Tag Archives: Thought

The Coming Divorce Decline? I’ll Believe it When I See It

(Image/Conversational Hypnosis Academy)

It looks and sounds like awesome news—like everything I want for my little boy and everyone else’s kids.

The divorce rate in the United States dropped 18 percent between 2008 and 2016, according to Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociology professor who is predicting a long-term decline in the number of divorces in his recently published analysis of U.S. Census Bureau survey data, titled “The Coming Divorce Decline.”

Whoa! Holy shit! An 18-percent improvement is amazing!

But it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel true. Not to me.

And admittedly, I may be one of the least-qualified people to evaluate that fairly.

After all, I’m probably in the top 1% of People Who Hear and Read a High Volume of Crappy Marriage Stories. The anecdotal evidence I have of sad and angry people writing to me is not even close to being statistically relevant. There are few reasons for happily married people to ever read anything I write, or to write with tales of their awesome, healthy relationships.

Even still. I can’t shake the doubt.

That’s because we’re measuring the number of documents filed at our nation’s courthouses rather than measuring the quality of human relationships.

You know how scientists go to great lengths to conduct objective scientific testing, confirm hypotheses, and then publish their work in scientific journals which document several years of research only to have a bunch of know-nothings totally dismiss their findings within five seconds simply because the scientific data inconveniently works against their own beliefs or opinions?

I REALLY don’t want to be like those people. It’s gross.

To be clear, I am NOT challenging Cohen’s divorce rate analysis, so much as I’m challenging the idea that there’s any legitimate correlation between Cohen’s work here, and the ACTUAL health and success rate of marriage and long-term romantic relationships.

Sorry to Piss In Your Cheerios

Everyone who gets offended by my occasional use of bad language should absolutely skip the next paragraph. (Yes mom, even you.)

Remember the scene in “Pulp Fiction” when Mr. Wolf shows up to help the guys dispose of Marvin’s dead body after Vincent accidentally shot him in the face in the back of their car? Several minutes later, Quentin Tarantino’s Jimmie compliments the guys on a clean-up job well done, saying “I can’t believe this is the same car,” to which Mr. Wolf replies with an all-time great movie line that totally applies to this divorce-statistics conversation: “Well, let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet.”

The divorce rate is dropping because fewer people are getting married, and demographically speaking, the people who ARE getting married are the least likely to divorce (people with money and the most education), Cohen said.

And that’s awesome. ANY good news RE: marriage and divorce is welcome.

The problem is that this in NO WAY indicates that anything is actually getting better.

1. Fewer People Are Getting Married

First of all, this data analysis begins in 2008, which coincides with the worst economic crisis in all of our lifetimes. Mathematically speaking, for several years, the MOST amount of people had the LEAST amount of money and financial security in global history. Think that might be a factor in the number of people who decided to postpone marriage (OR divorce, because they couldn’t afford to)?

You know what else happened during that span? A cultural paradigm shift RE: homosexual couples and marriage. I’m only speculating, but I literally know of five—FIVE!—elderly divorced adults with children who ended their heterosexual marriages because they were gay and had been hiding it for years.

People have gone to great lengths to hide who they are. It’s sad that some people are so afraid of what others will think of them that they’ll go to such lengths to conceal something that’s true about them.

Anyway—and again, this is all me theorizing out of my ass and not rooted in legit data science—I think a semi-significant reduction in the future divorces will come simply from gay people not entering straight relationships because of societal or family pressures to do so, only to have it all fall apart later for obvious reasons. Those instances should become much fewer moving forward.

We’re dealing with the two largest generations—by population—in human history. The Baby Boomers (who divorce, remarry, and divorce like they’re leasing new vehicles) and Millennials (who couldn’t find jobs when they graduated from college, had a bunch of student loan debt, and frequently lived with their parents for more years than what had previously been the societal norm.)

The Baby Boomers practically invented divorce as we know it today.

And Millennials—the largest generation in history—perhaps for philosophical reasons, perhaps for logistical ones, are waiting much longer to get married, OR opting not to marry at all.

And if you got married for the first time in the last eight years, you’re still in that 5-10 year window where you may be married, but miserable, OR may still get blindsided by divorce from the undetected slow build that tends to happen behind the scenes until too many straws pile up on top of your pet camel.

Cohen himself acknowledges the rise of unmarried couples who co-habitat and have children, but simply avoid exchanging vows or signing legal documents as a contributing factor to the decline in divorce. “Many poorer and less educated Americans are opting not to get married at all. They’re living together, and often raising kids together, but deciding not to tie the knot. And studies have shown these cohabiting relationships are less stable than they used to be,” wrote Bloomberg’s Ben Steverman, in his recent article about Cohen’s divorce analysis.

So, you see, a lot of this is semantics. How we choose to label things.

Sure, there are fewer divorces. That’s because we’re measuring the number of documents filed at our nation’s courthouses rather than measuring the quality of human relationships.

2. People Still Don’t Get It—We’re Nowhere Close to Fixing What’s Broken

People would still rather be ‘right,’ than to mutually arrive at truth with someone with whom they currently disagree.

People cling for dear life to their beliefs. Everyone on earth was taught a story about life from their earliest moments. And the vast majority of people clutch to those beliefs for dear life because it’s what feels safe to them. It’s what feels ‘right’ or ‘correct’ or ‘normal.’ Religious and political discussions frequently up the stakes, but that’s not even what I’m talking about in the context of long-term romantic relationships.

Boys grew up watching their mothers fold clothes and vacuum rugs and juggle the majority of household tasks like cooking dinner, cleaning bathrooms, handling the majority of baby stuff, being involved in their children’s school, caring for sick kids, etc.

They grew up watching their dads do less of those things.

The only boys who could have ever grown up into men who DIDN’T believe that that family model was The Way it Ought to Be, were the ones from the statistical-outlier families where that’s not how it worked.

MOST boys grew up into men with some pretty hardwired beliefs about gender roles in male-female relationships. Those beliefs inadvertently led those men to behave in certain ways.

And it just so happens that those “certain ways” are statistically proven to negatively affect relationships—namely marriage, which is the only kind we have decent data for.

Men get really defensive about this. Makes sense. I don’t like it either when people tell me I’m messing up and hurting people, when I’m trying hard and believe myself to be someone who doesn’t hurt people.

But it’s true.

It tastes like piss-infected Cheerios. But it’s still true.

We Will All Have a Role to Play

I hope young women will continue to demonstrate stronger, more forceful boundaries while dating, and never tolerate behaviors they recognize to be relationship-killers. Better to end it now, then put yourself, your husband, and your children through divorce 10 years from now.

I hope young men will continue to evolve. Increase their emotional intelligence. Improve their empathy and self-awareness skills. Young men must learn to value their partner’s life experiences as much as their own—EVEN IF those life experiences are radically different than their own.

Maybe white people don’t know what it feels like to be treated a certain way because of their skin color.

Maybe straight people don’t know what it feels like to be rejected by family because of who they love.

Maybe atheists don’t know what it feels like to be a Christian simply trying to do some good in a mad, mad world while seeking strength from a higher power.

Maybe Christians don’t know what it feels like to be a life-long loving and peaceful member of society and the Muslim faith community, only to be treated with fear and hatred by the very people espousing Christian principles and claiming to preach the Gospel.

And JUST MAYBE, every single other person in world history have lived a totally different life than you—in different places, with different conditions and expectations, who were taught different stories from their earliest ages, and who now experience daily life and have beliefs and an emotional makeup totally different from yours.

It’s NOT weird that other people are different than us. It would be weird if they WEREN’T.

Someday, people are going to figure this out. Like an awakening.

And it’s going to be amazing when that happens.

In the meantime, I’d just like to see young people trying their best to STOP accidentally ruining their most important human relationships because they don’t know any better.

I’d like to see children being taught critical life skills that will help them manage their emotional health and human relationships with the same care that we teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic. Because I kind of think our ability to navigate human relationships and have a successful home life is even more important than the things we can learn from school books and classrooms.

Is the divorce problem really improving?

Like most things, I suppose it depends on how you look at it.

Cohen’s work inspired a bunch of conversation about the health of the divorce-attorney business. About Census data that might as well have been about cattle or robots.

But I don’t see numbers.

I see people. Families. Children. Ones that look just like my life when I was accidentally ruining my marriage, and just like my life when my parents were accidentally ruining theirs.

It’s not about accounting.

It’s about a fundamental shift in self-awareness and human behavior.

It’s not about math and money.

It’s about love. For ourselves. For others.

It’s about the courage to choose it.

And then the courage to live it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Prison Break: Free Yourself By Taking the Red Pill

yellow saltwater fish

This fish has spent its entire existence swimming in water, yet is probably completely unaware of what water is. Maybe the fish does know, and we have even bigger problems than I thought. It’s hard to be certain. And that’s the entire point. (Image/Unsplash)

We’re going to talk a little red pill, blue pill.

Not the way dudes who hate women sometimes talk about it, though.

But like Morpheus does—the impeccably dressed part-time sage, part-time badass in The Matrix.

