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Reason Should Rule, But Guard Thy Heart From Stone

We have all experienced those times when our emotions get away from us, the times we get more excited by something than we should, the breakup that takes longer to get over than is “normal”, a bubbling anger and frustration at seemingly little things. It’s something we start learning to control from the age of two, from the time our parents coach us as we kick and scream on the floor. Other times we find we aren’t as emotional as we expect ourselves to be, the new promotion you just can’t work up any enthusiasm about it, a first date that barely seems to excite you or a series or fortunate events that fly right past you with barely a glance. Psychologists call this emotional self-regulation, “the ability to respond to the ongoing demands of experience with the range of emotions in a manner that is socially tolerable…”1

“The heart never takes the place of the head, but it can, and should obey it.”

St Augustine had this coined as “ordo amoris” the order of love. There is a natural order to the degree in which affections should be attached to every object and situation which is appropriate. That is you do not attach a deep abiding hatred to a stone nor do you consider your affections for another as trivial. This is where reason should and must step in. “The heart never takes the place of the head, but it can, and should obey it.”2

In today’s world some of us seem to have forgotten this lesson of old. Those who have trouble seem to have fallen into three categories – The immature, those unable to take responsibility for their feelings; the intellectuals, those who think feelings should be managed, dealt with and hidden from view, and finally the zombies, those who have numbed both heart and mind. It doesn’t need to be like this, we are meant to experience feeling in its entire glorious color, that’s why we have a heart. We are meant to judge whether those feelings are valid for the situation and act accordingly, that’s why we have our minds, and neither should be ignored, dulled or let reign uncontrolled.

We have a heart for a reason. It’s the part of us that makes life shine. When we love, laugh and live in the moment feelings brighten our way. When we find our passions feelings drive us to places we never thought we could go. When we lose and grieve feelings show us the importance we placed on those people we lost, they show us that we have a hole that needs filling. When we are hurt feelings show us the lessons we need to learn, when we are scared and afraid feelings show us the dragons we need to conquer and point the way forward to become greater than we were before. We need our heart, it’s important, without it there is neither reason nor point to life. We may as well be automatons repeating the same things over and over again.

Yet we have our mind for a reason, for reasoning. It’s the part that should tell the heart that losing 10 dollars is only annoying, not the end of the world. The mind is the side of us that, when the heart falls in love, looks to see if those affections are well placed. The side that understands the reasons behind grief, loss, fear, hurt and anger and either does something to fix these feelings or soothes the heart with whispers of the way things might be. The mind is the part of us that says any given feeling is appropriate, I’m allowed to feel the way I am because this is what life is all about. It’s our regulator for dealing with the outside world. It shouldn’t be forgotten when we are in the grips of strong emotion, nor should it be used to stir up emotion by overthinking or intellectualizing. When we see people who have let their heart rule, this is what we think, why can’t you use your mind to regulate your heart. Yet as everyone knows, sometimes that isn’t always as easy as it looks.

Reason should rule but not with an iron fist.

But guard thy heart from stone. Reason should rule but not with an iron fist. It should not ignore the heart and minimize the hearts feelings. That way leads to a world that is grey and lifeless, without wonder or joy. Years will be spent searching for happiness when the answer lays beating in your own chest. If it continues for long enough the heart stops, ignored for so long it has no reason to continue to beat. You can’t numb your heart of just one feeling; when you do you numb all your feelings. When your heart stops and turns to stone you become that robot, imitating life never really knowing why. If you ever come to the crossroads where you are faced with the choice of numbing the heart or feeling incredible pain, choose the pain, for if you can feel pain you can also feel the good things, things such as love, laughter and joy. They may not be evident at the time but they are there and ready to be felt, but only if you don’t numb the heart.

Practice finding “ordo amoris”, the order of love; all feelings are valid in and of themselves, but not all feelings are valid in intensity for the context you are in. Use your mind to show your heart the intensity it should be feeling if it is awry. Use your heart to show the mind the reason for living. Most of all use them both but do not let the heart rule.

