Two issues are confronted here:
human identity and personal relationships;
Who Am I ? and how shall I relate to others ?
Dr. Evans brings twenty years of experience in
ministering--personal and group counseling--
to focus on such practical problems as
How to be a friend
Being a man or woman
Sorting out sex
How to be a parent
Letting go of children
Understanding who you are
He explores both the theory and practice of
what it means to be a person, combining
principles and how-to-do-it suggestions
for being oneself in relation to others.
Who must ask the question
cannot know the answer
Yet one must keep asking
until the answer comes
Who Am I?
Each of the ideas and suggestions for what to do included on the following pages were developed and shaped in my encounters with those who have dared share with me themselves and their struggles with this ancient question: Who Am I?
Matters of confidence and space prevent properly crediting each person here. I know their names--and much more. Each one has a place in my heart and a reserved pew in our private church. If they read these results of our hours together, I want them to know of my love and debt to each one. I hope that this outgrowth of our common quest to determine who we are and what we are to do with ourselves may be useful to others.
Particular credit is due to some who may be named: Mary Miksa and Martha Corson for editing, Marcheta Bailey for typing, Ruth Thompson for designing, and Billy Buzbee for title preparation. I am grateful to them.
Unless otherwise noted, bible quotations are from the Authorized King James Version. The abbreviation Amp. is for the Amplified Bible, a translation by Zondervon Publishing House.
If in some of the What-To-Do sections of the book, the reader has a feeling of being preached to, I trust he will be tolerant. Preaching is a part of my profession as a minister and is therefore likely to creep out in my form of expression. Even so, be reminded, my suggestions are simply that--suggestions--from one pilgrim on the path of human identity to another,
"Who am I?," is, I think, the most significant of all questions because it is the basis of the answer to: "What am I to do with myself?" Some say, "Be yourself"; others preach, "Deny yourself." But before I can follow either course with awareness I must decide who I am. Who am I to be or to deny?
Society compounds the problem by offering me various roles to play, such as friend, spouse, parent, andminister. I am told to be a friend to others; I committed myself to be a husband; my children remind me to be a parent; my parishioners expect me to be their minister. But what do these roles have to do with being myself? When being friendly with my neighbor conflicts with being honest with myself, which am I to choose? When being a parent interferes with being a husband, which comes first? When being a minister means not being me, what am I to do?
These difficult questions are the background for this book. In the following pages I attempt two things: 1) to give my answer to the ancient question of human identity, who am I? (what does it mean to be a person?), and 2) to define the common roles open to us all (friend, man/woman--lover, husband/wife--spouse, and parent) and to give suggestions for learning toplay them well.
My underlying premise is that a basic distinction exists between being and acting, between being myself and playing any role (see Appendix for further discussion). I believe that innumerable human tragedies occur daily because many confuse the two, by either trying to become one of the roles they play, or by attempting to act like themselves. To try to be a friend or husband, for example, is an inevitable mistake. One may act friendly or play the role of husband, but can never become either. Conversely, to try to act like myself, to make a performance of being me, is equally disastrous.
The goal which I project is to become oneself and to play one's chosen roles skillfully and honestly. The currently popular ideal of 'just being myself' and going roleless in the world (being together without roles) is based, I think, on a misunderstanding of the nature of two phenomena: personhood and human relationships. I believe that a greater mistake is inherent in the ideal of completely denying oneself in favor of becoming an artificially "good" person who loves everybody.
An even more subtle error of identifying personhood with sexuality (being a man or woman), is common today. My premise is that 'man' and 'woman' properly belong in the category of roles (acts) rather than in the dimension of identity (being). They are performances, not sources of personal identity. To try to 'be a man' is, for example, an unreachable goal; to seek identity in femininity is to fall for an impossibility. Conversely, the current liberation movements make an equally dangerous mistake by encouraging persons to avoid acting masculine or feminine. Women may justifiably be liberated from bondage in femininity; but rebelling against playing like a female can be equally limiting. My projected goal is that persons distinguish between who they are and the functional roles of man and woman, that they strive to become themselves, and that they perfect the arts of acting masculine and feminine for practical reasons only.
To summarize personally: I can only be myself. I can best relate to others through one or more of the roles which I know--friend, man, spouse, parent, or minister. I make a serious mistake when I confuse being and relating--that is, when I try to be one of the roles which I can play, or when I try to exclude all roles while relating to anyone. The ideal toward which I strive is to become myself as completely as possible and to relate to those I meet as honestly as I can through the most appropriate role for the moment.
This book is a way of projecting my premises into this message: You can only be yourself. Your primary business in life is discovering and becoming who you are. You can act with others as a friend, lover, spouse, or parent, but you cannot be either of these or various other roles available to you.
You will be in trouble when you try, for example, to find your identity as a friend or parent, or to act like yourself. Only the opposite is possible, namely, to act as a friend or parent and to be yourself. The goal is to be you as fully as you can, and to act honestly and responsibly in the roles you choose. Conversely, if you accept my suggestions, you will never try to 'just be yourself' in your relationships with others. Instead, you will attempt to choose the most feasible roles available to you and act in them as honestly and effectively as possible.
WHO ARE YOU?
Sometimes I feel as though I am four hundred years old, heavy with wisdom, knowing too much and burdened with the pain of it. I miss the wonder and the hopefulness that I experienced when I was young, though now I can hardly recall how it once felt. I've seen too much that made no sense, witnessed too much pain about which I could do nothing.
What sort of a world is this? Not much of a world. A lunatic life filled with suffering, void of meaning. Yet it is all the world there is. One can only choose life, or choose death. Having chosen life, I must live it as it is. Complaining about it is part of living this life. But one must complain without hope of life being improved in response to the complaints. No one is listening who can do anything about it. The only ones who will hear my complaints are the other complainers who are also trapped in this hollow space, this one and only available life.
This, then, is to be my message to myself: I can only become who I am.
Sheldon Kopp, The Hanged Man
Personhood is the first issue. What does it mean to be a person, to become who you are? Who are you? What are the boundaries of humanity? What is involved in being human? What does it mean to "be myself?"
Before approaching the subject directly, the distinction should be made between being and doing (see Appendix A). Who we are falls into the category of being rather than doing (or acting). Humanity itself is an existential matter. I--who I am--may perform as a man, a spouse, a parent (or numerous other roles), but existence is to be distinguished from all these roles.
To speak literally, I may only say, "I am me," "I am person," or, "I am who I am." I may say, "I act the role of man (husband or father)," but to be strictly correct, I cannot say "I am a man." Person is who I am; the roles are what I do. In later chapters we deal with the roles; first the dimensions of being or personhood will be amplified.
Being may be named with the intangible word person or the tangible word body. I am a person. I am somebody. To grasp the import of this latter statement, the word somebody may best be hyphenated: some-body. I am some-body, or literally, I am this body. What you see is what I am. I am not one who has this body. I am, literally, this body. This body is who I am. I am not a being or entity which resides in (or owns) this body. It is I (or, I am it).
Because the roots of Greek thought are so deeply ingrained in American understanding, the radical, and yet simple, nature of the above statement may be difficult to grasp. Greek philosophy viewed man as divisible, as body and soul. In the Hellenic conception, man was like an angel in a slot machine, a ghost (soul, self, ego, or personality) in a body from which he would be eventually liberated. Since the body was only temporal while the soul was viewed as eternal, the physical being was naturally of smaller consequence. In terms of being, man was soul, not body. A Greek might have said, "I am soul," but not, "I am body."
This Greek idea has been largely incorporated in historical Christianity and much popular thought as well. Many current religious and secular groups think of the soul as a separable it which inhabits the body, entering at birth and leaving at death, perhaps with temporary exits in between. Names given the it include: soul, spirit, ego, personality, self, or simply I. In common they share the Greek premise of a divisible person, a ghost in a machine, with human identity placed in the ghost rather than the body. On this premise one can reasonably say, "I have a body," as though he is a separable I (soul) who owns or inhabits this machine.
Perhaps the most familiar secular variation on the religious theme of duality (body and soul) is the division of man into body and mind. In this understanding man is identified with his mind, especially his conscious thoughts, rather than with a separable soul, or his body. Intellectualism, the secular cult (in contrast with denominationalism, the religious cult) commonly subscribes to this variation of ancient Greek thought.
Mind is made king--the source of identity--rather than soul. Man is identified with his thinking (his rationality, conscious ideas, educational status, or "smarts"). If he is smart, he is somebody; if he is dumb, he is nobody. His mental apparatus is the source of who he is (perceives himself to be), in contrast with, for instance, his emotional capacity or sensual ability.
Such an intellectual who identifies himself with his mind would feel no personal threat in being emotionally dead (unfeeling), but might become very frustrated if discovered to be dumb or without a reason or rational answer. Believing he is his mind, his identity is threatened when his thinking is unsure. Such a person may even be proud of being unemotional.
The healing professions which have emerged from this dualistic concept of man are medicine and psychology. Doctors treat the body, psychologists and psychiatrists treat the mind. Based on this form of dualism, when something is wrong with man, it is either physical or mental. Either foreign elements (germs, viruses) have attacked the body, or else it is "all in his head." When doctors can't find a tangible cause for illness they may say one is neurotic and needs to see a psychiatrist. If a person repeatedly gets ill and testing reveals no reason for his illness, he is termed a hypochondriac. His illness is considered unreal--all in his mind.
The Hebrew idea, undergirding biblical understanding (and my own) is essentially different from these popular concepts. Man is viewed in the bible as "an animated body, not an incarnated soul," Wheeler Robinson wrote. Or as John A. T. Robinson adds: "Man does not have a body, he is a body." Human identity exists in the animation of the body, not in a separable or foreign resident of the body.
Thus I may say if I wish to speak literally, "I am body," but not, "I have a body." "I am some (this particular) body," but I cannot say, "I am a soul (spirit, ego, or any other it) which lives in my body," The issue is identity rather than grammar. Certainly, within the framework of the English language, one may properly speak of "my body." This, however, is a grammatical means of expressing relationship, rather than a description of a literal possession.
To go a step further in clarifying this essential identity, we may break the body down into its various functions or capacities and more explicitly identify who we are. The Hebrews went so far as to identify man with a host of organs and bodily parts (numbering about eighty-six parts, including bowels, belly, back, and heart). We need not go to this length to get the general idea.
Bodily capacities or functions can be grouped on the lowest level into breathing, eating, digesting, and eliminating. On a higher level the triad of sensing, feeling, and thinking can summarize additional basic functions. To be somebody means to be breathing/eating/digesting/eliminating, or to be sensing/feeling/thinking.
These are the basic elements of my being. I exist in breathing. I exist in being sensitive, emotional, and thoughtful. These are what I am, rather than what I do. The statement, "I am sensitive," is literal. I am not one who senses, and hence exists apart from sensing; I am sensing. Sensing is what I am, not what I do.
For instance, when I am seeing a sunset or hearing a song, I am--literally--seeing or hearing. Seeing is not merely an act; seeing is what I am. Hearing is not a performance; I exist in hearing at that time. Certainly, seeing or hearing (or both) are not all of me, but they are me at the time, in contrast to merely being things which 'I' as a separate entity am doing.
Likewise with emotions. I am emotional--literally. I do not have emotions, that is, exist as a separate entity who feels. I am feeling. When I am sad, I--literally--am sad; when I am happy, happiness is me. These are states of my existence, not 'things' which I, a separate entity, have. Because of the structure of our language I may say, "I am having a certain feeling," but the implication of an 'I' which possesses the separable feeling is inaccurate. I exist in feeling whatever the emotion is named; my feelings do not exist apart from me.
So with thoughts. The statement, "I am thinking,"is also literal. It can be reversed: "Thinking is I." Thinking is who I am, rather than something I, a separate self, may do. For instance, if I am thinking of going for a ride, then I literally exist in that thinking. The idea neither exists apart from me, nor I from the thinking. Although it may not seem grammatically logical, it would be technically accurate to say, "Thinking of going for a ride is who I am just now."
Because humanity includes these and other capacities, neither of them can express the entirety of who I am. Even when I am sensing (hearing a song), I may also be feeling (sad or happy) and thinking of going for a ride. Conversely, at any given time I may be feeling but not thinking, or sensing without feeling.
I exist in the activation of any one of these or my other human capacities, but I do not exist apart from them. Thus I may truthfully say at some point in time, "I am not feeling now," or, "I am not sensitive now," but I cannot be myself except through the activation of one or more of my capacities. When there is no sensing, feeling, or thinking (or breathing, etc.), there is no me. I can be a limited person with partial activation of my capacities--I can exist, for instance in breathing only, without thinking--but I cannot be fully myself without sensing, feeling, and thinking also.
Perhaps understanding the grammatical implications may clarify this identity between myself and my capacities. Consider the statement: "I am hearing." Grammatically speaking, hearing is a participle or verbal adjective. It completes the verb and modifies the subject. As we mean the statement, however, hearing is used as a predicate nominative rather than a predicate adjective, that is, it both completes the predicate and identifies the subject. 'Hearing' is not simply something which 'I', the subject, do; it identifies who I am. In terms of our use and meaning, the statement is similar to "I am he." Both can be reversed: "He is I," and, "Hearing is I."
The term, person, is used as a name to summarize or represent the entire range of basic human capacities. To say, "I am a person" is to say, "I am breathing, sensing, feeling, thinking." The name is a convenience of speech rather than the title of an entity. Literally there is no such thing as a person. Because listing the various capacities would make speech too bulky and cumbersome, they are summed up with the single word.
I am a person (myself, soul, spirit, or personality) when the bodily possibilities are activated; I do not exist when they are not. Personhood is comparable to a hurricane. When the winds reach a certain velocity, we call them a hurricane and give a personal name (Alice or Carla). Alice exists in the 70 m.p.h. winds. When the winds die down, she ceases to exist.
In like manner, I exist when the human materials (the winds) reach a certain degree of activation (velocity). When the elements are breathing, sensing, feeling, and/or thinking, then I am. When they cease to function, I, like Alice, cease to be. The human phenomenon--a person--differs from the inhuman phenomenon--a hurricane--only in the nature of the capacities. The hurricane moves, blows, and lifts houses; the person senses, feels, and thinks. The hurricane ceases to be when the winds stop blowing; I cease to be when I no longer breathe, sense, feel, or think.
The activation of these basic capacities in combination results in a state of being which may be considered as a fourth capacity--being sexual. When sensing, feeling, and thinking are activated, one exists as a sexual being--that is, an excited, stimulated, "turned-on" person. He feels pleasured or sexy.
In this case the word feel refers to perception of a condition, rather than to an emotion. The word sexual is also used in a wider than ordinary sense. Overt sexual activity--intercourse or its preliminaries--is not necessarily implied. The reference is to a physiological condition which is basically sexual in nature, but which may only be perceived as excited, feeling good, or, "turned-on." Because of cultural conditioning, one may be trained to deny awareness of sexuality. The point here is to name a fourth human capacity. I choose the word sexual since it seems the most basic description of this state of existence, regardless of an individual's awareness.
We may relate the four basic elements in humanity as an isosceles triangle with sensing, feeling, and thinking on the bottom, and sexual on the top, culminating the three primary capacities. One may exist as a person in the activation of sensing, feeling, or thinking to any degree. When sensing, feeling, and thinking are activated in combination, the resulting condition is sexual--being sexual.
As the degree of activation and harmony of these four capacities is increased. the door is opened toa fifth human possibility--loving. This final existential condition is perceived in such terms as: peace of mind, happiness, joy, worship, and unity. It is essentially a transcendental state which arises from the fuller activation of immanent human abilities.
Through embracing the basic capacities--that is, allowing oneself to more completely be sensitive, emotional, thoughtful, and hence sexual--one is allowed to enter the realm of love. He can then exist as a loving person. He is happy, peaceful, at one with himself and his surroundings.
This fifth dimension is, I think, the highest human possibility; it consequently becomes the focus of religion, Religion is concerned with man's achieving this transcendent state of existence. To become loving is to 'know God', who, as the bible says, is love." "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 John 4:8).
When one achieves this state of bliss, this peace of mind, he is worshipping God. To worship is to experience worth-ship. As a loving person, one knows the worth or value of all that is real, indeed the ultimate in reality--which is named God.
This blissful state of existence, geographically named heaven, is often perceived as at-one-ness or harmony with the universe. When one is truly loving, he is literally at-one-with his surroundings. His inner unity is reflected in a sense of union with the outer world as well. If he is with anther person, such a loving one feels brotherly, kindly, or caring.
If he is alone with nature, he feels at home or at peace with his surroundings. In isolation he feels at-one-with himself and God. When one is loving, he cares about life; things matter--all things. He is filled with hope, peace, and joy; he knows God.
BEAST, BABY, AND KING
Another analogy may be useful in focusing on the nature of being human. Humanity may also be described through the use of certain images arising in the process of socialization or adapting to a society. The most elemental capacities which allow us to merely exist and reproduce as a species can be grouped and represented with the image of an animal.
The slightly higher abilities including primitive emotionalism can be viewed with the image of an infant. Higher capacities including rationality and love can be represented by the figure of a sovereign. Thus for thought purposes we can break down humanity into the three images of beast, baby, and king. The human capacities may be visualized with these social images, just as they can through the elements of breathing, sensing, feeling, thinking, etc.
Beast names man's most animal-like qualities. Even though a highly-evolved animal, man still retains the essential attributes of the other animals. These qualities are the source of his strength and power. They also provide the basis for his more advanced attributes. With the other animals, man shares a deep drive for life itself, a will to live. Survival instincts are reflected in strong urges to provide for bodily needs--food and air, protection and security.
Instincts reveal themselves in the desperate means we take when deprived of necessities for physical existence. Like other animals we are capable of cannibalism or the destruction of even our fellow man when our own lives are threatened. This animal-like urge says in effect: "If one of us has to go, let it be you."
The same survival instinct is revealed to a lesser degree in anger which arises when we are frustrated in achieving any goal. If the car in front of us doesn't move immediately when the light turns green, thereby impeding our progress, animal urges may reflect in strong anger. When the baby cries at night interfering with our sleep, primitive anger may give us the urge to choke him.
The beastly urge may take the form of a dragon, roaring and foaming at the mouth, ready to destroy whatever gets in his way. Though we may be appalled at the Hitlers on the historical scene, we have residing in us the same animal drives to destroy those perceived as our enemies. Dressing ourselves like grandmother in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, we sometimes forget the wolf beneath who is ready to eat up whatever or whomever appeals to our animal desires.
The animal urge may take the form of a cleverly scheming fox, who knows naught of fairness or justice so long as he is able to get what he wants. Like a beast of prey we may stealthily stalk our opponents, unmindful of higher notions about the rights of others. Piggishly we may wallow with delight in the mire of disorder, forgetting ideas about cleanliness being close to godliness.
When the sexual urge moves within us, we may become like dogs in heat, seeking satisfaction wherever it may be found. Incest, rape, and prostitution, though opposed by our rational minds, may be but the natural desire of animal urges which arise when we feel fire in our loins. After all is said and done, there is no animal urge which is really foreign to any of us.
A second clustering of human attributes can be identified with the image of the baby. Though concealed by age, the essential elements of childhood remain a part of our capacities. These include the urge to be taken care of--to be protected, fed, and loved. A baby wants what it wants when it want it. Essentially self-serving, the child naturally seeks to satisfy desires without consideration of others. Babies cry whenever they are hungry, hurt, or uncomfortable--day or night. Children are also honest, open, innocent, and spontaneous. They reveal themselves without shame or pretense. They know no shame. Deception is unknown to the baby. Consequently, babies trust. They are curious, unafraid, and willing to explore the unknown. They chase butterflies, smile at strangers, and play in the rain.
To be a sensing, emotional, thoughtful human being also includes being a ruler or king. The bible describes man as being "a little lower than the angels" and able to "have dominion over" the created earth (Psalms 8:5-6). We have the capacity for being responsible, for making decisions, for directing our own courses, for managing the earth to our best advantage. William Henley said that we have the capacity to be "master of our fates." We are not required to live as victims of circumstances, blown hither and yon like leaves in the wind.
We have what it takes to be sons of God and live fulfilled lives in the kingdom of God here on this earth. Though moved with all the instincts and passions of the other animals, we also have the capacity for containing our feelings and acting responsibly.
Though wishing as children to be held and loved by others, we have the ability to hold and love ourselves. We do indeed have options of degrees of dominion over the earth and our own selves.
These three images are to be understood as what we are, rather than as things we have in us. I am beast, baby, and king--not some other entity which 'has' them, as in the popular understanding of Transactional Analysis (TA). Just as I am the feeling and thinking which make up the images, so I am the images themselves. I do not simply 'have' a baby in me; I am baby. Baby is not all of me, for I am also beast and king. Yet baby (wishing to be held and loved, wanting what I want when I want it) is a vital part of me. To be my fullest self I must be beast, baby, and king--three elements in one harmonious whole, each appropriately activated in the world where I live.
