One of the things I like best about my relationship with Kelly is the sheer number of "Thank you's" that I hear in our house (and in the garden, and in the studio). The other day, I was standing in the backyard, pondering the growing corn, when Kelly stopped, looked at me and said, "Thank you for bringing so much green into my life and our world." I was a little taken aback. I plant things on the porch and backyard because it feeds my soul, it connects me to my father and grandfather, and because it keeps the Covid despair just ever-so-slightly at bay. I am not digging and moving rocks out of any obligation or duty in our relationship.
But Kelly's real, heartfelt gratitude had a big impact on me. I felt seen. My work felt seen and appreciated. Not that I needed the external validation, but it felt great and it made me lean in toward Kelly, emotionally and physically.
Without ever talking about it, Kelly and I seem to have agreed to offer far more gratitude than correction, criticism, or even requests. We thank each other for everyday activities like emptying the dishwasher or doing the laundry, tasks that are so regular and mundane one could easily take them for granted. We thank each other for important behaviors. “Thank you for being so responsible with the bills.” “Thank you for always caring for the cats.” And, critically, we thank each other for courage and vulnerability. “Thank you for telling me you felt scared.” “Thank you for sitting and listening to me.”
And the beauty of offering frequent gratitude is how it affects both the giver and receiver, knitting us each tighter into supportive relationships. The receiver of the “Thank you” gets validation, acknowledgement, and a bit of motivation to keep at it. The giver of the “Thank you” gets to live in gratitude, gets a moment to see the abundance or ease or safety in the house anew, afresh.
There are lots of things to complain about in this house. I am not easy to live with, I am sure. And I have a few beefs with how Kelly does things. But we choose to live in “Thank you.” And that choice, repeated several times a day, makes the little quibbles fade. Plus, I just much prefer to hear gratitude rather than complaints come out of my mouth. Like Stasia Rivera says, “Vote for the person you want to be.” I vote for grateful and appreciative.
Are there things or people in your life that you would like to thank more?
"He's a pussy little bitch!"
"Sir, I have to ask you to leave. Have a nice day."
Could the clash between cultures, between responsibility, and hyper-individualism be any clearer. But what really stands out for me is the stark clash between visions and versions of masculinity.
One the one hand Customer Kevin clearly represents toxic or man-box masculinity. He seems to take great pleasure in bucking the system, showing the world through his Instagram feed that he will not obey authority. That refusal to knuckle under and an insistence on independence is baked into Western Culture and traditional manhood. And that independence is not necessarily a bad thing. Shaking up staid culture is part of the Hero's Journey and seems to be a part of psychological individuation.
But Customer Kevin displays the toxic and immature version of independent manhood by
I hope Tison's version of masculinity wins all our coming battles.
"Have a nice day."
"I'm boycotting [x] for making me wear a mask!"
"Masks take away my freedom. Freedom is more important that anything."
"Masks are for lemmings!"
"Masks are for cowards, pussies, cucks, etc."
The anti-mask comments on some posts are so livid and visceral, I can almost feel the spittle and froth through my screen. Something deep is getting triggered. Those who defend, vehemently, their "right" to flout common sense, community safety, and biological truth, are exerting themselves through the old, shallow, hierarchical model of strength. The old strength is the one characterized by:
For those of us who understand that strength is really about fostering collaborative power and creating win-win solutions, putting on a mask is an expression of solidarity, concern, and even love.
For those stuck in that old paradigm of strength, being told what to do and acceding to that demand is knuckling under to power and losing a win-lose contest and therefore allowing themselves to slip into the oppressed class. So, of course they fight and froth at the notion. Any attempt to coerce, convince, or mandate their actions are going to be met with more hostility and spittle because they believe they are locked in an existential battle for power and survival, not a debate over public health best practices.
Those of us who are able to value the community and collective power/safety, tend to wear masks without too much fuss. I know I feel caring, and connected to my community when I wear a mask. I am putting it on to protect others. I am showing my steadiness and my ability to make a tiny sacrifice for those around me. I feel upright and strong.
And, yes, because I am acting in accordance with my value system, I feel a little righteous about my decision. Maybe I even act a little righteous or condescending about my choice. But there can be no true case made for both-sider-ism. Both choices are not equally valid. Wearing a mask protects others, will help prevent death, and actually speed the re-opening of businesses and institutions.
In times of collective danger, collective action is necessary. Unfortunately, those operating under the old paradigm of strength are ever fearful of being told what to do lest they become one of the oppressed. Their attempts to protect themselves from this fate endanger us all.
I don't know, really, how to help the anti-maskers stand-down from their self-protective position. They crave power and freedom when self-sacrifice and community solidarity are called for. I don't know how to reach across the paradigm divide. Maybe some of you reading this post have ideas. I'd love to hear them.
