Posts Tagged ‘empathy’


by Kylie Devi

The words “personal potential,” “self-help” and “personal growth” are sometimes used interchangeably, and have been an increasing part of mainstream culture and discourse. In my experience with exploring my own personal potential, I came across many different types of seminars, workshops, spiritual teachings, and tools to uncover the truth of who I am and to live more fully and vitally. After I took the Satvatove Foundational course I felt strongly that there was something very different about the culture of Satvatove that allowed me to go deeper than at other personal potential seminars. The element that made the difference for me was the rigorous and imperative focus on transformative communication.

There are many fundamental elements in transformative communication, such as empathy, empathic and reflective listening, fine tuning the messages we give with our body language, our voice, and the way we pay attention to others. In the seminar I spent three days really understanding where I was at with that, and determining where I wanted to be. My experience in spiritual retreats and other personal potential gatherings has been that I would very excitedly gather in new tools, exciting revelations, and peak experiences. Then when I would go home and reintegrate with my life, my new habits would slip back into the older, more worn out methods of living. This would frustrate me and I would go to more and more seminars to recreate those experiences, attempting to understand what I had missed or why I was not able to create a more sustainable effect in my life.

What I realized after attending the Satvatove Foundational Seminar, and going back into my life and creating profound results and sustainable change was that the tools of transformative communication gave me the understanding and confidence to truly listen to others. Furthermore, I was now in a position to present myself in such a way that others understood me. This sincerely bridged the gap for me in experience, because without those powerful tools my previous experiences with exploring new avenues for personal potential quickly faded until forgotten. I was simply not able to convey the experience to others in a way that integrated realization into action, revelation into change.

Another aspect of the Satvatove transformative communication model that created a more powerful experience for me is the idea that language reflects consciousness. In the seminar room there is an enthusiastic focus on the nature of the human experience as being primarily spiritual. Within this framework, the communication exercises that offered empowerment to me became more alive. When seeking advancement in the area of personal potential, often various learning models will offer spiritual awareness, or communication tools, but seldom are both seen in one seminar room. That for me was the true difference in experience, and why I was seemingly able to create sustainable and noticeable change in my life. Understanding the spiritual nature of experience, and how language and communication both inform and are informed by this process, is a powerful paradigm for personal potential, interpersonal relations, and profound growth.
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Excerpts from Dr. David Wolf’s workshop, Transformative Communication: A Foundation for Powerful Living, at the Master of Influence event in Palm Springs, California, on November 5, 2010. Transformative Communication

is an approach to self-realization founded in ancient wisdom, innovative yet simple communication strategies, and breakthrough transformational methods. Join David and the 1300+ participants as you get a glimpse into the power of conscious living that characterizes the Satvatove experience.


Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

In the safe and trusting environment created through empathic listening, we are inspired to explore deeply, which often leads to problem-resolution. We may have a great idea how to help someone resolve a challenge, or at least think we do. Reflective listening in sattva guna is based on the assumption that each of us possesses the capacity to handle his or her life with excellence. The necessary qualities and knowledge are within us. Usually it is more powerful to facilitate a person in generating his own solution rather than simply presenting him ours. If I arrive at an idea, I am more likely to commit to it and apply it in my life if it has not been provided by someone else. And often we find that our “great ideas” for someone else aren’t actually so great. Sometimes, because we did not carefully listen, our solutions are based on mistaken assumptions.

In the following case scenario Susan, supported by the reflections of the coach, augments her self-realization and concretizes an action plan.

Susan: I don’t want to encourage him. I think he may fall in love with me. Actually, he said that he is worried about this.

Coach: You’re afraid to give him encouragement. He expressed that he is worried about falling in love with you, and this scares you.

Susan: Yes. At the same time I like him. I don’t want to be unkind. I don’t know what to do.

Responding to the coach’s reflection of content and feeling, Susan broadens her exploration of the matter.

Coach: You want to be nice to him. You don’t want to be mean. You’re afraid to hurt his feelings. And also you’re fearful to attract him to fall in love. This is a conflict inside you.

Susan: Yes. I don’t know how to be with him. Before I was very natural.

