Thursday, March 31, 2016

How to Improve Your Relationships

In many consultations I’ve conducted, I have noticed that the problems people have brought to me and sought guidance for are usually related to their relationship and financial problems. Today I will talk about a relationship problem. Relationship problems are varied and happen between a couple, among family members, among people in the work place, and/or neighbors.

While listening to people’s stories, I find they often have a communication problem. If they can solve the communication problem, they will be able to solve half of their problems. However, many people do not know how to properly communicate with other people.

First I listen and then give the following suggestions to have good communication:

1)     Believe in yourself and that you are a wonderful person because you are a child of God. Also believe in the person with whom you need to speak and also believe he or she is also a child of God and a good person.
2)   Get more information about the person with whom you have a problem. You have to know the person well to better communicate with him or her.
3)   Use a better choice of words. Speak clearly and articulately.
4)   Ask yourself about your problems with “why” and find the real root cause of the problem.

The first suggestion is the basic Seicho-No-Ie (SNI) teaching and I have explained this on many occasions. I will not explain it thoroughly this time, but still I need to emphasize that you have to know that you are a child of God just as you are and this fact never changes. You have to recognize this not only intellectually but also in your heart. It means your actions need to follow your belief.

When you realize that you are a child of God, your acts should always be as acts of a child of God. When you reflect on your actions and do not think that they are not truly the actions of a child of God, it means you have not truly and totally convinced yourself that you are a child of God. You need to practice more deeds of love because they are basic practices.

If you want to play tennis well, you cannot ignore the basic practices such as practicing with a racket, running to increase your strength, muscle-building training, and so on. Without these basic practices you cannot improve your skills to play tennis well.

In the same manner you cannot solve your problems without basic practices to realize that you are a child of God. In this case you need to practice Shinsokan Meditation, reading the Holy Sutras/Songs of Praise and SNI books, and practice deeds of love.

The second suggestion is to know other people more. In the Bible it is said, “How much better to get wisdom than gold!” (Proverbs 16:16) Wisdom and knowledge are the important powers to solve your problems. I sometimes watch the TV program “Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan.” Cesar who is a dog trainer receives many requests to solve dog owner’s serious problems. Amazingly, he solves various kinds of problems so effortlessly. One of the reasons why he can so easily solve the problem is, I think, that his knowledge and observation of dogs are incredibly great and accurate. He also loves dogs and has patience with dogs.

I can see that dog owners who have problems with their dogs often try to understand their dogs through a human perspective. We see our lives through the human’s perceptions. However, when we think of other living beings, we have to think of them through their perceptions. When Japanese think of themselves, it is okay to think as Japanese. However, when they try to communicate with people in another country, they have to think of people’s perception in a different country. We have to remind ourselves of this fact. It is an ordinary and common idea but we often forget it. The nature of birds is to fly, fish swim and dogs walk. For example in the case of a dog, the average time to walk a dog is at least 45 minutes a day and if you don’t do this, a dog will become frustrated according to Cesar. If all the dog owners know this fact and do walk the dog more than 45 minutes every day, their problems with a dog might decrease dramatically.

In case you have a problem with your partner, you should know your partner better and act accordingly, then your problem will be solved much easier. If you have a partner, think about how much you know him or her. You should create questions, review them, and find out how much you know about your partner.

Next, ask the same questions to your partner and compare the answers to find out your compatibility with your partner. You can create your own questions and do it with your family members (parent, child and/or sibling), a neighbor, superior, co-worker, subordinate, etc.

For example, use the following questions (or you can make your own list of questions) and find out how much you know about your spouse or partner.

-         What is your partner’s favorite color?
-         What is your partner’s favorite flower?
-         What are your partner’s parents’ and grandparents’ names?
-         What is your partner’s favorite movie?
-         Who is your partner’s favorite movie star?
-         Whom does your partner respect most? Give two names.
-         What is your partner’s shoe size?
-         Who is your partner’s mentor?
-         Name the favorite restaurant of your partner? Where is it?
-         What is your partner’s profession?
-         Describe briefly what he/she does when he/she is at work?
-         How many hours does he/she work in a day?
-         If your partner is a full-time househusband or housewife, how many hours does he/she work a day?
-         What does he/she eat for lunch mostly?
-         How many times do you send a gift to your spouse during a year?
-         What is the best time to talk with your partner during the day?
-         What kind of topics is your partner most uninterested in? And why?
-         What is your partner’s favorite book?
-         What does he/she currently read?
-         How many times a day do you call (not text) your partner? If you think you call him/her less than once a day, how many times do you call him/her during a week?
-         How many times does your partner call you during a day? If you think he/she calls you less than once a day, how many times does he/she call you during a week?

There are many questions you can create and ask, but the important thing is to compare your answers and your partner’s answers to determine how much your answers and your partner’s answers match because if these answers are often in discrepancy, it is proof that you do not know your partner well.

I will share my personal experience. I believed that for some years my wife loved bouquets of roses, but one day she asked me why I bought a bouquet of roses every month for her. I told her because the rose was her favorite flower. Then, she said “no” and I found out that her favorite flower was tulips.

This is another example. For more than 6 or 7 years I bought a purse, clothes, or accessories for my wife on occasions such as our anniversary, my wife’s birthday, Valentine’s Day, or Christmas. One winter, I bought a nice, rather expensive winter coat for her right after we moved back to Japan from Hawaii. She had one but needed another one. A couple of weeks later I found out that she gave it to her sister without wearing it even once. I was upset with her, but instead I should have been angry at myself because I did not know what she wanted. It sometimes happens that what you think is not what your partner thinks. The more you know your partner, the better communication you can have. This can apply not only to your partner but also to anyone with whom you have a relationship problem.