You can hear more about my own personal journey from Old Strength to New Strength in my latest TEDx talk.
Are you watching videos of the protests in and in front of the state capitals demanding and end to stay-at-home orders and business closures? Do you see the pictures of people, mostly men and two of them the leaders of our Executive Branch, pictures of men not wearing masks? Do you hear their chants and sense their entitlement and shake your head? Maybe I should title this blog post “Childish Masculinity During a Pandemic.”
But, unfortunately, these scenes, these selfish, nonsensical actions are totally embedded products of traditional or toxic masculinity. TM demands that adult men engage in hyper-individuality modeled after movie western heroes. Collectivity, working together, asking for or even offering help is a sign of weakness. There are exceptions, sure. Team sports and the military depend on collective action and camaraderie. But highlight reels and Bronze Stars celebrate individual achievements, not cooperation.
They know, though, don’t they, that they are wrong and acting against our true nature. The fact that these protesters have to get kitted up in their body armour and semi-autos tells me they know that they are play acting, outside of authentic humanity. The fact that they have to get together in the 100s to demand individual choice, shows me that they still crave community and togetherness, they just can’t admit it and join the broad consensus. Those poisoned by toxic masculinity would rather risk all our collective health for showy displays of hollow manhood.
So, brothers and sisters, I salute those of you who have the Deep Strength of patience, collective concern, and broad empathy. I stand with you men who are truly protecting your families by staying home as much as possible. Heros wear masks and wash their hands. Thank you.
I've been thinking about costumes this week. Not so much deciding what to wear this Hallow's Eve, but what costumes are about, from a slightly deeper dig.
Ritual costumes help represent or manifest large forces and beings that can't or don't exist in everyday life. I'm dressed as one version of the Green Man in the first photo. When we dress like him, or like a wild animal, or ghost, we call up those non-human beings or concepts and invite them into our family or community for a few hours. These non-human visitors always have something to teach us, like a famous guest lecturer in an otherwise quotidian class.
Costumes also help draw out big forces or archetypes from within. In another photo in this post, I'm dressed as Odyssyus, the Greek hero. When we dress as a superhero or famous celebrity, we get to spend time with bigger, bolder, more powerful aspects of ourselves. Our relationship to these aspects is complicated. We crave the power and agency that these heroes have but part of us knows we already have those qualities. Wearing the costume can be a way to simultaneously manifest and celebrate the presence of the powerful qualities.
The other photos in this post show me wearing the costume of the Fundraiser, the TEDx Speaker, the Adventurer. Each represent a slightly more integrated and everyday part of me. Despite being more common, I still work to consciously to put on the right costume and persona for each occasion. Each costume comes with the appropriate super powers!
So... I encourage everyone to allow the donning of a costume this week to be a fun, intentional act of embodiment and actualization. But remember that your newly acknowledged superpowers are symbolic not literal. Maybe don't try to fly off the 3rd floor. AND know that you can fly.
Just last night, I saw my neighbor, Seth, through the fence. He looks like a scary teenage boy with baggy pants and tough-looking body language. But last night I took a risk and said hello. To my surprise, Seth greeted me warmly (although I don’t think he remembers my name). Emboldened, I asked Seth about school and any activities he was planning. We ended up talking for several minutes about baseball, the difficulty of hitting a fastball, and the challenge of entering high school. We both went back to our houses with smiles on our faces. My smile was especially broad because of what I know about teens and what they need to succeed.
Seth notwithstanding, teens in America are in crisis. One third are growing up without their biological dad. Half report being disengaged in school. And the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide continue to rise. The suicide statistics particularly bother me.
Why are kids struggling? It would be easy to put the blame on families or schools. It is true that more and more kids are growing up in single parent homes and receive less parenting. It is true that schools are underfunded and that class sizes are growing. These trends do indeed, put stress on kids and may cause them to disconnect or drop out. Unfortunately, a single adult’s ability to affect these trends is limited. We cannot intercede in individual families nor can we provide a quick fix to the schools.
However, it turns out is actually easy for an individual to positively affect a kid’s life. It doesn’t take a budget resolution or a parenting intervention. Sometimes it just means saying, “Hello!” over the fence. That “hello” means a lot to a teen who might feel isolated or disconnected. If a community member has time, he or she can provide an even bigger impact by becoming a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters or Boys to Men. We can come together as individuals and a community in support of our kids, our future. We can provide them with the assets that might make a difference between success and failure. We can reclaim our responsibility and effectiveness as neighbors and as potential role models. Even just smiling at teenager makes the community stronger. Try it out this week, won’t you?