What Kind Of Man Are You?
A Sanity Check for Men
By Burton LoTo all my tribes, thank you. You’ve helped raise me to be the man I am, and I’m indebted to you all.
To my partner, Cara, thank you.
To my mother, Beth, thank you.
To my daughter Sarah, and my step-child Red, thank you.
To my brothers, Stu and Brady -- you know how much I love you, how much you mean to me.
See also: https://www.facebook.com/burt.lo/posts/10155797716437003
sisterhood and motherhood, brotherhood and fatherhood, rejuvenation and isolation, meditation and intentional awareness (mindfulness), innovation and productivity, expression and art, nurturing and affection, responsibility and activism, intention and attention, involvement and listening, consideration and contemplation, healing the mind and somatic healing, consciousness and unconscious
Progress and Preservation? As in wise growth and earth stewardship
Moral Compass and Leadership
Innate? Learned? Enculturation socialization nature vs nurture
Thoughts and Actions
Listening without Judgment
Fidelity and Loyalty
Caregiving and Sacrifice, Risk Taking and security, Openness and adaptibility
Openness of heart and mind
Tenacity and stubbornness also feel like they need to be a part of a discussion about character, though they, like many of the traits mentioned, may be more secondary type features, stemming from some mix of primary traits, and experience. Mighty complex undertaking. Good luck! Looking forward to your take on it all!
Control - allowing
Martyrdom - responsible
Rejecting - accepting
Self victimization- self empowerment
Mind & feelings controlled-controlled mind & feelings
Integrity with time and money. Punctuality? Financially Self-supporting
Principles and Ideology
Awe and Wonder
Fun and Joy
Ellyn Brown Quiggle:
People possessed by Satan
forgiveness vs vengeance
(Who will write this?)
The late 2010s has been a convergence of sorts, with a resultant unveiling of truths that can be disarming, threatening, or confusing at the least. We’ve had the blessings of the internet, which as a medium, has transformed global, convenient, immediate communications. It’s also helped us recognize, through the ubiquitous and constant, multitudinous channels, that the world is far more complex and unwieldy than we might have ever imagined before.
Politics are harrowing, with all aspects of humanity in consideration, or under threat. Core concepts, like identity, race, religion, and safety, are being shot at, legislated, tweeted. People are choosing sides, but almost having to choose sides on each individual topic, or having to find a “good enough fit” group to align with.
At the core, for me, dysfunction leads to “jails, institutions, or death”. Lofty claim? Consider that the ongoing, ever present stressors of life, have continually gotten greater over time. While there are a few fortunates that are able to lessen their stresses in life, the vast majority of people are “in process”, doing what they can, to better their stations in life.
In other words, for most people, life is hard.
And confounding, mysterious, confusing.
Add to that, layers of dysfunction, where communications are indirect, actions are passive aggressive; people at all levels of society are acting out of integrity, saying and doing very different things. We’ve lost promises and dreams that were promoted as part of the American Dream, and horrifically, we’re having to watch as promises like pensions are squandered and misdirected towards executives that have done little more than mismanage the bounties that pensioners had earned; this happens repeatedly, a slow motion death of the dreams of many thousands.
The attitude of commoditizing humans has devalued us all, along with many of our lifelong efforts. Many in positions of influence are willing to blithely dismiss concerns about climate change, ignoring substantial evidence to at least “take this seriously”. Instead, we continue down known, reckless behaviors anyway, prioritizing convenience and comfort over responsibility and care.
Even worse than all that, we’ve normalized dysfunction (not “we”, but we humans) and made it entertaining, or exciting, or even inspiring (pure insanity); just look at the vast majority of our pop culture.
The point of this book is to put a stake, one of many, into the ground, and to reclaim “good character” as valuable, and necessary, for us to acknowledge, and recover, ourselves from a train off the rails. I believe it’s absolutely possible, and, at the least, if you can check off all the boxes in this book, you’ll have a more complete and fulfilling life.
This book is also, first and foremost, a charge for self reflection. The only opinions that matter in the end are yours, and your innermost guides that you choose to value.
It’ll certainly be honest. Here’s why…
(my story, my why)
I offer this as an alternative lens for self reflection. While many of us have been raised to see Achievement and Accomplishment as indicators of success, I contend that we’re actually realizing that many have corrupted that paradigm through selfish schemes manifest as corruption, deception, and crime.
Of course, all of these have been ever present, as they are very base human qualities. Regrettably, we’ve allowed these character faults into our society and government, and we’re struggling to make sense of the qualities within the fabric of our culture.
