Gottman’s 5 to 1 Ratio

Everyone wants to feel heard and valued.

Increasingly, I find myself reading up on all things autism, due to my recent diagnosis. The other day I was particularly interested in how people cope with meltdowns, because I was writing blog post on the subject, which you can find here. I find that you can learn a lot if you not only read articles, but read the comments from readers that often follow them.  This time was no exception.

Many people were giving advice based on their own experiences with autistic meltdowns, and one mom said that she always tries to follow Gottman’s 5 to 1 Ratio. Unfortunately, she didn’t elaborate. Now, I knew I had heard of this ratio before, but for the life of me, I couldn’t place it. So naturally I delved deeper with the help of a search engine, as one does.

I went directly to the source. The Gottman Institute website reminded me why I had heard of this ratio. It comes from their research into healthy and happy marriages. By studying how couples work through conflicts, they were able to predict, with 90% accuracy, which couples would divorce. They determined that for every negative interaction a couple has during a conflict, a stable and happy marriage has at least five positive interactions.

I genuinely believe this ratio is true, based on my own observations. However, I had never thought of applying it to relationships that weren’t romantic, such as those with work colleagues or children or friends. I have no idea why.

I think everyone wants to feel heard and valued. Everyone appreciates little acts of kindness. It’s always a more comfortable conversation when we can emphasize common ground, understanding, and compassion. All of these things constitute positive interactions.

Dear Husband, in particular, is very adept at this. I’ve never met anyone before him who seemed to be born to be married. DH definitely is. He thrives in matrimony. He is positive with me in particular, but he’s also that way in general. It’s second nature to him to seek out the positive spin on every situation, and you can tell that he’s really sincere about it. How lucky I am to have found him!

I, on the other hand, waited until I found a keeper, which means I married for the first time at age 53. Sometimes I feel like I’m a baby giraffe just learning how to walk in this marriage thing. DH is very patient with me, and he has taught me a great deal by sheer example.

You’d think positive interactions would be common sense, but they don’t come as naturally to others as they do to my husband. That’s unfortunate. I agree that it’s also good to be playful in a marriage, but I’ve known a lot of people who take this way too far.

It’s okay to joke and gently tease, but it’s easy to cross the line. Some jokes can be cruel. Some teasing can be humiliating. If you get too comfortable in your interactions, they can become hurtful. I’ve witnessed a lot of couples who interact in that manner, and often at least one of them doesn’t seem to realize that they’ve stopped being mindful of the other’s feelings. Those are the relationships that don’t last. I often wish those people could pay more attention to how Dear Husband treats me.

But the same thing can be said about how one deals with coworkers or friends. Have fun, yes, but also show that you respect the people you interact with. Make sure they feel that you support them. These basic tenets have fallen by the wayside since 2016, and it’s having a negative impact on society in general. We have to turn this around somehow.

I know it sounds corny, but that’s only because it’s so true: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

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Can anyone be trusted?

I wish I weren’t going through life learning this lesson over and over again.

Lack of trust is a deal breaker for me. I either trust you or I don’t. Similarly, if you don’t think I’m trustworthy, you clearly don’t have a good read on me, so what’s the point of maintaining a friendship?

I once ended a 23-year friendship for that very reason. She had always been the one to fly out to visit me, because I was poor and she was a lot less so. (That, and she also visited other people in the area.) It was purely a case of economics and convenience. At least that’s what I had always assumed.

Then one day I got the bright idea to surprise my best friend. I saved my money for nearly a year so that, for once, I could visit her. Of course I didn’t just show up at her door without any warning. I would never do that. When I finally had enough for the plane ticket, I called her up and shared the news that I’d like to visit for a few days in about two months, based on her availability.

I thought she’d be as excited as I always was when she came to see me. My guest room was always open to her. Always. But apparently that particular street only went one way.

My best friend for 23 years (who, by the way, never called me her best friend, even though we spent about 5 hours a day talking on the phone. No one ever has.) informed me that I couldn’t stay with her, because she couldn’t trust me in her house.