Photo: Flickr/Eva Blue

Footnote
1. Emotional Self Regulation
2. C.S Lewis, 1943, The Abolition of Man

Originally published at the Good Men Project

Photo: Flickr/Eva Blue

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The Art Of Conversation

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There is an art to conversation, a way of being in the moment which builds connection with those with whom you converse. It isn’t magic, nor does it rely on a cold and calculating formula, it is just a way of looking at the person in front of you and entwining yourself in their life. Everyone has a story, many stories. It doesn’t matter if it is a youth who swam eighty kilometers to the freedom of Guantanamo bay, a child bursting to tell someone she is about to have a brother or sister, a man who finds his passions at the age of forty, or even a lady who is struggling with life as her marriage falls apart; we all have stories. The art of conversation is finding those stories, both your own, and the person who sits in front of you. Because while you talk to that person, their stories should be the most important stories you have ever heard.

When you talk to someone they should be the most important person in the room.

They say a charismatic person will walk up to you and shake your hand and for five seconds you will feel like the most important person in the room. This isn’t a trick or a special gift, this is a skill, practiced and trained. That charismatic person at some point in their lives learnt a lesson, a lesson which is simple in its application. When you talk to someone they should be the most important person in the room. When the charismatic person shakes your hand you feel important because for five seconds their entire attention is focused on you, there is no time, there are no others in the room and there is no pressing matters on the mind other than you. You feel important because for five seconds you are important, the most important person in the world. Your importance shines through in the charismatic person’s gaze, their body language, indeed it shines through their entire bearing. It can come across as a spark, or an energy, to the conversation but I don’t believe this. I think we read people well enough to know when someone is genuinely interested in us. We read it in something as simple as when they say your name, because your name was important enough to remember. I don’t think it can’t be faked or mimicked either; it can only be done by believing that the person they are greeting is indeed the most important person in the world.

If you want to hear a person’s stories they are not always easily won. People want to believe they are important to the person they are talking to, that their stories will be heard, understood and accepted. So put away the phone, the thoughts of tomorrow, worries of another day and most of all put away the judgments of what you would do in their situation. Listen, just listen. Listen as if they are your parents dying last words, the Queen presenting you a knighthood or a romantic interest you are chasing whom you desperately want to understand. When someone can see they have your complete unbiased attention they feel safe, they feel like they can tell you the most amazing things that happened in their lives, and they will. When you focus you will hear stories of woe, tales of tribulations, epic adventures, victories won and lost, unbridled passions and most of all you will hear the stories that mean the most to them. To treat any story as less than this is to justify the reasons they had for not opening up to you in the first place.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the thread to a person’s stories, they are guarded and stories are only let out piece by piece, they are trying to gauge how you will react. They want you to pull the threads, it’s a test you see. They are judging your interest, they are judging how important you think they are. They are observing to see if they have your attention, to discern if you are going to judge them through the lens of your own perceptions. To pull the threads you have to ask questions, each thread is another page which must be turned and it can only be turned with interest in their story. Some pages may be stuck, they won’t be simply turned, and they require you to show you understand. They require that you show you have been through something similar, have had to make similar decisions or experienced similar events. Yet if you want to hear the book through and through the pages must be turned, you must pass their tests and show them they are important, you are interested and most of all you understand.

No one particularly cares how perfect your life is, they want to hear about the warts.

A conversation is two ways though and to a person who wants to tell you their story, they want to hear yours as well. Not the outline, not the condensed version but the real stories. The ones that are important to you. They want to know how you felt, what you experienced, what you went through and what you learnt. If you want a person to trust you with their stories then you must be able to trust them with yours. No one particularly cares how perfect your life is, they want to hear about the warts, the things that scared you, made you cry, made you burst with excitement, fall in love or the stories where you overcame your demons. A good conversation is about swapping tales, swapping stories from the trenches, lessons from the classroom of life or relating the random adventures life sometimes throws your way. Yet if you can’t put your heart on the line with these stories don’t expect the other person to do so either.

