Category Archives: Old Jer Idea

The Clifton SexPlex

These days I am writing grant proposals, applying to grad schools, and reading about the history of psychology.  But I thought I would take a little break from universal assessments to add a new installment to the “Old Jer Ideas” series.

Individuals are products of their environments.  Overstatement?  Yes.  Interesting?  Not really.  We’ve heard it before.  What’s more interesting to me is how communities, and especially the nuclear family, are products of the environment too.  One factor that plays a huge role in forming our community is also often overlooked: the physical buildings  we live in.  For example, Paul Rozin at the University of Pennsylvania thinks that French people get more exercise via walking because getting the car out involves opening manual parking garage gates.  Walking is just easier.  The physical environment encourages healthy behavior across time.

This is the main insight of Dan Beuttner, founder of Blue Zones.  He’s travelled to the happiest and longest-living communities on the planet and written books about it.  It turns out happy communities don’t read self-help books or go to the gym.  Rather, their lives are designed (often accidentally) in such a way that incentivizes routines that includes exercise, community-building, and other healthy habits.  I got to work a bit with Dan and Blue Zones last year.  They have packaged a series of customizable changes (hundreds of options) that communities can use to encourage healthy behaviors and are using them to change the world one community at a time.  Currently they are working  with the governor of Iowa to make simple changes to communities across the state. Two environmental change examples: 1) instead of encouraging people to exercise, town governments can connect all sidewalks, which is tied to X more time spent outside and X more calories burnt a year, 2) instead of encouraging people to “eat less you idiot and you’ll stop being fat,” individual families can replace their 12-inch dinner plates with 10-inch plates, which results in X less pounds of fat gained each year.  In this way, they identify heaps of super easy changes to the environment which produces effects that aggregate across a lifetime.  

This, it turns out, is the same principle my colleagues and I used to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods.  You can’t tell slumlords to be better people, but if you make the street a sensible investment, they will often want to fix up their properties on their own.  

So, can we apply this same principle of changing the human environment to the buildings in which we live?  I think so.  I think we could design living arrangements highly conducive to holistic human flourishing.  And I have.  It’s called the Clifton SexPlex!  (Note: it’s not an empirically verified positive intervention and could be hazardous for your health.)

First, its great because it has “sex” in the title.  Second, its great because I thought of this idea and told all my friends about it before I knew anything about positive psychology and the science of human well-being and they gave it this awesome name.  Third, its great because of what it is:  a small apartment building for six families intentionally designed to strike a balance between the commune and the individualist’s free-standing castle.  Several friends have already claimed spots (I’m talking about you, Dan & Grace Black).

Context: I grew up in Taiwan and Hong Kong.  Everyday, on the way to school, I biked past rice patties.


At the center of these rice patties were often traditional Chinese compounds.  As generations grew up, farmers would add buildings around a common square until three or four generations lived not quite in the same house but not separately either.

Compounds started out looking like this.

Compounds started out looking like this.

Right next to the compound I passed each day was their family graveyard (connection to community across time) and a sacred Banyan tree (connection to community across dimensions) (that, sadly, I couldn’t show Alicia when we visited Taiwan last summer.  The compound had been knocked down and all the rice patties cleared for construction : (  On the plus side: I got some real night market food!)

Jer getting some seriously awesome sweet Taiwanese sausage at a night market in Taichung, July 2013.

Jer getting some seriously awesome sweet Taiwanese sausage at a night market in Taichung, July 2013.

These family compounds are a typical Chinese model (this guy calls it the “chinese unit”).  Often walled, they were useful in defending your family against petty banditry and wild animals.  Below is a typical layout.

chinese courtyardIndeed, even in major cities.  This arrangement, living groups of 20 or so in substantial family compounds, was the norm.

urban fabricAfter finishing college in 2007, having lived in apartment buildings, dorms, row homes, and townhouses, I became a community organizer in inner-city Buffalo and discovered the monolithically individualistic architecture of America that permeates suburban and urban space.

!!!!!!-citylife-SuburbsBy day, I was becoming an expert in catalyzing revitalization in struggling inner-city neighborhoods.  By night, I donned an intellectual cape and form-fitting spandex in order to effectively think about what sort of community I wanted to live in.  I wanted more.

