The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Behaviors and Results

I've been questioned about my position that our behaviors are influenced by our emotions and perceptual filters. Well, Duh. That's been my belief since childhood, and I see no reason to change it. And by looking at our three most basic arenas: relationship, career, and fitness/health, it seems that you have the complete foundation of our existence about as handled as it can be. Given that...who out there can deny that all three of these arenas are influenced by our behaviors? Now, if you take the position that balancing our checkbooks or our metabolic input/output or our urge to cheat on our spouse cannot be controlled because in some people emotions just get totally berserk, I can agree that we all lose our way from time to time.

But nothing good has ever come in my life because people excused my bad or non-optimal behavior. On the contrary, I was blessed to have mentors who expected more of me than I expected of myself, and constantly guided me toward a purer and more powerful expression of self. Anyone who knows me (or has common sense) knows that I am far, far from perfect. That ain't what I'm selling. What I offer here is very simple: a point of view from someone committed to balance as a human being. If you want to hear someone who agrees that our emotions cannot be healed, our behaviors cannot be controlled, our perceptual filters cannot be cleansed, you will need to go somewhere else. Anyone who comes to this blog will find support for the idea that we can love ourselves and share love. Have a strong, healthy body within our genetic limits. Support ourselves gracefully doing something honorable and contributive, and expressive of self.

The world is filled with pity parties that say relationships are impossible, our bodies are alien life-forms, and success with integrity is beyond our reach. My position is very clear: that is all self-pitying bullshit. Ego-protective lowest common denominator nonsense. It is whining at the world from the position of a sleeping child, rather than the powerful adult self that slumbers within you. Fitness, love, and success are all mightily influenced by behaviors. Control your behaviors, and you control your present and future. The only question then is: how do we control our behaviors?

Go back to your childhood experience, or experience raising children, or training animals. In many ways, not much difference. Children have a vast array of behaviors they must change or adapt, and in most cases, they don't want to change. They complain that they can't, they are too tired, it isn't fair, other people don't have to do it, they've never done it, they're too busy to do it, it's too hard, etc. etc.

Puppies want to pee and poop on the floor, chew the slippers, bark in the middle of the night, and jump all over the furniture. Unless both puppies and children are given loving discipline, pushed beyond their limits, they will remain or become shitty little brats. I often suspect that deep inside, we make a commitment: "when I'm an adult, I'll do what I want." I'll eat what I want, spend what I want, tell the lies that I want...and there will be no one to stop me.

Every coach knows that his players will complain like children: I don't want to do it today. It isn't fair. You're asking for too much. The ego is exactly like that. Ask for too much, ask for it to change (die) and it will shriek.

For almost sixty years I've watched people who fail in these three arenas, and those who succeed. And frankly, sorry, but I see dishonesty clustered there. I think it is reasonable to assume that 99% of people would like love, health/fitness, and enough money to pay all their bills and help their friends and family. And among those who don't have those things, better than 80% take the position that their results are not affected by voluntary behaviors.

I MIGHT BE WRONG, BUT MY POSITION IS THAT THESE THINGS ARE INDEED INFLUENCED, OR CONTROLLED, BY VOLUNTARY BEHAVIORS. Given that, how can I help but assume that people are lying to themselves? They watch twenty hours of television a week, and then say they don't have time to exercise. They claim not to want relationships, and then complain about loneliness. They say they don't want money, and then complain about bills, lack of travel, or inability to help their loved ones. They lie, in other words.

This is why Musashi made "Do Not Think Dishonestly" the very first principle. Because if you lie to yourself, you will distort your reality map, and become lost. Worst, you will surround yourself with people who agree with your distorted view of life, and feel that life is just out of control, there is nothing you or anyone can do, and anyone who believes it can change is just selling something.

Fine. That's what you get "out there." I've gotten raked over the coals for suggesting that the depravations of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation created genuine dysfunctions that ravage the black community, contributing to fatherless children, crime, disease, and inability to recognise opportunity. In other words, a cultural tendency to lie, those lies protecting the ego shell from the horrid possibility that Whites are correct to consider Blacks sub-human. Unbelievably damaging. And while I place the blame for the situation cleanly upon the dominating culture that dragged Africans here and brain-washed them, responsibility for climbing OUT of that hole is clearly on my racial brothers and sisters. There is no one else to do it, and it must be done.

