Words from a Father

Husband of One, Father of Four

Tag: emotion

482. Essay: Valuable Forgiveness

When someone hurts you, forgiveness is the only way forward. Not primarily for them, but for yourself.

The depth of the hurt correlates to the level of value given to the relationship and the amount of expectation the individuals have. The closer the relationship and higher the expectation, the deeper the hurt. This makes restoring the relationship that much more meaningful and necessary, and therefore difficult.

Any repentance and forgiveness that was quick, easy, or painless shows the shallow level of relationship and its low expectations. A repentance and forgiveness worthy of the relationship is costly and not easy at all, but it is worth it.

Don’t confuse the desire for a repaired relationship with the amount of time it takes to bring it about. The two are related, but not dependent. It may seem to happen quickly in some circumstances and slowly in others, without regard for the desire. I have a feeling that it takes longer than we initially realize; we can see it clearer when we look back upon the process. The important thing is to keep moving forward as much as it is up to you.

I’ve written a bit more about conceptual thoughts on forgiveness in this prior essay:

https://jfjudah.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/362-axiomatic-things/

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441. Roles

Your role depends on your goal.

Colleen C. Barrett said, “When it comes to getting things done, we need fewer architects and more bricklayers.” And just know that when it comes to dreaming up ways to please the eye, ignite the intellect, and transport the emotions, precisely the opposite is true.

408. Essay: One Shot

I only have one shot at raising you kids, only one chance to parent you. This time right now is never replayed — we can’t record it, rewind it, download it, or check out the source code of this time with you, and then change it in either my memory or yours. One shot and then it’s done.

I will father you for a little while and then you’ll go through a long transition where you begin to take real ownership of your decisions, become your own person, forge your own identity. That is when our relationship will change . . . you will decide to continue to be fathered by me or not. A lot of that will depend on how I have done until that point. It will depend on how I have stewarded our relationship thus far.

This transition will bring a new aspect into the parent–child relationship: friendship. You will move from being “just the kid” to being so much more. It will be friendship based on history and trust and lots more things I don’t understand. It’ll be a brand new era. But the decision you will someday make starts with the hour-by-hour interactions we have now, with the way I make you feel when you’re around me and how you feel when we’re apart.

I only get one shot at it. So my philosophy is that, at any given point, I want you to feel love. Whether I’m feeding you, teaching you something new, disciplining you, playing hide and seek with you, dancing, singing, talking, or running around the house with you, I want you to feel love.

I only get one shot, so I’ll take my chances with love.

362. Essay: Axiomatic Things

An axiom is something that is self-evidently true.

There are several things I believe are axiomatic: love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope. These qualities have no equal in the animal kingdom, they hint at more than biological processes, they are beyond simplistic facts or emotions, and the fact that they even exist seems mystical. On the negative side, selfishness, guilt, and — at times — worry seem axiomatic as well, especially due to their internality and when set in context to the six concepts above.

Love

Love has a singularity to it; it is focused on only one person, not on the many or all. Even for all our attempts at defining and expressing love, it still retains its mystique and majesty. It is experienced but still not understood. It moves the strong and the weak, yet is aloof from explanation. It makes kings fall and raises paupers in the experience of grandeur. It captures the masses but finds its expression only in the singularity of relationship. Love is mystical in that it is the one-in-a-million lightning strike that happens every minute of every day. Love is common alchemy.

Justice

Justice is simply not attainable in this world. Yes, thieves are caught and murderers serve their time, but how often do the guilty go free and the innocent receive punishment undeserved? To be true justice, it must inherently have many necessary components. It must firstly be exhaustive — in its knowledge of the people involved, what makes them who they are, the beliefs they hold as true, the background of the situation, the cultural milieu, their psychological and biochemical state, their intentions, their actions, their emotional dullness, and much more.

Justice must also be perfect. It must be correct in its assigning of blame and innocence. It therefore is not mathematical, but intensely personal. The act of administering justice is not by rote, but by intervention and distinction and intuition. Justice uses something outside of itself while reaching within the complexity of humanness to judge. Humans are able to distinguish between facts, but justice is more than factual distinction. However you want to phrase this, justice is completely moral, or righteous, or pure. It is right and never wrong. Justice is also imbued with impartiality. It shows no favoritism and employs no emotion even while penetrating the heart — the core — the essence — of who that person is. This is the paradoxical part of justice, the non-emotional part that reaches within the emotions of a human to satisfy this great longing of every person.