The third thing is also important in order to have better communication with others. The words you choose and how you reply makes your partner angry or happy, concerned or at ease. We often use our cellphone. Sometimes we need to answer during a meeting or an important conversation. If my family member calls while I am in a meeting, I sometimes answer it. But it is important that you should know how to reply to him/her. In this situation you may say, “I am in an important meeting right now and cannot talk with you now.” If you say this, usually your tone of voice is rigid and serious because you cannot talk or should not talk but are actually talking.

I understand and it is okay to say this. But your wife, son or daughter may feel disappointed. He or she maybe wanted to let you know his or her great news. To avoid this you should say in the beginning, “Hi I’m glad you called, but I am in an important meeting right now. So, let us talk later. Thank you for calling.” The meaning of the conversation is the same, but to convey your feeling to the person on the other side of the line is quite different and acceptable because of this language.

Some people have their own style of speaking. When I worked part-time job for a fisherman, his way of talking was like very different than mine. When it was time for breakfast, he yelled at me saying, “BREAKFAST! EeeeAT!” In the beginning I didn’t know what his problem was, but later his wife said, “Don’t worry, he always speaks like that.” He worked on the ocean, so he had to scream. Thinking about his background it is understandable. However, majority of us are not fishermen. Rev. Masaharu Taniguchi suggested that we use only good, polite words in our conversation:

        It is hopeless for us to shout at our sons and daughters, claiming that we wish to help them or that we do so with a loving concern. Even if a loving concern should exist, it is a concern that wears the mask of a demon. Even love has no power other than to inspire fear so long as it wears a demon’s mask. Take off your demon’s mask. And bring out your real face of love. The person you are trying to help will become most friendly, sense your love, and willingly change for the better. (Truth of Life Vol. 7, pages 263-264)

Some people say that constructive criticism is necessary. To ignore an evil action or attitude which is not fitting for a child of God is not good; however, it doesn’t mean that you can describe how bad the other person’s action is. When answering a phone, you will be able to have good conversation if you say, “I’m glad you called” or “I’m happy to hear your voice” before engaging in a real conversation. It is important to choose the right, proper words for the conversation. Rev. Taniguchi wrote:

        To think that you can bring about improvements in others if you keep complaining, keep yelling to express your anger, and keep pointing out their shortcomings is a superstition similar to that of expecting harmony to be produced from disharmony... it is hardly possible for disharmony to give birth to harmony. If you should wish to make those whom you meet virtuous, you have to first of all make your own mind harmonious. (Truth of Life Vol. 7, page 264)

In other words, Rev. Taniguchi said that if your mind is not in harmony, your words will only criticize others and cannot make others or a situation improve but will make it worse. So, if you think your criticism is constructive and will make the situation or other’s better, you have to first practice Shinsokan meditation and say “thank you very much, John” or “I love you, John” over a hundred times and say what you think. Then, the situation may improve. However, to just describe what others did does not help at all. You also have to first say 2 or 3 good things about that person and then say one criticism.

Rev. Taniguchi clearly said that it is unreal to expect harmony be produced from disharmony. Rev. Masanobu Taniguchi also wrote the same thing in the Song In Praise Of Nature:

Awaken from the delusion that peace is born from conflict.
Be rid of the delusion that good is born of evil. (p. 22)

We cannot produce harmony with criticism. After you practice Shinsokan meditation and recite that the person is a child of God and call his or her name and say “I love you” many times, you may face the person and praise him or her 2 or 3 times and give your suggestion to improve that person or situation. I wish all of the Seicho-No-Ie New York members to do this in their daily practice.

However, if it is a constructive criticism instead of a suggestion, you only make the situation or that person worse because you recognize his/her fault. Criticism is a criticism no matter how much it is constructive or destructive. Your motive may be good and intended to make the person better, but the more you say, the worse the situation becomes.

In particular, it becomes worse when you give even suggestions (not criticism) right after you recognize his or her fault because you have recognized his or her fault in your mind. In this case it is better to not say anything. If you really want to speak to this person, first do the prior suggestions which I gave and then speak to him or her a week later. It is because if you can wait a week, your emotions affected by the situation will tone down due to the passing of 7 days.

One more thing you should consider is to speak articulately. Rev. Taniguchi suggested:

The first thing needed in daily conversation is clarity. There are people who pronounce their words so indistinctly that you can hardly make out half of what they have mumbled, and people like this fail to convey even half of their ability. (For Young People, p. 15)

The fourth important thing is to ask yourself about your problems, ask “why” and find the real root cause of the problem. I learned this while I was working as the internal auditor to receive the certificate of ISO14001 which is an environmental managing system to improve the environmental condition of the workplace.

When we identify a way to improve the environment of SNI United States Missionary Headquarters, we do the Plan-Check-Do-Review-Improve cycle. When we plan to improve something, we think of a solution, check it, apply it, and review it. Then, we will find out if the solution to improve the situation. If I say the reason why it did not work is because "no one knew a particular regulation," then, I have to ask myself "why no one knew the regulation." It may be because it is new for us and no one is familiar with this. Then, what shall we do to solve it? I should study about the law, but I am not an expert on the law and also legal terms are different than regular English. Then, we need a specialist, but we cannot hire a new person for this. Why can’t we hire a new person and if we cannot do this, what is our alternative? We ask many times until we find the real root cause. If we find the real root cause, we will often be able to find the solution because there is no problem without a solution. However, we have to know that the solution does not come with the problem at the same time. If it comes at the same time, the problem is no longer a problem. We have to make an effort to find the root cause because in doing this we can find the essence of the problem.

I did not go into much detail about the last suggestion, but you can find the root cause when you ask yourself why many times. The relationship problem will be solved if you apply these 4 suggestions. Thank you very much.