We’re going to get a little weird. Please don’t run like I would have five or six years ago.

Try hard to not do the thing I always did in late-night college pot-smoking circles when one person would inevitably start waxing stoner philosophy, and I thought they sounded like morons and thus insta-dismissed whatever they were saying.

Because there’s this idea that I think might be the most important idea in the world.

The idea that we’re dangerously blind to what’s constantly in front of us.

Like fish that spend their entire lives in water, but don’t actually know what water is.

And I think the amount of people we hurt or help in life, and how people will remember us after we’re gone, and the relative success of our marriages and work life and parent-child relationships is entirely dependent on how well we manage to execute this ONE life skill.

You see, when I consider what makes someone interesting, or “deep,” or intelligent, I tend to think about it in terms of how much they know, and their capacity for learning, or their capacity for thought.

Maybe you do too. I believe it’s common.

But the more I think about this way I thoughtlessly measure how intelligent I consider something to be, the more I agree with the brilliant David Foster Wallace’s suggestion that a good education should be less about someone’s capacity to think, and more about a person’s ability to choose WHAT to think about.

And that is going to seem intolerably banal to many people, and maybe you want to stop reading now.

Like breathing.

Like blinking our eyes.

You almost never think about doing them even though they might be the two things you’ve done more times than anything else in your entire life. Boring as hell, to be sure. But so important. If you stop blinking, you’ll go blind. If you stop breathing, you’ll die.

I think this idea is just like that. Like blinking. Like breathing.

If you’re feeling that mental-auto-pilot nudge to shut your brain off now and move on to the next thing, then maybe that is your little warning light to hang on just a little longer. That means I’m writing this sentence just for you.

I know you might not care, and that’s okay.

I’m not writing it because I think you’re wrong or bad or dumb, or need help from some idiot writer on the internet.

I’m writing it because sometimes we humans mess up our entire lives, and damage our children, and lose everything that’s fragile and dear to us, and if someone asked us to explain how it happened, most of us wouldn’t be able to.

Not because we were careless, even though it might feel like that afterward.

Not because we were reckless, even though it might feel that way to the people we hurt.

But because we CHOSE to think about something else in moments when thinking differently would have changed our entire lives for the better.

That’s not a small thing.

Our health.

Our bank accounts.

Our human relationships.

Our souls.

I must ask, as Wallace did in his remarkably poignant commencement speech that first introduced me to this idea, that you please “bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.”

The Real Value of The Matrix’s Red Pill/Blue Pill Lesson

Morpheus - red pill blue pill The Matrix

(Artwork/Joel Jerry)

Before it was hijacked by men who I perceive to be intentionally trying to recruit broken, depressed and angry guys to join their Women are the Real Enemy Cult, the red pill/blue pill symbolism portrayed in The Matrix served as a valuable thought exercise.

20-Year-Old Movie Spoiler Alert: The film’s protagonist Neo is given a choice by Morpheus.

Neo can choose the blue pill, which will put him to sleep and allow him to wake up in his bed with no memory of recent events, and carry on with his low-stakes, ignorance-is-bliss life. That would have been easy. No risk. Very little danger.

Or, he can choose the red pill. The red pill won’t taste so good going down. It will be hard to swallow. He’ll have to face some really uncomfortable truths, and life will inevitably feel harder. But it will be REAL. It will be the TRUTH. Even if it doesn’t feel as good. Even if it’s more difficult.

Neo chooses the red pill.

After swallowing it, the world melts around him. Neo wakes up in this alien goo pod with a bunch of cords and shit sticking out of him. His weird, goopy, hairless body is hardwired into some kind of massive biomechanical machine tower with millions of other human bodies all sleeping and hardwired into the same system.

Big machines are flying around.

Aside from the machines and the enslaved humans in sleeping pods, the world is nothing but rubble and ash.

Neo had spent his entire life in a simulated computer life that the machines built to make him think he’s living just like the rest of us. With houses and cars and day jobs.

But actually, he was unwittingly a slave to an intelligent race of alien machines harvesting humans to produce energy.

Whoa.

The Importance of Choosing What to Think About

My mind wanders. A lot.

I have an ADHD brain, and I take medicine every day for it.

That means I have a capacity for unawareness (when I’m on auto-pilot) that I believe exceeds the average person, and which I think contributed heavily to the demise of my marriage.

But even if you don’t have similar brain chemistry, you are still affected by blindness to all of the things hiding in plain sight. (Breathing. Eye-blinking. Fish not knowing what water is.)

Our minds—on autopilot—file everything we see, hear, taste, feel, or experience into some kind of bucket.

OMG. That’s amazing.

Or.

OMG. What hot garbage.

Or.

OMG. What happened, again? I wasn’t paying attention because I just dripped coffee all down the front of my shirt and now I’m for-sure going to look extra-assholey today. NEAT.

We automatically—without any thinking whatsoever—classify stuff in our own minds. How good a movie or song is. How attractive that gal or guy is. How we perceive what others will think about us if they know that we like or do [insert whatever here].

We value and measure whatever we just heard or saw or tasted based on a million prior experiences—which calibrates our personal measuring sticks totally differently than other people’s measuring sticks.

It’s cool that this happens because it saves us an enormous amount of mental energy. Our brains go on auto-pilot, and for that we’re not needing to start drinking heavily or go back to sleep by lunchtime just to survive the mental strain of our brains working a thousand times harder than they do now.

But it’s also NOT cool.

Because maybe when we were young, we were either taught something that wasn’t true (or was only partially true) because we were too innocent, inexperienced and naïve to question what people taught us.

I’m not talking about the big, scary things like religion and politics. Most adults, parents, teachers, older siblings, celebrity influencers aren’t intentionally trying to brainwash people. They simply believe something as surely as everyone else does, and if we value their thoughts and opinions, maybe we adopt them for ourselves.

Most of the time, it’s harmless.

Some of the time, it’s not.

I’m talking about the stuff most people think very little about—whether it’s cool for a man to be a ballerina; whether dogs or cats make better pets; what the vehicle someone is driving says about them.

I know a lot about NFL football and NBA basketball, which many guys like to talk about.

But if I go to a random pub in Dublin, Ireland; or Juneau, Alaska; or Istanbul, Turkey, will the average guy there give even a miniscule shit about North American football and basketball?

I don’t know.

But certainly less than you might expect to find in downtown Cleveland, Ohio; Chicago, Ill., or Boston, Mass.

It’s because people know what they know, and NOTHING else. We can’t know what we haven’t been exposed to or experienced ourselves.

And for everyone, everywhere, we are the stars of our own stories. You, me, the people in Bangladesh, and some other people in Argentina. Everybody. Everywhere.

We have experienced EVERY moment of our entire lives from the view inside of our own heads and first-person perspectives, and filtered through the prism of our specific individual experiences.

And really, this is great most of the time. That you are a unique individual. It’s awesome that you’re not identical to everyone else, because that would seem really boring to me and others. It’s amazing that you’re you. Don’t stop being that.

But it’s also a handicap, even though most people don’t think of it that way because few people like selfish egomaniacs, and most of us want to be liked.

A significant handicap. One with life-and-death consequences.

“Blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up,” Wallace said in that commencement speech. “The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way.”

This isn’t about being a good person or being a bad person.

This isn’t about encouraging people to be virtuous.

“It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being ‘well-adjusted,’ which I suggest to you is not an accidental term,” Wallace said.

The Life-Saving Opportunity Crowded Supermarkets, Traffic Jams, and Adulthood Monotony Provide Us

busy supermarket by ABC News

(Image/ABC News)

Note: I just want to reiterate one more time that these aren’t my words. They are from Wallace’s commencement speech to Kenyon College graduates in 2005. And the only reason I know about it is because one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, shared it several years ago.

It affected him profoundly.

It affected me profoundly, even though I still mess up often.

And I wonder: If it affected EVERYONE profoundly, would most of what’s wrong in the world go away?

I think the answer to that is: Yes.

And I think people who apply what Wallace is encouraging us to do to our relationships with our spouses, friends, siblings, children, co-workers, and even the strangers we encounter in the world—I think if we can muster the strength and courage to take the extra step of choosing WHAT to think, then we can prevent the worst things in our lives from ever happening in the first place.

Maybe we don’t get cancer because we quit smoking.

Maybe we don’t have a heart attack because we exercise and eat healthy.

Maybe we don’t get divorced because we don’t spend years accidentally swinging bats wildly in a room full of the most precious and fragile things in our lives.

Now, Wallace is going to take us home.

“And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what ‘day in day out’ really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

“By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

“But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to ‘Have a nice day’ in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

“Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

“But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides.

“But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

“Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] — this is an example of how NOT to think, though — most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

“You get the idea.

“If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

“The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

“Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

“Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

“But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

“Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

“This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

“Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

“They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

“And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

“That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

“I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

“The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

“It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“’This is water.’

“’This is water.’

“It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.

“Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

“I wish you way more than luck.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Life Blueprint

blueprints

(Image/thescoutlife.com)

“All models are wrong. Some are useful.”Faris Yakob

The Life Blueprint® is a lottery system which varies from person to person.

