedies]. I am sorry that Cayce himself could not rid himself of a slight tendency in this direction. But fortunately I have a fuller appreciation of him than he had.”

“I have already told you in connection with Casey [sic] that out of respect for his great efforts on My behalf I would not let his life-work lead to anything but truth in the end.”

Whenever Jesus criticized Freud’s views or Edgar Cayce’s teachings, he almost always balanced it out with praise. This way, it was clear that the criticism was set within a larger positive vision of the person, as well as of his positive efforts and contributions.

Realizing your judgments will hurt you

“As you see him you will see yourself. Whether this be through the use of psychological tests, or by making judgment in some other way, the effect is still the same. Whenever you have judged anyone, it is impossible for you not to make this judgment on yourself. If you see one of your brothers, who happens to be a patient, as exhibiting signs of a thought disorder, then you will experience this same disorder in your own perception. For whatever your thought may be about anyone determines how you will respond and react to yourself and everyone about you. Take heed then when you are called upon to fulfill your function as teachers that you teach the truth about God’s Son. The only way that you can experience any peace while this unfortunate necessity for interpreting illusions remains is to recognize that you are discussing only illusions, and that this has no real meaning at all. Try to say a prayer for your brother while doing this and you will call forth and experience a miracle instead.”

This is talking about psychological testing, and, of course, the diagnoses that come out of such testing become labels for how a person is described among mental health professionals. Jesus is saying that such labels are actually quite dangerous, not only to the person so labeled, but to the labeler. When you make a judgment of a brother as having a mental illness, you will experience that illness in your own mind. This obviously has major ramifications for how we talk about (and label and diagnose) others.

Not laughing at another, not joining with one at expense of another

“You started well in your attempt to pray with me for Bill, but ended badly. This is because you had already made a number of earlier errors. You were wrong to be pleased with Bill F’s criticism of Rose, and should not have enjoyed Bill F’s description of Zanvell’s caricaturing of her. You could have laughed with Bill, but not at Rose. Real courtesy never does this. You should know that all God’s children are fully worthy of complete courtesy. You should never join with one at the expense of another.”

This of course is directly relevant to our topic. Here, Helen is hearing Bill F. (not Bill Thetford) criticize Rose (who is obviously not present) and then relate someone else’s caricaturing of her, and Helen is thoroughly enjoying, laughing heartily at Rose. Jesus is saying that this is not courteous, and “all God’s children are fully worthy of complete courtesy.” We tend to think of courtesy as applying only to behavior that is directly toward another. But Jesus is implying that it also applies to those not present.

Not empathizing with one in a way that’s critical of another

“I have said that if a brother asks a foolish thing of you to do it. But be certain that this does not mean to do a foolish thing that would hurt either him or you, for what would hurt one will hurt the other. Foolish requests are foolish merely because they conflict, since they always contain some element of specialness. Only the Holy Spirit recognizes foolish needs as well as real ones. And He will teach you how to meet both without losing either.

You will attempt to do this only in secrecy. And you will think that by meeting the needs of one you do not jeopardize another, because you keep them separate and secret from each other. That is not the way, for it leads not to life and truth. No needs will long be left unmet if you leave them all to Him Whose function is to meet them. That is His function, and not yours. He will not meet them secretly, for He would share everything you give through Him. That is why He gives it. What you give through Him is for the whole Sonship, not for part of it. Leave Him His function, for He will fulfill it if you but ask Him to enter your relationships, and bless them for you.” (T-16.I.6-7)

The situation here, based on the context of these paragraphs, is this: Someone has come to you asking for your empathy. This means they are asking you to join with them in their suffering, and importantly, join with them in their blaming of the one responsible for that suffering. You realize that this is an attack on that apparently guilty party, but you think it’s OK as long as he never finds out. You can meet the needs of the person you are with and not hurt the other person because you keep the whole thing secret from that other.

Jesus is saying that this can’t be right, that your gift to the person in front of you, to be a real gift, must be a gift to everyone—including the guy who seems to be to blame. So how can you meet the request for empathy in a way that doesn’t blame the other person? The answer is to allow the Holy Spirit to relate through you, so that he will meet the foolish request for empathy in such a way that that person’s real need is met and that the person being blamed is given a gift as well.