And just like that, I realized that I had been operating under the illusion that she knew what kind of person I was. Discovering that her assessment of me was that I was someone who couldn’t be trusted around her personal possessions left me completely and utterly speechless. Like I’d… what? Root through her file cabinet and write down her Social Security Number for future use? Read her diary? Steal her silverware? Really?

I was disgusted. At myself. For thinking she knew me for 23 years. For not realizing that she had such a low opinion of me.

It’s too simplistic to say that that was the only reason I ended that friendship. But once the scales fell from my eyes, I saw just how much I had been overlooking for all those years, and this was just a bridge too far. That was a bitter lesson to learn.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take that lesson and apply it to others. To this day, I walk through life thinking that I actually know people. I assume decency. I am too trusting. And it bites me in the butt all the time.

Picture this. Fast forward seven years. I thought I’d finally made my first friend after having moved across the country to Seattle. She was a climate activist and a therapist, and she lived only about a mile away from me. We’d hang out once or twice a week, go to dinner, play cards, watch Trump get elected and feel sick together… you know. Friend stuff.  She even had me over for Thanksgiving.

Then one day we were hanging out at my house, something we rarely did because she didn’t like my dog (and that should have been a red flag in and of itself.) She had to use the bathroom, which of course was no problem. I was in the kitchen, making lunch. But the walls in that place were thin, and my medicine cabinet made a distinctive squeak when it opened. I could also hear the pills rattling around in the bottles as she took the time to examine one after another.

I went into the living room and sat down, facing the bathroom door. She spent quite some time in there, nosing around, and I was at a loss as to what to do about it. It felt like such a violation. And what nerve. (To her credit, I never detected that any meds were missing, but still.) It was as if she were saying that I had no right to privacy, I should not expect to be respected, and I had no agency over my own things in my own home.

When she came out and saw me sitting right there, I could tell she was taken by surprise. I looked her square in the eye, and she looked down. I wish I could tell you I confronted her about it, but the truth is, I hate confrontation. And I kind of thought I had made my point anyway. We had an awkward lunch and she left.

Once again, I was shocked to learn that someone’s character was a lot less admirable than I had assumed. It just goes to show that therapists can be every bit as f***ed up as the rest of us are.  I kind of feel sorry for her patients. Here they think that they’re telling all their intimate secrets to someone with a moral compass who wants to help them, when in fact she’s probably just getting off on rooting around in the medicine cabinets of their minds.

Shortly after that lovely insight into her moral makeup, she got herself a boyfriend and completely dropped off the face of the earth for about two months. To say I was relieved would be putting it mildly. But of course, that relationship didn’t last. She didn’t like the way he loaded the dishwasher. Suddenly she wanted to hang out again.

I didn’t completely eject her from my life. Friends are entirely too thin on the ground out here in the Pacific Northwest for that. But things were never the same. My fundamental opinion of her had shifted too much.

Then later, when I got married and moved 25 miles away, she told me we weren’t friends anymore because I wasn’t willing or able to drop everything to hang out with her at a moment’s notice like I used to. (I think it had more to do with the fact that I had managed to find someone who “loads the dishwasher” to my satisfaction, and that’s something she has never been able to achieve, but I digress.)

Having someone who snooped around in my medicine cabinet turn around and tell me I was a bad friend for paying too much attention to my husband was, and will always be, more than a little bit amusing to me. She may even believe the words that came out of her mouth. I have no idea. But I really believe I’m a good friend to have and she doesn’t get to have that.

I’m making more of an effort to remind myself that I can’t figure most people out. It’s a moot point, though. She moved to another city and made it quite clear that there was no point remaining in contact.

Did I judge her too harshly? I suppose I do expect the same level of integrity from others that I do from myself. To do otherwise might put me in a scary situation.

Apparently, many people can’t resist sticking their noses where they don’t belong. According to a survey by the makers of Quilted Northern toilet tissue, 39 percent of Americans peek in other people’s medicine cabinets. Even worse: Twenty-five percent have helped themselves to something inside.

Of course, those surveys only measure those who are willing to admit their transgressions. I bet that figure is actually higher. But it would never have occurred to me to wonder before I had it happen to me. I hope 39 percent of my readers don’t pull this caper. I’d be profoundly disappointed.