The problem, as I see it, was that I was afflicted with affection for other humanoids.  I liked them.  I wanted to be with them.  But I was now a young adult doing two very mature grown-up things: 1) I was too busy and never had time for friends even if they lived just blocks away and 2)  all social interaction happened in the context of planned events that went on your calendar in advance and involved an enticing (often fattening) activity that you very well might not be in the mood for.  What happened to “hanging out,” to non-planned interactions that had the potential to be uninteresting or food-less?  They’re gone.  Now we pull on cardigans, go to non-routine special times, stay on our best behavior, drink a bit so that we don’t feel how weird it all is, and chat with nominal strangers.  The prevalence of social anxiety in modern America makes sense to me when every “community-building” activity is a stage for showmanship.  And thus we lose out on the deep desire of our hearts: the most basic awareness that a dozen or so good people know you deeply, desperately want to keep knowing you, and want you in their group.  In real community, the show has to stop sometime.  That’s kinda the whole point.  

More troubling, I was shocked at the remarkable and seemingly preventable dysfunction that pervaded my friends’ nuclear families.  Sociologists tell us that small groups are always inherently unstable (I could cite this but I’m lazy).  They have fewer connections, so when one goes bad (for example, your brother pisses you off for getting you in trouble), you have more people to mediate reconciliation.  But beyond mere group size, the modern American family lends itself to dysfunction because they often have 1) no access to the inner-working of how other model families live and 2) no feedback from outsiders bout how they treat family members and each other.

All of us fall into dysfunctional patterns without realizing it.   We need feedback.  Loving effectively depends on it.  Indeed, perhaps the most important benefit of two-parent households is the check on executive power.  One parent, who obviously really knows the situation well, can say to the other, “Honey, in all honesty, are you sure how you are treating junior is constitutional (or in keeping with our desire to avoid smothering our child)?”  To put it in another crude way, families need outside consulting.  Once, when Alicia and I had a little tiff in public, a friend told me that it was triggered by me inadvertently signaling disrespect.  This single piece of feedback helps our relationship enormously everyday when it consistently engenders in me humility whenever Alicia responds emotionally to what, I thought, was  “clearly” an unemotional question.

So, adrift without feedback for decades on end, small American families form little dysfunctional worlds.  Kids often don’t realize the extent of this dysfunction until they go to college, start their own families, or get married and gain perspective on their own family dynamics via the foil of discovering the family patterns of their in-laws.  Then they start their own family in near total ignorance having known the inner-dynamics of approximately two insular families.  This seems an entirely stupid way to design a flourishing society.  (Fortunately I am overstating all over the place.)

And besides curbing dysfunction and encouraging non-planned social time, I want inter-generational friendships.  I want adult mentors for my kids that are neither educators or family members, and a host of other benefits that come with village-like life.

So I want intentional community, but not the way weirdos do it.  I want to build the modern urban version of the traditional Chinese farm compound.

  • It would consist of a two-story building around an enclosed central courtyard containing a playground.
  • On the outside would be a large yard with many raised beds, a compost pile, fruit trees, and a chicken tractor.
  • The east, west, and north, wing would be divided up into six or seven apartments of various sizes (that could be fairly easily rearranged).  It would likely include one 4-bedroom apartment, two 3-bedrooms, two 2-bedrooms, one 1-bedroom, and a studio for guests.
  • With two exceptions, each apartment would be its own individualistic/western style apartment with a full kitchen and large dinning area.  1) It would have no living/entertaining space.  The idea is that this would encourage people out, to the courtyard and common spaces.  2) It would have no private entrance.
  • To get to your apartment, everyone would walk through the front door in the south wing into one big room complete with wood stove, a few small comfortable spaces, and one massive dining table.  
  • Passing through this room one would get to the kitchen, with easy access to the courtyard so that parents could cook while watching kids.  I imagine community life including families taking turns hosting dinner once every two weeks (meaning there would be 3 communal meals a week for 20-30 people plus guests).
  • Above the big dinning room and kitchen would be four rooms, a small prayer room, a small fitness  room, a substantial library with fire place, and a theater for movies, community performances, and presentations.
  • While the building would be owned by one of the families and the others would rent, the community would have a democratic governing structure likely more typical of the neighborhood association than the Quaker meeting.
  • I imagine that families would help raise each others kids (we would take turns babysitting 1 day of the week perhaps).  Those who love gardening would garden.  Others cook.  Others would pay more.  All would contribute.
  • Beyond that, everyone would make a living outside the community and would otherwise live normal lives.  Without trying too hard, I think this environment would foster healthy, intimate community and inter-generational relationships.

