messages lie in words …. But it’s metamessages that have clout, because they stir emotions, and emotions are the currency of relationships.
So said Deborah Tannen on page 10 of I only say this because I love you (2001).
Tannen wrote “those closest to us have front-row seats to view our faults” yet they also have the proximity to our attributes, gifts but we perpetuate a culture that does not appreciate as much as it deprecates.
A decade ago, I remember how bringing an assets based approach was a welcome salve in the nonprofit/civic sector rather than the continued fixation with being motivated by what was missing or lacking in a place and wanting to be the problem solvers by confronting those things that were missing. But a few workshops in a year full of meetings results in a low concentration. And that short lived attempt to embrace what a place had was challenging to sustain when being critical is easy and familiar and a way that we have been told to treat one another in school, at work, in public spaces, and at home.
Now, I have made it a fixture of naming appreciations for the people i am with on a daily basis, at the end of most of the webinars that I design. And still it is difficult for people to begin with what they like.
Tannen elaborated no messages and metamessages by saying:
message: the meaning of the words and sentences spoken, what anyone with a dictionary and a grammar book could figure out.
metamessage: “the meaning that is not said, what we glean from every aspect of context: the way something is said, who is saying it, or that fact that it is said at all.
Or using another metaphor that “message is the word meaning while metamessage is the heart meaning.” Tanner elaborated by saying how metamessages are implicit and difficult to pinpoint as they are about relationships. Her early suggestion is to distinguish metamessage from message and one way of doing so is metacommunicating or talking about communication, which I suppose is using words to describe the implicit heart emotions.
As I lay down for a second round of snuggles before bedtime, the five year old said:
“Poppa, I have always wanted you to be my roommate.”
I replied by smiling in the dark. I basked in the glow of this sentence as I looked out the window at the silhouette of the trees in the twilight. Then I said:
“I will always have your back. I will always love you even when I’m frustrated, sad, or angry. I will never leave you. You will live with Momma and me until your an adult and you decide where you want to live.”
It was a dignifying for me. I’m moved by the always of five years because these five years have been so enormous and consequential and so quick. And that some facets from a few months ago have been long forgotten. So always is so long.
And, it was a statement of right now. At times, she has the ability to recall some detail or moment or specific from months ago that has not been named and she can bring it up and remember some thing that I forgot. And throughout the day, a five year old can offer immediate feedback about how things are in any exact moment. And that’s what being told that I’m a roommate who has been wanted forever feels like some special love as a father finding my way in these unknowns.
In recent days, I have been unraveling more of my beliefs about anger. Two days ago: got-headed was a euphemism for violent. Yesterday: my father could not express rage in his home or in public spaces because it was not safe. Today: it is preferable to process anger and resolve anger alone away from others.
As I child, I did not allow myself to feel or express anger or at least that is not what I perceived and understood my feelings as. I opted for sadness rather than anger. I did not trust anger to not be violent or vengeful or lash out at others. Any of those reactions seemed worse than a feeling alone so I didn’t want to experience a feeling that was oriented towards others. Sadness oriented me inside and quieted me so i did not divulge with others.
Isolating anger is curious for me as I wonder if I don’t trust anger as a constructive way of being with others.
Now I experience anger and oftentimes find myself saying words that are lashing out, seeking someone to land on. It still feels untrustworthy and inaccurate. And I don’t know how genuinely what I say demonstrates what I’m feeling. The words that come out in my angry outbursts seem like distractions rather than insightful.
Sadness takes me away from my words and keeps me inside some feelings and many thoughts. I may run through sentences in my heart and head but I’m not trying to persuade or explain to others what feels messy or conflicted or shitty when I’m sad.
It isn’t exact or precise or best. It’s simply where I’m at with my aging relationships with both anger and sadness.
In 1975, Ursula K. Le Guin named the pitiful norms and dominance of othering, blind cultural superiority of men writing science fiction books in an essay called American SF and The Other (pages 93-96 in The Language of the Night).
It’s amazing how pervasive and entrenched this white male complex is:
In general, American SF has asssunmee a permanent hierarchy of superiors and inferiors, with rich, ambitious, aggressive males at the top, then a great gap, and then at the bottom the poor, the uneducated, the faceless masses, and all the women.
Such notions of self and character development enable rape, belittling, disgust, and false senses of supremacy.
If you deny any affinity with another person or kind of person, if you declare it to be wholly different from yourself—as men have done to women, and class has done to class, and nation has done to nation—you may hate or deity it; but in either case you have denied it’s spiritual equality and its human reality. You have made it into a thing, to which the only possible relationship is a power relationship. And this you have fatally impoverished your own reality. You have, in fact, alienated yourself.
These last two sentences are intriguing because they distill what happens when men orient by wanting or having power over. It is a position to prohibits us from getting reciprocity or being able to benefit from learning, and prohibits us from being able to benefit from the experience, wisdom or wealth of others since the experiences and knowledge and resources of others are not seen or seen as only serving some pre-conceived idea of how others will be KF service.
“For millions of years, [humans] spoke only to what [they] could see. Suddenly, in one decade, ‘seeing’ and ‘speaking’ have been separated. We think we’re used to it, yet we don’t realize the immense impact it’s had on our reflexes. Our bodies are simply not used to it.
“Frankly, the result is that, when we talk on the phone, we enter a state that is similar to certain magical trances; we can discover other things about ourselves.”
This in a story set in Paris in the 1914 — after the Exposition Universelle (nee World’s Fair) of 1889 and before World War One.
A few, notable passages from previous pages include:
“A nice cup of coffee will salvage the rest of your day.”
