Do you have a default switch?

Is There too Much No In You?

I’m going to attempt not to sound old here, but if I screw it up, well, you’ll just have to live through it. My teenage years were a little strange and I started my career of earning a living pretty young. I lived in a boys’ home up until 2 months before my 16th birthday. Knowing the law would allow me to leave at 16, I figured I’d get a jump on things so I hit the road. I didn’t look back, I looked straight ahead. I’ll fast forward here to the part that matters—you know, the relationship crap. Excuse the lack of sound effects, but I am old and my mouth is dry.

To make it illustrative I’m just going to say that there are certain observations you realize as time accumulates into memories and the comparison of memories becomes broader. I live in two worlds, as I think everyone does: the outside world of experience and the inside world of reflection. The more information you have, the broader and more informed is your ability to reflect. Of course if you’re younger it seems the outside world of experience has a greater influence over your choices than your ability to reflect does. You need only remember Act One of the depressing first relationship or marriage to get the point. Who doesn’t look back and say “if only I had known”?

[quote float=”right”]Humiliation is a quick avenue to exposing male vulnerability, which may be the reason why women default to shaming language so quickly and so often.[/quote]My first was particularly nasty. I wasn’t a very good hero, too many life skills and not enough education. In my circumstance having left early, I never had the opportunity to finish grade 9, so I’m pretty much an uneducated blithering idiot. My learning is free range, based in experience, and I don’t really conform to a school of thought, obviously. I am free of any conforming indoctrination except my experience.

I would say however that in retrospect a lack of education is limiting; theoretical logic structures give you a bigger yard to play in. Education is worthwhile in that learned logic informs wider choices and offers a greater potential for better choices. It’s not unlike expanding your physical prowess by developing dexterity, agility and focus. What you gain is more internal switches with the ability to point in the direction of yes.

I once worked in a cabinet shop, having lied and bullshitted my way into the job. I suspect the foreman knew but liked my determination. I was assigned a job to build a crate for some display parts being shipped to Germany for a trade show. I didn’t have a clue how to go about it. I took measurements of everything, trying to figure it out, and cut my pieces for the outside shell. Two of the older guys had been watching me; they knew I was full of shit and they would get together at the table saw, whispering back and forth, looking my way and laughing. Needless to say my skin started to burn and the humiliation kept telling me to just put down my tools, get my coat and leave, the less said the better.

I really struggled in that moment of fight or flight, anxiety constricting my veins, my breathing shallow and labored. I thought I was going to pass out, but I didn’t. All in one moment there, crouched on my knees, I looked up at these guys laughing at me and thought fuck you. Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing, maybe I shouldn’t have been there, but every minute I was there was an opportunity to learn something more of the trade I chose. I decided right there and then that not only would I be a cabinet maker, I would extend myself as a magician in my trade.

Such a moment is a big switch in men, when the struggle between yourself and your facade can tear you down and pull you apart. Humiliation is a quick avenue to exposing male vulnerability, which may be the reason why women default to shaming language so quickly and so often. Unfortunately the spectators and participants may see it as raw entertainment and influence the outcome.  Many men lose the battle in these moments and the experience may turn them away or start a cascade of recurrence. These are the men that hand over their facade of masculinity to the world, damaged and in pain. Imagine the effect on young boys in our current culture of misandry.

I do wonder from time to time when I see a male turn away in silence if he is engaging the tempo of no.

[quote float=”left”]Instead of arguing with him, I started to watch what caught his eye and ask him questions about it. Now I was learning about this little guy I love so much.[/quote]I have known and worked with a number of young men defeated in this way. Most were all but illiterate and some unable to adequately read or write, their value thoroughly diminished and their utility over-exploited. I believe that poverty, class distinction, and freedom itself are not metered by material wealth but by the repeating resonance of “no”.  It is clear that we assemble cars better than we assemble people.  Corporate interests would prefer your more common experience to be a repetition of no.  Even though the power to purchase is gifting oneself with a yes, I think most consumers are damaged people in hiding.

