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Thursday, 25 July 2013


You know, let me tell you something personal about me that I haven't told anyone.  And when I say anyone I mean literally, anyone else on Earth.  Just something I noticed about myself, and the way I operate.  Something that might give you a little bit of an insight into things, into how to turn a negative into a positive, so to speak, or a weirdness into an asset.

I never knew my father.  He was a drunk and violent man, and my mother had the great courage and foresight to leave him when I was still gestating merrily away in her womb.  I'm very grateful that she did, and God alone knows what kind of life I would have led if she hadn't.

That's not the thing I haven't told anyone by the way.  Lots of people know that.

The thing I've never told anyone is this though, which is something strange that I noticed about myself.

I never missed having a father - you don't miss what you've never had.  It never bothered me in any way - my mother was, and still is, a very strong woman, and she did a great job of being both parents.

But looking back (and this is the thing I've never told anyone) I can quite clearly see that I had this weird tendency.  It was a tendency to fixate on men as father figures.

I'd just kind of idolise them, and do what I could to learn from them.  Some of these men were people I knew - teachers, for instance.  One of them was my English teacher, a man called Alexander "Sandy" MacKinnon, who read an off-syllabus book once in a class I was taking, that completely changed my life.

That book was The Great Divorce by C. S. :Lewis, and if you haven't read it yet, buy it and read it.  It is a stunning and forensic piece that opens the core mechanisms of suffering and joy like a mechanic would pop the hood of a car.

Many people reject it out of hand, because it's written in Christian terms.  Many Christians completely miss the point of it, because they're so busy tripping over themselves to agree with what's being said, that they take no time to consider it.

I on the other hand, was listening to my Dad-of-the-week.  And so I listened.  I idolised him, and listened very carefully, and really got inside the ideas.  I didn't pick and preen, posture and niggle at the little bitty things that it's easy to criticise.  Of course not - would you?  Would you if your Dad was trying to really get something important across to you that meant a lot to him?

No, you'd listen, you'd get your head inside what he was saying - or at least you would if you were a young kid, which I was at the time.

And you know, he moved on, I left the school.  And then I found another author - Bryan Magee.  I did the same thing there too.  Just knuckled right down, got right inside what he was saying.

You know, it's a weird thing talking about humility, because we live in an incredibly arrogant world.  We're taught arrogance from a very young age, the importance of arrogance.

Shut up and listen.  That's not a virtue we like in ourselves, is it?  That we would just shut up about all the things we - personally us, personally you, personally me - that we believe, or think, or want to say.

That we would ever just shut the hell up.  Just put all of it aside, and open up the ears, and just get right inside what someone's saying, like it's coming from the mouth of the person you admire most on Earth.

That's when it's easiest to listen - when you admire.  And not having a father gave me, in retrospect, an incredible advantage which is instrumental to what I do and how I do it.

It is this.  I am very, very cheap with my admiration.  I admire hard and rapidly.  I admire to extremes.  I admire quickly, and genuinely.  If I recognise that someone has something of genuine value to say, I just stop.  I literally just shut the hell up.

This might seem to people to be weak - and a lot of people throughout my life have thought that of me.  That I bow too low, that I make a servant of myself too quickly.

And a lot of people think that being strong is the same as never showing to anyone that you don't know something.  That being strong is the same as having a strong opinion, regardless of what that is.

This is what people teach, what people tell each other, what people enforce as an idea of strength, because in the very short term, it does look stronger than the person sitting down, looking up, listening attentively, and doing what they're told.

That was me.  Over and over, time and again.  Only with people I respected - but once I respected someone, that's what happened.

And I found that in that position, sitting down, shutting up, being humble about my ideas, listening to others - I could rapidly, rapidly understand what that person was saying.  I could get right inside it, and not just understand the idea, but see the idea.  Move it around in my head, spin it this way, spin it that.

It gave me complete command of the ideas of the people I respected the most.  And then all of a sudden I could start seeing these connections, really clear connections, between this idea and that... and then all of a sudden I'm not just kneeling at the feet of these brilliant people.  I'm connecting and deepening their ideas in ways they never did.

But then of course, I had to look very subservient to do it... because I had to BE very subservient.

But it didn't give me cancer.  I didn't explode.  And because I was only being subservient to people who really had something interesting to say, I was able to get my head around some amazing stuff.

And then... I was able to notice what I was doing.  And then directly hone it like a skill.  To consciously do it, as a kind of acceleration pedal.  When you really have to get right inside what someone's saying.  There's some really good people out there.  I'd never be able to understand what they were all saying if I couldn't shut my goddamn mouth and open my goddamn ears when necessary.  There just wouldn't be enough time.

But there is enough time if I do.  Because this is rapid.

This is the power of humility, and it is a lost power to the world we live in.  We're never taught it.  We're taught to mock it, to attack it.  And sure as night follows day the one single consequence of this is that we fail to utilise anything like our actual capacity for insight and connection.

Nothing like it.

So there you go.  Something nobody knows about me - my fixation on father figures because of my lack of one led me to unlock a way of getting inside the deepest ideas of the best of humanity, rapidly, and connecting them up, rapidly.

And all it meant was a few raised eyebrows, a few snarky comments, and a few nasty names from some wonderful people did not understand what real strength was, just what fake strength looked like.

Might want to start looking for ways to ask yourself if you're one of those wonderful, wonderful people.  And I'm not being sarcastic - wonderful people.  Lovely, fun, cool, well liked - but severed from this quite phenomenal power.  And it is phenomenal, I owe so much to it, and it's key to so much of what I do.

But uh... yeah.  I never told anyone that, so, just...


1 comment:

  1. There's something about Christian ethics that has nothing to do with metaphysics or theology but rather the character, the humaneness, the touch of human love, the familiarity...and familiALITY of it.
    Whatever it is, it is the core teaching that goes without words, it is the kin to feelings, it connects.
    I don't know how this is related, but great post by the way. :)