Hard to swallow: The Red Pill

The film, The Red Pill, has recently caught my eye. I haven’t seen it yet (but I’m going to try to). What has caught my attention is this: from what I can tell (from articles , Wikipedia, watching the trailer) the film attempts to show how the gender debate is hurting men. I don’t know that I would rush to see it normally, but feminists have been actively campaigning against it, and getting it banned from various cinemas. Well, if what I read about it is correct then feminists are trying to stifle and oppress fair comment, and nothing gets my goat more than that. I invite you to read this re-blogged article, and if it interests you, maybe go and see the film. Cheers!

The Sydney Tory

I had found it, I had turned off the lights and I was ready. Ready to watch a film that has been labelled ‘misogynistic propaganda’, a film that has been banned and protested, a film that had caught my attention. ‘The Red Pill’ is a documentary by Cassie Jaye that follows her life-altering journey into the world of the men’s rights movement. I had sought it out after reading several articles about screenings of the film being shut down in the socialist republic of Melbourne. The funny thing is, after watching it, I could maybe understand the protests and the women trying to shut it down. That is to say, if they had actually watched the film all the way through.

Because to be honest, it is an uncomfortable film to watch as a woman. It makes you question your role in the world and your perspective on the gender…

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The secret of love revealed!

Well, maybe a little….

hearts-red-love-macro-lights-1

 “Love is a dividend of gratitude for our lover’s insight into our own confused and troubled psyche” (Alain De Botton, “The Course of Love”, p21).

I’m reading a book at the moment that attempts, through a fictitious tale of love, to unpack what is really going on when we court and choose a life partner. Along the way the author, Alain De Botton (who has written many philosophical books), inserts lots of pithy comments like the above, taking us underneath the veneer of the behaviour of two lovers. It’s very interesting, a bit unsettling and quite revealing.

Basically he wants to debunk the myths that surround love. He wants to show it for what it is. I am only part way through it so I can’t comment with the full benefit of his wisdom, but so far it seems about right.

Let’s understand that De Botton is trying to bring insight. At the end of the day, romantic love is unavoidable, and who would want to avoid it anyway? It is a wonderful thing. But whilst we can, and should, abandon ourselves to its joys, it behooves us to understand it a little.

According to De Botton it is our lover’s insight into and acceptance of our real self that draws us to respond with the emotion we call love. The idea that someone else ‘gets’ us is pretty potent stuff. I don’t think De Botton means that’s all there is to it, but that our feelings of love are at their strongest at such times.

If he’s right, then love is, at its base, gratitude. On some basic level most of us struggle to believe that anyone could ever really love us, and this person appears to, so we’re grateful (and relieved!). But early in a courtship most of us do all we can to hide the real us from our lover, or at least the parts we are ashamed of. We’re on our very best behaviour, because we’re terrified they’ll find something about us that’s unlovable. Perhaps the fact that they don’t is what leads us to be so grateful.

To feel truly accepted though, we first have to believe that the real us is understood. I remember Meg Ryan, in “You’ve Got Mail” jokingly stating that her phantom email lover had “152 insights” into her soul! 

I know I certainly want to feel understood. I’m not sure how many people really understand what goes on in this brain of mine! Not to say that I am hugely different from everyone else – I seriously doubt that. But I have had my fair share of times when I’m pretty sure no-one had a clue what really going on inside me.

I have a friend that I respect, who once confided that he used to jokingly call me “The Sarge” behind my back. I asked him why, and was totally unprepared for his answer. He had known me, a long time ago, in the context of a leadership position. I was pretty young and green, and apparently I came across as a drill sergeant the way I issued orders or directives to the team. Yet that was not how I was feeling on the inside. If anything, I was the exact opposite – unsure, anxious at how to guide and motivate the team, pretty terrified of not succeeding, and that manifested itself in a somewhat rigid focus on outcomes rather than people. 

Okay, enough reminiscing. But I’m trying to illustrate the fact that most of us have an inner self that wants, perhaps craves, for someone else to peek into it and say, I still like you.

