The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, July 17, 2008

An Apology

I think I'm wrong, and some of you guys are right. I write this stuff in the morning, never edit, just let it flow out. As a result, I can say things that are general enough to be misunderstood. Issues like race, and theories like the "10% Disconnect" are volatile. I'm going to try to be more careful with my language, knowing that I get thousands of hits through here every week, and I don't want my thoughts quoted out of context, or people taking offense unnecessarily. This is potent stuff, and the more I believe I've put my finger on a hidden aspect of evolutionary social psychology, the more responsibility I have to be precise. My apologies.
One key of everything I've tried to do in life is find the principles that apply in all three major areas of life, figuring that if they do, they are MUCH more likely to actually represent "Truth"--or as close as we can come to it with the conscious mind.
A few threads have run through the question of Relationships which are also valid in the arenas of Finance (hunting and gathering) and Health (Fitness, energy, aliveness).

1) Honesty. Musashi's first principle "Do Not Think Dishonestly," also rendered as "have no sinister designs." Lying to other people, I suggest makes it very difficult to be honest with yourself. As a general principle, I stand by it, but there are definitely situations where deception is necessary. In war, sure. But if you find yourself in combative situations repeatedly, there is a good chance that some part of you LIKES IT. Likes the violence, the challenge, the stress, the Great Game of life and death conflict. If business is war, and you are made an honest offer of a buy-out, is it your responsibility to tell the truth about any problems with your business? We have to be careful. But in general, honesty is important in the world of business because you can usually only cheat someone once, while money is made long-term by repeated dealings with people who believe they can trust your word.

In fitness, if you aren't honest about the Calories In/Calories out thing, you evolve truly bizarre belief patterns that suggest bodies disobey physics, or that there is something "wrong" with your body--when it is just doing what it's supposed to do: save every calorie, and encourage you to energy efficiency. But if the problem is emotional, that is threatening to the ego: we must change our concept of self to change our external manifestations. We have to be honest about the direction in which the problem lies: not with the world and its judgements, but within us.

In relationships, dishonestly obviously leads to infidelity, miscommunications, and hidden agendas. It is the death of trust.

But all of this must begin within ourselves: to be honest with ourselves. Scrupulously. Painfully. Perhaps you have no responsibility to share this truth with others: it is honest to say "I don't want to talk about it." Children get their "self esteem" from those around them. To become an adult is to cut yourself off from this, to be who and what you are based upon an internal locus of attention. Most people are children. Most societies try to keep us children, to keep us needing their opinions of us, to slather us with guilt and shame until we ask forgiveness just for having normal human desires.

You are lying if you think others can save you, or that if they love you enough, you will finally love yourself. You are looking where the light shines, rather than where you dropped your keys.
2) Love. Love is not weakness. It is not blindness to flaws. Love is a perception of the divinity within us all, or the purity and good. It burns away ego walls and frees the energy trapped in self-image. You must love your child to discipline her: do your homework BEFORE you play. Your child will cry and protest and say you're not their friend. My answer? "I've got enough friends. I'm your father."

If you do not love yourself, why in the world go through the grueling effort to change? To wake up day after day after day and do the things that must be done to maintain forward progress?

What is the reward for all the work? Why do I care for my family? Because I choose to love them. I love Nicki, and Jason, and Tananarive, and Joyce. Love them. Period. And in some ways, it doesn't matter if they appreciate what I do. (In other ways, it matters a lot--but I notice that the voice of the "me" it matters to is about eight years old.)

Self-love leads to wanting a healthy, happy life. Most game theory I've seen suggests that long-term gain is best achieved by honesty, trust, compassion and empathy. You cannot receive love from others unless you already feel it within yourself.

Stripping away the false walls of failed expectation, negative programming, and so forth leaves a burning core of sheer life energy. It is both creation and destruction. It is both love and the fury to protect that which we love--which sometimes manifests as hatred or fear.

Love does not mean sacrificing your children to the mercies of your enemy. It does not mean allowing some lying brutal bastard to rape or abuse you. It does not mean allowing your wife to browbeat and cheat on you. It does not mean letting yourself be walked on in any way. The most dangerous human beings I know, if emotionally stable, are filled with love. They have faced death, they have no fear of men, they see a truth beyond the world of opposition. They have an almost beatific Buddha-baby nature, a secret smile as if they understand something the rest of us have yet to discover.

3) The Way is in Training. Every day, you will earn your bread by the sweat of your brow. You have to connect with your family every day. You need to connect with the love within yourself DAILY. You should look at your goals and plans for their achievement daily. Every day that you eat, you should exercise, even a little. If you don't, you will look up and wonder where your love went, your dreams went, your waistline went. And tell lies: "who has time for sex?" "I didn't have time to balance my checkbook" "I don't have time to manage my time"(!), "exercise takes hours. I tried dieting, and it didn't work."

