If you were going out on a date, would you expect to split the bill or would you think whoever initiated the date should pay for it? Would you look at reciprocating gestures so that there is some kind of balance, or do you believe that there are expected social norms that are to be followed?
It is not just about who pays for the bills. Even if we were just talking about a simple dinner date, there are more than half a dozen questions that come up in as much as etiquette of the date is concerned: Who gets to make the date? Who picks up whom, and how? Who holds the door open? Who enters first? Who sits where at the table? Do you stand up if someone is leaving the table? Who finishes first?
Something as simple as going out for dinner is fraught with questions and questionable habituated practices. In most places, the restaurant staff go with a certain protocol on how and to whom they present the bill, for instance. Whenever we bring up these questions into conversations on love, relationship and the such, it gets sideswiped with comments like, “It is just good manners,” or “this shows good breeding.”
Of course, it is just being a nice human being sometimes. One expects these things when there is a person in need around. You give up a seat in the train for anyone who can’t really stand for long. You open the door for someone who asks for assistance.
When these things happen between two perfectly capable people in some sort of a relationship, one wonders if these so-called good manners and chivalry come with a flip side. Are there unstated expectations that cement a power structure? Does having the door held open for you come with the unstated expectation that the keys to that door are in the hands of someone else? Does having someone pay your restaurant bill go alongside an undesirable notion of being judged for what you order, or worse? When someone just lets you go first in the queue, are they doing it to just be nice, or are they saying something to the effect of, “You really shouldn’t be here, so I’ll let you go right ahead so you can get back home where you belong?”
In love, it is nice to have things done for you. As much as it is nice to do something for someone you love. It is great to spend time with each other, sharing thoughts, being thoughtful. However, when things happen only in one direction, or there are very firm rules on what one person can do and what the other person ought to do – is it really an equal relationship? Is it really love?
What do you want in your relationship? Do you want the person you love to treat you as you, or because of a social code that tells them how to treat you, and tells you how to treat them?
First, an old story: Once, at the end of their education, four students who were graduating asked their Guru to give them blessings and wealth with which to start off their lives. Each were given a few pebbles and told to take a long walk, and that where any pebble fell, they would find wealth. Along the way, when the first pebble, they dug and found coal and one person, was thrilled with it, thinking “I can build an empire with this!” and settled right there, while the others kept walking.
After a long time, the second fell, and there was copper, and another happy person settled with that, thinking “This should be surely enough for me for this life.” A third fell on silver much later and a relieved person happily settled, saying “I have spent enough time looking. This is enough.”
The fourth though, kept walking.
After a long, long walk, when the pebble fell and there was some gold, it seemed like after all that trouble they went through, surely gold was not enough, that there should be more if only they strived for more and so the pebble was picked up and onwards the journey continued. Diamonds were similarly discarded, so was platinum, and lots of other precious aspects. Finally, there was nowhere further to go and nothing more to be found. The pebble rose up and fell on the head, crushing it to smithereens.
What’s the point of this story in a column about love?
If you read this story again, and thought of wealth as love, you might then make a connection. At first read, it might look just like a story about settling down and not being too greedy. You might find yourself focussing on the hapless fourth who kept going on and on till at the end of the road, they were crushed by their own greed. That’s fair enough, but a closer read might show you a change of language of how the person finding the wealth changes from being thrilled, to happy, to relieved, to almost desperate. Read it yet again, and you see time passing inexorably.
As a metaphor for finding The One, the story then has similarly interesting questions one poses for oneself.
Do you find potential, work on it and build up your wealth for yourself? Do you wait to find for more obvious wealth, and then enjoy it for what it is? Do you discard the obvious wealth and strive to find the golden dear, so to say? Or, do you strive beyond it, no matter what cost in time and health, looking for that absolutely perfect, everlasting and inexhaustible source running the risk that you never find it and just get crushed in the process?
