Sunday, September 25, 2011

On Taking Risks: The thrill of adventure… the agony of defeat

When I sat down to write this post, I had initially started by writing about forgiving ourselves… but what I found was that as much as they are interrelated to one another, forgiving ourselves and taking risks are each topics equally deserving a separate discussion of their own. So here it is… on risk.

Everything in our lives involves varying degrees of risk. In this context, I’m referring to risk as the personal liability we experience as a result of our decisions. The range of risk involved can be anything from making financial decisions, to breaking promises or diets (lol) to sharing personal stuff about ourselves… just to name a few. But in all cases, they involve taking chances – we have to risk something. So, when we decide to get into a new relationship, we risk personal heartache. When we decide to buy that new pair of shoes instead of getting the car fixed, we risk the car breaking down. When we decide to break that diet for a piece of extra dark chocolate, we risk gaining that damn pound we just lost… and so on.

Each day our lives are shaped by decision-making great and small, and with that, comes the risk of exposing ourselves to intended and unintended outcomes – the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is no choice in the outcomes, merely the decision that we make will yield something that may or may not be what we wanted – that’s risk-taking!

Generally, most of us prefer to live with as little risk as possible. Quite frankly, I think it can feel pretty scary for us to intentionally expose ourselves to taking risks outside of our comfort zone. We all tend to have a filter of some sort which gives us the parameters of our risk-taking behaviors. Depending on the context and our previous experiences with like circumstances, our degree of confidence in rendering a decision varies as well. This becomes even trickier when we are dealing with “new territory” situations – situations that are brand new to us and we have no frame of reference of to guide us. How should we think about risk taking in those situations? Go for it or wait and see?

As a single mother, I have found myself preoccupied with thinking about the types and kinds of risks I take at many different levels: there are those associated with my career and future goals; those associated with parenting, and of course, those associated with dating and developing new partnerships. Over the years, I have found that my “risk management” skills has become more skilled in some areas, but still lacking in others, lol. For example, I am much more comfortable in taking risks associated with my own personal growth than I am in regards to forging new love interests.

As I contemplated why the discrepancy, I narrowed it down to my perceived degree of competence in making the right decision. In other words, I am more confident about my ability to do the work associated with personal development than I am about my ability to pick partners who are good for me, lol. Therefore, I am willing to take greater risks in the area of personal growth and perhaps be more conservative in the area of dating…. and then, there are certain things where I just won’t cross the line because the risks do not seem to outweigh the benefits.

With time and life experiences, I have developed more perspective with which to gauge my risk taking. Attempting to explore things from many different angles instead of my own myopic viewpoint, and to stay open, even when I know the associated risks in a given situation are high are two such tactics that I employ.

So what happens when you risk and don’t get the desired results? What do you find yourself doing? Do we engage in a round of self-loathing and close the door to ever trying that again? Do we stay open to trying things again and see what happens? Or do we begin to narrow those parameters of risk exposure, recalibrating and readjusting as we carry on? I am certainly not advocating for constant bad-decision making for the sake of risk-taking. But what I am wondering is the extent to which we ask ourselves about how life’s experiences have influenced us and shaped our willingness to engage in more risk or… perhaps, none at all.

Do we see risks as potential personal liabilities to ourselves, or do we see them as ventures into the realm of possibilities? Maybe it’s about thinking about what’s possible…

There’s a favorite quote that I use as one of my mantras, and it goes like this:
Remember that great love and great achievements involve great risk.”

So here’s to understanding that nothing is possible without some level of risk; and that everything through risk is an opportunity for us to learn about ourselves and others.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Guest Post Commentary: Chivalry from a Male's Perspective

(Written by my dear friend, "X")

I thought I’d throw my hat in and weigh in on the existence of chivalry (or lack thereof).  Writing from a male point of view, I will admit that my personal view is probably not the view of the masses (most men), but it is still male nonetheless.
Some background on me:  I was raised in a household with my mother and three sisters and manners were consistently emphasized.  My mother was married and remarried several times.  Knowing this about me should give quick reference points to an overall sense of who I have become as an aging (though not aged) adult.