Get over it. Life is hard. Children complain about this. Adults accept it as true. Probably the best advice my mother ever gave me was "you're going to work hard your whole life. Find something to do that you love." Or: find a way to love what you do.

4) Clarity. Know what you want. Talk to those who already have it. Decide if you're willing to pay that price. If not, change your damned goal, or live a life of SERIOUS pain. Know what you want your body to look and feel like. The relationship you want. The career path you desire to walk. All of these things are attainable, if you're willing to pay a just price. Nothing comes free.

Balance: in business, in relationships, in physical health...all things in moderation. Nothing to excess. And a person who is GREAT in one arena and deeply flawed in another should be seen as very badly balanced. Unless you are un-balanced in exactly the opposite direction, and can base a relationship on THAT, eyes wide open, it is doomed before it begins.

So these four seem to be at the foundation:

Be honest: life takes effort. Know yourself, and you'll see right through the deception of others.
Persist: The effort must be continued for a lifetime.
Love: Find a way to tap into your love, express your love, share your love.
Clarity. Have goals. Know what you want. Write it down. Move toward your goals: as you do, you will learn what is true about yourself, and the world.
Balance: Don't trash your relationships for money. Or your body to fit into current social webs. Or your money so that people will love you.


Pagan Topologist said...

I guess I have always thought that you were mostly thinking in print. I understand, since I think out loud frequently. I generally appreciate your insights.

Michelle said...

"In fitness, if you aren't honest about the Calories In/Calories out thing, you evolve truly bizarre belief patterns that suggest bodies disobey physics, or that there is something "wrong" with your body--when it is just doing what it's supposed to do: save every calorie, and encourage you to energy efficiency."

But sometimes there is something wrong with your body.

Not fact a lot of times not. But sometimes the is something wrong.


Daniel Keys Moran said...

Thanks for the apology, though it's not necessary on my end. Saying what you think is going to upset people occasionally. On the days when it's me, I'll cope. You're writing for free here -- you don't owe anyone anything.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, I was wrong once myself. Back in '64, I think it was ...

Haven't been able to walk on water worth a crap since.

Don't sweat it. You not doing bad for a white boy -- oops. I meant for a melanin-choly fellow ...

Michelle --

If fact, it's about 97% of the time there is nothing wrong with your metabolic system that prevents weight loss. But people are very quick to raise that every time the subject comes up.

Every time, somebody dusts it off and shoves it out into the room:

Oh, hey, it's not my fault. It's hormones.

There are people for whom dieting to lose weight is extremely difficult, for all kinds of reasons, both psychological and physical. They are a small minority, those who are allowed to use that excuse, and nowhere near the what is it? thirty percent of people who are obese.

I'm not going to sit here and tell anybody they must lose weight -- people makes choices and they live with them. But more often than not, people make excuses, and "sometimes there is something wrong with your body" is one that only a handful of people can justifiably use.

Most of us can't. If you are one of the few who have the medical diagnosis that allows it, you almost certainly know it, and you needn't justify it to anyone. (You needn't justify to anybody if you just enjoy eating and hate exercising either, it's your own business.)

But: Being morbidly obese is bad for your health, just as being anorexic is bad for your health.

You can smoke, drink to excess, do drugs, stay out late, and eventually, there will come a reckoning, a price to be paid. Obesity carries such a price, it ranges from bad health to poor self-esteem, to being socially neutered. Everybody knows this.

You pays your money and you takes your choice ...

Anonymous said...

I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness -- but, honestly, no offense taken by me. For a bunch of reasons:

First: it's your blog! If I didn't like it, I could stop reading it. But in fact I've been reading it for years because I find it enjoyable, helpful, and inspiring. There is nothing like reading one of your "TAKE RESPONSIBILITY!" posts on days when I feel discouraged and tempted to settle for mediocrity.

I figure that as long as you don't mind my occasionally reacting, by posting opinionated opinions of my own in your comments section, it's all good.

If I weren't reading your views here, I honestly think there's an entire aspect of American life and thought that would be closed to me. It doesn't matter whether I always agree with it; of course I'm not going to, for a mixture of good, bad, and trivial reasons. For that matter, I am not sure we even disagree all so often, as much as have different emphases, arising from different life experiences and areas of personal concentration.

Finally, I come from a family of combative German- and Irish-Americans. Not too much in the way of disagreement truly flusters me -- certainly, not disagreement as civil as I've always found it to be here. If only the rest of public debate were so level-headed.

--Erich Schwarz

Marty S said...

