Tag Archives: human nature

Thoughts on Maturing Relationships

Holden has written several posts about marriage problems (here and here for example). We have had a number conversations and email exchanges on the topic too. Unfortunately, most of the time I can’t offer much in the way of advice, but I’d like to point out a few things that have served me well during the decade-long relationship with my own wife.

1. The Couple and the Self

My wife and I started our relationship very young. We were immature and as result of that immaturity I do not think I had the ability or experience to distinguish between the two entities that exist in a serious relationship: The Couple and the Self.

My wife and I are both a couple, but still our individual selves. We have our own ambitions, goals, desires, interests, insecurities – but those feature sets simultaneously overlap and bleed over into our couple-self. Sometimes those elements of self and couple are at odds and sometimes they align perfectly.

The key is coming into a relationship with respect and love for the other person as an individual.

When I think of my wife I see a women who dreams of selling her artwork at craft shows, having the courage and self-confidence to make friends, traveling the world, sitting at the dinner table with family, and being the world’s best wife and mother. I see a playful and feisty women with insecurities and dreams – some of those the same as mine – others different.

Sometimes I have to muster the courage , trust, and patience to let her be herself – even if that means sacrificing a little of my own time to do so. She does the same for me in return.

2. Self-Examination and Leadership

I have always tried to be a leader and my philosophy has typically been that leaders do two things:

1. Lead by example, and
2. Lead with integrity.

Leading by example and with integrity requires that one examines their own behavior – not the behavior of their partner. It is an exercise in self control, self discipline, and honesty.

In my own relationship I’ve tried (and often failed) to lead with these qualities. And I’ve learned that my own actions and responses are independent of the actions of anyone else.

If someone screams at me I can respond calmly. If I am insulted I can respond with a level head. When it is someone you love doing these things an appropriate response is even more difficult. Leadership responses take a lot of self control, but are the job of any good leader. If you expect a certain behavior you must first exhibit that behavior yourself.

These lessons are fluid – not just one way. My wife, for example, demonstrates unconditional love. She is caring, devoted, and faithful. She has taught me those traits by example and I have learned a lot from her. She is an emotional leader in our household.

I like to think she’s picked up a few of my better qualities as well.

3. Speak-Easy

I learned a long time ago that I know my wife well enough that I can use words as deadly daggers. Words that can tear into her self-confidence, break her down, and make her fill like nothing.

I used to use those words with more frequency than I’d like to admit, but as I’ve matured and as my love has matured so has my use of words.

Sometimes I try to step outside of myself. When my temper is about to explode I take a moment to self-evaluate and to reassess my actions. I’ve learned (and sometimes failed) to speak-easy.

Over the long haul I have watched my wife’s self confidence return and our arguments fizzle out faster. Try to remember you love this other human being – even when you are at your most upset.

People who Disgust me

I think I am becoming disgusted with people.

Today I was in the elevator with two terribly obese women. Each at least 300lbs.  We went up 7 stories which took approximately 1 minute. For each second of the entire minute the two fat ladies complained. They complained about the heat. They complained about work. They complained about their co-workers. They complained.

“It’s so HOT! You’ll never hear me complain about winter.” One obese women said. I noticed her neck jiggle as her chin moved up and down.

Frankly she was disgusting to me. She had two huge chins and her clothes fit more like sheets fit a water bed than a t-shirt should fit a person. Plus, something rubbed me wrong about a person complaining about the heat in Florida. What the hell is she expecting?

The entire time I thought to myself: “You wouldn’t be so fucking hot if you weren’t so goddam fat.”

Do you know what bothers me? People who complain about so much about nothing. When the  person comes in such a disgusting package it irritates me even more.

Question: Do we control our own fate?

Holden and I had a long conversation about our lives the other day. We discussed the many decisions we’ve made over the years and how each of them has led us down the path to where we are today. The question came up: Do we control our own fate?

Holden was of the opinion that much of what happens to us is the result of “right place, right time” (he estimated 20%).  For example, the new job I recently landed, he argued, was largely due to being at the right place at the right time to be given the opportunity. I disagreed almost completely.

We control our own destiny, damn it!

In my experience we control our own destiny – not dumb luck or chance. Sure we encounter obstacles along the way, but over the long haul our success ultimately hinges on how we respond to them. Take Holden’s example of my new job. I would argue I was given the opportunity based on a lifetime of good decisions.