Geeze, I've taken crap for this. And it is precisely the same attitude I have toward individuals: 99% of people have more capacity than they've ever expressed, and what stops them is fear and lies. No, in no way do I think that the Right has more liars or deluded people than the Left. If I mention more of them, it's because the particular diseases of the Right impact my life more, and I think the country went out of balance in that direction. If things tilt back the other way, I'll probably shade toward Center-Right. At least that's what I tell myself--maybe that's a bit of self-deception right there.

But a wealthy and powerful public figure who has a string of failed marriages, or is morbidly obese, raises questions instantly. If a wealthy person can't find the time to take care of himself (as little as an hour a week!) then none of us have any hope. Which is, of course, quite a comforting concept to our egos, which don't want to change anyway. No. If a billionaire says "I have to work 80 hours a week, even if it destroys my body, even if I lose my relationships" then they are saying that making money and accruing power is more important than anything else in the world.

But that's not what they say on their death-beds. That's not what they say when they take their wedding vows. They want love and health, but are pulled in other directions by drives they don't know how to control, childhood vows to never be hungry again, never be manipulated again, never be abandoned again, never let anyone close enough to hurt us, ever again. Without being able to admit the conflicted goals, one cannot sort it out. And if you know that there are twisted, frayed wires in the head, one can either begin the process of un-twisting them, or you can avoid that pain and blame the problems on genetics, statistics, economics, or anything except your own behaviors.

Frankly, most parents hear childish versions of these excuses from their children, every day. If the kids are lucky, the parents cut right through that bullshit and demand a higher level of excellence than the kids believe they can achieve. And time and again the kids actually learn to walk, or ride a bicycle, or do algebra, or read, or learn their lines, or hit the ball, or dance, or learn to lose with grace. Because there was someone who believed in them more than they believed in themselves.

Maybe that's what's going on here: I believe in you, all of you, more than you believe in yourselves. I believe in the human potential for love, health, and happiness. Want to never be lied to again? Believe in human potential, and see anything less than excellence in these three arenas to be a warning sign. One sign...o.k. Two signs...a red alert. Three signs...absolute disaster, don't believe a word they say until you have a chance to observe their behaviors to see if they match their words. Yes, you will sometimes be too suspicious of people who really do have limited capacity and are doing their best. But far, far more often you will avoid the horrible feeling that "damn! Why didn't I see that coming? Why didn't I know he/she was a thief, abusive, a liar? Why didn't I see it?"

You didn't see it because you are lying to yourself, and seek out relationships with others who are lying to THEMselves, so that they can't afford to call you on your bullshit. And unless their lies and distortions are a perfect match for your own, they'll throw you curves, and you'll squawk, and form a pity-party with friends who'll agree with you that the problem isn't your behaviors, it's the world "out there." Men, or women, or whites, or blacks, or Christians, or Muslims, or bodies, or Liberals, or Conservatives are the problem. Can't be you. Oh, no. Can't be that. The answers to all your problems can't be inscribed on your own soul. Oh, no. That would be just too cruel. That to fix the world, all you have to do is fix yourself? No, anything but that.

If that's what you're looking for, look elsewhere. Period. Here, you will find a consistent point of view: you are more powerful, more wonderful, more capable of love and creation than you have ever dreamed. All you have to do is wake up, and take responsibility. And love yourself enough to soothe your wounds when, inevitably, you scrape your spiritual shins.


Mike R said...

Posts like this are why I come here.

Marty S said...

Steve: I completely agree with you that the effort a person puts into the three areas relationship/financial success/fitness is entirely voluntary. Given that I disagree with some of your positions based upon two factors. The first is a question of priority. Speaking for myself, I have always given highest priority to relationship, second priority to financial success and lowest priority to fitness. I would rather, watch TV, read a book or post to this blog than exercise. The second factor is degree of difficulty. I do believe that different bodies react differently with respect to their utilization of food and the results of a given amount of exercise. I do believe that different people are born with more or less of the abilities it take to be a financial success. This is probably true with respect to relationship also since some of the skills for financial success and successful relationships.

Scott said...

Thanks, Steve.

Shady_Grady said...

What Mike said.

Travis said...

Wow. I'm going to go think now...

Scott Masterton said...

Bravo Steve.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Different subject matter, and you might not agree with him for that matter, but you and Sontag have always reminded me of one another. (And have about equally big spaces in my head.)

Not often you get one blast like your post today, and to follow that with Sontag's has left me feeling a bit overloaded.

Steven Barnes said...

You are 100% accurate: different bodies do react differently, of course. I've never implied otherwise. I simply suggest that for 99% of us, this difference can be overcome on the physical level, that it is the psychological that lets us down. And that that psychological gap will manifest in other areas of your life, where you DO care.

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