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7 September 2019
To Live For Others:
How Caring Defines Humanity
Not long ago, I had the avoidable misfortune of listening to a demonstrative group of ranting militants bellowing their latest politically correct screeds. Along with condemnations of “white privilege,” “global catastrophe” and “anti-abortion paternalism,” I was particularly taken by their furious condemnations of “toxic masculinity.”
Mesmerized by their own passions, eyes a’bulge with rage, they fumed that all women should be prepared to combat the savage predations of the prowling, primitive male ego.
Their pungent hostility festooned their rhetorical outrage as they decried the evils of masculinity. And it struck me that such displays of utter irrationality would surely sadden any loving parent whose child was seduced by such boundless tripe.
The Toxic Male …. Really ?
The frothy zealotry of these misguided advocates ignores the abundance of recent research which reveals significant positive changes which occur in men’s brains when they are involved in fathering and caring for their offspring.
Among research outcomes, we now know that a father’s brain is positively affected by how much he is engaged in caring and expressing his affection – i.e., loving his family. The more he expresses his care, the more his brain changes for the better. The more loving he is, the more loving he can become – if he perseveres and chooses the path of love, which is illuminated by the nurturing opportunities of fatherhood.
Some changes in the brain and biology of fathers are seen across all species. But some changes are entirely unique to human fathers who are involved in paternal care.
In other words, the act of loving makes a huge difference in men. As a father effectively shows his care and affection, the greater are the hormonal changes which occur within him.
It’s an old adage that mothers naturally show their love, that a mother’s love is inborn. Mothers are - or seem - instinctively affectionate, while fathers naturally show greater ability for cognitive processing, i.e., for critical thinking.
But the more a father expresses his caring for his child, the more he becomes emotionally similar to the loving nature of the child’s mother – without losing his initial penchant for thought and judgment.
Thus, the capacity to love is inborn in women and men, and both can learn how to love ever more effectively. In fact, when mother and father actively care together, their hormone levels actually start to synchronize. This is sometimes called “emotional bonding,” i.e., that extraordinary “feeling” of closeness and affection between loved ones which is rooted in Nature and has profound physical and psychological effects.
Not So Toxic, After All …
So, as a father expresses his care and affection, research reveals that a particular chemistry kicks in, stimulated by the father’s caring.
The art of loving actually has a chemical profile as well as a psycho-emotional component. And as a man gives himself in caring ways, he experiences identifiable biochemical changes in his mind and body, and he undergoes multiple changes in the structure and chemistry of his brain.
The same manner of change also happens in mothers. This dual phenomenon helps parents empathize with their baby’s feelings, respond to their baby’s emotions, express sensitive caregiving, understand non-verbal signals and engage in beneficial multitasking and planning.
Furthermore, research also shows that the more a father learns to express his care for his children, the more the connection grows between his cognitive nature and his fatherly loving instincts. His potential to express his love and, thereby, to change himself and mature in benevolent ways finds impetus and direction through the gift of fatherhood.
Heart and head begin to work in sync. Now, he must listen to the wisdom of Nature and pursue manhood’s true maturity.
When a father expresses his love for his child, it can indeed change him substantially. Indeed, the life-long process of maturing as a man is profoundly facilitated by the generous, forgiving, loving nature of true fatherhood and by the qualities which caring unleashes in us.
Men can actually learn to love … and that learning process has its deepest roots and its natural origins in the specific traits and behaviors associated with being a loving father.
Nature’s message is clear: being a man really means that caring, not violence, is the norm for men as well as women.
The point of it all?
Expressing our masculine love and caring is 1) first of all, an instinct which men can nurture and deepen, and 2) a skill which every man can learn as a father and beyond … into his adult years, as he fulfills his duty to life itself.
Fatherhood -- the art of loving as a father -- emerges as Nature’s most efficacious model for manhood … as the best example of male maturity to which every man can (and should) aspire. Fatherhood is the beginning, not the end, of our pursuit of maturity in manhood, the definition of what it means to be a man in the very best sense of that word.
