Day 105: The Man and the Virtue of Patience; ‘Waiting’

fingers-waiting

Can waiting ever be an active experience?

Think of all the times in your life you’ve had to wait for something. Waiting in line. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for your number or name or table. Waiting for the world to change. What else did you do during the wait? How did waiting become so all-encompassing when it’s so…passive?

Waiting isn’t exactly something we do or seek out to do. It sort of just..happens to us. Nobody wants to wait. It’s the promised reward on the other end of that investment of time and energy that we seek. But often times the wait time feels like it’s longer and sometimes it may in fact be. So between ourselves and our goal there is this significant portion of time that we just let slip away. What can we do with that time?

vulturesYou’re sitting in your dentist’s waiting room, as I happen to be right now while writing this, and you’re surrounded by wrinkled old copies of People magazine and Us and Time. Instrumental versions of pop songs play softly on hidden speakers. You open your phone’s app hoping that your dentist office is popular enough to be a Pokestop. It isn’t. You count your breaths but you become so aware of it that you lose your rhythm and fear you’ll pass out so you try and think of something else again. Your prophylaxis is going to take perhaps all of 45 minutes to an hour depending on how well you’ve been flossing but at least during that time your teeth are getting cleaned. You will spend an equal amount of time waiting in the lobby and in what way will your life have improved from it?

I have a problem with waiting. It’s not productive. It’s not conducive to anything. It’s painfully slow and passive and yet it’s such a big part of our daily lives. We often define our experiences based on how long we waited for something. ‘I waited forever to see this show!’ ‘We waited for an hour on the runway.’ ‘I’ve been waiting for half an hour for you to finally get here.’ (I’m so bad at timing dates, I’m so sorry.) It’s there and it’s inevitable despite all of our efforts to alleviate either the length or the strain of waiting. There are Fast Passes and advanced reservations and pre-orders to try and bypassHate Waitign.gif the wait. We inundate ourselves with mobile games and trashy magazines and poor programming to distract us from the wait. How is Steve Harvey on five different programs at the same time in every single medical office? We add up those hours and half hours and forevers and eventually we’re going to have a very large amount of time with nothing to answer for it.

Trying to sidestep waiting by either trying to anticipate it or direct focus away from it is like digging a hole in the sand at the beach and thinking it’ll keep your feet dry. No matter what you do or how deep you dig, the tide is going to get you. So you’ve built your hole. The water seeped in. Why do we just jump out and then go right back to digging another hole? There’s got to be a way to use all of this waiting we all have to deal with. Is there a way to capitalize on the wait time not to distract ourselves but to better prepare for what it is we are in anticipation of?

ko.jpgI think of when I am waiting for a reservation at this restaurant I must be dying to get into. You know what I do while I wait for my name? I study the menu. I watch the food going by. I try to smell all the different ingredients in the air. I listen to orders. I slobber and froth in such rapturous anticipation that when it’s finally time to sit down I have invested wholly and completely in the experience. I wasn’t distracting myself. I mean I did minimize it a bit by calling in a reservation but I knew the wait would be inevitable in whatever scope it ended up being. But I used it as the beginning of the experience, not just the huge void before it.

So there’s the rub. I realize now that what I really have before me is a 365 waiting period before even considering my next relationship. The anticipation and the desire is there. It’s not unbearable like I’m going to jump on the first person who says hello to me, but I know it’s something I want and there it stands on the other end of the gap and I need to figure out the best way to fill in the void.

I’ve enjoyed all of my little mini excursions and my new hobbies. I still will definitely dedicate time and energy to those. But without taking away from their value or new significance in life, can I say that they are in any way improving what I am looking at from the other side of the waiting line? How does a single person not in a relationship, not seeking one, yet still wanting one in the future, prepare himself as best as he can for what he eagerly awaits? Am I using the most of this time for that purpose? There are a lot of things I can do and accomplish in a year. I have set goals of improvement and achievement personally, professionally, and in relationships with friends and family. But at the end of the year I’ll be kicked out of this world and into a different one, one I wanted to be a part of to begin with, but will I be more or less prepared than I was to begin with.

There are plenty of articles and videos on how those in relationships can improve them in the moment and that’s wonderful but they don’t apply to those who are single. And then there are also plenty of articles and videos aimed at single people about ‘working on yourself’ and ‘loving those around you’ and ‘don’t worry about love’ and all those other exhausting ‘don’t rush it and enjoy life’ and the like. Yeah, I get it. I’m not feeling pressured, I’m not rushing, I don’t lament my current status, I know no one can complete my story but myself. I’m saying even as a single person I can recognize that this is an area I would like to improve in even if I have no reference point. And if I was at the stage when it was time to start looking I know there are plenty of apps and sites and even more articles and videos on what to do to increase your chances of finding someone and where and how and when. But what about a single person who wants to just focus on being a better partner.

I don’t know. It’s an interesting concept. One I’ll have to think about more and explore. How to make a single guy a better boyfriend. How to prepare for a relationship. Single person’s guide to being the best for your imaginary hypothetical future would be partner. Maybe there’s value in taking that dance class on your own. Rather than learning how to step together, you can already be prepared to sweep her off her feet.

Day 105

Man: 85 Loneliness: 20

Day 101: The Man and the Manliness of Praise P.5; ‘Candle’

‘Virtues are acquired through endeavor, which rests wholly upon yourself. So, to praise others for their virtues can but encourage one’s own efforts.’

– Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine.jpgFor the final part of my series on praise I would like to discuss the act of praise in particular as it pertains to men. I’d also like to issue a warning about the efficacy of praise and the discretion of its use. And finally I’d like to issue a challenge to everyone to become a bit more active in their mindset of praise. We’ve got a lot to go over people so let’s get started.

 

 

The Manliness of Praise

Though I know the majority of my readers are women (as seems prevalent among the blogging community) I cannot ignore the fact that I am a guy and I feel that more men should be able to write and find community and find relevant posts for themselves. And though I may direct this portion towards men in particular I believe there could be benefit in everyone reading this, as it does not necessarily only apply to men and it can also help understand a bit of the male psyche.

I believe that while men may have no issues giving or receiving praise from women, we are particularly restrained when it comes to praising our fellow man. I know I have definitely shared more positive words with women than I have with men and I believe this could be true for many others. The causes for this I think are rooted within our views of masculinity and other men.

See for the most part, guys view others guys primarily as competition versus ally, which is man2man.jpgusually the reverse for women. We are still tuned to want to hunt and provide and fear the scarcity of resources, including praise and success. For many men success, respect, and praise are all ‘points’ to be won and to offer someone praise is to ‘give up’ precious points. Yes, it is true that praising someone is to recognize that they particularly excel either in a particular skill, characteristic, or trait. But success isn’t a game to be won and simply because someone excels in something does not mean there are no opportunities for you to excel in the same thing or something else altogether. The truth of the matter is respect is something we have plenty of to go around and offering praise, while raising one person, does nothing to lower another. In fact the man you are praising most likely doesn’t even think to keep ‘score’ with you so this worry that prevents you from sharing some positivity with your fellow man is just keeping a valuable asset out of the hands of someone who might really need that affirmation.

Further, I challenge men to consider that it is actually the higher man who is able to comfortably, confidently, and consistently offer his fellow men words of praise. Humility, self-awareness, and the desire for improvement are all valuable traits to have in anyone, regardless of gender. Especially for a man who might be hesitant to offer a compliment because of lowering his value I say that it actually shows you to be someone who possesses these three traits. It is honorable for a man to be able to find excellence in others and respect and recognize them for it. Further it shows that he has thought about the traits he wishes to possess and it portrays it in his search for examples of such. Often times offering a kind word can also open the door to improvement. Praising someone for something you admire and wish to also possess can facilitate growth in the greatest way – by finding someone whose example you can follow either in the form of formal tutelage or in spirit.