So Alain calls love a dividend. A dividend is a payout – something that someone has earned and is entitled to receive. You like me, you accept me warts and all (at least I think you do) and it manifests in very strong feelings of closeness, connection, and passionate love.

Obviously there is more to love than just gratitude. If that was the case, I would fall in love with anyone who showed me they understood me. For example, I, as a heterosexual male, am not going to fall in love with another man. There must be qualities about the other person that cause our gratefulness to become romantic love – their sex, perhaps their looks, their personality, things we like about them (or perhaps even worship about them!).

But if we put romance to one side, I have had a few bromances over time, and there is still some truth to the concept of love as a dividend of gratitude. There is a greater sense of connectedness between me and a guy who understands me, someone who seems to be a bit like me and who I can trust to reveal more of myself to.

Is that gratefulness though? Yes, I think so, grateful that he is a part of my life and I don’t want to lose his friendship. Perhaps, just as in a romantic relationship, I might try harder from time to time to overlook his faults out of gratefulness for his perseverance with mine.

But what happens when a lover (back to romance now) eventually shows they’re not so enthralled with every aspect of us? That surely happens in any long-term relationship. Well, I haven’t gotten to that section of the book yet, so I await what Alain has to say, but from personal experience I can say we have to look for something more enduring than romantic love. I have said this in previous blogs, and I will say it again, romantic love is wonderful, but a poor basis for enduring relationships.

Romantic love, in the end, is all about us, and less about the other person. Any meaningful relationship ultimately has to have the other person’s wellbeing at heart as well, and once gratefulness has run its course, we need to dig deeper. Ultimately we need to like ourselves enough to be able to stand strong even if our lover doesn’t. Maybe then, when we let each other off the hook, a different, more relaxed kind of love can grow – one with the intimacy of simple companionship and affection, and less expectations that they meet our deepest needs.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Lets revel in the feelings of love. They are truly wonderful, and a necessary part of any courtship. Let’s be head over heels, giddy, and breathless, and full of longing. I dare say you couldn’t stop those feelings if you tried. But if you want to move ahead, it makese sense to understand what’s going on so that you can build a relationship, sooner or later, on a stronger footing. And then, when romantic love pops its head in from time to time (there’s no reason it can’t hang around!), then you can be in the enviable position of having your cake and eating it too.

I’m sure Alain has some other gems of truth waiting for me as I continue to read the book. If he does, I will gladly add a postscript – watch this space.

Just who is in control of you?

The disturbing power of “others”

I’m not a particularly influential person. I’d like to be, but the reality is I’m not. Oh, I have some influence. In my role as a financial adviser I routinely help my clients in relation to their financial decisions, but occasionally I lose an existing (and otherwise happy client) to someone else who is no more competent than I but has greater persuasiveness – you know, the kind of person who can “sell ice to Eskimos”. I’ve also given up on the number of times I’ve encouraged clients to see a solicitor or an accountant, and they simply haven’t. And when I talk to my colleagues, they seem routinely to make such recommendations, and hey presto! the client follows their suggestion.

So why am I telling you this? I’m the sort of person who never gives up on trying to improve. So I thought I’d read a book recommended to me, simply called “Influence”, by Robert Cialdini. It was apparently a best seller many years ago, and because the book speaks about human nature rather than whizz bang sales techniques, if it was true 20 years ago, it’s probably still pretty relevant today.

I have to say its contents unnerve me a little, because it’s all about taking advantage of the largely unconscious human behaviours that we all seem to have just below the surface, and how to “trigger” them to our advantage. I have no appetite to control others. Influence, as far as I’m concerned, is not about control, but guidance that people take seriously. So, it hasn’t been an enjoyable read. But I do have to say it’s been a fascinating one.

Amongst many other interesting (and disturbing) character traits, the author speaks about a phenomenon called “social proof”. Now social proof is something most of us are surely already aware of – that our decisions are impacted significantly by the opinions and behaviours of those in our peer group, or in our racial group, or in our nation etc. No surprises there. But what is surprising is the extent by which our actions are shaped.