These statistics blow my mind. It would never, ever occur to me to violate someone’s privacy like that. I once endured a throbbing hangnail for 4 hours because I wouldn’t go into someone’s medicine cabinet on my own and they were so justifiably busy that they couldn’t stop long enough to get me a nail clipper and a band aid.

If I need an aspirin, I ask for one. If someone asks me for an aspirin, I don’t hesitate to provide it. I really don’t have anything to hide. I’m an open medicine cabinet. I just would like you to grant me the courtesy of asking me before opening said cabinet, just as I would do for you. That seems fairly straightforward to me.

I can’t believe how rude people can be, with apparently no remorse whatsoever. Maybe the fundamentalists are right and there’s no such thing as evolution, at least from the perspective that we never truly emotionally evolved as a species. We certainly behave like monkeys a lot of the time. We’re only a few genetic sequences away from throwing our feces at one another when we get agitated.

Maybe I need to lower my expectations. Maybe I should assume that I’m viewed as untrustworthy, and will be no matter what I do, and I should hold a similar opinion of others. That would certainly simplify things, because I’d lose all desire to interact with anyone but my dog.

Human beings are inherently flawed. I realize that. Maybe I just have to learn that, in addition, nothing is sacred. I just wish I weren’t going through life learning that lesson over and over and over again. It’s exhausting, disappointing, and it makes me very sad.

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Generosity of Spirit

Everyone could use a little kindness.

Tomorrow is Spread Goodness Day! I love this annual event, so much so that I have written about it here, here, and here. I thought I would give you a day to get yourself into the mindset, because we’re all in the throes of pandemic stress lately, and it’s not a good look. I doesn’t hurt to be emotionally prepared to get your goodness on.

The other day, I asked someone to do me a favor. It was a minor thing, because I hate asking people for help. I only do so in times of desperation. It would not have unduly inconvenienced that person, and it would have meant the world to me. I had never asked him for anything before.

He didn’t even ask me the circumstances that lead to my request. He didn’t ask if anyone else could do this favor for me. He simply said, “No, I’d rather not. Sorry.”

Of course, he was perfectly within his rights to deny my request, but he was my only option. This left me, effectively, screwed. And, frankly, shocked.

I’m always shocked when people react differently than I would in the same situation. And about 8 hours later, I added indignation to my shock, because I remembered that several years ago he asked me to help him complete a job application, and also asked for a letter of recommendation, and I didn’t hesitate to help. I think it took me that long to remember that because I’m not one to keep score.

Now I find myself having less respect for this man. That makes me sad. But I’m starting to realize that my level of respect for a person is closely tied to what I call their generosity of spirit. That generosity doesn’t even have to involve me in any way. It’s just my observations about how that person treats others.

For example, I find it hard to respect people who are cruel to their family members, abusive to animals, or rude to cashiers or wait staff or anyone else in the service industry. On the other hand, I have mad respect for those who volunteer, or see a need in the community and try to fix it. Extra credit to those who shovel their neighbor’s driveway or give coats to the homeless. And kudos to those who wear a mask to protect the more vulnerable members of society during this pandemic. I can’t understand how anyone even hesitates to do so.

And even if you don’t have the time or money, there are so many ways to have a generous spirit without unduly sacrificing yourself. I heard a story the other day about a woman who was grocery shopping, and the cashier said, “How are you doing?” Normally she would have responded that she was fine, but a few days ago her mother had died, and she said so. The bag boy asked if he could give her a hug, and he did so when she said yes.

Little things like that can mean the entire world to someone. (And incidentally, if you want to hear more lovely stories like that one, check out the My Unsung Hero podcast. It will warm your heart.)

Kindness doesn’t have to be hard for you. If someone says hello to you, say hello back. Simple. Hold the door for someone. Let someone go first. Hold the elevator. Show up early.

One time I was walking down the sidewalk and a little old lady approached me and shyly asked if I could zip up her dress. She lived alone, and she couldn’t reach the zipper herself. She didn’t want to walk into church in an unzipped dress. So I zipped it right up for her. I suspect that’s the most human contact she had had in ages. Things like that are so easy to do. I wish more people would do them.