I also believe that when it comes to men and the manliness of praise, praising another person in particular for their values also reflects positively on the one praising. Remember ‘it takes one to know one’? When you genuinely and sincerely and specifically praise someone for their values or virtues and it is convincing and thorough, you are also broadcasting that you too are someone who recognizes this trait and strives to possess it in its highest form as well. When you can honestly and without judgement or fear of feeling lesser or inferior recognize the great values and traits of others, you are indirectly glimpsing at the greatest version of yourself in various forms. It keeps you focused on your goals and directs your mindset to be seeking and improving on these aspects yourself.

A Warning on the Efficacy of Praise

As powerful and as positive as praise can be, when used improperly it can also be praise.jpgdestructive and have negative effects. For one, remember that praise is first and foremost for the benefit of the one being praised. Any ulterior motive or agenda, wither implicit or explicit, detracts from the value, the worth, and the sincerity of the act. This can jade our opinion of others and make us feel wary or suspicious of any kind words. It also reflects a manipulative and less than honorable image for the one who uses praise for their own benefit. So always be forthcoming with your words and intentions. Sometimes we may also be tempted to offer praise even to someone who may not necessarily deserve it simply because we wish to be kind or perhaps because we think they need it. While the person may honestly need some words of encouragement, if you are not careful to choose something truly noteworthy and simply make something up, you could make this person feel worse than if you had said nothing at all. Remember that the efficacy of accepting and internalizing praise is also predicated on if we believe that we truly deserved it or not. If they don’t deserve praise for that particular thing but you still wish to say something positive, choose something else. Undeserved praise serves no one in any way. And finally, in regards to back-handed compliments, remember that a compliment should be a compliment and an insult should be delivered to the front of the person, and not to their back. If someone is feeling particularly proud or excited about something and you decide it’s up to you to restore ‘balance’ with your back-handed compliment you could seriously damage their self-esteem or their enthusiasm. Praise positively, peeps.

A Challenge

Yes, I believe it is time we all put our money where our mouths are, so I am issuing this challenge to you all for the weekend with the understanding that I will of course also be engaging in it as well.

The challenge is simple. It deals with changing our negative mindsets to find the positives in our every day and then actively sharing what we see. Over the course of the weekend, preferably once a day, compliment the following people in your life:

  • A family member or friend: This is the easiest one of course, but it is also a great way to strengthen your relationship with the ones you love.
  • A co-worker: For most of us these are the people we will spend the second most amount of time in our lives with so it certainly wouldn’t hurt to improve relations and morale with your office mates.
  • A business you patronize: In a world of TripAdvisor and Yelp and viral reviews it’s a shame that we are more likely to share complaints and negative experiences over positive ones. Your local business thrives on word of mouth and needs the support of the community to survive. Try to spread a good word about a business you frequent not only on some form of media but with friends, family, or even just let them know you think they’re doing a great job.
  • A young person or beginner in some field: Remember from the early on in the series that the young and the novices are the ones who benefit from positive encouragement the most. So take some time to provide that boost of confidence they need to believe in themselves.
  • A stranger: Perhaps one of the hardest to do and yet the easiest in terms of finding something to compliment. Brighten someone’s day with as simple a remark as ‘I love your tie or shoes or etc’. Try to be specific to show that you are genuine and paying attention.

Thus concludes ManVsLoneliness’s seminar on praise. Hahah. I hope it helped in some way and I hope you take on this challenge.

Day 101

Man: 81 Loneliness: 20

Uh…candle.

Day 100: The Man and the Hundred Day Update

On a side note, I can’t believe it’s been 100 days!

Yes, it does mean that 100 days ago my relationship with Beautiful ended, and that was a very tough time for me emotionally. But it means so much more than just a timeline of heartbreak. I’ve been single and pretty happy and secure for 100 days. I’ve been writing for 100 days. At an average word count of about 1,000 words, that means I’ve written around 100,000 words! I don’t think I’ve ever written so much in such a consistent way over such a long period of time. They might not always be the best words but they’ve always been my words; genuine, authentic, purposeful words. For 100 days I have been moving ever forward and I’ve found my little niche in this enormous community where my words can find a home and even an audience. For 100 days I have been reflecting and learning and growing.

So I look at my M/L ratio so far, and I see I’ve had 80 days for Man and 20 days for Loneliness. That’s not too bad, I should think. If we break it down, it does still mean that I have a bummer day every 5 days. That’s still like, one or two a week depending. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it that way, but it’s interesting for me at least to think of the past three months in that way. Obviously it hasn’t been as consistent as just one a week. For the most part, the bad days came often times in a row. A slump to get over. It makes me wonder though at the end of the road, what my days will look like. I’ve never quantified them in this way. Thinking of how many good or bad days I’ve had to experience. I hope in the end I could say I had a bad day in every ten, or maybe even thirty days. I think that would be a very satisfying life.

What I have learned though is that my enemy was not who I thought it was. In the very beginning, Loneliness was the by-product of my breakup. I felt Loneliness in the void Beautiful left in my life. It was the bad reminder of good times long gone, like the charred remains after a house fire. I feared anything that would remind me of her or my relationship, so for a while I lived a shell of a life in isolated sanctuaries I knew she hadn’t yet entered. But I can’t live my life afraid of being burned by a fire that has already passed. So I moved on. Yet Loneliness remained. So I thought it was because I was without a relationship. But I have surrounded myself more now than ever with friends and family. I have been learning to cherish and appreciate these other relationships in my life. I could balance time with others and have time to myself to be alone but not lonely. So I have relationships right now to keep me happy and fulfilled. Yet, Loneliness remains. And now I’m beginning to see that I can sort of see the silhouette of what it is I feel so lonely for. This special, higher, much more intimate relationship. I’m beginning to reflect more on what it is I want in a relationship. I’m not just chasing the shadows of images confusing them for the real thing. I want to investigate the nature of what I want. And now those moments when Loneliness wins, it’s not so bad. It’s a bittersweet reminder of the intense feelings that come from being alive and having loved and having lost. Loneliness is the cloud from which there would otherwise be no silver lining.

I don’t know why but recently I’ve been on a serious binge of really sappy love songs on Spotify. I’d come into work and turn on my computer, log into Spotify, and almost immediately Celine Dion is playing. They don’t write love songs like they used to anymore. Celine Dion, Boz Skaggs, Lionel Richie, those love songs you feel in your heart versus your pelvis. Recently I’ve been having more dreams with these mysterious dream girls. Always different, never the same, never even someone I know. Just these various versions of what I’m looking for. Last night she had long hair and was short and we met in martial arts class. The other night she had short hair and had this pale skin like the full moon and she let me rest my head on her lap. I used to hate these dreams because I’d wake up and focus on not having these things but now I wake up and love how much I want them. I’m not gonna lie I’m almost itching to get back to dating. But I can see so much of the benefits of this time away that I don’t want to stop. There is value and worth in discretion and discipline. I knew it would be difficult and I knew I’d want to get back real soon but I thought it would be out of fear and desperation. Instead I find it’s out of excitement and enthusiasm and wonderful curiosity.

Beside the fact, I wouldn’t even know where to fit dating into my life again at this time. Hahah. What started as attempts to drive loneliness and fear and insecurity from my mind as distractions have become genuine interests and passions. My days are full of activity and growth. On Mondays and Thursdays I’m taking boxing classes. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and sometimes Fridays I am still going to martial arts. On Fridays if I’m not there I’m hanging out with friends or going out on my own. This Friday I’m seeing Kurios with a friend and her family. On Saturdays I am almost always either with friends or family. Sundays are my days to myself to rest and recuperate or to enjoy my own company doing the things that I love, fully comfortable on my own. I cook more. Next week I am planning a meal for my family and I can’t wait to cook and take pictures and moreover I can’t wait to share with you all a post I already have planned about what cooking has taught me about life. I am blogging now almost every single day and that takes up a good amount of time. Quality content doesn’t come easily or quickly and I’m still trying to find it. I’ve taken up archery. I even built my own target stand. I try to shoot 100 arrows a day to develop my muscle memory, my eyesight, and my instincts (no fancy equipment or sights here). I thought my life was defined by my relationships and that without it I would only be left with silence and thoughts. Instead I find that without a relationship to define me I am filling in the blanks with my own interests and values and spending my time defining myself for myself.