Use It Or Lose It
Thus, the art of loving is intended to inspire us to take further risks; to express our love in ways which others will accept and receive. Mistakes happen – but the goal is sublime.
But loving can also become a lost art if it never really takes hold and matures. Love’s persuasive influence can be diminished, even stifled and lost like any habit unused. Therefore, the art of loving must be consciously nurtured, repeated and ingrained.
Thus, the art of mature loving can -- and should -- be brought forward into the larger world beyond family. And as we struggle to express our concern in daily life, we need to be attuned to the many challenges which the real world presents. To this end, good judgment and knowledge are essential.
Since love cannot exist in the abstract, we must be willing to learn HOW to be loving persons in the real world … in ways which are both appropriate and constant, not in ways which are self-serving or simplistic, naïve or distressingly saccharine.
Indeed, as we mature in our caring ways, we may never use the word “love” at all. But as our caring becomes habitual, our spirit, our character and our behavior will speak volumes for us. Caring will be evident not merely in what we do, but in who we are.
Love Alone Is Not Sufficient
What does it mean when we say that love is not sufficient?
It means that unless we learn how to communicate our love effectively, our care and concern may fall on deaf ears or, worse, may be seen as excessive emotionality or maudlin self-indulgence or crackpot quackery or pie-in-the-sky falderol.
The art of loving effectively must be expressed in ways which are appropriate to the other person’s ability to receive and believe. Timing and self-restraint and prudent judgment are always crucial. This is especially true in family relationships where love should be paramount but is, in fact, ofttimes obscured by errant behavior and by the abrasive realities of unavoidable intimacy and competitive, if needless, rivalries.
Thus, it is not enough merely to love someone and say so. Our love must be effectively communicated – or, sometimes, judiciously tempered -- in ways which are timely, authentic and persuasive to the other; expressed not only in our words and actions but also in our prudent self-restraint; evident in our willingness to wait for the right moment, in our determination to stay the course and in our willingness to pay the price of waiting.
And, through it all, we ask ourselves, “Am I being clear to the other person? Am I consistent in her eyes? Do I listen to her needs and honor her limits? Does my ego intrude? Am I overdoing it? Does my style of loving actually stifle or over-power her deeper needs?”
Learning To Live With A Loving Heart
Where do we find the answers to these questions?
We ask the other person. Then we listen intently.
Ask … then listen !! Listening is not compromising our principles but, rather, seeking an effective way to explain their value.
We must seek the humility to listen with eyes and ears, especially to our children. We may find that our loved ones entirely miss our loving concern and hear only our impatience or exasperation.
Especially with our children, once is never enough. Gentle repetition, patience, listening and clarity (giving them a good reason), admitting when we are wrong, holding to moral principles, but listening all over again – all are invaluable.
And once this process is done, do it again … and yet again … and yet once more … for the art of loving fills a lifetime.
Listening And Stillness
In every loving relationship, we must learn to listen even harder -- and we must also learn when to be still. Humility will also reveal to us that we, too, tend to spin webs of alibis and defenses and excuses and justifications. For some of us, it is difficult to admit that (behind our moral superiority) we possess an arsenal of denials which, sooner or later, may estrange us from one another.
We may even hold power, but power is not influence, nor does having control make us trustworthy -- and we know that love without trust is very precarious and, at best, fragile.
Realize also that our own hidden fears can sometimes be stronger than our love. It may be a real risk for us to listen openly, without defending ourselves … especially when it hurts to hear truths about ourselves which we wish to deny and avoid.
But that is the moment for us to be quiet – to take the risk to listen and, thus, to display courageous love which, at that instant, is stronger than our fear; a love which no longer allows our defenses to hurt us both or distance us from one another by our avoidance of accountability or our need to flee from truth. Our stillness is our gift to the other person.
The courage to be still and listen to hard truths about ourselves is a truly cleansing, if painful, love-of-self. But it is proper self-love and it is the only doorway to wisdom and credibility.