Steve: I love the spirited discussions, and know apologies needed. Your expressing the truths you have discovered based on your life experiences. They may not be my truths because I have a different set of life experiences.
As an example lets take this weight discussion. Lets say that my heaviness has nothing to do with my heredity and that by changing my diet and adding some moderate exercise I could lose all my excess weight. My life experience gives me no motive to do this. I am in a 40+ year relationship, so attracting a member of the opposite sex is not an issue. My father was thin his whole life topping out 158 in his retirement. This not stop him from spending the last five or six years of his life praying every day that god would take him already. In spite of being thin Macular Degeneration had taken his vision and diabetes had otherwise debilitated his bodily functions. My mother was heavier than I relative to her height. She died at 89 in a nursing home. She suffered from dementia and by the time she died didn't know who her children were when they came to visit. So extending my life is not one of my goals.

Marty S said...

Whoops that was NO apologies needed

Michelle said...

Steve P. -

You're right, of course. I totally agree with you. I do happen to be in the minority that has something wrong with me to cause me to not loose weight. BUT the still doesn't mean nothing can be done. I have a whole rant about hypothyroidism that I'm not going to put here but yeah...even with hypo and PCOS I am exercising and loosing weight. It sucks but it is possible...if you're willing to work at it.

It's funny actually. I've never been over 200lbs, I've worked myself to the bone to not go there (I'm a small woman so yes, I've been obese at less then 200). When I was diagnosed PCOS and got on medication, I started loosing weight like I had been told you should be able to (30 min exercise 3 times a week, and just eating right). I did radically change my diet to mostly fresh food. All's been good.

Now I get hit with kidney stones that required surgery..and I'm told to eat less fresh food and go back to grain carbs. Which, my doc admits, I can't do and be healthy.

sigh. I have a's that we, those with conditions that make weight loss hard, exsist, but yes Steve there are a lot of hypochondriacs that will blame everyone but themselves.

Like I said before. I'm not going anywhere unless banned. I enjoy the discussion, even if I get mad.

I'm not here to badger Steve (B) about his opinions but to air my own against the foil of his discussions because what he's discuss is something I want to discuss (did that make sense?) and we are all wrong from time to time.


Mike R said...

There may be people who smoke a six pack a day, have a five martini lunch, and are 40 pounds over weight and live to be 90, but that's not the way to bet. The human brain is very bad at handling statistics on an emotional level. "Doing X will result in a Y% increase in me dieing earlier," just doesn't resonate for most people the way that seeing Aunt Sally do X and live for a long time does. But other than some genetic components, Aunt Sally isn't as relevant as the statistics. Most people don't think that way though, which is why anecdotal evidence is presented so much in casual conversation. That's how people like to think. It's the default state; observe members of their family or tribe, and base decisions off of that.

But the reason that anecdotal evidence is completely banned from scientific examinations is that it is notoriously bad predictor for future results.

Somewhere out in the world man A spent all his savings on lottery tickets and won big. Somewhere out in the world man B worked hard his whole life, invested wisely and prudently, and through no fault of his own he lost everything and is dead broke and homeless now.

Now should you model your life after man A or man B? The answer is that you shouldn't base it on either! Man A and Man B are just two guys out of 6.6 billion people. You should look at how large numbers of people live their life, and how that turns out for them. And when you do that, the smart way to bet is to _not_ spend all your money on lottery tickets. But the lottery ticket strategy is more or less what one is choosing if one says, "I'll just not watch my health and hope everything turns out all right."

Life is inherently dangerous and there are no certainties other than that no body gets out alive. We are all going to die, many of us in great pain and more afraid than we had ever been in our all too short lives. All we can do is examine the best ways to increase our odds of living the best life we can.

And if you ask people who have lost significant amounts of weight, a huge % of them will say they are better off with the weight off. Not all, there will always be exceptions, but it is a large enough % that one can reasonably state that losing weight has a high probability of improving ones life experience.

Steve Perry said...

One of the guys I work out with had thyroid cancer. He was treated and came through it. Hyper- or hypo- or no- thyroid does indeed create a cascade of physical problems that must be addressed. But this fellow works out, and while still heavy, is way down from what he used to weigh.

He gets slack. You do. Me? I don't.

There are men who are obese who run marathons, with low blood pressure and slow and strong heart rates. They are more fit than most of us aerobically, though the extra weight is hard on knees, ankles, and running shoes. If they weren't carrying the bulk, they'd be fitter still.

But it is a choice -- how much one is willing to pay for the result. Like Marty said, coming to terms with who you are is key.

I wrote an article once for writers. As a group, we aren't notoriously long-lived. Symphony conductors tend to be -- all that moving around and arm-waving, maybe the music -- they tend to live long and relatively healthy lives. Writers who sit all day tend to croak younger, and aren't in great health getting there.

This article was selfish. I want the writers I like to live long and prosper and keep writing. Some of my favorites kicked off too early and I miss them.