A human being may also be described from external perspectives. Though his capacities for sensing, feeling, thinking, being sexual and loving are vast (so far as we know, greater than for any other living creature), still he is limited. The human is finite rather than infinite. He is man, not God.
Finitude may be described from the perspectives of strength, knowledge, and time. Man is limited in his personal power, in what he knows, and in how long he will be here. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal; man is relatively weak, struggles with intellect, and obviously mortal. He possesses no infinite power, no ultimate knowledge, and no perpetual existence. Man is a highly endowed animal, who, through the activation of his creature capacities, may be loving and hence know God. Yet he remains human--finite--limited in strength and knowledge, and subject to death.
These elements of being can be categorized or measured by various scales or clusters of traits, such as: dominant/submissive, active/passive, strong/weak, tough/tender, or masculine/feminine. If we wish to describe a specific human being, the general human capacities can be further delineated by applying various of these scales.
For example, with a continuum of dominant/submissive, we may describe a particular person as more dominant than submissive. Clustering traits into masculine and feminine categories, we may describe a person as more feminine than masculine, and so on with many other descriptive scales.
A significant point in understanding the scales is recognizing them as descriptive rather than definitive. They are useful in telling what a particular person is like at a certain time, but they cannot define who one is. They describe actions rather than being. To be literal we can say that a certain person is acting dominant (or tough, masculine, etc.), but not that he is dominant. One may function in a dominant manner, yet his identity cannot be defined with this or any other scale. To pursue identity through any cluster of traits is to grasp after an illusion. I can be emotional, but I cannot be strong; I can be sexual, but I cannot be masculine. I can be loving, but I cannot be tender.
In the quest for personhood these distinctions are crucial. Countless hells have been endured, for example, by men who sought their identity in masculinity. Failing to grasp the difference between being and the scales which describe it, they have tried to find themselves where they cannot be.
What is a person? A person is a particular combination of physical elements, an animated body which for descriptive purposes may be broken down into various groups of capacities. On the lowest level I am a breathing/eating/digesting/eliminating creature. These basic capacities allow me to be sensitive/ emotional/thoughtful/sexual/loving.
I exist in the activation of any one of my capacities, but only fully become myself when the whole range of abilities is harmoniously embraced, allowing me to be a loving individual. I may at some point in time exist only as an emotional person or a thinking individual, but I cannot be completely human until all capacities are fulfilled in loving. I can be 'just rational' and thus exist, but I remain incomplete until I transcend lower capacities in the fulfilled experience of knowing God.
Using other images, being a person may be described as being a beast, a baby, and a king. Combinations of the basic elements allow us to describe the human components with these familiar figures. Just as I am sensing/feeling/thinking, so I am animal/infant/ruler. I may exist as animal only, but I do not fully become myself until I am also baby and king.
From an external perspective I may be described as a finite creature, limited in strength, knowledge, and time. I have some power, certain information, and limited tenure. Using certain combinations of traits and social attributes, I may be variously described as dominant/submissive, strong/weak, masculine/feminine, or with other scales.
The concept of spirit or soul is a name for a state of existing with all capacities activated. When body is animated or very alive, when one is beast, baby, and king, one may be said to have spirit. Activation of the human potential results in being with spirit. The colloquial use of the term, soul ("He's got soul"), comes closer to this understanding.
The reference is not to an entity or possession, but to a manner of living, to a quality rather than a quantity. The term spirit (or soul) is used in the same sense as the word heart in the expression, "She's got heart." The reference is to a quality of living, not to a pump in the chest. In like manner, soul represents an animated state of existence, not a ghost in the body.
Popular thought sometimes allows for body, mind, and spirit, as though there were a triad of components. In my understanding this is an error. When body and mind are activated harmoniously, then the person is spirited ("has soul"); spirit is the result of animation rather than a component of human elements.
Persons who do not believe in the existence of a soul often share the same concept of a divisible self, but express it differently. They may simply perceive themselves as an 'I' who resides apart from 'me' or 'myself'. This understanding is revealed in such statements as, "I said to myself," "I am ashamed of myself," or, "I told myself not to be afraid."
It is as though 'I' exist on a cloud 'up there' apart from 'myself' down on the earth. 'I' am the operator, dictator, or controller of that entity called myself. 'I' can thus talk to myself, advise myself, or otherwise have feelings about 'me' (e.g., feel proud or ashamed of 'myself').
The issue here is the perceived separate identity of an individual. He thinks of himself as one who actually exists apart from the body and presence perceived by others. He may honestly say within the framework of his thought system, "I have a body (or self)" because he believes he exists apart from his body. The possessive pronoun becomes literal. He believes he actually is the owner of his body.
In this divided state of existence, the body, or 'my-self' is commonly perceived as the slave of the outside 'I'. It is supposed to serve the 'I'--to make it feel good, happy, or proud. If it fails, the 'I' is ashamed of it and may take steps to mete out punishment. If 'myself' succeeds, the 'I' will be pleased and may reward it by a pat on the head or by granting some form of pleasure--like throwing a bone to an obedient dog.
If the 'myself' starts acting-out, misbehaving, or otherwise disobeying the omnipotent 'I', it may be punished by shame, hard labor, suffering, or even temporary banishment.
This existential state of inner division is to be distinguished from the grammatical use of such phrases to express the human capacity for objectivity. The size and nature of the human brain allows man to be both subjective and objective at the same time. We can be ourselves and be self-aware while doing so. We can do, and mentally see our doing, synonymously.
While embracing this capacity for self-awareness, we may accurately state in the framework of our language, "I see myself as failing" (succeeding, etc.). That is, we may use the language of 'I' and 'myself' to give expression to our ability to be objective and yet involved. This, however, is vastly different from the inward split which allows one the illusion of literally talking to himself as a separate entity.
It is my premise that the sense of personhood or identity, perceived as 'I'--as separate from 'myself'--is always an illusion arising from a misuse of the human capacity for objectivity. The 'I' which stands apart and looks down on the 'myself', as in the previous picture, is fictional. He does not exist in reality, only in the mind of the individual who creates him. The massive energies given to maintaining, protecting, and serving this precious ego or I are all misdirected.
Though an individual may maintain a functional, social balance by artfully juggling his powers of being the 'I' and the 'myself,' he does so at expense of being himself. One cannot be both I and myself. To choose the one is to eliminate the other. I can be me, or I can pretend to be the 'I' in my mind, but I cannot be both. Either I will be somebody--literally this body visible to others, with the capacities enumerated--or else I will pretend to be a separable 'I' and thus leave my body essentially uninhabited.
In the first case, when you see my body you will see me, because I am this body. What you see is what you get. In the second case, you only see an empty shell. Though the body is present, 'I' am absent in spirit. To be with the body present is not necessarily to be with 'me'. What you see may not be what you get.
Salvation, in this concept, is the process of becoming human--that is, of giving up an illusionary state of division into an 'I' and a 'myself', or a separable soul--and then embracing the fuller scope of one's human capacities, namely, the ability to love. Although a separate subject, the salvation process obviously must underlie the topics to be discussed here. One cannot, for example, play well the role of man or woman without first becoming a person--which is what salvation is all about.
Personhood, the business of salvation, is a matter of being; the roles--friend, woman, man, spouse, and parent are things to do. First, one must become a person. This is the salvation process. Then, as a person, one may act as a woman, man, etc. Personhood precedes and is the basis for womanhood or manhood.
One cannot, for example, 'be a man,' spiritually speaking, until he has become a person. Then, as person, he may act like a man, though he never literally becomes (is) a man. 'Being a man' is something he learns to do. Manliness is an act, a matter of doing rather than being. It is a role which may be performed well or poorly. When a person is acting as a man, the role is well played. When one attempts to 'be a man' without first embracing personhood, tragedy is predictable. The cloak of manhood becomes an empty charade, an act with no substance.
A saved person is one who has embraced his humanity (truly become a person), and lovingly functions as a friend, man/woman, spouse, or parent. Realizing that personhood has no pure form, he never attempts to be 'just a person'. He finds happiness in being a person before God, while relating to others as a friend, man/woman, spouse, or parent. Each role is learned well, but worn like a loosely tied cloak which can be quickly exchanged for another as is feasible in the circumstances.
Your friend is your needs answered. . You come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace. When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay." And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart; for without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed . . . And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Friendship is the most functional, familiar, and useful of all available roles. No other stance is applicable or effective in such a diversity of situations. When, as persons, we venture into the world of human relationships, friendship is our most accessible route. No person will, I think, be successful as a human being in the midst of others until he has mastered this artful, exciting role.
First, friendship should be recognized as just that--a role. Though it is the most comprehensive and diverse of all roles, offering the widest latitude and coming the closest to pure personhood, still it remains a role. Like all other stances, friendship is something to do, not to be. The goal remains: be a person and relate as a friend when you choose; never attempt to literally be a friend or to find yourself as a friend.
In the process of a friendship one is likely to discover wider dimensions of himself. This, however, is a by-product rather than an appropriate goal of friendship. To reverse these matters, attempting to use friendship as a procedure for finding oneself, is to destroy the proper basis for the relationship and set oneself up for an ultimately futile effort.
As Gibran noted, "Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit." He adds: "Let your best be for your friend. If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also. For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live. For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness."
Translation: You may be honest with a friend, bringing the wider dimensions of yourself into his presence. Your needs will accordingly be filled. Yet you go to reveal yourself, rather than to use your friend as an escape, or, I think, as someone to tell you who you are. Share with a friend; never try to get something from him.
To accept this limitation on friendship is to place it in the context of a role. As a person I may relate to you in a friendly fashion. I can be a friendly person with you; yet I cannot reasonably be 'just a friend,' ignoring the wider dimension of my personhood. Nor can I 'just be myself,' ignoring the limitations of friendship. In only the rarest of circumstances is it feasible for one to attempt person-to-person (roleless) relating.
Seldom can a friendship bear the weight of such added responsibility. In almost every friendly relationship there are some things the participants should and should not do, if they wish to remain friends. Consequently, as persons we may choose to encounter through the role of friendship. We may speak of "being a friend" or "having a friend," since our language is constructed as it is. Still, we should remain alert to the fact that this is a matter of grammar rather than reality. Technically, we will remain persons who act friendly with one another; we will never abandon personhood in favor of becoming friends.
If we accept this basic premise, how can we define the role of friend? What does it mean to 'be a friend' (act friendly)? What are the things that we as persons who choose to act friendly should do or not do?
Sharing is the most descriptive word for what friends do. They share with one another--their thoughts, dreams, beliefs, feelings, reactions, troubles, and sometimes their tangible possessions. They overflow together. From the wealth of their private personhood, they draw forth treasurers and display them to each other. They continually give gifts from themselves to the other without ulterior motives.
More completely than in any other role, a person reveals himself in a friendship. In no other stance does one go so naked in the world. Here one lets more hang out than in the other familiar stances. Because self-revelation is greater here than in other roles, one may sometimes have the sense of "letting it all hang out,"
Dinah Craik beautifully described the concomitant feeling of such self-disclosure:
Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts, nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
This delightful feeling of comfort should not, however, be confused with the idea of being without a role. Though friends in the midst of such sharing often feel role-less, this remains a feeling rather than a fact. The quotation describes a response to the event but is not to be taken literally. Friends do share words honestly; yet they do not "pour them all right out," that is, they don't literally "let it all hang out." Friendship, like all roles, has its limitations. One shares truthfully, but wise friends do not share everything.
Friendship also transcends many of the barriers existent in the other roles. It knows no limitations such as sex, age, education, or station in life. One can be friendly with almost anyone of any age at any time. The focused purpose of other roles places more stringent requirements on playing them.
Acting, for instance, as a spouse or parent, is far more demanding than acting as a friend. Because this drama has fewer restrictions, friends can ad-lib more often. They move with greater latitude across this wider stage. Friendship, like theatre-in-the-round, requires more faith, due to the wider exposure, but less skill. The role can be played sloppily; in fact, the more spontaneous it appears, the more enjoyable and effective it is likely to be.
Even so, a discerning person remains alert to the limitations of friendship. Not everything goes, even here. As already noted, friends share with one another but do not attempt to get anything from the other. Manipulation and devious external purposes are off limits. Friendship is just for the fun of itself.
Its goal is inherent in the event of sharing, as Gibran said, for the "deepening of the spirit" only. Thus if you would maintain a friendship, never try to use a friend. While attempting to get something from another person is sometimes in order in other roles, it is never permissible in friendship. Wise friends give freely, sometimes borrowing and lending, but never use one another for other purposes.
The role of friend involves accepting the other as he is; it does not include judgment or condemnation. Friends may react in unfavorable ways, giving gifts of their honest disagreement or contrary opinions. Yet they do not criticize or reject each other. Even harshly disagreeable opinions are shared in an accepting manner. As Craik noted, one "feels safe" with a friend precisely because he will be truthful without judgment. One is certain that "a faithful hand will take and sift them (your words), keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away."
Although other roles involve positions of being over or under, friends meet on equal ground, eyeball-to-eyeball. One is no better or worse, higher or lower, than the other. Position derived from social status, educational rank, job hierarchy, or even age, is all laid aside in friendship. As clay-footed persons, regardless of station in society, friends meet on the level ground of all humanity. Others may look-down-on or up-to one another. Friends do neither.
In this stance of mutual acceptance, friends like one another, but never love--except in a Christian sense of the word. They have no romantic encounters. The relationship is purely platonic. Contrary to the romanticism of lovers, the liking of friends is also large enough to include hate without rejection. Friends often intensely dislike certain attributes of each other. Sometimes they express the feeling. Usually it is done in a joking manner, resulting in strengthening the relationship,. Consequently, the liking of friends may be deeper than the loving of lovers, yet it excludes the romantic activities of the man/woman thing.
Because friendship cannot bear rejection, friends give their ears freely, but carefully withhold their tongues when the shared gifts take the form of problems or trouble. They listen often, but rarely advise. As Shakespeare had Polonious instruct Laertes, friends "lend everyman their ears, but few their voices."
Carefully friends reserve their judgment, and even their advice when there is risk of rejection. Because problems and personal difficulties are also a part of being a person, these will sometimes be shared in the course of a friendship. We may spill our guts or cry on the shoulder of a friend, just as we share our successes and spill our joys at other times.
Wise friends listen with much acceptance and understanding, saying, in effect, "Go ahead and get it out. Get it all off your chest." With equal care they avoid slipping into the role of director or critic. In response they will often say what they think, what they imagine they would feel or do in similar circumstances, but the information is shared--given without authority or direction. It comes in such a manner as to be equally subject to acceptance or dismissal. Never is there any sense of 'have to' in their reactions. When a friend speaks in response to your troubles, you may listen, but you do not have to do what he says. He gives a return gift for information only.
WHAT TO DO
If you understand friendship as a role--something to do rather than something to be, what can you do to improve your functioning as a friend? First, stop all efforts to use friendship as though it were a source of identity. Never use a friend to tell you who you are, or try to become yourself by the futile effort to be a good friend. Remember, friendship is something to do. The goal is to be a person and to act as a friend, not vice versa. In practice this means at least two things: stop going to friends for advice and never try to literally be a friend.
In regard to advice, remember, friends have vested interest in you. Their objectivity is colored. What you learn is more likely to be about them than about you, even if it is delivered in language about you. If you truly want advice, go to an objective, qualified professional and pay for what you get.
Preserve your friendships for what they are--places for sharing, not getting. If you choose to share your problems (which is often appropriate in a friendship), and your friend tells you what he thinks, hear him if you please, but take all his advice with a grain of salt. Seldom let him tell you what to do; never let him tell you who you are.
If your friend comes to you with his troubles, hear him openly. Let him cry on your shoulder as long as you comfortably can. You may sometimes react with your opinions, but again never tell him what to do. Remember, you are relating as a friend; you are not his doctor, lawyer, minister, or psychiatrist. If you pretend to be any of these, you risk subverting the friendship and doing your friend a serious disservice as well. You must even be careful about excessive listening, lest you unwittingly tempt your friend to evade getting professional advice he may need.
Secondly, never try to literally be a friend. Many persons make the serious mistake of trying to find themselves in the role of a friend. They try to do such an effective job of friendship--to be everything their friends desire, to always please and never offend--as though their own meaning and purpose in life is to be a friend.
This is always a mistake. It undercuts the basis of a sound friendship and cheats them of directing energies in more productive areas. If you act this way, your so-called friends may use you accordingly, giving you the illusion of personhood for a time, but eventually you will pay. Avoid the pain of discovering you have been used. Stop trying to be a friend for others.
Instead, as the bible says, Show yourself friendly (Proverbs 18:24). Be a friendly person, one who shares himself with others. If you abandon getting and having (possessing) friends through trying to be one, you will be freed for the exciting alternative of showing yourself friendly. This means: open yourself to others. Share your thoughts, observations, opinions, dreams, feelings, whenever you would function as a friend. Instead of trying to impress or influence others to be friendly with you--a manipulative effort which will eventually backfire--reveal yourself to them.
Instead of asking, "What do you think?," tell your friend what you have had on your own mind. Instead of asking his opinion, give yours. Rather than probing his dreams, tell your own. In other words, go to your friend for sharing, not for getting and using.
Once you set the pace, he is more likely to share in return. Receive him, however shared. No matter what language or form he takes for revealing himself in return, hear him joyfully. Then amplify his sharing with more of your own. Each response from a friend opens a whole new world for your own response. Move lightly and freely from one subject to another; avoid piggy-backing on your friend's expressions.
Remain in your own skin, a separate person who is choosing to share; do not try to get into the head of your friend, or tempt him to get in yours. Meet independently; always stay on your own two feet. Shun thrusting yourself--or any opinion--on your friend. Be equally diligent in refusing to carry him--or fall for anything he says.
In every encounter with a friend, remain ready to part at any time. Liking your friend, you will of course wish to extend the meeting as long as possible. With the feeling also, keep your hat at hand, so you can leave when the proper time has come. Better to part too soon than to overstay a welcome or slip from the role of friend.
If you would be friendly, spend your major energies in becoming a person, yourself, as fully as possible. The more capable you are of being yourself, apart from all roles including friendship, the more able you will be to function well as a friend.
In other words, become an independent person who does not have to have friends; then you will be more effective in acting as a friend with others. As with all other roles to be discussed in the following chapters, personhood is the principal issue; acting in the roles is secondary. Reversing these priorities is inevitably tragic.
WHAT IS A WOMAN
A capable, intelligent, and virtuous woman, who . . . can find her? She is far more precious than jewels, and her value is far above rubies or pearls.
Proverbs 31:10 Amp.
Yes, but what is she? What is a "virtuous woman?" Is she a chaste female? A good housekeeper? A faithful wife? A self-sacrificing mother? How can we define womanhood? Although the Equal Rights Amendment is yet to become law, women's lib is at a crest unequaled in the recorded history of mankind (womankind?)--long overdue, no doubt. But what is a liberated woman? If she truly emerges from male domination, what will she be like?
A woman is a person who by chance happens to have female anatomy and consequently the option of acting in the feminine role. Essentially she is a person; descriptively she can appear as woman. Her being, or basic source of identity, is the same as all other creatures. Being born with a vagina rather than a penis (and other related variations in equipment) in no way affects her personhood. Her physical differences allow her to more easily act like a woman, yet womanliness remains an act. She is person; she may perform as woman, if she chooses.
We may speak of being a woman, since our language is constructed as it is. Literally, this is impossible. One can be a female person--that is, a person who acts feminine, but not a woman. Identity remains in personhood only. All roles, including that of woman, are acts--things to do, not be.
Stated negatively, woman is not to be understood, in the final analysis, in any of the attributes or qualities related to femininity or motherhood. These possibilities fall within the realm of her capacities for self-expression, but are not definitive of who she is. Where being is concerned, personhood is her only option. She may or may not act feminine, get married, or have children. In either case, her essential being is to be found beyond anything associated with womanliness. A woman is not the little wife, a sex machine, or just a mother.
To be a person means, as discussed in Chapter 1, to be a human being--a creature who is sensitive, emotional, thoughtful, and sexual. The activation of these primary capacities allows her to also be loving and thus to know God. And yet as a human, she remains finite--that is, limited in power, knowledge, and time. She is neither omnipotent, omniscient, or immortal. She is a combination of beast, baby, and queen.
For descriptive purposes these human capacities, the source of identity, can be measured on such scales as dominant/submissive, masculine/feminine, etc. The native capacities of woman, especially her sexual equipment, uniquely prepare her for certain of these descriptive traits. Biologically equipped to be a receiver in the sex act, for example, she may be described as soft rather than hard.
In comparison with males who have evolved physical strengths in their traditional role as bread winner, she may sometimes be described as physically weaker. Functioning as a mother, she may develop tenderness, while the protecting father develops toughness. If we group various of these related traits into a scale grading from masculine to feminine, we may generally describe woman with the latter category. She more commonly appears as feminine than as masculine.
