Morning Meditations #122: Pity Parties and Book Reviews

MM 122
The first cool weather and real wood fire of the season. The last fires I built were on my summer meditation and writing retreat the past June. We roasted marshmallows, and Ivy played with burnt sticks to mark up the fence. So sweet.

I felt pretty low yesterday.  Kinda selfish considering I get to start a couple of classes this week, but I’ve used most of my financial aid available to undergraduates. Don’t know how I am going to afford it.  I guess I am lucky to get anything considering I have had a degree for 16 months now. Not that degrees do anybody any good if you have a wretched back but aren’t considered disabled. I had a compassionate guy from workforce a couple of days ago suggest that I volunteer in retail to get my foot in the door. I had to respond with undetected sarcasm to prevent self-loathing from setting in, “Whoa, I hadn’t thought of that yet.”Read More »

Some Old Advice May Have Spoiled

I am disappointed in an article I read on Psychology Today1. “5 Thoughts That Can Get You Through (Almost) Anything: Collected over a lifetime, advice to keep you moving forward.” I don’t think most of the points made in this are true and think a few are potentially harmful. I believe a saying such as, “Do the best you can,” is a very condescending piece of advice. What if my best isn’t good enough for my goals? Does that mean that if I am never good enough for any of my goals than I have to tell my self that my goals are just unreachable for a person like myself? (sounds horrible) That isn’t very helpful. These types of thoughts loops and dangers are why I wanted to review this article. I think Psychology Today is often right on the money, but when I read this, second or third thing this morning, I felt my “red flags” begin to wave with each passing “point.” I (almost) had to stop reading. Once I tried again, I began having more than five thoughts about how badly this post misses the mark and ends up being potentially harmful without inspection.

The five things are vaules most of us carry around anyway, and I think this post underestimates the intelligence of it’s audience. It is often dangerous when political correctness rears its ugly head once again in this country, as well, it would be a mistake to underestimate a clientele which is likely battling and thinking about bigger issues and more complex problems then “Do the best you can,” will be able to fix. I will cover that one and the four others and see if we can shed a little more light on what the article is trying to do. Maybe I can help get the proper message across. An extra brain on the job couldn’t hurt; I hope.

  1. Do what makes you feel best about yourself.”

What!? Okay, this open the door for all kinds of pathology. Often what makes people feel best about themselves is their addiction.2 To deal with reality outside of that addiction is often too painful, especially at later stages. This was why I (almost) stopped reading the first time through. I felt like the whole article must be pure poison at first glance. Yet, even if there is information we fear, the right thing to do is examine and press forward. This advice is pretty bad, but when we start combining some of these points, dangerous things start to evolve.

  1. Just do the best you can.”

I mentioned this earlier. This combines horribly with the first statement. “Well here is a challenge you could possibly fail; it will make you feel bad if you fail; you failed and feel bad. Don’t worry about it, as you did the best you could.” How does this meet the needs of a person. The theory of “Flow” (a well studied phenomenon3) requires a person to meet some challenges so that they may obtain feedback. Not to mention this leaves out the old saying, “try, try, again.” The author challenges us to find the pattern. I think I am starting to see one develop, danger.

  1. Set your own standards and work up to them.”

This isn’t so bad. Be careful that one isn’t influenced by the combination of the first two mistaking what your standards could be, for what they would be if you were invited to feel strong and dominate your challenges. There is also evidence that raising your standards for certain things can provide huge benefits for quality of life.4 This one is okay as long as you keep upping the bar for yourself, not past reasonable expectations, just make sure its up.

  1. Do what makes sense to you.”

Um, this sounds potentially dangerous. The mind is full of hallucinations. If we do what makes sense to us most of the time we will inevitably make life harder on ourselves. It can “make sense” to become a recluse and start blowing up mailboxes with people in front of them. It can “make sense” to kill your babies for Jesus5. (I literally looked this citation up on Google as I was writing, and it was the fifth entry for “killed children for Jesus news.”) I don’t think this translates into reality and will allow people to feel justified in their actions, even if they aren’t wise choices. This raises a tall, red flag of marketing strategy to sell products. Please tell us if you are trying to manipulate us to buy copies of your products. It feels dirty.

  1. Welcome mistakes and learn from them.”

This I agree with this “whole hardheartedly.6” Brené Brown has done over a decade of research and publishing on why the best lives are full of the ability to fail and recover, to become vulnerable without certainty of success. I would replace the word “welcome” with “embrace.” That makes much more sense.