I'm relatively fit. I'm also six or eight pounds over my best fighting weight, and I have no excuses. I could drop that in a few weeks if I had to and hold it. I exercise regularly, eat pretty well, and I also fast one day a week. Morning after that, I'm usually right where I want to be. Those days, I'm a tad leaner and fitter. That fast lets me pig out the rest of the week and stay steady.

But while not a couch potato, I have a lazy streak. The reason I'm not in Olympic-class shape is because I choose not to go there. Most of us have an option, vis a vis fitness, and most of us choose not to go there. That's the way it is ...

Mike R said...

Side tangent:

Interesting article on vengeance here:

"Females, older people, working people, people who live in high-crime areas of their country, and people who are at the bottom 50 percent of their country’s income distribution are more vengeful. The intensity of vengeful feelings dies off gradually over time. The findings suggest that vengeful feelings of people are subdued as a country develops economically and becomes more stable politically and socially and that both country characteristics and personal attributes are important determinants of vengeance. Poor people who live in higher-income societies that are ethno-linguistically homogeneous are as vengeful as rich people who live in low-income societies that are ethno-linguistically fragmented."


Interesting that females have higher vengeance levels. Kipling may have been onto something when he said, "The female of the species is more dangerous than the male."

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Kipling was wrong.

People are vengeful in direct response to suffering. Women run more vengeful (and I do believe that is true, on average) ... more vengeful than men because they've suffered more.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Kipling was definitely right, no question about it. In very blanket, general, of-course-there-are-exceptions terms, women in most societies try to avoid and smooth over overt, violent conflict. Men tend to be more accepting, even eager for it in some ways.

Look at little kids playing. See the little boys play-fighting? See more than maybe one tomboy girl play-fighting? It ain't a game to girls, and women don't grow up thinking of fighting as a game. You put a woman into a physical fight, she doesn't worry about little things like footwork, rhythm, keeping fists tight, etc. She goes right for the jugular, the eyes, the groin, 'till she's burger or the bleeding mess in front of her stops moving.

Again, always exceptions to this--two of the best formal martial artists I know are female, and do enjoy sparring. But in general evolutionary terms? Males fight because it's fun, females fight because they /have/ to fight and there's no other way. That level of provoked aggression is always dangerous.

... And don't even get me started on the finer intricacies of the subtler, non-overt forms of conflict women /do/ train for.

God, I love 'em. Every last hair on every last female head. But they are much scarier than we like to give 'em credit. Adds spice, I think.

Marty S said...

Mike: As a statistician, i know generalizing from a few circumstances is dangerous. But there is a difference between looking at a random person and looking at close members of your family to predict your health. My grandfather was diabetic, my father was diabetic and I am diabetic, My father had serious breathing problems, I have breathing problems and my son was on an inhaler at age 8 with breathing problems. This is not coincidence, its genetics at work. Oh and by the way none of these people except me were/are overweight.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Bennett, men do practically all of the public killing, and that's most of all the killing there is.

For whatever reason, men seem to be much better at organizing themselves for violence.

Anonymous said...

Nancy, that's pretty much what I meant. We're socialized for it. That we do more killing means we're more violent, not necessarily more dangerous.

But yeah, I'll definitely grant that the human male is a more active, more organized, and more efficient killer. Kind of nature's booby prize for us, given how we mostly use it to get ourselves killed by venting it on one another.

Come to think, men seem to win most of the Darwin Awards, too. It would appear on further reflection that we're at least more dangerous to /ourselves/ than women are.

Food for thought, that.

Steven Barnes said...

My thought is that men aren't just more dangerous to each other than women are to them, they are far more dangerous to each other than they are to women. Which means that the only possible group that benefits from the overall dynamic is those males who love violence or violent competition for its own sake--in a hierarchical structure, only the ones at the top really get the goodies. How many men is that, actually? And if men are more competitive/aggressive than women, that's by what? 10% or so? So the majority of men are somewhere in the middle, uncomfortable with confrontation but locked into a world that measures them largely by their ability to deal with it. My guess? The world works best for the men and women who enjoy the stereotypical roles. But men who have less ambition/aggression and women who have more of it are both pretty much marginalized.

Anonymous said...

last night I thought to myself and harshly that I cannot continue to eat the way I do and expect to look is so emotionally disturbing ( to me) to be told your face is just need to lose weight.I would become angry at some words people said..question that why cant I be pretty and chubby? Something is wrong with THEM! I finally faced the ugly fact that it is me
that lacks discipline
lacks desire, enough to make a complete change and DO the things you speak of...
the truth is it feels good to exercise
to eat balanced
and live balanced
today I will begin searching for a way to consciously do these
Thank You for your apology.
I apologize too, for listening to my own lies, not trying...and blaming others. For not taking the reigns and controlling my mind.
I begin TODAY
Love ME