I admit, this is written from my personal lens, of a 52 year old man, born in New York City, raised in New Jersey and San Diego. For all intents and purposes, I tried living without racial bias, but it was present, especially early on in my life. As an adult, I’m happy to say that San Diego was significantly open towards issues of race, gender, and sexuality. Me and my peers lived with an openness towards others that felt marginalized in other parts of the country and world.
While living my life, I kinda sorta followed the apparent American Dream plan, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was rarely able to put my trust and faith into corporations, because I had seen enough evidence that they were more interested in profits than in my humanity. I could see rare instances of corporations treating employees really well, but wrapping the entirety of my being into a job, vocation, career… that didn’t sit well either. It seemed more important to me to be as active and present in my family’s lives, especially my children.
You may find that some of my opinions aren’t shared elsewhere in the world. I can’t comment on much of that because I haven’t lived much elsewhere. I do have my opinions as to why other global citizens might think, act, or live differently, with regard to good character, and I’ll touch on that when discussing religion mostly.
So, from all that, I offer this, as a sanity check… hopefully you’ve got all of these qualities all dialed in, and that they are active, vibrant aspects of your being, where you demonstrate these traits effortlessly as you move through the world.
Or, simply consider the value of these traits, and choose how much, or little, you care to embrace living along these values.
With a world as full as ours, the things you can turn your attention to are infinite. I thank you for your attention towards the matters in this book.
There’s no linear progression through this book, no start, no end. Prioritizing these chapters is a very subjective consideration, so I leave it to you, to flip to the subject that piques your interest the most, and start from there.
Maybe you’ll flip to the easiest of them all, or the toughest, or the one that you’re experiencing the most pain from. It doesn’t matter, just get started, and flip through them all over time.
That said, I’ve done my best to pair subjects together, and to build up from a base of clarity (“Honesty and Humility”) to an end of having an effect in the world (“Power and Influence”). If you used these as a road map for developing character, you may find this to be a progressive approach.
Note: “Self Care and Mental Illness”, though included last in these pages, are far from the least important topics.
These are also directed at you, the reader specifically. While these topics may sound like other voices in your head or past, these are direct topics for you to consider for yourself, not necessarily by yourself. Use your trusted advisors, and/or find some if you don’t have any. Hire and fire them as is appropriate, but be mindful that you must develop support systems, like advisors, to get through life. Maybe they’re simply family members; or a coach that you hire; or a teacher that inspires you. Value them greatly, for they have no agenda other than to help you live fully.
The Checklist Items at the end of each chapter are deliberately simplistic. Each chapter can go down various rabbit holes, getting complicated, sophisticated, ever encompassing. Of course, ask yourself those questions as well, but remember that you’re playing with rabbit holes.
These are suggestions from me, from within my personal experience, and the knowledge that I’ve embraced and integrated from others during this lifetime. There are countless others who have invaluable information to share. Please, do, consider all you need to, from whatever sources you value, in order to develop your character fully.
We have to acknowledge that at any given point, we’re working with the information we’ve gathered to date. We also have to acknowledge that information can change over time, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. If we ignore these changes, then we’re not capable of being clear with our thinking or our behavior.
We are also dynamic beings ourselves, and we, ourselves, change over time. Experiences change us, new information changes us. We are apt to make different choices as we change.
Some of these changes can be world changing, as anyone who’s ever learned they were pregnant can tell you. Getting a desired job, having one’s affections reciprocated, even the feeling of a paycheck can be a game changer -- just check in with how you feel before-and-after.
It’s vital to distinguish between what we believe and what we’ve been taught. I dare say that everything we believe is something that was taught, through classes, words, or even unspoken lessons. The sensitivity of beliefs is that, for many, they are so deeply ingrained that people stop considering them, challenging them, checking for how relevant or applicable they are to the specifics in front of them.
This can be a great challenge, because without that level of consideration, we’re apt to fall back to unconscious thinking and behavior; saying and doing that feel natural, but are unfortunate reverberations of misguided beliefs.
I promise you, if a belief is worthwhile, it’ll stand the challenges of time. But, you have a responsibility to yourself to admit if/when a belief no longer serves you.
Beliefs are paired with Education here because our education is the foundation for most beliefs. We’re indoctrinated, for better or worse, by the way we are raised. Our childhood upbringings are understandably formative, but what we’re brought up with is only, at best, what our caregivers have to offer.
I have a belief, that I’ve often seen proven, where people that have enough, and feel secure, tend to be generous. A big factor also considered is a person’s affection towards another. When people are stressed, or worried about not having enough, they will be less generous, but often try some form of sharing or generosity because of affection.
The reverse works as well… people that don’t share are less affectionate towards certain people, and/or they have stress over not having enough, not feeling secure.