As all cautionary tales go, this one too only serves to highlight that searching for love is like searching for wealth. You have a choice to make between multiple dimensions of potential, time, perfection and much else.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
When we talk of mental health, we see the focus fall squarely on vulnerable populations. Women, queer people, people with disability, disadvantaged communities and other minority populations are especially vulnerable to mental health issues, with many studies reporting incidences of mental health issues being two to ten times that of men.
Barring organic causes of mental health issues, much of the mental health concerns stem from having to cope with an oppressive society, which is patriarchal and divisive with the dice loaded in favor of the Man. Roles and rewards are very particular, with the Man on top, with far greater control over resources and opportunities, and reaping significantly higher rewards. Working through and often against such a system is tough, and leaves vulnerable populations exhausted, scared, anxious, depressed. This is where mental health issues stem from.
The idea of ‘Man’
The mythical Man in these arguments is cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, educated, and is from a majoritarian community. But even without some of these identities, the idea of the Man as the oppressor is a strong narrative.
Men are not immune to mental health issues, even though the social norms are in their favor. This is because often they are struggling to meet the high expectations of patriarchy, and in that process, cannot be true to their own individuality.
In recent years, the idea of ‘alpha’ men and the others, the 'beta’ men has gained traction, notably after incidents of violent terror attacks. Commentary has centered around how the beta men, feeling invalidated and oppressed by the system that rewards only the alpha, find themselves extraordinarily deprived, especially of sexual partners and opportunities. This frustration, coupled with poor coping skills and access to means of violence, creates spaces where the continued experiences of rejection and ensuing feelings of powerlessness can become a murderous rage. Even for the so-called alpha men, expectations of ongoing perfection, perception of competition and a constant need for appreciation sets them up for their own mental health issues.
There are no winners in patriarchy
While patriarchy does affect the women, queer and others disproportionally, men aren’t spared either. The idea of the Man is quite rigid, and comes with rigorous, unspoken rules, especially when it comes to mental health.
There is hardly any patriarchal society that does not have the following rules, among so many more darker rules:
Bullying is often machismo defending its fragility
This cultivated machismo doesn’t do well under situations of confrontation. Any situation that threatens to break through that sliver of fragile and shallow machismo, and expose the reality of the vulnerable, desiring and needing man, results in explosively violent defence. Bullying of women, transpersons and liberals could all be seen from this lens.
Threats by other representations of masculinity, such as by more gentle men or gay men, are also often met with such violence. A Singaporean study, for example, found that kids told to ‘man up’ were four times as likely to become a bully. This is to portray themselves as being strong, which creates a vicious pyramid of bullies.
Bullying by the uber macho men is often a result of such a threat to their machismo, be it the school ground bully who shakes down the ‘geek’ and the ‘nerd,’ to the homophobic man, who is violent towards trans and gay people.
Should there be spaces and means where people could explore their own fragilities, would bullying to shore up one’s own masculinity happen as much? Would bullying still be as prevalent?
Mental health issues as a weakness
A tragedy arising from this valuing of a rigid patriarchy is the denial of the reality of mental health issues of men, especially those seeking to shroud themselves in the machismo to project their alpha credentials. The idea of masculinity leads men to disconnect from their emotional experience. While others may more freely confront their anxieties, moods and thoughts, men seeking their uber masculinity would see acknowledging it as a weakness, and work hard to mask it, deny or overcome it.
Consequently, more men are violent because only anger is seen as manly.More men kill themselves because failure is not an option, and because they see themselves as solely responsible for their circle of influence. More men live and suffer in their own private mental hell, without ever reaching out for help.
What if we lived in a gender-free world?
With the awareness of the ills of patriarchy, liberal societies around the world are doing a lot more to break down gender stereotypes, invest in social education of gender equality,empathy across identities, values of compassion and understanding. School systems in Europe, Canada and elsewhere in particular, are investing in early education along these lines to dismantle patriarchy from early on, starting with primary education. Legal systems in these countries too have moved towards equality and non-discrimination, with more and more laws becoming gender neutral as well.