What about the personal part of justice? Not the part that holds to a justice out there somewhere, but the part that has experienced a tragic wrong. The part that says, “I was wronged and it needs to be put right.” In that situation, our heart cries out for payback. This again demands a person able to step into our situation, feel our devastation, know all the external issues, and move swiftly on our behalf. This kind of justice is partially a move to satisfy our heart and restore peace within us. But how would anything impersonal know us within? Neither a rock nor a dog can know the internal workings of a grasshopper. A gorilla does not intuit what it would be like to be a hummingbird, but we humans do. We can even imagine what a gorilla would think being a hummingbird would be like. Personhood is the only thing that can open this kind of knowledge for investigation, and justice is intensely personal and interior.

Have you noticed that children, in their innocence, have a distinct love of and desire for justice?

I say justice is axiomatic because there is nothing so pure, so wise, so exhaustive in its understanding of mankind, and yet so unsentimental as true justice. And this, to me, is what makes justice an expression of a person.

Humility

We are by nature self-centered hoarders. Humility is the only thing standing in the way of our nature; humility is undeniably the hinderance to what makes us human. Achieving is no longer about being the best at something, but about having the most. Interior qualities — what was called character in bygone times — have been replaced with fleeting stratosphere-bound counts. It’s now the most gold medals rather than the best match; the most world records rather than the best attitude and form; the most money rather than best life; the most sponsorships rather than the best product; the most readers rather than the best content; the most votes rather than the best plan. It’s now about having rather than being.

Children are the generational reminder of our selfishness. Their perpetual clutching is interrupted only by outwardly congenial play contrived to gain more, and by fleeting bouts of tears over what is not clutched, their intention to clutch more, and who stole what from their clutches. Selfishness is to humanness what air is to breathing — necessary, pervasive, interior, and insatiable.

So then why teach humility? Humility is not an impulse we have, and “to deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.” Humility makes us weak, takes away our resolve, and leads us to unnecessary self-sacrifice at times. There is nothing so devastating to our own nature as humility, so there is no applicable reason to encourage its existence.

But who can deny the position of greatness that humility holds within the human experience? Becoming a good cook has its roots in who we are: we need food to survive as a species. There’s an obvious connection there. Humility, however, is categorically alien to humanness. There is no precursor within our nature or our needs. I say humility is axiomatic because there is little else so admired while emerging out of nothing mankind finds within their nature.

Mercy

Mercy is the desire of all who encounter true justice. Mercy is the human request when faced with our undeniable self. Our known guilt — that internal neon sign with the blazing letters, Wrong Way — drives us to beg for mercy. We want what we don’t deserve. “I admit I did wrong, but please do not hold me accountable for what I did. Please do not hold me to the standard.” The request for mercy does not lie or color the situation favorably, it simply asks, “Please. Please don’t.” Mercy relies on the fact of a personality who has the power and the will to make just such a decision. Mercy cannot be acquired from a force or an automaton. It claims that there is something beyond the right and the wrong and it asks to be judged on a scale of intangibles. It is an appeal to a standard beyond and above justice itself. From a being who is perfect, mercy asks nothing short of a miracle. And without mercy, mankind becomes something it was not intended to be.

But where is mercy in nature? The cyclone shows no mercy to the land or its inhabitants, neither does the earthquake or tidal wave. The prey does not beg for another chance; the predator would never give it. It is not just that nature has not produced mercy of a sort, but it could not ever even imagine it.

Have you ever noticed that we, being not children anymore and knowing the depth of our wickedness, naturally desire mercy? When the police pull us over, all we really want is mercy, the precise thing we don’t deserve at that moment. And when someone has crashed into us, all we really want is to withhold the exact thing they don’t deserve as well. Since we can choose to request, to grant, and to withhold mercy in the face of guilt, and since we do all this while minding the scales of justice — none of which is observed in the elements or among the animals — I say mercy is axiomatic.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the sister of mercy. Mercy chooses not to act; forgiveness chooses not to keep record. Forgiveness wipes away what was done. Without forgiveness, our indebtedness for carrying out our nature in selfish acts would be insurmountable. Mercy without forgiveness would also breed a kind of contempt — the kind that chooses to not seek justice, but despises being continually wronged and has vowed to keep an account.