While we may usefully describe a particular woman with these scales of traits, we must never forget that we speak of functions or ways of acting in certain circumstances. We are talking about how one performs rather than who she is. A woman may act tender. She may appear soft during sexual intercourse, but this does not mean she is soft. She may act coy or submissive for practical purposes, but we should not conclude this to be definitive. Beneath her passive act, a greater dominance than that of the male who pursues her may be revealed. A feminine stance should not be confused with her personal identity, nor should the functions of wifery or motherhood be viewed as a source of being.
For example, a woman may get married and function in the role of wife. Never, however, does she become a wife. She may have children and act motherly, yet she cannot literally be a mother. She remains a person who has gotten married, or a person who has borne children. Whether married or single, productive or barren, her personhood remains untouched by these physical activities.
A proper goal for woman is, I believe, to be a person and to act feminine in those circumstances where femininity is productive, for example, in personal relations with a man. Conversely, a wise woman will never, I think, seek to find herself in femininity, marriage, or motherhood. To do so is to look for identity where it cannot truly exist.
In practice this means that she will seek to find herself in becoming sensitive, emotional, and thoughtful. She will strive to embrace the range of her sensing capacities, to experience all of her feeling capabilities, and develop the scope of her mind. She will strive to become fully sexual, to be loving and hence transcendent.
As a person she will then choose such functions and roles as best fit her private goals. She may, for example, function in the role of friend, or in the role of woman when it is appropriate. The feminine stance includes a cluster of traits such as softness, tenderness, acceptance, understanding, and submissiveness. To appear feminine is to attract by being demure, to appeal by needing, to win by losing.
Though subtly active, the female is overtly passive. She may make vast efforts behind the scene, but she appears casual and unconcerned while in play. With her apparent weakness, she invites strength. She turns away to encourage pursuit. She drops her handkerchief to elicit service and following. As female, she acts like a temptress.
Conversely, in the feminine role she does not appear dominant, aggressive, brazen, or forward. She never tries to ultimately win or defeat a partner. Though appearing to strive for first place, she actually tries to come in second. If she argues, she does so playfully--that is, she makes points to tempt, not to overwhelm. Though she may appear competitive, or ready for encounter, she is never castrating. She knows she loses if she wins.
Of course the entire stance is an act, a performance. To function in a retiring manner is not to be passive. To act soft is not to be weak., To appear at a loss--as needing help--is not to be helpless. For instance, waiting for a door to be opened does not imply she cannot do it herself. Waiting for a light bulb to be replaced does not mean she is ignorant about electricity. Losing an argument does not mean she is dumb.
Nor is femininity a continual stance. She acts in this manner when it is appropriate, but quickly drops the role when feasibility dictates. It seems to me that the female stance is most applicable in personal relations with a man and periodically with children. It appears least appropriate in business or professional relationships, or with other women. A wise woman will, I think, carefully choose her times for acting like a female. She will never be trapped or seek to find her identity in femininity.
WHAT TO DO
If you agree with these premises, what can you do to more fully embrace the role of woman? What steps may be taken on the path to womanliness.
First, clarify your thinking. If you accept my ideas as valid, merge them with your own thoughts. Start thinking of yourself as a female person rather than as a woman, wife, mother, or lover. Recognize in daily life the roles and stances as the acts they are. Breasts don't mean you are a woman. A marriage ceremony doesn't mean you are a wife. That children have come from your womb doesn't mean you are a mother. Having intercourse doesn't make you a lover. Realize that these activities are things to do, not things to be.
Carefully distinguish between functioning tenderly and being weak. That you choose to act softly doesn't mean you are soft. Tenderness often requires more strength than does toughness. Artfully losing may take more skill than winning. Acting submissively does not mean you are passive. Dropping the handkerchief often involves more real aggressiveness than does chasing after. The point is, recognize that manifesting one cluster of traits does not eliminate the opposite possibilities. See the act as an act.
Then modify your speech accordingly. Speak of yourself as a person rather than a female, wife, or mother. For example, never introduce yourself as "Fred's wife" or "Sue's mother." Say, "I am Joan." If further identification is in order, add, "I am married to Fred," or, "Sue is our daughter." The point is not to quibble with words, but to help you keep your thinking straight.
Next, devote your major energies to becoming yourself, to being the person you have accepted in theory. Certainly you will continue to sharpen your feminine wiles, plus your skills at marriage or motherhood. These, however, will more appropriately take second place to your primary quest for personhood. As the song says, "First be a person . . ." Be diligent in becoming sensitive, in developing responsible emotionality, in learning to be thoughtful. Work at embracing sexuality and becoming a loving person.
A significant part of this quest may involve escaping from the trap of femininity. Social and family pressures may have forced you so deeply into the female stance that you have failed to embrace your masculine possibilities. You may have tried to actually be feminine.
If so, a phase of your homework will be developing those parts of your capacity commonly referred to as manly--dominance, aggression, strength, toughness, etc. As a person you can act in either way. If you are accustomed to being dominated, learn to stand up for yourself. If you've been passive, develop your aggressiveness. Don't let acting tenderly be a cover for true weakness. Exercise your spiritual muscles. When it is appropriate for your goals, stand up and be counted. Learn to fight, if you have not. If physical fighting seems unsafe for you, at least master the arts of verbal aggression. If you must be defeated let it be by choice or because you actually are second-best; don't lose because you are afraid to try.
As you free yourself from compulsive femininity through activating your masculine possibilities, learn to act more effectively female, especially with men you care for. Perfect the arts of softness and receptivity. Become a temptress in your encounters. Play your role well. Invite masculinity in the males who matter to you by functioning in your best feminine manner. Never be trapped in the role, or limit your repertoire to this one stance alone; yet use it wisely.
Shun playing female with other women and in business relationships. For example, the seductiveness which is appropriate with a spouse or lover may only evoke jealousy and hostility from other women. Tempting an employer, co-worker, client, or customer may be personally satisfying, but at the cost of job productivity.
Certainly, sex may make some sales and lead to promotions in particular situations; yet the ultimate cost is apt to be high. This does not mean that feminine traits are out of order in work or with other women. It does mean that they are to be used as the situation indicates--balanced with appropriate masculinity--rather than as a continual stance. In these situations act tough or tender, active or passive, hard or soft, as fits your goals at the time. Freely choose a productive stance, changing as circumstances warrant.
Abandon compulsive wifery and mothering. Choose to function in either role as is feasible in your personal quest. Yet never be trapped as "the little wife" or "just a mother." If you are single and find marriage and motherhood attractive, seek them for personal reasons. Never, however, try to find yourself as a wife or mother. If you have previously sought your identity in these common roles or have trained your husband and children to think of you as a wife or mother only, then your return to personhood may be a difficult move, both a struggle for yourself and a threat to your family. Even so, using caution and discernment, I believe that finding yourself as a person will benefit them in the long run. Certainly it will be necessary in your own salvation.
ACTING LIKE A MAN
A good man now-a-days is hard to find. You always get the other kind.
Okay, getting the "other kind" is probably a legitimate complaint of countless disappointed, disillusioned, and abused lovers and wives. But what is a "good man?" How can we define masculine virtue? Are there ways to distinguish a good man from the "other kind"? Does good mean strong? Rich? Handsome? Or obedient, faithful, and easy to manage? Would a good man ever slap a woman? Would he cry? Is he assertive and demanding, insisting on his own way--the food he likes, the TV programs he prefers, his shirts ironed just so, sex on demand? Or is he submissive, taking whatever is dished out? Can a good man be henpecked?
A popular answer identifies manhood with masculinity--a cluster of traits including aggression, dominance, toughness, strength, and reasonableness. Conversely, any attribute related to femininity is perceived to be unmanly. Thus men are supposed to be reasonable, but not emotional. Big boys don't cry. Men may be forceful but should never want to be held. They may brag about sexual conquests, but must hide impotency as though it were a plague. Indeed fear itself must be banished. Men are brave, not sissy.
I dismiss this machismo image of manhood as distorted, misleading; and dangerous. It confuses rigidity with strength, inflexibility with power. Suppression of tears is presumed to make one tough and unafraid. Logic is confused with reason; sensitivity is denied; and emotionality is largely ruled out.
The ideal, should it ever be achieved, would be a colossal charade, a de-humanized god, a complete phony. No person would long enjoy living with one, let alone being one. I submit that a new image of a total man is in order.
The stance which I propose may be summarized with the phrase, male person. A man is a human being who happens to have certain physical equipment and the possibility of functioning in a masculine manner. To be accurate, male should be used, in this perspective, as an adjective only, not a noun--a male person rather than a male. Literally, one cannot be a man. He can be a person who functions as a man, but being is found in personhood rather than masculinity. Maleness is a role, an activity, a stance, a way of doing; personhood is existential, a matter of being.
Masculinity may be one cloak a man wears. He may function as a male when he chooses, but first, last, and always, he is a person. On certain occasions he may appropriately act feminine. In either case, his identity is found in his humanity rather than in any role he plays.
As with woman, the primary business of man is being a person and functioning in a productive manner in accord with his chosen goals. Being human, as previously described, means being sensitive, emotional, thoughtful, sexual, and loving. As an expression of himself as human, a man acts male, especially with women he cares for, and on certain occasions with children.
In other relationships, such as with friends or in business or professional situations, he wears whatever role works best. Often this will be the masculine stance. In some professions a feminine role is more appropriate. Doctors, for example, may find a motherly stance more productive on many occasions. The point is, a man chooses a role appropriate to his goals at the time, but never seeks his identity in any particular role.
WHAT TO DO
With this understanding, several steps become practical in developing manliness. First, be attentive to your thoughts. Until you begin to think of yourself as a male person instead of merely a male, you will be hindered in doing your homework. If you understand identity to be in personhood rather than in masculinity, then focus your major attention on the former area.
Be primarily concerned with becoming a person; give secondary attention to the various roles available to you. If you have learned to think of yourself as a male, a husband, or a father, realize that these are only roles. You cannot literally be any of them. They are things to do, not to be.
As you consider embracing other capacities, particularly those outside the realm of masculinity, be aware that they too are things to do, not what you are. For instance, if you have previously judged tears to be feminine or sissy, you may feel ashamed if you cry. Realize that crying is something to do rather than to be. If you learn to cry you will not be sissy or weak; in fact, you will develop your emotional strength by also embracing this capacity.
You will be a person who is strong enough to cry. If you learn to act tender, this will not mean that you have become soft. Tenderness is a stance, not a source of identity. Your manly strength will be enhanced by embracing this ability, as with any other attribute you may have learned to label feminine. You won't become sissy by developing your feminine capabilities; you will become more manly.
Next, devote your energies toward developing more fully your human capacities. Work at expanding your sensitivity, your emotional and mental capacities, your sensuality and your ability to love. If you have become enmeshed in the trap of masculinity, as is common in our society, a major part of your work will be in freeing yourself from this bondage.
To become a whole person, you must embrace your full range of capacities, including those labeled feminine. Specifically this means learning to act passive, gentle, tender, and soft, to function as though weak, to become emotionally involved, intuitive as well as reasonable, and seductive rather than assertive only.
Perhaps you will feel threatened and fearful, as though you are losing your masculinity, when you first allow yourself to activate the so-called feminine traits. Remember that you may indeed be going against your social training and moving into new human territory.
The fact that it is unknown is sufficient reason for fear. However, remember also that you are simply learning to do unfamiliar things, not becoming something different. Washing dishes, sewing buttons, changing baby diapers, crying, and acting tender cannot make you be female. They only expand your abilities as a person. Accept your right to be more than just masculine. Diligently learn to function in the feminine manner also.
Freed from the necessity of masculinity, you will discover that functioning as a male becomes easier. Denying female traits is an energy-consuming activity which deprives one of his fuller masculine possibilities. So long as you fear appearing feminine, you are in a double-bind. Your spiritual powers must be divided between suppressing the one and forcing the other, leaving you less than able to do either with your whole heart. Once beyond hiding tenderness, for example, you will be freer to be tougher also. Beyond the threat of tears, you will be more able to accept the emotions of others and remain self-contained. Potentially feminine, you will be more effectively masculine.
Functioning in a male manner is, of course, an art within itself. First there is the challenge of learning how, then the choice of when and where to wear the role. The traits of masculinity include assertiveness, power, strength, initiative, and pursuit. Develop your abilities in each of these areas. Learn to go first, to assert your will, to stand up and be counted. Develop your strength in competitive pursuits. Learn to strive, win, and achieve.
Then discern carefully when to put on your male suit. Remember, it will be inappropriate on many occasions. Two circumstances which more reasonably include masculinity are relationships with women you care for and with your own children. With loved females the male stance is likely to be more productive in continuing encounters. Certainly there are times in an extended man/woman relationship when the roles will be reasonably exchanged. These, however, will be the exception rather than the rule.
Acting as a male with children is productive as a teaching method. These early impressions of what it means to act like a man are important for both boys and girls. Since the father is the major male figure in early life, his accurate portrayal of masculinity is especially significant with his own children.
Functioning male with a loved female and children means taking the lead in the major elements of the relationship--being assertive, going first, exhibiting strength, and acting with power. Initiative is to be distinguished from being bossy or dictatorial. In the final analysis the male should be a decisive person, yet without being domineering. For example, as male, a person would go first in expressing himself ("I'd like to go to the movie," instead of, "What would you like to do?"). He would take the initiative in repairing the house, tending the yard, paying bills, making conversation, and love.
With children he would maintain the balance of power on his own side, giving direction and support, but seldom letting a child get the best of him. Without making a constant show of strength, he would maintain his position of dominance in points of encounter. A child would recognize him as father rather than servant.
Beyond these relationships with loved ones, a man will more flexibly choose a stance appropriate with the immediate circumstances and his goals at the time. In business and professional activities the masculine stance is often feasible. On many occasions however, the more retiring feminine role is productive. Ideally a man will wear his roles loosely, remain alert to the situation, and freely change from one to the other as the times dictate.
With friends a man will likewise be selective in role choice. Typically men put on a show of masculinity with each other--bragging, competing, and playfully attempting to get the best of the other. In productive friendships the key word is playfully. Both men recognize the game as a medium for fun. Though they compete fiercely, each carefully avoids making an emotional kill. The game is simply an avenue for encounter.
With other men who have not developed their masculine capacities, a man may more reasonably function in passive or less competitive ways. The important issues are flexibility and awareness. The wise man will choose a stance which best allows the friendship to thrive.
To be a man is be a person who primarily focuses on the human qualities underlying the sexual function--that is, one who is sensitive, emotional, and thoughtful. Having embraced the full scope of his capacities along the masculine/feminine scale, he is free to act dominant or submissive, hard or soft, strong or weak, as the circumstances indicate.
Recognizing the distinction between personhood and masculinity, he never seeks his identity (to be himself) in the role of male. He acts masculine whenever that is feasible, especially with women he cares for and with children. With equal ease he functions submissively when circumstances indicate. First, last, and always, a man is a person.
THE MAN/WOMAN THING
There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.
"The way of a man with a maid" remains one of the truly wonderful mysteries in life. The bible gives eloquent testimony to this wondrous man/woman thing in the Song of Solomon:
My beloved speaks and says to me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone: The time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!, she cries . . . Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. I can feel his left hand under my head and his right hand embraces me!
And he is no less amorous:
How beautiful is your love . . .How much better is your love than wine! Honey and milk are under your tongue . . . Turn away your flashing eyes from me, for they have overcome me! . . . Your stature is like to a palm tree and your bosom to its clusters of dates. I resolve I will climb the palm tree, I will grasp its branches.
She said, Come, my beloved! Let us go forth . . . Let us go out early to the vineyards and see whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love.
Song of Solomon 2:10-12; 1:2; 2:5-6; 4:10-11; 6:5;7:7-8, 11-12 Amp.
That it exists is undebatable; what it is remains a lively question. This is our focus here: What is this man/woman thing? How can we understand the mysterious relationship between a man and a maid? What is the nature of this unique encounter?
First, a matter of perspective. The song of Solomon is only one short book among sixty-five others which comprise the bible. In the overall picture of the bible, the Song of Solomon is a minor theme. In like manner the man/woman thing is more properly a
minor element in the overall time of life. Its significance lies in its seasoning effect rather than in the quantity of time consumed by it. It is the salt, the spice in life's food, not the meal itself. It is one of sixty-six, the icing on the cake, not the cornbread and peas. Though extremely significant, it is not the main thing.
Consequently, the attempt to base life on romantic love is a tragic mistake. This fragile mystery is an inappropriate foundation for heaven. To try to exist on love is like trying to make a meal out of salt.
Yet the seasoning is important. The goal, I think, is to recognize its significance, activate it in life, perfect the arts of playing the game, do so when it is appropriate, but to keep the man/woman thing in a proper overall perspective, namely, one of sixty-six.
Back to the question: What is the nature of the mystery? As related to the primary issue of human identity, the man/woman thing is a game rather than a source or basis of identity. It is something to do, not to be--that is, an activity rather than a spiritual quest.
It is an exciting, spicy encounter between one person wearing a male suit and another wearing a female outfit. Each plays a part, like an actor or actress on a stage. Persons cloak themselves as male and female and act out an ageless drama with an ever-new script.
The fun of the game lies in playing the parts well; the danger is forgetting that it is a game. Deadly consequences are predictable when one confuses the search for identity with acting the role. The game is fun when played well, but disastrous when taken seriously, as when one seeks to find himself in the encounter or relationship. In reality one can play the role of man or woman, but cannot literally he either. The game is between persons playing male and female. The drams becomes tragic when either attempts to be the role played. Selfhood is never involved in a productive man/woman encounter.
The excitement evolves as independent persons meet under the guise of man and woman. Playfully they encounter as separate actors, meeting but not attempting to get or have. Such serious endeavors destroy the basis of the game. It cannot be played with a possessed one. This is why marriage so often destroys a good relationship.
At the deepest level the game is, I think, rooted in the sexual capacity--the biological inclination toward reproduction of the species. As a drama, the game theoretically aims at intercourse. In practice, however, the primary delight lies in the moves and counter-moves of the participants, rather than in overt sexual activity.
In spite of the personal pleasures of intercourse, sex itself seems to more often be an escape from the man/woman thing. Most anyone can do the sex act--it is essentially biological--but it takes talent and skill to artfully play the man/woman game.
Who can play? Any man and any woman. Age is irrelevant; prior acquaintance is unnecessary; marriage is incidental. For practical reasons overt sexual activity as part of the game is often restricted to marriage. The game itself, however, knows no such boundaries. In fact, the difficulty or impossibility of intercourse often enhances the play of the game. When sex becomes easily possible the participants may miss the fun of the drama by rushing to the theoretical conclusion.
Although the game is, as the name implies, primarily between men and women, it is often played by members of the same sex. Since the drama is between persons in roles, the actual sexual identity of the participants is incidental. For example, homosexual relationships usually consist of one who plays the role of man and another who acts the feminine role.
How is the game played? Although the drama is essentially spiritual in nature--that is, consisting of a series of encounters between the spirit of one and the spirit of the other, the playing pieces are tangible. These include the appearance of the participants--body and clothing, the eyes, verbal subtleties, and sometimes touch.
The body and its manner of presentation--shape, style of dress or undress, hair, make-up, and subtle movements--these become the initial playing pieces, especially useful in the woman's role. Next, the eyes are a major element in the continuing encounter. Looking, looking away, glancing, plus the kind of look--curious, soft, or inviting--these are perhaps the most powerful of the playing pieces.
Talk, especially verbal subtleties--innuendoes, hints, figures of speech, stories--becomes the most obvious of the devices used in the game. Straight talk, utilizing strict dictionary definitions, is less often useful. Consider, for example, this statement of the woman in the Song of Solomon:
"She said distinctly My beloved is mine, and I am his! He pastures his flocks among the lilies." (Song of Solomon 2:16 Amp.) Strictly speaking the facts are probably inaccurate. They do not belong to each other in any physical or legal sense. Nor is it likely that flowers are the principal diet of his sheep. Although the information is questionable, the statement is an excellent example of man/woman talk, filled with subtleties and innuendoes.
Finally, touch is sometimes useful as a fourth playing piece in the intricate man/woman game. Though less often used, it becomes powerful when artfully done in a subtle manner. As with words, the finesse lies in touching appropriately rather than crudely or untimely.
Irrelevant acts, gifts, and un-required deeds are sometimes the icing on the cake in the man/woman thing. These can become a graphic way of expressing the feelings inherent in the game. The beauty and value of these tangible expressions is often inversely proportional to their inherent value. For, example, a plucked flower with no practical value can become a powerful means of expression. A glass of cool water, unrequested, may say more than a thousand words.
With these playing pieces the game itself is a rhythmical interplay of in and out, back and forth, teasing, tempting, leading and following encounters. In general, the female is tempting and retiring while the male is seductive and dominant. She demurs; he advances. She drops the handkerchief; he picks it up. She is the receiver; he the giver.
Although the man appears to be more forward, the woman may, in fact, be the more aggressive of the two. Her forwardness is less apparent because it is carried out in more subtle ways. Temporarily, in the course of the game, the tables may be turned and the woman will take the lead with the man following.