Early results do show that among youngsters, the wide gap in mental health issues between genders and communities does reduce, with much less reported bullying and aggression that continue well beyond the time of such interventions.
A more radical approach would be to try and dismantle gender altogether in social circles and identity formation. What if people did not care about gender as much? What if there were no gender coding at all in societies – no pink/blue segregation, no clothing/makeup differences, no hairstyle/footwear mores? What if there were no barriers to communication of feeling or thought or behavior?
Would a society where the idea of gender was utterly fluid and inconsequential to identity formation have far fewer mental health issues? Would there be far fewer social issues such as sexual violence, gang-related issues etc?
In recent times, some societies are experimenting with the idea of taking away the concept of gender as a core aspect of identity formation altogether. In some Scandinavian countries, there is a movement to gender-neutral terminologies, naming and schooling. Whether it would really change how people identify themselves in the gender spectrum, and whether it would really breakdown the gender walls and dismantle systemic issues that directly correlate with mental health issues – that remains to be seen.
Is it another year already?
We almost didn't remember today was an anniversary until Facebook reminded us.
It has been a wonderful year at InnerSight, with our strong focus on #Affirmative #Counselling for All, and our growing #EAP/ #Corporate work including our #Inclusion related work. In 2017-18, worked with over 500 counseling clients with close to 3000 hours of counseling, more than 200 hours of workshops and training sessions, more than a dozen ongoing corporate relationships and we continue to stay affordable, with sliding scales and "pay as you can" options for anyone seeking help, and support community events and action as we can.
We have also been thinking of a "Pay it forward" idea where people can help pay for others' counselling, thanks to a few individuals who started us off in that direction.
The year ahead looks very promising, with a bit more focus on group work, more support and training. And we are very excited, humbled and grateful to be able to continue in this vocation.
Thank you to all our clients, affiliates, partners, families, friends and well-wishers. We seek your support going forward as well.
Happy anniversary to all of us at InnerSight!
Imagine the worst fight you have had with the love of your life. You may have been screaming at each other, maybe came close to being violent – hopefully, stopped well short of it, and you may have continued on and on for hours if not days. Maybe you made up, maybe you decided the fight wasn’t worth it. Maybe you just let time heal and let other things become important enough so that the fight no longer mattered.
The point is this: How do you know a fight has ended?
The challenge for many couples is that when they stop fighting, one party might believe the fight is over, while the other might just believe they have taken a pause in the fight – an interval in a long movie, just to attend to some other things, and the fight has been marked as “To Be Continued.” If it is the latter, then on another day and time, it might join yet another fight to snowball into a much bigger deal than either fights by themselves. Of course, it becomes a really big, ugly deal if both parties to the fight are in the “To Be Continued” mode – then, the interval could be really short, and each break becomes shorter than the previous one.
As more “To Be Continued” fights pile up like a bed-side library full of books that one has never completed, it is more than likely one day to topple over and crush you. As the pile increases, there is less and less faith that anything will ever get resolved. Soon, there is either a giving up and an uncaring attitude, or there is an active rage that throws out everything, or it becomes an irritation in itself and there are fights about fights. And then fights about that.
To continue with that image of a pile of unread books, what would it be like if couples could pick up a book now and then to see if they want to really finish it now, or do they want to clear the clutter? Imagine yourself doing it quite literally for all the incomplete things in your life, be it books, or those shows that are left at 40% seen on NetFlix, or those half done craft projects in your closet. If you really took stock, how much of the clutter would you keep? How much would you clear away?
My bet would be that you would probably find that there are a lot that you simply grew out of and that you just don’t want any more. Maybe a few that you want to keep for later, and maybe one or two that you really cared about and find that you want to attend to right away.
So, what would happen if you actually kept an active roster of open issues? A journal exclusively for all these “To Be Continued” fights that you are having with your loved one? Could it help you let go, and yet hold on to what is really important?
As written for and published in the New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.