Two people have sex and conceive a child, and on the day the child is born, they are given their customized Life Blueprint.

They vary dramatically from place to place. The kid slinging rock in south central Los Angeles who never met his dad has a schematic which looks much different from the one handed to the private-school teen from Manhattan’s Flatiron District.

The fisherman’s son in the Philippines has a Life Blueprint that looks and feels different from that of a bank president’s daughter in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I was handed a Life Blueprint, too. Just like them, and just like you. While all of them tend to vary among the various cultural demographics, we are all united in that we were all handed one with no attached instructions.

No one told us we weren’t obligated to follow the blueprint, and because we were babies and stuff, we weren’t smart enough to ask: “Umm. Why do we do things this way? Might there be a better way? Are we allowed to study other Life Blueprints and experiment? Are there examples of other people doing things differently and succeeding? What if we studied the Life Blueprints of a bunch of people we want to be like, and then follow the steps that apply to us? Why isn’t that an awesome idea?”

Maybe some people have these conversations through their formative years.

I didn’t.

I was just alive one day and felt happy to be loved and fed and hugged and protected by those who cared for me. Maybe if you live in a place where bombs fall at night, or with frequent gun violence in the neighborhood, or where people die often because there’s no accessible sanitary drinking water, you aren’t lulled into the comfort of the Life Blueprint. Maybe when you witness a bunch of shit and horribleness in daily life, you’re always looking for an escape.

So am I lucky? Because of my safe but perhaps sheltered upbringing?

Or unlucky? Because I accidentally believed one of Life’s biggest lies. The one we believed because no one told us differently.

The Way Things Are Here is THE Way.

We don’t see it as optional.

We see it as the path. Because everyone we see and everyone we know is walking it too.

What’s Your Life Blueprint?

I could have this wrong since I only have access to one brain, and it’s failed me before, but I’m pretty sure my Life Blueprint is shared by A LOT of people in the United States.

I imagine non-U.S. residents who haven’t spent much time stateside mostly think of New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and maybe San Francisco and Chicago as representative of typical Americans.

But I think most people grow up in places like me.

Some smallish town in what people on the coasts call the “fly-over states.”

We grow up going to Friday night high school football games, going to church on Sunday, knowing personal secrets about people in other families because so many people know one another, and we don’t have to drive far to see farmland.

I grew up in a small Ohio town just like that. There are many good things about such a life. And as with everything, there are tradeoffs, too.

The Way (When You’re Me)

My Life Blueprint was basic enough.

You go to kindergarten when you’re 5, and you go to school and do your best every day until you graduate from high school 13 years later.

You have to do a good job in school so you can go to a good college, because that’s The Way to succeed.

Then, when you’re 18 and know a million times more than your stupid, close-minded parents, you move away to college, but probably not too far, because out-of-state tuition is a bitch and because you need those idiots to give you money, and a place to do laundry and eat balanced meals when you occasionally come home because there aren’t any unmissable keg parties on the radar.

Then, you get your bachelor’s degree, which means you’re ready to be a professional-something!

Then, you have choices!

  1. Take a job doing a thing for very little money relative to the median household income and try to work your way up.
  2. Go get a master’s degree to demonstrate MASTERY of a subject.

Maybe it’s nice having a master’s degree. I know several people with them, and I don’t think any are morons. But after five years of an inefficient major-switching, college-newspaper-editing, pot-smoking march toward my piece of paper telling the world I Did It!, I wasn’t interested in sitting in any more classrooms.

The Career Way

I’d followed the Life Blueprint, but even I had the good fortune to walk a path different from the average college student.

I can’t be sure how other college graduates feel RE: preparedness to tackle their career upon leaving university life. But in terms of doing the job? I was in good shape. I graduated with a Communication degree with a concentration in print journalism after floundering through three semesters of Business school where I failed Intro to Computing—the basics of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint— TWICE, because that class was stupid and student loan money wasn’t “real money.” (I wonder whether I’m the only person to ever do that. Maybe!)

Because I was a college journalist lucky enough to be at a university with a fairly sophisticated newspaper published twice weekly (frequent by college newspaper standards), and hustled on summer and holiday breaks in professional newsrooms who welcomed my reporting, I had written hundreds of stories—including local front-page and even some national news—before getting a desk in the newsroom of a Florida paper after graduating.

I’m not sure what people who study economics, political science, or whatever feel after graduating.

But that’s kind of my point.

Take the poli-sci major who spends four years sitting in lecture halls and writing papers after reading pieces and parts of their 10-pound, $300 textbook. They graduate with $100,000 or more in debt, but they have their fancy new bachelor’s degree which will help political strategists or those managing political office staff realize how qualified they are!

Life Blueprint Challenge Exercise

What if the person who did that, instead of going to college, read one non-fiction book per week about political strategy, political history, biographies of politicians, or about any ancillary subjects important to those seeking political office?

What if the 18-year-old, instead of college, had volunteered all of her or his time to a local or state candidate’s election campaign, asking questions and experiencing life on the inside and building a network of strategists and elected officials?

What if, instead of going into debt $100,000 or whatever, they spent a fraction of that over four years traveling and gaining the kind of depth, perspective and maturity that only comes from experiencing new things?

Who do you want on your team, Elected Official or Person Running for Office?

The 22-year-old with mountains of debt, little to no experience, and a bachelor’s degree?

Or the one who read 200 books, worked on several campaigns, can pick up the phone for advice or to recruit help from a large network, has countless hours of real-world experience, and a ton of personal references from those she or he worked closely with?

On what planet would someone think the bachelor-degree way is better? Because the Life Blueprint said so, and so did all of our friends’, so we never question it?

And, honestly, Everyone 30 and Older Who Now Realizes Our Parents Knew Things: What is the WORST-possible outcome of this? Starting college as a 22-year-old and a ton of maturity and experience to apply to the classroom?

I don’t get it.

The Marriage Way

Where I’m from, you start thinking about marriage in high school or college. Anyone who has dated for two years might get married, and it’s not even weird. Seriously.

When you’re in high school, you’re surrounded by a bunch of single people just like you.

When you’re in college, you’re surrounded by a bunch of single people on the same general life path as you.

And even though Typical College Student demonstrates morally questionable behavior on the daily RE: sex, drugs and rock & roll, after a lifetime of church-going in Small Town, Fly-Over State, he or she has likely been taught that all sexual activity outside of marriage makes God, our parents, and most people we know really sad and/or uncomfortable.

Throw a bunch of college party-attending, single people with raging hormones, a lifetime model of seeing people meet and marry in their early to mid-20s, and a Life Blueprint in their back pockets reminding them they should hurry up and get married because of the sex thing, and also to have babies, because That’s Just What You Do—It’s The Way!, and it’s no mystery why so many young, well-intentioned people meet, fall in love, and get married without knowing The Things Married People Should Know.

Why do we do things this way?

Well, because we can’t know what we don’t know. And the Life Blueprint says we should do it this way. We look around, and everyone else is doing it that way, too, so it must be what’s best! I mean, everyone’s happy and winning the Game of Life, right?

Why?

Because we (and our children, if we’re not careful) believe: This is simply The Way things are done.

Because, models. All that we see, which tells us do this, and not that, because this is normal, thus obviously best.

But what if it’s not?

Because all models are wrong. There’s no such thing as One Size Fits All in the human experience.

But some models are useful.

Seek. And ye shall find.

…..

Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow MBTTTR on Twitter and Facebook.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

‘My Wife is Irrational, Therefore She’s Wrong’

light bulb in sunset

(Image/freewhd.com)

I know it’s hard, guys.

I’ll never be confused for a genius or scholar, but I’m reasonably bright in a Get B+ and A- Grades Without Trying kind-of way. And I made all of the same arguments you’re making. I repeated them until I was blue in the face, sometimes in my best dickhead voice while my wife and I volleyed shots at each other in another fight in which no winner would emerge.

I agreed with you so much that I unknowingly bet my entire family on it. And lost.

Maybe some of you guys are really tough and stoic. Maybe when bad things happen to you, you brush it off like it’s no big deal and move on gracefully.

That’s not how it went for me.

I could barely breathe when my wife and little son weren’t home anymore. This isn’t some “evil monster entitled man-hating feminist” I’m talking about, raging uncontrollably over petty things like dirty dishes. This was my wife. We met at 19. We were married nine years, many of which seemed and felt good. This was someone who very much wanted to stay married. And she reached a breaking point. All humans have them.

I cried. I vomited. After more than 30 years of mostly feeling what I can only describe as normal or very good, I experienced what it means to break on the inside. I don’t know how far away rock bottom was, but it couldn’t have been far.

That experience taught me why people commit suicide. Sometimes, it hurts so much that dying and shutting it off permanently feels less scary than the possibility of feeling that bad forever. I’ve said it a bunch of times: I didn’t want to die. But for a little while there, after a predominantly semi-charmed life, I didn’t really care if I did.