Coach: You had a good friendship, and now you’re uncertain how to be with this person. You don’t want to falsely encourage him, and you don’t want to lose him from your life.

Susan: From my side also, I am afraid…to fall in love. But I value our friendship, and don’t want to lose that.

Like peeling the layers of an onion, Susan’s exploration, facilitated by the active listening of the coach, leads her to see beneath the surface of what she initially presented, and to focus on her fears and desires related to a romantic relationship.

Coach: You’re attracted to him, and you’re open to the possibility of a romantic relationship developing. Also, you are worried about losing your friendship with him.

Susan: And this has happened before. In my confusion I just pushed these men friends away. I would be mean.

Susan recognizes a pattern in her behavior, across time and relationships.

Coach: Your habit from the past is that you’d be unkind, and create a situation where they’d leave.

Susan: Yes, but I know I don’t have to be like that.

Through this empathic dialogue, Susan opens to new possibilities about how she can act in relationships. She does not need to be unkind or harsh to others, as a reaction to her own confusion and fear.

Coach: I hear that you really don’t want to put up a wall that will prevent you from whatever relationship could develop, and you know you don’t have to.

Susan: It’s a fear of myself, not trusting myself. Because I don’t trust myself, I don’t assert myself, and play games and put up walls. I don’t want to cause pain.

Coach: You’re scared to really stand for what’s true for you.

Susan: Yes. And it’s important for me to speak with him. I have been so withheld with him, and I do want to directly address this.

Susan clarifies that she wants to directly express herself to her friend about their relationship. For Susan, a result of being heard and understood is that she finds the courage to be clear, to abandon former ineffective relationship habits and to cultivate healthier ways of communicating and relating.

Coach: Just like you’re expressing yourself to me, you want to be able to do that with him, to talk with your friend about what’s going on between you and him.

Susan: He has shown a lot of courage. He did his part in sharing vulnerably with me. Now it’s time for me to do my part.

Coach: You want to reciprocate. He showed courage and you admire that, and now you want to be courageous with him. What’s your plan for this?

Susan: I will talk with him, by next Monday. As soon as possible.

Susan moves from confusion to clarity, and from commitment to action, through this transformative dialogue. Now, for the sake of comparison, suppose the listener had initially responded in the following way:

Susan: I don’t want to encourage him. I think he may fall in love with me. Actually, he said that he is worried about this.

Coach: Definitely you should speak with him. Share openly with him what’s true for you.

Though such advice may sound sensible, when the listener begins by advising, the client misses the opportunity for self-exploration and for generating his or her own personal realizations.


“Service is necessarily based on empathy. To genuinely serve, we need to know the desires and needs of the person whom we are serving. Otherwise our endeavors to serve will be concocted, more self-serving than authentically caring about others.”

David B. Wolf


Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

In my communication seminars I am often asked about diffusing hostility. An empathic response is the most powerful means for diffusing aggressiveness. In the mid-nineties I worked as a children and family counselor for the State of Florida Department of Foster Care. On one occasion an enraged father stormed into my office. “How could you tell the judge to keep my kid in foster care!?” Many responses were available to me. I could have yelled back, perhaps referring to his continued substance abuse or his irresponsibility in fulfilling his performance agreement. This would have likely escalated his fury. Or I could have calmly explained to him what he could do to get his child returned, which was the outcome that both of us desired. I began with empathy, matching his intensity. “I know you are furious with me. You’re upset that I recommended to the judge to keep your child in foster care for another three months.” He continued his

tirade, and I continued my attempts at showing my understanding of what he expressed. I would not say that at any point in this conversation did this person develop a liking for me. However, after a few minutes he did sense that I was not his enemy, and that I cared about him and his son. His anger diffused through empathic listening and we were able to have a civilized and productive dialogue, during which I did share with him information about what he could do to accelerate the process of his child’s return. Once he knew that I cared, he began to care what I knew.

My wife and I once attended a lecture on Vedic spirituality, the theme of which was transferring consciousness from ahankara to atman. Ahankara refers to our false, materially based identifications, such as “I am white,” “I am fifty-two years old,” or “I am Peruvian.” Atman refers to identification with our true spiritual identity. On the ride home my wife shared an exchange she had had that day with a doctor, in her capacity as a nurse who inserts intravenous lines. The doctor had ordered a line inserted in a patient although Miriam, noticing various signs and symptoms indicating that it would not be medically advisable to do so, decided not to.

