CHARACTER AND MARRIAGE

Sapiens_neanderthal_comparison_en_blackbackgroundI recently read an essay on character listing the wonderful characteristics that a person should look for in a life partner. It made me think of that fictitious place, Lake Woebegone, in which all the children are above average. It seems to me that Having an ideal view creates useful distinctions as aspiration. However, looking for ideals in a marriage / life partner, apart from as their aspirational view, is entirely the wrong way to go about it.

In the first instance, it would be a miracle if you found someone who fitted those ideals, and especially our individual interpretation of those ideals.
In the second instance, unless you are also perfect in your potential partner’s eyes, there’s already a significant mismatch in expectations.
In the third instance, given that you may have found that perfect person (probably through your rose coloured glasses), and they through theirs, there is little doubt that both of you will change your relationship with the ideal within the first year of being together.
There definitely can be a great benefit to the longevity of companionship, of getting to know each other’s character in a rigorous manner (getting to take off the rose coloured glasses). The first benefit is so that we can get to know ourselves, more clearly, through their eyes. Knowing ourselves, being authentic about who we are for another, is the best way to for them to see your character. Likewise, knowing how we are being as authentic and inauthentic (for the two are constantly in play) gives us access to seeing those areas in which others are authentic or inauthentic. It also subverts our desire to dominate others through judgement because our recognition of how we are when others dominate us, tends to activate an empathetic response, in itself a desirable trait in most people’s eyes. Recognition of the authentic way of being, allows us a certain conversation in inquiry of the other. Without any expectation we can explore the attitudes, commitments, and actions of the other.
The conversation around reality becomes crucial to any empowering conversation. Reality just means how it is in actual living structure, form and action. So, conversations and inquiry around what we are in action about, becomes crucial to an understanding of authenticity and integrity.
A word on authenticity. Authenticity is just saying how you are being around some circumstance rather than covering up or pretending or repressing or condoning. It is not about being right, just showing who you are, what you need, and want, regardless of what others or society might think. It is a stand in courage, for oneself.
Integrity is a function of honouring our word, either keeping our word to ourself and others, or cleaning up when we haven’t. Integrity is not a set thing that we can achieve, but a dynamic in which we are often out of integrity either because we are playing such a big game for our personal capacity or because we are playing too small a game. Much like walking is constantly falling, standing still on one leg is harder that jogging, although both will lead to falling due to fatigue. One, however, will lead to some progress being achieved, the other, not so much.
So where does that leave understanding another’s character, in terms of life partners? Within the conversation in reality, integrity and authenticity, it becomes apparent to the couple that a relationship could either have workability or not, around that each other are regularly out of integrity and inauthentic, as a way of striving for authenticity and integrity.
Does the ideal matter at all? The aspiration around an ideal can be useful in the conversation between two people. In the first instance to gauge how far apart are the aspirations in viewpoint, current achievement, and capacity. While each persons specific visions and goals will be different even when there is a general match in aspirational viewpoint, empathetic responses are less likely to be strained. Secondly, after an aspirational match, a personality-identity match is important. This match does not mean ‘same’ but more importantly, ‘fitted’. For example, an extremely frugal person and an extremely generous person may be a poor fit, while and generous person and a modestly frugal person may make a good fit, neither having to compromise far from their personal range, while their relationship now has twice or more the range of each individual. Inside of the conversation that makes use of that greater range, is an ‘person’ who is a ‘we’ not a ‘me’. And that ‘we’ models and creates a vaster ‘we’ circle of human relationships, the basis of a whole new society.

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Employability now vs the Future

Just finished listening to this talk back with Melbourne restaurateur and youth mentor Peter Coronica. Peter has employed over 1000 young people over the last 25 years.

He says parents play a vital role in preventing youth unemployment by getting kids off the sports ground, out of music class and into paid work as early as possible.