All around me, life went on. The sun kept rising and setting. My friends tried to care, but only people who have been through divorce really understand. People told jokes. Others laughed. People were happy. But I was miserable, no matter how positive of an attitude I tried to keep. I felt like dying every day for months.

THAT is when I learned the lesson so many men complaining about my “dishes” post have not learned: Two people can experience the same thing at the same time, but feel very differently without either of them being wrong.

Maybe all those times I acted like my wife’s post-partum depression was a figment of her imagination since I didn’t get it, were poor, ignorant and insensitive choices.

Are Our Complaining Wives ‘Irrational’?

That’s what John said after reading She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink, a headline that accidentally hookwinked hundreds of thousands of readers.

He called it “irrational” for a wife to be upset about a dish by the sink.

Here’s the common male thought process: Because it’s “irrational” for her to feel that way, a husband is not obligated to cooperate on the matter. After all, “irrational” is not so different than “wrong.”

My wife is wrong. I am right. End of discussion, bitch!

It doesn’t even seem crazy to me because that’s exactly how I felt in those frustrating marriage fights, and I’m reasonably smart. This isn’t something that had ever come up in life until my girlfriend and future-wife started upsetting me with all of her “irrational”ness.

If we fought long enough, she would just cry, at which time I thought she was unstable, but had an easier time speaking with her then because Sad is so much easier to deal with than Angry.

In John’s current form, he has no chance of ever finding common ground with a wife or girlfriend. Because any time he considers her opinions or emotions “irrational,” he will simply dismiss them as inconsequential. Once his little argument is over, he’ll never think about it again.

And maybe he doesn’t care.

Maybe single guys don’t care because they don’t want to be married anyway. I’m cool with that.

What I’m not cool with are the guys suggesting their “rational” opinion that a glass left by the sink—innocently and with ZERO malice—shouldn’t be dismissed or deemed less important than their wives’ “irrational” emotional response to it. I’m not cool with people who want to marry or want to stay married doing things I know to be toxic in relationships.

Rational Emotion: Is There Such a Thing?

Emotions are subjective things. The things that make you happy, sad, angry, horny, afraid, ashamed, confident, inspired, etc. are not the exact same things that make other humans feel those same emotions.

I believe, in very general terms (as we cannot pigeonhole every single human into one narrow silo), that men and women—husbands and wives, in this case—have VERY different emotional responses to things.

It’s why a guy can call his buddy an asshole and laugh about it in a male-bonding capacity, but would likely get a different result if he called his aunt one.

A critical lesson of my divorce: We must allow others to have their own individual human experiences, and accept that they’re real even when they react to something differently than we do, or describe a conflicting feeling.

What that means is, some people can be called an asshole and it’s funny, and some people can be called an asshole and it REALLY upsets them.

One is not rational while the other is irrational. One is not logical while the other is illogical.

It’s simply two separate people experiencing the SAME thing two DIFFERENT ways.

It’s not right or wrong. It just IS.

I used to believe my wife was irrational. Because I believed my wife was irrational, I never took seriously her requests for me to more assertively participate in our marriage on MANY levels—not just dish washing, which I actually did reasonably well.

I predict that any man who doesn’t understand the dish metaphor, OR feels offended and reacts defensively to it as if I believe wives’ or women’s feelings are somehow more important than husbands’ or men’s, also doesn’t participate actively in his marriage.

It likely means that when his wife tells him that something he does or doesn’t do hurts her, he dismisses it as her being “irrational.” And because he does that, she feels abandoned and alone in her marriage. Wives who feel abandoned and alone in their marriages will eventually do one of three things: Have sex with other men, leave their husbands, or both.

Deny that at your peril.

Maybe You Could Just Believe Your Wife

When your wife tells you something hurts her enough to bring it up to you in conversation, knowing it will likely create conflict, you should try to believe her.

If you’re a smart guy (and if you’re still reading this, I KNOW you’re smart, because the mouth-breathers stopped more than a thousand words ago), then you are statistically likely to be married to a smart woman.

I KNOW that it doesn’t make sense to you, when she talks about how something you consider minor and meaningless hurts her. That’s basically why EVERY divorce happens. You’re not strange. You’re just like most guys. You’re just like me—the me before I broke and had to start over again.

And Then the Entire Conversation Changes

I hope I’m safe in assuming no man still reading is the kind of guy who would slam his wife’s head against the kitchen counter, or crack her ribs with a baseball bat, or throw her against a wall and scream what a stupid worthless whore you consider her to be.

I hope that you’re the kind of guy who genuinely values her, and would prefer to stay married because divorce is shitty. I believe you are.

When you think of “hurting” your wife, you might think about physical pain, or how she might feel if she discovered an affair or another betrayal.

You don’t currently equate Another Meaningless Fight! with painfully wounding her. It’s not your fault. Your brain doesn’t naturally connect those dots any more than you’d feel afraid of someone throwing a sponge at you.

That’s why YOU NEED TO BELIEVE HER. You need to step outside your own mind for five seconds, and see the world as it really is: That person over there was hurt by something I did. Even though that same thing would never hurt me, it’s still true that it happened. If I care about that person, I need to make sure I never do that again.

Hundreds of men said it. And five years ago, I would have agreed with them: “Why does it always have to be the man changing for the wife? I’m pretty sure the wife could also show love and respect by just putting the glass in the dishwasher and not complaining about it! I hate that men always get blamed for this stuff even though it takes 50/50 to make it work!”

The answer to that is: You’re NOT changing for her. You’re not going to tell her she’s a crazy, nagging, complaining shrew AND also not help her with things she pleads for help with for the same reason you wouldn’t hit her with a baseball bat.

Because it hurts her. And you NEVER want to intentionally hurt her. And once the truth dawns on you: Holy shit. Now I understand why she gets upset about me throwing my socks on the floor, and that it causes her pain in ways I don’t experience. Then, the light bulb can go off.

Ohhhhhh. Because she has told me this 18,000 times, and I always dismiss her as crazy and tell her that she’s wrong, I can finally understand why it FEELS to her like I’m hurting her intentionally. It all makes sense now.

A lot of men think their wives shouldn’t be allowed to feel hurt by things because that same thing would never hurt them. The man makes the conversation about the thing they disagree on, instead of how bad it makes her feel.

But if they had the conversation they could both agree with—the one about how neither of them want to feel disrespected or see their marriage end in divorce—just maybe something really good could come from all this.

Just maybe, when we give, we get.

Just maybe, when we make the first move and are leaders in our relationships, we are treated well in kind.

Just maybe, marriage doesn’t have to suck at all.

Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom left-hand corner of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow me on Twitter where I pretty much never tweet.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Could the Loss of Tribe be Jeopardizing Your Marriage?

(Image/Carl Fleming)

(Image/Carl Fleming)

Because I’m an only child, my friends have been hugely important to me forever, and I think it was an unidentified factor in my divorce.

From grade school through high school and college, I was immersed in social activity. When I was little, I was playing at friends’ houses. When I was in high school, I was involved in team sports, or part-time jobs or doing things typical of a teenage boy in the mid- to late-‘90s. My college years were unquestionably my favorite from a How I Felt on the Inside standpoint.

I lived with my friends. Good friends. And we were, most of the time, doing whatever we wanted.

Little stress. Tons of laughter. An almost inexplicable amount of social connection, all accomplished without social media which was still a few years away from being a fundamental part of our societal fabric.

We weren’t carrying our challenges alone. Oh, you need your furniture moved from your apartment to a storage unit for the summer? Bam. Here are three or four guys willing to do it at the drop of a hat. Our massive social inner circle in college didn’t consist of many fraternity or sorority members, but if fate or happenstance hadn’t brought us all together—male and female, alike—I can see why students would want to be a part of them. After leaving the safety net of our hometowns and high schools, we crave involvement, acceptance, and being part of something bigger than ourselves.

Of course we like being with our families. We also like dating and being with our girlfriends or boyfriends. We totally like spending one-on-one time with our closest friends.

But nothing can replace this critical and fundamental part of our lives which has existed for as long as we can remember, and which grows steadily in importance from grade school through the end of our college years.

Our tribes.

Sudden Tribe Loss and Isolation

My negligent ignorance isn’t the only reason my marriage failed. I spent MY ENTIRE LIFE, just, living. I only knew what I knew. And what I knew was: I feel best when I’m with friends—the more, the merrier—and I am a good, happy, confident person. I am well-adjusted with a huge group of friends, supportive family, with the résumé, writing chops and charisma to justify my goal of writing Pulitzer Prize-winning stories at huge daily newspapers.

I had a 21- to 22-year data sample of knowing exactly who and what I was.

And then, in less than one calendar year, most of us graduated and moved away. But even in the end, after so many of the oldest tribe members had gone, we could still round up 40 or more people for a great party any time we wanted. That’s how kick-ass college was.

And then it was my turn.

My girlfriend and I had been together for a year, and we were making long-term plans. We agreed to move to Florida together from our more-than-20,000-student university in Ohio. A decent mid-sized newspaper on Florida’s Gulf Coast hired me for a business-writing gig. My girlfriend took a job at a marketing agency.