Doctor: I ordered the line put in!

Miriam: I see you’re very upset because I didn’t put in the line.

Doctor: Who the hell do you think you are!? I gave my orders and it’s not done!

Miriam: I know you’re really angry with me because I didn’t follow your orders about this.

Doctor: Yeah, that’s right. I’ve got so much to do and I wrote the instructions. I made it clear!

Miriam: I know you’re very pressured, under so much strain, and it’s so annoying for you that I didn’t put in the line. It’s extra anxiety—just what you didn’t need today.


That’s right. How come you didn’t put in the line?

Miriam explained her reasons and they engaged in calm, rational dialogue about the best course of action for the patient. After describing this interaction to me, Miriam said of the doctor, “He went from ahankara to atman.”

A particularly challenging occasion for reflective listening arises when acrimony is directed toward us by persons with whom we are in a close relationship. A student once wrote the following to me: “One area that I find is very relevant for workshop participants …is the difficulty of doing empathic listening when a spouse or person very close to us is saying something that we totally disagree with. I once made great sacrifices for my wife and then she told me she didn’t like what I did and her reasons were totally uninformed. At that point I couldn’t imagine doing empathic listening. I was so upset I just screamed. It’s one of the most needed and most challenging times to do empathic listening.”

I replied: “I hear your challenge and frustration. It is relatively easy to empathize and reflect when the hostility, anger and resentment are directed toward some third party. When it’s directed toward us it is especially challenging to be sattvic, non-reactive, empathic and compassionate. It is particularly difficult in those instances, and also especially important. When we are able to notice our anger, pain or fear without giving our power to them, and to instead sincerely endeavor to understand the other person, before expressing what we want to say, we create the climate in these close and intimate relationships that we truly desire.”

At the start of the second day of a five-day seminar, a woman who was attending shared her experience from the previous night, after the first day of the seminar when we had covered empathic listening. “My son was in the bath and wanted to play with a particular bottle of liquid soap. I knew this soap would hurt his eyes and wouldn’t allow it. In the past this sort of scene would lead to an escalation of anger, affecting us, and the household, for at least a full day if not longer. ‘No, you can’t have it!’ ‘I want it!’ ‘I said no! Put it down!’ Instead I thought I’ll use the skills we learned that day in the workshop. ‘You’re really angry at mommy for not letting you play with that soap!’ ‘Yes, I want it!’ ‘I know you really wish you could have that bottle, and you’re mad at me because I won’t let you.’ ‘That’s right. I am.’ I couldn’t believe it. After about a minute the episode was over. His anger was gone, and we enjoyed each other’s company.”

Studies in labor-management discussions demonstrate that it takes half the time to achieve conflict resolution when all parties agree to accurately repeat what the previous speaker has said before responding. To do this requires sattvic consciousness, where we are attentive and sufficiently patient to mirror the other person’s statement, before saying our piece. Especially when we are in conflict with the other party, it requires substantial non-attachment to utilize reflective empathy and avoid roadblocks. Frequently in workshops I hear, “But David, using these techniques takes much longer.” My response is, “Yes, maybe it does. In the short run.” Sattvic communication may take longer up front. However, in the long run it avoids the anxieties and problems created by roadblock-filled tamasic and rajasic communication. For instance, we might spend more time in mirroring and empathic listening so that we understand an employee; his satisfaction though results in a more pleasant work environment where people want to stay. This in turn is likely to lead to higher efficiency and an increase in productivity.


Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

There is a distinction between thought empathy and feeling empathy, both of which are important in connecting with people and their experience. Research has found that women are slightly more empathic than men with regards to feeling empathy, grasping the emotion behind the words. With reference to thought empathy—apprehending the thoughts behind words—studies have indicated no significant gender difference. An interesting aspect of this research is that after training in empathy, gender differences for both emotion empathy and thought empathy disappear. This indicates that men are not inherently less empathic than women. The lower degree of feeling empathy in

men may be primarily determined by culture, meaning that showing empathy does not correspond with the image that a man wants to project, and thus men are less motivated to be empathetic. This cultural facet may be changing though, as there is increasing evidence—some of which is cited below—that effectiveness in traditionally male-oriented occupations is associated with high empathy.