Soon, however, a reversal occurs and the man is in the lead again. Once into the midst of a good man/woman game, the rhythmical interplay of leading and following--first the man, then the woman--may become so intertwined as to conceal who is the most assertive of the two. In the final analysis, however, the male remains more dominant. Even though he is temporarily the chased rather than the chaser, the final balance of power remains on his side in any crucial event. The dynamics of the game require that the greater force be on the side of the male.
In the actual playing of the game the pieces enumerated above are each brought into appropriate use. For instance, the woman may tempt with the cut of her clothes or an inviting move of her head. The man may follow up with a look of curiosity in his eyes. She may return the look with a tempting glance, which he in turn follows with a verbal subtlety. Once the game is in play, the pieces may be freely exchanged, one following the other. An occasional touch, in a socially acceptable manner, may add to the delight of the encounter.
Gifts, including compliments or valueless things--such as, flowers, a Kleenex, or a glass of water--may be given at appropriate times. Services like opening a door, offering a chair, or preparing food may be added in time. These assorted playing pieces are used in proper proportions throughout the encounter, no matter how long or short it may last. Through them the spirit of one encounters the spirit of the other in a beautiful, exciting array of sensitive meetings which I call the man/woman thing.
Why the game? one may ask. Why play roles? The answer is: practicality, and because it works. Since persons can never relate in pure form, that is, without some particular role or stance, then some type of medium is required for every encounter. If persons are to get together they must have some way of doing so. The man/woman thing is just such a functional way.
It is not inherently virtuous, so that playing the game of man and woman together is sacred within itself. Its value comes only in that it provides an excellent form for human beings to relate to one another. It makes a way for being together.
WHAT TO DO
Assuming you view the man/woman thing as a feasible activity, what can you do to enhance your playing? First, recognize it as the game it is, then play for fun. Let it be an exciting encounter between independent persons wearing complementary roles. Never play seriously--that is, attempt to use the game to establish your identity (prove yourself), or achieve some other goal such as getting sex or a spouse.
For example, one may be tempted to act like a woman in an effort to snare a husband, or play the role of man to secure the sexual favors of a woman. Such devious purposes transform the game into a serious endeavor and interfere with effective play. Perhaps the most dangerous abuse of the game is when one attempts to prove himself as a person through becoming the role he plays, as when a male tries to prove himself by dominating a woman or through a number of sexual conquests.
The game can only be fulfilling when played for itself alone. The goal is in the playing, not in winning. It aims only at itself. The excitement lies in playing well, not in achieving some later reward. Consequently, play only when you feel independent and confident, not when you fear being yourself. Play for the fun of being together, not to run from yourself.
Two current problems are likely to be encountered in the man/woman thing. Men have historically tried to use the role to prove themselves as persons. They have tried to identify themselves by 'being a man.' Women, conversely, have more frequently used the stance to achieve other goals. They have striven to 'be themselves' apart from the female role.
Hence the problems in this time of emphasis on liberation, Men, tired of trying to 'be a man,' may be tempted to rebel against playing the role. Aware of previous unsuccessful attempts to find identity in masculinity, they may mistakenly reject the role all together.
Women, on the other hand, alert to the deception involved in using their womanly wiles, and rejecting the type-casting which is common in our society (being forced to act female), may likewise wish to avoid the familiar stance.
Thus, in the quest for personal liberation, both men and women may try to reject the most natural and effective means of playing this exciting game. If either of these problems plagues you, work at freeing yourself from the compulsion to assume or reject the role. Remember, a role is just a role. Use it because it works, not because you have to.
If you are married and have begun to take your spouse for granted, consider more active involvement in the man/woman thing, as you probably did before the ceremony. Start courting again, as though you had no contract. Since you will be less tempted to use courting to achieve some later goal, you will be freer to play the game for the fun of it. Tempt your mate. Give inviting looks. Pay unusual attention.
Touch seductively. Give an irrelevant gift, a non-birthday present. Treat your spouse as though you had no ties. Sharpen your skills at playing the man/woman game.
If you are single, play the game whenever it is appropriate in your daily encounters. Keep your attention of playing the game skillfully rather than using it to achieve some other goal such as getting married. Remember, it is far more important to be a person than to be married. If you have secretly set your sights on marriage at any cost, reconsider the importance of being a male or female person. Better, I think, to be an unmarried person than a married non-person.
Certainly you will use discretion in where and when you play. In general, play during your leisure times, with persons who matter to you, and with casual acquaintances when no physical danger is involved. Avoid playing on the job, especially with your supervisors or those you supervise. Occasional play with fellow-employees is sometimes appropriate when one is not directly involved in work assignments. Mixing play with work is dangerous both for the game and the job.
One should be careful about playing the game with those who use it to achieve unrelated goals. Special discernment is required with such persons. Women should, of course, be careful of playing when there is danger of sexual abuse. Though playing with strangers, such as clerks in stores or with travelers on planes or buses is often in order, the wise woman will carefully avoid giving inviting signals to males when no social protection is afforded.
All persons, married or single, who understand the game as a delightful means of human encounter rather than a serious purposive endeavor, may freely choose to play whenever unengaged in other required activities. Whenever such a male meets a female, no matter his or her age, marital status, or station in life, the man/woman game becomes an exciting possibility. The length of the encounter is relatively unimportant. Even a five second meeting with a clerk, a stranger on the street, or an old friend, may allow for a brief play via the eyes or a casual exchange of words. Such encounters, when well played, can add unusual spice to the ordinary activities of life.
Regrettably, many married persons cease playing the game after the ceremony, both with their spouse or anyone else. They may feel it is unnecessary with the mate and that it is wrong with others. This attitude is reasonable when the game is viewed only as a device to accomplish some devious purpose. However, when understood as simply a fun thing to do, married persons may play as freely as anyone. Skills acquired in marriage may allow them to play even more deftly.
The mysterious "way of a man with a maid" can be a highly significant spice in life. In proper perspective, it is a fun thing to do, rather than a serious endeavor to establish or maintain personal identity or achieve other goals such as marriage or sex. In the overall quantity of time in life the man/woman thing is relatively minor. To make it the main thing--that is, the event which gives life its meaning, is a common yet tragic mistake.
When appropriately viewed as an end in itself, the man/woman thing can be played for fun between almost any man and woman of any age or circumstance and at any time. Ideally the male leads in an overt manner, while the female leads more covertly. He is obvious; she is suggestive. Each plays his/her role skillfully. The point of the differing stances is practicality; neither is better or worse, higher or lower. The roles are chosen simply because they work. Occasionally switching is feasible when done in an appropriate manner. He may momentarily act like a female, while she poses as the man. These changes should only be temporary, however, lest the overall basis of the game be destroyed.
Any human being who understands and has realized his identity as a person, separate and apart from masculinity or femininity, may enhance the quality of life by skillfully playing the man/woman game at appropriate times.
SORTING OUT SEX
DETROIT (AP) - A dental operation seven years ago left Claire Tomei with no sensation in her lower lip and kissing her husband, she says, is "like kissing some object. There's no feeling in it. It just isn't the way it used to be."
A Wayne County jury handed her a $260,000 judgment against Detroit oral surgeons . . .
Why? With full allowance for medical errors, patient's rights, and lawyer's fees, I suggest that this jury, as a cross section of Americans, recognized, at least on a deep level, the importance of enjoying kissing. Two hundred sixty thousand dollars may seem a bit steep for lip sensation only; still, kissing and the related pleasures of sex are an extremely important element in the man/woman thing--not the most important, I think, but certainly of great significance.
The whole dimension of sex unfortunately, has a way of getting confused, abused and becomes, instead, an area of vast problems rather than great satisfactions. Without the benefit of a dental accident many could honestly quote Mrs. Tomei: "It just isn't the way it used to be," or, "it never was what I thought it might be."
I shall attempt here to sort out some of the confusions about sex, to try to make sense of an often difficult subject, and to project reasonable goals in regard to its place in the man/woman thing. Whether you agree with my positions or not, sorting out your own thoughts about sex may be a worthwhile activity. Use my ideas as a backdrop to bounce your own against; perhaps the mental game will be clarifying.
Responsible activation--fully embraced sexual capacity with responsible activity in society--is the ideal which I project. The goal is applicable for those married or single. The aim is being sexual and acting appropriately--that is, taking into account oneself and others.
The previously considered distinction between being and acting may be recalled. Sexuality is a basic element in the human capacity. Just as we are capable of being sensitive, emotional, and reasonable, so we can be sexual. Being sexual is one part of being a person. Existing with this capacity activated is to be distinguished from any particular activity. The sex act is a thing to do; being sexual is a condition of being. One can act sexy without being sexual, or be sexual and appear neuter.
The ideal is to exist with the capacity activated, yet to function responsibly in the circumstances. Activation involves an inward state of having faced, accepted, and developed this particular aspect of oneself. It means being able to be passionate, excited, loving--on the path to ecstasy--including the ability to achieve sexual fulfillment, to reach orgasm.
"Responsible" means functioning--acting outwardly--in a manner which is appropriate in the circumstances of society. It involves taking into account all discernable factors--where, when, who, why, and what the predictable consequences will be. Appropriateness can never be defined apart from individual situations. In some instances it will mean total abstinence, appearing cold and detached. At other times it will involve sexual intercourse. Most often responsibility is somewhere between the extremes.
Two major challenges may confront one in reaching such an ideal. Innumerable sexual hang-ups are related to suppression and irresponsibility. We may be trained in non-activation and experienced in the irresponsible use of sex for many devious purposes.
Religion, family, and society seem to cooperate in a general conspiracy to suppress the reality of sexuality. Though the public practicality of suppression is obvious, the private consequences are often damning. Secondly, the utility of sex in achieving many unrelated goals, as diverse as gaining personal approval or selling soap, makes its abuse extremely widespread. Before achieving sexual responsibility we must learn to divest the function of its massive abuse. Familiar uses include proving oneself, manipulating another person for personal gain, establishing power over another, expressing hostility, contempt, or aggression.
The goal remains unattainable until we face the issues of suppression and abuse. These, of course, are personal matters, to be dealt with by each individual. Understanding a general situation in our society may be useful in facing the challenges of becoming responsibly sexual. The following summary is so intended. No overview can apply to everyone--always there will be exceptions; still, grasping a prevailing generality may help one in sorting out his own particular position.
The usual training of our society is different for men and women in regard to sexuality. In general, I observe that men are trained for activation without responsibility. They learn to be indiscriminately sexual. I note that women, conversely, are commonly trained to be responsible without necessarily activating the capacity itself. They learn to be highly discriminating, very responsible, yet often without feeling sexual. Within this framework of experience a boy may try to have sex with any girl, while the girl is expected to set the limits.
I observe three familiar results emerging from these basically different types of training for men and women in our society. They are, of course, generalizations which will not apply to everyone. I present them not as facts to accept but as general observations to be used in clarifying one' own experiences in this complex area of sex.
First, I note that men tend to feel identified with sexuality while women tend to seek identity divorced from sexuality. Given their greater practice in being more openly sexual with all females, men often feel more personal about sex than do women. If a man is loved sexually, he is likely to feel that the woman loves him--that is, himself as a person. If a woman is loved sexually she may easily conclude that "he just loves my body; he doesn't care for me as a person." Females often seem to identify more with their minds than with their sexuality.
This is evidenced in differing feelings about the sexual organs. Men tend to feel personal about their genitals. A man with a small penis, for example, may think: "I'm too small." His sense of himself is identified with his sexual organ. Conversely, women seem to feel less personal about genitals. If a woman doesn't like the appearance of her genitals, she may more likely think: "It is ugly," than "I am ugly." For the man, it is I; for the woman, it is it.
In like manner men tend to feel more personal about sexual productivity. Their sense of personhood is often wrapped up in having sex. They feel proud (have their identity affirmed) when they have sex, or feel threatened personally when denied sexually.
Impotency or failure to reach an rgasm may extremely threatening to the male who has his identify tied up with his sexuality. Conversely, women tend to feel more personal about their minds, appearance, or personality than about their sexuality. Having sex is more commonly like "giving in," or something to be ashamed of rather than proud of. With this type of social training failure to reach an orgasm is less likely to be personally threatening for a woman than for a man.
Physiological differences may account for a portion of this differing sense of identity and sexuality between men and women. Because an erection is requird for a male to participate in the sex act, he may naturally feel more personally involved. Whereas a female can fake it--that is, participate without physiological preparation, a male cannot.
Of necessity he must experience some degree of unity between mind and body, else he cannot take part. She always can; he often cannot. She can be raped; he cannot. She can act sexual; he must, in fact, be sexual if he is to have intercourse. Physiological differences thus allow female sexual experience to be impersonal, but require at least a minimal degree of personal involvement for the male.
I suspect, however, that the identity difference is mostly a matter of social training. Society cooperates in the formative years by letting little boys brag to their peers about sexual conquests, while generally rewarding participating girls with a large dose of shame. Where a boy is "experienced," a girl is "tainted," "not pure," or, "dirty." He is encouraged to take it personally, she to divorce herself from the sex act.
A second result is a common difference in the ways sex may be used by men and women. Men, who identify with sexuality (feel personal about it), may try to use sex to prove themselves, to affirm their identity,to "be somebody." Women, conversely, who feel impersonal about it, may more easily use sex to gain distant goals or manipulate others--for example, to get attention, approval, money, power, or to manipulate a man into marriage and/or service. Men, being so personally involved, find it difficult to be objective or detached about sex; women, conversely, find it harder to be subjective or personally involved.
Massive misunderstandings between the sexes are a third familiar result. With their widely differing stances regarding identity and sex, men often find it difficult or impossible to understand female attitudes, and vice versa. For example, men may find it difficult to grasp the familiar refrain, "He only loves me for my body." Projecting their own sense of identity between body and self onto the female, they may in fact love the person through her body.
On the other side of the fence (or bed), women may find it hard to understand a man's almost compulsive desire for sex, especially when he needs affirmation. Her preference for rest when she is tired may make his interest in sexual activity incomprehensible. Females often have a difficult time grasping the extremely deep threat of sexual inability on the part of the male. Men, in reverse, seldom understand the female wish for more attention to mind and personality than to body.
The foregoing observations are, as noted, sweeping generalizations which will not apply to everyone. They do, however, seem to be common in our society. In either case, consider them in relation to your own experience.
WHAT TO DO
Sort out your understanding. Spend time clarifying your mental perspectives. Use the previous discussion as a background for facing your own experience and bringing sex into clear focus. If you accept the goal which I have projected, namely, responsible activation of the sexual capacity, then get busy pursuing it. Start expanding your personal capacity to be sexual--that is, to exist as an excited, passionate, turned-on person.
If you come to think of sex as a sacrament, a potentially holy thing of beauty, then learn to be as fully sexual as you possibly can. At the same time, develop your powers of containing your sexuality--of being inwardly sexual, yet without acting out in harmful ways. Realizing the consequences of all overt sexual activity, learn to discriminate wisely in sexual behavior.
If you are a woman, the chances are that you will have had more experience in being responsible than in being sexual. Seek a balance in your life; while remaining responsible, learn to more fully embrace your ability to be sexual. Men generally have more practice in feeling sexual than in acting responsibly. If this is true for you, work toward an appropriate balance.
Another specific part of your homework is likely to emerge from the differing stances on relating sex and identity. As a male, you will probably need to learn to separate your feelings about yourself from those related to your sexuality. Even though you may have learned to identify you and your sexual activity, realize that the two are distinctly different. You are not your sexuality only; your sexual performance is something you do, not all that you are.
For instance, sexual disinterest by a woman should not be confused with personal rejection. Nor should a woman's interest in you sexually be necessarily taken as true love. She may have a hundred other reasons for declining or participating, none of which have anything to do with you personally. Realizing that you are not synonymous with your sexual performance, you need feel no personal threat should you ever have difficulty in appealing to a woman or in the sex act itself. Failure to please a woman or have an erection is nothing to take personally,
As a male, it is likely that you will need practice in containing your sexual feelings and acting more responsibly with other persons. Without sacrificing the inward excitement of feeling sexy, recognize the larger elements in any human relationship. Give at least as much attention to personality, mind, and spirit as you do to body. Never be overtly sexual without considering all the consequences and choosing to act responsibly.
If you are a woman, you may have homework in the area of getting your body and mind together. The previously discussed tendency to separate identity and sexuality by females may also be a part of your experience. Although being a person is far more than being sexual, this part of the human capacity is certainly a significant element in identity.
Any experience you may have had in separating the two has likely been practical in many regards, but may also have cheated you of becoming more completely yourself. Until you can become fully involved as a person in being sexual, you will remain less than a total woman. Recognize that your body, especially your sexual apparatus, is just as much a part of you as is your mind or personality.
If you have learned to feel more personal about your mind, having disparaged those who seem attracted to your body, start shifting or widening the scope of your identity. Learn to feel personal about your sexual organs and to get more personally involved in any overt sexual activity. Certainly it is possible, and often practical, to remain detached during sexual intercourse. If you have learned to be a good sexual actress, you may even appear to give a lessor performance when you try to get personally involved. So be it. It is better to enjoy than to please, at least where being a person is concerned.
If, like many females in our society, you are more practiced in being responsible than in being excited, in acting sexy than in feeling sexy, then learn to balance the books. Start giving attention to activating your ability to let go and give in to your natural sexual urges. Certainly you will remain responsible in your behavior, but stop cheating yourself through the suppression of this delightfully exciting element in your human capacity.
To both men and women: Set as a goal the activation of your larger sexual potential. Consider the likelihood that you too, no matter how sexy you may sometimes feel, are a partial victim of the general suppression of sex in our society. Probably you are capable of far more sexual excitement and ecstasy than you are now aware of.
Start facing and dealing with your sexual hang-ups. Stop hiding your problems in this area. Most everyone seems to have them; yet few are willing to come to grips with them. If counseling is in order, seek it. Bring this dark area of your life out into the light of reason. Take whatever steps are feasible in achieving your fuller sexual potential.
If you, like so many others, have learned to use sex for other devious purposes, stop. Even though it works, the results may not be worth the cost of your own sexuality. I suggest that you let sex be an expression of personal passion and love only; that you never use it as a vehicle to achieve some unrelated goal.
For example, I think that a man should never use sex as a way of proving himself. When sexual activity is a conquest rather than an expression of love, something is wrong. Emotional trophies acquired through getting or having a woman profane this potentially sacred act. Let your sexual love be an expression of who you are, not an attempt to get affirmation from an activity. Love as an overflow, not when you feel empty and seek filling.
Go to your partner when you wish to give, not when you want to get. Avoid sexual activity when there is any sense of compulsion or have to. Never seek sex just because "it's time," as though there is some unwritten schedule. Identity is not affirmed by regularity.
If you are a woman, you are probably skilled in using your sexuality to get things, such as, attention, control, power, approval, a man, husband, or even money or gifts. Even though it works, I think you take an unwarranted chance in such devious manipulation. You degrade a possible sacrament to the level of a marketable currency. You tempt others to the same degradation.
The more skilled you become in performing, the more difficult being (truly) sexual is likely to become. Even if you receive no money, you engage in prostitution when you reduce sex to a coinage. Bartering with sexual favors, though legal in marriage, is no less an act of spiritual prostitution than selling "services" on the street. In fact, its dangers in regard to personhood may be greater, due to the ease of self deception. At least a social prostitute has to face what she is doing.
Instead of using sex, direct your attention to becoming responsibly sexual. Express your passion and love in this manner. Learn to get what you want in more legitimate and less dangerous ways.
To both men and women: Stop all sexual projections on each other. Although it is common to project one's powers of sexuality onto others, presuming that they have the ability to turn you on, this is always a fantasy, No one can make you sexy or stop you from being sexual, unless you first give them the power to do so. The controls to your sexuality are your own. The projection of them is always an illusion.
Certainly the stimuli from another may be a trigger to turning on; the power to do so, however, remains your own, In practice, this means that personal inability is not the fault of another person, "If he/she would . . then I could" is never literally true. The practice of degrading another, either vocally or in one's own mind, for not "turning me on" is always a projection. In reality it is not their fault.
Consequently, if you would become a person, accept the responsibility for your own sexual hang-ups. Strive to work through them without ever blaming your sexual problems on anyone else, Time given to projecting blame is time wasted in becoming a truly sexual person.
Sex is a significant part of the man/woman thing. Perhaps in the deepest biological sense it is the primary basis. In practice however, it is but one element in the delightful repertoire of the ways of a man with a maid.
Sexuality is one part of being a person, even apart from the man/woman thing. Anyone attempting to be a complete person will of necessity embrace the ability to feel sexual, even if he abstains from all overt sexual activity. In relating to a member of the opposite sex this primal human component will often be a significant factor even though the subject is never mentioned or the act performed.
The skill required of a person engaged in the man/woman thing is in appropriately activating the capacity and injecting it into the relationship at feasible times and ways. Even when direct talk or sexual activity is inappropriate, the subtle involvement of primal sexuality, as in the innuendos of flirting, is often in order. Tragedy results from limiting a relationship to sex only; but an equally unfortunate sterility follows its complete elimination.
