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You Can Do It "Just Because"
Tonight, on my way back to New York City, I stopped to meet some friends in a restaurant on a cold night. There was a long line at the coat check that was going nowhere, when a twentysomething man behind me started shouting vehemently at a girl outside the line. She had her hands on her hips, scowling at him as she berated him for being so silly, and arrogant, and pushy, and, well, "typically male."
His sin? Not an action, an insult, or theft. Not an assault, or prejudice, or slander. His sin was the attempt to stuff his emotions - assumed to be nonexistent or irrelevant because he was male. She, the fifth woman in a row to stride blithely by his obvious position in the logjam, proceeded like the others to hop conveniently right to the front of the line - and be handed her peacoat.
His first return salvo was an incomprehensible and soft mutter really, when she spun on her heels to question how someone could actually dare to involuntarily gasp at her self-absorbed rudeness.
She was female, and has rights inherent in any citizen's status. But she wielded the fringe benefits on top of her rights - including the notion that her rights are more right than that of others - that those rights are more weighty than those of others, and that those rights make one always right no matter how they conduct themselves.
I couldn't believe my ears - not that it was so atrocious that this was happening yet again, but that it was happening to a man other than me. I thought I was the only one who noticed it. For as the argument escalated behind me, I noticed numerous other men in line with passive resignation in their eyes, and we nodded knowingly at each other as if to say, "Yes, it happened to all of us too."
Their argument temporarily ended this exchange of salvos with, "You're an ahole," then, "I was in line right here, for the past half hour you (*rhymes with "runt"*)! A line is a line because you wait in it 'til it's your turn!"
As a veteran of this line experience, as well as numerous other subtle sociological snubs - from the men's department of a clothing store never being on the main floor, usually on the second or third (above the bargain floor), or else thankfully in the basement, and the fact that while some of the most durable and comfortable athletic wear comes from the Lululemon brand, but their stores carry about what appears to be 5% menswear, usually only in size small once it's also picked over by women shopping for their men as an afterthought.
Nearly every commercial on TV depicts a stumblebum husband who can't start a lawn mower or a crass boyfriend who doesn't have the common sense to choose a Wendy's fish sandwich over other fast food made of "recycled material."
At work, they can't wear an American flag pin, but they can wear a pink ribbon, and they can't say what's really on their minds in any case.
The other men in line have had enough of it, but have also given up trying to communicate any vestige of having rank, rights or respect in a social pecking order, but this one lone infuriated man has still not come to his senses, and was losing it.
I turned around as his hyperventilation began to slow in pace. "Maybe a different word choice, my friend, or maybe don't say anything at all."
"And then do what?" he said. "There's nothing you can do about it when they do that."
"True," I said. "What are you going to say? 'Let's take this outside and throw off our gloves?'"
He was still fuming, and still waiting for his coat. "They get away with this all the time..." he muttered.
"Well, you don't have to shut up entirely, really," I said. "But you do have to know about personal boundaries, and how their instincts work, too."
"What do you mean?"
"Wherever you are, and whatever time in history you live in, no matter what's going on in the culture, we all have personal boundaries that withstand all insults, all rudeness, all disrespect and ignorance. You always, always have rights, rules, respect, and a voice when you're aware of them. And if you know how to speak to the right instincts in the other person, you get the point across in a way that can't be assaulted or ignored."
"Well, like what? What would you have said?"
"Ok, how about, 'The line starts there, so sorry.' Or 'that's not right. You know better than that.' Or 'You can do better than that,' and look at her girlfriends to back up that truth. You don't have to let her get your emotions going so hot - that's when you'd already lost the argument."
"Hmm, well, why would getting emotional make me lose the argument? It WAS emotional. Men have emotions too."
"That's the irony," I said. "We do, but showing emotions, or losing control of them shows you're unmasculine. And yeah, they say they don't want you to talk like a man or act like a man, but as soon as a bully like her detects that your masculinity isn't secure or on tap, they go in for the kill. Which I guess makes it pretty important to have in place. Not only that, but you have to have some understanding of how THEIR instincts work - femininity - so that you can speak to that and have them feel good about who they are. People have a hard time giving you a hard time if you make them feel good about who they are."
"Yeah well that wasn't on her agenda to make me feel good. What about that? You're right - she's a bully. That's right. What about that?"
"Yep. Sometimes you can't make other people respect boundaries, and yes, they aren't out to be courteous, diplomatic, or trying to make friends with anyone. It sucks, even though it'd benefit them alot."