Across many fields of endeavor, including those where we might not imagine that listening and relationship skills are preeminent, empathy is understood to be an essential quality for success. In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman quotes the head of a Swiss bank: “My job is something like a family priest or doctor. You can’t be in private banking without using your emotional intelligence, especially empathy. You have to sense what your client hopes for, fears—even if he can’t express it in words.” Empathy is the most important quality in the assessment of applicants to the Harvard Business School’s graduate program, and the top five attributes are all “soft” qualities, such as being a team player, and being able to effectively coach people and understand their perspective.

Research has shown that in a multitude of professions, including police work, financial consulting and sales, higher empathy correlates positively with better performance, results and satisfaction. A study at a large polyester fiber plant demonstrated that empathy was the quality that most differentiated the most productive teams of workers from others. In the field of medicine, greater empathy correlates positively with more accurate diagnoses, higher patient satisfaction and other desirable outcomes. In a study comparing physicians who were sued for malpractice with physicians who weren’t, the quality that most distinguished the group that did not get sued was empathy. The doctors who were not litigated against were not necessarily more skilled. They were more empathetic, which meant that if an apparent mistake did occur patients were less likely to file suit.

Empathy does not mean sentimentally acceding to the demands of others. Knowing how the other person feels and being able to show it does not mean agreeing with them. I can understand and be open to another perspective, while standing for my own viewpoint. This quality of empathy and the skill to express it underlies

effectiveness across practically all life dimensions.


Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

Note that showing understanding is not just a matter of finding words to mechanically describe the person’s emotion and content. It also includes matching the person’s energy. When a friend is feeling sad and down, a reflective statement from my side in an excited voice won’t yield understanding, although what I said was accurate. Empathy is more likely to be conveyed if our words are accompanied by an energy that matches the feeling of the situation. A discordant mentality, even if accompanied by correct reflective statements, can be a roadblock to effective communication. In this regard it is important to recognize that reflective listening is a tool that conveys the essence of empathy. Just because I make an accurate reflective statement does not necessarily mean that I am being empathetic. Conversely, it is possible to convey empathy while using a mode of communication that is on the “potential roadblock” list, although here we are focusing on techniques such as mirroring and effective attending to communicate empathy.

To experience the benefit of empathic dialogue, engage in it with some of the people in your life. Fully enter the world of the other person for at least fifteen minutes, using empathic listening to display understanding. Maintain comfortable eye contact and open-body position during the dialogue. Avoid roadblocks to communication. Simply be a mirror for the other person and notice your experience in attentively reflecting emotion and content. You can also switch roles, having the other person enter your world and mirror for you. To gain a real feel for the effect of empathic dialogue, the speaker should preferably talk about some issue that has an emotional charge for him or her. If you would like to increase the challenge, speak about an issue with emotional substance that is a source of tension between you and the other person. This process requires an ability to listen, and a commitment to understand.

By practicing dialogue in this format our communication becomes dialogical in spirit, even if we don’t adhere to a framework of structured dialogue. In genuine dialogue I allow others to complete their communication, accepting their experience as real and valid for them. In listening I am not focusing on my next point. A dialogue is not a debate. We are actually listening to each other, not merely taking turns in not listening. Especially when discussing highly charged subjects, or when it is apparent that communication has broken down, utilizing structure for empathic conversation may be particularly valuable. Apply this in your

life and notice a decrease in reactivity, increased emotional safety and deeper connection.

Creating sacred space between us entails commitment to genuine dialogue. Dialogue means that I listen with a view to understand, rather than to counter or defeat. In a consciousness of dialogue, my intention in expression and hearing is not to manipulate, invalidate or prove that I am right. With true dialogue we create a sanctified environment, unadulterated by barriers to healthy communication. It is an enlightening experience. Educator Robert Hutchins comments, “Education is a kind of continuing dialogue, and a dialogue assumes different points of view.”Approaching relationships with an attitude of discovery and deep listening, means that diverse viewpoints enrich relations, rather than divide them.