Don’t get me wrong.  Community is messy.  People piss each other off.  The SexPlex would have plenty of drama and conflict.  My solution?  I have none.  Getting along is a crucible for growth.  I need to be more humble anyway.  I need to learn to share anyway.  I need to mature.  I need to get better at loving my family.  And I need to relentlessly pursue engagement and cooperation as an example to my kids.

Obviously, most of these ideas are not new, but perhaps my specific take on it is.  The Clifton SexPlex could have something to offer the world besides the unfortunately rapey name.  Now I just need to build it.  Which is where you can help!  Please make your checks payable to…or rather just keep an eye out.  We may be moving to Philly next year.

  1. Anyone know of any buildings for sale near Penn that could be turned into something like the SexPlex?  In DC, it has not been an option because of housing prices.
  2. Has anyone done something like this before or can connect me to people who have?
  3. Most importantly, does anyone know an architecture student interested in positive psychology, positive sociology, or community building interested in translating the Chinese traditional compound into the fabric of the modern American city?  Perhaps cities of the future, wishing to build on the findings (most not yet found) of positive psychology, will be designed using community-encouraging architecture.  Perhaps we just need a brilliant first design and some successful prototype communities.

(Apologies!  The world keeps encouraging my crazy big dreaming and scheming.  I blame Jesus and Bob Easton.)

Loving Assholes

I’m a confirmed idiot.  After all, one time at a friend’s house I went to the bathroom and accidentally urinated entirely in my friend’s trash can (By the way, I was completely sober).

However, I am also awesome in this specific way:  I value assholes.

Assholes, of course, can just be jerks who just enjoy hurting other people or don’t care when they do.  These people are obnoxious.  Nobody likes them, and for that reason, most of us are scared shitless at the idea of being thought of as one.

But I enjoy people who are willing to risk being mistaken for a jerk.  I appreciate those willing to potentially hurt the other person for that person’s sake.  They are willing to risk the relationship.  They are willing to make you cry if it makes you better.  I call them loving assholes.

Alicia took this picture when we were in Sri Lanka last summer.  It is very related to this post (it is not related to this pose).

Alicia took this picture when we were in Sri Lanka last summer. We think it looks cool.  It is also very related to this post (it is not related to this post).

Loving assholes are quite possibly the most important type of close friend to have in your life.  They are valuable precisely because they care more about you than about being in your life.  They call you out when you are being mean to your wife.  They let you know your fly is down.  They insist that you apologize to your kids when you have done something wrong.  They stop you from buying that last round of shots.  If your inner-circle consists of yes-men or yes-women, you risk becoming abusive; nobody is above it.  We can all fall into habits of being, for example, short-tempered, verbally abusive, or generally unkind towards the people we love.  If nobody in your life is a loving asshole, than nobody will call you out.

I am a loving asshole.  Consider this example:  it was two months before my friends wedding and I was his best man.  I became increasingly concerned about my friend’s marriage.  After a few cautions, I reached the point that I could not in all honesty support their marriage and I stepped down as best-man.  I risked my entire relationship with my friend in an attempt to help him.

Artists easily shoot themselves in the foot by not seeking out honest feedback.   In college, a buddy of mine wrote and directed a six hour play and had his friends perform it.  I saw it, the first 1.5 hours was pretty good, but on the whole it was awful.  It tied up his friends lives for a big chunk of their senior year, and nobody had the heart to tell him what they thought.

To the extent that I am a good writer today is the same extent to which I have managed to cultivate honest feedback.  I reccomend this loving-asshole-cultivation technique in particular: marry one of them.  I can count on Alicia to give me an honest and frank appraisal on, for instance, this post.  I see it now, “It was good.  You probably said ‘asshole’ too often.  You probably could have come off as slightly less self-congratulatory.  I thought it was hilarious when you peed in Jim’s trash can.”

Of course, if artists do not cultivate an inner-circle of loving assholes, all they risk is being a bad artist.  If you or I do not have any loving-assholes as friends, you risk being a bad person.

Of course, I am not alone in being a loving asshole.  There are millions of us, and we are asshole-ish to different degrees and in different varieties.  However, I doubt that truly loving assholes are much more than 5% of the population (total guess).

One loving asshole that comes to mind was Jesus.  Throughout the gospels, Jesus constantly ‘sticks it’ to the pharisees and others.  One example is Matthew 15: 1-7a.

