A Thought Adventure

Saturday, April 9, 2016

41. Conclusion

On your mark!
We already live in a time when the gender roles are in flux. The concept of femininity has been expanding for several decades and the concept of masculinity has reached a crisis. Humanity marches on and old verities don't apply anymore. To be born in the body of one sex no longer means that you have to live in any particular way.

As old boundaries are loosening, and how to live is becoming a matter of individual choice, one thing becomes clear: it's on ourselves we need to turn the spotlight. Because it's the thoughts, feelings and attitudes we are least conscious of that most need changing. (A free test of our unconscious biases is 
available on www.projectimplicit.com ).

Many people deny that sexism still exists. One reason may be that they don't even know they are sexists. Few of us really chose to become that way, we just grew up with it. Having come to believe that women are inferior to them, men more or less take for granted that being sexist is the normal and natural way to relate to women. And women who resent the inferior position of their sex take for granted that being sexist in reverse is the normal and natural way to relate to men.

It’s not that we want to be this way, it just has become a habit so ingrained as to seem like a substance in the blood. But it is not in our blood! Only in our heads. And these we can turn around. So if we really want to change that habit, what we need is really effective methods. For starters maybe confronting the uncomfortable truth that because of our upbringing (plus unfamiliarity with the contents of our unconscious) we have indeed all, women and men, been grossly unfair both to ourselves and each other.

For a man this could mean seeing that the real reason why he hits his wife is not anything she does or says, but an anger at her sex born of his unconscious fear of female power. For a woman it could mean becoming aware that the deepest reason why she always finds fault with her husband is not anything he does or doesn’t do, but a generic anger at the male sex.

But let's give ourselves some slack. It's not our fault that we were born and bred in a sexist society. That children must take over their elders’ view of the world is an inescapable part of the human condition. As is the fact that it takes at least a quarter of our lifetime to form our own view--and even longer to assert it. So let's just accept this. Then go on to forgive ourselves and each other for the past realizing that we simply couldn't help it.

As adults, however, we can help how we act, because we can decide if we want to stay in the worldview we've inherited, or to modify it or discard it. Everybody has the inner resources to do so, although the outer conditions may not be accessible to everyone everywhere. (As for instance in places where having a mind of your own means imprisonment or death). At the same time we can't defend our present behavior by referring to how we were brought up or what was 'done' to us in the past. Once grown up we act as we choose to act, consciously or unconsciously. To passively follow a prevailing pattern is a choice too.

Get set, go!
Before discussing what constitutes a healthy non-sexist behavior we have to answer a key question. Why do we hold on to the tragic old misconception of what it means to be human that was implicit already in the world's first organized religion and which is still haunting us today? Keeping in mind that the way we see ourselves is the way we look at everybody else, hasn’t the time come to produce a fairer, more constructive description of ourselves?

Let's face it: we were not meant to be perfect nor do we need to be. Life for us is a never-ending experiment, trial and error, a road not yet taken, bound to be lined with mistakes. But mistakes are not wrongs. They are steppingstones to new insights, chances to learn new and better ways.

So let's throw out the window all the negative baloney we're jam-packed with: you can't, you shan't. you're wrong, you're not worth it, etc. And in with affirmations, like we deserve respect, we deserve happiness, it's the birthright of every human being to thoroughly enjoy life.

Human beings want to live as the animals do, from inside out following their own species-appropriate kind of life. If held up to impossible standards like perfection, we will react with righteous rage and destructiveness. As will any elephant forced to walk on a tight-rope! Einstein put it this way, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking it is stupid."

Writes Tomas Tranströmer in his poem Romanesque arches,
"Don't be ashamed to be a human being, be proud!
Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.
You'll never be complete, and that's as it should be."


What then is healthy non-sexist behavior? A topic worth brainstorming about! Perhaps something like emotionally adult behavior? One that displays a fair balance between the male and female components of the psyche--harmonizing feeling and thinking, passion and reason, spontaneity and reflection. In more concrete terms: being able to live with uncertainty, comfortable in the knowledge that there are no pat answers or any truths that last forever.

Maybe establishing a reasonably stable center inside oneself so as to allow—even exult in—continuous change and growth. Also flexible enough to admit when we are wrong and, instead of indulging in guilt for some mistake, going on from there to make a better choice next time. Or as the embroidery says on a cushion in the home of one of my friends, “A woman who can’t change her mind probably doesn’t have one.”

Conflicts will never cease coming up—for they are natural ingredients in human interaction--but we can change the way we look at them. Especially if we use one of the superb human assets, our sense of humor, and especially if we direct it at ourselves. One day, I'm convinced, we'll not see conflicts as incentives to hostile encounters but as invitations to stimulating contests and new chances to probe our resources. To become, in the words of American psychologist Abraham Maslow, "everything we are capable of becoming."

I predict a future, however long in coming, when we regard the use of force as lunatic behavior; when, rather than project our discord onto others, we start by tracing its causes back to ourselves and the circumstances that formed us. When we realize that the only important thing is what's going on in our mind and become open to another way of seeing. This is what the spiritual movement A Course in Miracles talks about, for by 'miracle' they mean a shift in perception.

Or as Fridtjof Nansen, Nobel Prize Laureate in 1922, said (according to the magnet I bought at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm), "The impossible is what takes a little longer."


But what am I saying? Am I some kind of Rousseau who believes human beings are naturally good, just perverted by culture? Another Pollyanna who thinks we can live without pain and suffering? Isn’t it rather natural to feel guilty and sinful at times, and aren’t there values and goals worth sacrificing for?

Of course it's appropriate to feel ashamed if we've done what we know we shouldn’t have (whether we want to label it 'sin' is a matter of taste). And some sacrifice may indeed be needed for tasks worthy of pursuing--like setting aside our comfort and waving farewell to rationalizations and defenses. What I want us to steer clear of is the metaphysical overtones to our guilt, the doomsday atmosphere created by overlords we think we must pay fealty to. We're not to blame for half the things we accuse ourselves of (though maybe for some others!) nor are we responsible for having been brainwashed at a time in our personal life (or in history) when we'd not yet come into our own.

Our only allegiance is to what we know within to be the right way; and if we need the guidance of some religious belief to find it, that of course is a choice. The essential thing is to act at nobody else's urging but our own, since we alone are accountable for the course of our life. The work we must do is with ourselves. It's about unmasking our own self-deception. I don’t know if we can eliminate suffering, but I'm sure we can learn to live with considerably less of it than we do now.

In case we’re afraid to challenge established ways of thinking, let’s recall Nelson Mandela’s words when he was inaugurated as president of South Africa, “The need to subordinate ourselves is not only an outdated response to fear but a way of escaping from responsibility, a wish not to face the iron law that we, and only we, alone or in groups, are the creators of our life and our world."

Rather than a Rousseau or a Pollyanna, what I think I am is an existentialist. I believe we are responsible for the choices we make, including what we do with the contents of our unconscious. Optimist as I am I predict that the time will come when we realize that we only see enemies in others because we're not friends with ourselves, and only need power over others because we don’t have power over ourselves.

We can change. Some have done it and more will follow.


                                                               the end

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