While broadly supporting Peter’s premise and experience, I took some exception to his ‘priorities’, wondering where those choices that he made, came from. Over the years i have read and listened to an array of educational experts and my conclusion is that a learning culture shows up with these characteristics that are applicable from 0 – 99 year:

  1. Mimicry and modelling;
  2. memorization;
  3. physical development;
  4. creative development;
  5. socialization, community engagement, and empowerment;
  6. exposure to the natural environment;
  7. building a knowledge base;
  8. technical skills.

I realise that many of these characteristics come from people who have spent their career on one of these items as has Peter Coronica. And their individual focus tends, i think to skew that characteristic from its appropriate expression as within a wholistic framework constructed from all characteristics.

There is more I can say specifically about this framework for age appropriate development and learning, however the framework implies a great deal of change in the structure of education, learning, culture, productivity and economics. However, i believe it is the surer future for our children and young people: to have it all.

Vulnerability

As with 15 million people worldwide, I have been so taken with the 2010 TED talk by Brene Brown on her research on ‘vulnerability’, that when I heard her TED Radio interview recently, I had to take notes. The TED Radio Hour is great because it takes several TED speakers and interviews them around a consistent theme . The theme for this podcast is about ‘Making Mistakes”. Apart from Brown’s interview, I enjoyed the interview with Jazz player, Stefon Harris, a vibraphone player whose interpretation of the non-mistake of Jazz seemed to have a lesson for many aspects of problem solving in life. The joy of podcasting is being able to replay to really listen and contemplate about something being said, especially the various gems that came from Brene Brown. So here are the gems I found in that interview. A little paraphrasing.

Shame is the fear of disconnection. “I’m not good enough for other people “, “If I tell people …. they won’t want to be around me”.

Out of shame we numb vulnerability (we don’t tell how we are or even listen to how others are). We can’t numb vulnerability in isolation so, effectively, we numb joy and happiness as well.

Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of Courage. eg talking as listening to a difficult conversation. When not acting with vulnerability, we will come to be in shame. Vulnerability is necessary if we want to come through for others. Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, emotional. It is intimacy, trust, connection. Vulnerability is a raw bid for connection as distinct from a ‘normalising’ conversation. A normalising conversation is a broadcast of complaint to enroll others in your complaint, like we often do on FaceBook. Vulnerability is showing how we are being from our emotional response to a difficulty. Difficulties are what our days are made up of. (Me: We can either be vulnerable and happy Or complaining and unhappy. How to deal with complaint in a vulnerable manner, that is a whole wonderful possibility in life.)

Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation, change. (Take it to the bank).

SHOW UP RIGHT NOW. Perfection isn’t possible and if it was, no one wants it of you. WE WANT VULNERABILITY.

Oh, and about Stefon Harris. In jazz there are no mistakes. A mistake would be be not perceiving what someone else just did. That would be an opportunity missed. To get somewhere you think you might like to be, be patient and listening.

 

The Paradox of the Authentic Self

Much is mentioned about our authentic self as, like, we have to know what it is and be true to it.

I worry that I don’t know what mine is and so I’m sure I can’t possibly be true to it.

But, because it seems that a lot of people think it is important, I keep trying to understand what it is. However, pretty much at a stand still on the issue, I decided to make an enquiry into the possibility that an authentic self doesn’t exist. With that enquiry in mind, I found myself getting down to the tin tacs of the issue.

So, finally, my conclusion is that, yes, there is an authentic self, and no, there isn’t.

How did I get to this?

Well, perhaps it is because I like the idea of fuzzy logic, that things can either exist, not exist, exist and not exist (as a way of being) or, exist or not exist (as a way of being). But I also get to the conclusion in realising that an authentic self is a label for something that is in play with another thing that is called being inauthentic.

Those who promote a notion of the authentic self include, Dr Phil; Life Coaches whose idea about this seems rote, like a belief; psychologists; and gurus. Philosophers can be both hazy and clear about it.

