Desiderata 13

Desiderata 13

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 13th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”

Desiderata is full of wisdom, but it holds some nuggets that are bigger and even more important than others. “Be yourself”, earlier in the poem, was one. This is another.

I know why the author speaks of wholesome discipline. Because, too often, the discipline we place ourselves under is anything but. He also exhorts us to be gentle with ourselves. Why? Because, invariably, we are not.

Like most of us, I have tried to improve in areas important to me over the years, and have given myself a hard time when I’ve fallen short. After all, there’s a lot riding on it, or so we think. We want to be successful in life, and can get discouraged when stubborn habits or weaknesses remain in spite of our best efforts. So we double down on them, and try even harder. Some of us just give up, but even then our inner critic doesn’t.

We’ve all have been told, by self image experts, to love ourselves, because we all too easily hate ourselves. That’s a tricky thing to pull off, and by the way, I don’t think they’ve got it quite right. Let me attempt to bring some clarification before we move forward.

I believe we already care deeply about ourselves – without exception. We care deeply enough to hate the things about us that stop us from living fulfilled lives. Subtle difference but I believe it’s important. We hate the things about ourselves that get in the way of happiness, and so we work on those things in an effort to fix them and then to be happy. The fact that some people punish themselves is a reflection that they believe punishment will do them good, that it will motivate them to change and be better people. It doesn’t.

That’s why any self-discipline must be wholesome. I want to change, but beating myself about the head and demeaning myself with my self-talk (“you idiot”, “how could you be so stupid”) doesn’t get me anywhere. Does it get you anywhere?

So why do we do it if it’s so unhelpful? I’m tempted at this point to pull up a psychiatrist’s couch and talk to you about your role models (believe it or not, your parents for the most part). But I’ll resist, and say for now that somewhere along the way you learnt that negative language is part of the way to fix things. Your thinking might go along these lines – “If I’m soft on myself, I’ll never change. Got to be tough, got to face up to it, grit my teeth, take my medicine. Saying “there, there, you poor thing” isn’t going to help me change”.

And you know, you’re right. We do have to be tough on ourselves. And self-pity isn’t really isn’t going to help. But sooner or later we have to replace the punitive self-language (and punitive behaviours) with a discipline that helps, not hinders.

And that’s a can of worms in itself. As I’ve said a number of times, this is no self help blog, it’s a sharing blog. I’m not going to state the “5 top things you need to do to overcome your negative self image”.

But I will point you in a general direction. Ask yourself the question “Are my internal attempts at discipline wholesome?”. Definition – “Wholesome – conducive to or suggestive of good health and physical well being” (from Google search). “Wholesome – promoting health or well being of mind or spirit” (Merrimack Webster dictionary).  “Wholesome – conducive to moral or general well being; salutary; beneficial”. (Dictionary.com).

You might say your goal is to be wholesome. Desiderata suggests that your efforts to get there need to be wholesome too. Can you say that your attempts to improve are wholesome, or do they put you on a knife edge of achievement or failure? Not just the result, but the process. If you find yourself wrung out, angry at yourself, or even disgusted in your attempts to improve – it’s not wholesome. 

Something needs to change. Desiderata tells us to be gentle with ourselves. I can imagine many people muttering to themselves “That will never work”. The stakes are too high – failure hurts too much. Being soft isn’t going to cut it.

I think the only way we can swallow this is to recognise that being hard on ourselves hasn’t worked – and it never will. Or if it has “worked” then we continue to live with an inner monster waiting to pounce on us the moment we fail. No, we have to realise it doesn’t work, and only then will we consider other options.

Have high expectations, yes. Gird yourself for action –  yes. But what if it takes a longer time to change than you would like? What if in fact we never do change to the degree we want? We have to get the point of “So be it”. Never give up (and I mean that) but recognise that a longer or slower process may be, and often is, necessary. Patience with ourselves tends to take the edge off that inner critic. Try it.

Let me finish with a light hearted story about myself. I love desserts – have a real sweet tooth. Now that the kids have grown up, Linda doesn’t make dessert so often. That’s okay – I’ve stepped up to the plate instead. I’ve never really cooked much, but about a year ago I started making my favourite desserts. And to my delight, they turned out pretty nicely, so I have continued.

But I’m fussy – I want to make a great dessert. So when I eat my desserts, I talk like a food critic –“hmmmm, pastry is a little dry, filling is yummy but needs a little more (whatever)….”. Linda likes my desserts too, and joins in a little with the food critic thing as well. I end up saying “Next time I’ll (add less flour, make more syrup…)” and Linda shakes her head. She says “It’s a good dessert, why do you want to make it perfect?”.

