Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What A Relationship Needs To Succeed

What A Relationship Needs To Succeed

"If we were endowed with the same biological mating pattern as the [pair-bonding] goose, there could be no polygamy, no promiscuity, no celibacy, no harems, no group marriage, no trial marriage, and no divorce in any human community in any part of the world." and "The gibbon's 'very low sex drive' is a reminder...[of the fallacy] that pair-bonding is based on sexual attraction."
- Elaine Morgan, The Descent of Woman, Bantam 1972

The article title refers mostly to male-female relationships, though the first reason could apply to any relationship, including friendships. Let's examine that first reason.

Why so many relationships fail is simply that few people know what makes a relationship work. A large part of that has to do with the fact that living conditions for most people today are so different from those in the past.

In my country, Canada (numbers for the US are similar), a century ago 85 percent of the population lived in the country, in rural areas. That left only 15 percent in cities, despite what we hear and read about lots of people in cities in those days and very little about those who lived "off the land." Those numbers are reversed today.

Today 85 percent of North Americans live in urban areas, have access to everything cities have to offer, but miss out on so much that was good about rural life. Country living is simply not available to most people, for reasons beyond their control. More importantly, what was good about rural life in the past has not been replaced sufficiently by the good of city life today.

In agricultural areas and in areas where most people made their living from resources in the past, people had few enemies. They needed each other. Everyone people knew had value. No one knew when they might find themselves at the side of the road with a broken wagon wheel, homeless (or barnless) because of a fire, in need of someone to fetch the doctor in town but unable to get there for having to look after a sick child, or any of uncountable possible emergencies.

Rural people often needed someone else to help them. They couldn't afford to alienate others they may need to help them one day. Few rural people had money to spare, so volunteer help meant drawing on the goodwill of friends and neighbours, who were often one and the same.

Kids learned in their families how to get along with others because they had to. Sure, they had fights, many physical, far more than today. But they learned to make up after a fight and get on with their lives. Friends were often combatants of the past who made up so they wouldn't have to live as hermits without any friends in areas with few other people around. Grudges were rare because people couldn't afford to have enemies living nearby.

Today people in cities believe that most of their needs can be satisfied with money. We hire people to do whatever we need done. Friends are often workmates, fellow church parishioners or other people life brings together frequently. We may know our neighbours little more than on a nodding acquaintance basis.

Friends tend to be those from whom we can derive some benefit, such as people where we work or fellow club or church members. When it's clear that these people can no longer provide us with any benefits or potential benefits--they or we change jobs, one leaves the club, one moves some distance away--the friendship dissipates with the disappearance of the potential for mutual support. Friends have become another form of object in the throw-away society. There are always more people become friends with in a city. Of course this generalization, like all generalizations, is not true of everyone and not necessarily entirely true of any one person.

Because of this impression that anything we need can be bought, we have allowed ourselves to lose the feeling of needing others in times of tragedy. In the process, over a period of decades we got out of the habit of teaching our children the skills of making friends, of keeping friends through all adversities, of knowing what makes a friendship work. Again, that's a whole society, not necessarily true in every family.

Though most of us now see more people in a day than our ancestors of a century ago saw in a month, we tend to have fewer close friends, people we can count on when the going gets rough, when worse turns to worst. We no longer teach relationship skills because they were not taught to us. We don't know what to teach because most of us don't even realize there are great gaps in our knowledge about relationships.

To make a friend, you have to know how to be a friend. To find a good mate, you have to know how to be a good mate.

The second reason most relationships fail is that we don't know our obligations in a relationship. We know what we want from others, but we give little or no thought to what they may want or need from us to maintain a healthy relationship. As relationships are two way affairs, when one person feels no great commitment to the other, the relationship fails or wanes away at the first crisis.

For any relationship to succeed, each person must believe that they contribute more to the success and health of the relationship than the other. The perception of an imbalance is usually not real because we don't fully appreciate what the other contributes. But if we perceive that we contribute more to a relationship than we receive and we can be comfortable with that, the relationship has a chance.

The best examples of why relationships fail is demonstrated by the staggering divorce rate in western countries. A husband or wife believes that the other is not giving what they used to, that their own needs in the marriage are not being met, that the spouse is "not the person I married." It's usually true. However, what most people fail to appreciate and understand is that their own commitment to being a devoted spouse may be equally weak.