I believe that Chivalry is gasping for air, but it is his ailing cousin Etiquette that should be given the electronic paddles.  I agree with some of the previous posters who hint that chivalry hearkens to a primitive time where the very act signifies recognition of a lower station.  (As I understand) It was a social expectation to act chivalrous to indicate etiquette which was often learned by wealthier men (ironically, from teachers who were women).   Men often behaved according to etiquette’s “rules” as a representation of themselves as educated (which again was a elite privilege), and also to show themselves as good potential mates to women who were also groomed to be properly behaved (and subservient).   I realize that these societal norms cross many cultural lines with some variations, but the core belief remains the same:  (I believe) Men were chivalrous to gain something.  Whether it was a “station” in life they were after or a spouse, it appears that many men were motivated by a type of power.  (Writers note:  I realize that I have simplified egalitarian politeness, which leads to either political power, or male dominance in relationships, but I only seek to make a point that motivations may not be entirely centered on treating an individual as an equally viewed HUMAN).

I have been witness to many male friends who in the process of wooing will open car doors, pull out chairs, and walk on the street side of the sidewalk.  These acts are abundant in the first several months of dating, but decline over time.  Maybe it’s the process of dating that I am commenting on, but I see that it is not only chivalry that is declining, but in these dating instances, it is manners and etiquette that has declined.

My mother raised me to be polite.  She is the first feminist that I have ever known.  She demanded that respect be the ultimate rule for interaction with both male and female.  She made sure that I knew how to iron, cook, and clean a toilet.  She instructed me to be gentle, kind, and slow to speak and this pertained (again) to ALL people.  I called people by last name (until instructed by them to do otherwise) and I was told to do for myself the things that I could do MYSELF, and extend that outward to those that I love.  I’ve simplified many years of upbringing into a single paragraph, but what my mother taught me was not that complicated:  treat all people with respect.  In retrospect, I see her not as a feminist as much as I see her as a HUMANist.

So, now I will tell you that I do hold car doors open.  I walk on the street side of the sidewalk when I’m walking with a female friend.  I make sure I stand when a female friend is leaving to go home and sometimes I even walk my friends to their cars.  Is this chivalry?  Maybe.  But, I think that it is just plain polite.  I may not hold a door open for a male friend, but I attempt politeness in other ways with my male friends (also to show them that they are deserving of respect).

I’m even learning “dancers” etiquette now.  There’s a whole new set of rules (a good blog topic for the future, perhaps), but I still fall on the side of what is polite rather than what falls under the name of chivalry.
Now that I am single, I have discovered a recognition for the “manners” that my mother made certain that I projected.  I challenge myself sometimes with whether or not I am projecting a view that might hint that I am superior in some way (I know that I am not).  As I look for a woman who appreciates me, I am hoping that she also sees that my actions come from a place of respect, and are not for others to view and evaluate, but for her to see that even the smallest gesture (even if it's pulling out a chair) that I am elevating her in my affection.  Each action is an act of respect, care, and a recognition that she is deserving of just that.

I choose civility.  I choose etiquette.  I choose manners.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Two-Cents... may be three, on Chivalry

I have appreciated the wonderful diversity of perspectives that folks have contributed in this week’s blog via postings and emails to me. I also want to apologize to my readers of the male persuasion – hindsight is always 20-20 and I realized yesterday that the way the second part of the question was phrased it essentially excluded the male voice, yikes! My apologies and certainly not my intent… it certainly would have been interesting to get the male perspective on the role of chivalry in male-female interactions, period. And so now I offer my two cents – a rather lengthy two-cents on this topic, lol.

But before doing so, I want to share with you some insightful and funny comments I found on the web as to whether or not chivalry was, perhaps, already dead:

“No, chivalry is not dead; however, some say it has taken a leave of absence.”
“No, but it is on life support.”
“No, but it is misplaced.”
“Yes, and women killed it.”
“Chivalry is not dead, it just doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It’s not dead, it’s just dormant.”
“Chivalry isn’t dead, it just lost its value; not to say that women don’t appreciate it, but it’s not expected anymore.”

Interesting! It certainly left me wondering that since we seemed to share a common understanding as to what chivalry is, then do we also have an understanding about its relevance in society… Just what is chivalry supposed to accomplish?

Many a debate took place between me and a dear friend of mine on this very topic, and it is because of these discussions I was able to take my thinking beyond the realm of everyday male-female interactions. But initially, I must confess, I felt very confused and flustered about his position that chivalry actually hurt women in the long run.