I had to think about my answer for a while, and it wasn’t because I was being hard on myself. Not at all – I really did enjoy my successes, and didn’t hate my mistakes. But I wanted to perfect each dessert because I wanted to enjoy the eating of it even more. I want to take a bite and be transported as much as possible to culinary heaven (did I say I love food?). The whole exercise isn’t filled with dread (I must make the perfect dessert or I’m worth nothing!) – it’s simply a desire to enjoy as much as possible what I create. And if I stuff up a dessert, I’m only mildly disappointed – I don’t take it to heart. There’s always next time.

Now, I know that making desserts is hardly live or die stuff. For many of us, particularly those in their aspirational years (teens to forties?) we desperately want to achieve happiness, whatever that looks like for us. But the principle is the same. Can you enjoy your successes? Learn and move on? Recognise that you’re doing your best and that’s what matters? Can you be gentle with yourself?

This is a longer blog than normal, and I feel I could say so much more, because learning a wholesome discipline is not easy, and I failed spectacularly as a younger man in this regard (still learning now, of course). I haven’t stopped in my desire to improve, and I don’t think I ever will. But I am more patient, I enjoy the fruits of my labour more for what they are than for how others will perceive me, and I think that helps my self-discipline to be more wholesome as well.

Maybe for you, my illustrations don’t really help. Maybe patience, for example, isn’t enough, or it’s beyond your reach right now. But whatever it takes, find a way to make your self discipline less accusing, less judgemental. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

The struggle to overcome

The optimists may be right, but its never easy as they say it is

In 2000 I remember going to the cinema with my brother in law to see the film “Cast Away”. Great film even now, for those who haven’t seen it. It was on TV last night and it all came rushing back to me.

It was a profoundly moving film for me, because it is all about decisions, crossroads, and helplessness. If you intend to watch the movie, then spoiler alert, because I want to unpack some of things that happened in the film and how relevant they were for me at that time.

The main character (Tom Hanks) ends up marooned on a small tropical island after a disastrous plane crash. He is not just alone on the island – he is also trapped. The waves and breakers conspire against him to stop him from leaving, as they are just too powerful to get past. He tries, fails, and hurts himself quite badly in the process. He watches the patterns of the tide over the months, and even though there are some times that are less impossible than others, he despairs that even then he still can’t get off the island.

After 4 years, fortune smiles upon him and a piece of bent metal washes up on the shore with which he successfully creates a sail for his makeshift raft. At the appointed time, when the waves are the least boisterous, he finally sails over the breakers and to eventual freedom.

This is so much more to the film than this, but I want to focus on the helplessness he felt in the face of something he could not overcome – the breakers and the tide.

The year 2000 was a very difficult year for me – financially, personally and emotionally. I felt trapped by a whole of range of things that appeared beyond my control. I was going through an early mid life crisis, and felt I had all but exhausted myself in trying to break through my obstacles. If there’s anything that I can lay claim to, it’s that I’m not a quitter, and I had tried my best, but to no avail. I was wrestling an alligator, and the alligator was winning with ease.

When I watched the film and saw his dilemma, I  became emotional. I related so well to the situation, but of course, from a completely different viewpoint. The breakers were my problems. And try as I might, I could not get past them.

When the moment came that his craft rose through and above the waves, tears traced their way down my cheeks. How I wished I could get off my island, past my daunting waves and move forward.

My story has a happy and not so happy ending. I made some momentous decisions that year that altered my life for the better. Big decisions that changed my vocation, my income, and my perspective on life. But not all my obstacles were overcome. I have to say the deepest issues, internal ones, ones that I personally wrestled with, are still with me today. I can say their roar has been dulled, and that I have developed ‘work-arounds’ to cope with how they limit me, and I have grown stronger in some measure as well, but I do still ache to move on past them.

The fact is not everything has a fairy tale ending. Tom Hanks found his piece of metal that he used (ingenuity and decisiveness there by the way) to win his freedom, but it wasn’t smooth sailing after that. He had major heartache and some big decisions  ahead of him.

I took some bold and scary steps and definitely moved on. My life is infinitely better now than it was back then, truly. But I suppose if I was to use an illustration, it would be that I once was paralysed from the waist down, and now I walk with a limp. (I think actually, that most of us do, but the gait is different for each of us).

So all the emotions of that film came rushing back to me last night, and I wept again. I still haven’t given up on those stubborn problems, but I have come to accept that if I never overcome them, at least I have learnt to enjoy life in spite of them. And there is something warm and fuzzy about tears -they bring their own kind of life. Sadness is curiously a part of being whole too.