“Maybe you’re looking for things you haven’t yet found…. And suddenly life turns into utter boredom.”
A dear friend was in the emergency room twice and made a call to 911 yesterday. Enabled by corporate health insurance as we wade and drown through a medical peonage system that tars and feathers and sullies us all when we seek to live. Or in the proximity of the ER, seek and hope and pray to stay alive. Or at least, those who love us and we are in touch with to know of an episodic venture to and fro a hospital and brinks of death.
I learned of these medical immersions a day after we exchanged words about the joys and bizarre inane of fatherhood with two children. Becoming a parent is more than double the fun. More than double the work. Double the pee, doubled the poops to supervise and scrutinize when not cleaning derrières and scraping diapers.
Fitting that poop thoughts leads me to how we live so precariously, always a few steps or select circumstances, largely unseen, from death. We are fragile like an eggshell and salad greens and fragile like the bud that becomes the flower that morphs into the unripened fruit that becomes the fruit that will perish by spoiling in short order. Fruit may be furthest from death when it is hard and unripened, which makes me wonder if we are furthest from death when our bones are more pliable and bodies are limber in some span of the early years of childhood. We are such fragile beings walking and waking and eating and defecating upon the Earth’s crust.
I don’t take for granted that I will see friends and family members when I travel away from them or they travel away from here. Rather, I cannot hold the probabilities of all who will live and who will die in the window of some unknown amount of time — be it months or years — before I see them again.
From more than 3,000 miles and three hours separated by the international time zones, I offered some ceremony later today once I am home. I don’t know what combination this ceremony will be. One certainty will be to name some blessings and gratitudes before dinner. One option will be to pull out one of our favorite books at home, Byrd Baylor’s I’m in Charge of Celebrations (ISBN: 0689806205), illustrated by Peter Parnall and published in 1995 by Aladdin Books. For all the baking and recipe swapping that I’ve done with this friend, I ought to bake, if not tonight, then something sweet and delicious in the next four days. And to find some laughter and be in charge of such laughter so I know that I’m doing so ceremoniously.
It is not just the proximity of his death, but the tender, vulnerability of all of these living things that constitute this plane and this world and this word as I know it through my current belief systems that i am reminded to celebrate and offer love and truth to today.
From the Introduction of King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, published in 1990 by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette:
Patriarchy is an attack on masculinity inits fullness as well as femininity in its fullness. Those caught up in the structures and dynamics of patriarchy seek to dominate not only women but men as well. Patriarchy is based on fear — he boy’s fear, the immature masculine’s fear — of women, to be sure, but also fear of men. Boys fear women. They also fear real men.
The patriarchal male does not welcome the full masculine development of his sons or his male subordinates any more than he welcomes the full development of his daughters, or his female employees.
How often we are envied, hated, and attacked in direct and passive-aggressive ways even as we seek to unfold who we really are in all our beauty, maturity, creativity, and generativity! The more beautiful, competent, and creative we become, the more we seem to invite the hostility of our superiors, or even of our peers. What we are really being attacked by is the immaturity in human beings who are terrified of our advances on the road to ward masculine or feminine fullness of being.
Patriarchy expresses what we call Boy psychology. It is not an expression of mature masculine potentials in their essence, in the fullness of their being. King, Warrior, Magician, Lover. Introduction, xvii.
And from Fire in the Belly, by Sam Keen:
The historical challenge for modern men is clear — to discover a peaceful form of virility and to create an ecological commonwealth, to become fierce gentlemen.
How we can accomplish these monumental changes is unclear. As modern men we have little experience to guide us in the task of becoming earth-stewards and husbandmen. We do not yet know how to take the fierce warrior energies, the drive to conquest and control, the men have honed for centuries, and turn them toward the creation of a more hopeful and careful future. We do not yet know how to restrain our technological compulsion, limit economic growth, or keep population within an ecological balance. We do not yet know how to act purposively and rationally on the natural world in a kindly way. We have not yet developed technological wisdom, technological discipline, technological stewardship. Ecological destruction is not the result of science and technology, but of social decisions that allow scientific and technological institutions to grow in undisciplined ways. We do not yet know how to distinguish progress from growth, development from frantic activity. We have not yet found the courage to calculate the true profit and loss to all species that results form trade, business, and industry. We have not yet created a form of government in which the nonhuman constituency of the land are given an equal voice in decision that determine the fate of all members of the commonwealth of living beings.
Two weeks ago, I brought Queenie (my Seattle bike, which is named after the pet chameleon that a colleague once had) on the light rail. It was a little later than I normally commute.
As I arrived to the Columbia City station on MLK blvd, I had to cut the crosswalk (despite Seattle’s zany enforcement of jaywalking) as the train was approaching. An elderly couple was in front of me — she on foot, he straddled a bike. And a typical Schwinn or some other named biped. Since he took the first door, I biked past him on the platform (probably a no-no) to the second set of doors. That’s where the bike hangar is. After he got over the shock of getting beat to the hook, I told him that I wasn’t hanging there. He thanked me. And then he began to covet my bike with his eyes.
He looked, admired. Pointed it out to his wife. He looked at the handlebars. And outloud said ‘Swo-Bow.’ after realizing that his voice was audible to me and the rest of the lightrail crew, he looked up at me.
– Nice looking bike.
– Thanks, it rides well.
I exited at the following station to walk to the next car. Once I hung the front wheel, I stood in the doorway to have the room for my morning stretches and twists. In the course of the next 20 minutes, I had two other grown men, one Asian-American and then a Black man, engage me about the bike. It brought a morning smile to the first guy, and a number of questions from the second.
All in my first 40 minutes out in the morning commute.