I just looked up the etymology of the word favor. It’s been around since the 1300’s at least. It means good will, support, honor, reverence, to show a kindness to.

So when someone says “Do me a favor,” they’re actually asking you to honor and support them with your kindness. I find that delightful. We need more of that in this world.

Think of that next time someone asks you for a favor. If you are able, I hope you’ll be willing. Because everyone could use a little kindness.

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Make Your World More Beautiful

We can move in a positive direction.

Nature is beautiful. And then we humans come along and build over the top of it, bringing pollution and urban sprawl and extinctions and overcrowding and cigarette butts.

But we do have a tiny bit of control. Artists understand that. We can create beauty if we want to. We don’t have to have boring, flat, monochrome surfaces that draw nothing but dust and debris and despair. We can make the spaces we occupy more interesting, inspiring strong emotions and deep thought that, on the best of days, will cause us to move in positive directions. Even those of us with no artistic training can bring beauty back.

We may not be able to recreate the Grand Canyon, but we can positively impact our surroundings if we choose to, even after much damage has been done. We don’t have to be a purely destructive force. We can clean things up and make them unique. The ambience surrounding you impacts your attitude, and shows your respect, or lack thereof, for your community and the wider world.

What are you doing to make your world more beautiful? We can all make a difference. We don’t have to be passive victims of our ever-expanding urban blight.

I’ll leave you with photos of some murals that beautify various places throughout the world. Individually, they may only cause a minor impact, but collectively they demonstrate that there’s hope for us yet.

Murals are not the only way to beautify your world. Use your imagination. Make something more beautiful today.

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The Silent Treatment is Child Abuse

The damage may not be physical, but it’s there.

As an adult, when another adult gives me the silent treatment, I have to laugh inside. Clearly, the two of us have issues, so does that person really think their silence is a punishment to me? A recent coworker used to do that to me, coupled with a glare that was dripping with contempt. Actually, I viewed her silence as a nice respite, because, let’s face it: please shut up. Please.

I know that eventually these misguided adults will figure out that this lack of communication isn’t going to further their agenda very much, and they’ll either speak to me or they won’t. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to speak to them when the need arises, but small talk will cease. Works for me. It gives me an opportunity to catch up on my reading.

But it’s very different when the silent treatment is directed at a child. I had one relative who would do that to me for months on end unless my mother stepped in and forced her to stop. Until the next time. It was worse than toxic. According to a psychotherapist interviewed for this article, the silent treatment is an abusive method of control, punishment, avoidance, and disempowerment.

You don’t have to physically or verbally abuse a child to damage them. The silent treatment is emotional abuse at its most insidious. According to the article, it is “manipulation, a twisted way of regaining authority over someone, making the victim feel powerless, intimidated, guilty and insignificant.”

The messages I received when this relative hit me with her stone-cold silences were, “I care more about hurting you than communicating with you.” “You are unwanted.” “You do not matter.” “You are insignificant.” “If you don’t want to be ignored and rejected, you have to give in to all my demands, beliefs, and opinions, and squash any of your own.” “If you want to avoid conflict, just shut up and do as I say, no matter how irrational it may seem.” “You have no right to question anything.” “I don’t take you seriously.” “To get along in this world, you should allow yourself to be manipulated by others.” “Anticipate my needs to the point of having anxiety attacks if you want to be loved.” “Doubt yourself.” “Nobody has your back.” “Nobody will stand by you.” “You are completely and utterly alone in this world.” “The best way to communicate is by not communicating at all.”

These are horrible messages to send to a child. Children who are stripped of their self-esteem in this manner are definitely not being set up for success. In fact, quite the opposite. To this day, my gut reaction when someone gets angry at me is that they’re going to stop loving me. I have to remind myself constantly that that’s not true. I should know it. I deserve to be confident about love in times of strife. That was taken from me.

I never thought about this behavior as actual abuse until the subject came up recently with a friend. Then I started reading more about it. Then I got really angry. Then I gained some insight about the person I have become.