From that lens, most people can imagine that their parents offered what they could. For many people in our country, we’ve experienced bounty, with parents and family members showering us with care and gifts throughout our upbringing. We watched the examples of our caregivers/parents as they navigated life. We followed them to work, schools, places of worship, and in this way, we were educated with values, information, ethics.
This occurred for all those around you, though the details were different. Some had very little generosity shown to them; others too much. Your upbringing is a major source of your beliefs and education, and it inevitably becomes your responsibility to accept and own as yours. At that time, you’re the one responsible for perpetuating them, or adjusting them, as you see fit.
Hopefully this will give you an opportunity of gratitude for what was given to you; to acknowledge the generosity and love/affection that was shown to you, by whomever; to acknowledge that you were the recipient of all that attention.
Perhaps, though, this is a source of pain for you, because you got less than others, or not enough for your needs. Regrettably, this is also true for countless people. As you approach adulthood, though, you become more responsible, more “able to respond”, to the circumstances of your upbringing. You’re still just as responsible for the beliefs and education that you did or didn’t get, and it’s a big decision, but a definite decision, to choose whether to let your incomplete education end or stagnate as you age; it’s your responsibility to cultivate your beliefs. This is true regardless of one’s upbringing.
I’m not here to say that you have to be 100% honest, all the time, to everyone in your world, in order to have good character. I’ve been in sketchy situations, at least in my mind, where it was appropriate to life just for safety’s sake; there are countless people in harrowing circumstances, I’m hardly one to make a judgment call on all the possible scenarios.
The person that needs to make those calls is you. The point of Honesty is knowing when you are or aren’t being honest. The concern is that, if you get too caught up in your circumstances, that you simply lie categorically, and that’s evil. Also, it’s exhausting, I hope you never get that caught up.
But, being honest with yourself is paramount. If you can’t admit to being a beginner at something, then you’re lying; by the same token, if you can’t acknowledge when you are competent at something, then you’re again lying.
A working definition for a “lie”: Sharing, or withholding, information which would have an effect on a person’s choice. In other words, if I knew something that would affect you, and I didn’t tell you about it, then I was lying; if I gave you false or misleading information for something you were considering, that would clearly be a lie as well.
Being honest is directly connected to having clear perceptions. If you had a buzzing insect in your ear, you’d have a hard time hearing clearly. If you misheard some accurate information, then your perception of that information was corrupt or confused. While you might be honest about that information, you’d be wrong, and (partially) responsible when perpetuating that inaccurate information.
As a dear brother used to say in group therapy, if you have poop on your glasses, everything going to look poopy.
Check your glasses.
For me, and seemingly numerous people I discuss this with, “humility” has taken on a refined definition, slightly different from the dictionary. “Humility” can be useful when thought of as “knowing yourself exactly as you are, no better or worse”. If you want to adhere to Merriam-Webster, then you can present yourself more “modest or low”, but doing so deliberately, knowing that you’re underselling yourself.
As you might imagine, humility isn’t possible without honesty. For me, this was a challenge to get, because I had gotten so good at deflating myself. Lack of self worth, or self respect, had made me tremendously critical about myself, in all regards. I was pretty brutal, until I did enough healing and development to learn how terribly I’d been lying to myself.
One weird thing you might notice, and it will probably occur with most of these topics… as you consider these for yourself, as you become more comfortable using these aspects of yourself more fully, you’ll notice differences between you and your peers. Unless they speak the same language of character as you do, then you might notice that they don’t have much language for it, or that their character developed from a different source, a different model. Do talk about this with others! Do learn from one another, and encourage further development for all interested!
One of the powerful aspects of humility is when you apply it towards others. In my personal experience, I used to lavish coolness, significance, and influence over celebrities or outwardly attractive people. Maybe some of them really were that cool, but my conception of them wasn’t based on who they honestly were, but rather from my perceptions of them COMBINED WITH my biases, my preferences, or my fantasies.
For a long while, I didn’t even realize I was doing that. I’d feel a sense of familiarity with various celebrities that I’d never met. I’d even associate traits of the characters they played in movies or stories; Val Kilmer was Doc Holiday AND Ice Man, and all the other characters he’d played, and while Mr. Kilmer might have those traits within himself, I was imagining him as embodying all those characters at once. In the end, I realized how unfair that was to myself and to Mr. Kilmer, that I might think him as ruthless as Doc Holiday, as opposed to limiting that personalization to the character he played.