You can't be a good husband or wife if you have very little idea of what is required of a good husband or wife. Ironically, we all seem to have pretty good ideas about what is required of the other, our mates, even if we don't know what is required of ourselves.

The third reason why relationships fail has to do particularly with male-female relationships. Especially the requirement of fidelity in a marriage or common law relationship. If there is one thing we have taught each other and our children about marital and marriage-style relationships it's that each partner should be monogamous.

The trouble with that is that there is nothing in our natural or evolutionary history to support that. Humans, like all the great apes, are genetically and hormonally programmed to spread their genes as widely as possible. That means that men are genetically programmed to want to bed as many women as they can. And women are programmed to find as many healthy males with whom to procreate future offspring as they can.

Many people will find those last two statements offensive. But why? Nature didn't teach us to be monogamous. Religions did. Religions even decry (in some cases even threaten death to participants of) male-male and female-female relationships. Why? Because those who formed the religions knew that most gay men are still capable of passing along their male genes to fertile females, just as most lesbians have the ability to give birth to children, can be impregnated by healthy males.

Religions, in the past, wanted desperately to expand, to enlarge their congregations, to increase their power as unelected bodies of social influence. That meant, in addition to sending out missionaries and conquering other cultures and nations by war, encouraging their own followers to have as many babies as possible. The financial ability of parents to raise children, the likely health of the children and the knowledge of parental skills held little importance compared to the lust for expansion. What was important was numbers.

As a result, homosexuality was forbidden and banned, while having large families was encouraged. To keep order among the families of congregations, religions dictated that families should consist of one adult male, one adult female, and the only other adults allowed would be those who could help to tend to the children while the parents were busy creating more or working to support the ones they had. Polygamy and infidelity were considered sinful because the resulting "families" would be hard to manage, to control.

Science doesn't care much for the word monogamy. It likes "pair-bonding." You have heard of animals that pair-bond, that stay together for life, through thick and thin. Like geese--most examples of pair-bonding are birds, including northern gannets and penguins. However, the only pair-bonding along our branch of the evolutionary family tree is the gibbon. Though gibbon mates are totally devoted to each other, they are comparatively anti-social. They have little to do with other gibbons or other animals of any kind. They keep to themselves.

Gibbons, like other pair-bonded animals, have low sex drives. Not an attractive characteristic for us humans. In fact, sex is of so little importance among pair-bonded animals that some gibbon couples are homosexual and some heterosexual couples do not engage in sex. Do we really aspire to pair-bonding for ourselves? We should see pair-bonding as it really is in other examples in nature.

Let's switch back from the term pair-bonding to monogamy. Monogamy, while a charming and attractive concept in certain contexts, is fundamentally unnatural for us humans.

If monogamy is unnatural and many people insist that they could never live with a mate who is "unfaithful" (i.e. not monogamous) then the marriages and marriage-like relationships that depend on monogamy will likely fail. Estimates in the US of infidelity among married men range around 85 percent, while most estimates of infidelity among married women range between 65 and 75 percent.

A priest commented to me recently that it's up to each member of a couple to fulfill the sexual and other needs of the other so he or she doesn't need to go looking elsewhere. Good idea in theory, doesn't work in practice.

If a marriage depends on monogamy, that makes sex the most important component of the marriage, literally the tie that binds. There are two things wrong with that. One is that a marriage must be based on much more than sex or it doesn't have enough to sustain itself. The other is that few people with a lower sex drive than their partner feel compelled to engage in sex and its accompanying gestures and procedures if they don't feel like it. They may not want to have sex, even if their partner does, but they also don't want the "needy" partner to go out and have sex elsewhere.

It may not be the actual act of infidelity of a partner that results in the breakdown of a marriage, but the attitude of the mate that feels "cheated on" who feels the partner should be something he or she was not naturally programmed to be.

Few "unfaithful" partners want to break up their relationship. They just want to be fulfilled in ways they can't get at home. Nature tells them to find it somewhere else.

A wife who says "You may be the perfect husband in all other ways but you can't be faithful to me, so you must get out of my life" (even though she can't give what the husband needs sexually)--reverse the gender words if it applies--can be the partner who makes the marriage fall apart. If doing what nature dictates and what all other primate animals do causes a marriage or relationship to fail, then the marriage was not well founded in the first place.