WHAT? How could that be? How could chivalry – that which required men to treat women with respectful and courteous behaviors – be harmful for women???

In order to answer to that, you have to examine the societal context in which chivalry exists. The behaviors that characterize chivalry generally denote respect and courtesy from men to women. However, these behaviors have not, nor have they ever been defined by women; they were defined by men. We have all been raised to believe that when a man exercises these behaviors towards a woman, he is a decent man, and a man who does not is generally seen as rude or a jerk. Thus, chivalry is optional.

This dynamic, in my opinion, is quite sinister because we all get caught in the minutia. The bigger issue lies in the fact that chivalry is a matter of choice for men: one can either choose to exercise it or not. Thus, if chivalrous behavior is an option, then what is the societal norm? Is it plausible to argue that the social norm regarding the treatment of women does not require respect and courteous behaviors? Hhhmmm….

If chivalry is optional, then it’s no wonder we can find evidence of how that mentality manifests itself: Like the fact that women still experience pay inequality in the 21st century or that women experience the highest rates of intimate violence and rape or that single-female headed households suffer the highest rates of poverty rates in the U.S., and so on.

         Getting caught up in the small stuff has detracted us from seeing how larger issues do not reflect a society that sees or treats its women in a respectful way. On the contrary. In my opinion, chivalry masks the breadth and depth of the real issues so that we don’t see the big picture. We are placated by the niceties exchanged, but cannot see the hypocrisy of our current societal framework.

         So perhaps the answer as to chivalry’s relevance lies in our beliefs about respect and human dignity for each other. Maybe this is more about civility than chivalry. Maybe we should be talking about our desire for civility (i.e., mutual respect and equality between the sexes) to be the societal norm rather than an optional one... so that we don't have a special word in our vocabulary that highlights the special treatment of one group towards another... it's just expected.

Perhaps when civility is the general norm, then chivalry will rightfully loose its place and relevance… maybe then we might all happily kiss chivalry good-bye. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Should we kill off chivalry???

I have been engaged in several conversations of late regarding male-female interactions - specifically in regards to the issue of chivalry. Invariably, the topic always comes up if you're single and dating, but I have also had some interesting insights shared by married friends as well.

So, in my desire to make this blog more interactive and more interesting, I would like to pose some questions to my readship (am I allowed to use that term for such a small following, lol?) These questions are:

(1) Is chivalry relevant anymore? and
(2) What role does chivalry play in our relationships with men, dating and in general?

PLEASE, do share your thoughts, reflections, and ideas... there is no right answer! lol.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Midlife & "Do-Overs"

I have this dream: one day, I will have published a fantastic bestselling book or maybe I will have written an intriguing screenplay that is going to be made into a movie, or perhaps even have my poetry collection published. The point is I want to be a writer… or as I tell some of my friends – “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” Lol. And while the latter is said sort of tongue-in-cheek, the truth is that there’s something about being mid-point in your life, midlife – where a reference to growing up sounds quite plausible.

I have to say that when I hit the forties I thought life would be smooth sailing for me. At the time, I was happily married, with four kids, a stable career, and a house I could call my own. The epitome of the American dream, but then life happens… and for me, everything hit the proverbial fan when I entered “midlife.” Long story short (and some of you know the long version of my story), I am currently a single mom, my career is (thankfully) stable, and yes, I did keep the house.

Despite the dramatic upheavals, I’ve managed to keep my head on, staying forever optimistic and hopeful about the future.  I still believe in love and marriage, and recognize that all things happen for a reason. The silver lining in all this drama? (yes, there is a silver lining) Is that with each experience comes an opportunity for me to grow and learn about myself… opportunities that I like to call “Do-Overs.”

“Do-Overs” … some food for thought

“Midlife” is typically characterized by the media and movies as a time when folks between the ages of forty-something through their fifties experience life-changing events – more commonly known as midlife crisis’s. Researchers have found that this is a period of time when adults are heavily engaged in introspection and reflection, contemplating where they have been and where they are going. It is yet another stage in our human development when we are seeking identity reconfiguration. The impetus for reassessing our lives in this way is said to stem from our life experiences – death of loved ones, illnesses, losses such as jobs, marriages, and even life-long dreams. According to researchers, the culmination of these experiences has the effect of reminding us about our own mortality, our aging selves both physically and mentally, and our once youthful aspirations.