And that’s all for now.

I’d rather be whole than good

Or would I? Let’s flip the statement on its head and see what we find

Whole than good

“I’d rather be whole than good” – Carl Jung.

I just came across this quote today, and I find it rather striking. I have in the past studied Jung very briefly, found him quite interesting actually, but am by no means an expert on Jungian thought. Nor do I have detailed knowledge of all the different therapeutic approaches out there (though at one stage I did study the major counselling approaches in a broad brush stroke fashion).

So any thoughts I have about this quote may have nothing to do with what Jung intended. But in this post modern world it is the reader who gives meaning to what he reads, not necessarily the author. So for better or for worse, I have some opinions on the subject!

I’m guessing that the focus of the quote has to do with our attempts at people pleasing. That we forego who we are in an attempt to be socially acceptable and to avoid confrontation or domination. But there are plenty of self help books that speak about being true to yourself (and it’s also something I refer to regularly in my blogs) so I would rather look at it from a different point of view.

If being good is potentially an obstacle to being whole (Jung seems to imply this) then how prepared are you to forego being good in order to be whole?

Just how important is being whole to you? For me, being whole would be either at the top of the tree of very close to it. And by “whole” I am assuming it means that we are comfortable with who we are, that we are true to our own views and beliefs, that we are not lashed by self doubt and self hatred. There are undoubtedly more accurate definitions, but let’s run with this for now.

What price would you pay to gain this wholeness? And how much of your “goodness” gets in the way? Questions abound. Am I only good so I can get something in return, or am I genuinely good on the inside? Would I continue to be good if I didn’t need to? Would I continue to be good even if it got in the way of my own happiness? (and by this I don’t mean the kind of sacrifice that leaves you with a warm glow – I mean an act that would benefit others and genuinely not benefit you).

Huge questions really, and something philosophers, theologians  and psychologists have argued over and will continue to argue over. (Freud, for example saw all humans as primarily selfish, something Christian theologians would furiously agree with but perhaps for different reasons).

For all my weaknesses, I am essentially a good man at heart. I want my family to be happy and well, and would make sacrifices to achieve this. I genuinely want others to be happy and would make lesser sacrifices, most definitely less often, to help them. But I am decidedly not “whole”, and in fact I doubt really anyone is or ever will be (though it is something worthy of aspiring to, and a journey well worth the effort).

But if I really thought I could be whole, or close to it, by becoming the kind of person that frees me from any obligation to be good, would I? Would I be prepared to sacrifice the good of others in order to be whole? (Freud would say yes without hesitation, and for all his faults I have a lot of time for Freud).

Some might argue that being whole automatically means others will benefit (because our true colours are beautiful), and I have a lot of sympathy for that view. But that’s not the point of the argument here. The argument is that in becoming whole I may become less “good” (ie in the way I relate to others) because I am free to ignore their expectations. That I would deliberately put my own sense of self (to thine own self be true) above doing good for others.

I’m reminded of Fredrich Nietchze, a philosopher from the 1800’s who argued, amongst other things, for a “superman”, a person so true to himself that he would be willing to inflict pain on others in order to exercise his own will, and not feel any internal distress about it.

Are we looking at a psychopath or sociopath then? As far as I can understand, Nietzsche’s superman was no psychopath. And I’m pretty sure psychopaths and sociopaths aren’t very “whole” beings – they are just dedicated to getting their own way and have no interest in others. So what am I talking about?

I’m doing a fair bit of guesswork here, but I see someone who is not indifferent to others, but refuses to let his or her sense of wholeness be forfeited in order or help someone. If they can help someone, they will, but not at the cost of losing their own internal mojo. And in not acting for others, they aren’t plagued by self doubt.

If that’s true, then my tentative answer to this is “Yes I would trade goodness for being whole”. But my gut level reason for saying this is terribly flawed. I can’t get away from the feeling that I would be able to help others more if I was more in control of and comfortable with myself. Much like the airplane instructions in the event of a disaster – you put the airmask over yourself before you turn to help others, whether they be your children or a stranger.

My answer has gaping holes in its logic. It is still focussed on others! Am I doing it so I can be better for them (No!) or am I doing it for me so that I can find rest for my soul (Yes!). So why is helping others still a reason? Methinks I just can’t get away from that part of defining who I am. I can’t imagine myself being whole and not good. And yet, with a nod to Freud, I am not a selfless person (not by any margin,. just ask my wife!)