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”  Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!  Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.” (NIV)

The Pharisees prided themselves on being extra-devoted to the Law.  This would have really pissed them off.  In fact, we know it did.  Two verses later the disciples warned Jesus, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”  Jesus replies, “Leave them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.”

Of course, Jesus can get away with that sort of innapropriate behavior because he is all-knowing and what not.  You and I should emulate Jesus in the other, Philippians Christ hymn sort of way; by being really really humble.  But being really humble means being willing to forsake your clean image as a good person and occasionally that might mean making someone sad.

Fortunately, the world is hungry for honest feedback.  Instead of feeling sad, we often feel invigorated and closer than ever when we confront someone out of love.  I was inspired to write this post because I have recently started some life-coaching sessions with an individual who simply wants to learn how to get better at making conversation.  She is eager for some frank appraisal and discussion.  It’s inspiring to see.

And it makes me want to ask my reader’s, who do you need to be a loving-asshole for today?

4 quick tips on being a loving asshole:

  • Only be a loving asshole, generally, with people you know well. You can’t speak into someone’s life if you do not know what you are talking bout.  
  • Take responsibility for your very good friends.  Know when it is likely that nobody will speak certain truths into someone’s life unless you do.  
  • When you confront as a loving asshole, you do so for the other person’s sake.  Any defensiveness on your part when they push back (and they likely will), and you are just an asshole.
  • Loving assholes are only loving assholes occasionally.  Usually, they are just loving.  Don’t go overboard.

This post is #2 in my “I’m a Confirmed Idiot” series. You see, sometimes I have thoughts worth sharing, but I don’t share them because they are in various ways self-congratulatory.  If subtexts had vocal chords they might scream, “See!  Aren’t I great?”  Don’t get me wrong.  That’s a wonderful message which the world needs to hear.  It is just problematic when it is so obviously preached by me.  So sometimes I avoid ideas and messages worth sharing, things I believe in, that may help people, in the pursuit of looking like a nice guy.  So, in the “I’m a Confirmed Idiot” series, I am requiring myself to, before getting into obviously self-congratulatory prose, start with a formulation in which I confess an entirely true and unrelated personal epic fail.   This frees me to make my points with righteous passion, holding nothing back, for, as it says in Leviticus 27:35, “If you are humble for a moment, feast on the joy that comes from being full of yourself the rest of the time.”  Look it up; it’s in the Bible.  

Incidentally, this is also #2 in my series “Old Jer Ideas” and remarkably similar to my first post.  

Captain Abraham Lincoln: An Invitation to Story

While reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln recently, I saw this little tidbit that seemed worth sharing.  It reminds me of a similar story from my own family’s history.  

Thomas Lincoln named his son “Abraham” after the boy’s grandfather, Captain Abraham Lincoln, who fought in the Revolutionary War.  Once little Abe was old enough, Thomas told the story of how his namesake died.

After the War for Independence, Captain Lincoln moved his family to Kentucky, where they lived on disputed Indian lands.  One warm day in May, 1786, Thomas recounts, when he was just six, he went out with his brothers Josiah, age 8, and Mordecai, age 14, and their father to work the fields.  Suddenly a shot rang out from the woods nearby and Father collapsed.

Thomas stood transfixed in the crackling calm of shock–staring at his father.  Josiah took off sprinting to Hughes Station, where settlers gathered in the event of Indian attack, calling for help as he ran.  Mordecai hustled to the cabin where the family kept a loaded musket.  A figure emerged from the forest and moved towards Captain Lincoln’s body, towards Thomas.

Mordecai, quick to the cabin, grabbed the musket next to the door, turned, and saw the figure for the first time, an Indian, standing above his Father.  Gasping, Mordecai yelled and stumbled towards his Father and Thomas, the heavy rifle causing him to lose his balance and fall.  Thomas, still in shock, turned to the Indian, who was now reaching towards Thomas, who Mordecai thought was about to be killed or carried off.

In that second, 14 year old Mordecai rose to his feet, took aim, and fired, hitting the Indian in the chest and killing him instantly.  Bathsheba Lincoln, Abraham’s grandmother, was left a widow with five underage children.

Thomas Lincoln’s story had a powerful affect on young Abraham.  “The story of his death by the Indians,” President Lincoln later wrote, “and of Uncle Mordecai, then fourteen years old, killing one of the Indians, is the legend more strongly than all others imprinted on my mind and memory.”