My mother was not the best communicator either. When she’d get mad at me, she’d write on her day planner, “You are mad at Barb.” That way she could emotionally color all our interactions with that fact. So I’d sneak in her room when she wasn’t there and erase that note. (Thank goodness she always wrote in pencil.) But even at her very worst, she didn’t hold a candle to this other relative.

For several years during my childhood, I truly believed that if I wasn’t right in someone’s line of sight, I no longer existed for them. That’s why, to this day, when someone does something that shows they’ve thought of me when I wasn’t present, it means so much to me that it often brings tears to my eyes. In a way, I’m glad I have this heightened level of appreciation for thoughtful gestures. It’s the silver lining to this messed up cloud. But the cloud remains.

A healthier lesson to teach a child is that there is a rational way to get through conflict. Talk problems out. Listen to both sides. Compromise. Come to an understanding. Kids should learn that everyone deserves respect. Everyone has a right to be heard. Everyone’s opinion has value, whether you agree with it or not.

Healthy communication is the very bedrock of love, and it provides children with the tools to function well in society. So if you’re supposed to be the adult in a relationship, please act like it. Your ability to do damage is greater than you think.

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I’d Love Your Advice

You might be surprised at the results.

In recent years, with the benefit of age and life experience, I’ve come up with a strategy that has greatly increased the positive energy in my world. It will sound counterintuitive, but when I have a goal that I’m trying to reach, no matter how small it may seem, and even when I already know how I plan to reach it, I will ask for someone’s advice.

Have you ever seen the look on someone’s face when you tell them you’d like their opinion? Pure delight. You just gave them the highest compliment on earth. You value their insight. You respect them. You want to hear what they have to say.

Be sure to be genuine with your request. Even if your game plan is in place, by employing this strategy, you may be rewarded with some fabulous ideas that you hadn’t considered. It never hurts to get someone to look at your project from a different point of view.

And remember, you don’t necessarily have to take their advice. Either way, you’ve just made a huge deposit in someone else’s emotional bank account. They’ll remember that.

This approach will also keep you humble. It will remind you that you aren’t the only person with solutions in this world. Going it alone isn’t always the best way to get ahead.

I have never gotten anything but positive results from this tactic. Try it. Pick one person during the course of your day and say to them, “I’d love your advice.” Extra points for asking someone who rarely gets to give advice, like a young person or an elderly person.

See what happens. I think you’ll like it. I guarantee that the other person will.

lucy-advice-booth

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The Satisfaction

Stay in your lane.

A former coworker once told me that she wasn’t going to tell anyone her retirement date until the last minute because she “wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.”

My first thought was, “therein lies your problem.”

She knew she wasn’t liked. She knew people would be thrilled to see her go. (Heaven knows, I’d be first in line to do a happy dance.) But what she failed to realize is that it was her very instinct to withhold satisfaction from people that caused much of the animosity.

She never acknowledged a job well done. In fact, she would be the first to criticize. She never did a thing to boost morale. In fact, she was the most soul-sucking individual I’ve had the misfortune to know. She never encouraged independent thought or unique ideas. She was the poster child for micromanagement. Not only did she not give satisfaction, but she made our lives a living hell every chance she got.

I’ve never in my life been so happy to see the back of someone.

Of course, every situation is different. Sometimes resentment is justified. But I suggest that if you’re really bitter, and don’t want to give someone the satisfaction, you might want to make sure that you aren’t the apex predator in this little manhunt of yours. If people are horrible and you have no control over that, that’s one thing. But if people are horrible because you yourself are petty and impossible to deal with, that’s another thing entirely.

Decency and respect is a two way street. You have total control over how you drive on that street. Are you making people want to swerve to avoid you? It’s important to drive defensively, but it’s even more important to stay in your lane.

Satisfaction

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An Apology Goes a Long Way

It pays to put your reputation ahead of your pride.

Someone I know quite well recently screwed up to an epic degree. She erred to the point of angering many people and shocking me speechless. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.

I tried to talk to her about it, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t hear me. She had to know that she had made a massive mistake. She was painted into a corner and she couldn’t see how to get out of it.

The way out was simple. All she had to do was sincerely apologize, admit her foolish blunder, and say she’d do her best not to let it happen again. I mean, we’re all human, after all. Nobody’s perfect.

