#18 - Tools and Tactics for Providing World-Class Peer Support 🗣 (2/2)
Bitcoin, Octopuses, and How Khan Academy Took Over the World
Hello everybody! 👋🏽
Welcome and thanks for reading Long Way Home🏡, where I discuss emotional intelligence, creativity, and things that move me. This week is a continuation of last week's article on providing world-class peer support, which you can find here. Three years of volunteering at Western University's Peer Support Centre and teaching these strategies has allowed me to build on them and theorize about why they work so well, and I’d love to share these tricks with you.
Before getting into this week's topic, I wanted to tell you about a new community I am a part of called Compound Writing. Compound was started by Stew Fortier and Dan Hunt with some aspirational goals:
Providing online writers with affordable, high-quality editing for their work
Building a community where newer and more experienced writers could discuss writing challenges and brainstorm solutions
Offering a way to be held accountable to working towards your writing goals.
After joining two weeks ago, I've learned that Compound certainly has the ability to deliver on all three goals and more. Compound is brilliantly run, the community is extremely engaged, and there are resources available to add tangible value to writers at any stage of their development. If this sounds like something you'd be interested, feel free to reach out to me or check out their website. I don’t get anything for it, I just love the community.
In this week's LWH🏡:
💫 - Tools and Tactics for Providing World-Class Peer Support 🗣 (2/2) by Vandan Jhaveri
🎥 - The Insane Biology of: The Octopus by Real Science
🎙 - The Quiet Master of Cryptocurrency — Nick Szabo (#244) on the Tim Ferriss Show
🎥 - The Last Thing You'll Remember by Pursuit of Wonder
Let's get into it.
To quickly summarize from last week, providing peer support is challenging. Friends and family come when they are feeling vulnerable, and we are expected to know what to say and how to say it to make them feel better. Of course, nobody teaches us how to do this well. We are just expected to know.
During my time at Western University, I was responsible for training volunteers at the Peer Support Centre, a physical space within the student centre where students could show up and find a stranger to speak with about anything on their minds. Volunteers needed to be trained to handle a wide variety of difficult situations and were thus taught a simple three-part framework: Listen, Affirm, Refer.
Last week, I delved into how to listen for peer support and why that might be helpful. Today, I will be expounding on Affirm and Refer, and ending with the importance of self-care. Peer support is tricky. It's extremely personal to the individual, but there are some general principles that have a high likelihood of success.
There's an art to the science and a science to the art, some would say.
Know Your Friend
To understand which affirmations may be most meaningful in a given situation, there must be an understanding of what the other person may be fearing.. This isn't easy. Above all, this requires empathy. We must put ourselves in our friend's shoes and use our imagination to pinpoint which emotions we may feel if we were in that same situation. We must ask ourselves:
What would our most urgent fears be?
In the conversation , what might we be worried about coming off as?
What would we feel but aren't hearing our friend say in this moment?
We can let our answers to these questions inform how we respond to those in need. Of course, much easier said than done. This aspect of being good support requires practice, creativity, and a degree of emotional intelligence that is hard to fake.
However irrational, we are constantly on the verge of feeling as though we are somehow pushing others away with our pettiness, oversensitivity, and fragmented thought patterns. We must recognize that although in typical conversation, most of us need an active reason to feel as though we are being ridiculous, when we are sharing something vulnerable, we require an active reason to feel as though we are not being ridiculous. This is a core tenet for why it is such a challenge to be vulnerable in conversation—a conducive environment has not been created by the other half of the conversation. Validating others' feelings is a powerful tool in creating that psychologically safe environment.
When we think about it, trying to convince others that we have a good reason to feel upset occupies a lot of space in our conversations. Instinctively, we know how we should order (or omit) facts to create a victim narrative that highlights someone else's wrongdoing and why we deserve sympathy.
Once we have given others permission to feel their emotion wholeheartedly without also feeling inherently incorrect, their executive processing kicks in and they identify the flaws in their own logic and emotional processing on their own. Therein lies the power of validation, and watching this happen in real time never fails to satisfy me.