One particularly fascinating aspect of this is a phenomenon that goes by the wordy title of “Group inhibition of bystander intervention”. To put it simply, there is a tendency that the larger the group of people that witness an event (say a mugging, or a person in need) the less likely it is that anyone will do anything to help.

An example is given of a murder that occurred in the streets of New York in 1964, over a period of half an hour where a woman, Kitty Genovese, was attacked, managed to free herself and run away only to be attacked again and eventually die. What made this tragedy all the more mystifying was that 38 people in the street reportedly either heard or saw part of the altercation and did nothing. These figures have since been seriously disputed, and in fact one or two people did try to do something, but it doesn’t take away from the observations of human behaviour that arose from it.

At first, the outcry from this event was that city life had hardened the hearts of city people and led them to do nothing (one neighbour had openly stated they didn’t want to get involved). But when it was thoroughly investigated, a very different picture emerged. People actually weren’t sure why they had done nothing, and were mystified themselves. Researchers discovered, from this event and from other events (and clinical experiments), a pattern of human behaviour emerging. When we as individuals are confronted by an emergency, we often don’t know what to do. We look for clues in the behaviour of others – how are they responding to this? The very people we are looking to are themselves most likely feeling the same way, and look to us to see how we are responding. The result is that no-one does anything – because no-one else is! On top of this, if no-one else is responding, we don’t want to be the odd man out. We don’t want to be the drama queen that makes a big deal out of the situation.

So, with the murder in the street, people didn’t respond because they thought maybe it wasn’t that bad and because no-one else (to their knowledge) had responded either. Maybe it was a quarrel between lovers, and if someone intervened they would just get shouted down, or if the police were called, they would get annoyed because their time was being wasted. It wasn’t because the onlookers were hard hearted. As a matter of fact, research into this phenomenon has shown that when onlookers are in no doubt of the problem or danger, they are much more likely to take action.

I find this aspect of human nature both fascinating and disturbing, that we as human beings could be so dictated by our social context. How many times have you or I walked down the street, noticed someone in apparent trouble, and felt awkward or unsure about doing anything because others were also just passing them by? I unfortunately can confess to this. The same research that documented this phenomenon also showed that a single individual, noting the plight of someone else, is much more likely to respond if they are on their own, than if there are others present.

There are very good reasons why we are social animals and why the opinions of others count. I think it would be foolish to assume that peer pressure is always bad. It just “is”. But it concerned me to realise just how controlled we are by it. This kind of influence is so powerful that it would be hard to resist. But surely, once we are aware, we must choose how we will act. After all, who do you want to be in control of your life, yourself or the madding crowd?

The book “Influence” is actually a fascinating read if you want to be amazed at the unconscious predictability of human behaviour, as it unpacks many other surprisingly strong traits of human behaviour. If you can stomach its cringeworthy application to sales, I do recommend it.

Desiderata 12

desiderata12

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 12th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.  But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.”

You may have heard the analogy of having your emotional “tank” full or empty. When you’re running on empty you’ve got nothing left to give, and are dangerously close to breaking down in one form or another. The remedy is simple – spend time with the people/things that fill you up emotionally and give you a sense of wholeness again. Unfortunately that’s not always possible, and in such instances you have to work out how to keep going on the smell of an oily rag.

But Desiderata isn’t really taking here about having your tank full (though it helps!). He is talking more about nurturing your own inner ability to be strong. Whilst filling ourselves up emotionally is a really good idea, we still need that strength of spirit that says “I’m going to keep standing as long as I have to, and I’m going to see this through”. 

It’s true that some people are born with an amazing (and sometimes infuriating) tenacity and stubbornness. Like Winston Churchill, they are the kind of person to say “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never…” and back it up with their unflinching determination. But many of us aren’t like that. Whilst I have a good deal of tenacity, I lack that ironclad, immovable, unshakeable faith in myself and in what I am saying or doing. Chances are you’re similar to me in that regard – I’m pretty sure I’m no Robinson Crusoe here.