This is what the promoters say:

  • There is a composite of skills, talents, wisdom, attitudes, perspectives that, when expressed, are going to be identifiably “YOU” like a fingerprint.
  • That “YOU” might be different from the expectations of those around you, including family.
  • “YOU” are hidden when living by others expectations that drain you of the critical life energy you need to pursue the things you truly value.
  • “YOU” show up as a calling, an expression in action, fulfilment.
  • “YOU” are a complete, whole being in integrity
  • “YOU” as a calling, impacts others.

keepItRealFrom various writers there are a range of characteristics about how you live life that point to you being authentic or inauthentic:

  • Anxiety is a reaction of hiding something or pushing to accomplishing something and is a sign of inauthenticity.
  • Inauthenticity shows up as protection of self
  • Authenticity is action focused on process.
  • Certain habits ‘feel’ inauthentic.
  • It is seen as a peaceful, centred feeling.
  • A calling requires silence, reflection
  • It shows up when you are doing things that make you deeply happy
  • Authenticity is finding friends that go with those activities
  • It is supported by the ‘feels good for me”
  • It is unsupported by fear, doubt, conformity, manipulation, gossip and group misery, pride, shame or guilt.
  • Shows up when you trust your gut and common sense
  • Shows up when you find your talents and explore them
  • Shows up when you appreciate the thing of yourself that are different than most people.
  • Shows up when you ‘enhance’ yourself
  • Shows up when you value your beliefs; forgive yourself; believe your dreams; know you are needed by other; are respecting yourself; make up your own mind
  • Being authentic is how you feel at the moment and you can say it.
  • As action without guarantees
  • You can ask for help
  • You can be okay as rejected
  • You can embrace negative emotions.
  • Is thinking things through independently, arriving at beliefs and ways of living that you can personally take responsibility for
  • Has a connection with what you loved as a child
  • When you own the values you have
  • What you have fun with
  • What about life are you drawn to
  • Is comfortable in your body

As I run down this list that seems so lovely, I find that there are many paradoxes. For example, my ‘common’ sense tells me trust science and that what is ‘common’ belief is rarely true. Likewise, deriving an idea from the common meaning in society is quite at variance with a special “YOU”. Another example is when I am caught in the expression of negative emotions like anger, it could be considered authentic to express that I am angry as long as I do it calmly but would be inauthentic if I expressed my anger, angrily or with in overt physical response. It is, however, inauthentic, to respond that we SHOULD not be aggressive, yet authentic to be peaceful. And to be sure, the former is bound to be inachievable because the effort to contain anger cannot be maintained, while being peaceful achieves non-aggression as a side-effect.

Other paradoxes can be seen in applying authenticity to the pathological mind. In a certain way, a psychopath can never be authentic, even though their psychopathy might be exactly their special identity. To be sure, the psychopath is invariably manipulative, just as the person with anxiety disorder is invariably self-protective. Each are, authentically like that. If they hide their real selves in an attempt to be socially acceptable, then they are considered inauthentic, even though we would all respect the effort.

On the altruistic side of the coin, if a person consciously chooses to serve others needs, they are authentic servants.  Yet if they unthinkingly take on the values of their upbringing to serve others they are, by definition, inauthentic servants. If the latter person is happy, they are still inauthentic, although their happiness is authentic. If the former person is happy, it is a sign of their authenticity.

It might also be noted that our special array of talents etc, are not so much different from everyone else’s, just as all fingerprints are recognisable as fingerprints. And, indeed, there may only be a small range of values that contribute to authenticity such that all humans host them in one way or the other, and as such, their expression may look very close to living by others expectations becasue we might be authentically living within and around each others expectations  So I find myself sitting in this strange web of paradoxes, on the one hand, entirely clear about Authenticity, and on the other, entirely convinced that it we do not have a thing that is “US” that is stable, whole, in integrity, ie authentically me.