I developed leadership skills by putting myself in positions to learn them, I chose the right degree path in college based on employment outlook, I attended a reputable university, and I chose a career with a fair number of opportunities. Even with the many, many mistakes along the way the overall result of these decisions put me in a position to get the job – not chance.

Holden then brought up a good point. What about instances of pure bad luck that is out of your control like a serious injury or illness?

I concede that these obstacles do present a distinct challenge in life, but in most cases they are simply another challenge that can be overcome.

Attitude Conquers ALL

One example sticks out.

I know two individuals who were put in a wheel-chair due to the uncontrollable actions of someone else. One is my close friend’s wife. She was put in a wheel chair after being shot in the back while out to lunch. The act was completely random. In fact she had just started the career of her dreams and she was out with co-workers (a result of her good decisions, ironically).

The second person I know in a wheel chair is my mother. My mother was hit by a drunk driver and paralyzed for life.

These two women both faced life altering circumstance, but their response and subsequent lives couldn’t be more different. The young women who was shot has continued her life, is excelling in her career, and is leading a very happy life.

My Mother – well – she is not.

The difference? The character and attitude of these two individuals. This leads me to believe that while life can be difficult – ultimately it is up to you to succeed.

Am I Wrong?

But perhaps I am over-simplifying.

Their circumstances were not equal. No one’s are. The young women who was shot had an excellent home life. She was brought up with self confidence and love. Her support group was vast. Perhaps this gave her the tools she needed to succeed?

My mother was abused. She didn’t ask for it. She was taught to be self conscious and insecure.

Neither of these women chose their parents – that was dumb luck. Does our control end at our circumstances? Can we control the mental habits we are born with or that we are trained with as a child? Am I wrong?

What about people born in Somalia or other war-torn and third-world countries? I’m quite sure a great attitude will not conquer all if there is nothing to eat.

Which is it?

So which is it? Is it chance or do we control our own destiny? Maybe it’s some combination of both? Maybe Holden is a little smarter than I thought and maybe I’m just a little bit afraid to admit some things really are out of my control.

A Quarter Century of Living

Today I am 25 years old. Strange. It’s strange how the things that were important to my 5 or 10 years ago mean almost nothing to me now. I remember when I was 15 the only thing I cared about was earning a starting spot on the high school football team. When I was 20 I could barely afford to put gas in my car, but I was having the time of my life in college learning new things and drinking cheap liquor. Life is an evolution I suppose.

My focus has changed over time, but at my core I think I’m still the same person. I can’t place what it is that makes me – me – but I know it’s there. There is still that same voice in my head talking things through, the way I operate is still the same, the way I solve problems and get through the day – all the same. I like that, it almost feels nostalgic. Like, “Hey there old friend, hello me.”

I remember growing up at home things were tough. When things became unbearable I used to say to myself “I wonder what things will be like in 5 years?” Then I would imagine – Maybe it would be a Tuesday, I would be in school with friends, things would be good. I guess it was my own version of “things always get better with time” or “nothing lasts forever”.

There’s a lot more certainty now, but it’s still strange asking myself that same question – I’ll be 30 – I might even have a kid. A son or daughter begging me for attention. I might live in another country writing on this little blog about the mountains of Guatemala while sipping a cup of coffee. I like that.

Arch - Antigua, Guatemala

Time passes so quickly, but when I think in detail of every instance of life I have lived over these past 25 years it’s almost overwhelming how much can happen. Best friends come and go, your goals change, responsibilities come and go, everything changes, nothing changes. Life is a funny thing like that. I still have t-shirts from middle school, but some of my best friends from high school and college I dont’ know anymore. Seems strange. I guess many things in life are a function of convenience as much as they are importance.

But here I am. Drinking a cup of freshly ground Guatemalan coffee I bought a few months ago in Antigua. In my office, my quiet sanctuary inside my own home, taking the day off for no particular reason at all. Life is good.

3 Key Components to an Awesome Relationship

Today Holden sent me a very insightful email that I would like to share with the world. 

I think the key to getting along and having a fruitful relationship with your spouse, family, co-workers and anyone else has three essential elements.

1. Look Beyond Yourself

The first element is, you and the person you are trying to have the harmonious relationship with need to be able to look beyond themselves. They have to be able to recognize their own bias and remove the cloudiness of their own personal perspective and see other’s perspective.