To effectively live the principles and communication strategies described here requires that our consciousness rests in the mode of sattva—being able to observe while suspending judgment, and being compassionate toward another being. Such compassion is the essence of empathy, and a fundamental quality of a spiritual life. There is a Vedic aphorism, atmavat sarva-bhutesu, which describes the essence of spiritual compassion as “feeling the happiness and distress of others as one’s own.”

Empathy connects us with others, emerges from and is cultivated through self-realization. Renowned management consultants Jagdish Sheth and Andrew Sobel write: “It is widely accepted that self-awareness and the ability to regulate your own emotions are fundamental prerequisites to the practice of empathy…If you can’t tune into your own emotions, it’s going to be a stretch trying to discern those of others. And if you are overcome by your own feelings, you’ll never have the mental bandwidth to listen properly.” Empathy requires a genuine interest in others, and a sincere desire to expand our perspectives and learning.


Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

Consider once more the workplace scenario described above.

“Can you believe how he ran that meeting? He didn’t care what anyone had to say. And the way he treated me? I’m quitting this place!”

Envision your response to the following comment: “You felt really insulted because of how he treated you during the meeting. I hear your anger toward the supervisor. You are so frustrated that you want to leave this place.”

When someone really listens to me, deeply understands me and acknowledges the pain I am experiencing, I begin to feel less upset and more capable of handling my emotions and difficulties. Feeling cared about, I am moved to share more. Caring is reflected in listening, and an empathic response is an effective strategy to show that we have listened. Reflective, empathic responses build trust. If you reflect to me what I have said and the feeling behind the words, it is a sign that you truly care about me and what I have to say. This type of response is called reflective listening, or mirroring. In addition to creating a trusting environment, an empathic response enables me to reflect on myself. Just as I can see myself better by looking in a mirror, I can also see into my thoughts, emotions and experiences better if someone else takes the role of the mirror.

For example, in response to the above reflective comment, I might think to myself, “I am upset with him, though it’s not that I really want to quit the job. There are many things I appreciate about this office—even about this new boss. I think I will talk to him. Maybe he is upset that I haven’t turned in those reports. I may apologize about that, though I will let him know that I didn’t appreciate how he spoke to me during the meeting.”

Note that empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy can imply a sense of pity, such as is expressed in “I feel so bad for you.” This does not convey an understanding of what the other person is saying, whereas a statement such as “I hear that you are feeling humiliated because she made a joke at your expense in a public forum” is an empathetic reflection that shows comprehension of content and affect.

Also, we can recognize that the statement “I understand” in itself is not a reflective statement. It is a declaration of knowledge. A statement such as “I understand that you are feeling unfulfilled because you know you can be more productive” is a reflective statement conveying empathy, because I have expressed not just that I understand, but what I understand to be the emotion and content of what the person is sharing. Of course, this does not mean that it is wrong to respond, “I understand.” Accompanied with appropriate non-verbal behavior and caring intention, such a response can communicate empathy.

It is said that people don’t care what we know until they know that we care. Demonstration of empathy is a wonderful way to show that we care. Empathic listening in itself creates a quality of human connection that is satisfying for the soul. And it produces an environment conducive for sharing whatever valuable knowledge we may have. In the field of social work there is a saying: “Start where the client is at.” By meeting people where they are, we build trust, stimulate self-exploration, and clarify our perceptions.


Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

There is an important distinction between the consciousness of having, and the principle of placing our consciousness in the result. Consciousness in the result is situated on the platform of being. When we place our consciousness in the result, we set the intention as empowered spiritual beings. Then we simply and effectively handle any so-called ‘obstacles’ that present themselves.

The having consciousness is not fixed in being, nor does it trust that our being is complete, balanced and whole. This frame of mind lacks the conviction that the intrinsic nature of the self is a foundation and wellspring of all auspiciousness. With consciousness in the result, we are commitment-driven, rather than history-driven. Commitment-driven means that our vision moves us, inspires our action and connects us with our being. History-driven means being limited by our past; our past experiences and results determine and constrain what is possible now and in our future. My past level of happiness, fulfillment, relationship satisfaction and financial success determines what I believe is possible for me now and into the future. Commitment-driven consciousness recognizes that “till now,” I may have experienced myself as weak, hopeless, a victim, bitter and limited in my achievements by various beliefs and circumstances; but from now on I am a vibrant, successful, inspiring person who boldly declares and manifests his vision.