Conversation is an art. It’s about two people having the courage to put their hearts onto canvas and painting their murals in front of the other. It’s not about listening 60% of the time or some special skill some people are granted at birth, it’s about opening up to receive the stories you hear. It’s about considering them as precious gems to be cherished, a rare look into the inner life of the person you are talking to. Most people yearn to be understood, to be heard, to know the things they have done and felt are meaningful, but they need to be able to trust you as well. If you want a conversation that goes on for hours make that this person the most important person in your world, turn their pages and follow their story, most of all show them you understand with stories of your own.

Originally published at the Good Men Project

Who Wears The Pants? Shouldn’t You Be Naked?

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In every relationship there is always a power dynamic; who wears the pants so to speak. Sometimes just in public, and sometimes in private as well, but it is almost always there. No one wants to face the world naked, so we all clothe ourselves as protection against what the world can throw at us. There are so many jokes about husbands and wives and who really wears the pants and these jokes they ceased to be funny long ago. These jokes though, they overlook one important fact about relationships, that they’re partnerships and if we clothe ourselves against our partners then we protect ourselves from our partner seeing us for who we really are.

He concedes ground and sacrifices his own needs in the face of her desires, and always he is left as the last in their relationship.

I know a couple, they seem to be in love, but I suspect they are drifting apart. You see Jill wears the pants in this relationship; she is vocal in her displeasure and forceful with her needs and wants. James is, well not so much. He will back down when he had every right to do whatever earned her displeasure, he concedes ground and sacrifices his own needs in the face of her desires, and always he is left as the last in their relationship. She clothes herself in righteousness, she worked hard, she deserves to have her desires met, she is entitled to the respect she spent years earning. Yet she forgets, forgets a partnership requires her to listen to the person who follows. He clothes himself in resentment, resentment at being ignored, and resentment about the things he needs but can never get. He forgets he defines the boundaries of his own self-respect. Finally he turns away from her in resentment as she turns away from him to do what she wants. She wears the pants, and neither is naked, and so the relationship drifts further apart.

I know a couple, they seem to be in love, but I suspect they are tearing each other apart. They both wear the pants in this relationship. John is a corporate shark by day and everything is a negotiation, as long as he always gets what he wants. Jack is a builder, a man’s man; he takes nothing from no-one as long as everyone knows it’s his way or the highway. When together they always argue, Jack never negotiates and John never takes the highway. Anything and everything is a battle which neither can win nor lose. As close as they want to be, their clash of wills continually tears them apart. John clothes himself in mistrust, always suspicious of Jack and the fact Jack never gives ground, because John forgets he is in a partnership. He forgets that Jack isn’t the opposition and both are negotiating for a good relationship, and so he turns away. Jack clothes himself in anger continually frustrated at what he considers undermining tactics because Jack forgets they are partners. That his way and John’s way need to be the same way, and so he turns away. Both wear the pants but neither is naked so slowly the relationship tears at the edges.

I know a couple, they seem to be in love, but they seem to be imploding under the weight of unsaid words. No one wears the pants in this relationship; no one is really sure how they got together in the first place. Jim and Jane are introverts, they love deep conversations about important things, but neither talks about the things that are important to both. Jim desperately wants to hear about Jane’s desires and dreams yet he is afraid to ask. Jane wants to be discovered, understood, to have someone understand who she is, she wants a connection that sets her soul on fire but she doesn’t understand that for this to happen she has to let someone in. So Jim and Jane implode, trying hard to get closer but neither letting the other in. So Jim clothes him neediness trying every way he knows to get past her armor because he has forgotten that the best way into someone’s heart is to show your own, so he turns away. Jane clothes herself in frustration, wishing Jim would just know, hoping Jim would just understand, but she has forgotten that a partner isn’t a mind reader and in her frustration she turns away. Neither wears the pants but neither is naked so the closer they try to pull towards each other the heavier the weight of unsaid words.