But strength of spirit is crucial to all of us. Without it we simply won’t make it. Oh we might survive and even live long, but our lives will be broken, or empty, or somehow less-than, if we are not able to gird our loins in the midst of adversity. We need to be able to keep ourselves together and not give up on ourselves. Those who have given up on themselves (and no judgement here, we don’t know what they’ve been through) sometimes never really recover.

The author of Desiderata gives us no clues as to how to do this. And this is no self help blog, so I have no intention of listing any tips or tricks. But I will say this: be aware that you need to do this. Make sure you build yourself up, not with flattery or ego, but with the simple understanding that times will come where you will have to stand alone. Whilst we need each other and can expect that others will come to our aid, be sure of this – there will be times when no-one can or no-one will be there for you.

In every marriage, for example, there are going to be times when your spouse just can’t or won’t provide what you need. That’s just reality. When that happens, it’s not the time to berate them or to wonder why you married them in the first place. That’s often a manipulative attempt to get others to carry you. No, it is a time to draw on your own inner resources, and sometimes even just be there for them, until things return to normal. I believe it’s a sign of a healthy marriage when both parties have the ability to stand on their own two feet when’s it’s absolutely necessary. It creates respect and it can even draw people closer once they realise each other’s inner strength. There’s an old saying – the ones who are really ready for marriage are the ones who don’t actually need to get married.

Desiderata  doesn’t leave us on our own though. In an about turn, he says in effect “Now don’t overdo it. Don’t be perpetually on your guard, expecting the worst”. We can read too much into things. I know – I am guilty 100 times over of fearing the worst and then finding there was nothing to fear in the first place (so much so that I’m now suspicious of my fears and don’t give in to them so easily). There are some people I know that stand like a rock all on their own all the time – and that’s sad.

We need a balance then, as always. On the one hand, to be internally strong enough to get by during periods of personal drought and hardship. Without it we become too dependent on others or on circumstances. On the other hand, to not make ourselves an island, one constantly on guard, keeping people and opportunity out. That way lies loneliness and unfulfilment.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Openness, and why it’s not easy

“Sometimes he was such a construction of his own carefully constructed censorships and restraints he didn’t know whether there was any longer a creature named Bern Cameron (Invader, C.J. Cherryh, Daw Books, 1995, p.330)

When I read this sentence I was so struck by its eloquence that I thought it was worth writing about. The book itself, by the way, is a good read but nothing amazing, so I don’t think I need to provide any background to it. The statement stands on its own two feet.

Fact is, we all construct how we present ourselves to the world. It’s necessary, though some might work harder at it than others. Despite the encouragement by some to “let it all hang out” or “tell it like it is”, the reality is we choose carefully what we reveal and what we don’t. And we need to.

I have noticed that blue collar workers tend to be more upfront than white collar workers. Not quite sure why, but it might have something to do with them not having to climb a corporate ladder. They tend to tell it like it is, sometimes to their detriment. I had a plasterer who did the work for our renovation a few years ago, and although he was a pleasant enough fellow, he had no problem poking fun at some of the work I had done myself. Not a good thing to do to a customer, and I haven’t exactly enthused about him to others as a result. And I have heard similar stories from some of my friends, of tradies belittling them.

Now of course it’s not all bad. As a matter of fact I find it mostly refreshing being around such people, and I have the good fortune of having a number of them as friends. Perhaps in white collar circles we are so used to having to work with different persons or groups that we learn to smooth over our personal opinions, in order to make the deal or complete the task or keep the client. It may also be true that the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the more likely you are to hide your opinions and real self more and more. There are more and more people you have to keep happy and working with you, not against you.

But let’s just think of the cost for a minute. I don’t think white collar workers are the same at home as they are at work, but I do think that ingrained behaviours spill out into other parts of our life. Hence even outside of work, those used to hiding their feelings and opinions on the job may well find that they still do so to some extent at home or with friends.