Being sexual together has the potential for great beauty and satisfaction. Whether or not overt sexual activity is feasible, the alert man and woman will responsibly include this human capacity in the fullness of their encounters.
Dearly beloved: We are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony; which is commended of St. Paul to be honorable among all men; and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, and advisedly, and in the fear of God. Into this holy estate, these two persons come now to be joined . . .
Episcopal Marriage Service
Getting married is serious business. The consequences are far-reaching--legally, religiously, and personally. As the Episcopal Ceremony states, it should be approached "reverently, discreetly, and advisedly." I shall approach the subject in two ways: theory and practice. First, let us think about marriage. Then, in the following chapter we will consider the practice of marriage.
We grow up in a society which has prevailing ideas about marriage built into the fabric of the system. We tend to acquire them as though by osmosis. Without realizing it, we find ourselves accepting these premises as our own. Some are useful, some false, and others outmoded. I use the term myth for these generally accepted ideas about marriage. Before approaching the positive aspects of marriage, I want to consider certain marriage myths. Unless we are aware of them we cannot face marriage reasonably.
The happy ever after myth. Our fairy tales often end with this familiar refrain: "And they were married and lived happily ever after." In spite of massive contrary evidence, the myth of "wedded bliss" remains an ingrained part of our society. Perhaps it is because we acquire it so early; or is it that we desperately wish it were so? In either case the idea of getting married to find happiness remains prevalent. Unfortunately the notion that marriage will make you happy is more mythical than truthful.
A bachelor said dreamily, "Sometimes I yearn for the peace and happiness of married life." His married friend replied, "Well, you have nothing on me." If my experience in marriage counseling is representative of the average, then the joke is no joke. If all marriages were honestly categorized in terms of "happy" or "miserable," I suspect that the latter category would often prevail. The point is: the popular idea that people get married and live happily ever after is certainly a myth to be discarded if we are to face the subject realistically.
The everybody should myth. A more conscious but equally prevalent notion is the idea that "everybody ought to get married." That the goal of life is to "get married and raise a family" remains a part of our social thought. The unmarried often feel that they must explain themselves. Married persons may look askance at their counterparts, as though to ask the question: "What's wrong with you?" Massive efforts are sometimes expended to "marry off" or "find a spouse" for every unwed maid or man. It is as though they are a great threat to those married, or are committing some sort of crime by remaining single.
The "everybody should" idea is, in my opinion, a dangerous myth. So long as we hold the notion uncritically, we will be prevented from taking an objective look at the institution of marriage.
The marriage is sacred myth. This one is so commonly accepted that it is difficult to consider unemotionally. The ceremony refers to "holy matrimony" as though wedlock is inherently virtuous. The institution itself, apart from the people or what happens within it, is viewed as sacred. Conversely, the myth is supported by the idea that divorce is evil. In spite of rising divorce rates and increased numbers of divorced per-sons, the notion that "divorce is bad" still persists.
We cannot look objectively at marriage while we accept this myth of inherent holiness. If you hold this notion, I suggest that a reconsideration of the meaning of holy is in order. I think that sacredness is reserved for the relationship between man and God, and consequently can never be posited in institutions. I do not believe that any form, ceremony, law, or institution should be viewed as inherently holy.
Neither democracy, church, or marriage can properly contain the sacred. That remains, I think, within a person's experience with the ultimate. Consequently, to begin with the idea that the holy can exist "out there" in the institution of marriage is a dangerous myth. You are not necessarily good if you are married, or bad if divorced. Sacredness is much deeper than the law.
The Mr. Right myth. There is the story of a mother who told her husband: "I think it's time we got our daughter married and settled down. She will be twenty-eight next week, you know." "Oh, don't hurry, my dear," replied her husband. "Better wait till the right man comes along," "But why wait?," she said, "I didn't!" And the joke is a joke because of the myth of a right person for everyone to marry.
In certain religious circles the idea is that God has one perfect person for everyone. The only problem is finding that right individual. Outside organized religion the same notion of Mr. Right and Ms. Wonderful is equally prevalent. Even without consciously espousing the idea, many singles are busily looking for the "right one" as though he or she actually exists. Such a notion, whether conscious or unconscious, or in religious of secular language, will prevent a clear look at marriage.
The marriage is saving myth. This idea is the most dangerous of all. Though seldom voiced in the language I have used, there seems to be a prevailing, if unconscious, notion that salvation comes through marriage. Potential spouses are commonly viewed as a combination Mother/Father/God--that is, a magical being who can somehow make everything all right.
Perhaps this is but a deeper version of the happy ever after myth, plus the other fairy tales of knights rescuing maidens from terrible dragons, or princes with kisses. Whatever the source, marriage counseling often requires confronting the deep illusion that one has looked to the spouse to literally save one's soul. The magical god of popular religion is somehow posited in the mate, who in turn is expected to bring one into the kingdom of bliss.
My response to these myths is that each is misleading, dangerous, and contributes to an erroneous view of marriage. I do not believe that marriage brings happiness, that everyone should get married, that the institution is sacred, that there is a right person for everyone to marry, or that any human has the power to save another. Until we demythologize the wedded state we will be unable to see it in an appropriate manner.
A currently popular idea that marriage is failing or is on the way out--as evidenced by rising divorce rates, marital infidelities, and experimentation with alternate life styles--is also erroneous in my opinion. True, the myths noted above are probably less widely held than ever before. Also true, the institution is being more carefully evaluated by many and is subjected to much verbal abuse by others.
Even so, I predict that the form--one man/one woman--will emerge from the current crisis intact. I do believe that past expectations have been far too high, that unrealistic hopes have been placed on the institution. We have demanded of it what it cannot produce. Still, all things considered, I think it remains the most functional social bond we have yet discovered. I doubt that we will be able to improve on the institution itself. Marriage is, I conclude, alive and healthy in America today.
Why have marriage?--not because it is inherently sacred, God's will for everybody, or is guaranteed to make one happy, but simply because it can work. Of all the forms for human relationships yet explored, I think marriage remains the most viable. It is an excellent arena for working out one's own salvation in proximity with another person. It is a functional circumstance for learning to be a person oneself. Marriage remains, I believe, the most practical family arrangement. Kids have a better chance of developing as whole persons with two parents present, especially when the two are male and female.
The institution is a workable partnership. Most of us do some things better than others. Teaming up to pool resources is only reasonable. The work load required for existing in a society is more easily handled by two people cooperating. Financial stability is easier to attain. Two can't live cheaper than one, but together is cheaper than apart. Companionship is another feasible reason for marriage. As humans we are gregarious; we tend toward loneliness when left entirely alone. A socially acceptable manner of living together, day in/day out, for better or for worse, makes sense. It's nice to have someone to accompany us on life's journey.
The sexual opportunities afforded by marriage are another practical reason for the institution. Certainly there is much to be said for sexual variety; extramarital opportunities are also expanding. Still, the availability of a sexual partner on a continuing basis in a socially acceptable arrangement is a positive factor.
Finally, the support of civil and social codes is usually needed in any on-going relationship. As human beings with animal heritage, most of us sometimes require structures to support our commitments. We need the law to help keep us decent. Left entirely to our own whims, we too easily evade the responsibilities inherent in loving one another. For these and other reasons, I believe that marriage remains a viable, though questioned and shaken, institution for the present and future.
But how can we properly define marriage, without becoming entangled in the prevalent myths of our society? My definition of the ideal marriage is: A civil/social partnership between two equal, independent persons, contracted for practical rather than magical reasons--with the potential of being delightfully productive or terribly destructive, depending on the work and faith of the man and woman involved.
By "civil/social partnership" I mean a legal entity between citizens in our society, in many ways similar to a business partnership. A good marriage is indeed heavenly, but the participants make it so, not some external being. Although individual peculiarities make certain alliances more feasible than others, I do not think there is a Mr. or Ms. Right for anyone. A person ready for marriage could, I believe, be successful with almost anyone; one not ready is unlikely to have a productive marriage with anyone.
"Two equals" refers to a man and a woman, rather than a man and wife. There is no "little woman" or "big man," no king or power behind the throne in the ideal marriage. One is no better or worse, higher or lower, than the other. A customer asked: "Do you have a book called "Man, the Master of Women?' The salesgirl replied, "The fiction department is on the other side, sir."
Though that fiction is prevalent in our society, it has no place in a good marriage. Nor does the reverse situation. The Counsel asked: "Is it true that your wife was, at one time, thinking of taking up the law before she married you?" The henpecked husband replied, "Yes, but now she is satisfied to lay it down." In a marriage between equals no one lays down laws. A marriage ceremony between equals may include a commitment to love and honor, but not to obey.
By "independent" I mean standing on their own two emotional feet. Marriage is a commitment to stand with, not to lean on. Though emotional dependence seems to be the most common reason for getting married, it is also one of the surest causes for failure. In a good marriage, persons who can make it alone choose to be together. They do not have to get married because they "can't stand it without one another" or any other compulsive reason.
Nor do they surrender their spiritual independence with the signing of the contract. Agreeing to stand--and live--together, does not mean ceasing to stand alone. While standing closely, each remains rooted on his own foundation. A spouse is a companion, not a parent, child, psychiatrist, or savior. One does not marry to save or be saved by the other.
I chose the word "person" carefully. Persons get married, and in the ideal marriage, they remain persons. They never trade-in personhood on a ring or bedmate. While together they often act like a husband and wife, but always it is an act--a performance carried out for practical reasons (because it works)--rather than a true state of how things are. The ceremony does not transform them into becoming husband and wife. It simply opens the door to their playing the roles in a socially established circumstance. They are persons who happen to be married, not literally a husband or wife.
"Practical rather than magical reasons" means the contract is signed for pragmatic purposes, such as those noted previously. The partners get married because it makes sense, not simply because they are in love, fancy the other to have supernatural powers to make them happy, or believe that bliss is inherent in their togetherness.
Like other practical partnerships, the commitment is open-ended. "Till death do us part" is a lovely ideal but a cruel dictator and killer of reason. "Practical" means that just as there are feasible reasons for getting married, so there are logical reasons for divorce. A good marriage begins, endures, or ends for practical reasons. This reasonable stance is to be contrasted with either blind permanency or a mood of "let's see how it works." Neither the omniscience required for perpetual decisions nor the immaturity of a tentative trial have any place in a sound marriage. Each person may intend for the relationship to be permanent, but reason requires openness to changing reality.
"Forsaking all others," if taken to mean reducing the world to one man (or woman) in one's life, is another magical fantasy. To try to make one person, no matter how wonderful he or she may be, into everything for you is obviously unreasonable. No human can bear such a godly demand. Certainly there are practical reasons for sexual fidelity, but to sever or avoid all other close human relationships is to try to make marriage magical rather than reasonable.
Finally, the phrase "delightfully productive terribly destructive," refers to the dramatic potential of every marriage. When two independent persons enter marriage for practical reasons, manifest the faith required for being together, and work daily at keeping the relationship healthy, then the union can be positive and fulfilling. Conversely, when immature individuals look to marriage for their happiness, the seeds of bitterness are planted. The predictable harvest of disappointment, wrath, and spiritual destruction seems to be inevitable.
Getting married is truly serious business.
And what of marriage, master? And he answered saying: . . . You shall be together . . .but let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another, but make not a bond of love . . . Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup . . . Sing and dance together, but let each of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of life can contain. your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each others shadow.
Getting married is simple enough--an agreeable partner, a blood test, a license, and a preacher--but staying married is something else, especially if done with spirit. When the moonlight and roses of the honeymoon are phased into the daylight and dishes of the mornings after--plus paying the bills, fixing supper, picking up dirty socks, getting understood, taking out the garbage, and raising kids--then the challenge expands immeasurably.
Two words mentioned in the previous definition of marriage become extremely pertinent: work and faith. Strangely, many persons who work diligently at their business and hobbies expect their marriage to work for them. Even after working to get married, they relax after the ceremony and hope the institution will work by itself, serving them without maintenance required. I have seen many take this sit-down-and-wait approach; I have never seen it succeed for long. Taking marriage for granted, just because the altar vows were made, is like assuming a plane will fly by itself once off the ground.
Like any other business venture, marital success is only predictable based on hard work. Choosing a job or mate is simply the first step. By "work" I refer to tender, loving, care, rather than mere expenditure of energy. Spouses may work hard while married, yet give no attention to working at the marriage itself. As with a fledgling business, constant attention to details is demanded. Marriage is something to give yourself in, not to get something from.
Furthermore, flying by automatic pilot--that is, going by previous habits or doing it like your parents did--is seldom successful either. Every relationship is new. Certainly one may learn from the marriage of his parents or friends, but to assume that all marriages are alike, or that what worked for dad and mom will work for us is not necessarily so, If you expect your marriage to be positive, expect to work at it.
The second word, faith, is equally essential, Static situations between consistent, godly persons who are 100% dependable and never change, require no faith. When you know what will happen, trust is unnecessary. With humans, however, this never seems to be the case. We are notably unpredictable. We don't know what we will feel, think, or be tomorrow. We do change; hopefully, we grow in spirit as well as in body. When we add the concept of marriage as an open-ended, growing situation, rather than closed ("till death do us part") and static, the necessity for faith is apparent.
In an honest marriage where work is expected, where nothing is taken for granted, and divorce is an option, faith is regular fare. If you don't know what will happen next, yet you choose to remain committed, then you learn to live by faith.
Summary: Staying married, in the type of relationship described here, obviously requires both work and faith. Faith, being a matter of spirit, is difficult to describe; the necessary work is more subject to words. In the remainder of this chapter I describe some of the work likely to be required. As a format, I use rules divided into two areas: Rules for relating as husband and wife and rules for playing man and woman together. Of course they are rules of thumb, not inviolable laws; I use them to focus on the work of marriage.
The reader will bear in mind the distinction between being and acting. Husband and wife are roles to play, not things to be. One can learn to act effectively in either stance, but should never try to actually be one or the other. I draw a further distinction between husband/wife and man/woman roles. Persons who marry, though legally husband and wife, remain persons who are now married. As persons, they may sometimes relate through the roles of husband and wife; at other times they may act as man and woman together.
In either case, the difference between being a person and acting in one or the other of the familiar roles is an essential distinction. With primary emphasis on being a person, a married individual may also give secondary attention to perfecting the arts of playing husband/wife or man/woman together. The following rules are intended as guidelines in developing these skills.
At least 51 percent of the time in a successful marriage will be given, I think, to relating outside the roles of man and woman. Spouses will often be together as equal, independent persons, when the masculine and feminine stances are irrelevant. The following rules apply to the work at such times.
1. STAND WITH, BUT SELDOM LEAN ON OR HOLD UP A SPOUSE
Remain as independent persons together. Stand as closely as you choose, yet on your own spiritual feet. Except in the rarest of emergencies, do not take over your spouse's life or allow him to take yours. Share your heart, but do not give it away; show your number (reveal yourself), yet do not hand it out (make yourself subject to the other).
Be strong with, but not strong for your spouse. Stand as a strong one (when you are), without taking charge of the physical or spiritual welfare of your mate. You may be a capable person in the presence of his/her weakness, but avoid playing doctor, minister, or psychiatrist for him/her. Be a knowledgeable person without playing parent (telling what to do, threatening, punishing, or "I told you so"). Be understanding, but shun trying to figure out, analyze, explain, or understand your spouse. Always be able to say, "that's your problem."
Conversely, when you are in fact feeling weak, be weak with, yet without becoming dependent on. Reveal your weakness if you choose, but do not attempt to thrust it on your spouse (force him to be strong for you). Be open with your doubts and uncertainties, yet without seeking to be understood--that is, share your problems if you wish, but don't look to your mate to solve them or take them as his own. Reveal your hurt without seeking strokes. Whether you feel strong or weak at the time, stand with your spouse--as closely as you desire--but stay on your own two feet.
2. BE TOGETHER AS YOU CHOOSE, BUT ALWAYS TAKE TIME TO BE ALONE
As Gibran says in The Prophet, "Let there be spaces in your togetherness. Stand together yet not too near together." Marriage may cloak the fact of separate existence, but it does not erase it. You remain separate persons who now happen to be married. This rule is simply a way of remaining mindful of the truth. Although you will do many things with each other, carefully retain your right to privacy and certain times apart.
Do some things by yourself, like you did before marriage. Don't expect your spouse to share all your thoughts, feelings, desires, hobbies, or interests. For example, go out together when you choose, but never make your going out dependent on your spouse. It will be an unbearable burden on the relationship and an unfair loss of your separate existence. Separate vacations, whether for few minutes or several weeks, may be difficult to manage, but the right and responsibility for time alone remains crucial in a positive marriage.
3. INFORM BUT NEVER REPORT
Give information to your spouse about your activities and whereabouts when desirable or appropriate. Carefully avoid reporting in or out as you might to a boss. Always maintain your right as an independent person to go and come without explanation. Beware of such questions as: "Where have you been?," or, "What did you do?" Neither ask nor answer them routinely.
Certainly a reasonable flow of information is necessary between partners in any venture. Because of shared concerns and interests, it is in order that each know certain things about the other, especially when it affects their lives. For instance, if one is preparing a meal, knowledge of the arrival time of the other is relevant. If a joint bank account is used, knowledge of when the other writes a check will be needed.
However, habitually keeping tabs on the other when one's own life is not directly affected is to be avoided. Just knowing where the spouse is, for the sake of knowing only, is not appropriate for independent persons or a healthy marriage.
Thus the rule: Dispense relevant information but never fall into the trap of necessarily reporting to a spouse. Be especially wary when information is demanded. The subtle slide into "having to let them know" can be a disastrous blow to the independence required in a successful marriage.
4. CONVERSE OFTEN BUT NEVER DICTATE
Conversation literally means versing-with, or sharing one's own version with another. It is to be distinguished from dictating or passing judgment on what another says. In a good marriage, sharing private versions is a significant part of most encounters; passing sentence on what the spouse shares is carefully avoided.
For instance, as a song says: "You tell me your dream and I'll tell you mine." That is sharing; it is to be distinguished from "You tell me your dream and I'll analyze it for you," or, "Tell me what you did and I'll tell you what was wrong with it," or, "Tell me what you think and I'll point out the errors," or, "Tell me how you feel and I'll tell you why you shouldn't."
In conversing, one shares his own thoughts on the common subject. He does not judge the thoughts of the other. He says, "This is what I think," but never, "This is how it is." Even on factual material he avoids playing God, by correcting his spouse. For instance, if she says, "When we got up at 6:30 this morning . . . " and he remembers it being 7:00, he avoids the godliness of correcting her ("No, it was 7:00"). Instead he speaks from his own mind, perhaps recalling how he felt when they arose, or telling what he was dreaming at the time.
Since the partners are "equal and independent," dictating, as though one were over the other (better, smarter, higher, more godly), is always out of order. Share ideas in conversation, but work at avoiding dictating to the other.
5. DEBATE BUT NEVER ARGUE
Represent your position on significant issues with your spouse. Stand openly with your opinions and points of view. A marriage becomes a monologue, and consequently a bore, when only one spouse says what he thinks or stands up for what he believes. As stated in the definition, it does require two equal, independent persons. When differences of opinion occur, as they obviously will with unique individuals, each should be represented. Relevant issues should thus be debated openly.
Honest debate is, however, different from mere arguing or verbal fighting. In debate one represents (states, explains, amplifies) his position, listens openly to the other person, weighs contrary evidence, and is continually subject to change based on reasonable information.
In arguing, points are made to hit, hurt, or destroy the opponent. Honest self-representation is incidental to selecting points which will undermine, weaken, or destroy the other position. Listening reasonably is forbidden, except as a device. One may appear to hear, but only listens for flaws, errors, or to gain material for further attacks. Change is obviously ruled out, since it would indicate weakness. The whole point is to fight and win. The difference between an argument and a war is the choice of weapons and object of destruction. In war it is guns and bodies; in argument it is words and spirit.
The rule is: work to clearly reveal your positions with your spouse. Work equally hard to avoid falling for the temptation to fight (with words or weapons). The first can make marriage more positive; the latter can ruin it. Even when you win an argument you lose in marriage. Weigh your values.
6. BE OPEN TO COMPROMISE, BUT NEVER GIVE IN OR TAKE OVER
Synthesis, or compromise with integrity maintained, is the food for personal growth and a productive marriage. Through open debate perspective can be amplified. Private knowledge is clarified through expression, sharpened through response, and expanded by the addition of the experience of the spouse. This often allows moving to wiser points of view. Even when only a lateral change results, the experience of flexibility and meeting on new ground is apt to be productive for both partners. Instead of seeking victory through argument, the wise spouse works for compromise on points of mutual difference. He grows through the give and take/take and give of honest sharing and consensus.
He will carefully distinguish between compromise and giving in, either by himself or the mate. The virtue of compromise can be confused with the vice of submissiveness. In the former, one chooses to meet on common ground, willingly relinquishing certain points in favor of a mutual agreement. In the latter, he simply gives up, allowing the spouse to dominate, or vice versa. He either runs over or is run over by the other. In either case, the essential basis for a productive marriage--two independent persons--is destroyed. Work for compromise but never give in.
