The Bad Habit You Must Let Go Of

Have you ever had the experience of telling someone that they are hurting you only to be met with hostility, accusations, shaming and ridicule? Yeah, me too.

Have you ever been the person who responded to a hurting person with hostility, accusations, shaming and ridicule? Yeah, me too.

There seems to be something very deep in us that reacts to even the mildest suggestion that we are less than completely perfect in all our ways by becoming defensive. I used to think that this was somehow related to being punished and shamed as children, but having been a mother to 6 kids for 19 years now, I’ve come to the conclusion that being defensive is our default position.

I suspect the issue lies in the fact that we humans are so vulnerable to each other. We are vulnerable to our parents who may or may not have the skills to raise us without causing severe damage. If they are willing to raise us at all. Humans have a long, pervasive history of infanticide.

We are vulnerable to those who we are in community with. If they tell us we are worthless, selfish, lazy and unlovable, we will absorb their ugly lies as our reality. Throughout most of human history shunning was a death sentence and our psyches still process rejection as a form of severe physical pain.

A spouse that rejects us could result in the loss of position, community and even our ability to survive. Being turned out by family can cost us relationships with those we depend on and even an inability to care for our own children.

All in all, it’s really no wonder that there’s something very deep in us that recoils at the possibility that we will be condemned or rejected. In fact, it’s one of those automatic responses from our reptilian brain, much like fear, anger and shame. All it takes is someone pointing out that your shoe lace is untied and you find yourself launching into a ridiculous litany of explanations about how you like having your shoe laces untied because unlike the sort of person who goes around pointing out untied shoe laces, you aren’t a brainless sheep.

The problem, of course, is that when we allow our reptilian brain to send us into a self-defensive frenzy, we hurt people. Continue reading


The Wisdom of Being Wrong

I have this idea that a big part of what is wrong with us as human beings is we don’t know how to be wrong. And it’s not only because we’re pig-headed fools. It seems to be something that’s hardwired into our brain. We know from research that people will go to great lengths to avoid facing facts which conflict with what they already believe. There are those who argue that this is what’s happening in our politics today. Or it could be that since we’re a nation of smart-asses, people who hate Obama are telling pollsters that they think he was born in Kenya just to piss everyone off. The world may never know. But the fact remains that there have been a lot of very good studies which have found that once we believe something to be true, it is bizarrely difficult to convince us that we are wrong.

Scientists think this is a perfectly reasonable survival mechanism which is shared by many animals as well. Experience is the best teacher after all. So once you experience something yourself or vicariously through someone with more experience, you learn lessons which you presume to be true. You stick to those lessons – maybe develop a way of doing things around them. And it usually works. Until your environment changes and you end up like a polar bear looking for an ice floe. Then you need to adjust.

Fortunately, if there’s anything that binds humans and bacteria together, it’s that we’re both fantastically adaptable. Frankly I think it’s a bit odd that we are actually surprised to find bacteria in inhospitable places. The bacteria are probably even more shocked that we showed up. By all rights, our physical capabilities should have kept us contained to temperate zones with enough moisture to allow for a year-round supply of food. You know, like the Garden of Eden was supposed to have been.

But that’s not us. We humans change things. We change the landscape and our locations and our clothes and bodies and even the songs we sing with glee. But changing our minds? That is one change we really don’t seem to like to do. A lot of us adhere to something my mom once told me: “I’d rather be wrong than change my mind.” (I’m pretty sure she was saying it in a “If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right” sort of way and not as an expression of unwillingness to admit error. But it was still funny.) Fortunately, we all know from experience that biology or no, it doesn’t have to be this way. Not only do humans change, we grow up. In fact, we can grow up the way other organisms just grow – for our whole lives. If we want to. But it all depends on learning how to be wrong. Continue reading

The disappearing generation gap?

Today over at the National Review Online, Myrna Blyth has an article making fun of life coaches. In it she makes reference to a New York Magazine article about parents in their 30’s and early 40’s who, in her words, “in their hoodies and their retro sneakers, have decided it is really very cool to remain childish even when they have children of their own. ” She also refers to them as “shallow”. So I wandered over to take a look. It’s a long article (8 online pages) and I spent about the first 3 pages going, “why is this weird? Why is this even an article?” At the point where they start discussing people wearing $400 torn-up jeans, they lost me, but even as a teen I wouldn’t have considered wearing ridiculous, over priced clothing cool. Basically the premise of the article is that Gen X’ers (I am one), are keeping up with new music rather than screaming at the kids to “turn down that terrible noise”, not trading in their comfy clothes and sense of style for suits anymore and enjoy a lot of the same activities and entertainment younger people do. Not only that, they’re just not as willing to give up their freedoms and passions to make money as the last couple of generations. They’re still making money – just not by working for other people if they can help it. An HR person says “To motivate a baby boomer, offer him a bonus. To motivate a Generation-Xer, offer him a day off.” My first reaction was, “yeah. And?”
While my family isn’t taking mid-week trips to Mammoth to snowboard on a whim or deliberately working to shape our kids to have a hip music and style sensibility, we do listen to a lot of current music, my husband and kids enjoy many of the same cartoons and play “Yu-gi-oh” together. While I need a lot more money and a lot less weight to be truly fashionable, I don’t own a single plain colored t-shirt or sweatshirt, any “mom-jeans” or ugly, practical sneakers. If we could figure out a way for my husband never to depend on someone else for his employment, we’d do it in a heartbeat (actually at some point we do plan on doing just that). Does this mean that we’re acting like kids? I think part of this goes back to the discussion earlier about what it means to be an adult. After all, the article is talking about people who, like my family, are having kids, bringing in paychecks, maintaining a household and all the rest of the things which seem to me to equal being an adult. I didn’t realize that it was shallow or childish not to accept that such superficial things as music, dress and entertainment would define you as an adult or a child. (Of course, I’m talking about reasonably decent music, dress and entertainment here, not gangsta rap, dressing like a prostitute or being entertained by debauched things.) We also differ from parents in the last few generations by being pretty open with our kids about life, what we think about things and even what we’d like from our lives. Perhaps this is childish and self-centered as well, but we view it as part of raising kids who are connected with their parents (rather than seeing us as mysterious and unknowable) and who will know how to navigate an increasingly complicated world.
Then again, this came out of New York, so it’s relation to the rest of the universe is dubious. However, I thought it was interesting that I, a homeschooling mom in the middle of the country, had such a “and your point is” reaction to an article which is clearly meant to define some new trend for marketers and category makers to glom onto. I’m still also wondering what elicited Ms. Blythe’s negative reaction to the article. Actually, the most New York thing about the article (aside from some of the specific style and political preferences of the people in the article) is the fact that the author doesn’t seem to realize that parents and children not being at odds with each other’s sensibilities is pretty natural and is a return to the way things have been for millennia, not as he puts it “unprecedented in human history”. If we’re putting away the generation gaps which have poisoned and plagued parent-child relationships for much of the last century, so much the better. That doesn’t mean that the adults involved are childish. Perhaps they’re just mature enough to realize that clothes, music and money do not an adult make.