This isn’t wisdom which I think is mysterious to most people. I think most of us use these types of idioms to take care of a couple surface issues and trivial things. You didn’t get a job after years of trying and putting everything you had into the effort. “You tried as hard as you could.” This does nothing for the crushing, and potentially career ending, events that happen to people in this condition. I know; I have been there. What worked in my situation had more to do with my loved ones telling me how awesome I am. Making suggestions of how to use that “awesomeness” to dominate other areas of life. I am glad the last one made good sense, but I encourage all of my readers to examine carefully the situation when applying any of these suggestions. Don’t settle on what you think you can do alone, trust others opinions of what they believe you are capable. Especially if they think you are more capable than you do. Those suggestions will likely raise you up, and who knows what your goals will become with such an amazing view.

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3.   Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. Print.

Communicating Love: A Book Review

This week I read a book entitled The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Dr. Gary Chapman. I did this in response to my girlfriend who is making crucial decisions concerning our relationship, her career, and the fringe responsibilities we all have surrounding the things we treasure. It isn’t often I write book reviews or ponder on the word “love,” but those are my two goals with this entry.

The Five Love Languages is directed at married couples rather than premarital relationships, but seems to apply to just about every type of relationship one could have in this life. The book centers around every person having one of five languages of love. This is defined as the way a person best shows and receives interpersonal communications of love. I seem an odd candidate to read this book. An obviously Christian authorship which can be seen from his other titles. Such catchy lables as The Love Languages of God and The Other Side of Love: Handling Anger in a Godly Way (quite a claim on that second one). Then you only have to consider the fact that I don’t believe in love, at least not in the context of a great many, to notice there doesn’t seem to be an avenue for me to embrace this book like many of my favorite texts. Yet, it touched me deeply.

Now, before all of the silent objections begin, I was in no way converted. The religious sentiments did not come up often, and were most evident in the anecdotes, as his subjects often went to church, and in the chapter end notes which were mostly scriptural references. There was a much more aggressive nod to God, but I’ll cover that later. The truth be told, I found myself affirmed in the hard determinism which has made life so much more simple and livable. His tone and style had a mostly-scientific feel, and his intent of making marriages last wafted with stout integrity. I liked the guy. I would later tell my partner that “I wonder if I secretly wrote half of it without knowing.” He spoke of ideas and themes which I value at the highest level. He writes of the connection of commitment and forgiveness, and this also is one of my principle assertions, as well as the value of being first being in a relationship to make a large change as a springboard for fulfillment; the value of being vulnerable is a springboard for life. So from the get-go, I was engaged and one of his audience.

This is a good moment to say admit the reason my girlfriend wanted me to read the book. Things have been rocky for a long time. We have been firm in our desire to be with each other for the foreseeable future and beyond, but that hadn’t stopped the miscommunication and angry, harsh exchanges. We were all but done. We made a bit of a turn around which included a long conversation held on a bench on the west side of Wilson Park, the corner of the trail, and a subsequent joyful dinner at Hugo’s (both local hot spots for good times).

Taking to the book quickly meant tears quickly. He spoke of people being so out of touch with feeling loved that they sort of forgot what it is that makes them feel loved by others. He refers to this as the “love tank.” I admittedly rolled my eyes at that one, but being a fiction writer, the desire to suspend criticism held fast. He uses his anecdotal evidence from counseling sessions to illustrate just how learning and applying the languages work. I wasn’t overcome with tears constantly, but from what I hear during testimonials and my own mate’s difficulty with reading it, one could expect several tear breaks as things and stories from the book hit different folks with varying levels of emotional intensity. I found myself in study mode from the beginning and even that didn’t keep me from emotional investment.

Going on any further without revealing the languages would be silly so I’ll do that here.

  1. Words of Affirmation: these are support statements to someone when they do something selfless for their mate or family. Things like, “You did an amazing paint job on the bedroom, thank you.” or “The car looks amazing, thanks for washing it.” People who speak this language will feel most loved when they are told with words of affection that they are supporting the shared invironment.

  2. Quality Time: this language is used by those that wish for undivided attention in order to feel loved. This is my daughter’s language at first guess (he mentions his belief that this is also his daughter’s primary love language; I think the evidence that he and I are a lot a like on many levels becomes nearly overwhelming by the time I finished the book). This type of lover will not feel as loved as when you are giving them personal attention with conversation, board games, over dinner, etc.