I won’t lie, I miss having someone though. I still fall ever so slightly in love with every beautiful woman who looks my way. But there’s no pressure to do anything about it. I’m not killing myself not having it. Just enjoying that rush and that feeling. I miss having someone’s hand to hold as I walk through the special and wonderful places and times of my life. I miss hearing sweet words directed at me. I miss a beautiful woman’s laughter right next to my ear. The unmistakable sugary flowery sweet smell of a woman’s perfume on my pillow. I miss the gaze of a woman who can see into my soul and see her world. I miss it because I want it. I refrain because I want to earn it. I write these clumsy words because I want to remember how to cherish it.

Day 100

Man: 80 Loneliness: 20

Day 100 Supplemental: The Man and the Ill-Meaning Praise P.4; ‘Clumsy’

Elvis Costello.jpgI was out on a date one night back in the heyday of my Tinder, okCupid, and CoffeeMeetsBagel craze when the girl I was with told me I was (and I quote) ‘the heaviest guy she would still find cute’. Now…correct me if you think I’m wrong…but I’m almost positive she was trying to compliment me. I think in her head she was thinking ‘oh yeah, that went perfectly’. I’m pretty sure she was trying to make me hear ‘I think you’re cute’ but what I did hear was ‘you’re not too fat yet chubby!’ Okay the chubby was harsh, even for the imaginary her in my hypothetical mind. But still.

We have all been on at least one side of the ‘back-handed compliment’. Some of us may Kate Winslet.jpghave given these very such passive-aggressive remarks before in the past, others of us may have been the unwilling and unwitting recipients, and a good number of us will have at one point or another been on both sides in different situations. We may not always be aware our good intentions are being marred by adding just a bit too much information or we may be very, very much aware that we are trying not so subtly to jab at the person when we deliver our contempt masked as a compliment.

We’re not all evil and cruel creatures. But we might think like them sometimes. Our negative-focused minds may not know how to give an honest compliment without lacing Billie Piper.gifit with a bit of bitter cynicism simply because we aren’t even aware we are doing it in the first place. Our propensity to focus on the negative aspects of things may be why sometimes we can’t help but add a little backhanded slap to the face when we’re really trying to offer a pat on the shoulder. The problem is back-handed compliments very rarely feel like praise and most always are heard as criticisms and insult. Remember that while your mind is sub-consciously focusing on delivering the negativity, your poor unfortunate recipient is very consciously focused on receiving it.

I believe one of the reasons why we might purposely give a back-handed compliment is a sense of ‘balance’ or a fear of ‘imbalance’. You may feel a certain level of insecurity or competition with this person. Giving a compliment to someone elevates their status, at the very least in your eyes. Praise literally ‘lifts’ a person up. We might not want to, by extension, feel below someone, so we purposely wrap our well-meaning praise with a bit of criticism to drag that person straight back down.

Now to be fair, criticism does have its use and necessity in society as well. We can’t just go around telling each other how incredible we are. That’s how we end up with things like ‘participation trophies’ and believe me, there isn’t a single part of me that agrees with or patrick-stumpappreciates those. Yes we all need to be realistic about ourselves and should be able to take criticism as well as compliments. The problem is back-handed compliments are neither. They aren’t the positive, image reinforcing, inspiring messages that genuine praise should be. Nor are they the constructive, well-meaning, productive messages of criticism that help to direct our efforts towards improvement and betterment. Back-handed compliments are stuck in the middle and they do a rubbish job on either side. If you mean to criticize someone, criticize them openly and honestly for actual effect and appreciation. When praising someone, especially in an area that you are perhaps passionate in or have some expertise in, resist also the temptation to give someone a back-handed compliment because you think it might diminish your status or stature in that field. Helping to raise someone up by recognizing their efforts does nothing to conversely lower your own contributions. It is simply addressing and acknowledging something that already exists and is already true.

I do also believe that there are times when we are aware of our actions and have no desire or intention of being positive or giving praise at all. A back-handed compliment is really just a subtle insult for someone who for whatever reason a) has some desire to bring you down and b) wants to avoid direct confrontation. Passive-aggressive jabs like this are common, and, not to be sexist or anything, hilarious when it’s between women. I mean…how many times have you heard…

‘I love how you can just wear anything and not worry about it.’

‘You look great in this picture. It must have been a really nice camera.’

‘Usually that looks terrible on people with your body type. But you made it work.’

These are without a doubt some funny and not so subtly hidden jabs but they’re still terrible. Whatever happened to the golden rule, people?! Don’t forget. If you have nothing good to say, don’t try to say it in a good way.

Aside from the first one I shared with you, I’ve been the recipient of plenty of these kinds of compliments that I am not too embarrassed or too proud to share.


‘I knew someone your size would know good places to eat.’ Uhm…there MAY be a correlation but I don’t need you HIGHLIGHTING it. How about just thanking me for the great recommendations.

‘You were too smart to be a teacher anyways.’ I don’t even know how to process this. There MAY be some well-meaning comfort behind this since this was right after I chose to leave education. But you insulted a career I had a passion for, and had I decided to soldier on or go back, have implied that I’d be stupid to do so.

‘Your English is incredible.’ Yo. I was BORN here. My parents weren’t and they STILL speak better than some people I’ve met.

‘You’re a great cook, you dress well, you’re incredibly articulate, are you sure you’re not gay?’ Thank you, thank you, thank you, and WHAT. Listen the common everyday man’s inability to feed himself, clothe himself, or express himself isn’t a statement on sexuality. It’s a cry for help. These should be skills all men aspire to. Why couldn’t you have just topped at three things?

‘You look great in that. Now imagine it with less weight.’ I do. Every morning. Don’t worry folks. I forgot to mention that if you are trying to use a back-handed compliment to draw the person’s attention to some aspect of themselves you are genuinely concerned about and want to address without seeming rude, the odds are if they have any self-awareness they are already thinking about it.


Now what I really genuinely and honestly hope to read from you all are some examples of back-handed compliments you’ve received! They don’t serve much purpose but at least their clumsy attempts at praise could be a good laugh.

Day 99: The Man and the Reception of Praise P.3; ‘Promises’

‘A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil.’

-Victor Hugo

victor-hugoAlright peeps, I think we’ve spent enough time patting other people on the back. We are all now fully aware of the benefits and positive effects of praise in reinforcing good traits and improving self-perception. We’ve practiced the art of giving genuine praise and how to find opportunities to share. It’s come now to the best part of the program, which is accepting the praise we receive from others with grace, dignity, and equal appreciation.

We have discussed the benefits praise can offer. It can help cement positive traits or behaviors or affirm certain aspects of ourselves we try to highlight. When offered genuinely and sincerely, praise is one of the best gifts we can give someone and one of the best we can receive. Now if someone were to go to the trouble of finding something you really wanted or needed and wrapped it all up in pretty paper and a bow and was so happy and honest in giving it to you as a gift, would you want to give it back or toss it aside or reject it? Thankfully (hopefully) the answer is no and we don’t really see that sort of behavior in real life, but it is definitely very much the same when we do not know how to accept the praise of others.

Why Do We Struggle to Accept Praise?

As I’ve mentioned certain cultures make accepting praise particularly difficult, especially amongst Asian culture. It is simply not in our nature to accept kind words from others, and we are much more comfortable deflecting them or redirecting them towards others. Many people stumble when accepting praise though for varied other reasons.