7. DIVIDE THE WORK LOAD, BUT NEVER BECOME A MASTER OR SLAVE
Every partnership involves certain labors essential in maintaining a household--making money, cleaning house, cooking, paying bills, etc. In a good marriage these are divided equally between the partners, depending on abilities and interests of each. Duties are agreed on and performed, yet without a sense of duty or have to. Even menial or boring tasks are chosen rather than forced. The goal is to be dependable without becoming a master or slave, to be responsible but not compulsive or taken for granted. Neither lords it over nor becomes the servant of the other.
The ideal is twofold: to be practical in deciding who can do what best, and fair in the over-all distribution of responsibilities. For example, if both partners are skilled and choose outside jobs, the household chores should be divided also. A wife should not work 8 hours on a job and then be totally responsible for the meals and cleaning also. Temporary assignments usually work better than permanent duties. Occasional changes help overcome a feeling of being locked-in to any particular responsibility. For example, in the case above where both work outside the home, rotating the responsibility for meals on a weekly or monthly basis may be feasible. Six-month tours of bill-paying may be practical.
The rule is: work to keep the necessary labors divided fairly, without either partner becoming the master or slave of the other.
Up to half of the time in a marriage may be given to playing male/female games--that is, to relating through these familiar roles. The goal is to remain independent persons who choose these male/female stances for practical reasons, rather than getting locked-in as one or the other. Wearing the pants or the apron is often feasible and fun; being forced to wear either all the time is disastrous in the long run. Less than half of the time in either is my recommendation. The following rules of thumb may be useful in playing the roles (as described in previous chapters).
I. PLAY FOR THE FUN OF ENCOUNTER, BUT NEVER PLAY SERIOUS GAMES
Aware that you are acting in a role, play your part as best you can; be as masculine or feminine as possible. These two stances can provide a delightful medium for encounter. Work at perfecting your skills in playing your role; yet avoid the trap of playing seriously. Fun games taken seriously become deadly. For example, if the man forgets that masculinity is a role and seriously tries to be a man or force his spouse to wear the apron, the result will be bad news. If the woman pressures her spouse to wear the pants or tries to literally be feminine herself, the play may become a tragedy.
If they flirt playfully--she tempting/he seducing--the encounter can be delightfully pleasurable. However, if either takes the game seriously--that is, becomes compulsive about a sexual conclusion--then fun flies out the window. The pathological satisfactions of domination/submission, winning/losing, or sadism/masochism are small in comparison with the pleasures of playful encounter.
The games of theoretical conflict--tussling, teasing, arguing--may be a prominent part of the husband/wife repertoire. Each may be played with diligence and pleasure, including a great show of bravado and resistance. The outward performance, however, remains just that--an act played for fun. The aim of the tussling is the encounter itself, never to actually win or lose. Arguing is simply a playful means of verbal encounter. It is never a serious fight where one will prevail and the other be crushed.
The rule is: play whatever you play as man or woman just for the fun of playing; never let the games become serious.
2. SWITCH FOR FUN, BUT NEVER OF NECESSITY
An occasional changing of roles, when the man becomes passive and the woman active, is appropriate in a healthy marriage. Switching allows each to openly develop the corresponding aspects of their personality, plus providing a delightful diversion and resolving any feeling of being locked-in to a given role. For example, the female may become the sexual aggressor while the male assumes the retiring stance. She may become the teaser and he the teasee, she the fighter and he the defender.
If the roles have been played in the areas of work assignments, for example, with the husband handling business and the wife doing the housework, switching will occasionally be in order here. For a change she may pay the bills while he prepares the meal; she may change the light bulbs while he sews on the buttons; she may mow the yard while he cleans the house.
Such role changes should, however, never be forced or extended indefinitely. A dangerous situation is apt to develop if either tries to coerce the other to switch, or attempts to maintain the opposite role for a major part of their time together.
The rule is: switch occasionally, just for the fun of it, if both are willing; avoid being trapped in an opposite stance.
3, PLAY MAN/WOMAN, BUT BE WARY OF SWITCHING TO FATHER/MOTHER
The exciting male/female games may be supplanted by the dangerous games of parenthood. Playing father or mother with children (next chapter) is wise and practical, but assuming either role with a spouse is extremely risky. Because most of us fail to finish the work of childhood with our actual parents we may be tempted to use our spouses to complete the job.
We may unconsciously look for a girl "just like the girl that married dear ole dad" and then expect her to mother us as dear ole mother did (or we wish she had). Unwittingly, many such dear girls are also looking for another father (or a better one). Under the guise of marriage, children in adult bodies may continue the business of childhood. A more accurate name for wife is often mother, and for husband, father. She plays mama for the little boy in a man's suit, or he plays daddy for the little girl, or they alternately switch.
While such quasi-marriages may satisfy certain emotional needs, they become a great obstacle on the path to long term marital happiness. Certainly there are emergency situations in which one may temporarily mother or father a spouse; these, however, are rare, and should be stopped as soon as possible. If you play parent willingly and for long, you may get a permanent job, ending up with a child and losing a spouse.
For example, if a wife consistently picks up after her husband, as many mothers do with a child, she trains him to act like an irresponsible little boy. If a man directs a wife's behaviour, as some fathers do their daughters, he tempts her to be a little girl with him. If a wife queries her spouse about his activities, like a mother when a son gets in from school, she trains him to wait to talk until asked. Attempting to get a mate to lose weight, go to the doctor, eat properly, get enough rest, find a hobby, or stop smoking, all risk falling for the parent's role and tempting the spouse to remain a child.
The rule is: limit your games to those of men and women; play parent only in the rarest of emergencies, and then only until the crisis is over.
4, STRIVE FOR A FUNCTIONAL BALANCE BETWEEN TIME WITHIN THE MAN/WOMAN ROLES AND TIME WHEN OTHER STANCES ARE ASSUMED
I have suggested that no more than 49 percent of the time is appropriate for playing male/female games. Of course this is arbitrary and will vary from marriage to marriage. The point is, spend more time relating as husband to wife than in playing the man/woman games. An over emphasis on man/woman activities can place an unnecessary strain on the partnership.
Contrary to the popular religious idea that all marriages are forever and divorce is inevitably wrong, I hold that a healthy marriage should always be open-ended. To remove the necessity of continual choice is to make a trap or an escape of marriage. Either way, the dangers are great.
Always, I think, humans should have a way out. Otherwise no faith is required and the excitement is certainly curtailed. The assumed security of permanent commitments is an illusion. Pretending constancy, we remain finite and therefore changeable. To ignore these facts of life places, it seems to me, an unnecessary burden on the institution of marriage. I believe that every spouse should keep his option for divorce.
To hold the right to leave is not to provoke or encourage divorce; it is rather to extend the potential of marriage by placing it on a more realistic basis, In practice, divorce is seldom a reasonable choice, at least as observed in my experience in marriage counseling. Those expecting divorce or a new spouse to be the answer to their own unhappiness are continually disappointed. The greener grass commonly turns out to be an appearance only. Problems in one marriage are predictably found in another, once the honeymoon is over. The regrettable fact that no one else can make us happy is rediscovered again and again.
The fact that many divorces are a mistake, delaying salvation work rather than bringing happiness, however, does not mean that divorce is never reasonable. A healthy person would, I think, seldom be compelled to get a divorce; yet there are legitimate reasons. Some of these are:
1. CONTINUED, EXCESSIVE PHYSICAL OR SPIRITUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN
Some parents, especially fathers, inflict such hostility, aggression, and punishment on defenseless children that divorce becomes the only logical way to prevent its continuation. Considering the long range consequences of such domination during the formative years of life, a spouse may reasonably seek divorce in such cases. Of course the definition of "excessive" is impossible to give in general terms. The value of two parents and reasonably stable circumstances, even with a certain amount of abuse, must be carefully considered in each instance.
The same type of abuse to the spouse can in rarer cases be reasonable grounds for divorce. Since, however, the passive partner usually plays a prominent role in inviting the domination, the wiser course is most often to learn to take care of oneself and stop the game, rather than to run away.
Until an abusee catches on to his/her part in this pathological syndrome, the likelihood of replacing one abuser with another is great. Even so, there are circumstances, notably when the abuse is mainly physical and the suffering partner is in fact too weak to defend, or when the emotional stability of the attacked one is such that breakdown is likely, that divorce becomes reasonable. In most cases I have known, staying married and learning to handle things would, I think, have been the wiser decision.
2. PROGRESSIVELY DETERIORATING MENTAL ILLNESS WHICH PREVENTS THE PERSON FROM FUNCTIONING AS A SPOUSE
Again, definition is impossible apart from specific instances. The mere presence of mental illness is obviously an insufficient ground for divorce. Too often the sickness of one is but their half of a complementary pattern involving both partners. That one is more apparently ill does not mean that the other is not a participating partner. For instance, alcoholics often have self-righteous spouses, a typical complementary type of spiritual sickness. The drinker appears as the sick one, yet knowledge of circumstances may show that the tee-totaler, often religious mate, plays a contributing part in continuing the alcoholic pattern. In such cases, divorcing the alcoholic is unreasonable, since replacement is highly predictable.
There are, however, types of mental illness which are entirely personal, which are progressively debilitating, and which effectively remove the disturbed person from actual involvement in the marriage itself. On some occasions the person may be institutionalized. More often the pathological partner is still functional in society, but at the same time spiritually incapable of being a marital partner.
Concern for the disturbed spouse and the possibility of getting help may make continuation feasible in most instances. There are, however, situations when the prognosis for improvement is almost nil, or when the sick one absolutely refuses to seek help over an extended period of time, making divorce a reasonable decision--both for the healthy and the disturbed spouses. For the healthy one, divorce allows starting over; for the sick one, the shock may lead to seeking treatment.
3. ABSOLUTE AND CONTINUAL REFUSAL TO FUNCTION AS A MAN OR WOMAN OR TO WORK AT CHANGING
As discussed previously, much of the time in a healthy marriage (over half) will reasonably be given to relating as husband and wife rather than man and woman. Depending on the wishes of each, the male/female type of relating may be reduced to a small portion of the time. Still, it remains a crucial portion. When either spouse completely refuses to function in his or her role as man or woman, a companionship may continue, but the fuller marriage is essentially over. Such a situation may constitute reasonable grounds for divorce.
By "functioning as a man or woman" I refer to the definitions of the previous chapters--namely, acting in masculine or feminine roles. Sexual performance is a part of each role, but certainly not a definitive part. In counseling experience, I have found that sexual refusal or abstinence has more often been an element in the mutual sickness of both partners than a problem of one or the other. The reference to "functioning as a man or woman" is to far more than mere sexual activity. One may be sexually active--that is, desirous of intercourse, and yet devoid of masculinity or femininity as defined here.
This grounds for divorce has been reached only when one partner absolutely refuses to even relate to the spouse as a member of the opposite sex and will not make any effort to change his or her neuter gender stance. Though a nice, socially acceptable person, such an individual has withdrawn from the marriage as a man or woman. When such resignation is unrelated to the functioning of the other spouse, it becomes, I believe, reasonable grounds for divorce.
These three guidelines for seriously considering divorce may be contrasted with other legal or socially acceptable grounds, such as, irreconcilable differences or adultery. Though there are times when these situations will be a part of reasonable grounds, they do not, in my opinion, constitute sufficient reasons within themselves.
For example, many "irreconcilable differences" are inherent in any relationship between two honest individuals. Dealing with and accepting such real differences is an essential element in a healthy marriage. Adultery is often but a distorted way of trying to get-through to a mate--a roundabout, non-verbal way of talking to the spouse. To immediately rush to divorce on these grounds may short-circuit a potential move toward an improved marriage.
"Finding someone better," though not a legal ground for divorce, does often become the real reason. It is, I think, an unreasonable excuse in most situations. Certainly, with practice, everyone should be able to improve in any type of selection, including a mate. To assume, however, that the mere possibility of a better mate is sufficient reason for leaving a previous one, is to ignore one's own part in the marriage and to assume that the source of happiness is truly 'out there.' Experience repeatedly confirms the error of this course.
Staying married involves faith and work. The rules I have given are intended as guidelines for effective work toward a productive marriage. Though they will be applicable in most relationships, reason should dictate the extent of one's immediate efforts. Because many marriages are constituted on a basis other than the ideal, moving in this new direction can become a serious threat to the older alliance. Hence the necessity of faith. I suggest making changes carefully and in accord with one's own degree of faith at the time. Move deliberately, yet with caution and understanding.
Train up a child in the way he should go--in keeping with his individual gift or bent--and when he is old he will not de-part from it.
Proverbs 22:6 Amp.
Your children are not your children.
Playing well the role of parent is one of the most demanding of human endeavors. Being a friend, man, woman, or spouse is simple in comparison to the challenges of "training up a child." Wisdom, faith, diligence, and patience are required--still there are no guarantees. Uncontrollable variables may leave even the best of parental performances in virtual defeat. Only the demands of becoming a person surpass, I think, those of doing a good job of playing parent.
I use the word parent for anyone who accepts spiritual responsibility with a child of any age. A parent may be the biological progenitor of the child, but not necessarily so. Many physical parents, the actual mothers and fathers, never become parents in the sense I use the word. Many without children of their own are the most diligent parents.
Biological parents merely birth bodies; spiritual parents are concerned with the birth and development of spirited children. Consequently my definition of parenthood includes teachers, adult friends of children, fathers and mothers, anyone who contacts kids for any length of time and accepts responsibility for guiding their growth as persons,
The goal which I project for parenthood is the development of a spirited, independent adult who is responsible and fulfilled in the world as it is. Spiritual parents seek to guide kids in fully becoming the persons they can be. This open-ended goal is to be distinguished from the popular aim of producing good children who are like robots--that is, remade in the parent's dream image, living to bring credit or honor to their parents, and finally to serve or take care of them in their old age.
In relation to personhood, parenting is a role--a stance to take, a game to play--not something to be. Technically one can act like a parent, but not be a parent. One can only be a person who chooses to assume the stance of a parent. Playing parent falls into the same categories as acting like a man or a woman, husband or wife. To seek one's identity in parenthood is finally tragic.
Though one may lose himself in the business of raising children, finding a measure of satisfaction in the task, the illusion finally reveals itself. Children eventually grow up and leave parents (at least ideally); then the facts become clear. Pity the one who tries to find him/herself in this temporary role. The wise parent realizes that parenthood is a job to do, a responsible and demanding task with concomitant satisfactions, but still only a role to play.
One may properly think of it as a game, an extremely serious game with long range consequences, yet in the final analysis, only a game.
Before considering rules for the game, two principles or premises should be clarified. Playing the role of parent as I describe it is based on these foundations of understanding.
First, as Gibran writes in The Prophet, "Your children are not your children." They may be in your house and in your care, but they are not your possessions. A child is a little person who for a time is in your shadow, but is never owned by you. As Gibran adds, "They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you."
This point is crucial in wisely playing the game of parenthood. In practice it means two things: They are to be guided, but not used. Directing is a parental responsibility; using children to serve the needs of the parent is out of order. Just as children are not to be used like slave labor, to wait on parents as unpaid servants, neither are they to be used to fulfill emotional needs of parents. Since they are not possessions, children do not exist to make parents happy, to make them proud, to bring them respect or honor, or to fulfill their secret dreams.
It also means that children are to be loved, but not saved, A parent may love the little stranger in his midst, but since he does not possess him, he can not make the child good, happy, successful, or perfect. None of the things which really count in living the good life--self-respect, honor, courage, decency, gentleness, honesty, knowledge of God--can be given to a child.
All the virtues must be acquired by oneself. No matter how much a parent cares for a child, how deeply he desires the best for this loved one, how much he is willing to sacrifice, still he cannot bring salvation. In this dimension each child must work out his own. Just as a parent cannot grow for a child's body, neither can he grow for his spirit, or force the child to do it for himself.
For example, a parent can force a child to tell the truth, but he cannot make him honest as a person. He can force a child to suppress hostility, but he cannot make him gentle. He can make him act nice, but not be good. The wise parent recognizes this limitation and contents himself with loving, without attempting the impossible task of saving the children in his care.
A second major premise relates to the nature of the guidance or direction. A parent is a shaper of an unknown entity. He is like a potter molding clay with no idea of how it will turn out in the end. He is an arranger of circumstances for an emerging flower of an unknown variety.
The bible verse quoted in the beginning: "Train up a child in the way he should go," is commonly understood to mean that if a parent makes a child do right when he is young, he will continue to do so when he is old. Unfortunately such an interpretation is counterbalanced by massive contradictory evidence. In fact, it is commonly realized that the preacher's kids are often the worst of all. Forcing a child to 'be good' predictably leads to later rebellion in the opposite direction.
What then can the verse mean? The clue, I think, is contained in a footnote in the King James Version of the bible and in a clarification added in the Amplified Translation. In the margin, the King James Version adds this phrase: "in his way." The Amplified Translation inserts: "in keeping with his individual gift or bent."
Proper guidance does not presume that a parent already knows which way a particular child should go. Each child's proper way is his own. A parent is to train up a child in his own way, that is, according to his individual gift or bent, which can never be known ahead of time. Training a child in what I think he should be is one thing; guiding him "in his own way" is something entirely different. Only the issue of guidance is common to the two separate endeavors.
Stated another way, a parent's business is leading a child to fulfill his own potential rather than the ideal or dreams of the parent. I train him to be what he can be, not what I want him to be. In this light the verse makes sense: A child properly trained in his own way, in living his own life, is not apt to change in later years. Conversely, a child trained only to re-live his parent's life is almost certain to rebel at some later point in time.
To grasp this principle, think of a child's spirit as a mysterious entity, present but unseen or known by the parent. Even though he does not know what the spirit of the child is like, the parent assumes the responsibility for shaping, guiding, and bringing this unknown quantity to fulfillment. Perhaps the child will be like the parent; perhaps he will be totally different. A farmer's child may be a potential artist; the musician's child may be a farmer. Shaping this unknown entity in its own way is the demanding role of the serious parent.
If a parent accepts this challenge, what can he do? Obviously his own thoughts, skills, beliefs, behavior, and goals may or may not be relevant. Gibran continues:
You may give them your love but not your thoughts. You may house their
bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
Then what to do? At best, two possibilities confront every parent. First, he may strive to make a good place for such spiritual growth, to arrange circumstances conducive to fulfilling the child's potential. Although he cannot do it for the child, he can make it easier by presenting stimuli which encourage rather than detract. Circumstances include both the physical surroundings and the manner in which a parent presents himself.
For instance, threatening circumstances--physical dangers or parental aggression---require that the child devote his energies to defending himself instead of becoming himself. A wise parent, in making a good place, therefore seeks to reduce to a minimum the outside dangers and his own judgments and criticism, in order to allow the child maximum opportunity for finding his own way. Since the nature of the materials and opportunities available can stimulate self-discovery, a parent may provide as many as his finances and ingenuity allow.
He makes encouraging stimuli available to the child. For example, he gives him a variety of toys, so a child can see what he likes best; he takes him to different places, so he will have occasion to respond to the unusual. In time, he makes education available for his mind, money for his purchases, exercise for his body, and religion for his spiritual stimulation.
Since discovery is best made in freedom, a parent may strive to reduce control and bondage to a minimum, while providing a maximum degree of personal freedom for the growing child. Through shaping the circumstances, making the best possible place, including his own manner of relating to the child, a parent may go a long way in guiding a loved one to find himself.
Civilizing the child is a second parental possibility. Since life must be lived in a given society, a wise parent may assist the child by gently breaking him in to the realities of the world in which he is to live. The beast may be guided on the path to personhood by a measured degree of taming.
The example of breaking a horse may clarify. Initially each horse is a wild animal, untrained for the bridle and saddle which are to be a part of his later life. So long as he remains untamed, he cannot live well in his world as it is. The skill of breaking a horse is to tame him without breaking his spirit, to introduce him to the bridle and saddle in such a manner that he grows accustomed to these realities and yet remains a spirited beast. Either untamed or broken in spirit, he will fail to reach his potential in this world. Neither as a wild animal or a nag will he find his best life.
So with a child. The free spirit of an uncivilized child or an unbroken horse is a delight to behold, but a deterrent in the world which is available to each. A parent helps ease this transition by beginning early to break the child, ever careful to avoid breaking his spirit as well.
This means in practice that the parent teaches the child to act nice without being nice. He gently trains aim in the ways of the world, for instance, in facing the harsh facts of life, such as reaping what you sow, paying the price for what you do, as well as the gentler matters like manners and politeness. He teaches him how things are done, how they work best, yet without excessive force or requiring that the child abandon the beast in himself. The parent says, in effect, "This is how things work; you don't have to like it, but you do have to deal with it." He helps the child face the facts rather than continually avoid them. He shapes behavior without trying to change feelings or spirit.