So, for myself, was I going to inflate or deflate what I could do, or what I knew, or how I would behave? I used to fall into a trap, where I would overstate my abilities or qualifications to get a job or a contract; not complete fabrications, but I’d embellish, or exaggerate for my benefit. I’d put myself into a stressful situation, taking a risk, in order to get ahead, or sometimes to survive. Thankfully, that need to embellish mellowed on its own, but that tendency to make myself look a little shinier was borne from fear and insecurity.
The cleaner way is to share yourself honesty, but then to seek agreement about taking the risk together. That’s honest and transparent, and you get strength from numbers. You’re also building trust in a relationship, which I discuss more fully elsewhere.
It became clear to me, though, how much easier and less stressful it was, to simply tell the truth about myself. It’s a tough call, to take risks like I did; again, I can’t imagine all circumstances for all people. The point, again, is to be honest with yourself; own the fact that you are embellishing, even lying, and commit to doing better if you can.
Trust and Trustworthiness are essential ingredients to relationships, and along with Acceptance and Love, are the foundation for Intimacy and, in turn, Connection. The more you value these things, the deeper the connection, and (I contend) the richer the experience.
But, Trust and Trustworthiness have to come from somewhere, it has to be taught, or at least nurtured. Sadly, for many people, they’ve been raised in traumatic or inadequate circumstances such that they developed with a belief that truth and honesty were pliable and manipulable, or that trust and honesty were painful. I’ve found, in my experience alone, that many people struggle with these effects from their upbringing.
For myself, I began to understand the significance of these values when I realized how I was being shown them, demonstrably, in the rooms of a sex recovery program. In a weekly meeting, with banquet tables shaped in a square, I sat, with the agreement of no crosstalk unless asked and accepted, as well as confidentiality of anything said in those meetings; I sat listening to a man divulge sexual behaviors that were the greatest sources of shame for them. He was demonstrating trust to me, and I was given the opportunity to practice trustworthiness by demonstrating my agreement to no crosstalk, and to confidentiality. I was faced with the truth that, up to that point, for a significant part of my life, I had not valued being trustworthy; rather I had become really good at manipulating people by “looking good”, or “doing the bare minimum” to get what I wanted. This all led to realizations about Self Centeredness and Service.
I started valuing trust and trustworthiness, and I needed to start with myself. I was the one that had been untrustworthy, to others yes, but even more vitally, to myself. I had to develop trust in myself, that I wouldn’t perpetuate the dysfunction that I had developed and learned from my development.
The context of these learnings was in the midst of my divorce, the concurrent diagnosis of major clinical depression, and my entrance into recovery and therapy. There was a lot going on, but my saving grace was recognizing “my bottom”, the point in an addict’s life that they can relate to being truly powerless, my life having become unmanageable. That “bottom” looked like me after every argument with my wife; deflated, discouraged, despondent. I felt like a loser, incapable of fixing the marriage, responsible for its failure. And this was a common experience, eventually coming all too frequently.
Which came first, my Depression or my failed marriage? Or my addiction? Or the dysfunction? In my mind, it really didn’t matter which came first, but my Depression was the most troublesome. I was blessed to be able to work with a therapist AND a psychiatrist that were both masters at healing mental illness and mood disorders through Western medications. That was in my late 30s, I’ve been off of meds for several years now, having also been blessed with success in the various therapies.
Part of the trust that I learned was, besides trusting myself to practice healthy self care (i.e. taking my meds, and not self medicating; going to meetings and doing my step work; maintaining healthy boundaries of limited contact with my ex; etc…) was also in trusting a process (see: Willingness and Faith), even if I’d never experienced it before.
As Sally Hogshead says, “Trust is the hardest thing to earn, and the easiest thing to lose.” That said many people develop with an “innate” sense of trust for certain people in their lives, mostly from “family”. I put that in quotes, because families can take various forms.
For some, it’s the blood family that gives them the experience of innate trust in others; it could easily be adopted families, even work or club families, much depends on which was most appealing to a developing person. Of course, that presumes the family is functional and healthy; that is often a tall order, as addictions run high, as do undiagnosed mental illnesses and mood disorders. For lower income families, stress is a regular part of life, and can have deleterious effects on loving, peaceful home environments.
We develop our ideas from our upbringing. You have to determine and acknowledge where you got these ideas; hopefully you can and do, but if you have challenges, get help and support in building up what might be underdeveloped in yourself. You’ll be hamstrung in developing lasting relations if you are deficient here.
When I developed my sense of trust and trustworthiness, I also came to realize, at least in my experience of the time, that it was an uncommon topic; not something that people discussed on a regular basis. This made me choose how important it really was to me; should I care about something that others don’t seem to value? One of my teachers reminded me then, that integrity is being who I say I am, especially when no one else can see.