Mean Girls.gifOne of the most common reasons we hesitate to accept praise is the fear of appearing conceited. The concern is that by accepting the praise of others we are, by extension, praising ourselves, which can seem conceited or smug. By accepting praise it may seem as though we were seeking it to begin with or that perhaps we were expecting it. By appearing hesitant or struggling to accept it we remain humble.

A sure sign of cynicism when it comes to accepting praise may be in that we fear by accepting praise we become ‘indebted’ to the person who gave it and will be expected to return it in the near future. This is closely related to another reason, which is that we may doubt the sincerity or motive of the person who is speaking to us. We do not want to feel as though we may owe the person anything in any way or we may already be suspicious of them and expect a request for a favor to soon follow should we choose to accept their kind words. To be fair this fear may be legitimate at times depending on the situation as there will definitely be times when some people’s kind words really do mask hidden agendas. But to suspect every opportunity and occurrence of such is certainly no better and may reflect an overly negative or cynical worldview.

If we truly feel that we don’t deserve the praise being offered we will definitely offer someSelf Esteem.jpg resistance in acceptance. This could stem from honestly not doing much to deserve praise but if that is the case this is more the concern of the person offering, as we saw from yesterday. It is the responsibility of the one offering praise to be genuine and sincere. On the receiving end however this could be affected by our self-esteem. If we have a low self-esteem we may struggle to accept compliments even when it is honestly and sincerely deserved. If you cannot believe what they say about you because you don’t see it in yourself, your instinct may be to doubt, deflect, or counter it.

What Do We Do When We Struggle to Accept Praise?

Sociological studies have placed our general reactions towards praise into three categories: acceptance, deflection, and rejection. Most people remain within deflection as the two extremes of the spectrum could seem unappealing. A full on acceptance of praise may, as I mentioned, seem conceited or smug. Most of us possess the social graces to not go off the deep end on the other side either, as a full on rejection is rude and makes you seem mistrusting and makes the giver feel awkward and uncomfortable. There are a couple ways in which we do this to try and diffuse the compliment as if it were a ticking time bomb of undeserved confidence.

We can deny the compliment, rejecting what the person says and questioning their judgement or assessment. This is a common one that, though we may feel is harmless, can actually affect the person who complimented you. They may be shy or uncomfortable themselves, and this was a way of them branching out or working on their own abilities with praise. By questioning them you may make them feel even more uncomfortable. This could also portray you as someone who is mistrusting and can further decrease the chances of you receiving any praise in the future from that person or anyone else.

We may ignore the praise altogether. Either we honestly did not hear it or did not know it was a compliment or we are purposely turning a deaf ear to their words because it is easier than dealing with it head on. This could make you seem clueless or offend them as no one wants to feel ignored, especially when they are going out of their way to offer you some kind and encouraging words that you and they know would benefit both of you.

Didn't Do It.gifWhen we receive praise we feel we do not deserve we may be tempted to deflect it away from ourselves and towards someone else. If the person you are referring to was indeed a major contribution to your efforts and deserves the praise this is of course absolutely fine after you have accepted the praise yourself, not in lieu of. Chances are, despite the fact that it may have been a group effort, you were still part of that group and did have a part in its success. By deflecting the praise you are in effect decreasing your own self-worth and devaluing yourself. Take the moment to recognize that you were influential as well and accept the praise.

Sometimes to avoid those feelings of indebtedness towards the praiser we reflect either the same or a different compliment back to them. This is a way of indirectly brushing aside the compliment and instead reflecting the attention back to the one giving the praise. You may think this is okay as it still creates positivity, but keep in mind that often in the rush and hurry to redirect the attention the actual praise given is…well, less than sincere. You may think that by ‘returning the favor’ you are actually being polite, but if you think about it, it could imply very different things. For one, it may display that rather than taking the time to appreciate the praise and express gratitude you were too busy trying to come up with one of your own, and it may be less specific and more shallow and certainly less deserved. For another, if it becomes very apparent that this is a reflex for you, it diminishes the value of your praise as it seems more mechanical and autonomous than organic and spontaneous.

Perhaps the most passive-aggressive and least constructive method would be for us to minimize the praise given to us. This is best exemplified whenever you see someone who looks particularly well put-together that day and you try to compliment them as such and they respond ‘Oh this? Really? I think I look terrible. I just woke up and put on the first thing I could see. Teehee.’ Look this is clearly a lie. Let’s not try to play each other for fools. Just take the damn compliment Jesus. We know what this is trying to imply. It is trying to deflect the praise while at the same time opening the door for even bigger, greater praise. What we are trying to convey here is that if our very least effort is already praise-worthy, imagine what we would get if we actually tried and how wonderful and amazing we must be to be capable of so much with so little effort! Please. This is false modesty and frustrates the one trying to give praise and puts you in a rather nasty light as well.

How Do I Accept Praise?

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Say ‘THANK YOU’ for one! It’s honestly really almost that simple. Set aside your pride or ego, don’t worry about how you’ll be seen or perceived, and the very first thing straight out of your mouth when receiving genuine and sincere praise should always be ‘THANK YOU’. Try it with me. ‘Thank you’. Okay. Now let’s move on.

I want you to understand that no bad will come from accepting a compliment. You didn’t come up with the compliment yourself. You didn’t ask for it. I certainly hope you weren’t fishing for them. This was an honest gift from someone who cared enough to share with you so you should not feel any guilt in accepting it. Also remember that being proud of your work does not make you any more arrogant or any less humble. A little pride in a job well done is good because it is internal motivation to continue. We don’t need to go over-inflating our egos with every little compliment but we can certainly benefit from a healthy controlled diet of praise. It is possible to remain humble while receiving praise with dignity, graciousness, and gratitude.

Remember also that the one giving praise (if sincere) isn’t looking for anything in return, so don’t feel the immediate need to find some elaborate way to thank them or to reflect back onto them. They are happy simply to recognize someone for their contributions and the best way to support and encourage that is to be truly grateful and appreciative. A simple ‘thank you’ definitely suffices to portray this but you can of course embellish to an extent.

Letting them know that not only are you grateful for their praise but how much it means to you would definitely be a welcome way of receiving praise. If it honestly made your day or encouraged you to continue on, let them know the positive effect their words had. It could encourage them to give you praise again in the future as you continue to succeed or it may encourage them to spread the positivity elsewhere. Letting them know why their particular words means so much to you is also a wonderful way to thank someone. If you particularly respect their opinion let them know and know why. If you both happen to be in the same field and you admire their work, letting them know that receiving praise from someone they admire just spreads the warm feelings everywhere.

Receiving praise with a sense of dignity and grace is something we should all exercise and be able to do as well and as often as giving praise. You’ve been made well aware of the promises of praise both as the giver and the receiver and now you can actively and enthusiastically engage in this exchange. Next time we’ll discuss praise’s twisted cousin, the backhanded compliment. We’ll discuss why we might sometimes give them, how to avoid them, and my personal favorite, backhanded compliments I’ve received or those around me have. This should be a hoot and a half.

Day 99

Man: 79 Loneliness: 20

Day 98: The Man and the Act of Praise P.2; ‘Original’

‘When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce’

-Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu.pngSo yesterday we discussed the importance and necessity of honest praise in our lives, both giving praise and receiving praise. Though we may have our own personal barriers or obstacles to the road of becoming effective praisers, we cannot deny the myriad benefits. Genuine praise can, at its greatest, affect the path of a person’s life. It could be the gap between fear of failure and the satisfaction of achievement. It can dramatically alter a person’s self-image and even at its very basest, it can at the least make someone’s day better. Praise also changes our mindset, turning us into more positive people who focus on the best of others. This makes us happier, more charismatic, and increases our circle of influence and friendship. When we praise someone we are engaging in celebrating the very best of our qualities and promoting the kind of world we want to live in through positive reinforcement.