These two tasks, making a good place to grow-up and taming the beast, become the major assignments of a parent who plays the game well.
RULES OF THE GAME
The following rules of thumb are guidelines for achieving these goals. They are fallible rules; always there will be exceptions based on particular situations. In general, however, the rules will apply.
1. LIVE with; AVOID LIVING for OR through A CHILD
Monkey see, monkey do. We learn easier through our eyes than through our ears. "I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day." Visual demonstrations are more effective than lecture only. This principle of learning is applicable with children of any age. They are more likely to catch on to living by seeing how parents do it than by being told how it should be done.
Conversely, living for children--doing things for them, serving them, including lectures on how to be--is less likely to be effective. Dependency and retarded spiritual growth are the more likely results. Rebellion is equally predictable. The subtle effort to live through a child--to find personal satisfaction in his accomplishments and pleasure--is also inappropriate. On a deep level a child will sense being used by the parent and tend to thwart the displaced parental search for life, even at his own expense.
For example, when a parent attempts to derive satisfaction through a child's grades in school, the child is likely to sense being used and thwart the manipulative effort, sometimes by making lower grades.
Living with (close by) a child means spending time doing your own things and allowing the child to be with you in the process. Let the child tag along, walk in your tracks, use your tools, pots, pans, etc. Seeing how you live is much more likely to be effective than telling him how he should live.
For example, if a parent likes cooking, she might let the child stay in the kitchen while she works, seeing how she does it, playing with the pans, "helping" when possible. Carefully the parent would keep the major emphasis on his cooking while letting the child be close by, rather than shifting attention to the child's learning or pleasure.
If the parent has a job or hobby which allows a child to tag along, he arranges this whenever possible. The point is providing occasions for the child to see the parent in operation. In like manner, the husband/wife relating is often done in the presence of the child, so he can see how they do it--converse, argue, be affectionate, etc.
There will, of course, be times when the parent does things for the child, especially those he cannot do for himself, such as, tying shoes, buying toys, providing food. If the parent keeps this rule, however, he will avoid the subtle shift into living for the child. These will remain services done while the child learns, or grows to the point of being able to do them himself, rather than attempts to find personal life through the child.
Busy with his own interests, the wise parent will continually provide for his own self-fulfillment, never shifting this burden to the child. The accomplishments and failures of the child will remain his own. Certainly a caring parent will find vicarious pleasure and disappointment when his child succeeds or fails. In playing the game well, however, he will carefully keep these as his own personal responses, shielding the child from them.
Lest his praise tempt the child to perform for the parent rather than himself, or his disappointment add to the burden of a loss, the wise parent will limit his projections to interest only. Because it is helpful for a child to know that a parent is concerned about what he does, a limited response is often appropriate. Heavy reactions in the presence of the child indicate that the line has been crossed. Interest in the child's activities has become living through the child; the game is then being played poorly.
2. DEAL WITH EVENTS (NOW); AVOID RULES (ALWAYS AND NEVER)
Parents commonly seek to avoid dealing with immediate situations through establishing rules for all situations, such as, those rules concerning time for bed and when to be in from dates. Such rules have the advantage of stabilizing the home situation, providing a sense of security, and sometimes easing the challenges of being a parent.
These advantages are often obtained, however, at considerable long-range expense for the child. First of all, rules by nature of themselves, invite breaking and introduce dangerous secondary games, such as, see-what-you-can-get-away-with, More dangerous still is the poor training they provide for later life. Although law-keeping is a part of everyone's existence, most of life is lived in situations which must be decided on the basis of immediate facts rather than 'the right thing to do.' Laws fit only a minor portion of our choices. Most things aren't black or white, but are shades of gray between the extremes.
Training a child to make decisions based on facts rather than laws is consequently better preparation for life as he will later find it, Learning to be legal is much easier, and more likely to be picked up by the child on his own. With this understanding, a wise parent plays the game of dealing with events rather than making laws, whenever possible.
Dealing with events means handling most things as they come up, based on immediate circumstances and relevant facts, rather than on impersonal rules. For instance, a proper time to go to bed is likely to be different for different children, and to vary from night to night. Some children do, in fact, need more sleep than others in order to function well.
To make rules which ignore these facts is to be unrealistic with the children and miss a valuable training situation for later life. Better to take each night as it comes, consider the related facts--when the child arose in the morning, what he did during the day, what is to happen tomorrow, how tired the parent is himself--and decide for that night only. Treat likewise a situation of when to come in from a date. Instead of the easy out with a rule--be in at 10:00 regardless--the wise parent would consider all the facts related to this particular date and this time, discuss them with the child, and decide on an appropriate time.
With this procedure the child gets training in dealing with the many variables which most life situations involve, as he sees the parent struggle with deciding. Observing the parent's procedure is more likely to be growth-producing than merely following the parent's orders--or rebelling against them.
With this rule of thumb in mind, a parent carefully avoids such words as always and never. "Always do this," or, "Never do that," is seldom reasonable in the wider world outside the home. Exceptions are common. Better to let the child learn while under the guidance of the parent than waiting until he is entirely on his own.
Avoiding rule-making does not rule out establishing guidelines. Certainly such rules-of-thumb, as we are presenting here, can be useful in any group situation such as a family. The point is to keep these to a minimum, in favor of deciding each situation on its own merits. Because things happen in the present--now, deal with them accordingly, instead of how they were treated in the past or as they might be in the future.
3. MAKE DOORS; NOT CORNERS
Give children choices whenever possible; avoid No Exit-type situations. Provide options instead of pinning a child down with no way out. Spirit thrives on choice and dies without decision. Recognizing this fact, wise parents place decision in the hands of the child whenever possible. They stay away from making up a child's mind for him or forcing him to act without decision.
To continually place a child in a No Exit-position is to invite rebellion, dependency, or spiritual death. Cornered animals tend to fight or give up. So do cornered people. The immediate rewards of a docile, order-following child are likely to be followed by long range problems. A major portion of life involves making decisions. Unless a child learns how to decide when he is young, being an adult will be continually flustrating.
The rule: Give them practice while they are young and can be guided by a parent, Even when free choice is unfeasible, limited options are better than none. For example, if a child is crying and the parent wants it stopped, instead of "Stop this instant" (No Exit), the parent following this rule might say, "I'm tired of hearing the noise. You can either go in your room and continue, or stay here and talk reasonably.
"If a child wants to stay home from school, instead of a No-way-out "Absolutely not," a parent might say, "If you are ill I would not want you to be at school. However, if you stay home, I will want you to stay in your room and rest. No TV or playing outside after school is out." In each situation the parent places the child in a position of deciding with limited options, instead of in a blind corner.
The skill required in following the rule often lies in selecting feasible choices, each of which is acceptable to the parent, plus resisting any temptation to use the child as a slave to support a parent's wish for omnipotence or total obedience. Even when only one choice is acceptable, as is the case of a child making a disturbing noise, a parent's directive may allow for a countdown. "I want you to stop tapping your pencil on the table" may be stated so as to allow the child several more taps--the countdown--in order to let him stop on his own choice rather than immediately on demand.
4, BE MOSTLY FLEXIBLE, BUT FINALLY UNBENDABLE
Make movable fences, but keep the balance of power. Avoid inflexibility whenever possible. Provide latitude in setting limits, but in the final analysis, keep the ultimate authority. Train the child to live in a world where much of reality can be changed, where reason, skill, and persistence do often have an effect, yet where there are certain unchangeable facts and where omnipotence is still a sin. In almost every situation remain able to honestly say, "present your case," to hear it with an open mind, and yet to keep the final decision as your own.
The rule is based on the premise that a child's best future interests are served by allowing him to develop an attitude of flexibility, a feeling that he can change much of the world, and giving him practice in learning to do so. Conversely, the defeatist attitude, based on the experience that nothing can be done, that he is pinned in, is to be avoided. By presenting a stance of openness to reason and change, the parent best develops this optimistic attitude.
In following the rule a parent will therefore represent the bendable portion of reality most of the time. He will more often be flexible than rigid, reasonable than dogmatic. He will teach the child to present his case, argue his point, and try to get his way whenever he can. Such a parent's general answer to most requests will be, "It all depends." He will thus be saying, "Let's talk about it. What do you have in mind? Here is my side of the issue." Both by his example (being flexible himself), and his manner of dealing with the child's concerns, (reasonable rather than rigid), the parent trains him to function in a world where many factors can be molded or changed.
Yet the parent also represents the unbendable portion of reality. To teach an attitude of hope based on changeableness is not to imply that anything goes. To thrust total authority on a child, letting him do whatever he pleases, is an unreasonable burden and poor preparation for later life. The child who gets away with murder at home is hardly ready for the outside world where that is seldom possible.
While teaching the child to argue his point clearly and with determination, the parent following this rule is equally diligent in never letting the child outsmart him in the end. The temptation to omnipotence is strong enough without parents compounding it by playing the sucker. To avoid the dangerous risk of a child's coming to believe he can do anything he wants to, the wise parent keeps the final word on every issue.
Though usually flexible, he is finally unbendable. With the parent, the child is trained both in dealing with the changeable parts of the world as well as the inflexible facts of life.
5. PLAY FUN GAMES; AVOID EMOTIONAL GAMES
Playing is a good way to spend time with a child. The structure and activity of the game allow an on-going encounter within a relatively safe context. This time together lets the child see how the parent functions and consequently learn to operate in the wider world.
Playing for fun means that insofar as the parent is concerned winning and losing is relatively unimportant. He plays as a way of being in touch with the child, of spending time together. Of course, the child may be desperately trying to win. The wise parent will therefore put up a good fight, as though winning were the issue with him also. While acting out this charade, however, he will never succumb to the emotional games of getting the best of the child or giving in to him. The nature of the games chosen will depend on the interest of the child and parent as the child develops. Physical games, table games, word games--any type of structured play can be utilized.
In order to preserve the integrity of the game the parent must not let the child think he is letting him win. To avoid this risk, which defeats the purpose of the play, I think the parent would keep the edge in winning--that is, win at least 51% of the time in games where he is actually more capable.
In choosing games it is best to play those in which the child can legitimately win much of the time. The parent's skill will often lie in artfully losing many he could win. He will try to pace himself to be slightly better than the child, keeping the challenge alive. Always his major attention will be given to the encounter itself, with the game as only the medium.
Emotional games are to be diligently avoided whenever they are recognized. The long-range destructive consequences of such cruel forms of encounter with children are impossible to estimate. A major portion of much of my counseling is given to facing and unraveling these common parent-child activities.
Familiar examples include: Let's-beat-up-on-the-kid, a destructive game in which one or both parents take out their hostilities on a relatively defenseless child. Their encounters are made up of aggressive attacks, either physical or verbal, in which the child is used as the whipping-boy for parental inadequacies in the outside world. When such parents play table games with the child, their attention is given to winning--getting the best of him--even there.
Children often attempt to initiate emotional games also. The parent following this rule will he equally careful to avoid such invitations. For example, some children get very skillful in playing Let's-you and-mommy/daddy-fight. They cleverly set up conflict situations between parents by giving selected information, both true and false, to each parent.
"Daddy said , , , " may tempt Mother to fight with her husband while the child watches in glee, Another familiar emotional game played by children is You-be-my-God, In this devious procedure the child tempts the parent to assume omnipotence or omniscience and take over the life of the child. Things which the child might actually do for himself are brought to the parent. Pretending to be weak or dumb the child sets the parent up to be a god, who he then proceeds to manipulate to his own advantage,
The initiator of the emotional game is irrelevant; the destruction lies in playing it. The parent following this rule will neither introduce nor fall for any such game he is able to recognize. He will work out his problems on his own time, never using his children as emotional pawns.
6 ENCOURAGE SUCCESS; ALLOW FOR FAILURE
Both successes and failures are likely to be a part of the child's later life. Most of us win some and lose some. Learning to responsibly deal with each is a valuable part of growing up. The wise parent guides the child in both types of learning. Since success is to be desired because it is more fulfilling the parent naturally encourages it; yet he also recognizes and makes acceptable room for failure.
The temptation to project parental expectations onto children is so common that this rule is especially hard for some to follow. Parents tend to take both their children's successes ("That's my boy!") and failures so personally that some emotional distance is required before the rule can be kept. Remember, "Your children are not your children." As separate persons, their successes and failures are actually their own. In reality you get no credit from what they do, or discredit from what they fail to do. Their trophies as well as their defeats are their own.
The skill required in following this rule is learning to reward excellence without taking it personally and to stand with them in their defeats without making them your own. Success may be encouraged by appropriate rewards. Failure is best dealt with by a calculated ignorance of it.
For example, good grades in school may be rewarded monitarily. Money received for a good report card is an additional incentive for better study habits. Effective performance at household chores may be supported by an allowance and/or regular bonuses or privileges.
On the other hand, recognizing and standing with a child in his failure is generally more productive than making a scene over it or adding punishment to the failures. The attention achieved through punishment may unintentionally become an added incentive to future failures. Harsh discipline ("Since you made an F, you can't have the car again this year.") is more likely to backfire than to succeed. It invites negative emotional games (Betcha-can't-make-me-succeed), as well as adding to the inherent burden of the failure.
To assist in keeping a child's learning as his own, a wise parent will avoid the use of You language ("You let me down," "You are a failure," etc.) Instead, he will speak personally ("I am disappointed") and keep attention on the activity rather than the child ("The venture was unsuccessful," instead of, "You are a failure."). The first lets the child know the parent recognizes what happened; the second adds an element of judgment and condemnation which properly belongs only to God. Identity should always be a matter of self-discovery; a child should never be told who he is--good or bad.
Even the affirmation of success must be done carefully, less the child fall for the game of pleasing the parent rather than working on his own initiative. In general it should be low key, expressing the parent's satisfaction rather than making a statement about the child. For example, "I am pleased with your work," is better than, "You are a good student." The first expresses the parent in a way which is affirming to the child. The second risks defining the child's being ("is good"). The careful parent will appear casually interested in the child's endeavors, but never overly involved, as though the child's work were being done for the parent. Even in encouraging success he will keep the responsibility securely in the hands of the child.
7. RESPOND TO ACTIVITIES; AVOID DEFINING THE PERSON
Give feedback in accordance with the previous rule, with emphasis on encouraging success rather than focusing on failure. Keep the response focused on the activities of the child rather than on the child himself. Just as a mirror gives a reflection of appearance, so the parent's words will reflect the activities of the child. "I see you've made the first team." "I'm glad to see your good grades." "I noticed you can swim the entire length of the pool." Often the most affirming response is non-verbal. Instead of talking, the parent may communicate his affirmation through his presence, for example, by being at the child's game, visiting his school on parent's night, or watching him swim.
This rule is aimed at helping the child answer the crucial question: Who am I? Identity or self-definition can never be given by the parent. It must be achieved by the child. The wise parent can, however, help the child in finding himself. Feedback or response to the child's activities is the primary way. A mirror can tell the child what he looks like, but it cannot tell how he is doing, how he appears to others. This is where the parent comes in. By responding to activities, he gives the child information or material to be used in answering the deeper question of who he is.
Effective feedback stops short of personal definition. Realizing that he cannot finally answer the child's question for him, the wise parent limits himself to giving information which the child may or may not choose to use. By "definition" I refer to telling a child who he is, for example, "You are good,"or, "You are bad" (smart, dumb, pretty, ugly, etc.). Unless a parent is in fact a god, knowing good and evil, he transcends his bounds whenever he attempts to tell a child who he is. Even if he is correct, the transmission of such existential knowledge is, I believe, impossible.
Even when negative feedback is appropriate, it is best voiced in terms of the parent rather than the child. "I am disappointed in your work" can be a useful response to a child's activities. "You are a bad student" transcends the appropriate stance of a parent. "I like what you have done" is often in order, but not, "You are good."
The wise parent recognizes the importance of the primary existential question, Who am I? Knowing he cannot answer it for the child, he does what he can by giving of his own responses to the child's activities. He never attempts to tell him who he is or what he will be.
8. BE RELATIVELY OPEN AND NATURAL ABOUT SEX; AVOID BEING HUSH-HUSH, SEDUCTIVE, OR OVER-EXPOSING
Sex is an extremely significant element in the child's potential. To prevent its suppression or exploitation, a parent may best treat it in a natural, matter-of-fact manner. Sexual acceptance and development is essentially the child's personal business. At best the parent can give a healthy atmosphere for the child's doing his own homework. This is best done by keeping a stance of relative openness, being natural about a natural function, without treating it in a hush-hush fashion or making a major event out of it.
Parental nudity in the presence of a child is to be generally avoided lest the parent become unduly seductive. However, it is not to be entirely avoided or made a reason for embarrassment. For example, if a child comes in while a parent is nude, the parent will quietly move to clothe himself without exaggerating the significance of nudity by screaming, acting embarrassed, or rushing to hide himself.
Parental sexual activity is best kept private for the same reasons. Again, however, naturalness is the rule; if discovered, parents will not make a big deal over the event. Questions are all to be faced openly and with as much information as the child desires. The guiding rule with information is always the child's curiosity and readiness.
9. STAND WITH A CHILD, RATHER THAN FOR OR AGAINST HIM
Be in his corner, at his side. Let him know you are with him. A parent's presence in the daily struggle of growing up is an invaluable support. Standing with is to be contrasted with standing for a child. "I'm with you" is different from "My child, right or wrong."
To be in his corner is not the same as fighting his tattles for him. The wise parent is close by, but careful not to do for a child what he is able to do for himself. Certainly there are tasks at each level of development which do properly fall in the parent's domain. These he does. For instance, when a child lacks the physical dexterity, the parent ties his shoes. As soon as possible, however, he transfers this responsibility to the child. Then he may sit with the child as he tries, lend a hand when necessary, but he gets out of the shoe-tying business as soon as possible.
As he avoids excessive taking-up for the child, so the wise parent avoids standing against him. For instance, he does not become an adversary or enemy of the child, constantly criticizing or attacking him. If a conflict develops between a child and a teacher, the parent stands with the child, instead of taking up for the teacher.
"I imagine you must have been quite mad at her" will be more likely than, "She probably had good reason for punishing you." In the latter statement the parent sides with the teacher rather than the child. If a child says, "He hit me first," referring to an argument with a brother, a parent might reply, "I think that would have made me mad" (standing with the child), rather than, "You probably provoked him into doing it" (standing against the child).
In following this rule the parent treats the child as though he is okay rather than bad. He assumes the best instead of the worst. Since children often take their clues as to what they are like--good or bad, worthy or unworthy--from parental responses, such a parent trains the child to respect himself. To stand with rather than for or against is not to be naive or blind to the child's actual behavior. It is to support him as a person, on the premise that a concept of himself as a worthy one is more likely to result in a sense of responsibility than is a feeling of being bad or unworthy.
The foregoing rules are, of course, guidelines only. They are suggestions for playing well the serious game of parenthood, Since contrary patterns will already exist in many relationships with children, changing to follow these rules will often be difficult. Exceptions because of particular circumstances will thus be common. Still, I commend the rules as goals to be achieved. They will assist a child in finding his own way in life. And as the writer of Proverbs noted, if a child is so trained, "when he is old he will not depart from it."
Gibran concluded his statement on parenthood with these words:
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; for even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
LET YOUR CHILDREN GO
Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.
The Children of Israel had been in bondage to the Egyptians for some 400 years before Moses led them to freedom. His repeated message from God to Pharaoh was, "Let my people go, that they may serve me." Blacks of America, in the bondage of slavery and discrimination, have appropriately repeated this ancient cry: Let my people go. Yet there remains an even more insidious form of slavery abroad in our land today, a spiritual bondage so subtle as to have arisen unnoticed by many, so widely accepted as to be generally uncriticised. This bondage, often by mutual consent, sometimes parades under virtuous robes such as, "devotion," "respect," "honor," or even "love." I refer to the spiritual bondage of mutual dependency between parents and children--of all ages.
I think a modern-day Moses might well repeat the old plea: Let my people go, that they nay serve me. Jesus reminded his followers, "No man can serve two masters. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). The same truth applies to parents as well. Ye cannot serve God and parents. Or conversely, ye cannot serve God and children. Before children can go on with the more significant issues of life, parents must let them go. Before parents can continue the quest of becoming themselves, they must let go of their children.
Family slavery is considered a virtue by many. Such parents seek personal fulfillment in the continuing ties which bind them to their offspring. The severed umbilical cord is replaced by less obvious, but no less real, bonds which maintain the spiritual union, Such children are glad to need their parents. Society and organized religion--not always distinguishable--often sanction this spiritual slavery. Dependent parents are praised for their continuing "love." Dependent children are approved for their "honor," "respect," and "devotion."
Yet the price is great. Even though the bondage is acceptable both to parents and children, I believe that the cost is eternal life for each. I do not think that any parent who holds a child in spiritual bondage--or any child of any age who remains in spiritual subjection to parents--can enter the kingdom of God. So, the message: Parents, let your children go; children of all ages, go. Even if it is called devotion, is socially acceptable, religiously encouraged, and personally tolerable, it is damning. Stop it.