Forgiveness is the bridge between mercy and hope. Without the hope that things can change, that situations can get better, and that people can improve, forgiveness is futile. Said in reverse, because we have positive hope, we can choose to not keep record (forgive) and extend the hand of peace to those who have wronged us (mercy).

Forgiveness is not seen amongst the animal kingdom. No cheetah bumps into another during a sprint and genuflects, “Pardon me.” A bird accidentally pecking up the wrong morning food gives not the slightest apology for his absentmindedness to his unintended prey, but we offer an “Oops” with a nervous laugh if we grab the wrong cup of coffee from the prepared orders. Animals find no need to make something right because they have no standard of right and wrong. The utter lack of oughtness in nature makes ours all the more distinct, and therefore sets forgiveness in the category of an axiom.

Hope

Hope seeks more. Trust is inherent in hope. Better is inherent in hope.

Hope is not seen in nature; where it is hinted at, it is being superimposed by us. Winter is boundaried by the turning of spring, but this is not hope. The animal world and the insect population and the non-evergreen foliage do not wait in hope of spring, they simply travel the course of their instinct or according to nature’s seasons. Plants do not hope for a more lush location, do not seek out greener pastures, do not long for equality or fight for rights. Animals do not hold out hope that next year’s harvest will be better, that humans will be more humane, or that they may be represented fairly amongst their predators. And when predators do strike, there is no protest of fair warning or accusations of cheating the system. Nature has no hope of better and does not experience trust issues. There’s no job market for “Fawn and Foliage Counseling Services.” Nature is comprised much of instinct; hope, however, is definitely not instinctual.

Humanness and Beyond

On one hand, we humans are such selfish beings that we must invent ways to deal with the entailing guilt. “I want” and “Mine” do not need to be taught. We want to enjoy drinking soft drinks but despise the calories, so we buy a diet drink. If we don’t want caffeine, we choose a caffeine-free diet drink. And if we don’t want a manufactured sweetener, we can get an all-natural caffeine-free diet soft drink. In almost any flavor, natural or unnatural. Putting ourself first comes natural; assuaging our guilt, an imminent second place.

On the other hand, we seek so much of what we do not deserve, what is contrary to our own nature and to nature in general. But these undeserved things — love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope — are necessary for our existence. They are ideals made tangible in small glimmers. They are the sublime qualities seen in irregular pulsar bursts from another human’s actions.

We feel them, we know them, we need them, and — mark this — we are not human without them. Examples of the person who has removed one of these from their life are only found in two places. The first is in the self-imposed exile of despair, leading to bitterness, leading to aloneness. The second is in the volumes of tragic works produced by “artists” which crescendo in stunning sorrow. Without one of the six parts of our axiomatic humanness, we end up with either the masquerade of fiction or actual wretchedness. One makes for dramatic tension, the other for detestable company. We take part in one because it is “just a story,” the other is avoided because of its life-draining misery.

It seems clear to me that these six concepts are from something categorically different than nature or biological processes, mathematics or emotions, chance, or philosophy. They do not arise from anything lower than us or equal with us, but from something beyond us, from someone more pure and whole than we ever have been. They are eternal, personal, interior, and necessary, which when taken together serve as an introductory summation of God.

341. Quotes: Arthur Quiller-Couch on Written Style

“For — believe me, Gentlemen — so far as Handel stands above Chopin, as Velasquez above Greuze, even so far stand the great masculine objective writers above all who appeal to you by parade of personality or private sentiment.

Mention of these great masculine ‘objective’ writers brings me to my last word: which is, ‘Steep yourselves in them: habitually bring all to the test of them: for while you cannot escape the fate of all style, which is to be personal, the more of catholic manhood you inherit from those great loins the more you will assuredly beget.’

This then is Style. As technically manifested in Literature it is the power to touch with ease, grace, precision, any note in the gamut of human thought or emotion.