But, these benefits can only come from genuine and sincere praise delivered effectively and personally. Empty praise on the other hand, either undeserved, vague, or with hidden agenda, given at the wrong time or in the wrong manner, can be absolutely destructive. It creates mistrust between you and the other person and it can actually devalue their contribution, skills, or qualities. It is important, therefore, to be mindful and practice how we give praise. Today’s post in my series on praise will discuss what we should keep in mind when giving praise and how to deliver our message of positivity.

Opportunities to give praise abound so we are never short of practice material. We can praise our friends, our family, coworkers, and even complete strangers. When we give generously we receive generously in return and often you will find that as you increase your practice, more opportunities will arise because you will naturally draw more people to you by exuding that positivity in your mindset, actions, and behavior.

How to Find Opportunities for Praise

The first step might be the hardest of all. We have to begin to reprogram our minds to stop focusing too much on the negative. As mentioned this is a remnant of our ancestors’ survival instincts to isolate and commemorate negative experiences so as to prevent them from repeating. The best way to avoid this is to be fully aware and mindful when we are with others. Observe as much as you can as sharply as you can without passing judgement on what you see. You will begin to see so much more positivity in the world and you’ll easily find something to praise someone on if you just look a bit more earnestly.

Think of how the people around you affect you in a positive way. We might not always be able to find something specific about a person to compliment. However, we can think of Two Men Compliment.jpghow our day has been affected by their presence. If someone’s cheerful greeting each morning when you go in to work helps put you in the right mindset to tackle the day, let them know! If you look forward to working with a particular coworker because of their diligence and attention to detail, what better way to ensure this continued positive behavior than with some encouragement in the form of praise. When we focus on positive traits we reinforce them in the people around us and promote them both internally and externally. It speaks not only to the character of the one displaying the trait but also in the person honoring it. When we think this way we are reflecting on what qualities and traits we desire and admire, which in turn can help us become better people as well.

Remember to speak up. I would like to believe that the world is not as stingy with praise as we may seem, and that we do in fact notice every day plenty of wonderful and positive things to recognize in our fellow man. But maybe we are a bit too tongue-tied to express these praises. There could be a couple reasons why we may hesitate to vocalize our thoughts. Shyness could certainly be a factor. Cultural repression. Long-term relationships are often guilty of this as well. If we focus first on complimenting even the small things to those who are closest to us, we can slowly become more comfortable with offering praise to others. And remember that the things that add up to your day with someone special are often not simply coincidence. Your date may look a certain way because they know your preferences and wanted to look their best for you. Maybe there’s a special reason that you failed to notice for why it seems to always be your favorite food for dinner whenever you’re feeling particularly down. Someone cares for you and is trying to anticipate your wants and needs as a sign of affection. Take the initiative and let them know you notice and care and appreciate it before they even have to ask.

Realize that the person being praised and the person you are speaking to do not necessarily need to be the same. Sometimes we may find opportunities to praise others George Costanza.gifwhen they are not around. For example if a friend helps you move into a new place and, at your housewarming, guests admire and appreciate how nice everything looks, do not hesitate to let them know what a great help your friend was. Now there are three benefits in this exchange. The first is that you are again taking the time to notice positivity in your world and sharing it with others. For the person being praised, if you were to tell them this later on, it shows that you so admired and appreciated their contribution that you are still mindful of it and happy to share with others. For the person who heard of your friend’s help, it shows them that you are someone who can recognize good in others and it may inspire them to do the same. Plus they’ve now found a new moving helper. Another way ‘indirect praise’ could benefit others is in giving us an opportunity to speak about others that isn’t idle gossip or harmful rumors. Look I get it. The truth is we love talking about other people. But we are already surrounded by enough gossip and tabloid trash that we forget that we can also do this in a positive way. If we must think of others and speak of them, perhaps we can rewire our negative minds to share the stories that inspire and motivate us versus those that just bring others down. You could even work as messenger and spread praise you hear from others about the person. Perhaps during a meeting you hear your boss praise a fellow coworker’s contributions who happened to not be in the meeting. Imagine how appreciative and motivated they would feel to later on hear from you that they were positively mentioned in the meeting. Praise doesn’t necessarily have to always originate from you but you should still be a messenger of positivity.

How to Give Praise

Now that you’ve conditioned yourself to not only find things to praise others on but to recognize appropriate opportunities to do so, it is time to practice your delivery.

When offering someone praise, try to keep these certain things in mind.

  • Their name
  • The specific thing you saw them do, where, and when
  • To be sincere

If we can attach our words of praise to them personally, it certainly carries much more weight and significance. To say ‘hey guy, great job in the meeting today’ isn’t quite the same as ‘hey Jim, great job in the meeting today’. Remembering someone’s name makes us seem more personable and genuine and attaches the praise very specifically to them. It is also a sign of respect and acknowledgement. You recognize their contribution and you respect them enough to learn their name and go out of your way to let them know what they did that you particularly appreciated.

If praise is not specific, it can seem insincere, and if the praise is sincere, you should know what to say to be specific. The relationship between these two aspects is inseparable. Forcing yourself to be recall as specifically as possible what it is you want to praise helps you remain sincere in your efforts. It could be too easy to simply say ‘oh you look nice today’ but this carries no specificity, no meaning, no sincerity. If however, you particularly appreciate how the red dress draws attention to your date’s lips, or perhaps how her hair seems to be made of angel’s threads, by jove let her know that specifically. Remember that some people may have difficulty accepting praise as much as giving praise but a genuine and sincere compliment is much easier to swallow because they know and believe what you say.

If at all possible, try to attach a particular quality, characteristic, or trait that you admire to the action you are praising. For example, if you would like to praise a coworker on how well they handled the meeting because they displayed strong leadership, add that to your praise. Let them know what it is that spoke to you on a value level. Perhaps your coworker never saw himself as a leader but your praise, attached to a specific quality and action displayed during the meeting, may be all he needed to cement that into himself. This again strengthens positive qualities not only in the people around you but in yourself as well. Similarly, by recognizing that you are someone who admires leadership, you are telling others that you are someone who may possess that quality as well. After all, it takes one to know one!

Weird Compliment 1.gifOne last piece of advice, while generous praise is certainly an admirable trait and act of positivity, try to remain reasonable and sensible. Do not praise simply for the sake of praise. Giving a compliment to someone who does not deserve it could make you look insincere and could make them feel even worse about themselves. Giving a compliment that doesn’t make sense could just make you look weird. I get that we want to be unique and want to make sure that our praise sticks out, but no need to get too Weird Compliment 2.gifcrazy original. Telling someone you admire how they slice a steak could give you some sideways looks. Telling someone you like how they sleep could make you seem like a creep. Telling them you like how they stroke their kitty will definitely get you kicked between the legs. So you know, praise with discretion and at your own risk.

Day 98

Man: 78 Loneliness: 20

Day 97: The Man and the Necessity of Praise P.1; ‘Flattery’

We are motivated by a keen desire for praise, and the better a man is the more he is inspired by glory. The very philosophers themselves, even in those books in which they write in contempt of glory, inscribe their names.’

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Cicero.PNGThough this was inspired by the daily prompt, I find that there are too many aspects to praise worth discussing that rather than create one mammoth post, I will break them into parts of a series which I will write over the next few days.

Praise is often much too scarce in our daily lives. There could be cultural, economical, personal, or relational reasons for this but the fact remains that praise, when genuine, sincere, and deserved, is necessary both as the giver and the receiver. Honest praise is a powerful motivator and an effective way to recognize achievement and accomplishment. It strengthens and lionizes positive traits and behaviors both for the giver and the receiver of praise.

Why We Don’t Praise as Often or as Freely

Yet for as beneficial as they may be for everyone involved we are oft stingy with giving praise and struggle with receiving it. In general, reasons for this could vary.