In the eternally significant quest of personhood, parenting is only a role, a stance, a thing-to-do-for-a-time, not something to be or try to become. Like other roles, its importance is obvious; but like all roles, the performance should be temporary. Wise parents begin early to work themselves out of a job. While performing in the role as diligently as possible, their aim is beyond this assumed stance. Continually they strive to be persons, currently wearing the robes cf parenthood, but still focused on the essential business of becoming themselves rather than remaining in the garb of parents. They see parenthood as a temporary function, not a perpetual bondage.
In like manner, childhood is a stance, an appropriate role for little people who still reside with their parents. It is, however, something to do, not something to be or remain. A little person may reasonably act like a child for a time with adults who are acting like parents. The mutual roles are beneficial in the maintenance of a household and the development of a small one as a person.
Yet the primary business of small ones is the same as for large ones, namely, more fully becoming themselves. For a time, children act like children because it works, not because this role is what they are. As soon as possible they shed the role as a snake does its skin, so they can more freely pursue the kingdom of God through the door of becoming themselves.
I suggested in the previous chapter than an appropriate goal of parenthood is a spirited, independent adult who is responsible and fulfilled in the world as it is. Parents who choose such a goal will work toward making their children spiritually independent of them. Paul instructed his followers: "Owe no man anything . . . " (Romans 13:8). Applied to parents this means, I think, that the goal is grown children who owe you nothing, who are not obligated to you in any way--to repay your sacrifices for them, to take care of you, to write, visit, or make you happy or proud.
They are to be independent persons who can succeed without it being your success, or fail without it being your failure. A good mother bird tends her young while they need her, then pushes them from the nest and sets them free. They don't owe her one for life. So, with a good human parent.
Children likewise should aim to move from the nest of parental dependency. Their goal is to work themselves out of childhood into responsible adulthood, to give up having a mommy or a daddy. Once when Mary came to visit her grown son, Jesus, friends brought the word, "Your mother is here." He turned to those around him and asked: "Who is my mother?" Then he answered his own, question: "My mother is whoever does the will of God."
His emotional dependence on Mary was apparently over. On another occasion he told his disciples, ''Call no man your father on earth" (Matthew 23:9). When a potential follower wanted to return home first to bury his father, Jesus replied: "Let the dead bury the dead." Parental devotion was obviously not a virtue in his books. In fact, he said that unless a man hate his father and mother, he could not be his disciple. The Amplified Translation adds this explanatory note: "that is, in the sense of indifference to or relative disregard for them in comparison with his attitude toward God" (Luke 14:26).
I believe this is correct. In order to be devoted to God one must be relatively indifferent to parents--that is, spiritually independent of them. One cannot lean on parents emotionally and trust God at the same time. Independence does not necessarily imply total separation, and certainly not an end of concern. Even from the cross Jesus was concerned with Mary's welfare.
Yet it does imply the cessation of dependence on them, cutting the apron and purse strings, so that one neither owes nor needs them. After such a spiritual break, parents are returned to the level plane of all humanity in the child's eyes, no better or worse, no more or less important than other people in God's world. If such independent children happen to be around their biological parents they relate adult to adult, not as child to parent. The play is over; the costumes are laid aside. The game is ended. More important matters in life now confront each.
WHAT TO DO
To accept the goal of mutual independence--of letting your children go--is only the first step. Reaching it can be a life-long challenge. The ties between parents and children are often so deep, so strong, that letting go or breaking loose can be extremely difficult. Sometimes even the death of the parents does not sever these bonds. Children, physically grown, may be even more diligent than their parents in maintaining the spiritual ties. Yet if either is to reach personhood, the bonds must be broken.
What to do? Wise parents begin as early as possible to work themselves out of a job. While performing as parents the best they can, they begin almost immediately to transfer the responsibility for living to their children. They start letting them go as rapidly as feasible after birth.
This long term process may be viewed in several areas. First, parents can begin early to get out of the body business--that is, to shift the responsibility for bodily care to the child. Learning to listen and respond to bodily needs is an essential part of growing up. The sooner a child begins, the better off he will be.
Initially, of course, parents must supply every need--food, warmth, clothing, and relief from pain. They must see that a child gets enough of the proper food, is kept adequately warm, clothed appropriately, and that his suffering is relieved. Speedily, however, these responsibilities should be shifted to the child.
For instance, the body is amazingly clever in knowing what and how much it needs to eat. Teaching a child to listen to his own body for direction in food intake should begin early. Wise parents avoid forced feeding (their deciding how much to eat) in favor of letting the child learn how much he needs.
Likewise, scheduling--when to eat--is turned over to the child as soon as possible, considering, of course, the parent's own eating--when and how much--should be left to the child at an early age. Even some parts of preparation may be shifted to the child, for example, getting his own breakfast, at a young age. To let a child grow up ignorant of choosing and preparing food is to leave a serious deficiency in his learning.
In like manner a child should learn to listen to his bodily needs for warmth at an early age. Responding appropriately to the elements of weather is another vital part of living. For a parent to tell a child when to come in out of the rain or how cold or hot it is, as though the child were incapable of knowing for himself, is to promote unwarranted dependency. Of course, the child will make some mistakes--not wearing a jacket when it will be needed later, staying too long in the cold--but mistakes are a part of learning. Better that he learn from his own shivering or the cold he catches, than that he remain dependent on parental advise instead of learning bodily awareness.
This is the same with pain. A wise parent never tells a child when he hurts or doesn't. He lets the child learn to listen and respond to his own pain. Nor does he tell the child what feels or tastes good or bad. He respects the child's right and responsibility to learn these things for himself. Many a meal is made unbearably unpleasant by doting parents trying to tell children what tastes good and what they "should be eating." Rebellion rather than learning is the predictable result.
"Don't forget to take your medicine" (brush your teeth, take a bath, comb your hair, polish your shoes, etc.) is other typical parental advice likely to back-fire. Not only does it tend to interfere with a child's responsibility for learning to care for himself, it also promotes rebellion--negative learning. Instead of learning to be responsible for himself, the child is unwittingly taught to be irresponsible. Many a grown child still relies on a spouse to play parent and make him take his medicine or go to the doctor.
Getting up in the morning is another part of personal responsibility that many parents never transfer to their children. Even college-aged children often remain dependent on their mothers to wake them and force them to begin a day. A wise parent will begin, at least by the first grade, to shift the responsibility for getting up on time to the child. The consequences of being late are usually a better teacher than motherly nagging. To grow up without learning to get up is a serious deficiency in personal education.
In every possible way parents with the goal of responsible, independent children will get out of the body business--physically tending to their children--as soon as they feasibly can. Considering the long-range consequences of personal irresponsibility for one's own body, such parents will risk early errors while the child learns, counting them small in comparison with the dangers of perpetual dependency.
A second phase of letting your children go is getting out of the mind business. Initially parents must think for the baby; the goal, however, is that he learn to think for himself. The transfer of mental responsibility should begin at a tender age. To think for a child who is able to think for himself is to do him a great disservice. Mental dependency, the inability to reason, fantasy, and decide, is an obvious deterrent in living a good life. Because learning to think responsibly, to reach a decision and stick with it, is so massively significant, a wise parent will begin as early as possible to train a child in this art.
This is best done negatively--that is, by refusing to do it for the child. Thinking is natural and the child will learn on his own if not diverted or kept dependent on a parent who does it for him. For example, decision making is best learned by practice in deciding. A wise parent will therefore avoid any decision which a child is capable of making on his own.
Thus if a child asks, "What can I do today?," a discerning parent will never answer. "Where are my shoes?" will seldom get an answer, and "what time is it?" will not be answered after a child learns to tell time. A parent may provide information not available to the child, but will seldom give what the child can find out for himself.
For instance, after a child learns to use a dictionary, a parent will seldom answer, "What does this word mean?" Questions which could be figured out with a little thought will likewise be avoided. Better that the child learn to reason with inconsequential issues than that he be trained to be dependent on a parent's reasoning. "What did I do yesterday?," could best be answered with: "Well now, let's see; what did happen yesterday . . . ," giving the child support, but allowing him to remember for himself.
Even questions about the unknown, such as, what God does, what happens after death, etc., should be kept open for the child rather than squelched with imaginary answers. Parents commonly pretend omniscience with children, as though every question must be answered, even if there is none. Better to say, "I don't know," or, "What do you think?," thereby leading the child to think for himself, than to stifle his curiosity with stock answers.
Self-evident information should never be given, since it trains a child to avoid even the use of his senses as well as his mind. For example, never tell a child "It's raining," when he can see for himself, or, "It's cold," when his body can supply the information. To treat him as though he is dumb is to train him to play dumb.
It has been said that free advice is worth about what you pay for it. Parental advice, even when correct, is usually worthless also. Realizing the likelihood of either rebellion or submission, wise parents avoid giving it to their children. Except for the personal relief of giving them a piece of your mind, the positive benefits are usually inconsequential. Even if they follow your advice and it turns out to be right, they lose training in thinking for themselves. Except when asked, and even then with much care, a parent beginning to let go will generally keep his wisdom to himself. Learning by mistakes is a far better teacher than learning by advice anyway.
Re-minding--telling a second time--is even more dangerous than advising the first time. If you treat a child as though he can't think, as though his own mind won't work, he may be unduly tempted to fall for your lesson. Occasionally, telling the first time is in order, especially with small children ("The stove is hot," "The knife is sharp," "It's time to get up," "Supper is ready,"), but re-telling implies they are dumb. Regrettably, some children will fall for the parental implication. In most instances reality is a far better teacher. One burnt finger is worth more than 100 reminders that fire is hot. Missing supper will teach more than being called for the fifteenth time. To teach minding, avoid re-minding.
Education is another area of crucial importance in learning to use one's mind. Even though he cares greatly that a child make high grades and get a good education, the parent who is letting go will generally remain in the educational background. Lest he unwittingly keep educational responsibilities on his own shoulders, he will, for instance, avoid checking on homework unless advised to do so by a teacher.
In general, education will be kept between the child and the school, without the parent's interference or constant supervision. If special help is needed the parent may provide, preferably with a tutor, so as to keep education as the child's business. As previously noted, over-attention to grades is likely to backfire, leading to educational irresponsibility, either in resistance by poor grades, or doing it all for mother. Because he cares greatly, rather than because he doesn't care, the wise parent will stay out of the child's mind business in as many ways as feasible.
Responsibility for their things is a third area for the attention of a parent who is letting go. As soon as possible a child should be allowed to care for the materials which are his in his own way--his toys, room, clothes, money, games, trinkets, and other possessions. Since a major part of later life will involve being responsible for things, a wise parent lets a child learn early, when the consequences are less significant.
For example, losing his allowance money and paying the consequences is far better than having the money kept by parents, without the experience of keeping up with it himself. Losing a valued pocket knife as a child, with the concomitant learning, can be excellent preparation for tending more valued possessions later.
In reverse, forced care, for instance of one's room, may please, the parent, but is likely to backfire in terms of personal responsibility. Until orderliness is learned because it is more practical for the child (as when he can't find his clothes or books), the increased disorder of rebellion is a more predictable result of forced order. Better to let the child learn when the consequences are less disastrous than in later life.
When things are given to a child, they should be given with no strings attached--that is, with equal right to keep or destroy, so that his experience with the things are indeed his own. For instance, telling a child how to spend allowance money is poor preparation for when he earns his own money. Better to let him waste it and be without. Learning early can be invaluable in later financial matters.
The area of spirit is another major dimension for parental letting go. Parents seem especially tempted to dominate or maintain dependence in this realm. While a baby is helpless, a parent may appropriately try to make him feel well, especially in the area of physical comfort. Soon, however, his happiness should primarily become his own business. When a parent assumes the responsibility for entertaining a child, beyond providing needed materials, he is on risky ground.
Many a poorly trained adult still depends on others to provide for his entertainment, to make him happy. What a tragedy. To avoid this predictable later consequence, a wise parent will begin early to shift the responsibility for feeling good to the child. He will resign his role of professional entertainer, happiness-maker, with all due haste. So that the child may learn early, he will grant him the right to feel good or bad and to learn to deal with either.
For example, instead of trying to "cheer him up," such a parent will allow a child to feel down and deal with it himself. If a child feels like crying, the parent will let him, without rushing to relieve the cause. If a child is afraid, the parent will respect his right to be so, without the dumb advice, "There's nothing to be afraid of." If a child falls and hurts himself, physically or emotionally, such a parent would never be so stupid as to say, "Get up, it didn't really hurt." In other words, the right to feel, however he feels, will be left to the child.
This prerogative is especially important in the area of religion. Because spiritual matters are more focused here than in everyday life, careful parents meticulously shy away from religious domination. Caring deeply about spiritual perspectives, they provide as much guidance as possible; but realizing they cannot save souls, they do not try.
Even though deeply religious themselves, and devoted to some particular denomination or religion, they provide the spiritual freedom required for personal growth. They never try to force their own brand of religion on their children, realizing that force is more likely to be rejected than accepted, They are also alert to how significant religious teaching may be and are extremely careful about who teaches their children and what is taught.
Aware that openness to the unknown is far more significant than having canned answers, such parents are constantly alert to their children's religious thoughts. They work to keep them thinking rather than to squelch religious curiosity with their own opinions. Even when children try to thrust their spiritual uncertainties, discerning parents avoid the temptation to appear omniscient. They keep matters of spirit squarely on the shoulders where it in fact lies. Even if they have previously taken over the spiritual welfare of their children, wise parents begin the transfer of responsibility as rapidly as possible.
If letting go of small children is important training, releasing grown children is even more crucial. If your children are now legal adults, treat them as spiritual adults also. Even if they are still emotionally immature, your best guidance will probably be given through letting go of them. This means free them to live their own lives in their own way with a minimum of interference, including the right to make their own mistakes. Avoid constant calling, writing, or visiting. Help them cut the cord rather than encouraging them to maintain it. Be extremely short on advice, even when they ask for it. Don't expect attention or anything else from them. Let your sacrifices for them in the past be true gifts, not investments cleverly designed to pay off with interest later.
Never drop in on them as though you still have privileged access to their lives. If you write, tell what you are doing instead of probing into their affairs. If you do visit, preferably by invitation, act like the guest you are, rather than pretending you are still a mother or daddy. Get on a first name basis as soon as you comfortably can, as an encouragement for adult-to-adult instead of parent-to-child relating.
Parental domination can be subtly continued through giving gifts or loaning money without interest. Family property transactions should be handled carefully, lest they cloak the continual bonds of parental slavery.
If you are a grown child and your parents have yet to let go of you, begin assisting them in the process. If they refuse to wean you as they more properly should, at least you can be diligent in initiating the freedom yourself. Even if it seems cruel, remember that bondage works two ways. The master is also enslaved. You will be doing both yourself and them a service as you break the ties that bind.
When Pharaoh refused to let the Children of Israel go, Moses took increasingly dramatic steps to free them. If personhood matters to you as a parent or child, you too will muster the necessary diligence to "Let my people go, that they may serve me."
"Being" refers to basic identity, to existential reality, "Acting" (speaking and/or doing) is the form which "being" takes. What I am (my being) may be either revealed or concealed by what I say or do (my acting). For example, when I am angry (my being), I may act hostile, polite, or neutral--that is, I may reveal or conceal my anger.
In either case, I exist separate and apart from whatever form of acting I choose. The most elemental type of acting is the direct expression of what I am in its most natural form, as acting hostile when I feel angry. However, because what I am (my being) is always more than any particular emotion, my act may take a wider form of expression.
For example, even though you feel immediately angry at your boss, your larger self may want to keep your job. Consequently, you may choose to conceal your anger and act polite at the time. Whether you choose to act hostile or courteous, your expression is an act, to be distinguished from what you are. Being is always more than any form of acting and consequently can never be identified with a particular type of expression.
Acting, whether in its elemental form of direct emotional expression or when it takes into account the larger elements of personhood, remains as the word implies--an act, a performance in the outside world. Always, acting is to be distinguished from being.
This point is crucial in grasping the difference between personhood and the various roles we may use. Personhood--who you are--is a matter of being; roles are an act. You can only be a person; you can only act in a role. The role may be clearly defined or grossly muddled; you may or may not be aware of the role you are playing; still, your acting falls in the category of a role, which is to be distinguished from who you are.
Privately you may be yourself, a person, but whenever you enter an encounter with another person you must choose some role or combination of roles to play. For instance, the roles of man/woman are among the most common stances we may take. As a person playing the role of man or woman, one may act like a lover or spouse, engage in sex, or play the role of parent. These, however, are all things to do, not to be.
You may wisely learn to perform well in either of the available roles, but you court disaster when you try to be--literally--a friend, man or woman, husband or wife, or parent. Personal tragedy is the predictable result of seeking identity in any role. The projected goal is to be a person and act wisely and honestly in any of the chosen roles without ever attempting to be any of them.
For instance, if you have children you will try to function wisely as a parent; yet you will never succumb to the illusion of actually being a parent. Parenthood is a stance; parenting is something to do for a time, but not a proper source of being. Be a person who acts as a parent when it is appropriate, not one who seeks identity in this role. After the children go to bed or grow up and leave home, the role should be freely dropped in favor of other functional stances. Attempting to continue the role of parent with one's spouse, when the role of husband or wife is more appropriate, is obviously a dangerous thing to do.
Trying to be a parent--which is only an act--is even more disastrous, since it is literally impossible. Trying to be a roles like trying to be a word. One can reveal or conceal himself with either, but can never become either role or a word.
Ideally a person will work at becoming himself and relating to others through the most appropriate role for that particular time. In some relationships one will encounter primarily through a single role, such as the parent role. In others, two or more roles may be involved. One may, for instance, change from the role of man to friend in the same encounter. The more intimate and extended the relationship, the more diverse the roles that may be used, and the more often they will be changed.
In the give and take of a particular encounter the changing of roles may occur so quickly and smoothly as to be unnoticed. The point, however, is that the goal is to be oneself, yet to relate artfully through appropriate roles, rather than to avoid roles as though they are dishonest, while attempting to relate without a form.
Contrary to a popular understanding, the crucial issue is, I believe, the use of the roles, rather than the presence of them. Unfortunately, roles may be used to deceive as well as to reveal. As noted, one can either hide behind a role or express himself through it. Ideally, only the latter choice is made. in either case, the presence of roles is a practical necessity in the challenging realm of human encountering.
The issue of honesty can now be faced. On first thought, the direct expression of each emotion or desire into its most elemental form of action, such as, acting hostile when you feel angry, would seem the honest thing to do. However, since all forms of expression are an act or performance, we cannot simply identify the most primitive type of act with the virtue of honesty.
When you care for your job as well as feel angry at the boss, cursing him is only expressive of a part of you. Taking into account your larger self, it may be even more honest to withhold your angry words and act politely at the time (expressive of your larger desire to keep your job). Honesty can never be limited to the direct expression of single aspects of personhood. Always it takes into account the larger dimensions of who one is. If you honestly care for a person, you may choose to withhold words which are factually correct, such as, your dislike for certain of his habits, in accord with your greater concern for the person as a friend.
This same principle is applicable to the roles one may play. Just as no act or word can be inherently dishonest apart from the person who does or says it, so no role is innately honest or dishonest. A role is honest when it expresses the person who uses it. When a person who cares for children acts as a parent, the role is an honest expression of who he is. When one chooses the role of parent to conceal himself, then the role is dishonest. The crucial issue is always the person and never the role itself. To relate to others is to act; acting is required. The ideal is to act honestly in a chosen role, to use it to reveal rather than to conceal oneself.
To distinguish being from acting does not mean that you exist as a separate being apart from your body and its functions. The ancient but still popular idea of a separable soul, a being made of a different material from that of the body (a spiritual entity), is contrary to my premise here. I know nothing about a spiritual ghost in this mechanical machine called body. The spirit or soul of which I speak is a personification, a grammatical form, representing a certain quality of being. It is an adjective (one may be spirited) made into a noun for speech purposes. A spirited person is said to "have spirit." The implication that one can literally have a spirit is not intended.
To summarize this position: being is revealed (or concealed) in acting (saying or doing), yet not contained therein. Nor does it exist independently of the body. That I may act deceptively does not mean that I can be apart from the body which acts. So far as I know, there is no such 'thing' as pure being. Though I speak of being a person, as though 'a person' were a thing (a self, spirit, soul, or entity), this is a matter of grammar, not reality. The distinction is made because acting can be deceptive, not because there is material difference between an actor and his acting.
These points become significant when dealing with the practical matters of who I am and how I may reveal myself. It is important to understand that although I am not the roles I play, neither am I a theoretical self apart from what I do. To become oneself--the essence of what religion is about--is to become one who honestly expresses himself in each chosen role--friend, man/woman, spouse, or parent.
Personal identity, being oneself, is not to be discovered in rejecting or abandoning the roles, but in playing them wisely. The goal is not to get off the state of life, but to become an honest actor, one who is revealed in every deed. To be myself completely in everything I do is the ideal toward which I strive.
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