It’s like I’m cheating. I say yes to being whole, but just can’t shake loose a sense of obligation to others. I wonder if somehow ‘being good’ has been etched indelibly on my psyche. It’s as if there’s some law of the universe imprinted on my soul – or is it simply some kind of conditioning that I have been unwittingly exposed to during my life?

Or perhaps I’m just trying to deal with reality. I do live in a world of others and at least partly for others, and if I am at peace with myself I would naturally find myself able to give. As a matter of fact, Arthur Maslow, who posits that we have several layers of motivation to our behaviour, has as at the very top of his hierarchy a level called “self actualisation” which includes among other things, giving back to others.

So I can’t get away from the notion of living responsibly with others (at least I can’t, but maybe it’s different for you?). I can’t separate the notion of being whole with being good. But I can separate the fear-driven attempts to please others – that would certainly go.

If I was whole, would others understand my behaviour? Maybe not. Maybe their expectation of good would be so different from mine that I would appear self centred or heartless at least some of the time. But you surely know people who are sometimes heartless and there’s a good chance you still like them. Maybe even secretly you admire their strength of character, just as long as you are not the one who suffers from their occasional unwillingness to help.

Well there you have it. I am by no means certain of anything I have just said (can you tell?!). Just found it interesting (and fun) to muse on. What about you? What do you think?

Vanity, vanity…

A light hearted rant about pride (mine to be specific)

If you’ve read a few of my blogs you might be aware that I play in a band, a classic rock covers band. We do have some original material as well (and I actually prefer our originals) but it’s hard to get paid gigs with original material, so we play covers, and enjoy the experience.

The guitarist in our band also takes care of designing posters for our gigs. I can do it too, but he’s got much more flair than I have, and I happily leave it to him. There is one aspect, however, that I struggle with, and that’s the slogans he comes up with that he puts in the posters. He doesn’t always put a slogan in, and some of his slogans I like, but overall they can be pretty corny.

He’s just put up a post on Facebook for our next gig. Looks good, and we’ve already had a few positive comments about it. But in this poster he has used the slogan “the classic rocksters “.

Shudder. I wince even writing it here. Now, I’m not going to tell him I hate it (though I may try and find a subtle way to suggest he use something else in future). And I’m not going to suggest he make any changes. He took the time and effort to do it, and it is promoting our band and the gig, so I’m not going to pour cold water on it or show a lack of appreciation for his work.

But I just can’t bring myself to share the post with my friends! I assume all of you are familiar with how Facebook works, but in case you aren’t, the only people who will see the post is those who have “liked” our band’s Facebook page, or those who we choose to on-share it with. I routinely on-share the band’s posts to all my friends to get wider promotion for the band. Not this time.

Which is a pity because it otherwise is a good post. We just had some promotional photos done recently which came up well, and it’s the first time he’s used one of them as the backdrop. So I feel quite sheepish in admitting that I don’t want to share it, and I’m a little bit surprised at how much I don’t want to!

To some extent, image is a really important thing for a band. Its not just your sound , its the image you create. But on top of that there is the vanity of the performer.

You see, I just don’t want to look daggy. Who does? And I think, adding to that, as I get older the last thing I want is to act or sound like some crusty old dude. It’s embarrassing that I can be so vain, but there it is.

If I had to, I’d suck it up and get on with it. But I just don’t want to! I want to look cool, I want to use slogans that make us sound cool (if I was clever enough I’d insert some classy slogans in here right now as alternatives, but I can’t think of any). What doesn’t help is that I have a lot of younger friends who are musicians too, and in my mind’s eye I see them smirk and snigger at a band that describes themselves as “classic rocksters”.

It’s ridiculous really. I mean, all of us in the band are in our 50’s, and whilst even a lot of young people these days get into classic rock covers, our target market is still most likely the older generation. So why not give in? Maybe “classic rocksters” fits our target market. Maybe they’ll love it!

And I know I shouldn’t be too concerned with what others think (a topic I often visit in my posts). So what if it’s cheesy? I might even be able to get a laugh out of it (now there’s a thought). Face it, Terry, in the absence of something better don’t let your pride get in the way. But my, how I’m squirming on the inside.

Have you ever been in a situation in which you were embarrassed to have to do something? I’m sure if we were being reasonable we’d all tell ourselves to get over it and move on. But for now, what the heck, let’s be unreasonable and stamp our feet and say to ourselves we’re not going to do it. Then, once we’ve had our little tantrum, we can straighten our clothes, smooth out the wrinkles, collect our thoughts, take a deep breath, and just get on with it.

Life’s too short (and yes I’ll probably share the post with my friends but I still don’t want to!).