Thursday, January 10, 2013

Get the electronic version of "So Dad, What Makes a Man?" at your favorite vendor

Masculine versus Feminine

I invite you to try this with someone you know:  Give them a quarter, a dime and a nickel.  Ask them to compare the coins, then listen to whether they first say how the coins are different, or, alike, or, some combination of both.

There is no correct answer, only evidence that as individuals we make different initial judgments about the same information. I once thrived on people's differences by rejecting people who believed differently than me--sometimes on a single issue. An old Webster's College Dictionary defines unreasonable feelings, emotions, and opinions of a hostile nature regarding national, racial or religious groups as "prejudice." These days prejudice seems quite fashionable. It certainly was for me when I was young.

The trendy refusal to ignore other people's similarities is like not noticing that those coins in the above comparison are all money, all round and made of metal, and all marked with "The United States of America," "E PLURIBUS UNUM," "Liberty" and "In God We Trust."

In the introduction to So Dad, What Makes a Man? I say some of the country's male political leaders disappoint me, right before admitting I spent my first half of life following the footsteps of my father, who was very comfortable with polarization. He and I were convinced of the rightness of our opinions.  

Differences were important then because they manifested competition--by differentiating my college classmates by grade point, my military enemies by uniform, my corporate status and my company's products by performance.  In all of those, from college beginning in 1962 through my corporate life ending in 1991, my only competitors were men.  

To be successful among men, my father taught me to be competitive, aggressive, logical, cool-headed and ambitious. . . pretty much the opposite of how he viewed women: emotional, accepting, care-givers, submissive, and nurturing. Yet when my midlife crisis arrived, what I most desired was to know who I was, and, to have better relationships and a spiritual life. I have worked on that since by exploring the qualities within me that Dad had assigned only to women. My accomplishments differentiate me from men, while sharing a common emotion unites us. For example, revealing our grief following the senseless murders in Newtown, Connecticut.  

The more I explore my inner life the more its complexity fascinates me--from learning my preference of similarities in initial comparisons from the coin game, to finding that others don't cause my anger and I don't cause theirs. My mind is the most intriguing, where thought processes take place among billions of neurons that have trillions of connections.  

My father used to warn me not to listen to other people's opinions because they would "mess with my mind." Dr. Lee Roy Beach in The Psychology of Narrative Thought: How the Stories We Tell Ourselves Shape Our Lives, (2010) says as a social creature, I listen to those around me, and from what I hear, whether a political ad or my best friend, I constantly revise how the world works, what has happened, and what might happen. Either I accept what I hear unquestioningly, or reject it, or accept it provisionally or in part.  My reality is my truth. That is how I make sense of things.

So my challenge to relate better to God and others and to know myself, is to better understand my memories, perceptions, imagination and decision making. Decisions that I make involve my feelings and emotions and are value judgments, i.e., choices that reveal more about my values, fears and memories than about the reality of what is. My spiritual growth also depends on awareness and knowledge of my emotions.  Without these, I cannot practice, for example, St. Ignatius's Examen, that he considered the bedrock of Jesuit men's growth.  

Some women I know who are crossing over from their "traditional" characteristics give me courage to do likewise, by exploring characteristics within me my father found feminine.