I was recently involved in editing my Psychology Today column titled Don't Fall for Political Propaganda as my Psychology and Family Law column for the next edition of the San Gabriel Valley Psychological Association’s award-winning newsletter

I’ve had a column in that newsletter since September 2008. It was given to me by Suzanne Lake, the then President of the San Gabriel Valley Psychological Association and editor of the newsletter. Suzanne has since continued in her role as editor of that newsletter and does an amazing job, in my opinion. Considering that the newsletter has been awarded the "Most Outstanding Psychological Association Newsletter in the State of California" by the California Psychological Association in 2010 and 2015, I'd say I'm not alone in my opinion.

I credit Suzanne for getting me started in my writing career, in working with me to convey legal and other information to non-lawyers in a manner in which they can better understand, and in perspective-taking with me in order to significantly improve the information conveyed, among other things.

Since the article was originally published in Psychology Today, I’d like to take this opportunity to share how my long-standing collaboration with Dr. Lake helped to significantly improve that article for the January/February 2017 edition of the newsletter.

Her first comment was “This is interesting. Is there any way we can add a slant that makes it about Psychology and Family Law—i.e., the theme of your column? I’m just thinking that as it is, it doesn’t really pertain to either one.”

We then engaged in a discussion, which included my request that she consider changing the title of my column “to better align with my focus as a peacemaker and mediator, rather than a family law attorney.” 

Suzanne responded to that request as follows: 

“I'll have to think about changing the title of your column. It seems to me that as a lawyer interested in psychology, you have a relevant professional voice. Even as a mediator, you are still working within the legal system, right? And the legal perspective is what gives you a distinctive voice in the SGVPA community. Broadening your topic to ‘empathy and relationships’ really has you talking to psychologists about something they are already expert on.

In any event, the current column is making the point that the LGBT individuals are not making a lifestyle choice. Can you perhaps add a few lines, or modify what's written, to highlight the aspect of empathy and respect in relationships that make this distinction significant? Otherwise, it just comes off as an opinion piece, I think.

Let me know, please, if you'd be willing to do that. If you need more time, we can hold it until next time.”

I responded as follows:

“Your point is well-taken. I hope you like the changes I've made. I've added additional information regarding how the law is increasingly treating sexual orientation and gender identity and brought it around to family. 

As an aside, the point of the article pertained to unintentionally offending people by thoughtlessly using terms to describe them and not realizing why saying such things would be offensive. The article was not making the point that the LGBT individuals are not making a lifestyle choice. When Psychology Today Tweeted the original article it added the following: ‘Words matter.’ I'm hopeful that is what you meant. Furthermore, this article makes people think about far more than language.  It also points out the reality that beliefs (religious and otherwise) are choices - something people tend to disregard.”

For what it's worth and although I didn't challenge Suzanne on her belief, I disagree that "empathy and relationships" is something psychologists are already expert on. In fact, I wouldn't have felt the need to publish my article titled The Impact of Religiously Biased Mental Health Professionals if Suzanne's belief were accurate.

In any event, Suzanne then asked me to clarify the following sentence: “It is incredibly offensive and disrespectful to tell a member of the LGBT community that your choices regarding religious affiliation and beliefs are and should be constitutionally protected and that they should not be entitled to any constitutional protections on the basis of your choices in that regard.”

What I heard Suzanne asking me and what she was actually asking me were two entirely different things.

I thought she was questioning my points, when she was merely stating that the way in which I expressed them in that paragraph was difficult to understand. Because of the miscommunication, I began by defending my points, rather than re-writing that paragraph to make it more understandable. 

In any event, she then sent me the following email:

“Dear Mark,

Thanks for working this up a little more, and I agree it fits better with the theme of the column. However, there are parts of it that still need to be developed in order make sense, and support your position logically.

I've put comments into the paragraphs which I believe need to be polished some to be more persuasive. Please take a look.  

Also, there is so much passion in this piece that I surmise you have some personal experience with the misuse of the term ‘lifestyle.’ If there is something that you would feel comfortable putting in, I think it would make the article even more powerful!

Thanks again for your work!”

In one of her comments, Suzanne suggested that I use a definition of “lifestyle” which better supports my thesis and explained why. She suggested the definition from Wikipedia. I didn’t believe that the Wikipedia definition accomplished that result and therefore conducted further research and on that issue. I finally selected the following definition from Collins English Dictionary: “Lifestyle is a set of attitudes, habits, or possessions associated with a particular person or group.” 

In another comment, she wanted to know what language judges typically use in their decisions denying civil rights and constitutional protections to members of the LGBT community that explains why their decision was based upon their belief that sexual orientation and gender identity are behavioral choices. She said, “This paragraph is about language—but the example doesn’t address the use of language.”

