Friday, May 28, 2010

Sculpting, Bonsai, & Perspective Taking

Master SuperMaster says, "A true Dom doesn't care what a sub wants. A true Dom knows what kind of sub he wants, and does whatever is necessary to make the sub that kind of sub."

I read a beautiful essay by a sub, about the difference between sculpting marble and shaping a bonsai tree. A block of marble has distinct properties, in its composition and striations. While a sculptor must respect these properties, he can more or less directly create whatever he envisions. A tree is far more unique, especially because it's dynamic. It responds to water, light, pruning, and wire. So a tree can be shaped purposefully, but only indirectly, and there are limits.

Bonsai is the art of learning the tree-that-is and the tree-that-can-be. Dominance should be the art of learning the sub-that-is and the sub-that-can-be. There is nothing wrong with a Dom preferring a certain kind of sub. If so, he should be expressive about his preference, and thoughtful about the subs he chooses. He shouldn’t try to make a different kind of sub feel inferior, over what may just be a matter of taste. If a bonsai tree is not a flowering species, no amount of bondage or shouting will make it blossom.

Communication is essential to a successful D/s relationship. Communication is more effective if the Dom knows some of the right questions to ask and topics to discuss. How can the Dom do this? Perspective taking.

Empathy is a natural animal ability. We can vicariously experience the elation, distress, or pain of someone in our pack. We can sharpen our empathy, by attending to our vicarious experiences, and checking our perceptions through communication.

Perspective taking is a deliberate mental skill. We can try to imagine what someone is thinking and feeling. A Dom can mentally simulate a sub’s state of being. Many subs use perspective taking, either intuitively or through self-directed effort. They try to anticipate their Doms’ wants and needs, and are better subs for it. Some Doms seem mystified about a sub’s state of being, or simply don’t care. They seem to only focus on what the sub says or does.

I practice perspective taking a variety of ways. For example, I try to think like a sub would think, if she were playing a Dom. Thus, after a particularly good intimate experience, I might send an affectionate notecard or long IM the next day, just as I might send flowers to my lover in my 1st life.

Perspective taking is part of being a good Dom. It overlaps the same way that teaching is part of being a good Dom. I’m a teacher in my 1st life. In education, we say that the beginning teacher asks, "How am I doing?" The advanced teacher asks, "How are my students doing?" The advanced Dom asks, “How is my sub doing?”

Perspective taking is also part of good etiquette. In Dark Den, many of us have been discussing the value of “respect.” For example, when you meet someone new, do you respect them until they lose your respect, or do you start with no respect, and expect them to earn it? How you answer says something about whether and how you imagine the experience of being a newcomer, and how you want a newcomer to feel.

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