They have turned towards each other and only the other has their attention.

I know a couple and they are in love. During the day they fly free and explore the world of their dreams and passions but at night, when they return, they are like two long lost friends reunited with stories and tales to tell. I don’t know who wears the pants in this relationship, when they are together they are naked. When Jarred returns at night, as much as he has his own tales to tell, he misses Jen and wants to hear all that made her happy, sad or buzzing with excitement, so he turns to her and undresses her. A million questions he has, trying to see Jen for who she really is. When Jen returns, as much as she wants to relate all that she experienced during the day, she misses Jarred and wants to hear his stories, his successes and his failures. The very things that made him feel alive. So Jen turns towards Jarred and undresses him, a million questions on her lips trying to see Jim for the man he is. I don’t know who wears the pants in this relationship because when Jen and Jarred are together the rest of us don’t exist, they have turned towards each other and only the other has their attention.

I know the couples above don’t exist, no relationship lives in such a single dimensions. We all have those aspects above and we clothe ourselves as we are want to do. Depending on our loves and fears we can don any of these aspects, sometimes it is necessary. Clothes have a purpose, to protect us from the cold, wind and rain. We wear them because the world is not a place that is always fair or kind and only a fool walks into the world naked. Yet we should remember that when we don our pants that we may be turning away from our partner. The very clothes that protect us from the world outside protect us from the love from our partner. So when you next you joke about who wears the pants in your relationship maybe the joke is on you, because shouldn’t you be naked?

Originally published at the Good Men Project

Where Do Men Go When They Are Afraid?

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We get called stoic, distant, assholes, angry and bitter, we are never doing what we are expected to do or it looks like we just simply don’t care. All these descriptions are mostly the descriptions of someone who’s scared.

Somehow the world forgets that men are afraid sometimes too. We aren’t supposed to be frightened though, we are men, manly men, and men aren’t ever frightened, but we do become frightened, it changes how we act and we do our absolute best to make sure it never looks like fear. We are supposed to face all our fears head on and slay them like a knight slays a dragon. Have you seen dragons though, they’re huge, they breathe fire and there is almost never a room full of treasure or a princess on the other side. No at best we hope no one will notice and we can calmly continue our lives. So where do we go when we are afraid, when we can’t slay our dragons?

My female friends often ask me why men behave a certain way. You see they are looking for a date and they are looking for men who are confident and fearless, real men. How little they know. Rejection hurts, it’s hard to not take it personally when you have to put your heart on your sleeve and ask someone to judge it worthy. When a man freezes from this fear of rejection he won’t ask her out, he won’t take his heart out because he is looking for surety, to know it’s safe to do so. He will hang around like a lost puppy dog never sure what to do. When a man fights this fear he gets bitter, all women are such and such, women are lesser beings. He never takes his heart out but instead shields it with anger and women are the enemy combatants, enemies waiting to be conquered. The men who flee — unanswered texts, unanswered calls, the silence after you thought all was going well — yes these men run rather than face the possibility of being rejected. All these men have nowhere to go with this fear, in endless loops the pattern repeats, almost date after almost date. Courageous women can break into this cycle, whether she wants to is another matter altogether.

If he freezes he becomes stuck in a soul crushing job

My married friends sometimes ask me what is wrong with their husbands, why they are the way they are, lazy, resentful, morose and distant. They married a brave man, a real man. How little they knew. Often a man will do his duty to his family, especially if there are children. He will give up his passions and dreams to provide and protect. If enough time passes he will have discovered he threw out the part of him that made life worth living as well. After a time he is scared, scared if chases his passions he won’t be able to provide and he will no longer be a man. If he freezes he becomes stuck in a soul crushing job, robbed of energy and the will to be active. If he fights it he runs from job to job, never quite following his passions yet never quite remaining as the provider, always something bigger and better around the corner and always someone else’s fault as to why he never makes it. If a man flees he quits, simply gives up his life, gives up his job and gives up his dreams never to try again. He’ll never be good enough so why should he try. These men have nowhere to go with this fear, an endless circle of being stuck, never quite employed or fully unemployed and only life shattering events will move a man from this loop.