  3. Receiving Gifts: this is fairly self explanatory language. These people communicate love through the giving of gifts. He makes a good point that this doesn’t mean buying a bunch of stuff to throw at loved ones. Gifts given from a pure place for another fits his attitude better. He acknowledges that gifts crafted or made by hand fit the bill just as well assuming that is the dialect of this language spoken.

  4. Acts of Service: this language is composed of acts rather than gestures or vocalization. This is described as tasks which provide the communication of love. Washing the car, dishes, vacuuming are all examples given in his anecdotes of people using “acts of service.” I am sure we all can think of many more.

  5. Physical Touch: this language consists of all the different ways in which someone can achieve psychical connection. Everything is talked about in this category from sexual intercourse to shoulder rubs to holding hands. It is also mentioned that this is language most men believe they fall under, but it is also revealed he firmly disagrees with that assessment.

The brilliance in this book and the reason I’ve told people that it is a “very smart book,” is that he never claims that learning these will solve all the problems with communication. He states clearly that these are only tools, and if applied, may drastically change the way a partner or spouse will begin to treat and react to you. What he does not mention is when you start using these tools one begins to see themselves differently. I found that as the surprise effect the book had on me.

The lens of a loved one is the most scrupulous. When your partner starts to react in a positive way the mirror which you begin to observe the self through becomes a place of excitement and pride. My partner is reacting to me with excitement, and in a truly unexpected turn, she is now the one who from time to time is questioning her value in the relationship, her ability to meet my standards (fortunately she is reading the book as I write). What an incredible change. This is truly the work of a gifted writer mixed with an observant counselor. That being said, I do have some major issues.

I did not like that there wasn’t a single anecdote of failure. His life and everyone that ever listened to him according to this book lives happily ever after. This is a false depiction of life. The only way that anyone has ever failed who sought his council had to look “love” in the face a walk a way. This raises flags warning concerning intent. “Life is pain… Anyone who says different is selling something.” (Dread Pirate Roberts, Princess Bride) Low and behold, he is selling a book. This isn’t a bad thing, but he hides that intent behind principles of benign religiousness, and it just feels rotten that he would do that to sell a few extra copies. After pouring his heart out about being a born again Christian he reminds everyone, “I would be pleased if you would give a copy of this book to your family, to your brothers and sisters, to your married children (phew, I get out of this one), to your employees (dodged another bullet), to those in your civic club or church or synagogue.” (191) How many copies is that again? My book says that it is $13.99 on the back cover. Well, that would total, in my situation, $125.91 before tax. I bet he wants me to do that. I hope all of you donate the same sum under the same parameters to me for my spectacular blogging skills. The funny thing is the very next book I started to read is a book about potential alien biology and culture. That author asks that you read the questions he poses, and take the “spirit” of the text out, and ask the questions of your social groups. Why is Christianity so tied up with capitalism: answer Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and The ‘Spirit’ of Capitalism.”

Unfortunately for Dr. Chapman the god thing didn’t come through as the body text itself in very secular, and when I looked at my life, my parents’ lives, I see only hard determinism as described in his book. The facts he presents display that we can condition each other to respond to “love” in a controlled way. Chapter 10 “Love is a Choice” (yes, I must have written half of this under hypnosis) describes how we make the choice to love despite what we think of as compatibility with our mate. We are high apes. One ape works with another on most levels. You put the work in, you can handle almost any other person. If both of your goals line up and y’all like to “bump uglies,” all it takes is effort after that. Seriously that simple. It helps, of course, to have good tools. Dr. Chapman has provided those without fail.

I suggest this book to anyone having relationship issues or trouble finding love. Whether an antitheist like myself, or born again Jew, there are far reaching applications of the ideas within this book. There is even a nod towards children at the end, and I saw immediate and multi-day results when applied. I don’t think you’ll have to pay the fourteen bucks. I gave it to the very person who gave me her copy finding it at a local thrift store for $1.07, and I am sure Amazon is rife with used copies. I don’t mind publishing the price even though I gave it to my One. She and I are speaking our love at an unprecedented rate these days, and she loves a good bargain.

Works Cited

Chapman, Gary D. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Chicago: Northfield Pub., 1995. Print.

The Princess Bride. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 1987. DVD.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism. London: Penguin, 2002. Print.