For example, I never realized just how boxed in and self centered I was until I worked at GISTech and really got my ass handed to me over and over by my two senior co-workers who were as self centered as I was. When you have three extremely self centered people who always think their perspective is the only perspective, its going to spell disaster, and I was the low man on the totem pole so I got shit on there and bullied. I think this might be where Stoicism could play a helpful role. Removing yourself emotionally to free yourself to survey the surrounding environment.

I remember I use to trash my wife’s dad the way your wife will freely trash yours, then I finally realized that despite everything I said being blatantly true and her feeling the exact same way, maybe I should just leave the bashing to her. I still take jabs at the guy, but I shouldn’t. I should just leave it to her, because she really doesn’t need me to remind her that her dad sucks. She knows it, she lived it. It took stepping outside my own little box to realize that.

2. Roll with the Punches

The next element is part reciprocation, part just letting shit roll off your back.

Sometimes people say things that really do not jive with or annoy you. You just have to learn to let it roll off your back, but the other person also needs to learn to reciprocate and return the favor when you’re being the asshole. I think my and your wife’s issue is that she doesn’t reciprocate well. I feel like she expects all of us to simply let anything she says roll off our backs, but she doesn’t take it well when we say anything that slights her in the least. Then I eventually get to a point that I stop letting things roll off my back, and she thinks I’m bullying her and hate her guts. I don’t really how to address the problem. If it were you and I we’d just tell the other to quit being an asshole.

My wife and I used to have the same problem, She’d take my bullshit all day, but then if she dished a little, I would blow up on her ass. Hell, it still happens sometimes. Its a lifelong growing process. I’m still guilty of dishing more than I take sometimes. Its just important that you don’t let me get away with it if I am.

3. Admit when You’re Wrong

The final element is admitting when you’re wrong.

When I do something really shitty (like punching a hole in the wall, throwing a tantrum… etc) I’ve learned just to suck it up and admit I’m a douchebag. Fuck it. I’m a douchebag. The first step to a de-douching yourself is admitting your own douchiness. Some people just can’t admit it. Some people really can’t stand to lose face or look foolish. You have to get over it if you’re going to have successful relationships. You have to learn to admit you’re wrong.

So, there you have it. This is what I’ve been personally working on. The lucky part of my marriage is that my wife just seems to naturally have most of this down and she’s very receptive to me just calling her out, as you are. I’m the one who needs most of the work. Luckily, I’ve grown up enough over the last few years to finally realize it. In your case, the tables are turned I think. I think you know everything I said above to be true and you follow the philosophy. The next step is just bringing your wife along with you.

A New Year. An Old Man.

“You better give your Peepaw a hug, I don’t think he has much longer left.” I told my wife.

His eyes were watering, he was struggling to breathe, and sometimes I would see him shake a little as he was trying to move around. The rest of the house was rustling about almost like they didn’t notice the poor old man coming to terms with his own demise.

It was only a year ago, Christmas time last year, that I had spent time with my wife’s Great Grandfather. He seemed so much more alive then, but now his body seems ready to give out. To let go of the life still in his eyes, to rest.

I wonder to myself if he feels alone. The children running around the house, parents chatting about nothing, but Peepaw sits alone in a comfortable recliner enjoying what will probably be his last Christmas. My observations are full of mixed emotions.

Here sits a man who has had a full life, much better than most. He has been married to his dear wife for over 60 years, he has started and handed down a successful business, and has a wonder family surrounding him. What more could a man ask for in his final days. How much more peacefully could anyone go?

On the other hand I feel a hint of dread. The curtains are closing, his inevitable death is coming quickly, but he is alone in his journey in this. No one can truly empathize with what he must be feeling – it must be a little strange that everyone moves around so carelessly going about their daily business as he knows that these are his final hours. Literally his final moments of existence on this planet. Everyone pretends not to notice – getting dessert almost seems more important.

Of course it’s not that no one cares. He’s an 89 year old man and his death is something almost everyone has accepted – even if it’s just subconsciously. Something unsaid we have all agreed to. Inevitability. Finality.

Still part of me feels like we should all be crowded around him – appreciating the man and his life – while he’s still coherent enough to appreciate the gesture. Part of me wants to lean in and whisper a question: “What is the one thing I should know about life?” Oh the knowledge, the wisdom, he must have during these final hours. Regrets, pride, advice.