After all the Freud, the biggest lessons I learned were that Ego was the thing that kept me from my highest self, and that Identity was up to me alone, that I was wholly responsible for the Identity that I created and maintained.
While writing this book, this turned out to be the place for me to introduce the topic of Spirit, and of a Higher Power. My gut response for years has been to stay generally quiet on the topic, allowing each person to have their own experience of a Higher Power, and to basically stay out of the way. This book compels me to make my case for why each person can benefit from a Higher Power. (See: Religion and Spirituality)
If you are going to value a Higher Power for yourself, then you’ve got a distinct relationship to develop. This Higher Power is going to be made up of ideas from others, from the past, or made up entirely by you and those you trust. I can’t dictate what those ideas are going to be for you, but I will say that, when I put those ideas of my Higher Power into priority for my life, then numerous perspectives on life changed; I had a paradigm shift. (Also see: Self Centeredness and Service)
When Ego and Identity are used in service to your Higher Power, then you have access to all the power that your Higher Power has; you are acting in service to something greater.
While that might sound lofty and pretentious, I contend that most people are already doing so in many ways, just by living in society. We are willing to give up certain conveniences to drive harmoniously on roads together; our Higher Power manifest as the greater good. We are willing to exchange life energy to a company or business as work; our Higher Power manifest as the good of the company, or the good of sustaining my life energy. We are willing to have faith in goodness, just in our niceties of “be well”, “good luck”, “congratulations”; all expressions of goodness lying ahead in one form or another, something to believe in.
Some people might rankle at the notion of putting faith or trust into something they can’t see. This, I offer, is one of the mysteries of the universe, one for each of us to decide on, but if you can’t see the spirit within humanity at all, then this clearly isn’t the book for you. I’d love to learn how you developed good character without a guiding spirit, principles, or teachings.
What I found is that my Ego really can stand for “Easing God Out” (though I use the term “God” here loosely, I don’t want to exclude anyone else’s definitions of Higher Power). This was also related to whether I held intentions of Fear or Love (see: Fear and Courage). When in Fear, I would disconnect from my Higher Power, when in Love, I would harmoniously flow.
There’s a deep sense of relaxedness and ease when living in alignment with my Higher Power. I’m living in integrity, I’m acting according to my values, and I don’t have to waste energy in activities or thoughts that are contrary to how I want to live my life. This is a benefit to living consciously, to living in integrity. This can be a major source of relief from stress in life.
I could go on with the differences before-and-after in my life, but you can ask anyone who’s had a change of heart, whomever’s applied a major course correction in their life; I bet you’ll find numerous stories of people aligning more fully with their values. (See: Values and Integrity)
Integrity is living in alignment with your Values.
I contend that, for a large number of people, being “loved” really means being “accepted”. Being accepted is the experience of being comfortable in your own skin, being enough, being “perfect” even, in the eyes of ones’ self, and in the eyes of others.
We’re seeing many marginalized segments of our population having to fight for their own civil rights. This is a clear indication that they are NOT accepted; that they have to do more than others in order to get the same consideration, and that’s not fair, that’s not just. Yet, the opposition (whatever that might look like) contends that this is appropriate, that some people are less acceptable than others.
The reasons for not accepting people often come down to Beliefs and Education. If we’ve been raised to believe that some people are less worthy, then we’ll live according to those beliefs in our adult life; we will treat people as worth more or less than others, and that’s dehumanizing to yourself, and everyone you approach this way.
This is one of the most challenging aspects of life in America at this time. We’ve long been indoctrinated into the idea that the more successful we are, the better off we are.
First off, when we talk about “self worth”, what do we really mean? Is it “worth” in the same manner as a gold bar? As a precious gemstone? As an expensive home? Are we actually equating the worth of a human being to inanimate objects? I consider this a very dangerous premise, which devalues and dehumanizes people.
If you agree, then we have to come up with a different scale for evaluating “worth”. For many people, the lack of “self worth” means they feel unworthy of Love and Acceptance.
In the 1980s, probably before as well, the idea of the “hot girl”, the “cool car”, the “wealth from success”, all those would mean you’d arrived. While we can look at those ideas as caricatures now, many people are still under the impression that you can be something “when you arrive”.
I contend that this is a false assumption, a lie, and while success can absolutely raise your net worth in a monetary sense, that equating that to “self worth” is a fool’s errand, an absolute lie.
Let’s take this to its extreme. Are the wealthiest among us superior beings, more worthy of love than you or me? They certainly have more resources, and I would love to have those resources myself… the opportunities are alluring, and this is true; the more successful you are, the more opportunities and resources you’ll have to play life with.
For those with children, was there anything that your child did upon arrival that made him or her worthy of your love?