Once our friend can let their guard down and quit the effort of trying to convince us that their situation is a sorry one, the real conversation can begin. Here are some phrases that I use to validate:
"Oh, I totally understand why that would bother you."
"I'd feel hurt if I were in your shoes too."
"I'm really surprised that X overlooked how that might have made you feel."
A trick that I use is to make it sound like the way that your friend feels is the most predictable response to a given situation—the only seemingly logical one. The whole point is to make your loved one feel sane.
We notice that once our friend is sufficiently reassured that they aren't crazy, they actually realize the crazy parts of their reaction by themselves. Some verbal and action cues from our loved ones to recognize that this process has begun:
"Well, I guess I did overreact a little bit."
"There might be other logical explanations for why they said/did that, I suppose."
Your friend pledges to some tangible action to ensure that they don't find themselves in such a position in the future.
When we hear these phrases, we know that we have done an adequate job creating the environment for our friend to feel psychologically safe enough to admit fault, which demands plenty of mental resources to recognize. Again, when we are busy trying to declare why we have a good reason to feel hurt, there aren't any surplus mental resources to allocate towards problem-solving.
Once we have made our loved ones feel seen and understood through attentive listening and sufficiently sane through affirming, we can provide them with the tools necessary to solve their own problems.
1. Know Resources
Not everybody who vents to us is suffering from debilitating stress and requires therapy. However, after many conversations about the same issues with the same loved ones, we may begin to feel as though they need professional help to get out of the rut left by entrenched thought patterns.
But referring our loved ones to professional resources is complicated. We must be mindful of our loved one potentially feeling as though we are attempting to pawn off responsibility, or that somehow their issues are so complicated and odd that they necessitate professional intervention.
The idea to seek professional help needs to come from them. If asking for help is originally your idea, there will be an instinctive resistance towards it for the same reasons: feeling crazy, feeling broken, and feeling unmanageable. You might be able to present it as one option of many to plant the seed, but pushing professional help onto people guarantees that they will not take the one step that they may so desperately need to take. Wait for phrases like these:
"Do you think I need help?"
"Maybe I could use some help in figuring all these things out, but I wouldn't know how to get started."
"Talking to a professional sounds interesting, but the whole thing kind of sounds like a black box to me. It's scary."
If you have any personal experience with speaking to a professional, it may be worth considering sharing that experience with your on-the-fence friend if you have not already. Providing your testimonial (if you had a positive experience) might encourage your friend to receive the help.
It's always handy to know a few mental health resources (or at least know where to find them). At the PSC, people would always come in looking for resources "for a friend" all the time. When your loved one suggests speaking to somebody,
Click here for a list of high-quality, useful resources available to residents of Ontario. If you're currently in post-secondary education, each college and university has a suite of services available free-of-charge to tuition-paying students. Each college and university is different, so call Student Services to learn about the options available to you. There are many brilliant options out there, and they are eager to help.
2. Know Your Friend
Sometimes we don't need the calculated support of a professional, but the messy, unpolished hand of a friend who makes us feel seen and known. There is tremendous healing in receiving a link or a recommendation from a friend that tickles a unique and specific part of our brain. Feeling as though someone close to us understands and appreciates our individual preferences and interests reminds us that we are irreplaceable nodes in the labyrinth of human connection.
Recommending a movie or a cool YouTube clip or an Instagram account of a creator or a fascinating article when your friend is feeling down can be the mirror that they need to remind themselves that this state of mind is neither permanent nor defining. They are more than their moods, problems, and emotional immaturities. We all are.
Nudging a friend to remember the vastness of the world here is key. We all can feel consumed by our thoughts, so sometimes, laughing at a goofy video of a toddler happily opening up a gift-wrapped banana, or devouring a Stanford lecture on how to use R for statistical analysis in healthcare is all the therapy we need.