But essentially it resembles good manners. It comes of endeavouring to understand others, of thinking for them rather than for yourself — of thinking, that is, with the heart as well as the head. It gives rather than receives; it is nobly careless of thanks or applause, not being fed by these but rather sustained and continually refreshed by an inward loyalty to the best. Yet, like ‘character’ it has its altar within; to that retires for counsel, from that fetches its illumination, to ray outwards. Cultivate, Gentlemen, that habit of withdrawing to be advised by the best. So, says Fénelon, ‘you will find yourself infinitely quieter, your words will be fewer and more effectual; and while you make less ado, what you do will be more profitable.’”

—“On the Art of Writing,” Chapter 12: Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge, 1913–1914, by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863–1944), published in 1916 by Cambridge University Press

340. Essay: Jesus’ Birth, The Ultimate Minimalism

Minimal Me

The move toward minimalism that has arrested the design world over the last decade or so owes the Internet a debt of gratitude. Where else can you call out dreadful design, redesign it yourself, and publish it in a matter of moments — all with an unlimited audience? We champions of web minimalism can have an accidental air of arrogance: I’m better because I’m cultured, refined, and can easily see what should be obvious to you and your blind grandma. Some are professionals now, some have schooled themselves, and others just know exquisiteness when they see it. We are well-meaning perfectionists usually lacking in some restraint when it comes to offering our help, unsolicited. Classic Asperger’s autism, what with all that social ineptness and such. But we truly do care.

Trend-ginnings

It seems a trend began by decrying bad design: hating Myspace because it was the Vegas of online sites with too much blinking and hollering to be of any benefit to the sober; Microsoft and their lack of caring . . . about anything, like font rendering, bloatware, user experience, and quality and polish; excessive buttons or steps to complete a process; Adobe’s frustrating and unclear software installation process; poor instructions for assembling a new piece of furniture.

But shouting about what’s wrong doesn’t show others what’s right, so the second wave of minimalism was rooted in pointing toward the archetypes that were right, those who merged the necessary and the beautiful, the function with the form. Dieter Rams, Apple Inc., Swiss and Bauhaus design, Occam’s philosophical razor, writers Samuel Beckett and Ernest Hemingway, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the asian zen harmony, and glimpses in Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture.

From recognizing the masters came the ability to balance the equation: Less is not necessarily better, but there should only be what is necessary — and what is there should be exquisite.

Divine Restraint

Minimalists should, at the very least, recognize the genius within the birth of Jesus. It has all the hallmarks of a coulda-gone-over-the-edge event, but was the epitome of restraint.

The Christmas story says that a baby was born in Israel about 2000 years ago. So what. Babies are born all the time. Well, I guess baby is a bit of an understatement. It was God who was born. God. The only uncreated being created the world with His own power and then came to be sequestered within it; not only that, but sequestered within fragile flesh as well. That’s like covering a volcano with plastic wrap or trying to shroud the sun with tracing paper.

Divine Surroundings

Biblical descriptions of heaven are nothing less than stunning, the physical as well as the intangible. We now turn to the backdrop of heavenly extravagance to set the scene in great detail.

There are layers of substance and activity long before reaching God. It starts out looking like a windstorm with lightning flashes and diffused, emanating light. This fog-like cloud is the most exterior layer and its center glows like fire. In the center are strange and captivating creatures that look like charcoal after it’s been set on fire. Flame bursts shoot between the creatures as they move around on bejeweled wheels, accompanied with flashes of lightning. Over their heads is a hovering platform that sparkles like blue crystal; imagine looking up at the blazing sun from underneath crystal blue ocean waves. Over the platform is a throne, and this is where God is, surrounded by a radiance that looks like a green rainbow on a misty day. He is categorically supreme, unparalleled in essence. Were it not for Jesus Christ, God would not even be approachable.

Turning around away from the throne will fill your view with majestic hills, rushing rivers — simultaneously crisp, refreshing, and afire — that have the power to sustain and heal, cities that house the holy, and gold-encrusted streets. Like an ocean wave when it pushes the body, color itself has weight and substance to it. It communicates on another emotional level to fill in context and connotation.