In fact with some reflection you can understand that the experience is not gender-specific. It’s a human experience that pits you against expectation and your own desire. Women suffer the same vulnerability and in all the hyperbole of gender experience this one is common. As people we have switches inside us that direct the outcome of the experience. The experience is what we reference in regards to our self-conception. I was violently assaulted, yes, but where were the switches before this and where are they now? I was raped, I understand, but where were the switches before and where are they now? Who are you, who is left, and who’s throwing the switches?

I’ve lost many of these battles myself in younger years, through harsh and insensitive words coming from peers, mentors, teachers and family. Some I have lost through violence and neglect that occur as a result of the powerlessness of childhood. In school I played the clarinet, and my initial instructor said he had never heard such a young man achieve such rich tone. I moved that year as I had so many times, and did not have access to a clarinet for 3 months. When I picked it up again and began to play, the new instructor in front of the entire class shouted for me stop and referred to me as “Johnny one note”. I never played again or attended his class. This switch was turned to no.

Options were available and the squawk of my effort was known to me. I knew I needed many hours alone with my friend the clarinet to get to know it again. But the tone and demeanor of the instructor, the finality of his words, and the humiliating laughter of my peers was a dead end. It took something from me that I truly loved, a harmony of pleasure that I could create alone and share. It was another domino of experience, a reminder of the switch to no, a thought en route that never arrived.

We have in us a template for justice, the pleasure and pain of our experience that equates to a sense of fairness and safety. It is often inaccessible to us in the distraction of our stride. We replace it with the experiential gestures of cause and effect and the ambition of the moment for what is sweet or sour, good or bad, to our senses.  We run down the paths of our lives with the impression that what we are after becomes closer all the time, because we are running to succeed. But the real success is in the freedom of direction. We know it should not and need not hurt us, our justice informs us of this. When it does hurt it turns us away, it turns us to off, to no, and we are new and unknown to ourselves. We become what they would have us be.

As an example I’ll share a story regarding my 6-year-old son. When we went to the toy store, the experience became traumatizing; he wanted everything he saw. I noticed that every toy became a battle of wills. At the end of the experience I was ready to leave him there, as it was just too draining and he had more energy than I did. What was really happening was I was saying no 20 times and yes once. What was draining was the negative exchange, the battle.

I reconsidered my approach and tried to think of a way to reverse the process, a way I could say yes 20 times and no once. The next time we went, I decided to get a cart. Every time he grabbed a toy, I told him to put it in the cart. He was shocked, and happy. Instead of arguing with him, I started to watch what caught his eye and ask him questions about it. Now I was learning about this little guy I love so much. When we got to the cash out, I told him that all his choices were excellent and now it was time to choose which one to take home. I was amazed at his willingness to cooperate. Now the toy store is a positive place where we let our imaginations go. His imagination is no longer restrained by my nos.

If you look, you can see the root of violence when you have had enough. It’s not the blow that draws blood or the bone that breaks or the life that is lost. That’s the end of violence, when it has finished its cycle and drawn its conclusions and finally pauses or stops. It is anti-climactic to the process and habit, to the constant flow of so many nos and so little justice. We don’t leave this violence, because we are surrounded by it.  The ebb and flow of no makes us unknown to ourselves. It drinks our hope like a vampire and we recoil and peer out for anywhere that says yes.

Imagine what we could achieve for ourselves if we changed our language to simple inquiries. How can I help you to achieve yes? Tell me about your nos and I will argue for yes on your behalf. Let’s find a way to achieve your freedom. Imagine a teacher who instructs you towards yes, who dispenses with the standards of indoctrination and brainwashing and all the nos, and teaches you yes. You’re yes.

Of course it’s fanciful and of course it’s naïve, that is the essence of yes. But in my mind it flies. Flight takes great effort and effort is yes in motion.

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