For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way – 13 time zones long – from my small hometown in south-central Missouri, on the Little Dry Fork creek. Depending on how loosely you define “city”, one could argue that CQ is one of the world’s largest cities. Yet, in my quest for a simple life, I publish these observations and admonitions from my 18th Floor Homestead. Some would call these articles drivel; I prefer to think of them as words from the future – 13 time zones in the future if anyone in my hometown is reading this.
It seems fitting to begin a new year with something thoughtful and optimistic. My book, The 18th Floor Homestead, was released as an ebook on Amazon.com and other platforms in December. Here is an excerpt from it, the last chapter. It is the culmination of a series of ideas for simplifying your life by adopting the behaviors – the good ones, anyway – of quiet country living. The title refers to a homestead which is a small, semi-independent, self-sufficient farm… which is how I would like to be – and maybe how you would like to be also. Enjoy and Happy New Year!
A Final Thought
If you make all – or even some – of the behavior changes in this book, you will have a life with more productivity and greater peace of mind. I promise. By following these principles, you can simplify your life by eliminating much of the floss and dross of hectic modern life. Yes, it truly is possible to enjoy both a higher standard of living and a superior quality of life, without the trade-off of accepting huge amounts of stimulation in a barely tolerable environment or group of associates.
But let’s go beyond that…
Instead of congratulating you on how wonderful your life will be after you reinvent your habits and attitudes, I challenge you to examine yet one more layer of your life. Let’s consider what higher levels of personal contentment and satisfying relationships might be possible. I am asking you to become more conscious of how we formed our self-image, our worldview, and our expectations of the people around us. That analysis, subsequently, will open the door to the next level of fulfillment: sharing your reinvented simple life with others. If you have more, you have more to give to others.
The first scenario for you to imagine…
Visualize: When I was very young, growing up in the country a few miles outside of a small town in south-central Missouri, we lived next to a highway. Since we lived on a farm, my parents always allowed the children to have pets, albeit outdoor pets only. On the highway, cars and trucks raced past our house all day. It was inevitable that many of our beloved dogs and cats would fall victims to the highway traffic.
One early event in my life was the loss of Lady, my beautiful, faithful, gentle collie, to that highway traffic, when I was about seven or eight. Lady was my constant companion and my best friend. One evening, a car struck Lady and didn’t even stop. The car sped on, leaving this lovely dog, now twisted and broken, lying in great pain beside the highway where she fell. Rushing to her and realizing that she was dying, I held Lady. In a spasm, Lady, in her last moments of life, twisted in my arms and bit me. It was her unconscious response to the pain and fear. Was I upset or angry that my dog, my closest companion, had bitten me? Of course not. Even at my very young age, I recognized it was an unthinking reaction to her pain.
Now, another scenario…
Imagine that you are walking near your home on a quiet, normal day. You are in a good mood, enjoying the pleasant weather. Just then, on the sidewalk ahead of you, you see a small child, maybe two or three years old, crying and upset. No parent is in sight and you immediately realize that, somehow, this child has gotten separated from its parents. A moment ago, with the child’s realization it was alone, the tears flowed, accompanied by loud cries. The kid’s fright and confusion are understandable, as are the tears. You immediately forget about your own issues. Your instinctive impulse would be to try to comfort this baby, right? You want to help a crying child. Congratulations, you’re human.
Long before civilizations arose, our hunter/gatherer ancestors lived in small tribes of 30 to 50 people. That number was large enough for defense and cooperative efforts but not so large that their territory couldn’t support a nomadic tribe. That is how mankind survived for thousands of generations before we developed civilization with its domesticated crops and permanent cities and private property. Those hunter/gatherers – whose DNA we still share – knew that each and every child was essential to the continued survival of the tribe. Adult members of the tribe recognized the necessity to protect and care for every kid. It didn’t matter who the child’s parents were; everyone was responsible. That impulse became an integral part of their hunter/gatherer tribal culture. Today, this attitude is verbalized in the saying “It takes a community to raise a child.”
So, you may be saying, what’s my point?
Okay, back to your imaginary walk in your neighborhood. This crying child you encounter has been wounded. True, it is a psychological wound, invisible to the eye, but this is clearly a child in pain. Your ancient DNA reacts automatically: a child in pain requires your care. Personally, you don’t like the loud howling and you do not welcome the interruption to your own plans but the needs of a crying child supersede your personal preferences. My beloved collie, Lady, was forgiven for biting me. I understood that Lady was in great pain and not thinking clearly. So, too, is this small child.
My point: Lady, a dying collie, or a nameless crying child, were both wounded and in pain. As such, they generate feelings of compassion in us that override our more self-centered thoughts of privacy, productivity, and personal development. This is good; it is as it should be. This momentary sacrifice of our personal interests is what makes us human – and, indeed, better humans. Tragic, indeed, is the person who has learned to override this impulse.
A dreadful ritual: I am always disturbed when I witness parents and grandparents, with the best of intentions, performing a very common practice. I’m sure you have also seen it many times; maybe you have done it yourself. They take their tiny child, barely able to be mobile – outdoors then quietly walk away when the child is not watching. Moments later, when the child realizes they are alone, their instantaneous reaction is fear and a sense of abandonment. Often, there is genuine panic. Sometimes, hysteria. Quickly, tears and wailing begin. Then, back comes grandmother to the rescue! As she comforts the small child, the bond between them grows stronger. The child is being taught to trust and depend upon grandmother. Each instance of abandonment-panic-rescue reinforces this bond.