"Well you just discovered that yes, women can bully men as much as a big schoolyard bully can pick on a small kid. So you have to toughen up and confront them."
"Which is what I did man!"
"No, not like a hothead," I said. "Call it what really is. Calmly. Tell her she's a bully. Then use something my grandfather used to say - 'Were you raised in a barn or something?'"
The strangest thing happened then. All the other men eavesdropping weighed in on a subject they would usually not discuss even with their male buddies, and never would have even thought to discuss mere decades ago. "That happened to me too the other day," one said. "Yeah, that's what I would do - just point out the bad behavior unemotionally," another said.
It's been something equally strange in recent years to witness something unseen in the past. Lindsay Lohan aside, you start to see a number of everyday women thrown out of bars or restaurants, or even handed over to the police. It used to be that a woman could safely toss a drink in a non-gentleman's face for crass behavior, but now, it destroys his cell phone and fries his iPad, with real and physical damages. And on one occasion, when I saw a drink douse one cocky guy but also bring the DJ's electronics to a sputtering, smoking early grave, she was manhandled by the bouncer just as roughly as any impulsive pugilist of the past.
And as the men in the place glanced around at each other at this formerly uncommon event, the look in their eyes was one of nervous satisfaction.
Freedom of Speech - Conditional?
We started this week's topic with the story of the man and woman shouting at each other, not to just get into the "Battle of the Sexes," but to eventually get back to you, and your life as a man - your psychology as a man and what you can do to build skill and learn something new.
Those same groups of men in public who glance at each other when bad behavior happens also are starting to wonder about the very notion of "having a voice," about "what's okay to say," and "what words to choose," especially with regard to sensitive topics whose scope seems to expand every day. These are not fringe subjects or a no-man's-land of religion, politics or taboos (although the term "no-man's-land" is also probably now taboo to use anymore due to its lack of gender neutrality.)
It's about everyday things like standing in order in a line, or about your right to have private thoughts, speak them to your friends and those you trust without being overheard and jeered for their content.
It's not even about old assumptions like "a man's home is his castle." Today, men hear about they might deserve to be granted "man caves" in homes they still often finance at least half of (or will be held to do so by most marriage law) from their own hard work. Those same men who glance at each other when a verbal argument breaks out in a coat check line also cringe when they hear the term "man cave" that usually comes with a condescending tone equivalent to a pat on the head "for being a nice boy."
If you ever wonder about your rights to free speech, wonder about two things - what happens in nations or periods of history when speech in public is not free. In the time of the American Revolution in England, and in some nations even today, one could not or cannot gather publicly to discuss some topics (like criticism of the King) without potential incarceration, or for example, some religious topics in the time of the Salem Witch Trials without potential physical assault. In the time and culture of Nazi Germany, one could say something objectionable to the powers that were, and be shot.
The studies of teen violence beginning with the Columbine Tragedy reveal some striking inroads to bringing neuroscience together with sociology - that to the emotional brain, "an insult may be no different than a punch to the face," when it comes to the function of an area called the Thalamus - the processor of emotion and pain in one place.
This gives us an interesting filter or translation device for looking at the interactions of both the argument between the people in line for their coats, as well as the bread and butter of standup comedians.
The "pent-up" frustrations of the man who clearly recognized that he had no choice or recourse over the five women who cut line in front of him reveal something. He certainly couldn't challenge them to a fistfight, and all that was left then, were words. Yet tentative about making a logical argument that it's unfair to skip one's place in line, and that that was what was going to happen anyway, like it or not, he resorted to losing his composure and making an emotional argument. And a rude one at least in parallel with the rudeness of being dismissed and cut in front of.
The evolutionary psychologists talk about early societal roles, and the power of women's communication with each other in early societies - being in the know about everyone else's business in the village was a kind of bargaining chip, and represented power, rank and hierarchy in the village order. But gossip is also part of that process, and can represent both power, and a force of intimidation and control of others. If one were to apply that concept to the argument in line, you might see how the woman calling the man an ahole for arguing that she ought to take her turn acquired power for so doing, sullying his reputation, only when he "took the bait," and called her names at least, or even more rude. She then pointed at the man while calling the attention of her girlfriends to witness his rudeness, and added to her case by telling them, "He's a jerk. He's low class. Did you hear what he just said?" And to all but those still in line, who remember that she was the one who cut him off dismissively in the first place, he would soon be seen to be in the wrong no matter what was said or left unsaid.