Overnight, two 22-year-old kids went from a lifetime of nothing but friends and family and constant involvement and community, to social isolation and nothing but one another to lean on. We were more than a thousand miles away from our hometowns and you could really feel the distance. My eventual wife missed her family desperately and knew within a few months in Florida that she wanted to be back home. And while I missed my family too, I had spent my entire life living apart from either my mother and her extended family, or my father and his extended family, and was emotionally equipped to deal with it.

But I lost something I never imagined a need to account for: The tribe.

We lived in a sleepy retirement community that would probably be amazing today as 36-year-olds, but mostly blew ass as fresh-faced young professionals dealing with culture shock on a variety of emotional, social, professional and financial fronts. We made wonderful friends and did our best, but only flying home for that rare wedding or holiday gathering could ever fill that tribal void.

Everything came to a head at the wedding of one of my best friends. We were tight all the way through high school, and I lived with him for four years of college. My girlfriend and I flew back to attend. I was a groomsman.

Because I had gone to grade school and high school with both the bride and groom, as well as four years of college with the groom, I knew pretty much everyone there. Tons of high school friends. Tons of college friends. Tons of familiar parent and sibling faces. After being away for two years, combined with heavy drinking, it wasn’t hard to get nostalgic.

I’ve written hundreds of times about crying throughout the hardest days of my separation and divorce. This night, as I drunkenly said bye to hundreds of people as they scrambled off to hotels or after-parties or back home, was the first time I remember crying as an adult. And pretty hard, too. Hugging guys goodbye, I mostly kept it together, but I remember riding shotgun in the passenger seat of a car driven by the first friend I made after moving to my hometown when I was just 6. That’s when I broke down. With my girlfriend sitting in the back next to some newlyweds who would end up being our future son’s godparents five years later. It was a drunken, totally embarrassing shit show that still evokes a little bit of shame. But perhaps no moment in my life more clearly emphasizes how critical my tribe was to my life and identity.

I am more me when surrounded by friends and family than under any other circumstances. The me I like most. The me I’m proud of.

Even back in Ohio for the past decade, I still feel that daily void because I’m a couple hundred miles from my hometown family and friends, and more recently with the loss of my large in-law family following the divorce.

I can’t explain it better than it’s written in this excerpt from Why Growing Up Is Hard to Do (But Why the World Still Needs Adults):

Isolation and the Loss of Tribe

“For most adults, the period of life they are most nostalgic for is high school and/or college. The longing for this period is usually chalked up to a desire to return to a time when they weren’t so freighted with life’s responsibilities. Surely that is part of it, but I think the real reason we miss our youth is often overlooked: it was the last time in our lives when we experienced a sense of “tribe.”

In high school and college, most of us had a group of great friends we saw on a daily basis. Many of us ran with a “gang” of guys, that sometimes joined with a posse of gals, forming a coed tribe that was enormously fun to hang out with.

Then, folks grew up, paired off, got hitched, and had kids. Few adults see their friends on a daily basis; the lucky see each other weekly, and for most, scheduling times to get together isn’t easy. It is then no wonder we get nostalgic for our younger days; it represents the last time our lives resembled the primordial pattern.

In hunter-gatherer tribes, male gangs hunted and battled together. Female posses raised their kids together. Everyone lived and worked together each day with dozens of others. Burden and joys were shared. One’s whole identity was tied up in being part of this tribe.

Today, we have never been more isolated. Many folks don’t even live near their extended kin, and the nuclear family is increasingly marooned on the desert island of the suburbs. Men (and women) go off to work in a cubicle with a bunch of fellow employees they may feel no real kinship with. Many women spend all day enclosed in the four walls of their home, cut off from all other humans, save their inarticulate toddler. Many people, male and female alike, are lonely and unhappy because they are without a tribe.

The heavy and undesirable weight of adulthood is often mistakenly chalked up to the burden of adult responsibilities alone. But the problem is not adulthood itself, but how it is currently being carried. The weight of earning a livelihood, and rearing one’s children, which was meant to be borne by numerous shoulders, is now supported by just a pair. Husband and wife rely on one another for all their emotional fulfillment and practical needs. The strain is more than an individual, or the nuclear family, was meant to bear.

So, (another) reason it’s hard to grow up is that the weight of adulthood feels hard to shoulder when you’re carrying it alone, instead of with a tribe.”

The Loss of Tribe and Its Effect on Your Marriage

This wasn’t supposed to be about me. It was supposed to give married or long-term couples something to think about, because I think when we go through major life changes, we are sometimes blind or ignorant to some of the hidden dangers inherent in those changes.

My girlfriend/fiancée/wife openly expressed displeasure with my constant longing for the big-group social life I’d always known. She was content with four-person dinner parties, and preferred them. With age, I grew to enjoy them more too. But I could never shake (and still haven’t) the deep, organic desire to be part of a large social circle and reclaim that vibrant social life.

Sometimes I get together with large groups when visiting family or friends back home, or at big (by adulthood standards) parties with a group of college friends. With the exception of the priceless father-son moments I’m blessed to have, nothing feels like home quite like these moments.

I think my wife saw it as a sign of immaturity. An unwillingness to grow up. I think she thinks I wanted to drink excessively and smoke pot all the time like we did in college. But that’s really not it. And any guy reading this who still regularly sees his band of brothers will appreciate the distinction. It’s the togetherness that matters more than the specific activity.

I think my wife felt disrespected and possibly even pangs of inadequacy because of it. Almost like because I wanted to be part of a large crew (or back with my old one again) that I was saying You’re not good enough! I need more than you can provide! I’d rather be with my friends than you! And she didn’t like it.

There isn’t one member of my excellent group of old or current friends I want to live with every day for the rest of my life. In a lifetime of thriving in a borderline-village-like family and social life, I simply wished I had more time with them built into my life.

My wife accidentally (she wasn’t being shitty; she was being emotional and wanted me to feel like she was more than enough to be happy) made me feel ashamed of my desire for a social life independent from her. Not that she wasn’t invited and welcome to be a part of it. She simply didn’t want to be. I think some couples are good at both being part of the same tribe. It just worked out for me that I married a more-private, more-introverted person who preferred small groups.

Her “tribe” cravings were satisfied by moving back near her hometown, and it was her family that filled that support network void for her.

She and a smattering of new friends were all I had to lean on.

And maybe that wasn’t enough for me, without me realizing it. Maybe neglecting and denying this fundamental part of me in favor of trying to make my wife happy ended up accidentally causing more harm than good. And maybe this same conflict (which people may or may not be discussing with their spouses) is causing unspoken, and even undetected, conflict in many other relationships.

We grow up whether or not we want to.

And everything feels a little bit harder and a little bit heavier as time marches on. We lose things. Family members. Friends. Jobs. Money. Lifestyles. We gain things. Marriages we don’t know how to nurture. Children we don’t know how to raise. Debts we don’t know how to pay. Weight we don’t know how to shed. Guilt we don’t know how to let go of.

It feels hard to be an adult.

And I’m wondering just how much this cultural loss-of-tribe dynamic might be playing a role in that. How much of all this burdensome adulthood stuff is more difficult because now it’s just us in our private homes trying to do everything alone that not long ago in our evolutionary history, was being done by an entire village? By a community? By a tribe?

Just like men are often oblivious to the emotional needs of their wives, I’m wondering to what degree women might be oblivious to this need their husbands or boyfriends feel, and maybe also feel for themselves. The need to be part of something bigger.

Maybe being part of a tribe is more important than we think.

Maybe wives and mothers, husbands and fathers SHOULDN’T be solely responsible for fulfilling the needs of their partners and children.

Maybe people AREN’T always practicing neglect or immaturity by needing the support of friends, or going out with them.

Maybe it’s something more of us almost need to do.

Maybe it’s something we need to better understand.

And just maybe, if we do, more of us will find what we’ve been looking for.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

A Response to “Hey Internet: Stop Trying to Inspire Me”

(Image/janrisher.com)

(Image/janrisher.com)

Jamie Varon published a four-minute read that rose to the top story on Medium where I saw it today.

It’s rare to strongly agree and strongly disagree with something at the same time, so I was delighted to stumble on a written piece that did exactly that. It made my “Now what the hell am I going to write about today?” process an easy one.

The following is Ms. Varon’s post supplemented with my occasional interruptions. As always, I’ll totally understand if you don’t care.

Hey Internet: Stop Trying to Inspire Me (By Jamie Varon/Medium)

I think when people are ultra-positive and have this incomparably sunny disposition toward the world, I get turned off. There’s a lot of stuff out there which attempts to make you feel inspired, but ends up leaving you feeling ashamed for being human. It would be easy for me to say:

“Everything happens for a reason!”

“Life is an adventure!”

“Love solves everything!”

“Happiness is a choice!”

These are easy words to say. Easy things to think. Easy, easy, easy. But, their meanings dry up the moment life happens.

Interruption #1

I think most reasonable people with basic reading-comprehension skills can understand and appreciate what Jamie is saying here. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one, been divorced or through a bad break-up, lost a job, was abused or neglected or mistreated, struggled with addiction, fought horrible illness, etc. totally gets it.