For one there are often cultural differences when it comes to viewing compliments. For example I have found that people with Asian backgrounds such as myself often struggle with accepting compliments from others. We may be more generous in giving praise, but often times we are trained very early on never to accept any we receive. We preclude any of our efforts with a downplay of our skills and abilities. ‘Oh I cooked but I’m sorry it’s not very good’ or ‘Please come into my house but I’m sorry it’s such a mess and so uncomfortable’. Naturally most guests would feel inclined to then rebuff these comments with positive praise but again we are conditioned to argue Joy Luck Club.jpgand deflect these efforts. This can come off poorly for those who are not accustomed to these cultural differences and it makes those of us raised in this manner very uncomfortable receiving praise even when deserved because we were never taught how to, only how to reject it.

In terms of economics, praise can be seen as a commodity whose value is only directly related to its scarcity. Therefore we may be inclined to give less praise because we do not wish to devalue our opinion. Praise is often also equated to power and position, and in an effort not to put others above us, or at the very least preserve balance, we fear that praising others will ‘value’ them greater than ourselves.

There could also be personal reasons. Aside from my background I am also naturally a very shy person. I do not particularly enjoy social situations and if I already struggle with just the simple timing and delivery of a small ‘hello’, how am I supposed to be skilled enough to deliver an honest and earnest compliment?

bad-reviewsThere are also natural psychological barriers to praise. Our brains are designed to focus on the negative and place more weight on negative experiences as opposed to positive ones. This is an evolutionary necessity that helps us identify and isolate negative experiences so as not to repeat them. Fire bad, sharp edges hurt, wild animals don’t like to be petted, etc. This unfortunately means in our not-so-survival centered world, we are still more focused on the negative. We tell 10 people of negative experiences versus the 1 person we tell of our positive. We are more comfortable complaining to management than we are to call them over to thank them for a wonderful experience.

Honestly, we may not give praise as often as we should simply because we’ve lost the practice in our relationships as well. This is especially true in long-term relationships when we become so comfortable and so used to our partners that we forget to recognize the extra effort they put in every single day. The act of praise, like anything else, is a skill that can be sharpened or dulled depending on the frequency and extent of use.

Why Genuine, Deserved Praise is Necessary in our Interactions

Compliments and praise, more than insult and criticism, get results. Studies have shown that both as a motivator and as an educational tool, positive praise is more effective and more valuable when it comes to encouragement and incentive. This is particularly true for the young and for the novice. While the more experienced and more mature can claim to have moved on beyond the need for praise and/or recognition, the young and the inexperienced crave this as an acknowledgement and affirmation that they are indeed on the right track. Experts are primarily concerned with measuring progress and results. They have Encourage Young.jpgalready done something and want to know how to improve and gauge if their progress is satisfactory in terms of size, scope, and timescale. Novices on the other hand have nothing to compare themselves to and are more concerned with their commitment and suitability. Can I do this, do I want to do this, am I suited to do this. As such compliments are a more effective way to affirm their decisions and choices to encourage and motivate them to continue on. If you are ever in a position to help someone who is feeling discouraged or unmotivated, remember that sometimes an honest word of praise can be all that it takes to fill the gap and allow them to bridge the space between failure and success. And as a parent remember that it can often be much more valuable to focus on catching them doing something good for once.

Praise is a great way to soften otherwise antagonistic relationships. It will come to no surprise for people who actually know me in real life to say that I have an oftentimes contentious relationship with my father. This stems from having two very stubborn very headstrong individuals in one house who believe that they know best and most. But that’s beside the point. I remember that growing up, the majority of our interactions were my father telling me what I was doing wrong and how to do it better. This may have been valuable advice but I was too naïve, too proud, and too resistant to change to really absorb and appreciate it. Because of this, my perspective of my father has always been as more of a detractor than one who would support or encourage me. I’m not saying I need daddy’s approval. I haven’t grown up with that much of a crippling insecurity. I just mean that praise is an effective way to equalize relationships in a way in which I could probably accept more of my father’s advice because I didn’t feel so far below him. This understanding can apply to all relationships. Perhaps you find that with those you are less than close with you are more likely to criticize them, which further strengthens a negative association between the two of you. A simple act of praise can at the very least, thaw an otherwise icy relationship.

1337.pngSimilarly, the act of giving praise can strengthen and increase relationships as well. Compliments reflect respect, and relationships are built on respect. It is simple mathematics. Though we value the constructive criticism of our peers, especially those close to us, I believe it stands to say that most people get close to begin with because of positivity and recognition. It is through that shared act of respecting each other and each other’s works that allows us to enter a relationship where we can be otherwise critical. Praise implies humility, which is a trait we often admire in others, especially people we would like to follow. So a good leader should be comfortable giving praise and recognizing others without fearing for their own power or position. It is also a great way to attract more people and attention. I know that I have built strong, genuine connections through this blog, for example, because of a mutual exchange of encouraging and positive praise. But it is those same people whose opinions I now trust and respect should I ever seek or receive constructive criticism because I know that we have already established a positive rapport.

‘We pay too much tribute to a few human insects when we let their wrong-doing paralyze our faith in humanity. It is a lie of the cynics that says ‘all men are ungrateful’, a companion lie to ‘all men have their price’. We must trust humanity if we would get good from humanity. He who thinks all mankind is vile is a pessimist who mistakes his introspection for observation; he looks into his own heart and thinks he sees the world.’

– William Geroge Jordan

Praise tempers our own natural cynicism. As I mentioned previously, we are biologically programmed to focus on the negative. While this was an important trait for our survival yesterday, it can be a detriment to our relationships today. If we only ever focus on the negatives of the people around us we can feel burdened and heavy, with little to no hope in any redemption. Actively seeking things to praise others with keeps us in a positive mindset that can then carry over into our daily lives and help us appreciate more those around us.

When practiced frequently and with honesty, integrity, and enthusiasm, the act of giving praise can elevate our relationships and our own self-awareness and identity. Furthermore when we can be specific about the positive traits we admire and therefore seek in others, when we recognize these traits we elevate our praise to a celebration of that which we find admirable and noble, versus simple and forgettable flattery.

In tomorrow’s continuation of the series we will discuss how to give praise with integrity and purpose.

Day 97

Man: 77 Loneliness: 20

 

Day 94: The Man and the City Limits; ‘Border’

Feet Border.jpg

When I was younger I had this image in my head of who I would want to be and what I would believe and how I would view the world and who I’d want with me. I fought long and hard to realize all these facets of myself that I, in my naiveté, thought would be as unchanging as the firmament. I have refused any sort of change or deferment with such contention that I’ve passed on plenty of people, places, and things in my life. The walls of my personality have been built on those things that I’ve discarded in pursuit of what I believed to be my true self.

If you would ask me right now if I felt it was worth it, passing up on so much and stubbornly holding onto what I did have, I would still answer yes. I am happy and content and aware of myself enough to say that I am, for better or for worse, much the same still. Now you’ll see there I said ‘much the same’, not ‘all the same’.

eggplant-fridayIt’s very easy when your world is small and your view is low to simplify and characterize things in your immediate view. When I was younger I hated eggplant. It was mushy and had the unpleasant texture of baby food and an equally similar appearance. It was not hard therefore to say ‘I am someone who does not like eggplant’. But then you grow older and start eating at places with cloth napkins and ordering from a menu you cannot draw on in crayon and you are introduced to things like eggplant rollatini and Chinese eggplant with spicy garlic sauce and suddenly you are torn.

My world is inevitably, and with or without my cooperation or blessing, growing inexorably larger. I have absorbed so much in the past few years in terms of experiences, learning, and meeting people that my mind is pushing against the walls. I never thought that the crumbling of my walls would be an inside job.