In the Baha’i Faith, there is not this issue of an authentic self. There is an aspiration that each person shall become independent in thought and spirituality and the resources for life. There is acknowledgement that there are processes of education in the family and as a life-long endeavour, that this independence will flourish, that the independent person comes from the interdependence with others. For sure, there is “YOU” as an authentic Baha’i who lives as a calling for impact of others. And that Baha’i “YOU” is impactful as open to engaging with all the diversity of the human planet, learning from that diversity and teaching into that diversity, and learning as the response from teaching into that diversity. It has been useful, as a Baha’i to enquire into the authentic “ME” and use tools to check for the signs of authenticity and inauthenticity, on a path to independence and interdependence. That Baha’i path reaches out and catches the hands of everyone, testing what it means to be a Baha’i, to be human, to be in unity. Here, on this path, the “ME” wobbles around among the others, as it goes off on its very unique route, and, so, I can only reckon that this wobbly path is authentic while every individual responses and reactions is awash with authentic and inauthentic drivers. And it is only in acknowledging that there is no authenticity, that I might be indeed, authentic.

SHAME

Aside

Nothing to Be Ashamed About

Over the last 50 years there has been, especially from our brothers and sisters of the USA, an increased tendency to find shame, well, a shameful thing. And in finding it a shameful thing, have rejected it as a virtue. A recent ‘meme’ I read on facebook had shame characterised as a barrier to spiritual  transformation. This rejection needs revisiting, as much because there is a misunderstanding about what shame is, and also, because, in this misunderstanding, it is not recognised that much of the world’s travails are directly related to a lack of shame.

Let me start this exploration with the words of Baha’u’llah from the 19th Century. “Verily I say: The fear of God hath ever been a sure defence and a safe stronghold for all the peoples of the world. It is the chief cause of the protection of mankind, and the supreme instrument for its preservation. Indeed, there existeth in man a faculty which deterreth him from, and guardeth him against, whatever is unworthy and unseemly, and which is known as his sense of shame. This, however, is confined to but a few; all have not possessed, and do not possess, it. It is incumbent upon the kings and the spiritual leaders of the world to lay fast hold on religion, inasmuch as through it the fear of God is instilled in all else but Him.” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 27)

Two ideas stand out from Baha’u’llah’s disposition here. The first is pointing to a definition of shame, which I take as meaning that there is an ability to: recognise what is unworthy and unseemly; and the result of this is that SHAME prevents a person from acting in that manner. In other words, without performing any unseemly act we can recognise the possibility of it within us, and SHAME is a tendency to avoid those acts. The second point is that Baha’u’llah recognises that FEW have a sense of SHAME. So, rather than being something that the mass of humanity is beset by in some way, shame is a more like the name for a natural supreme talent in recognising unseemliness and being that it is something one does not take into one’s present or future relationship. Rather than being a less transformed person, a person with shame has the Olympic athlete potential for transformation.

Therefore, to the rest of us, Baha’u’llah encourages to some competency through the fear of God and obeying God’s Law.

Returning to the power of shame, then, what would be that something a shameful person would recognise with themselves that they avoid taking into their future. I suggest that this something correlates to another of Baha’u’llah’s teachings that, “To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 214)

Perhaps the shameful person recognises, with a certain acuity of insight, that within themselves is a ‘beast’. Surely that ‘beast’ is none other than the beast neurological scientists have described by labelling the fundamental human brain processes as ‘reptilian’ and ‘monkey / paleo-mammalian’.   And surely that beast is the one we all recognise as that rageful, lustful, covetous being who, after we have acted in its name, dissolves in the shadows, leaving only our tears in anguish for the hurt and separation we have caused. Yet to bring clarity to the definition of shame, SHAME is when the rage, lust, and covetousness is being recognised but not being acted upon.

On the other hand, the shameless are all lust and rage and covetousness. So why do some who believe they are on a path of transformation reject the value of shame? Here we must see where the ‘beast’ become a clever ‘EGO’ and as a clever ego, manipulates the discomforts of real transformation against us.