I’m in a moderately corporate kind of job, and certainly have to keep my clients happy, so I suppose I’m pretty used to masking my feelings and softening my opinions in order to do my job well, keep my clients and build my business. That’s perhaps why, recently, I was quite impacted by a guest speaker at one of our conferences, a guy by the name of Peter Sharp.

Peter’s mission in life is to encourage people to trust enough to connect with one another. He does this by staging a number of provocative events in public, videoing them and then putting them up on YouTube. 

There’s no doubt his antics are popular, as evidenced by how many of his videos have gone viral. His most recent one was staging sit-ins in public places where people were encouraged to simply sit and stare into a complete stranger’s eyes for one minute. The video is quite moving, though the  sceptic in me is a little bugged by it, as it is a highly polished piece of work with that background music that is supposed to make you all touchy feeley. I instinctively react against things that are trying to pull my heart strings, and his videos do feel like a lot of others that I have seen. With one important exception – I get what he’s trying to do, and I like it.

In line with my comments about white collar workers hiding their true selves at work, my favourite video clip from Peter is one where he, dressed in a business suit in a busy business district, wanders into a public fountain and starts to dance to music, ripping off his tie and jacket and just freely dancing though sopping wet. It’s completely staged of course, but that’s okay. Others (most of them actors but not all) jump into the fountain and dance along with him.

What he is doing is stepping outside the confines that we put ourselves in, that most of us get suffocated by. And that’s the way of the world. I don’t think the answer is in throwing those protective measures away, but that doesn’t mean we have to be dictated by them all the time.

There’s a reason why we don’t dance on a train (another of his videos). We’re going somewhere, for a start, and we may tired or preoccupied. There’s a reason why we don’t look everyone in the eye, because we don’t want or need to connect meaningfully with everyone. (And if we did dance in the train every day it would become meaningless after a while anyway).

But to step out from behind our masks and our fear, just often enough to remind ourselves how human everyone is, to allow ourselves to touch others and be touched by them, is surely a wonderful thing. Surely it fills us up, even if we have to go back to some kind of routine and even if we do have to maintain some degree of separateness from others. Just maybe we allow ourselves to feel a little more, to trust a little more, to be a little more vulnerable. Vulnerability can actually be a very beautiful and disarming thing.

Of course, our self censorship doesn’t just apply to our job. Some of us censor ourselves mercilessly because we are terrified that the real self will be repugnant to others – we censor ourselves because we just want to be liked. In the process we make ourselves, sadly, beholden to the opinions of others, and we become again trapped inside a facade.

I was a much more outspoken and demonstrative person in my youth. I was also socially extremely clumsy and shudder now as I remember some of the insensitive and totally inappropriate things I occasionally did. ( I’ve forgiven myself for the things I simply did not know how to do, but I do still cringe a little!)

Maybe that’s why over the years I have become more reserved, because “When in doubt, take the safe option”. But inside I am anything but reserved! The challenge is how to stay in touch with who you are in the midst of managing how you relate and work with others. A healthy self image is obviously a huge boon, but those of us who are still working on that have to do their best to still stay true, at least on the inside, with the real us.

And of course all this vulnerability with others can also give others a chance to stab us in the back (or in the front). So…. we need to know when to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and when not to. But let’s at least allow ourselves to ask that question “Can I reach out, can I open myself up, can I make myself vulnerable, even just for a little while?” No doubt we will learn over time when this is a good idea and when it isn’t, but let’s be prepared to learn. I think our lives and the lives of others will be enriched as well.

And maybe every now and then, just like Peter Sharp danced in the fountain, we will let our hair down, experience freedom, and refresh our own souls.

Desiderata 10

desiderata-10

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 10th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass”.

I wouldn’t blame people for being cynical about love. With a divorce rate of 50%, our society is used to the fickleness of love. Violence in the home, marital unfaithfulness, boredom with each other, falling out of love… The only people who perhaps aren’t so cynical about love might be younger people who haven’t been in love long enough to be seriously let down by it. Maybe love really is a ‘secondhand emotion’, as Tina Turner contemptuously described it.

But that cynicism may also be because people don’t understand love. It’s a complex human condition.