It was so much simpler back when things were more black and white. Good was good and evil was evil. It was so easy to define. Power Rangers, good. Rita Repulsa, bad. Heavy words had little spaces so it was quick and easy and convenient to very casually define and move on. At an age with not much experience in such matters I made decisions on love, relationships, careers, education, money, race, gender, sexuality, etc. I drew on what resources I had from my parents and friends and church and literature and film and slowly I built, brick by brick, the outline of my identity. Like a budding city, I built with just enough space from the center to fit not only the population of knowledge and experience I already had but to easily and comfortably accommodate a future population without compromising space and security.

What the city planner of my mind did not anticipate however, was that the population toronto-skylinewould grow at a breakneck rate and would continue to grow even after I thought it would all be done. My youthful arrogance and self-sure attitude prevailed over more reasonable and sound voices. ‘I have already come to conclusions about everything I need to think and consider,’ I would say to myself, ‘why should I have to worry about changing my mind.’

The problem, which really isn’t a problem mind you, is that I haven’t stopped considering things and learning and growing. I would certainly not go so far as to say I’ve dramatically shaken any definitions to the very core but I have certainly begun to see the cracks in the walls because I find myself practically smushed against them.

This all came to a stark and shocking focus tonight when I finally relented to let a friend take me to this new organic schtick of a restaurant and I found myself sipping a cocktail from a goddamn mason jar made with an ingredients list that details the height and weight of each farmer, eating a cauliflower pizza with quinoa sausage and kale cheese, wondering what the hell happened to my life.

Hipster Food.pngThankfully I know this will be a one-time thing. My friends have definitely noticed this ‘softening of the edges’ and have gleefully taken advantage of it by taking me to places I had vehemently lambasted with enthusiasm and vigor in the past. Part of the time it is because it was something they actually were interested in but most of the time it’s for the sheer marvel of watching me crawl out of my skin in these situations. They are abusing my generous nature. The fact of the matter though still remains, I went. I tried. Some things have been revelations. Others have simply confirmed that which I knew to be true a long long time ago. I am at times excited by these changes but other times worried. Because it makes me think of my past.

See the sacrifices and passed opportunities are only worth it for so long as the walls stand. If I begin to take them down, if I choose to expand my walls, what skeletons will be revealed underneath the brickwork and will I be okay with them being brought back to light. If I could be wrong about one thing, what if I was wrong about everything. Is ignorance truly bliss because knowledge is torture. Am I really prepared, willing, or even interested in opening that can of proverbial and philosophical worms?

Growing.jpg

I have pushed myself to the very border of my self. I have learned and absorbed and yes I have even found little settlements being built that bridge the inner populace of the walls to the outer. Knowing what I knew and believing in what I believed in has gotten me this far and I don’t want to ever forget that or to find myself wanting. I think…I think I could very happily go on exactly as I am. Is that smug? I sound smug. I like myself. I like what I’ve done with the place. But I get the need and the desire and the drive for change. I can see why people enjoy reinventing and redecorating. But at what expense and what message does that portray about the past?

Not having to worry about relationships or how others perceive me has freed me to think about much more than just my dating situation. I’ve had the time to investigate and re-investigate for my own sake. I’ve spent more time in the past 93 days in a row reflecting on myself than I have had in total the past couple years of my life. I’ve tried much more and craved much more. One of the purposes of this experiment was to ask myself questions for my own sake and I am beginning to answer them. I just don’t want the cost to be who I am or who I was.

I know this is answering my own question but, perhaps it would help to stop thinking of myself as an outline defined by impenetrable walls. Perhaps I can take down some of the excess brick and expose the framing to the elements. I could still live happily within myself with a wire frame, letting parts in and out. Perhaps our personalities are not as iron clad as we’d like to think. A little flexibility, a little permeability, a little malleability could help when we are battered either from within or without. Even just that bit of relaxation has lifted so much off my shoulders. I don’t think I would have been so flexible or forgiving in the past. After all I was so focused on finding a relationship and being whoever someone else wanted me to be that as soon as I was locked on I tightened up and hunkered down. I wanted to fit as perfectly as I could into someone else’s layout. It was my resoluteness and firmness that people relied on and wanted. Left alone to my own devices, I’m enjoying the freedom to explore. I don’t think I’d ever fully leave my city limits, but I’ve come to realize I enjoy the little out of border excursions. Perhaps I, and some big name politician with crazy hair, just needed to realize that we can go beyond a wall and not lose the security of self.

Day 94

Man: 74 Loneliness: 20

Day 92: The Man and the Taste of Figs; ‘Tree’

Fig 1.jpg

I’m going to share another story with you.

A story about me, about Beautiful, about choice, and even yes, about you.

Fig 2.jpgIt is true, that when she first asked to meet up again after all these years, that she was already with someone, and that she had been with this person for the past three years.

It is true that I respected that, and her, and even him, and that I never did ask her to leave him or to go back to me.

It is also true that after we went as far as our carefully parsed words could take us, we
spent an amount of time in each other’s fig-3arms, trying to continue to reach beyond the emptiness and silence to bridge the years apart.

It is true that I promised myself that I would approach this meeting with no expectations
but I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t have some assumptions. And my silly, stupid, hopeful mind raced. I couldn’t be the one to tell her what to do or to be the one who influenced her decision so in the quietest, subtlest, most honest way I could, in the warmth of my embrace, I tried in earnest to broadcast to her the only thing I knew to be true.

Fig 4.jpgThat ‘us’ was still a choice she had the option to make.

Now pay attention to how I phrased that. I didn’t want to tell her it was a choice she had to make, it was just an option she had. What years apart had done to our perceptions was that neither of us thought that the other would ever want anything to do us anymore to even begin to consider getting back together.

I was a single guy who had the whole world to choose from. I wasn’t tied to any fig-6choice and
I wasn’t exactly poised to make one before her appearance either. But she had made a decision and had stuck to it for three years. I was okay with that. I didn’t want to change that. I admit, I don’t think I could ever possess the ability to be happy for her per se, but I had at least come to accept
the reality of her with someone else. I wasn’t meeting her to catch up. I had no desire to know how her life was without me. For better or for worse I had learned to live in a world without her and I didn’t need that to change. I met up with her because she asked to and if I could acknowledge any agenda on my part, it would only have Fig 5.jpgbeen that I wanted to make sure she knew that she was with someone because she wanted to be, because she was happy, because she was better, and not solely because I did not want her. Maybe that sounds arrogant or self-centered. I just wanted her to know that the option was always there if she chose but I wanted no part in the decision making process. I placed my fig at her feet just to let her know it was all part of the same tree.

That is, honestly and openly, all I did with her that night. We met up and we exchanged the pleasantries of twofig-7 people who used to know and love each other. We talked about new interests and hobbies and people who have drifted we knew and forgot, filling in the holes we had created by blocking off portions of our lives. Then we had nothing left to say. I never asked about her relationship, she never shared. We embraced and I walked away; my only objective was to let her know I had never written us completely out. And, much like many other things with many other women, this meant more to me than it did to her.

Fig 8.jpgThat’s all I have to say about that night. I never asked for what happened next. I never wanted it or even expected it. Our lives are full of choices that we have to make. Sometimes we are burdened by the weight of how many there are and other times we feel hopelessly adrift because we feel there are none at all.

I don’t regret the choice I made to see her again and to reconnect. And I don’t regret her choice to want to see me and, eventually, on that rainy night a month later when she showed up at my doorstep, her choice to come back. At least we were making choices. We were moving forward.

What hurt was how long it took for her to make the decision to eventually leave. And her fig-9decision to hide her true feelings and reasons to me. What hurt is that while she was feeling unsure and hesitating to pick her fruit, I was blindly content thinking it was okay to watch the rest of my fruit wither away as well. Could Bird have been a fig I wanted to taste. Was I looking in the wrong places for the wrong people for the wrong things. I would never know now because I was happily partaking in the fruit before me.

