Tag Archives: love

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.  

Sex in Sri Lanka

According to local sources, extra-marital affairs, and PDA, is acceptable in Colombo, but not the rest of the country.  Homosexuality is not acceptable anywhere, though there are plenty of secret gays–at least that is what Anuhas tells me.  I thanked him for this information on behalf of my blog readers.

Unrelated to that, here’s some pics from a trip downtown the other day.

A Love Story

This is likely my most foundational myth.  I share it now because of its relevance to my last post.  Click on the “My Myths” page above for more info about what these myths are all about.  

Most expats in my community headed back to the States during the lazy summers of High School.  The ones who remained were at the pool everyday.  Among them were Coach Harris and his progeny, who at the time numbered five.  They couldn’t afford seven plane tickets anywhere, so instead they kept us in business.  Everyday I watched them swim from my perch atop the lifeguard stand.

I think the main reason why some people did not like Coach Harris was because they didn’t know what to do with him.  He had all these cute kids, but he himself was big, bald, buff and scary.  He appeared taller then he really was.  He kept his head shaved because he had started to go bald in his early twenties and didn’t want to deal with it.  He taught high school math and was intelligent, but he was also quite emotional, dramatic, and judgmental.  He wasn’t mean, brutally honest to a fault perhaps, but not mean.  Once he screamed at me when I lost a big wrestling match and called me an idiot, but I don’t hold it against him.  He was caught up in it.  I think most people did not like him because he neither said hello nor smiled when he passed you on the sidewalk.  But his intensity and the fear he inspired kept us wrestlers in shape and his four little boys in tow.  Now his wife had just given birth to their fifth: a girl.  Some people feared for her.  How would this guy raise a daughter?

Once or twice I wondered this myself as I watched the Harris boys jump off the boards.  They loved the diving boards.  Coach would often join them, teaching them how to make big splashes, dive, and do flips.  But for hours after Couch would retire to his big towel shared by his wife and little daughter, his sons’ ceaseless jumping would keep wet a closed circuit on the pavement from the pool to the boards.

The three eldest took great pride and pleasure in jumping off the twelve foot high dive.  But the youngest was still too scared.  Elijah was four, scrawny, and ridiculously cute.  One day he turned his over-sized head and cast his big brown eyes on the high dive.  He wanted to join his brothers.

“Daddy, can I jump off the high dive?” he asks, staring up at the board.

“Are you sure son?  It’s pretty high,” says Coach.

“Yeah, but I want to.”

At our pool nobody is allowed to climb down the high dive ladder.  It is too long, wet, steep, and slippery.   Of course, most lifeguards, myself included, were not martinets about it.  But Coach squats down, looks his son in the eye and says, “It’s your decision Elijah, but I want this to be clear: if you decide to go up the ladder, the only way down is jumping.  It’s the rules.  Are you sure you still want to do this?”


“Great.  If you think you are up to it, I think you are too.”

Elijah slowly starts to climb the ladder.  Caleb, the eldest, looks concerned.

“Are you sure Elijah?” he says. “Won’t you be scared?  It’s pretty high.”

“I can…do it,” Elijah mumbles.

The steps on the ladder are too big for him, but after some awkward climbing he arrives at the top and beholds the world from twelve feet up.  His eyes pop.  There is no place higher in all the world.

After a few short seconds he musters his courage and begins to inch his way slowly down the board.  His arms are not long enough to reach the railings on both sides so he grabs the right side with both hands and walks woodenly sideways in his sopping red swim shorts.  But he quickly runs out of railing and faces the board’s lonely extension into oblivion.  The panic starts.

“Dad, I’m scared,” he said.

“You can do it,” Coach calls back, “I believe in you.”

Elijah’s brothers join his dad on the side.

“You can do it!”

“Go Elijah!”

With knees wobbly, Elijah slowly lowers himself to his hands and knees.  He painfully relinquishes the metal rail and starts to crawl forward.

As the line behind the high dive grows, I worry that being the lifeguard on duty I might have to expedite matters.  But impatience thaws as those in the line become invested in the delightful drama of this little guy’s jump.  They join the cheering crowd.

“Come on buddy!”

“You can do it!”

