Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

Two Ways of Life; Two Ways of Love

Romance holds out for sustained self-idealization. Those who romance themselves demand sustainably romantic partners. Love is only possible when you've gotten over that self-idealization, when you've lived with your flaws long enough that you're inured to them, unflinching when their exposed. You can't love others unless you love yourself, warts and all. Read More

Neither blame nor praise

Value labels (good, bad, etc.) are not merely detrimental in romance, they mess with our primary relationship, the lifelong relationship with one’s self.

Until a person can get beyond value labels, he (or she) can never truly know himself. Or putting it another way: Don’t be a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty person. Instead, let go of the hierarchical value portion of that statement: Be a half-a-glass person.

Quentin Crisp summed it up, thusly:

~~“Ask yourself, if there was to be no blame, and if there was to be no praise, who would I be then?”~~

I agree that

when the air of relationship gets thick with praise and blame it's hard for a couple to think straight or feel safe. A cutthroat competition in which one of you is going to get stuck with all the blame and the other with all the praise is unsustainable and sometimes it gets that bad, what I've called an "infallibility contest." The stakes get really really high, you're either the idiot or the genius, the the sinner, or the saint.

Still, I challenge you on whether you've really thought this through. I can easily find exceptions to the rule no praise, no blame. A wife beater, a pedophile, alcoholic, shopaholic etc. If there are exceptions it's a conditional rule, not as universal as you suggest. I think an effort to never attribute responsibility for error is also unsustainable and leads to lots of equivocation (I'm not blaming you, I just think you made a big mistake that you should pay for) or to meta-blame (ah-ha, got you. You're to blame for using praise and blame).

No praise; no blame sounds good on paper but it can't be put into practice. I think the challenge is subtler than that, unresolvable with a ban on praise and blame.

I say "exculpation without exoneration." Exculpation: freedom from guilt of self-creation. You didn't make yourself. You're some-nipotent. You can change some but not all of you, and if you had a horrible beginning or have a genetic defect that makes you do bad things, it's not your fault. Exoneration: Freedom from responsibility (which I don't think we can give each other). No matter how you came by your traits, you'll still be held responsible for them, meaning there will be times when we locate the problem in one person, and make him or her pay for the damage he or she does.



Scrupulous self-evaluation

I don’t know if you coined “some-nipotent,” but I love it. Now, onto the subject-matter:

While I agree with the assertion that wife beaters, pedophiles, alcoholics and shopaholics need calling out for their defining actions, your assertion has no bearing on validity of my previous statement; it holds true even in the case of your examples: Until these people get beyond value labels, they will never truly know themselves.

And in a discussion of self-awareness, why use the example of those who are notoriously unaware?

I’m always surprised whenever family members of a murder-victim say they want to face the killer to ask him why he did it. “What kind of a satisfactory answer can the murderer give?” I wonder. “And how likely is he to know himself sufficiently, to be aware of true motivations, anyway?”

Your examples are people caught up in: “I beat her because she made me mad. It’s all her fault; if she weren’t such a _____, I wouldn’t have done it.” Using such examples as your measure of can this no-blame-no-praise be effective, you’ve set it up so that, within your imaginary testing ground, it must fail.

Rather than using society’s ill to formulate and conclude, I like Abraham Maslow’s way and his study of those who have achieved self-actualization. It’s been decades since I’ve read him and cannot be certain that he covers self-evaluation in his writing, but I suspect that all of his study-subjects were scrupulously honest in that regard. I don’t see Lincoln or Einstein [two of his subjects] asserting, “I’m always aligned with good; it’s others who are responsible for my bad actions.” In fact, both have a sadness about them that reveals acute awareness of personal fallibilities.

But perhaps you don’t subscribe to Maslow’s approach and prefer tending to those with greatest need. A valid aspiration. And we’re unlikely to ever come to a meeting of minds on this topic.

nothing really

I am 46, and only recently(in last 4-5 years) I started understanding, or admitting, the things you write about here, and I couldn't agree more.

English is not my mothertongue and it's getting late where I live, so I won't write any longer. Also I don't have adequate education. Just wanted to tell you that I like your posts very much, at least those on sex, love and romance, and that I really feel moved by this one. My very best regards!

Very sweet to hear from you.

Very sweet to hear from you. Thank you for taking the time to write. I'm impressed by your ability to write so well, not in your mother tongue. It takes a while to learn these languages. I've worked on Spanish for years but I still can't fully express myself in it.

Feel free to get in touch any time. Also, if you have questions or ideas you want to think about together, I'm around.


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Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.


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