I can’t think too much anymore about the probabilities of the past. There are too many ‘should have’s and ‘would have’s and ‘could have’s that could keep me up at night and drive me insane. The past is done and decided. Instead I find myself worriedly and unasurredly looking into the future. I wonder how I will move on. I wonder when and where and with whom.

The past is heavy, the future is light, and the present is based on how much we choose to carry.

Fig 10.jpgThe most important thing is that I continue to find the resolve to keep making choices. You might think that my decision to abstain from relationships and dating for a year is actually retreating from choice but actually it was me picking the one fig that I knew was always there but was too afraid to try. I always saw a version of myself that was single and alone but it was almost always only in nightmares. Now it is my reality and rather than worry about the past versions and all the other things I could have done or would have done or should have done I am moving forward with it and deciding what to bring with me.

Like you and this blog. Perhaps this is the only reason why this is no longer a waking nightmare for me. This is the fig that nourishes me under the shade of so many others. But when this is over, will I have the resolve to pick another and the wisdom to pick correctly. Or will I fall back into the same bad patterns. There is this impending dread on my shoulders that I am watching a lot of fruit fall off the branches of my tree and the only thing keeping me from gorging on the level of egregious and grotesque is this vision I have of me writing through it all and finding an audience to read it.

I cannot judge or measure the weight of my past except for in the slouch of my shoulders Fig 11.jpgand the bags under my eyes. I cannot bring back rotted fruit that had its time and withered away. There are perhaps plenty of relationships I should realize for the husk that it is now. I am since still content with the fruit in my hand but I hope when the harvest comes once again, I will be able to see what is left and pick from those that have yet to fall in the time it took for me to find myself.

Day 92

Man: 72 Loneliness: 20

Day 91: The Man and the Taste of Identity; ‘Daring’

Philippine Flag.png

So apparently October is National Filipino-American History Month. Another reason for a guy to love October I guess. Filipino-American History Month was established by the Filipino-American National Historical Society back in 1988 but was only recognized nationally starting in 2009. The FANHS decided on October as the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the US was on October 18, 1587 when ‘Luzones Indios’ (natives of Luzon) were brought on the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza to the shores of Morro Bay, California.

It’s pretty cool and all. And I am damn proud to be Filipino-American and that they have set aside this month for us and everything but I’ll be honest with you…I can’t say much to Filipino identity or notable people or culture, really. When I say I’m Filipino, I really mean that my parents are from the Philippines. I never, and I emphasize never had any desire or interest in joining any Filipino culture clubs or anything in high school or college. It actually just *shudder* made me cringe just to think of it. UAASO, United Asian-American Student Organization, was the largest Asian club on campus in college and it was completely run by Filipinos. You’d think I would’ve run there with arms wide open, burst through the doors and yell ‘My people! I have come to you!’ Instead I went the complete opposite direction and became President…of the Chinese Student Association.

I think it might be a Filipino-American thing though, honestly. When I visit the Philippines it’s not like I think ‘oh god I can’t stand being around all these Filipinos’. I find the native Filipino spirit and personality very friendly and agreeable and a lot of fun. But Filipino-Americans around here…eeh…yeah not so much.

My family and I are perfectly content and happy to be proud Filipinos…on our own. We really don’t feel the need to broadcast this to everyone or to be with others just to tell ourselves how happy we are to be us. We still behave and act and think and do things in very Philippine ways. Yes we have a painting of the last supper hanging in our dining room (and another in the kitchen). Yes we point with our lips and pick things up with our feet. But we never thought we would ever want to make that our ‘thing’ or identify with all of this. We just wanted to do it because it made sense, whether culturally, historically, logically, or emotionally.

Don’t ask me about famous Filipino figures. Don’t ask me about Filipino art or music or literature or film. I feel like sometimes I purposely go out of my way to avoid Fil-Ams in pop culture because it would just feel like lazy adoration. Like, I’m not going to like or listen to the Black Eyed Peas just because apl. de. ap. is Fil-Am. I’m not going to listen to Bruno Mars for the same reason and I don’t want to give people the chance to assume that of me. Having Dante Basco be the voice of Prince Zuko was pretty bad-ass though. And yes, I admit I did have a crush on Vanessa Hudgens. But an awesome TV show and a pretty face precede any sort of national or cultural affiliation!

I think one of the reasons why I have such a disconnect with Filipino culture here in the US versus actually in the Philippines is because of how fluid it seems to be. One of the greatest strengths (and conversely greatest weaknesses) of the Filipino is adaptability. We are the second largest Asian ethnicity in the United States and why we are so numerous (and why you probably didn’t even realize that) is because of how well we can assimilate into our environment. We really don’t want a lot of attention drawn to us. We would much prefer to be known for how easily and quickly our neighbors felt safe next to us. Hahah. But because of that I’ve always struggled with the concept of ‘authenticity’. I don’t know what it means to be ‘Fil-Am’ when we have no real strong sense of community or identity. A first generation Filipino-American growing up on the East Coast is going to turn out a whole hell of a lot different from a West Coaster and I really don’t feel comfortable or at home with either. I grew up around other ethnicities. My best friends were and still are Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, and white. My entire sense of Filipino identity was derived only from my parents who also quite notably did not really interact with other Filipino families. (I understand their reasons now but…hardly seems apropos considering we’re supposed to be celebrating Filipinos right now. Hahah.)

Even our food, which is usually used as a mark of cultural identity, differs from place to Adobo.jpgplace. We cannot even unite on what should be on our plates. This is more than just a regional anomaly. This isn’t like categorizing Chinese food as either Szechuan, Hunan, Cantonese, or Mandarin. A dish can change from family to family and interpretations abound. You will often times find more ‘Filipino Fusion’ restaurants than you will ‘authentic Filipino’ simply because almost all Filipino food is fusion. No one wants to unify or define Filipino dishes for fear of singling out certain areas or ethnicities or offending the myriad Filipino families who can cook the same dish a thousand different ways. Who would get to define what Filipino food ‘is’ and how would we even establish their credibility or criteria for such a task.

Still, when it comes to cultural identity, you can talk to me about food. I know food. Filipino dishes still share many of the same characteristics despite the variances. I love Dinuguan.jpgthe hearty and flavor-packed ‘sabaw‘, or sauce that comes with each dish. A lot of Filipino food is stew-based and the rich sauce that is the result of that long stewing process is so good over steaming white rice. Unlike many East Asian dishes that focus on exemplifying and stressing one or at most two different flavors at a time, Filipino food is about packing as many flavors and textures into one dish as possible. For this reason many of my friends have had to become ‘accustomed’ to Filipino food because of how strong the flavors are. Now they love it and when they crave hearty and rich, they know where to go.

Filipino food is also all about being daring. We never let any part of the animal go to waste Balut.JPGand we’ll be damn clever about it too. I love dinuguan, a pork stew of belly, ear, and offal braised in pig’s blood (regional varieties include my preferred one which lessens the amount of vinegar and adds hot green pepper for punch). There is of course the infamous (though utterly delicious) balut. Easy shock-TV material for the uninitiated  but really, it’s just a fertilized duck egg.

 

Okay I get it, that might be a bit…tough to swallow. (HAH. Get it. Swallow like to eat and swallow like the bird which comes from an egg.) You don’t have to jump off the deep end just yet. To be perfectly honest my mother and father were born and raised in the Philippines and refuse to eat balut. Personally I think it’s a great breakfast alternative. Regardless, if anything at all, I would highly recommend that this October in honor of Filipino-American History Month, please, find your friendly neighborhood pinoy and ask them to take you a restaurant. Try some Filipino food if you haven’t yet had a chance. I guarantee you that there isn’t one too far from where you are. We’re everywhere. We’re just very good at blending in. But everyone is going to need a nurse or a nanny!

Day 91

Man: 72 Loneliness: 19