She was absolutely correct and the simple change was the addition of the following sentence: “For instance, when judges deny civil rights and constitutional protections to members of the LGBT community, their decisions typically refer to being LGBT as a 'lifestyle choice'.”

Suzanne also wanted clarification as to which terms I’d caution people against using, even though some members of the LGBT community use them. Once again, I was referring to “lifestyle choice”, although she was correct that it needed to be spelled out for clarification purposes.

In another comment, Suzanne explained why she had serious issues with the following sentence: “One can accept their sexual orientation and be self-loathing because those are two entirely different things.”

She said, “What? If you are saying people can be self-accepting and self-loathing at the same time, you need to explain it. If a person is self-loathing because of their up-bringing, then in what sense are they self-accepting?”

I still didn’t understand what Suzanne was saying and therefore made the following revision, which she kept: “A person can accept his or her sexual orientation, and be self-loathing at the same time. In fact, on April 10, 2015, psychotherapist Ian Stulberg, presenting on ‘Seeking Reflection: Gay & Lesbian Identity Formation and Clinical Issues’ at the SGVPA’s monthly lunch meeting, made the point that ‘a person’s acceptance of their sexual orientation does not mean they don’t loathe it.’” 

Only later, while discussing the issue with a mutual friend, did I learn that Suzanne was interpreting the term “acceptance” from a psychological perspective and I was using it to mean acceptance of reality. Meanwhile, Suzanne was absolutely correct that from a psychological perspective, a person can’t be self-accepting and self-loathing at the same time. 

She also took very serious issue with the following sentence: “A person becomes self-loathing for who they are (as opposed to what they do) as a result of their upbringing and life experiences, both of which center around the actions and behaviors of others.”

She commented, “So you are positing that a person’s entire self-image is centered on the actions of others? That is hard to support."

I therefore edited the article to read as follows: “Further, as social science researcher Brene Brown asserts, ‘The intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging leads to self-loathing.’ To what extent might their upbringing and life experiences, both of which center around the actions and behaviors of others, have led to such an intensely painful feeling?”

I then emailed Suzanne the revised article with the following comment: “You are most welcome and I'm glad you found the article so passionate. The reason behind my passion has to do with my knowledge that the LGBT community (of which I'm a member) is discriminated against in good part because of people's ignorant beliefs that being LGBT is a ‘lifestyle choice.’ Knowing this, I am extremely passionate about educating people as I have in this article. I have no personal experience that gave me this passion, other than being a member of a group discriminated against because of other people's ignorance.”

I can’t even begin to describe how working with Suzanne as the editor of my Psychology and Family Law column all these years has shifted my perspective, caused me to question many of my biases, assumptions, beliefs, and values, and has made me a better person and professional as a result. 

I’m fairly certain that Suzanne has learned from me, as well. 

I've had similar experiences with those who have edited the chapters I've authored for inclusion in books, the many press releases I've issued over the years through publicists, and informally through my spouse and many others who offer informal editorial services. In fact, I've made revisions to a number of my Psychology Today blogs as a result of informal editorial assistance I've received from people who have read and commented on my blogs in the Power through Collaboration LinkedIn group and elsewhere.  

In other words, my perspective and work product has been shaped tremendously by the way in which I answer the following question: "What facts would you need to know to cause you to question your view on this issue?" My answer is "Any."  

Of course, that does require non-judgmental listening. Otherwise, I wouldn't be constantly learning and gaining an increasingly deeper understanding of things. My willingness to make myself vulnerable by conveying my thoughts and opinions through my written work and sharing them in such a public manner has greatly impacted my biases, beliefs, assumptions and values.  

All of us can and should try and learn from each other. 

Imagine if each of us had our own amazing editors doing for us in life what Suzanne does for me every time I submit my Psychology and Family Law column to her. I am so incredibly blessed to have so many formal and informal editors in my life.

There is no question in my mind that the world would be a much better place if we each had such talented editors causing us to question our biases, beliefs, assumptions and values and if we were receptive to their "editorial" work.  

As I keep saying, perspective-taking is the core of empathy, which is the key to conflict resolution or management.  

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Suzanne Lake and all of the other editors in my life, formal and otherwise, for everything they have done and continue doing that have made me a much better person in every which way.

My end of the year wish for everyone is for them to be fortunate enough to meet at least one new such "editor" in the near future and for them to welcome the opportunity with open arms.  

You are reading

Empathy and Relationships

What Is Justice and When Is It Served?

“Winning” isn’t problem-solving, so playing to "win" isn't helpful.

In Mediation, Is Empathy Enough or Even Necessary?

De-escalate conflict by connecting with empathy, attention and respect.

Is Teaching Tolerance the Solution or the Problem?

The only difference between tolerance and intolerance is political correctness.