If there is any sort of afterlife. Any karma. Any higher power. Or even if there isn’t. Let it be known that a young man noticed you that day – your final Christmas. Maybe its some comfort, some justice. A young man unrelated by blood, a young man that never said more than a few words to you, a young man who only shook your hand and stared you in the eyes and tried to communicate at that moment that I appreciated your existence, noticed, cared.

I didn’t ask anything, you never lectured me, but I learned a lot from you.

I think I’m a Stoic

Recently I ran across this Wikipedia article on Stoicism. As I read through the basic tenants it hit me: I think I’m a stoic.

Reason Over Emotion

There are a few things that ring completely true to my own way of thinking:

Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual’s ethical and moral well-being: “Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature.” This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; “to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy,” and to accept even slaves as “equals of other men, because all men alike are products of nature.”

This passage rings almost totally true for me. Often when I find myself boiling with anger I think to myself : “Take a step back, think clearly, logically.” I have always valued the searched for truth with unbiased data and thinking. I especially appreciate the idea of freedom from emotion to see the world clearly.

This certainly does not mean you are free from feeling emotion. Everyone feels emotion. I think the overall point is honing the ability to transcend the emotions you are feeling and examine yourself externally for the self. Almost like an objective outsider examining the facts of your own situation.

The Stoics believed that knowledge can be attained through the use of reason. Truth can be distinguished from fallacy; even if, in practice, only an approximation can be made. According to the Stoics, the senses constantly receive sensations: pulsations that pass from objects through the senses to the mind, where they leave an impression in the imagination (phantasia). (An impression arising from the mind was called a phantasma.)

The mind has the ability to judge (sunkatathesis)—approve or reject—an impression, enabling it to distinguish a true representation of reality from one that is false. Some impressions can be assented to immediately, but others can only achieve varying degrees of hesitant approval, which can be labeled belief or opinion (doxa). It is only through reason that we achieve clear comprehension and conviction (katalepsis). Certain and true knowledge (episteme), achievable by the Stoic sage, can be attained only by verifying the conviction with the expertise of one’s peers and the collective judgment of humankind.

This idea also seems naturally true to me. How many times has an eye witness been wrong based on misinterpreted data they “thought” they saw or experienced? True answers, it seems to me, come from data and examination.  Emotions are important, but they are subject to error and manipulation by ourselves and external forces.

My wife and I have arguments all the time because she says I’m emotionless and too logical while I accuse her of being overly-emotional.  She will laugh or cry easily while I can’t remember the last time I felt emotion strong enough to cry. It’s hard to feel an emotion strong enough to take action if you naturally take the “I need to think this through” approach.

My natural inclination is to stop, wait, and examine the facts.

Ethics and Morality

Even my natural deriving of morality seems to be borrowed from Stoicism.

…the foundation of Stoic ethics is that good lies in the state of the soul itself; in wisdom and self-control. Stoic ethics stressed the rule: “Follow where reason leads.” One must therefore strive to be free of the passions, bearing in mind that the ancient meaning of ‘passion’ was “anguish” or “suffering”, that is, “passively” reacting to external events—somewhat different from the modern use of the word…The eupatheia are feelings that result from correct judgment in the same way as passions result from incorrect judgment.

The idea was to be free of suffering through apatheia (Greek: ἀπάθεια) or peace of mind (literally, ‘without passion’), where peace of mind was understood in the ancient sense—being objective or having “clear judgment” and the maintenance of equanimity in the face of life’s highs and lows.

For the Stoics, ‘reason’ meant not only using logic, but also understanding the processes of nature—the logos, or universal reason, inherent in all things. Living according to reason and virtue, they held, is to live in harmony with the divine order of the universe, in recognition of the common reason and essential value of all people…

Following Socrates, the Stoics held that unhappiness and evil are the results of human ignorance of the reason in nature. If someone is unkind, it is because they are unaware of their own universal reason, which leads to the conclusion of kindness. The solution to evil and unhappiness then, is the practice of Stoic philosophy—to examine one’s own judgments and behavior and determine where they diverge from the universal reason of nature.

These ideas are beautiful. Recognize the “common reason and essential value of all people”. I wonder why the Greek people were such sophisticated thinkers? It’s kind of amazing to think people had these brilliant thoughts a thousand years ago, but they are still applicable today. It seems human’s haven’t changed all that much.