Being a midlifer myself, I have very much been engaged in a constant state of self-reflection. And contrary to what the media might portray, stopping to take a moment and think isn’t such a bad thing after all – I have often wondered if I might have been a much better human being if I had engaged in this type of self-reflection all along!

And so through my journeys in midlife, it dawned on me that the whole process and experience was very reminiscent of another time in my life - a time when internal chaos and turmoil seemed more the norm; when questions about one’s self-image and sexual attractiveness to the opposite sex abounded; and the sorting through the uncertainty of one’s future led to contemplation of goals and planning. Sound familiar? This all reminded me of adolescence and young adulthood…. The only difference being that I have more control and power over my situation than I did as a young adult…. and the wisdom of an additional twenty-something years of life experiences is advantageous when trying to make sense of things and learn from your past.

It dawned on me that while many people might be lamenting the woes of midlife, there exists a great opportunity that we are missing: the Do-Over. Yeah, you know, when you were a kid and playing a particular board game and you “accidentally” made a mistake – you got a chance to do things over – like re-spinning the wheel or re-casting the die and then continue playing the game. I am not suggesting that life is merely a game, but that the analogy has implications for how we live and breathe through this stage of human development.

The silver lining lies in how we approach the opportunities to “do-over.” While researchers characterize midlife as a depressing stage in the life span where reexamination and reconciliation of life experiences can serve as the springboard for disillusionment and despondency. I argue the contrary: that no matter what life experiences you have endured, the beauty of midlife is its opportunity to learn something from it and heal.

In Freudian psychology, the concept of repetition compulsion says that we play out traumatic events over and over in our lives as a means of gaining mastery over those experiences. “Traumatic” in this sense does not necessarily refer to a death or divorce…. It could be something as inconspicuous as the break-up of your first love or growing up in an unpredictable home environment. Whatever the nature those experiences may be, Freudian psychology says that throughout our lives, we continue to play out these unresolved traumatic events through unconscious behavioral patterns or patterns in decision making that subconsciously recreate a similar event(s). The cycle ends when we have “conquered the demons” so to speak, i.e., we have resolved our feelings and the experience with a positive outcome. 

Midlife presents us with the opportunity to self-reflect about those very patterns of behavior that we may or may not already been aware of. These patterns may have had the untoward effect of undermining our self-confidence, our self-esteem, our relationships both personally and socially, and our overall sense of well-being. Reflection at midlife begs us to engage on a deeper and more profound level within ourselves – For example: I may have patterns of choosing partners that are emotionally unavailable to me… but the deeper reflection asks, “What do I understand about myself in that pattern? What is the nature of the pattern and for what purpose does it serve?”

Simply contemplating the why’s and how’s of our inner selves is vacuous if it is not accompanied by resolution…. A Do-Over implies action - a conscious effort to do things differently so as not to repeat them over in the next twenty-, thirty- or forty- something years left of life. A Do-Over is an opportunity to change any pattern once and for all.

It is important to recognize and not minimize our life experiences, but at the same time it is futile to live in the past. We cannot change the past; what’s done is done. And while we wish we could control others, the reality is we can only control ourselves. So why not focus on ourselves in a way that will lead to increased insight and acceptance of ourselves, and tolerance for our own limitations? Perhaps a Do-Over is just what the doctor ordered - an opportunity to embrace ourselves for who we are right now, instead of bemoaning and regretting that which we have not become.

My hope is that by writing about this subject, people will come to embrace and appreciate the opportunity that midlife has to offer – whether one is single, married, or somewhere in between – midlife is a chance to bridge the chasms within our very being. It is a time to be re-engaged with ourselves in a way that does not promote denial of aging but rather celebrates the wisdom gained from living. It is a time for us to open our eyes to that which has blinded us from being a better human being and to revaluate the relevance of blind adherence to social norms and values. It is a time for us to reconcile our experiences unto ourselves and to heal….

In my mind, it is a stage in our human development where the gift of self-reflection presents us with the opportunity to “do over”…. and hopefully, this time we do it right.