We humans have the ability to use our intellect to overcome our natural inclinations. Few of us use that ability. Every war that ever was, most murders, almost every person behind bars in a prison or jail and almost everyone in a mental institution or on mood altering drugs give an abundance of evidence that we tend to give in to nature much more often than we overcome it using our intellect.

When following what comes naturally to us causes a relationship to fail, there is something wrong with how the relationship is constituted. That is, we don't know what a close human relationship is, what it should consist of.

When you don't know what you're doing, expect something to go wrong. It will. If you want a relationship to succeed, you need to learn what the other person needs and how you can fulfill that.

A successful relationship means two people each committed more to the welfare and happiness of the other than they are to their own. That's hard. But no one ever said it was easy.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers, parents and grandparents who want to give their children what they need at each stage of their development, rather than leaving it all to chance.
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Your Life In A Day

Your Life In A Day

With the passage of time, all such actions or lack of them, appear less significant. And anyway, since the cells in our body die and are renewed, replaced by different ones, we do in a literal sense become difference individuals. The connection I have to the boy I once was is now so fragile that it requires an act of conscious 'faith' to maintain that we are in any significant sense the same person.
- Sebastian Faulks, Engleby, Vintage Press (Random House), 2008

Today ain't like it used to be. But then, you aren't either.

As Faulks suggested in the quote, our physical self changes every day. In fact, there is no part of your body that still has the same cells as it had 15 years ago. Over that period you have been completely rebuilt.

In a world obsessed with the shape and appearance of the human body, that might seem disappointing. Especially as strings of genes in our DNA don't always and forever reproduce themselves exactly. Over time, they tend to lose code at their tail ends. Even our replacement parts don't reproduce exactly.

So what is the real you? Your body changes over time, completely replacing itself repeatedly over your lifetime. Your brain's memory contains all the same stuff it did 15 years ago, but it has added 15 years worth of learning and experiences to itself. If you attempted to count the new information your brain has added over the past 15 years it would be so staggering you wouldn't be able to count it if you took the rest of your life. Your brain has changed markedly over the past 15 years.

Your personality has changed. Sure you retain many of the same habits, relationships, values and so on, but if you could meet the you of 15 years ago today you might not recognize yourself. You don't even look the same in the mirror.

What identifies you as you? How do you know you are the same person?

Let's add a little perspective. Do you remember a movie or television program you watched over the past week or month? Was it real? Was there a real program you saw or maybe it was just a memory? In fact, you can't prove you even saw it. Memory proves nothing, as the recall of witnesses in recent court cases has shown. Some memory has been altered over time, some is purely invented.

For that matter, you can't prove you existed yesterday, or that there even was a yesterday. As shocking as it may seem, maybe today and the world you know about today came into existence when you gained consciousness this morning. If you believe that someone can create a movie in which you participate as viewer and in which you find yourself thinking that it's really happening at the time, then why could it not be possible that a whole past, an entire history, was created when you woke up today?

I know, it's not the way you have been taught to think. It's not what you have been lulled and trained into believing.

You have family members, loved ones, neighbours, work friends who aren't with you now as you read this. You can't prove they even exist, at this moment as you sit reading this. You trust that you can move from where you are to some other place and you will find them where you expect.

You may be right. But you can't prove it. When you move to one of these places, you change your own reality. You change from the present NOW to another NOW. Once there, what you are doing in this NOW will be equally as unprovable. It might be just a created memory, like your memory of that movie or TV program. What we know as memory and history could be entirely self-created memory.

The only reality you can depend on is this one, the one you are in. If you hope to be remembered by someone in a future NOW, then you had better act in ways that will cause you to be remembered. If what you do in this NOW only benefits you, then others will have no reason to remember you later. Why should they? They will be busy with their own NOW of the moment.

That may give you some insight into what you do with your time, the time you think of as NOW, as your own. Do you want to be remembered or not? Memories of people who think only or mostly of themselves don't last long. People remember (or create memories of their NOW moments) others who helped them, who cared for them, who showed them that they mattered.

If you believe that your body, your own personal NOWs, are all that are important, you have no reason to believe in a God. God serves no purpose if all your NOWs will eventually vanish and be forgotten. If there will never be anything left of the YOU you know when you die, then there is no need for God, no afterlife. Not even any purpose to what you are doing in this NOW. If nothing of you will continue to exist after you die, then life has no purpose. Does that make sense, that everything around you has no purpose?