I started loving history when I realized that the figures of history are just as real as you or I.  I started feeling socially responsible when I realized the future, though unknown, is still infinitely more real than the best fiction.  Connecting the past, the present, and the future, are stories–stories that formed us before we were born, and, through the telling, continue to form us today.  For Lincoln, his Father’s account of his grandfather’s death was such a story.  For me, my Father has told me a family story with similar effect.  I have invited him to re-tell it on my blog.  I also invite any of my readers, if you have a family legend, a connection to the past, which strongly imprinted itself on “mind and memory,” please share it on my blog.  The door is open.

Knowledge Matters: The 1-1-1 Plan

In the glorious light of this nail-bitingly dramatic Republican primary, I am taking the opportunity to articulate  a plan that would forever change our political process.  The plan would hopefully push candidates to do more to educate their constituents and pander towards the generally knowledgeable instead of special interests or the ignorant folks who can’t pick out Saudi Arabia on a map.   My plan, which has been rolling around in my head for some time, is based on two equal premises.  The first is as lofty as the second is pragmatic.

Premise 1: Everyone has a right to influence their country’s decision-making processes.

Premise 2: Those who have more knowledge and understanding in relevant areas should have more influence in their country’s decision-making processes.

In other words, everyone should have a voice, but not all voices are equal.  Some people do not track the news at all, some have never shown any interest in economics, political theory, history, foreign policy, etc.  I’m fine if people do not engage in these issues.  That is up to them.  However, if you don’t cook, I’d rather not eat your food.  If you don’t know anything about construction, I’d rather you not build my house.  In the same way, governing takes skill and picking governing representatives takes skill.  I’d rather live in a country that tried to recognize and use those skills.

Under our current system, politicians cater to those who are less informed rather than more informed.  Why?  I believe a big reason is that those with well-wrought opinions tend to be less easily swayed.  So unless there is an incentive to appeal to those with carefully constructed opinions, they will be increasingly ignored in favor of the emotional, more easily manipulated, less informed voter–those that might change their mind after seeing an ad or two, or hearing a talking point or two.

Therefore, I have created the 1-1-1 Plan.  It’s quite simple.  Everyone has the opportunity to have their vote be worth 3 votes.  Each of us would start with a baseline of 1, by virtue of being a citizen only.  The second amount would be given based on a conglomeration of life experiences that society deems valuable.  These experiences would be identified by a bi-partisan congressional commission every year.  For example, 0.1 points could be given for military service, 0.1 for Peace Corps/AmeriCorps/Teach for America service, 0.1 for college, 0.1 for having visited a foreign country, etc., up to 1.0 max.

The final amount would be allotted based on how many correct answer the voter gives to a simple 10 question basic knowledge test.    Questions would be randomly selected from a question bank which a bipartisan commission would create: 2 questions would be budget related, 2 questions would come from U.S. history, 2 would be about the constitution, 2 about foreign policy, and 2 the economy.  One of each question pair will be easier and one harder.  A typical quiz might look like the following:

  1. Currently, our national debt is closest to what percent of GDP?    A) 40% B) 70  C) 100 D) 130%
  2. Department of Defense spending accounts for what percent of the national budget for FY 2011?   A)10% B) 20  C) 40% D) 60%
  3. Which president signed the Civil Rights Act?  A) JFK B) LBJ C) Nixon D) Ford
  4. After the Boston Massacre in 1770, which Founder represented the British soldiers? A) John Adams B) Samuel Adams C) Thomas Jefferson D) John Marshall
  5. Which branch of the federal government is empowered by the Constitution to declare war? A) Judicial B) Executive C) Legislative D) Military
  6. A constitutional amendment requires how many yea votes in both the House and Senate? A) 1/2 B) 3/5 C) 2/3 D) 3/4
  7. Iraq shares a border with all but one of these countries: A) Israel  B) Syria C) Turkey D) Iran
  8. Through this shipping lane travels 35% of the worlds seagoing oil.  A)  The Straits of Malacca B) The Strait of Gibraltar C) The Bering Strait D) The Strait of Hormuz
  9. The dot-com bubble spanned roughly: A) 1986-1990 B) 1990-1995 C) 1996-2000 D) 2000-2005
  10. In economic parlance, the word “externality” refers to: A) goods which are undersupplied in a typical market.  B) an extreme case of failure of competition as a restraint on producers.  C) a means of final payment for goods in most price system economies.  D) social costs or benefits from production or consumption that are not reflected in market prices.