Color and sound are basically the same thing, just at different points of the spectrum, so color has a sound when it strikes the listener. This means music is always heard in heaven. There are no vocal celebrities, but an ever-rising crescendo of worship given to the only being who is worthy of adoration. Harmonies dance in unison with the pulsating instrumentation and anyone can join in at any moment, but the human voice, fortified with its free will and bursting with thankfulness, is the preeminent instrument.

And this is only the beginning of the emotional aspects of this environment. God is perfect, and because His qualities emanate from within His being, His qualities are also perfect. His love, goodness, and joy have no comparison. The brute substance and amount of the qualities rushing forth from Him would make the imperfect wizened in His presence. Power, even emotional power, must be under control or it will overwhelm, domineer, and possibly destroy, which is why His mercy and self-control are so pivotal. These emotional aspects make it seem as if heaven will be level upon level of personal connections — of true family.

Earthly Restraint

Had Jesus been born into the extravagant luxury of a palace, it would have been justified. Had it been announced far and wide with fireworks and a week-long celebration, it would not have been too much. Regardless the heights, the pomp, or the superfluous expense, it would not have been enough to mark the most important birth on that day: God Himself was born.

But, no. We have none of the rightful self-promotion we would expect from someone of such status. There is no hype in Jesus’ birth.

The most we get is a group of angels who make the announcement, but even that is minimalized. Notice the angels only appeared to some unimportant shepherds; that it was done at night; that at first there was only one angel until a group of angels appears at the very end of the announcement; that the angels were preoccupied only with giving a message and nothing more; as such, the angels only appeared for a short period of time; that the angels did not even sing. The Bible says the angels praised God, saying, “Glory,” or that they shouted with a loud voice, but there’s no singing. When the shepherds arrive where Jesus was born, there is no king in sight, only exhausted parents — themselves outcasts several times over — in the most meager of settings with a newborn son.

Minimalism in any category makes room for drama. If the story began at the crescendo, the narrative would have nowhere to go. But by starting at the lowest, the story is an ever-increasing crescendo. In a palace birth, the shepherds never would have been able to intrude in celebration, but this was a child given to the world rather than only to the wealthy. God intruded upon the world, the angels intruded upon the shepherds, the shepherds intruded upon Joseph and Mary, and the Messiah intruded upon our deepest and eternal needs — all this accomplished in the most non-intrusive, minimal way possible.

Comparing what Jesus came from in heaven with how He was presented at His birth highlights the minimalist qualities of merging the necessary and the beautiful, the function and the form, and the wisdom of restraint.

332. Essay: Love at First Sight (The Spark)

I don’t think “love at first sight” is a real thing because it beggars the understanding of what love truly is. I certainly understand the appeal of a meant-to-be fated romance, but that has not the depth that twenty or fifty years of loyal marriage contains. First-sighted love is shallow by comparison.

Maybe “spark at first sight” or “connection at first sight” is more accurate. But those phrases won’t catch on because they’re not romantic enough; they’re too factual and miss all the poetry of the feelings of the moment.

But isn’t that the point? Love isn’t a moment. It’s a million moments back to back. Love is the totality of what is looked back on, it’s the reminiscences by those who have always held that one relationship in higher regard than any other, even among myriad opportunities. Love is not fleeting, not temporary, not able to be had with whomever and whenever.

The spark is a welcomed and celebrated first step — an emotional doorway drug — along the path of love, but it is not love itself. The spark is the emotional high. It’s the manic part of the plot, the shallow scenes of the movie that are fun and easy to write but not where the depth of the characters is explored.

We can all recognize the universality of a story that highlights the spark, but we long to connect with the truth revealed in commitment’s depth. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is not a romance, but a tragedy — if for no other reason than that they never progress past manic emotionalism and into something more mature. The spark was all they had, and even that was quickly gone.

But compare that with the excellent prelude of the computer animated film Up. The spark between the couple sets the buoyant tone and we get the sense that great love has flourished between them. Their love has matured through life’s ebb and flow, through achievements and disappointments. The movie’s silent prelude leads us through the spark of their romance, the depth of their love, and the pain of losing the same. It is this arc that moves us emotionally and prepares us to suspend disbelief when, as an older man, the main character launches into his greatest journey, all borne from the depth of his commitment. (And notice from Shakespeare that irrational sacrifice is the outcome of the spark’s immaturity, while in Up we see that love puts correct emphasis on enthralled living.)