It bestows on us an inner strength which is ascendant over our fears. Then does truth become a powerful grace, enriching us and moving us to reconciliation, rather than continuing to be a hurdle which confounds and derails our endeavors to love.
The Pitfalls Of Pretense
Moreover, as we love others and give ourselves generously to acts of goodness, we will avoid the gimmicks of the pretender and the nudges of preening ego. Giving of oneself is never foppishly exaggerated. It never exceeds the boundaries of prudence, is never demonstrative nor dramatic, nor does it abuse the limits of common sense, nor seek admiration or applause. It does not pose for glorifying selfies, nor does it slyly glide us, ever-so-coyly, into the spotlight.
The expression of authentic care never indulges in manipulative virtue-signaling, which is nothing more than an exploitive, self-aggrandizing cheap-shot.
Furthermore, there will be times – both in family and even in business -- when the effective expression of true caring involves painful confrontation and hard truth-telling. Pain is never love’s intent, but sometimes pain is the only avenue to necessary truth – and without truth and trust, we know that “love” quickly reveals itself to be without substance. Relationships soon wither and pretense gives way to a harsh, love-less reality.
Love And Maturity
So, we now know it is much healthier for a man to become a fearlessly loving person, yet some men never break out of the restraints imposed by their anger and fear and cynicism. They accept the depressing estrangements of needlessly-guarded emotions and settle for a lifetime of unfulfilled hopes and unfulfilling relationships … and it need not be so.
The beneficial outcomes are evident for every man who learns how to effectively communicate his affection, and who then expresses his caring in this weary world. He is a better man for his choices, and the world he touches is a far, far better place with him in it.
He makes a significant difference because he chooses to take the risk of loving through acts of kindness and generosity.
In the long run, our true regard for others in this world has nothing to do with romance or sex. It has everything to do with dedicating ourselves to caring about others and giving of ourselves with empathy and altruism, without seeking reward.
We hold to our belief that the well-being of others is indeed our concern, no matter how small may be our gestures of concern, no matter what price we pay for our kindness or how unheralded may be our generosity.
Gratitude … and Choice
In my work over many decades, inevitably do I return to Nature’s insistence that we cannot NOT communicate.
We are all created by God with a restless and needy heart;
- with an innate urge to love and to be loved;
- with the deepest instinct to share ourselves with others,
- with the desire to reveal ourselves, to connect with others, to seek assurance that we are somehow not alone,
- with the hope that we are, in some way, revered and somewhere valued, wanted by someone – even by someone we do not know and may never meet.
These profound, God-instilled, universal desires are, I believe, the foundation of our ability to love and our desire to be loved. These hopes run so deep within our created nature that to deny their power is to deny the purpose of our lives and the meaning of our search and the God Who ever awaits us.
That is why the baseline for the Good Life is our willingness, our perseverance and our courage to give generously of ourselves and to express our regard for our human condition in hopeful and loving ways; to listen and give honor to God, to our loved ones and to our neighbors …. even when others inflict deliberate pain or haughty indifference upon us – even when we act with a loving heart in secret, and our gift of self is known only to God.
But if we look carefully at our lives, we will see that there are some who see us clearly for who we are – and who love us for it. And, for them and for their risk of loving us, may we express our gratitude -- and in that instant, may we both be blessed and then know that our lives do make sense, after all.
The risk of loving is, of course, a choice, sometimes a difficult choice, but our options are, I believe, quite clear -- and few:
- If goodness has any human value whatever;
- if peace is preferable to violence;
- if forgiveness is more desirous than revenge;
- if kindness is better than cruelty;
- if hope relieves despair and a smile softens loneliness;
- if generosity of spirit is more humane than selfishness;
- if a humbly listening heart has greater spiritual value than calculated indifference …
… then our risk of loving this world -- and all who share it with us -- is surely the most human choice we can possibly make.
Our opportunity to love and to care is always and ever at hand. Is not our choice then eminently clear …..?