Thoughts on Kissing and Being a Good Listener

I was talking with a friend the other day about kissing.

I wrote a post a while ago about the idea of being a “good kisser” and how it didn’t make sense to me. I commented to my friend that, more recently, I have found myself coming around somewhat on the idea of kissing being a skill. I said I’m not sure if that is because it actually is more of a skill than I had thought when I wrote that post, or if I have just developed a strong bias toward the particular styles of kissing that I prefer, and started interpreting that as “skill”.

They responded by saying that they think a big part of being good at kissing is adapting your style to the style of the other person. This hit upon an idea that I had thought about before but hadn’t actually put into words until this conversation: it all comes down to being a good listener.

You can’t adapt your style to the unique accent of each person you kiss unless you listen to them. You have to listen to the ways that they move, the ways that they move away from you or towards you, press into you, shift around you, increase or decrease intensity, etc. Different people work in different ways — the way one person moves when they want to get a better angle maybe the way another person moves when they want to stop. The noise one person makes when they like something can sound incredibly similar to the noise another person might make when you are biting a little too hard. Often it isn’t too hard to tell the difference if you’re listening. Sometimes it is, though, and at those times, listening skills are still what’s important.

One of the big pieces of advice on being a good listener is to ask questions that help you understand the things the person you’re listening to is saying. You can have trouble understanding a movement, a sigh, or a shudder in the same way you might have trouble understanding a story. When you do, in either case, you ask what is meant by them.

This isn’t just about kissing. It’s about cuddling and it’s about sex and it’s about, hell, playing improvisational music together. In all of these things, a certain degree of adaptation is incredibly important, and getting that adaptation right is impossible without listening to what’s going on on the other end.

I wonder if that is part of what I’m noticing when I think of people as “good at” or “not good at” kissing: the ones who seem to be the best that it are the ones who know how to listen.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Dr. Gregory House and the Bad Decisions We Make Because Empathy

I was re-watching some old House episodes on Netflix recently, and there was an episode where one of the patients is a woman with heart issues caused by bulimia. I don’t remember the particular details of how her issues go from Super Mysterious Oh My God On What Is Going On to that specific diagnosis, but they’re not really important. What is important as we get almost to the end of the episode, past the point where we’ve developed some familiarity and empathy with this patient, and House ends up faced with the decision of whether or not to recommend that she be moved to the top of the list of those waiting for a heart transplant in spite of the fact that bulimia makes her a higher-risk candidate for it.

In the end, he has a Deep, Heartfelt Talk with her where she agrees to Do Better, and House decides not to tell the transplant board* about her bulimia.

This is the wrong decision. Putting this patient at the top of the list means putting other patients who need transplants just as badly lower down on the list. These other patients are, presumably, better candidates for transplants, meaning they have a better chance of surviving after they are done with the procedure. They are getting fucked over because of House’s decision. They may be just as in need as the woman in the episode, but House decides the best decision is to risk their lives so that this woman can get a transplant first. He makes this decision even though those other people are more likely to benefit from the procedure than she is. It’s the wrong decision, but it’s a narratively compelling one.

We want everything to be okay, we want this woman to be okay, and so it’s easy to feel like she should be moved to the top of the list because we feel for her and want her to be okay.

You never see the episode of House where he figures out that someone needs a transplant and signs them up for it and then that person dies because some other doctor and some other hospital decided that their riskier patient needed a transplant first. That aspect doesn’t help the narrative; it doesn’t allow us to feel good about the fact that this patient is someone we care about and we’ve just got to help her somehow. In real life, though, those other patients are just as real and just as in need as the one that any individual person might identify with any given moment.

Just because we feel for someone doesn’t mean that the people we don’t directly feel for as much aren’t important, or that they don’t thrive or suffer to the same degree. It doesn’t mean they don’t matter. It doesn’t mean we can disregard them in favor of the people close to us no matter what the circumstances are.

Which brings me to veganism.

Which brings me to the fact that if you are uncomfortable eating cats or dogs** but you are comfortable eating pigs and cows, your decision to eat the latter but not the former is irrational. It is the same type of irrational that I have just described in House. If you aren’t comfortable eating animals you might keep as pets but you are comfortable eating ones that you probably wouldn’t, you don’t actually care about how much suffering and/or death your decisions in this regard cause. You only care about it insofar as you, personally, feel empathy for it.

This is totally understandable in the same way that feeling empathy for the woman in the House episode and wanting her to be okay is totally understandable. It’s normal, it’s natural, it’s human, but don’t think for a second that it doesn’t mean a lot of suffering and death is happening purely on the basis of which creatures you think it’s adorable to have around and which ones you don’t.

*Or whatever the group of people who makes the decision is actually called.

**Personally, I would add “or people” to this list, but people seem less able to believe that animals can suffer as much as we*** do than they are able to believe that they suffer as much as “other animals” (in spite of the evidence that they do, in fact, suffer like we do), so I’ll leave that bit in this footnote instead.

***who are, you know, also animals

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other