As Elijah journeys down the board, his crawl becomes slower and slower, and he hunkers lower and lower, until he is finally lying face down, at the end of all things.  With his nose pressed into the sandy-textured surface his eyes peep over the edge.

“Daddy, I don’t want to do this!”

Coach replies, “You have to buddy.  Now stand up.”

At this point, patrons from around the pool find themselves congregating around Coach, adding their voice to the encouragement.  Through the power of cheer they hoist Elijah to a crouch.  Then they start the “one-two-three-jump” routine, but when they get to “jump” Elijah remains motionless, tense, his big eyes staring at the water.  After a few disappointed seconds they start again, but at “two” they stop.  Elijah has burst into tears.

“Daddy, Daddy,” he says through chortled gasps, “don’t … make …me …. do … it. I’m scared, I don’t …want to.”  His knees now shake uncontrollably, and his nose is running.  The mood of the crowd begins to alter.

“Ok, that’s enough.  Get him down now,” an older man barks.

Coach whips him a look that shuts him up, but as time ticks on those looks become less effective.  Some of the crowd’s cheers for Elijah become muttered jeers against his father.  I feel that it might be gracious to provide an opportunity to end this.  I began to speak, “Elijah, its OK.  You can climb…” but coach gives me a glare, and my voice trails off.  He was scary and bald.

But Elijah still won’t jump.  The exciting and uplifting drama that had brought in the crowd and stalled the impatience of those in line was now becoming the grotesque sight of an ill-tempered father needlessly torturing his son.  The crowd thins.  Many give up on jumping off the boards in order to escape.  I feel it too, the way you want to hide in your chair when someone on stage is embarrassing themselves, the way you want to turn the other way when a child is being spanked in public.  Those who stayed either donned a grim face suitable for watching parental inadequacy or became vocal hecklers.

“Why are you doing this to him?”

“Somebody needs to get that kid down.”

As Elijah continues to sob, the crowd focuses on Coach, and as Coach’s looks grow increasingly ineffective, he turns to his son.

“I believe in you Elijah.  You can do it.  Jump!”

But when chokes and sobs progress to delirium, the crowd turns from Coach to me.  The second time I open my mouth Coach raises a hand, “Please Jeremy,” and while looking up he says,

“Son, I love you.  You made a decision to climb up that ladder knowing that you would have to jump.  I am going to hold you to your word.  You can do it.”

At several points during this entire spectacle Elijah ran back to the railing, once as far as to the top of the ladder, but he always came back.   When his Father says these last words Elijah is at the edge of the board again.  Elijah responds by taking a few breathes and calming himself a bit.  Then, during a lull in the cheering, while most are focused on denouncing Coach and I, while I am absorbed in figuring out how best to salvage my own reputation in the situation, Elijah crouches a little lower.  Then, with body tense, hops lightly off.

Splash!  The crowd goes wild. Elijah himself comes up out of the water with a grin big enough to match the size of his eyes.  Pure joy.  His brothers help him to the side.  “That was so cool!” Elijah squealed as he clambered out.  His father kneels in front of him.

“Son, I’m so proud of you.  I knew you could do it.”

“Thanks Dad,” Elijah squeaks and quickly pulls away.

“What? Where are you going?” Coach asks confused.

Elijah turns as he runs, “I’m doing it again!”

Elijah spent the rest of the day jumping off the high dive.  The crowd dissipated.  Coach and even Elijah’s brothers eventually left him to make his own closed circuit on the pavement.  But I stayed at my post until the pool closed watching this child and pondering his transformation.  It seems to me that my graciousness and the crowd’s compassion would have had Elijah ashamed, crying, huddling with his mommy and baby sister, wrapped in a towel and sucking pulpy juice through a straw while silently watching his brothers jump off the boards again and again without him.  It seems that only his father really loved him, and that enough to stand up to the crowd, to stand up to the lifeguard and, above all, to stand up to his own son’s tears.  What is love which damages its object?  What is love when it is motivated by the immediate gratification of our emotional “philanthropic” insecurities?

What is love?

I pondered all this and more high aloft in my sun-baked, concrete tower.

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.