There are actually different kinds of love. Think about it. We say we love a person and we love ice-cream. We love our dad or mum, and we love our boyfriend or girlfriend. Our brother or sister might annoy us half to death, but when push comes to shove most of us still love them. Surely these are all different kinds of love. 

There has been no shortage of writers seeking to define love, and many have written about its different dimensions, so I’m not breaking new ground here in making that suggestion. But let’s talk for a moment about what is probably the main culprit of our cynicism – and that is ‘romantic love’.

Romantic love is fickle. When people ‘fall’ in love (interesting phrase by the way, sounds like you can ‘fall’ out of it just as easily), it’s usually an intense emotional experience. It’s wonderful. It’s joyous. It makes the sky look bluer, the grass look greener, the day feel brighter. The reason is, the best I can make out, is that we are overjoyed that the object of our affection loves us back (and of course if they don’t, then there’s the intensity of unrequited love). But believe it or not, romantic love is actually quite selfish. “You make me feel great, and I want to be around you forever”.

There’s nothing wrong with that as long as we recognise it for what it is. And, if we handle it with care, and don’t expect it to do the heavy lifting, it will most likely hang around and pop back up again at the most unexpected moments.

Because there’s the rub. Romantic love cannot last on its own. At first its passion will be intense, but will eventually subside to more normal and less emotionally taxing levels. It actually has to, as our bodies can’t physically cope with sustained emotional intensity. Any relationship that lasts will need more than romantic love. It’s a delicate flower that will lose its petals in a storm. It’s not cut out for the rough stuff.

Desiderata states that love is ‘as perennial as the grass’. If the author is referring here to romantic love by itself, you can tell by my description so far that I would have a hard time agreeing with him.

But perhaps he is referring to a ‘combination’ of loves, as it were. There is a more solid form of love, what some people have called “indifferent love”. Indifferent love is, I think, best described as “caring for someone”. That sounds pretty lame I know, but I don’t know how else to put it. You do something for  someone, not because you are motivated by racing emotion, but by a more “objective” decision based on compassion or mercy.

What causes a stranger to walk into a burning house in order to try and rescue someone they don’t even know? This is so common an occurrence that firefighters strenuously try to stop it, because people routinely die from misjudging the danger and plunging headlong in. When the media reports that a family is in dire straits, it’s not uncommon for people to dig deep and give of their own money to a family they have never met. On a more personal level, I hope you have experienced sudden acts of kindness from someone you barely know when you were between a rock and a hard place. And parents often go without to send their kids to school, or to pay for that operation or make a specific opportunity possible.

That kind of love does abound everywhere. And what about that love you might feel for your pesky sibling, or that grumpy grandad? Such people can be a real pain in the neck, but their sudden misfortune or worse still, death, often brings out surprisingly strong feelings of loss or concern. C.S. Lewis described this as affection, something you might feel for someone who has been a part of your world, like it or not, who you might argue with tooth and nail, but suddenly miss deeply if they moved on.

Love is a complex thing indeed, much, much more complex than the feeble attempt I am making to describe it here.

In the presence of indifferent love, affection, and other kinds of loving gestures, romantic love can survive. Like a weed that you think you dug out but springs up again, romantic love can take a holiday (sometimes a long one) and then pop up again when you least expect it. Although it is fickle, romantic love planted and watered in good soil can indeed endure, and perhaps over the long term it may even fit that description of being perennial. It may well disappear without a trace when the going gets tough, but just maybe it will keep coming back.

Desiderata speaks of  love “in the face of all aridity and disenchantment”. There is real pain out there in the world, and there are plenty of instances where love has disappeared and cruelty, genuine indifference, or  hatred has taken its place. This is not some cheesy slogan that love fixes all. It doesn’t. But it exists – it is all around us, and perhaps if we take the time to remind ourselves and look again, it might just save us from the cancer of ingrained, bitter cynicism.