This is not a process of pushing down the emotional beach ball while trying to think positively. It is cultivating the habit of experiencing the qualities of our spirit. In developing this way of being, it follows naturally that we fully experience whatever emotion surfaces, without denying or resisting it. Simultaneously, we can apply clear intention to create the experience that we want. While acknowledging and experiencing my insecurity, for example, I can manifest clear intention to bring to life feelings of confidence and security. Or, while recognizing that I am feeling stuck and awkward, I can put consciousness in the result to experience spontaneity and openness.

Being compassionate with yourself is one of the keys to unlocking your being. Empathy means connecting with someone

where he or she is—and this includes yourself. By accepting and even embracing that I am feeling frightened, I also open up to my courage. By recognizing my selfishness, I am able to appreciate my giving and selfless nature.

As we become expert in this process we may find that grungy states and rackets that formerly lasted for days or weeks may now only be with us for minutes or hours. Simple remembrance of our spiritual nature is also an effective means to achieve a transcendental perspective of healthy, empathic non-attachment toward whatever emotional drama we may be experiencing. Of course, this is understood in the context that emotions such as sadness, anger and hurt, are sometimes natural, and not necessarily grungies.

In defining our commitments, it is helpful to remember that it’s okay to “do our best” in some instances, without specific commitment to a goal. There is an organic process of learning from our actions and reevaluating goals. However, sometimes we want to declare and commit, to ensure that we write the script of our life. Steadfast commitment to a worthy goal moves us to exhibit our finest qualities and reveal the best side of our characters. As Goethe said, “First build a proper goal. The proper goal will make it easy, almost automatic, to build a proper you.”


Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

Another character from a novel, Josephus in Herman Hesse’s The Father Confessor, was renowned as a great healer. In Josephus “a gift slumbered, and with the passing years…it slowly came to flower. It was the gift of listening. Whenever a brother from one of the hermitages, or a child of the world harried and troubled of soul, came to Josephus and told him of his deeds, sufferings, temptations, and missteps…or spoke of his loss, pain or sorrow, Josephus knew how to listen to him, to open his ears and heart, to gather the man’s sufferings and anxieties into himself and hold them, so that the penitent was sent away emptied and calmed…

“He regarded every man the same way, whether he accused God or himself, whether he magnified or minimized his sins and sufferings, whether he confessed a killing or merely an act of lewdness, whether he lamented an unfaithful sweetheart or the loss of his soul’s salvation. It did not alarm Josephus when someone told of converse with demons…He did not lose patience when someone talked at great length while obviously concealing the main issue…All the complaints, confessions, charges, and qualms that were brought to him seemed to pour into his ears like water into the desert sands. He seemed to pass no judgment upon them and to feel neither pity nor contempt for the person confessing. Nevertheless, or perhaps for that very reason, whatever was confessed to him seemed not to be spoken into the void, but to be transformed, alleviated, and redeemed in the telling and being heard. Only rarely did he reply with a warning or admonition, even more rarely did he give advice, let alone any order. Such did not seem to be his function, and his callers apparently sensed that it was not. His function was to arouse confidence and be receptive, to listen patiently and lovingly, helping the imperfectly formed confession to take shape, inviting all that was dammed up or encrusted within each soul to flow and pour out…”

Josephus experienced severe struggles, and discovered his own healing in entering the world of others, serving them as an instrument in their healing. To serve another person—be it a friend caring for friend or a businessperson serving a customer—means understanding the needs, desires, thoughts and emotions of that person. This is empathy, a way of being that creates a culture of trust, supports self-realization and generates a climate of healing and healthy resolution. This is a key quality in life-enriching relationships that are based on honor and respect for each individual.

The essence of these techniques and principles—such as empathy, effective attending behavior and appropriate silence—is to view the world from the other person’s perspective. Seeing the worldview of someone does not mean being in agreement with that view. We can be secure in our viewpoint while understanding another perspective. In fact, an internal sense of security naturally translates to an openness to other frames of reference.

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