But grandmother is playing with dangerous psychological fire. For a baby, there is nothing more terrifying than the feeling of being abandoned. That realization may even become a trauma. The bond between grandmother and child may be stronger but there is no way to predict if this exercise has created a deep insecurity that will affect the child’s behaviors years later. Maybe, as an older child or even as an adult, that pain that grandmother created will manifest itself in bullying smaller children or as a manager intimidating subordinates. Think about it. How much adult behavior can be explained as the response to a permanent insecurity their grandmother inadvertently created?
We all despise bullies. One particular behavior – bullying – is almost a required trope in many books and movies. The sequence is quite predictable: 1) We are introduced to the small, innocent victim and the larger, more powerful, taunting bully, usually accompanied by toadies. 2) The bully dominates and abuses the victim. 3) This continues until something changes – often part of “the hero’s journey”. 4) The bully is then defeated and humiliated. 5) Happy ending.
As an audience or a reader, it is deeply satisfying when the bully gets the punishment they clearly deserve. Obviously, the universe is restoring balance for all the grief and problems the bully has inflicted upon the poor victim. In those books and movies, everyone cheers when the bully is defeated and humiliated – and, often, beaten and barely conscious as the police arrive to take him to jail. Karma prevails. Everyone gets a warm feeling as we join the former victim in the happy-ending celebration.
What about that bully? Now, let’s use the paradigm shift method of changing our perspective. Let’s consider another way of viewing this bullying behavior, either among children or between adults. How would you feel differently if you saw the obnoxious, abusive bully as a former traumatized wounded child? What if you realized the bully was acting that way towards others because of the insecurity and confusion they still felt from their (the bully’s) early childhood experiences? Don’t misunderstand my meaning. I am not saying that this realization would excuse someone from being responsible for their adult behavior, only that you can see what is driving them.
So… what if the bully’s current behavior was a manifestation of pain from their early childhood trauma? Let’s go back to those movies. Would you still find it so satisfying to witness their defeat and humiliation? The bully is an older version of that wounded child. He is already in pain. Now, following the script, let’s give him a little more pain. Not so satisfying, right?
Let’s imagine another scene a few days later, when the bully has just been released from the hospital or jail, and you are counseling them. Would you harshly criticize and threaten? Would you tell them that their recent defeat was because they were the bad guy and the good guy had prevailed? Would you judge them and expect them to continue the same behaviors? Or, knowing what you now know, would you be able to speak calmly and compassionately? Could you speak to the wounded child’s needs instead of taunting the broken adult’s defeat?
Let’s get even more personal. How would you feel, and what would you say, if you learned that the bully was, in fact, your own child? What if that arrogant, taunting bully was your son or daughter? After their defeat and humiliation, how would you speak to them as a parent while tending to their bruised ego and other bruises? Would you lovingly reach out to offer assurances that you deplored the behavior but understood its underlying causes? As a parent, you still love them. Would you do your best to shift this defeat to a new beginning for your child? Would you search for a way to make them feel safe and valued?
A final scenario…
What about yourself? Can you see how this scenario of childhood insecurity and pain I have described might explain some of your own adult actions and beliefs? Would this understanding make it easier to forgive yourself? If you see yourself as a wounded child, you can be more gentle and patient on your own journey through life? Note: You are still accountable for your behaviors. A bad beginning does not excuse anyone from the responsibility to achieve maximum personal development, nor does it excuse them from making a contribution to the tribe – but it does explain many of the interactions we witness every day.
Throughout the course of this book, the intention has been for you to recognize that we can change our thinking. Indeed, that is Step One in reinventing our lives. Now, this paradigm shift of how we can see ourselves and others as wounded children might be considered the Zeroth Step. This prelude to Step One deals with why we feel the way we feel. In this final stage of our brief journey together, I urge you to examine how and why your own personality was formed. As a small child, you learned a broad set of rules to explain the world and help you survive in it. But, under different circumstances, you might have learned a completely different set of rules.
Most people have never been aware of this concept. As children, they learned their set of rules and apply those rules to everything – all people and all situations at all times. George Bernard Shaw wrote of this attitude in Caesar and Cleopatra:
Britannus (shocked): Caesar, this is not proper.
Theodotus (outraged): How?
Caesar (recovering his self-possession): Pardon him Theodutus: he is a barbarian and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.
Britannus isn’t the only one who thinks that everyone should obey the rules he learned as a child. Even in modern times, with a wealth of examples of different behaviors and beliefs around us, many people still think everyone should be required to follow their rules.
Perhaps this literary excerpt will convince you to grasp the opportunity of examining and, where warranted, replacing the old rules you learned unconsciously as a child. You might even replace them with some new rules that you have consciously chosen as an adult – the summation of all your experience, education, and reflections.
What would happen in your life and in your relationships if you began to see everyone you encounter as a previously wounded child? What improvement in trust and closeness would result from making everyone – even the despicable stereotype movie bully – feel safe and valued? If you knew someone was a survivor of a painful past, could you more easily forgive their current behaviors and treat them with respect? It’s not nearly as easy as the movie-generated scorn accorded to the defeated bully… but that solution is pretty shallow. Indeed, if that bully was your own child, the movie treatment of the bully is dreadfully unsatisfactory.
In real life, the bullies are often people walking around us, displaying their insecurities and even traumas. If you recognize this, you will see them as more than aggressive, one-dimensional stereotypes. They might be the person next to you. They might be your child. They might be… you. Warning: In the future, the part of the movies where the bully is defeated and humiliated won’t be as satisfying.
What would happen to your life and to your relationships if you could be the person who didn’t expect more than the wounded victim could contribute? Would you be less demanding, more forgiving, and more understanding?
I send my best wishes for your new, better, deeper, and more satisfying reinvented life.
Action Step: Answer these final questions: If you changed the way you see yourself and other people, that is, if you began to see almost everyone as wounded children, which of your personal behaviors would you change? How would you change the way you speak to those wounded children? How would you change the way you speak to yourself?