In this way, gossip is a woman's bullets, figuratively speaking, or at least as far as the thalamus is concerned. It does just as much emotional harm, damage to the sense of personhood through shame, damage to the self, identity, and stifles the voice under threat of more of the same, and diminishment of rank and role in the social order. To the brain - to the thalamus - how is that any different than the de facto stifling of freedom of speech? The King of England centuries ago, or Hitler, or any number of modern tyrants might respond that, "You do have free speech. Say whatever you want. But if you do, my soldiers will shoot you. Your free choice."
Comedians have been in a rare position in society until recent years, and male comedians are of special sociological note to follow. Since the time of the Greek Chorus, and the Fool character in Shakespearean dramas much later, up to the present day, comedians have served a societal function of being a pressure valve on our inner conflicts, on the drive to express politically incorrect speech or private thoughts freely, without becoming ourselves at risk for that reputation punishment, the bullets of gossip for so doing.
And comedy serves women in the same way too.
Chris Rock, Louis C.K., Russell Brand, Rosie O'Donnell, Ellen Degeneres, Laura Silverstein, and before them, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Lily Tomlin and a host of others have always had the freedom of speech to highlight our most uncomfortable private thoughts or beliefs and have someone else utter them instead. The surprise and release of the experience of comedy gives us a catharsis, a cleaning out of that "pent-up " feeling that the man in line felt, without having to directly express anger, disbelief, frustration or other ever-more-socially-unacceptible feelings directly in public.
They speak the truth. Uncomfortable truths, the same as those that gave more power to the Shakespearean Fool characters than the Shakespearean Kings.
Their jobs may be the last jobs immune to "psychological bullets," but if one were to follow the news, a small thread of male comedians have been growing in numbers of those chastized, censured, or otherwise thrown out of their profession for politically incorrect speech.
If you were to dig into the basic anatomy of your personal boundary and its power, you'd start to see that no matter what goes on in culture or in history, you do, men and women both, always have a voice that's worthwhile, sacrosanct, and worthy of being used fearlessly...
...but only so long as other aspects of your psychology are also in place, tuned up, and used - among those, a sense of conscience, harmony and consensus, constructiveness, "win-win" thinking, and last but not at all least, some knowledge of how male and female instincts play out in behavior. This last part of your psychology is the thing which prevents the act of shaming or embarassing others - a trend which is decidedly the norm not the exception in our public discourse today.
In other words, there are situations, names, and phrases that "shame" men, and others that "shame" women. Of course there are those that shame both genders too, but if we were to all learn the masculine and feminine instincts, we could have arguments that reveal depth in the other person and in each other - more intimacy and understanding that would lead to coming together in partial agreement or at least civilly "agreeing to disagree" rather than ravaging each other with those "psychological bullets."
You Have the Right to Do Things "Just Because"
There is a proviso - what you do needs to be ethical and mature, not harm others, or yourself. It doesn't have to benefit others, but it might. And it ought to benefit you without harming others. In psychology we call this "assertiveness."
It's hard to be assertive when you fear "psychological bullets" flying overhead.
Again, this principle applies to both men and women, and is one of those examples of a common misperception that very well might play out often between the genders as a "Battle of the Sexes," but has far more to do with the psychology of the individual than it does a gender effect.
So many people are intimidated by gossip, shame, and fear that they don't speak their minds freely. We develop a "personna," a "public face" and whether we are aware of it or not in a wired world, we have "talking points" to cover when we meet new people or face disagreement, sometimes carrying this way of communication right back into our homes and with our intimates.
But that's about our voices and our speech. When we extend this fearful, tentative, unassertive habit into our ACTIONS too, something very insidious happens.
We slide into a decline in our growth, into a kind of psychological and spiritual poverty. We get less and less of our needs met, which is the actual, exact end-goal of the act of assertiveness.
We cover this extensively in the Quantum Psychology Program too - the next generation of MindOS technology you may have heard of from us years ago. It's on a diagram called an "Anger Map" - a guide to assertiveness and all its causes, obstacles and processes.
There are so many men and women I've seen who get into an internal conflict over "what I'm allowed to do" while clearly not getting their most basic needs met as people. This "limbo state" is something that strikes an uncomfortable balance for them between "not offending" and "not going hungry" - where they might dream of what they really want to do with their lives, or really want to say what they feel with their voices, but don't.