Take Care of Yourself
I'm proud to say that we spent plenty of time on self-care at the PSC. Truth be told, this is difficult, exhausting, thankless work. Feeling as though you successfully supported somebody you care about is rewarding and encouraging, but the supported won't be aware of the many different strategies you employed to make them feel better. Good support actively ushers in feelings of positivity and enthusiasm but makes the supported feel as though they were solution-oriented the entire time. That's the goal, and it's tough.
An oldie but a goldie—you can't fill up anybody else's cup if yours is empty. It's crucial to take a break from being support whenever you need it. It's harmful and unrealistic to expect yourself to expend this high degree of emotional labour at all times.
We must have the self-awareness to know our re-energizing behaviours, and then remember to engage in those behaviours when we feel ourselves nearing an empty tank. People overlook the importance of the second half of that, thinking that engaging in the activities is the easy part. It's not.
We tend to feel like once we do, we're somehow "giving up" and that the most ambitious and proactive among of us plow through their burnout and get to the other side. Of course, this is ludicrous. The most ambitious and proactive among us are extremely sensitive to feelings of burnout, re-energizing and relaxing long before catastrophe.
I know that the concepts I've written about these past two weeks can feel confusing, complex, and extremely abstract, but I hope to revisit them often over the next few months as I discover new ways of presenting this information. I think it’s so important. Ideally, I will include more concrete examples to make it easier to wrap our heads around how these tactics can be helpful for showing up for our loved ones in the ways that we want to.
As always, I would love some feedback on today's topic. Which parts were the most interesting, which were the most confusing, and which concepts would you like me to talk more about?
🎥 - Aliens Live Among Us
Octopuses are the closest things we have on earth to aliens. There, I said it. After watching My Octopus Teacher on Netflix two weeks ago, I was sold on that idea. Fascinatingly, octopuses have evolved intelligence in a completely different way than reptiles, birds, and mammals. A deep dive into their anatomy shows how anatomically different octopuses are from the rest of the intelligent animals we know.
This video on the biology of octopuses explains how they are able to shape-shift, changing colour and shape on a whim, and how they seem to have regenerative properties that we still don't fully understand. Learn how the deeply anti-social and isolated octopus seems to engage in the hyper-social activity of playing here.
🎙 - Cryptic Crypto
I am most certainly not about to give investment advice in this newsletter, but after the last two weeks of off-the-wall bitcoin values, I figured that I needed to understand what bitcoin is, how it works, and what the future of cryptocurrencies might be. I stumbled on this masterclass, building understanding from the ground up. Initial questions like "What is money?" push me to make no assumptions. As a bonus, we get successful entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant also weighing in with his opinions and probing questions.
Nick Szabo is the creator of Bit Gold, which most people understand to be the precursor of bitcoin. Listen here for how a world-leading bitcoin scholar explains bitcoin and its future to someone with absolutely no background and no technical knowledge here.
🎥 - The Last Thing You'll Remember
It's best if you go into this video completely blind, but I will say that after 13 minutes, I was moved. The writing is beautiful and it is easy to close your eyes and imagine you're right in the story.
Every so often, we observe a piece of writing that is so precise in its use of examples and detail that you don't even realize you're hearing words—it feels like images are being directly downloaded onto your mind's eye. I felt that way with this video and would love to know if you felt similarly.
🎙 - Sal Teaches Yet Again
How I Built This is one of my favourite podcasts because it gets into the minds of founders in a way that other shows don't. The majority of the episode is dedicated to guests' early childhood experiences and the turmoil from which brilliant businesses are born.
Guy Raz's interview with Sal Khan is no different. If you have taken a high school calculus class, you are very familiar with his explainer videos on YouTube, in their iconic colour-marker style. Sal has educated a generation of students, making it possible for them to find academic confidence and potentially earn the grades necessary to realize their dreams. Listen to how Sal uses the legendary Foundations series by Isaac Asimov as inspiration to build a not-for-profit with the mission of providing a free, world-class education to every human being on the planet.