But no. She’d rather have her pride than our respect. She’d rather be the woman on the dragon, burning down the city full of innocent people, than take the high road and step back and treat people with decency and human kindness.

No, I’m not talking about Daenerys from Game of Thrones here. As of this most recent episode, it seems she’s too far gone. But the parallels with my former friend are distressing. Sometimes it just pays to put your reputation ahead of your pride. That’s a tale as old as time.

https _img00.deviantart.net_1d2c_i_2016_285_8_1_mother_of_dragons_by_offbeatworlds-daktytt

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Predators

Does it feel good when you break the arm of someone who is 8 times smaller than you are?

I just heard the most disgusting recording ever. It was Tyreek Hill and his fiancée Crystal Espinal discussing how his three-year-old son’s arm was broken. It’s hard for me not to get emotional about this.

From an emotional standpoint, it seems clear to me that this huge NFL player broke this small child’s arm. Big man. Class act.

In fairness, at the time of this writing, neither adult has admitted any wrongdoing. But here are the facts from the recording:

Espinal says the child is terrified of Hill.

Hill tells Espinal she should be terrified, too, and insults her.

Hill admits he told the child to shut up and stop crying.

Espinal says the child said, “Daddy did it,” and “Daddy punches me.”

Espinal admits she stuck up for Hill with investigators. In other words, she knew what he had done to her child, and yet she prevented investigators from finding out.

Hill admits that when the child cries, he makes him open up his arms and he punches the kid in the chest. He says the child respects him.

They both accuse each other of using a belt on the child.

We will never be 100 percent sure of what happened, but it’s quite obvious that both of these adults have some extremely questionable parenting skills, and that child is in danger.

To be quite clear, there is no excuse for injuring someone who is 8 times smaller than you are. There is absolutely no justification for it. And respect? That is earned through love, not through threats and violence. I have no respect for someone who feels the need to punch me in the chest or break my arm.

When you prey on someone who is clearly more vulnerable than you, does it feel good? Do you feel like you’ve accomplished something? Is it some sort of triumph?

It’s easy to abuse small children, little old ladies, women half your size, smaller kids in the school yard when you’re backed up with a group of jeering friends. It’s a lot less work to harvest the low hanging fruit. Sure, you can do these things, but you shouldn’t. Every civilized human being knows that. The fact that there are certain people out there who know that and yet do it anyway, and others who enable them, says a lot about what they are.

They are predators. They are twisted, evil, cruel, ignorant animals that should be locked up in cages for the rest of their lives.

Predator

More Telling Than a FICO Score

I don’t like passing judgment on someone I’ve just met.

I’m about to become a landlord for the first time in my life. It’s a strange feeling. It took me 54 years to scrape and claw myself up into the middle class, and now here I am trying to judge the content of someone’s character based on their FICO score.

And I must say, it’s a very telling reference point. From it you can determine if one pays their debts, does not spend beyond their means, and basically if that person is a good financial risk. You can also get a sense of their level of discipline, their ability to hold a job, their integrity and responsibility. It’s not a perfect metric, to be sure. Life happens. But it’s better than flying blind.

Of course, we are using an application and doing a credit and background check as well. I’m trying really hard to look at this as a business, not as an emotional thing. As in, “I really like that couple. I want to help them.”

It’s really hard to pass judgment on someone you’ve just met. And it’s really important to me to do my best not to be biased. It’s not easy. But someone else gave me another measuring tool that is turning out to be even more telling than a FICO score.

When a couple is looking at your rental place, how are they talking to each other? Do they do so with respect? They don’t necessarily have to be affectionate. Some people are much more private than others. But are they being respectful to one another? Because if they can’t maintain that respect with the person that they supposedly love most in the world, then they’re not going to respect your house, and may not respect the need to pay the rent on time, either.

This makes perfect sense to me. And I think I’ll be using this yardstick in other walks of life as well. Because it’s true, when I see people who tease each other to an extreme, or are downright rude or cruel to one another, as a general rule, they’re not the type of people who I want to have in my life. How you treat your loved ones says a lot about who you are, deep down.

Respect. The ultimate FICO score.

Yardstick

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