What you eat, who you like and what you believe: Live by your judgments and you are not much different than a two year old.
“Kids, don’t eat cancer. Eating white sugar and white bread is basically the same as smoking. You may as well eat cigarettes because you are eating cancer when you eat white bread.”
Yes, I said that to my kids while I was eating a highly processed white dinner bun.
Am I misinformed? Perhaps. Was this inflammatory? The cigarettes are, for sure. Funny? That was my point, but there is a point.
We like to make categories, genres and lists. That is how our brains organize things when we are two years old.
First off, we need to organize things. We make a quick sort of what feels safe/unsafe and fun/dreadful. These things kept us alive. But the older we get, the quick sort does not work so well.
When we are young, we organize people into those who are safe and the other people. Then our next move is to figure out what we can eat and what we don’t like. Later we take a long time figuring out activities that are fun and safe and those that are boring and/or dangerous. That can take some of us well into our thirties to figure out.
Add alcohol and any of these phases can be stretched into our retirement!
Five things that we need to figure out if we want to become a functional person:
- Safe places and safe people
- Food we like and food that is safe. Later, sometimes much later we ask what is good for us.
- Fun and safe things to do
- Ways that we learn while avoiding being singled out from the herd
- Jobs we like and our strengths
We can see that the operative word in most of our mental organizing is what feels safe and what feels good.
Growing up, we make decisions using only two questions: What/who feels safe? And what/who feels fun. Over time, we form decide on the Who, the what and the where of what feels safe and feels good. And if we are willing, we will take on The Wonder and the Work.
- The Wonder – what we believe and value. Beliefs about beauty, awe and faith, the planet, the food we eat, the homeless and other big picture stuff. Wonder also includes things we do to bring wonder into the world: art and music, making stuff, humor, encouragement and mentoring, story telling, teaching, and service.
- The Work – things we are committed to and will work at for the rest of our lives. A few examples include serving a need in our communities, our health and fitness, our marriage and family, our maturity and growth, our recovery.
If we live by categories, it is easy to say that we hate white sugar, white bread, doughnuts and carbohydrates because they are Satan. We will also find it easy to hate heavy metal music, Republicans, gun owners, gays, those who own a Ford, or people who live in a rival city and cheer for the enemy.
Categories reinforce the idea that any adult decision can be made by a two year old. Even when we are an adult, some of us stick with what works. It is tempting to make a joke at the expense of a few politicians or religious people and how they can be like two year olds. But that just ends up being a different kind of category.
When we live by our categories, politicians, fundamentalism, carbohydrates and cigarettes are all basically the same: they are all bad.
It is not popular or easy to enter politics, or to hold onto your religious beliefs. It is easiest to be in the center of things, to avoid having strong beliefs or to avoid risks. Avoiding is how we made it past two years old so why change it now? For more about avoidance and how fun it can be, click here.
Life is the process of creating categories to help you grow up physically, and then learning to shed those categories in order to grow up emotionally and spiritually. Really, this is something that we never achieve but work at every day.
It strikes me that a well lived life is one where where we shed our avoidance and at the same time nurture Wonder and do the Work we are here to do.
Life is only a fraction of what it can be until we lower the shield of our categories and hold onto what is still important. It is safe and fun to take jabs at the carbohydrates, the politicians or the religious people. But two year olds do that.
Last night, I was making a very two year old joke about white bread and carbohydrates. This morning I finally got the point of the joke and I stopped smiling because it became a little too personal.
I confess that I still have a lot of categories and some of them are not working too well for me. The interesting part is that the more that I focus on Wonder and the Work, the less the categories matter.
Your Wonder and Your Work
Join me as I join you in building more Wonder into life and doing the Work of living. How can you do this?
- Go ahead, eat the damned carbohydrates. White bread and ice cream won’t kill you. Beer won’t. Politics won’t. Religion won’t… and neither will 99% of your other categories.
- Be honest about your categories and whether they are helping you to grow up, or grow more callouses. Honesty is a big step.
- Pay attention to your Wonder and your Work. Go back to section 2 and choose one thing you will do to appreciate or to give away wonder. Then make a list of your work, the real work you are here to do. Cut it in half and then half again. True work is limited to a few very important things.
- Join my blog and add your voice by seeing me in the comments section.
- Write and talk to others about what is important. If you want to take a risk, there is room for you to write for The Good Men Project. Start small, message me and I can help you.
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Keep it Real
Photo by Katie Thomas