You feel like you die. Your entire body hurts. You think and feel things you’ve never thought or felt before. You don’t know what to believe anymore. You don’t know what’s real. Because everything you’d ever believed or “known” about yourself prior to that moment is gone. Lost. To this new, strange version of yourself. Because everything just changed.

I empathize with how Jamie might be feeling. Because when I was sobbing and broken, if someone told me to chin up, I wanted to punch them in their stupid, fucking faces. I get it.

But then she loses me.

Because it’s just as easy to say:

“Everything is meaningless.”

“Life is boring and painful.”

“People are hopeless.”

“We have no control over our feelings.”

There’s a lot of gray area in the arena of human emotion. Can we CONTROL our emotions when we just found out someone we love died? When someone intentionally hurts us in cruel ways?

Not really.

But can we, generally, take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings and work daily to take care of ourselves, to practice gratitude for the many beautiful things in our lives? (Yes, I think EVERYONE, no matter what, can feel legitimate gratitude for their lives, and I’ll accept the challenge should anyone disagree).

It all starts with “Thank you!” For food, or health, or shelter, or clothes, or friends, or hugs, or employment, or children, or pets, or opportunity, or this next breath.

If you can’t find a reason to say and feel “Thank you!” then forgive my bluntness, but you’re doing this whole being-alive thing wrong.

Jamie continues…

I have spent far too many nights feeling ashamed that I couldn’t be more positive, happier, better, stronger. I’d look at these shiny people plastered with positivity and I’d wonder where I went wrong. Why was I so affected by the world? Why didn’t every day feel like an adventure? Don’t these people have to pay bills and have uncomfortable conversations and wake up sometimes with a headache and an axe to grind? Why was I seemingly the only one so deeply affected by the human experience?

I don’t want to be inspired anymore. Inspiration is cheap. It’s easy. It’s flowery. It’s drenched in promises no one can fulfill.

I want to feel understood. I want to feel heard. I want to feel like my weird and twisty and dark thoughts and fears and feelings are not unique to me. I don’t need someone negating my experience in order to provide me with sweet words fluffy as clouds — and just as transparent. I want gritty and real and raw and I’d rather see people fucking up than trying to act as if they never do.

I’m tired of people trying to inspire me to have a better, bigger, happier life. Let me exist. Let me fumble. Let me find the patch of light in the long tunnel of darkness. Let me figure out some shit on my own. I say we need less fake inspiration in this world and more realness. Less doomsday. Less fake happiness. More real shit. Less preaching. More storytelling. Less advice. More community.

I wish people would stop trying to perfect my life. Everybody is selling the magic pill to happiness. Why do I have to be so happy all the time? CAN I LIVE?

Interruption #2

It’s hard sometimes to look over there at those people and just feel: What the hell is so great about them and so shitty about me that everything about their lives is perfect and everything about mine is so, just, uggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh?

But we are REALLY BAD guessers, sometimes.

Remember how you felt about Tiger Woods before you found out he slept with every woman you know, or Bill Cosby before—you know—unbelievable, or that person in your personal life who did something so out of line with the story you had always told yourself about them, that everything changed once you learned the truth?

Their lives aren’t perfect, either. Those people (the authentic ones!) who want to help others. But they CHOOSE to focus on the good and not the shit. The light. Not the dark.

They ALSO feel shitty and scared and confused. But I admire them for trying to encourage people instead of ignoring them, or worse, playing the victim card and discouraging others along the way.

She said “Everybody is selling the magic pill to happiness.” And maybe some people are. But those frauds are easy enough to spot. The people who are closest to figuring it out don’t use smoke and mirrors. They don’t have to. They’ve been to the bottom and write authentically and authoritatively about it. They’re the ones worth listening to.

Jamie gets so much right, though.

I love this: “I want gritty and real and raw and I’d rather see people fucking up than trying to act as if they never do… More real shit. Less preaching. More storytelling. Less advice. More community.”

Even more importantly, she hones in on the most valuable aspect of human connection through the written word (and probably every other type of social interaction):

“I want to feel understood. I want to feel heard. I want to feel like my weird and twisty and dark thoughts and fears and feelings are not unique to me.”

Preach on, Jamie. You (yes, you) are not the only one. You are never, ever, ever, EVER the only one.

It’s so important for people to realize there are others who think and feel just like them. That they’re not freaks. The effect it has on our hearts and minds is extraordinary.

You’re not a freak. And it is TOTALLY human and normal to think and feel whatever you think and feel. It’s the culmination of every experience you’ve had right up to this moment. We shouldn’t have to apologize for that.

But to deny the power of GROWTH or the ability to positively influence our lives moving forward? To act as if whatever’s going to happen is going to happen and there’s nothing we can do about it? That we’re all just a bunch of hopeless victims of whatever comes next?

That’s just someone lying to themselves.

Like that one time they thought Bill Cosby was a great guy and the kind of role model the world needed.

Jamie continues…

I want you to know that you don’t need to fix yourself if you’re not smiling every moment of the day. Sometimes you have very little to be grateful for and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s hard to muster up the energy to be happy with what you have when you want so much more from the world and yourself. That’s okay. It’s okay to be angry and to be kind of dark and weird and not a ball of positivity every moment. Sometimes it’s okay to be bored and to think that happiness is a bit boring because it kind of is. Sometimes it’s fine to be moody and sad and contemplative and to solve problems with a glass of wine or a pizza or some good sex I don’t even know but it’s okay to just not have it all figured out, to have no answers, to just be like, what is the point of anything.

It’s okay to feel like the ground is shaking beneath your feet. It’s okay because everything is temporary. You can lose your footing one day and be on top of the world the next. Things can change in a blink. Happiness is as fleeting as anything else. These fake salespeople who act like they have the cure to being human really grind me up. All they serve to do is make you feel ashamed for not having it all figured out. They sell your aspirational experience and bake shame into it.

Just promise me that the last thing you’ll do is be ashamed of where you’re at in your experience of being a human. Nothing good comes from shame. It’s about the lowest vibrational place you could be operating from. Avoid shame and anything or anyone that causes you shame. Get it all the hell out of your energy field. Shame is not going to motivate you. It’s going to drain you.

If there’s one promise you can make for yourself, let it be this: I will not let myself be ashamed of my unique experience of being human. Forget the positive bullshit: that promise, that mantra, that state of mind is what can really change lives. A person incapable of cowering to shame is a hero — considering all the many reasons our world gives us reasons to be ashamed. To forgo the feeling of shame is an act of radical resistance. Let yourself be. To truly be. What freedom.

In Conclusion

I think the world today shames people more than any other time in history. The internet is the world’s loudest microphone and we are bombarded with You’re not good enough! messages everywhere we turn. We need to work out more, have better sex, eat healthier, make more money, be better parents, go to church more, stop believing in God, being more tolerant, holding onto our values—whatever.

No matter who you are, it’s not hard to find something to tell you how much better you could be! And if you order right now, we’ll toss in a second one absolutely free!

A person should never feel like there aren’t others out there who feel as they do.

A person should never have to look at their social media feeds and feel like everyone’s lives are so much better than theirs.

A person should never feel ASHAMED of who they naturally, organically, authentically are.

I co-sign with that and so much of what Jamie wrote in this piece. I think she was doing what so many of us do. Just saying: I hear you! I won’t judge you! You’re fine just the way you are! You’re not alone!

And I applaud it. Enthusiastically.

But there’s that other thing, too. The part I strongly disagree with: “Sometimes you have very little to be grateful for and that’s okay.”

That’s NEVER true. Not ever.

Almost every one of us woke up this morning and we could see and hear and had the use of our limbs. People love us. We have food and shelter and electricity and functioning brains and beating hearts and air to breathe.

As my favorite comedian Louis CK once said:

“This is earth, and for trillions of miles in every direction it fucking sucks, so bad, it’s so shitty that your eyes bolt out of your head, because it sucks so bad. You get to be on earth and look at shit as long as you’re not blind or whatever it is, that you get to be here, you get to eat food. You get to put bacon in your mouth. I mean, when you have bacon in your mouth, it doesn’t matter who is president or anything, you just ahh, ahhhhhh.”

We are miraculously fortunate to be here. The odds against us even existing are beyond mind-blowing.

The least-fortunate human on earth could spend the rest of their lives writing down reasons to feel grateful and never run out of things.

And every day we feel sad and miserable (that is NOT one of those fresh-wound moments where even the most-stoic person alive feels pain), is a day to seek more things to be thankful for.

Like a treasure hunt.

The treasure hunt to real happiness.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

What If You Did It This Way?

cant-buy

Maybe he thought I was being a silly liberal hippy when I said all anyone really wants is to be happy.

The conversation had gotten deep because we don’t like talking about superficial things unless sports or movie lines are involved.

We hadn’t seen each other in five years, and we were doing the same thing we always do—standing around drinking beer, having a What does it all mean? conversation peppered with laughter outbursts.

He didn’t agree with my take. We often debate things.