Loved in Hell

Can loved ones be in hell?  I think everyone who believes in hell would say, “Of course.”  But this poses some logical problems for me.

In Veggie Tales’ Jonah, the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything define compassion for us: “Compassion is when you see that someone needs help, and you want to help them.”  It could also be said that you “let someone else’s trouble trouble you.”  But how do the troubles of those in hell not trouble those in heaven who, I assume, tend to be loving, compassionate people?  Is heaven possible in a world with a populated hell?

In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis wants to say it is.  It is possible to love those in hell, which in his grand metaphor is a greytown filled with those determined to hate the world and themselves, and not to be made miserable by that love, even if they are our dearest loved ones.  Lewis wants to say that if there is a hell then the Veggie Tales view of compassionate love does not work, because then hell would hold heaven hostage.

My trouble is that the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything have a good definition.  My understanding of love seems to necessitate letting others hijack your emotions.  As Mr. Holton, my 9th grade English teacher, said about having kids, “It’s like letting your heart walk around outside your body.”  That makes sense to me.  That is how my marriage feels, or having good friends, or having a god you love, or a dog you cherish, or loving anything at all ever.  A true lover cannot care about the self-inflicted emotional distress of those they love without that distress in some way translating into distress for themselves.  Distress is distress even if deserved.

Because love connects us, in a world of hate, all suffering is local.  It’s quarantined.  In a world of love, pain rides veins of sympathy, slowly spreading throughout the world to make us all miserable.  Maybe God made the world that way purposefully.  If we all loved each other, joy and misery would be universal.  That also means that those veins of sympathy would intertwine heaven and hell.

So, is compassion not good, or does it somehow become not good after Judgement Day?  Does compassion need to somehow accommodate corollaries (for example, another’s troubles only bothers you when they are not self-inflicted or deserved)?  How can it?  Will we not have real compassion or love for people in hell?  Or, will hell be empty?  I have no answers.

Maybe God cuts people off from his love because he loves others and must be allowed to be happy for their sake, otherwise the pain of the former will spread.  Maybe hell could mean being completely forgotten.  I cannot have compassion on someone if I do not remember they exist.  But while God can make me forget, can he forget?  I doubt it.  Even if he is the only one who remembers that there are people in hell, wouldn’t his love of people who are getting tortured torture him?  Is heaven good for us and miserable for God?

I think the magnitude of suffering dictates in part how bad we feel for even self-inflicted pain.  Lewis’ “greytown” seems less awful than fiery torment.  Even if fiery torment is self-inflicted, if we love them in any meaningful sense, we will feel bad, right?  Aren’t we called to love our enemies?  Is it a big step from that to love the damned?

But maybe my definition of love is incomplete.  Maybe more central to love is caring about someone else’s wellbeing more than your own.  In doing this, you throw yourself wide to the afflictions of compassion, but misery is avoided, because this sort of love is impossible without something else: a radical humility. You cannot care about someone else more than yourself if you care for yourself an infinite amount.  Have you ever been loved by someone who is not humble?  You haven’t.  It’s impossible.  Humility makes love possible, and part of humility is not taking on cares and woes that are not yours.  You are not responsible for everything if you do not think of yourself as having power over everything.  “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Somehow, maybe, by giving up on yourself, you can care about others, but that care does not pollute your happiness, because you have given up on yourself.  As Tyler Durten says in Fight Club, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”  As Victor Frankyl notes in Man’s Search for Meaning, you have to give yourself up and devote yourself to some larger purpose to be happy.  As Jesus says in Matthew, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

A radical humility is more central to our faith than anything else (my favorite passage is the Christ Hymn in Philippians).  Maybe radical humility is what saves hell from destroying heaven.  But at times it feels like alot of bullshit.  Christ’s call to die to self is an obnoxiously internal command.  I wish I could just do some hail Mary’s, observe Friday fasts, make a pilgrimage, and do stuff that makes me feel Christian and good.  I long for legalism.  But Christianity is an immensely internal experience.  Humility, love, faith, God…I cannot measure it, see it, record it, or describe it.  I hardly understand it.

So of course it would feel like bullshit, and of course it might be.  It just makes me crazy.

These are ramblings.  Please take them as such.