I often hear it asked, from friends, from family and by the media, why can’t men be more vulnerable, why can’t they express themselves and open up their feelings. This is something men find very hard to do; we have been trained from birth that our feelings are unimportant. We are hugged less, comforted less, and by the time we are five we have already started to learn that to be a man boys don’t cry. We know we face ostracism and shame if we let our true selves be shown to the outside world. So we don’t.

We replace vulnerability with emotional control and feelings with actions. Those of us who freeze become the stoics, nothing touches us or gets past our cool exterior and no one can see the turbulent waters underneath. Those who fight become the aggressors, the world is a battlefield we must fight on and life is a struggle that must always be won. Those who flee withdraw from life, they insulate themselves from the outside world, meek and shy at the thought of what may result if they are forced to feel. It is rare that a man will truly escape from his own prison, if he does it is often only with his partner and possibly his closest friend. We have nowhere to go with this fear and in times of great distress we are painfully aware of how pitiful and small the prison in our heads is.

Yet what we seek is a mentor, a friend, a confidant

There are many men who have not learnt how to slay their dragons. These dragons represent some of the most important things in our lives, the partners we end up with, the career we work in and our very ability to cope with life and yet there is no dragon hunting school. We end up lost in featureless plains, stuck on a battle field or hiding in a cave, and we know that to seek help is fraught with shame.

The answer to our problems is always “Just do it”, “Man up” or “Grow some balls” and we know it, we have heard it many times before. Yet what we need is a mentor, a friend, a confidant, someone who has slain the dragons and can show us the way. Above all we need a safe place where the shame of not being a man is held outside. We need someone who can show us that the flames are more smoke than fire, that the dragon is half blind and crippled in one leg, that if we are knocked down we can get back up again. But good friends are rare, mentors are rarer and safe places are harder to find than Eldorado.

We are men though, so we muddle through. We know we have nowhere to go with our fears. So where do we go when we are afraid? The answer is we don’t go anywhere, we get stuck in actions and behaviors that are not acceptable.

Some of us get stuck in a fear track for a while, some of us for a long while. Those of us who are stuck, we earn those descriptions above, yet the shame of being less than men is worse. We are men, we are afraid, yet in a world where we can’t express that we must pick another action. It takes us time to learn to slay dragons and sometimes it can cost us more than we would wish to face those dragons and move on. So if you see a man who fits those descriptions, instead of thinking he is a prick — that being a fearless man he should be able to deal with dragons — take a moment to consider whether he might have the very real human emotion of fear, and maybe, just maybe, he hasn’t yet learnt to deal with his fears yet. He isn’t uncaring, unfeeling, a brute or a wimp, he’s just a man, a real man facing dragons he has yet to slay. Before we judge him too harshly, who amongst us can truly say we have conquered all of our fears? I can’t.

Originally published at the Good Men Project

The Lost World Of Male Desire

man-desiring-world

There is a world out there full of heroes and villains, mountains scaled, oceans crossed, risks taken, accolades won and lovers dancing beside silver lit glades. Yet this world is being overshadowed and lost. It is the world of male desire, a world connected intimately with our identity, connected with our dreams and our passions and it is being buried and covered by the world we live in, this reality we must be a part of. Some may say this is a good thing, but I doubt they truly see how amazing and beautiful male desire is. If they did comprehend, if they truly understood, they would be saddened by exactly what is being lost.