The spark certainly has its role. It convinces you to lower your defenses, take a risk, and then take responsibility for a real relationship. It’s an invitation into something greater. The spark is an emotional promise, “There is something greater than what you feel right now, something worth the time, worth your heart.” The spark can’t take responsibility for what comes after and how the relationship unfolds, but it is truthful in its promise to open the doorway to love.

The spark says, “Carpe diem,” this is the only moment that matters, the most important moment of your life. But what comes after convinces you that every moment since has mattered, has made your life what it is. This is much more than the spark could ever have given; this is love.

296. Essay: My Theory on Recollection

Fill in these sentences with whatever phrases you want:

  • My time in high school was:
  • My relationship with my mother when I was in elementary school was:
  • My relationship with my father when I was in elementary school was:
  • The first sporting event I remember attending was:
  • What I remember about the first time I performed in front of others is:
  • I do or do not want to spend time with my parents because:

I haven’t seen this psychological theory out there anywhere, so I’m going to spell out my theory here. I believe our individual history is inscribed and recalled primarily in emotion rather than in fact.

When we think back over our life, it seems we can recall many facts, but not with absolute clarity or without bias. We collect various series of events, package them under a heading, and assign an emotional descriptor for them.

It strikes me that this is the opposite of a computer system. A computer requires a name for a folder, a photo, video, or file. You can tag it with facts: geolocation, year, name of the person in the picture, title or main subjects of the document. In human interactions, these facts are taken for granted. We can tell that picture was a night wedding with our daughter as the flower girl, this document is about current trends in whatever subject, this slideshow is for chapter 18. But we don’t take pictures to keep facts straight, we do it to relive the emotions of the event or those related to that person.

We name files by facts. When someone asks about the wedding or how our vacation was, we answer with an overall feeling: “It was beautiful . . . so much fun . . . the best vacation ever . . . the most romantic and joyous ceremony I’ve been to.” We are using emotion to recall how the expectation matched with the actual experience. Computers can’t determine whether something is funny, pitiable, wretched, fair, or inspiring. And neither can anything else in nature. Emotional recollection is one of the astounding things that makes us human.

This emotional recollection theory becomes even more clear when we think back over significant chunks of time in our life. Junior high, high school, college, those few years in the military or in that other state. What immediately comes out is an overarching feeling of that time in our life. “It was horrible . . . I had so much fun with all my friends in school . . . most embarrassing years of my life . . . exhilarating to see him play one of the best seasons of his career . . . I was lonely because I didn’t have many friends.”

What we’ve done is opened the file in our head for that time in our life — and we’ve felt it all over again. That’s the primary way we connect with our own history. We don’t list off facts as much as we recall how that time felt overall and then back it up with selected experiences correlating to that main feeling.

It’s easy to see how one reinforces the other, facts and feelings working in tandem to get a more complete picture of each significant season of our personal history. We go through a week and stamp an emotion on it: great week. The next week: great again. The next two weeks: also great. So that month goes in the “great” pile. A few more like that and we can check off those six months as a really good stretch. It works with negative seasons of life as well.

Overall, how were your interactions with me as your dad? If you felt loved, taken care of, special, the top on my list, secure or safe, and that you could trust me, then you will probably have a positive recollection of me. If you felt you were not loved, not worth spending time with, unsafe or insecure with me, or that you could not trust me, then you will probably have a negative recollection of me. And your emotional recollection of our past will determine how you interact with me right now. You may remember a few instances of things that did or did not happen, but it will largely be based on your feelings — those tangibly intangible guides of our actions.

So, that’s my theory: Our individual history is inscribed and recalled primarily in emotion rather than in fact, and those emotions guide our current and future interactions.

And this is sobering.

288. Amiability

Supercilious disregard is as undermining as overt hostility.

Even when you strongly disagree with someone, keep your emotions in control and your attitude amiable.

191. Lashing Out

When you desire to do something but aren’t currently able, lashing out is a sure sign of hurt, jealousy, and frustration.

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