Many contemporary transformative ideas have come to the misunderstanding on shame through the work of Helen Shucman and William Thetford who developed ‘A Course in Miracles’ (ACIM) based on the dreams of Helen Shucman. In an attempt to show that reality is not as we think or see it is but rather a perfect realm from which the ego hides for the sake of its own persistence. Schucman, like mystics of the past including Sufis, recognise the fundamental barrier to ‘seeing’ reality is our tendency to pick a fight with ourselves. The solution to this is to recognise that we are already created ‘sons of God’ and that there is nothing to fight. By their commentary, Schucman and Thetford seem to define ego as the ‘making distinctions in order to make separations and fight ourselves’. Well so far, so good. However in this, Shucman and Thetford seem also to be influenced by the psychiatric notions of the early twentieth century and conveying the idea that shame is at the heart of neurosis, and therefore is a fight-related element that can be disappeared by shining a light on it.

However, there is another way to look at shame, which I have pointed to above, and also explain why shame is likely to be seen at the heart of neurosis. The ordinary shameless mortal, looking at a child with the tendency to shame will see a shy creature, keeping its own opinion, perhaps demure, and over time, certainly long-suffering. Trapped at every turn by the shamelessness around it, the shameful creature has no options except to turn unto its own loops of logic, becoming trapped by its own ego into a resentment for and fight against the shameless. Indeed, in the paradox that Shucman points in ACIM is present here. The shameful person also recognises the shamelessness of themselves and so, under the conditions of entrapment, shame and shameless fight into an embittered resentment.

Rather than victimise the shameful one, Baha’u’llah sees that this one is the potential olympic champion of the whole world of human extraordinariness, and points to us that the great power of the shameful one lies in their natural attraction to nobility. Baha’u’llah also rejects the proposition that people, by recognising that they are sons of God, for indeed we all are, is enough to restrain most of us from shameful actions. Rather the presence of the shameful person is the exemption that makes the rule, the clear distinction that most of us will reach extraordinariness through submission to the laws of God.

The challenge for the shameful child is that most of us have missed the point of the shameful child. In other situations, ordinary parents, seeing that their child can do calculus or run like the wind at age 8, do as much as possible to encourage them, and look around for a great teacher and trainer to assist the burgeoning potential. However, in missing the point that shame is an indication of a great spiritual potentiality, we fail to encourage the child’s exploration of that shame, nor look around at for a great trainer for their burgeoning spiritual potentiality.

This is becoming a thing of the past under the development of the children and youth training programs of the Baha’i Faith. However let me make some comments on things that might inform the development of children’s training from shame. The first is that any valuable spiritual training provides the child access to the source of its own nobility. For the child of shame this is like the sun shining on to both the beastly recesses and the mirror mosaic of virtues. Here the child of shame sees the beauty and nobility that they have only vaguely deduced. Access to the source of nobility comes from two integral disciplines: prayer and meditation; and the spiritual teachings of Baha’u’llah and other manifestations of God and even lesser teachers. From these sources, the child of shame, already able to recognise the ‘beast’ now learns how to tame it, placate it, exploit it effectively for the great game ahead. Like any trainer of ‘beast’ the child learns to speak softly, calmly, laughingly to the beast within. The child doesn’t reject the beast, for this is a fine beast, a wonderful beast. And in accepting the beast, the child of shame finds an extraordinary powerful friend, protector, and supporter. A beast that can be ridden into the arena of endeavour.

Shame’s great resolution is to be able to look upon the beast with confidence and capability, to find accountability in being noble. Not to fight the beast any more than one would hit or chastise a young working horse or dog for being unruly, but to look for the source of that unruliness and find that training method that directs the energies into great feats and great exhilarations. The child of shame, growing into an extraordinary adult, will always be acutely attuned to the restless power of the beast, know its awful potential, and be ashamed.