Obviously, there are problems with the 1-1-1 plan.  For example, literacy tests were used in the South to oppress African Americans for decades, and, in the early days of our country, only land-owning white men could vote.  So there is a bleak tradition here of discrimination under the guise of prudence.  One question particularly concerns me: will the 1-1-1 Plan favor the more educated, and thus the more wealthy?  And I’ve come to think that yes it will.  Or more precisely, it will tend to give wealthier people a more influential voice in the process in proportion to their population.

However, under the current plan, why do the rich already have a more influential voice in the political process?  I believe that a big part of it is for the reason I mentioned earlier: the rich partner with ignorant people by exploiting their lack of knowledge through multimillion-dollar ad-buys.  So the 1-1-1 Plan would dull the cudgel that the rich already wield.  Also, helping the poor, I believe, is a very difficult and complicated affair.  Being knowledgable in economics and economic development, for instance, is a more helpful qualification than having been personally poor.

Finally, and I find this most assuring, this plan has a third premise:

Premise 3: Generally, those less knowledgeable in a particular area desperately want those more knowledgeable to take the lead in solving important problems in that area.

Ultimately, I like the 1-1-1 Plan because it incentivizes education, raises the level of debate, and asks us all to take a breath and humble ourselves.  Voting is serious business.  In fact, I would say the average voter is more responsible for our current troubles than the average politician.  So lets pray for a day when society expects more from voters than merely the possession of an opinion.

Old Jer Idea #1: Real Rough Love

There are a number of serials I want to start, one being an “Old Jer Idea” series for ideas I have been talking about for years.  These are tried and true monologues, not unlike my myths, only less entertaining and more pedantic.  You’ll love them.  

Alicia keeps telling me that I should write a book about my approach to relationships, confrontation, and love.  I think that the fact that this suggestion is coming from my wife warrants an immediate book deal.

If I did write this book, I think my first tenet would be my definition of real love: love concerns itself exclusively with the object of love.  Real love tries always to reach past the words and space that divide us in order to understand and comfort the loved one’s inner space.  Love cares about the inside.  This is simple, but devastating in many ways.  Obviously, the biggest implication is that we have to allow others to love us by verbalizing what is going on in our heads.  This means honesty, and invariably, some rough conversations we call “confrontation.”  I have lots of ideas about how confrontation should be done, indeed it is a difficult skill, but talking about confrontation does not interest me at the moment.  Instead, I want to explore a very specific pitfall in relationships.

Most of the roles we hold dearest to our sense of self are our functions as wife/husband/parent/child/friend/etc.  Unfortunately, many of us desperately need to be good at those roles, and we set our hearts on a certain image of ourselves.  To keep our realities in tact, we refuse to entertain the possibility of failure by resisting any indication that we have mismanaged our role.  This forces those that we love to become actors and actresses in a tedious play designed to convince the “loving” person, perhaps Exemplar Edgar, that he is a great husband.  But by insisting on this farce, Edgar’s loved ones come to despise him, for every day he rubs the truth in their face, “I care more about my self-image than you.  Why else would I be so willing sacrifice your happiness and my relationship to you in order to preserve it.”

Of course, while some people resist criticism to the bitter end, others immediately break down and beg forgiveness for being an awful, despicable person.  Both responses are monumentally worthless and a middle course between the two, or oscillating between them, is just as bad.  Being 50% self-deprecating and 50% self-preserving is still being 100% self-focused.  Instead, love, concern for what is going on in the other person’s head, requires a certain amount of maturity, of being secure in who you are, of being able to think from another’s perspective, so that you can forget about yourself for a moment.  Why have they come to me?  Why are they hurt?  Why are they afraid?  What underlying fear are they worried about and how can I address it?  Do I understand what they wanted to say?  Have I expressed that I understand?  Etc.

If being loving is only possible after being secure, does that mean that insecure people are incapable of love?  In short, yes.  It depends on how and why one is insecure, but overall, I think so.  Many, maybe a third of us, I do not know, have probably never loved someone in our entire lives.  Of course, the insecure person might be capable of love in the sense that at some level he cares about another person, but caring and valuation is always a comparative enterprise.  We prove our love when something we are insecure about is threatened, but we choose to listen and ask questions.  Otherwise we love conveniently.

So who do you love, and who do you love conveniently?  As you think about the people in your life, a good barometer is how easily and often honest conversation and confrontation happens.

Hmmm… I have some people I need to chat with.