Instead, they live on the emotional high of the dream, when they have the time to dream it.
They dream of a better relationship, or a better job, or a better place to live, but they don't pursue it in actuality because it is too dangerous to take action. They might be seen taking good care of themselves instead of someone who thinks they ought to be taking care of others in their lives who are used to be taken care of, and without consideration in return. It used to be called "codependence," which is the same as "immature," or "narcissistic."
Much has been written about us becoming an ever more narcissistic society, but maybe now you can see some of the roots of it - everything in the end boils back down to the quality of our personal boundaries - our ability to recognize what belongs to us versus others, what is our right versus what is others', and that in asserting ourselves to build a better life personally, this does nothing to harm others if we stay awake and aware to how our self-care and freedom could at times impinge on that of others.
In essence, it's the personal boundary that makes this distinction - the borderline between what is ours and what is that of others. And when we add to this knowledge, what makes males feel great about being alive, females great about being alive, as well as what makes men feel shame or women feel shame and avoiding those things in a way that is specific to gender, we cannot help but make better communication, better relations, collaboration, compromise and solutions - a better life and a better world.
If you have found yourself unwittingly walking down this trail of "needing an excuse" to do what is good for you - the new job, the new relationship, the new town to live in - to worry about "not offending" in doing whatever you want that is good, right, free, open, mature, innovative, thoughtful, inspiring or creative because of fear, then you need to remember that, whether you are male or female...
...you can do anything you want, "just because."
It is through exploration, testing, experiencing, then examining your life, your happiness, your circumstances and friendships that you can actually make competent, effective changes in your life for the better.
And a better you makes for a better life for everybody.
Trying new experiences and ideas gives you new understanding of what is right or wrong (small children get to learn this, even as adults forget the importance), of what is beneficial, or happy, what pleases others versus displeasing them, what encourages love or friendship or any other societal good.
The man and the woman fighting in line didn't understand the masculine instinct or feminine instinct of the other, nor were they able to come to an accord about what the boundaries are. Clearly, the woman started the conflict with poor boundaries about courtesies of being in a line, but the man continued the poor boundaries in terms of his crass and hurtful words in return - the "psychological bullets" that women may be more gifted marksmen with than men.
If they had both known what boundaries and instincts are, how they function, and with the participation of their friends (rather than embarrassed glances) it is entirely possible they both could have apoligized and discovered new skills not in isolation, but entirely BECAUSE of the opportunity to have encountered each other.
And yes, having disagreed. It's how we even learn where boundaries are. Disagreement is good in this way. When my grandfather used to say, "What, were you raised in a barn?" he meant that you seem to have been raised among animals who don't disagree and come to new understanding - instead, tearing each other to shreds the way the man and woman in line did.
What if the man and woman could have become friends? What if - not even a consideration here, but very possible - they could have become ATTRACTED to each other by way of the man making her feel more feminine, and she providing a way to let him express more normal, natural masculinity?
What he could have done in conversation would have sounded more like, "Excuse me Miss, but there's a long line and I've been waiting lie everyone else here, sorry." In an ideally courteous, well-boundaried social world, she might have said, "I'm sorry" or perhaps he would have said, "No, here, take my place." But barring that, had she insisted on still cutting, he could have said, "Well I see why you'd jump in line - we're all so busy, and you look like a person with places to go for sure. You seem bright, you're definitely good-looking, and seem like a person who's classy and good to other people. Why would you go and ruin all that by offending all these people? Come on. Let's shake. My name's Jim. Maybe I could make it up to you some time by picking up your coat room tab somewhere else?"
To many, something like that might be irresistible - charming, funny, courteous, respectful, composed, and obviously interested in her, accepting of her oversight, and expectant of mature, civil behavior of her. Still we don't control the choices of others or the qualities of their boundaries, but you do the best that you can. Doing right by others means having good boundaries with them, but it does NOT mean stifling their natural masculine or feminine instincts inside the boundary. It means expressing BOTH. And what makes a guy a jerk, or a woman a bully is NOT the expression of their natural instincts. It's the absence of good boundaries that does, whether they are a man or a woman.
So in this way, boundaries are an equal opportunity situation for both men and women, not "typically male" or "typically female."
Navigating all this psychology - the balance between boundaries and instincts, ethics, freedom, choices, constructiveness, assertiveness, anger, fear, masculinity and femininity are all covered in a simple, practical, common sense way in the new Quantum Psychology at http://www.menspsychogy.com/quantum