As young children boys can no longer be boys. Their world of good and evil, guns and cars, play acting of their role models, its been deemed disruptive to class. Offending boys are suspended from schools, dosed with Ritalin and their play time removed. This is the world of a boys desire, the world they use determine right from wrong, the world they use to explore ethics and morals, the world they use to understand action and reaction and this world is being lost. How can these boys grow to become leaders of men, meant to change the world in their desire for a better place if they are not given the opportunity to understand this world? Those who are strong enough internalize this world and never speak of it again, those who aren’t become lost in a system where they only comprehend that the system is right and they are wrong.

When they say they want to be a doctor they no longer mention they want be the one to cure cancer.

As teenagers these youths can no longer be youths. They enter a world where they are trouble, where they must be stopped from making mistakes. The real world is a place where risky behavior is deviant behavior, a world where risks are inappropriate and the only approved outlets are games of sport. Yet even sport is not the rough and tumble game of risk it once was. This risky place is the world of a youth’s desire, it’s the place where fears are conquered and youths become the men they are destined to be. This is the world where a youths desire to take the world by its horns and wrest from it the keys to greatness is discovered and learnt. Those who are brave hide their ambitions and passions from the world, they keep them close to their chest. When they say they want to be a doctor they no longer mention they want be the one to cure cancer. When they say they want to be an astronaut they no longer mention they wish to be an adventurer of old discovering new frontiers. Those who never learn to be brave become pushed and pulled by fear and insecurity instead and their passions smolder to embers having neither direction nor outlet.

… torn forever trying to prove they are not the monster that the world tells them they should be

As young men a much sadder lesson is taught. The world tells them they are monsters, violent rapists looking for their next victim. They are told they can not be trusted, that they are not wanted, and that they are nothing more than fodder for wars or backs for endless drudgery. They are shown that even if they succeed and become married they are nothing more than boorish fools incapable of even the simplest household and fatherly duties. There is a world inside these men, a world of both sexual and romantic desire. In this world epic tales are dreamt where they learn about seduction, mystery, allure and romance. Where they learn what it is to bring a women to the edge of passion, what it means to deeply connect and what it means to touch both a partners heart and mind. But this is wrong, men’s sexual and romantic desires are wrong. Those who are wise continue to dream these epics, they learn to release these lessons in mere smidgens waiting, hoping, to one day find a partner they can fully express these desires. Those who never learn wisdom, those who let their dreams fade, become torn forever trying to prove they are not the monster that the world tells them they should be, trying desperately to keep close the knowledge that they are passionate human beings too.

The world of male desire, this is the world where the strong become leaders, where they are born and created, activists whose desire is set on the path to right the wrongs in the world. When these men cross our paths we can’t help but follow such desire. This world of desire is a world where the brave become the front-runners of progress. These are the entrepreneurs, the inventors, the artists and adventurers, the men who take their desire and use it to mold reality into the shape of their dreams. When we come across these men’s paths we can’t help but follow the trails their desire has cut. This world of desire is a world where the wise know the true meaning of romance. Where Gomez’s relationship with Morticia is the true expression of male romantic desire and not laughed at as an Adams Family eccentricity. When we see such men we can’t help but fall in love with the ideal of love, a love which shines through their every action.

This world of desire is hidden though. We have strong men, brave men and wise men but always they keep their desire close to their hearts. They achieve such wonders but you can only guess at their desires through their actions, never do these men they truly reveal such desires to the world around. I don’t think the world understands what it is losing with the suppression of male desire. I wonder what would happen if a brave, strong wise man let his desires be fully known. Would the world tear him apart, would it know what to do with such a man? I think such a man would be a force to be reckoned with. Gandhi, Henry Ford and Pierre Curie all rolled into one. Is the world ready for such a man? Does this world deserve such a man? This world of male desire is not a thing to be feared. Scratch the surface of this world instead of burying it because underneath great marvels lie in wait, hoping for a time they can be set free.

Originally Published at The Good Men Project