I’m not sure why he disagreed. He never said, and we didn’t get much further in that conversation because beer.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Am I missing something? Does something else drive us?

No. This is the thing.

No matter how you choose to philosophically slice it up, everything you do in life is a means to an end. You are pursuing something you consciously or sub-consciously believe is bringing you happiness.

Maybe you like making money. Maybe you like travelling. Maybe you like staying home with kids. Maybe you like walking your dog. Maybe you like competing in sports. Maybe you pray often and live by a very specific spiritual or religious code. Maybe you like being helpful and serving others. Maybe you enjoy movie watching. Maybe you like drugs and partying with friends. Maybe you like exercising. Maybe you like eating healthy foods. Maybe you like not doing that.

Whatever. I don’t care.

What I do care about is understanding why things happen. I want to understand what motivates me.

I want everyone to be able to answer the question: “What do you want out of life?”

And I want everyone to understand the most-correct answer to that question, regardless of our differences and the various details, is: “I want happiness.”

Happy

adjective

1. delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing:

to be happy to see a person.

2. characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy:

a happy mood; a happy frame of mind.

 

Some people get bent out of shape over the word “happy.” They think it’s a lightweight word and concept, because ice cream, TV shows, roller coasters and vigorous bedroom romps can make us “happy” for a while before everything that truly matters in life brings you back to your baseline state of being.

And to them I say: FINE. Let’s use the word Content. Because that’s what I REALLY mean. 

Content

 adjective

1. satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.

There is not one decision you will make today that can’t ultimately be traced back to your pursuit of happiness (or, if you prefer: contentment).

“But, Matt! Going to work doesn’t make me happy! I do it because I MUST!”

Wrong.

You go to work because you’ve thus far not discovered a more effective way to make money. And you want that money because you want to pay for food, clothing, shelter and fun weekend activities. You do it because it makes your parents proud and you care what they think. You do it because all your friends have jobs and you believe that’s just what people do after high school and college!

We want our parents to be proud of us. We want clothes and food and roofs over our heads. We want to have money to support our children. We want people to look at us and believe we’re successful.

We want approval.

We want status.

We want to feel good.

It’s why I do everything.

It’s why you do everything.

We Get It! What’s Your Point?

Being an adult is really hard. Every day I get a new note from someone sad or angry or broken because their marriage is in trouble, or because they can’t figure out how to get out of their own way and be the person they aspire to.

I used to think I wanted big houses and nice cars and great sex and fun beach-party buzzes.

And I do sort of want those things! I think that’s okay.

But after being gutted from the inside following my broken marriage and divorce, I learned quickly that none of that stuff matters.

The man driving the ’91 Jetta with many friends happy to see him at tonight’s party will ALWAYS be living better than the millionaire CEO driving the Bentley whose company is about to lay off 5,000 workers, while his wife sleeps with her tennis coach, and he questions all his friendships, because everyone always wants something from him.

When you’re in the throes of depression and EVERYTHING hurts, you learn the truth: Nothing is as valuable as feeling peace. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to enjoy life without it.

There are things in life that bring me joy. Real, authentic joy.

And then there are bullshit superficial things that make me feel good for 10 minutes but don’t matter after.

How good might life be if everything was about the pursuit of authenticity? Of contentment? Of happiness?

It was a good What does it all mean? conversation my friend and I were having.

The kind of conversation not enough people are having.

The thing you’re doing right now. Why are you doing it?

Something puts your soul at ease.

And another thing makes you feel like a kid again.

And that other thing over there sets your heart on fire.

Go do those things.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Eureka Effect: How to Save Marriages

(Image courtesy of iai.tv)

(Image courtesy of iai.tv)

I was crying all the time and sleeping in the guest room. It was a real shit show.

My marriage was dead, but I didn’t know it yet. If I had known it, I would have never experienced the Eureka effect, which might be the most important thing to ever happen to me.

I was reading How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It (which I’ve made no secret is the most important book I’ve read on relationships), and page after page was explaining myself to me. Explaining my wife to me. Explaining my marriage to me.

It was my “Aha” moment. My “Eureka” moment. The moment I truly understood how radically different my wife and I were experiencing our marriage. The moment I could finally see things from her perspective.

I finally understood why all of our fights started and ended the same way. I finally understood why they were so predictable. I finally understood the most important thing there is for a man to know about his wife in a marriage.

She felt alone and abandoned. And that made her feel afraid and like she couldn’t trust me.

I finally understood the most important thing there is for a woman to know about her husband in a marriage.

My wife was not attacking me or telling me I wasn’t good enough. Just like my wife wasn’t actually alone nor abandoned.

It just felt that way.

She was trying to communicate to me how things I did made her feel disrespected and unloved, but she was doing it in a way that only made sense to her and not me.

That tends to make men feel shame. Like their wives are telling them they are not good enough. It fundamentally changes you on the inside when the person you love the most repeatedly tells you you’re not good enough, even if that’s not what she means to do.

I would get defensive because I always felt like I wasn’t guilty of the things she claimed. She would get angry because I WAS doing the things she said I was doing, even if I wasn’t realizing it. I wasn’t validating her anger and sadness and fear and it made her even more angry.

Then when she got angry, I would get equally angry in return.

We were a ticking bomb.

Because she was afraid and didn’t feel safe. The marriage had ceased to be a comfort zone for her.

Because I felt shame that I couldn’t make her happy and frustrated that nothing I did ever seemed to be good enough for her. I always felt like there was a new thing for her to complain about.

Fear. Shame. Fear. Shame. Fear. Shame.

How husbands and wives manage those emotions will prove the No. 1 predictor of whether their marriages will survive.

Wives who are afraid trying to talk to or fight with husbands who feel ashamed are going to fail at marriage a high-percentage of the time.

Something else important happened. Another “Aha!” moment. I realized that EVERYONE has the exact same fights.

There are always outliers and unique circumstances, but by and large, I realized that the reason these books can be written, read by millions of people, and have everyone nod their heads up and down is because these are almost universally true observations about people.

It’s so important to realize you’re not alone.

YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE.

You’re not. No matter what it is you feel. There are many other people who feel it, too. And when you discover that truth, it changes your life because feeling connected is one of our most basic human wants and needs.

The Nine Dot Problem

Nine Dot Problem

The Nine Dot Problem is a classic spatial problem psychologists use to study insight and problem solving. There are nine dots on a page in a perfect 3 x 3 square. The object is to connect all nine dots using exactly four straight lines without retracing or removing the pen from the paper.

The psychologists who conducted the first lab experiment with this problem (Kershaw and Ohlsson) said that in a lab setting where participants are given a time limit of two or three minutes, the expected solution rate is 0%.

You, quite literally, must think “outside the box” to solve it.

How to Save Marriages

I think I experienced something that many (maybe even most) men do not. I experienced the Eureka effect in a very profound way on the subject of marriage and male-female relationships.

And the more I think about it, the more convinced I become: The way to save marriages is to help people have their own Eureka moments.

The question now becomes: How do we get people to have their own Eureka moment?

What is the most effective way to reach people?

I read the book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It because I was invested in trying to save my marriage. My biggest fear was losing my wife and having my young son growing up a child of divorce like I had.

Fear of loss motivated me.

I don’t know what drives other people, but because I know I’m never the only one, I can infer that there are a lot of other husbands and boyfriends out there who feel as I felt.

So, I start with them.

It will take insightful, creative thinking to change the way people behave in, and think about, their marriages. Habits and evolutionary hardwiring are tough things to overcome.

But there is a way.

I think we just have to draw outside the lines.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Purple Shirt Theory

Maybe Bruce Banner will get a pass since he's a fictional character. Maybe actor Mark Ruffalo is going to burn for this. I don't know. But isn't it worth trying to figure it out?

Maybe Bruce Banner will get a pass since he’s a fictional character. Maybe actor Mark Ruffalo is going to burn for this grave offense. I don’t know. But isn’t it worth trying to figure out?

Is there a God?

That’s not something I ever asked myself growing up because I was raised in a pretty religious household and pretty much only knew other religious people in my small Ohio town.

I never asked it until I was older, divorced and felt like dying.

It’s a question that makes us feel something on the inside. Maybe comfort. Maybe discomfort. Most of us don’t talk about it because it has become impolite to talk about such things. Some people will kill you if you don’t believe what they believe. Others will hate you.

But you’re safe here.

I won’t kill you.

I won’t hate you.

I just want to tell you about the Purple Shirt Theory, because I think it’s interesting.

Relativism n. – the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.

I’m guilty of engaging in relativism from time to time. It’s one of the ways I justify some bad thing I’ve done, or justify not doing some good thing I should be doing. I think everyone does it once in a while.

We think: Well at least I’m not like [insert person you think sucks here]! What an asshole!

And all the sudden we feel better about the times we were assholes because it was less assholey than the times that suckier person over there was.

I’m Catholic.

There are a lot of rules and frankly, I’m not the best Catholic in the world. I don’t mean I might be second place, either. I mean, I’m probably in like 118 millionth place.