Look around you. Does it seem as if all this could have happened by accident? The moon is as old as earth, as are the other planets in our solar system, yet they have nothing remotely similar to the reality of NOW you live in. Why? Cosmologists and science fiction writers claim there are likely many other civilizations out there somewhere in our universe, but they have absolutely no evidence to support their claims or speculations. No one has any evidence that the NOW you live in is anything but unique.

Does everything change constantly or does it all remain the same? Or do--gasp!--some things change constantly while others remain the same? Sorry, that last statement doesn't make sense to a thinking person. It's inconsistent, unlike anything in evidence around you. Everything you know changes, though some things change slower than you can detect so it seems as if they remain the same. Rocks change just as surely as the universe itself changes. We have evidence. At least we have memories of evidence we believe we read.

Your body changes when you die. Many of the bacteria that cohabit your body with "you" today--there are more of them than of cells in your body--may live on in other environments when the life that was your body has dissipated. Your body cells may separate into various atoms and molecules, but they won't disappear. Even if someone were to burn your body, the matter would change into energy, as Einstein proved. Remember e = mc2

Does that mean that when you die you are gone, or not? Are you comprised of your body and nothing else? Every atom that was your body remains and becomes something else. Does the part of you that you think of as "me" disappear? In nature, nothing disappears. It's the natural Law of Conservation. Why would the "you" that you spent so many years creating disappear? That's assuming you believe there is something more to you than animated cells.

If the "you" you created disappeared at your death, that would defy nature's laws. It would defy everything you have come to believe is real. Stuff doesn't disappear, it just changes.

You created something. You created you. Maybe you didn't create everything you know as real, but you created something. Does that make you a Creator? Does that make you God? Well, sort of. For that to be strictly true then there would have to be 6.7 billion other Gods on the planet. That doesn't make sense.

What makes more sense is that you, as creator, are part of a larger Creator, a system. You can't hold the whole system together. But you can be a component of it. You can't be God. But you can be part of God. God can be part of you. This isn't a religious lesson, it's an exercise in logic.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of Christianity and the figure believed even by Muslims as the Son of God (Jesus and his mother are both mentioned in the Qu'ran), taught that. Read the Gospel of John. Read it straight, not filtering what you read through what you have been taught. If you grew up in a Christian family, your beliefs were more those of Paul, not so much of what Jesus taught. Paul, a Greek, taught what he believed and attributed it to Jesus and God. That's what inventors of religions do, they never give themselves credit or their followers wouldn't believe them. Read the actual words of Jesus, not their context because the Church of Rome doctored up the context of the few words of Jesus that were recorded.

Jesus taught that God is within each of us, not up in the sky somewhere. He said that we could find God within ourselves. We just have to look.

Having read this far, you have had a peek at possibilities relating to existence, your own and that of the world you know. Look further. Never mind the crap you have been taught by others. (Sorry, that was rude. I detest being asked to "have faith" in something for which there is no evidence when real evidence of something different is all around us.)

God, the purpose of life and the continuance of you after the death of your body are not subjects about which you need to "have faith." The evidence is all around you. Nature gave you some of it. Your brain can now give you more. If you want to know what life is about, study your surroundings and think it through.

What is real may not necessarily be what is around you. NOW is like that movie you saw and remember. Reality is much more significant, more grand, much superior to what you see in advertising or hear in your place of worship. Or to what you see as you look around the room you are in.

Look for it. Start now.

One final point. While you are creating you, create something worthwhile, something worth enduring. Keep in mind, if you want to be remembered, don't be too generous at helping yourself because selfish people aren't remembered fondly.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to grow children who can think for themselves as adults, who will pay attention to what is real instead of advertising disguised with smoke and mirrors.
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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Our Own Shame

Our Own Shame

The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.
- Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900)

This would apply today to television and movies as well.

Instead of doing what we must to see that our countrymen avoid behaviours we consider shameful, we complain about the books, movies and television programs that show everyone who and what we really are.

We complain about what is wrong, but we don't change our system so that we teach what we believe is right and good.

Changing our education systems would be easy, literally as easy as the stroke of a pen. We have lots of good people in every community that live the kinds of lives we consider ideal in a moral sense. They are the source for new curriculum material for schools.

And it's cheap because teachers would not need new books, AV materials or computers to teach it. Teachers already know this stuff. They only need the authorization to teach it. All teachers would need is material provided in a curriculum guide.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to enact change in their education systems to address problems that run rampant in their communities and even in their homes.
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