Let’s be realistic by all means – but let’s not let that realism cause us to lose the joy of possibilities and surprises in a world that is often cruel and heartless.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

The urge to procreate

Why do we have children? I was asked this by a young man recently, who, along with his partner, are not planning to have kids. It’s not a question I’ve ever really thought about, and off the cuff I couldn’t come up with anything resembling a decent answer. Not that I needed to. He doesn’t need to be convinced and I don’t need to defend my choice – but it got me thinking.

I’m more than happy that we had children, all four of them. And I remember with fondness the play fights we used to have, wrestling on the floor, or reading them bed time stories, or hearing the patter of tiny feet rushing to the door when I got home from work, the excited sounds of “Daddy, daddy!” bursting from their lips. I remember with less fondness the nappies that would sometimes leave you almost dry retching, the nights of broken sleep, the immense tiredness that would descend on us (actually never really left us) as we desperately tried to find some time to rest (taking it in turns, as I’m sure most parents do), the struggle to pay bills, the tantrums, both in the early years and as teenagers (though they were demonstrated in different ways and with different problems).

But I couldn’t put my finger on it really. Maybe no-one can, in a way, because having kids is most likely due to much more than just one or two things.

I was talking to a client recently, who, with his wife, had tried 14 times with IVF, and had only 2 months ago decided they couldn’t do it any more. When I spoke of the possibility of adoption, he said his wife would do so in an instant but his head just wasn’t in that space yet. It was sad to hear him speak, though he was a genial kind of person and quickly shook himself out of it to ‘get back to business’.

Is it our desire to leave something of ourselves behind? A legacy? Maybe, but that sounds rather hollow and clinical to me. Is it just our biological clock? Maybe, but (and I’m most likely showing my ignorance here) I could understand that more for women, their bodies so purposefully designed for conceiving and nurturing, but we men are still pretty driven, broadly speaking, to desire a family as well.

Is it having someone to pour ourselves into? To give meaning to our lives, as we help another soul, somehow made from us and connected to us, to grow up, navigate the world, and hopefully ‘conquer’ it in their own way?

I remember the sobering, somewhat surreal sensation of finding out for the first time I was going to be a father. A feeling of ‘lost at sea’-ness came over me. My life was about to change forever and I was totally unprepared for it. I wanted it of course…. just didn’t know what it would mean.

And then when our children were delivered. The first time is what sticks in my mind the most, but each one was special in its own way. I could pretty much describe each birth to you, and that description would be different every time. But I do remember the first time, of being incredulous, astounded really, that this small human being hadn’t existed 9 months ago, and somehow we had brought him into the world. I was truly dazed for a couple of days.

I never really questioned why we wanted children – it seemed natural, we planned for kids, and we had them. Perhaps if we had been denied, like some are, maybe I would have been able to articulate why it was so soul destroying to NOT be able to have children. I remember people describing to me that they felt somehow incomplete, cursed, or somehow less than whole because they could not have children. But was that their own anger at their bodies, rather than a genuine emotional result of not having children?

My oldest brother simply left his run too late. He had had a couple of failed relationships, and by the time he had settled into a strong long term relationship, he and his wife were just a little too old. I’ve never probed him about it, and I don’t suppose I ever will, as I don’t want to cause pain for him, but I know he wanted children and still feels a sense of loss.

So I haven’t answered the question have I? Biological clock? Desire to leave something of us behind when we shuffle off this mortal coil? Anticipation of the pleasure and pain of raising children, investing our lives into them along the way?

My wife and I had contemplated, only briefly, the idea of adopting a child as well, rather than just have our own children. And I had asked myself at the time, “Would I love them the same as my own kids?”. I came to the conclusion, perhaps naively, that I would. And it was on the basis that I would have  invested myself into them, that I would have sown my heart and soul into them, and they would have become precious to me.

I may have missed some glaringly simple answer in this blog. Some of you female readers could be shaking your head right now, and saying under your breath “Men!” “Why it’s simple, we have children because…..” If that’s so, I’d love to know what your answer is (please give your comments!)

For me, I don’t need an answer – but I’d like one. I’d love to have had a decent answer for my young friend, even though his choice not to have kids is as valid as my own.