The reasons I’m not a great Catholic generally revolve around sex and drinking, which is likely the reason most people aren’t great at being one.

Here’s what people like me do. We look around at the world and we see all the people who are bigger assholes than we are. (Which might not even be true. We just think it is.)

Guys are married and their wives are pissed at them, but sometimes they think: At least I’m not like Roger! That guy cheats on his wife all the time! At least I’m not like Larry! That guy gambles his paycheck every week! At least I’m not like Freddy! That guy gets drunk every night! At least I’m not like Michael! That guy hits his wife and kids!

And because we don’t cheat, and we don’t gamble away our savings, and we don’t drink excessively, and we don’t physically abuse anyone, all the sudden we feel morally outraged because our wives or whoever are criticizing us about something. And it could be so much worse! we think. They should be grateful!

Because we’re getting a C on our report card while other people are getting Ds and Fs, we sometimes feel like we’re doing a good job.

It’s because people like to lie to themselves in order to feel better and sleep at night. I’ve done that before.

Getting Cs isn’t so bad!

It kind of is. C grades are shitty.

There is much debate about what’s right and what’s wrong. People disagree all the time about what is okay and not okay to do. It’s at the very heart of the cultural and political wars being waged globally.

I don’t know what’s right.

I don’t know what’s wrong.

I only know how certain things make me feel. I know some things seem okay to me. And some things do not. And that’s how I decide for myself.

And this is the part where it gets scary.

The Search for Truth

The following is indisputable: SOMETHING is true.

What I mean by that is, if you knew everything there was to know, you would know all of the true things from all of the false things. And for the purpose of this conversation, I’m mostly talking about what’s good or bad, or right or wrong. No ambiguity. No guessing.

There are people—many of them—who believe everyone gets to decide for themselves what’s right and wrong. That’s relativism. And I promise I’m as guilty of practicing it as anyone.

But what I’m absolutely sure of is that SOMETHING is true. Something is right. Something is real.

And that anyone on a quest to live the best, most-fulfilled life possible is OBLIGATED to seek it. We must seek truth. 

The Purple Shirt Theory

There either is a God. Or there isn’t. If there is no creator and everything is random and there is no such thing as right or wrong, then life is meaningless.

The Purple Shirt Theory only matters for people who believe in God, or believe it’s possible there is a divine creator or supreme being that started this whole life thing.

It goes like this:

IF you believe in God, then you believe there is an all-powerful creator who made the universe. Yahweh. The Boss. The Artist.

Ergo, what we think or feel or believe doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is whatever the facts are. Whatever the truth is.

If God is true and God exists, then God makes the rules.

Sometimes, humans say that God made some rules and I don’t always agree with them. About things I should or shouldn’t do. About things I should or shouldn’t say. About who people choose to love and live with.

And we argue and we bicker, and maybe some of us are right, or maybe all of us are wrong.

I just think it’s REALLY important to always keep the truth in mind.

And the truth is this: IF there is a God. God makes the rules. Not us. Not the ants.

And no matter how unreasonable or incorrect or unfair we consider a rule or law or truth to be, our feelings and opinions on the matter mean precisely dick.

There is truth. Something is true. Something is certain. Something is real.

And it might be (it might!) that God says the greatest sin or moral crime you can commit is: Wearing a purple shirt.

We think it’s silly. OF COURSE it’s okay to wear a purple shirt! we all think. It doesn’t make sense to me that God would punish me for that! If that’s the kind of God he/she/it is, I don’t want to know him/her/it anyway!!!

We’ve all heard, said or thought that.

But we’re wrong—dead wrong—every time we resort to our feelings and opinions to justify an action or belief.

If life has no meaning… then I guess life has no meaning, and this is the most-pointless thing I’ve ever written.

But maybe it does have meaning.

Because SOMETHING is true.

We are wise to pursue whatever the truth is. We are foolish to not.

Maybe it’s okay to wear purple shirts. I think it probably is. But I wonder what the truth is.

Because maybe it’s not.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Rethinking the Problem

The Penrose Stairs. Every corner is the both the top AND bottom. Artwork by kitkat93 at Deviant Art.

The Penrose Stairs. Every corner is both the top AND bottom. Artwork by kitkat93 at Deviant Art.

Because I’m keeping myself really busy with life problems, the holidays and self-imposed chores related to a business start-up, I’m worse than ever at keeping a queue of writing topics.

I have decided to try a Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting schedule after my nearly daily posting fizzled out early this year.

It’s Wednesday. I want to write. And I’m drawing a blank.

It would be easy to just move on. But I want to be the kind of person that accomplishes goals even when they’re hard.

But how?

Finding a Different Angle

I took my son to see Big Hero 6 last weekend. I went to see Interstellar on Monday. And I saw this from the marketing world’s thought leader this morning.

My takeaway from all three experiences was a fervent desire to be the kind of problem solver that can approach obstacles from a totally unique point of view and find workarounds no matter the odds.

It’s hard to keep going even when it’s hard. Really hard.

We have trouble fighting for our relationships when it’s hard. It’s easier to quit.

Shouldn’t being in love be easy!?!?

We’d all like that. But I think it’s probably exactly as it’s supposed to be. Our muscles only get stronger when we work them hard. Our minds only get sharper when we work them hard. Our resolve only escalates when we overcome emotional adversity.

Maybe love is exactly as it should be. Challenging and messy. So only the few, the proud and the strong are rewarded with its infinite beauty after walking the walk heroically.

We have trouble trying to master new skills when it’s hard. It’s easier to quit.

I had this fantasy about being a good guitar player one day. I love music and thought (knew) girls would dig me more if I played.

I bought an acoustic guitar. I was gifted a nice Fender Stratocaster electric guitar for my 16th birthday. My parents couldn’t afford guitar lessons, but I went to the music store and acquired all the Learn How to Play the Guitar materials I could find.

My fingers hurt trying to learn how to hold the strings in place and I found chord transitions nearly impossible. So I quit and never picked up a guitar again.

I sometimes wonder if that same weakness is the reason I got divorced.

We have trouble developing good habits and routines when it’s hard. It’s easier to keep our lazy bad habits.

We have trouble committing to, and following through on, working out and healthy eating. We have trouble reading all the books on our bookshelf. We have trouble breaking unhealthy spending habits.

Even though it can’t possibly be that hard to quit (I did for a couple years in my early 20s), and even though it’s totally disgusting, I bite my fingernails all the time.

Why don’t I stop?

Maybe because it’s easier to just keep doing it.

In Big Hero 6, a young genius is tasked with wowing a crowd of geniuses at a robotics convention. He has to learn how to approach problems from new angles, ask new questions, discover better angles.

In Interstellar, an aeronautical engineer is tasked with traversing the universe in search of a habitable planet for humans.

This morning, Seth Godin wrote about redefining rules and boundaries to come up with creative solutions.

It reads:

“The thing about a clean sheet of paper

… is that it still has edges.

It’s tempting to believe that creativity comes from starting fresh. But even when we start fresh, we approach projects and problems with self-created boundaries.

You can’t do real work without edges, without something to leverage, but those edges don’t have to be the same edges as everyone else uses.

Creative people often excel because they change the shape of the clean sheet.”

Have Crazy Idea Sex All the Time

My favorite writer James Altucher is constantly reminding us to train our minds to become “idea machines.” He insists the part of our brain that generates new ideas is like a muscle, and that with regular work, you strengthen this muscle and new idea generation becomes easy and routine.

How do you become an Idea Machine?

He says you write down 10 ideas a day. Every day. And after six months, you’ll strengthen this muscle enough to be constantly churning out new, creative solutions to problems, big and small.

You can have ideas about anything.

How to build a gas pump that will pump fuel twice as fast.

How to make the world’s greatest pizza crust.

How to encourage robust economic development in rural towns.

Whatever. There are no limits to the topics that could benefit from new ideas. If you write down 10 ideas a day (even the bad ones!) for an entire year, you will have 3,650 new ideas.

Altucher says you can bank on at least a few of those being the kind of ideas that can turn into legitimate business ideas, or useful life hacks that can radically transform your life, or the lives of others.

Furthermore, there are endless possibilities of combining these ideas. Idea sex!

Endless possibilities make my heart race. Endless possibilities prevent boredom, which murders the little explorer that lives in our hearts and souls.

We were made to explore and discover and create and build. These are the things behind every great human achievement since forever.

I haven’t perfected the (very challenging) task of generating new ideas every day.

But I believe in it. That new ideas—new good ideas that change lives, whether it’s just one life or many—are our most-precious resource.

We forget to think.

It’s because we get so busy stressing about all the things that don’t really matter because we’re all going to be dead someday, and because we watch sitcoms and reality TV, and because we eat McDonald’s and Cool Ranch Doritos.

We get so caught up in the routines of our lives and intimidated by the boundaries we create for ourselves that we totally forget we can build rockets and fly into outer space because there are almost no unsolvable problems.

Anything that looks like one just means we need to turn the problem around and upside down and find a new way to look at it.

Anything that looks like one just means we haven’t asked the right question yet.

For instance: What am I going to write about?

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: