Category Archives: Courage

Has Courtship Jumped the Shark?

Courtship, for the most part, doesn’t exist anymore.  Men today are either very crass in how they treat women, or they have been completely emasculated.  I’m so frustrated by the lack of masculinity in our society, which, in my opinion, was ripped away by the feminist movement.  Feminism taught women that they needed men for nothing – holding a door or pulling out a chair became unacceptable, let alone providing and protecting.

As a result, men no longer think women should be placed on pedestals.  Instead, they only consider how fast they can get them on their backs with their knees up.  That’s what feminism has done for women: it’s made them target practice for penises.

The decline of courtship has been a total disaster.  Individuals forever avoid becoming adults or lack any sense of well-being in their lives.  Life has absolutely zero meaning if you’re not living for someone else.  In addition, our children suffer.  We used to think motherhood was as American as apple pie, but not anymore.  Women drop their responsibilities as mothers and put their kids in day care for the sake of being equal and doing it all.

Leon R. Kass wrote a very brilliant essay titled, “The End of Courtship,” which is as critical and despondent about what has happened as I am.  Read it here.

 

How to Make Healthy Choices

A woman recently called my program wanting to know why she couldn’t maintain a diet and exercise regime.  I asked her, “Do you know the difference between you and a person who doesn’t stop?”  “No,” she responded.  “They don’t stop,” I said.

There are two ways we make choices.  The first way is reflective.  In the moment, we are consciously aware of our actions and motivations, and we make a choice with a goal in mind.  The other is reflexive.  Similar to lower animals, we don’t change our behavior because of the consequences; we don’t stop to think at all really, we just do it like some kind of machine.  For example, many people sit down with a plate of food and don’t make choices about what’s on the plate or how much of each thing they’re eating – they just eat.

Routine behaviors are very hard to control.  However, the more you make things reflective and consciously parallel your behavior with your goals, the easier it will be for you to achieve them.

Last year, a man called my show who was struggling with pornography.  Wherever he was – in his office, car, etc. – his reflex was to look at porn and masturbate.  I told him to photocopy pictures of his wife and kids and put them on his cell phone, the visor of his car, and every computer he owned.  I then said, “The next time you’re preparing to masturbate to porn, look at the pictures of your family and make a choice.  Do you want to have dignity as a husband and father, or do you want to do that?”

He called me back a week later saying that when he reflected on it, he chose not to do it.  When he didn’t reflect on his actions, he grabbed for the porn and his parts.  Taking the behavior from automatic to conscious was all about reflecting on the behavior and making a choice.

Unfortunately, a lot of people want immediate gratification and do most things without thinking. More than half of deaths worldwide are due to four big diseases: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease.  The main causes are smoking, overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, and sedentary lifestyles. It’s estimated that 75 percent of diabetes and heart disease cases and 40 percent of cancers would be prevented by changing the behaviors that cause them. 

With all the information out there, you wouldn’t think so many people would make such poor health choices.  And yet, they do.  Remember the ads with the woman smoking through a hole in her trachea?  Remember the “this is your brain on drugs” commercials with the egg frying in the pan?  Well, even after seeing these, people are still smoking and doing drugs.  Personalizing the threat isn’t enough.

One time I asked a waitress in a restaurant if she thought the calorie counts printed on the menu affected people’s decisions about what they ate.  She candidly responded, “To fit people, yes.  But to overweight people, the calorie count means nothing.”

The reason people don’t make healthy choices simply comes down to the fact that they don’t reflect on their decisions.  Information by itself means nothing if you don’t care.  That’s one explanation for why there are so many diet books on The New York Times best-seller list: people buy the books thinking that simply reading them will get them to change and when they don’t, they move on to the next one.

So the next time you sit down for a meal, reflect, “Is this what I should be eating? How much should I be eating? Which things on my plate should I toss?”   Make a conscious effort to cut your portion size in half, and eventually, it will become habit to put less on your plate.  As I have said time and again, it’s all about character.  Some people use theirs and others don’t.

What will you choose to do?

Why Bad Decisions Are Made

If I had to pick one phrase I’ve heard more than any other over the years (other than “I don’t know”), it’d be some variation of “I didn’t make a good decision.”  If I could charge everyone a dollar each time they said that, I would have zillions by now.  And although people admit to making a bad decision after the fact, I am convinced that most of them know the decision was not a good one at the time, but did it anyway.
 
I don’t think people who tend to make bad decisions are really stupid or uninformed.  Usually if they say they were uninformed, it’s just denial. Bad decision-makers typically know they’re making poor choices, and they make them because they want something in the moment.  They don’t project into the future or think, “When I look back on what I’m about to do, will I be proud of it.”

About 25 years ago when I was on the radio at night, I remember a young man in his 20s calling in to my show.  His parents had just died in a car crash, and he was left to take care of his little sister.  He told me, “I’m in my mid-to-late 20s and it’s time I started my life, but on the other hand, I feel guilty [that's the way people phrase it] about not taking care of my little sister.  There are no other relatives to do it.”  After listening to him, I responded by saying, “OK, by the power vested in me, I am projecting you 20 years into the future.  You are now looking back at yourself right now.  What would you like to see yourself doing that would make you proud?” 

The guy instantly started tearing up.  “Taking care of my sister,” he said.  And that was the end of that.
 
A lot bad decisions usually come from wanting to feel good at that particular moment, and it all goes downhill from there (e.g. “I know he/she is not really for me, but I’m lonely”).  However, a lot of times people end up making poor choices because they’re overly self-critical.  Negative self-talk – “I’m useless,”  “I’m a loser,” “I’m a failure”) – results in people feeling like there’s no point in even trying to behave positively or solve problems because if they’re already “a loser” and “a failure,” how can they possibly be successful? Self-criticism and ruminating on the negative are things people just tend to do.  They go on and on and on about the negative, and it strips them of all their motivation to take any positive steps forward.  For example, if you’ve just spent an hour in therapy bitching about your life, your parents, your brother/sister, or your husband/wife, do you really think at the end of the hour you’re going to feel motivated to do anything positive about it?  No.  That’s why I ask people to be careful about how much time they spend “feeding the angry monster.”

Another reason a lot of you end up feeling sorry for yourselves is that you say “yes” to things you should say “no” to.  You spend time with people you don’t want to spend time with so they’ll be happy with you, allow others to treat you poorly, and live the life that others want you to live.  All of these are part and parcel of bad decisions, and they have to do with being cowardly.

Usually when I tell people that they are going to have to talk to the person they’re trying to please, they say, “Oh no!  I’d do anything to avoid that.”  However, unless the person has got a sawed-off shotgun or some other equally lethal weapon, you’re going to have to face your fearsTake responsibility for your decisions.  They are your decisions.  It does no good to make excuses or rationalize or pretend that you aren’t to blame.  If you want to move forward, you have to take responsibility for your choices, your actions, and the consequences of those actions. 

In addition, some people tend to get stuck in making bad choices simply because they want to stay stuck.  It gets them off the hook from having to take risks and working hard to apply themselves.  I’ve had a lot of people call my program over the years about their weight.  They always have a million excuses, or want to look back and see how their childhood has affected their eating habits.  But it’s today and tomorrow they should be looking at.  It doesn’t matter how they got there.  We can’t fix yesterday.  (F.Y.I., when I ask things about people’s childhoods, it’s to find out information and understand, not to blame.) 

So, now that you know why people make bad decisions, how can you ensure that you don’t make them yourself?

Whether it’s deciding on who you want to be in a relationship with or simply where you want to go to lunch, make it mechanical.  “Life is the sum of your choices” (remember your Camus from college?)  There could be times in your life where you make about 10 really bad choices in one week and then sit there thinking that there’s no way out.  However, what you need to do instead is say, “Oops!  I guess those were bad choices.  How do I find a way out of this?”  Frankly, there’s not always a way out.  Some things, unfortunately, can never be fixed.  Yet, even if your situation seems finite to two options, there’s probably some alternatives you’re overlooking.  If you’re thinking you can only decide between “A” and “B,” that’s wrong.  It may seem like only “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” and “E” are available, but you’re probably not considering “F” and “G.”  Brainstorm and make a list of your possible options, put down crazy ideas, and ask other people for suggestions.  No matter how dumb you think some of them sound, write them down anyway.

Now here’s the tough part.  For each one of those situations, think about whether the best possible outcome of making a particular decision outweighs the risk of the worst possible outcome?  When coming to a decision, go through the following steps: What’s the best possible outcome?  What’s the worst possible outcome?  Is the best outcome so valuable and so likely that it’s worth risking the worst outcome?  For example, “The best thing that can come out of this is I make a million dollars, and the worst thing that can come out of this is I damage my entire family for life.”  Of course I’m just making up a silly example, but it clearly illustrates the process.  Is the million dollars worth the possibility of damaging your whole family for life?  It’s a decision you have to make.  Be honest – is the answer “yes” or “no”?  Most of you would say “no,” moan and groan a little bit over what you could have done with the million dollars, and then move on.  Some of you would say “yes.”  Nevertheless, that’s how you make a decision, and then, you have to be willing to live with the outcome. 

Recently, a man called into my show with a situation that you’ve all heard many times before: he’d knocked up a girl he wasn’t married to.  They had the kid, and while he was off in the military she found another guy and got knocked up again, except this time, this guy married her.  Our original guy got all angry and upset that some other guy was going to be Daddy.  Do you want to know what my answer was?  “I hope the new guy is cool, nice, loving, and a good dad.  I really don’t care about your feelings.  Sorry.”  He didn’t care about the risk of bringing a new person into the world that he wasn’t going to take care of.  He was willing to risk the life and well-being of a child for instant gratification and sex.  It was a poor decision and there were consequences.  He needed to just accept responsibility for his misbehavior and not be angry with this woman and the other guy.  He was the one who caused the problem. 
  
Everyone needs to think through their decisions because down the line, there are huge prices to pay.  Be prepared to accept responsibility for every outcome of your decisions.  And when you do make a bad decision, don’t just sit there feeling sorry for yourself.

What Makes Someone a Hero?

“Hero” is a word that’s misused all the time.  People who hit baseballs, throw footballs, or lob tennis balls are frequently labeled “heroes,” but they are really just paid athletes – not heroes.  It would be heroic if an athlete gave up a kidney for someone who needed it knowing that he or she would probably never play ball again without it.  You can’t be a hero without sacrifice. 

If benefiting somebody else results in no cost to you, you’re not being heroic.  “Hero” is a very special term.  For example, although he was damn courageous, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (the pilot who landed Flight 1549 in the Hudson River and saved the lives of all 155 passengers and crew aboard) was not a hero.  Yes, he ensured that the airplane didn’t hit any buildings and he saved a lot of people’s lives, but there was nothing for him to sacrifice because he was going down with everyone else.  Although he was courageous and kept his head while those around him were losing theirs, the term “hero” should not be applied.

By the same token, a person dealing with treatments for serious medical issues is not a hero either.  As brave as a person needs to be when going through something like that, they don’t have a choice.  There is no sacrifice involved on the behalf of another person.

I was recently watching the movie Act of Valor, which used real military guys to create a dramatic representation of a true story.  In one scene, the soldiers are clearing rooms in a building, and one of the guys goes into a room looking left and right, but he forgets to look up.  A bad guy perched on the scaffolding pulls the pin out of a grenade and tosses it into the room.  The soldier turns around to run out, but he sees his buddies entering that same room.  He has a choice to make: He can either run and see how far he can make it before the grenade explodes, or he can stay and protect his fellow soldiers.  To my shock and horror, he threw his body on the grenade, thereby taking the full force with his body.  It wasn’t pretty.  His buddies then shot the bad guy. 

That was the part of the movie I remember most.  This guy had a choice to make a sacrifice, and he did.  That was a heroic act.  He could have tried to run or throw himself behind something and let the other guys sink or swim on their own, but he chose to sacrifice himself. 

I remember back when our country first entered Iraq, a young soldier did the same thing.  He was clearing a room, saw a grenade, and threw his body down on it.  I remember being so incredibly upset because I was identifying with his mother, knowing and worrying that my kid might be in that same circumstance.  It was just terrifying.  But I knew his act was heroic – a personal sacrifice for the benefit of others.  That “Band of Brothers” mentality which ennobles a person enough to sacrifice themselves for their buddies is a mind-blower. 

In my opinion, some of the most blatant acts of heroism ever known were performed by “The Righteous Gentiles.”  That’s what Israel called people who protected Jews from the German “Final Solution” during World War II.  These were folks who knew they could die and their children could be tortured and hung in the street as a message to others for what they did, but they risked everything and did it anyway.  When you read or see interviews with any of these people, they all say the exact same simple, humble thing: “It was the right thing to do.” 

I believe “doing the right thing” has a lot to do with how people are brought up.  For example, when my boy was growing up, I told him that I didn’t care about the zero-violence nonsense at school.  I said, “If somebody hits you, or even more importantly, threatens or hits somebody else, I expect you to intervene and we will deal with the principal later.” 

One day, he came home in trouble.  A boy had been picking on another boy at school, and my son punched the bully.  I took my son out to dinner and sent my husband to go deal with the principal.

In short, heroism is about making a personal sacrifice for the benefit of others.  It’s serving others at a cost to you.  When those firemen, police officers and other folks looked up and saw the burning buildings on 9/11 with debris falling everywhere and smoke filling every breath, they made the decision to go into the buildings knowing full well that they may never come out again (and a lot of them didn’t).  That is heroism – not a guy who gets paid a lot of money to make field goals for people’s entertainment.

Teaching Children About Choosing Friends

Every parent frets about their kids having “weird” friends.  At some point, children always seem to gravitate toward some unhealthy, unpleasant, or annoying kid that you don’t like. 

Kids pick their own friends, and who they choose says a lot about their character.  However, they also get drawn into situations where they feel compelled out of fear or threat of isolation to be friends with certain kids.

I remember my son having a bunch of his buddies over once.  When they all left, he came to me and asked, “So, did you like them?”  I told him I particularly liked the ones who could look me square in the eye.  I didn’t say that I disliked anyone in particular.  I just said that I thought the ones who could look me in the eye were more straight, confident, and comfortable kids.  I told him it was just a preference on my end and that he may see other things in them.  Perhaps one of them couldn’t look me in the eye, but they were always there for him when he had a problem.  

If your son or daughter has weird friends, you have to give them little hints like that.  By doing this, you’re not criticizing, condemning, or excommunicating any of their friends.  You’re simply giving feedback.  The minute you start singling out and condemning one kid, your child is going to become best friends with him or her.

Ask your child what they think constitutes a good friend.  Have them to think about what happens at school:

  • Who’s not nice?  Who hurts other kids? 
  • Is anyone bossy?  Does anyone tell your child what and what not to do, or use threats to get them to do things?  Do any of your child’s friends try to make them feel guilty if they don’t get what they want?  
  • Does anyone get jealous or angry if your child spends time with other people?
  • Do any of your child’s friends talk behind their back, laugh at them, or make fun of them?  Do any of them spread rumors about your kid, tell lies, or share stuff they told them in secret?
  • Do any of your child’s friends play rough by hitting, pushing, pinching, kicking, scratching, slapping, or punching? 
  • Do any of your child’s friends ignore them if they haven’t gotten their way?  Do they only pay attention when they want something and ignore your child when he or she has something important to talk about?

Instead of attacking a particular kid, what you should be doing is constantly grooming your child to be thinking about these things and then have them make their own decisions.  Kids choose their own friends, and at some point, parents become secondary to their kid’s friends.  That’s just the way it is.  When you attack your kid’s friends, it’s like pulling the rug out from under them when there’s no floor there.  Instead, you should be more indirect about it and avoid the tug-of-war.  Discuss with them what the qualities and behaviors of an unhealthy friend are.  Keep your voice very low-key, and help them understand that friends do not embarrass each other, put each other down, pressure each other to do bad things, act nicely only when they want something, or reveal information they share in confidence.  Put it back on your child to think about. 

When you see your child in cahoots with a particularly snotty, nasty, or rotten little bugger of a kid, just tell them, “You know, I was a little surprised that when Johnny or Mary said ‘blahbity blah,’ you didn’t stand your ground.  I think standing your ground is a good thing.  Sometimes it may annoy our friends, but there are times when it’s important to stand our ground when we know certain things are right and wrong.  You might think about that for next time.”  So, instead of saying, “That kid’s rotten and I don’t want to see him in the house anymore,” you’re putting it on your child to have strength of conviction.

You can also set limits and boundaries, such as telling your child that he or she can only play with their friend when they are at your house.  In addition, one of the best things you can do is to take the stinger away.  I’ve been suggesting this for years and years and years – especially when kids call saying their friend is being mean.  For example, tell your child that you are going to take them to the zoo and suggest they invite some of their friends, especially the ones you’re having a little trouble with.  While you’re at the zoo, make an alliance with the kids you think are rotten.  You don’t know what’s going on in their homes or what’s making them so difficult, but you can sometimes tame the beasts when you invite them to the beach or ask them to come over for a picnic or a barbecue in the backyard. 

I remember once my parents were concerned about a friend of mine whose nickname was Penny.  I don’t know why they were so concerned about Penny at the time, except that we got into some trouble.  Remember those phony phone calls?  As kids, we’d call up someone, ask them if their refrigerator was running, and then tell them they’d better go catch it.  Or we’d dial a bread company and order a whole bunch of bread to be sent to somebody’s house.  It was pretty terrible – we only thought about the people we were annoying, and we didn’t consider the poor bread company.  I remember my dad sitting me down and saying, “OK let’s talk about what a friend is.  Does a friend have you do things that are bad?”  I responded, “Well, I guess not,” even though at age 9 I thought friends that did bad stuff were pretty fun.  He then went through a list similar to the one I discussed earlier and said, “Now you make up your own mind.” 

Given the power to make up your own mind, you tend to do the right thing.  You don’t believe me?  If you’ve got kids who always squabble over who has the biggest piece of cake, pie, or whatever, next time let one of them cut it and the other one pick the slice he or she wants.  It’s amazing how the pieces all of a sudden come out even.

Feeling Envious or Jealous?

People get jealousy and envy mixed up a lot.  Let me give you a thumbnail sketch of each:

Envy is the emotion you get when you want something that someone else has.  It’s a two-person thing: there’s you and the person you’re envious of.   You could want beauty, wealth, socioeconomic status…whatever.  Envy is wishing and wanting. 

A good example of envy can be seen in Snow White.  The evil queen envies how pretty and sweet her stepdaughter is and does the whole “mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” routine.  The film also portrays one of two types of envy.  There is malicious envy (i.e. Snow White’s evil stepmother), and then there’s sort of everyday benign envy.  When you are maliciously envious, you become vicious and try to hurt other people by trying to take things away from them.  If you are feeling just benign envy, you are looking at other people and thinking, “Wow, I wish I had that,” or “I wish I could do that.”  It’s more motivating than destructive.

Jealousy, on the other hand, is a three-person thing.  It’s the emotion you get when you fear that someone or something is going to be taken away from you by someone else.    

Jealousy was the main theme of the movie, Gladiator.  Caesar’s son was very angry with Russell Crowe’s character because his dad admired this soldier guy more.  So the son killed his dad, took over his position, killed the wife and kid of Russell Crowe’s character, and put him in “gladiator hell” because Daddy – just like in the “Cain and Abel” story – loved one of them more.  

Envy and jealousy affect everyone’s life.  I think, statistically speaking, we’re envious infinitely more than we are jealous.  However, what really matters is what we do when we feel jealousy or envy: How do we experience it?  How do we cope with it?

I have always rejoiced when someone who I perceive as having earned something has success.  I have a tough time not resenting people who get things they haven’t earned.  That, personally, is my struggle.  But it’s not in my nature to do something evil to them because of it.  I don’t wish to give into “the dark side.” 

Here’s what you can do the next time you are feeling jealous or envious.  Let’s say that one of your coworkers gets a promotion and you don’t feel like they deserve it.  Or maybe you’re jealous that your spouse gets to be the breadwinner and you have to parent, or vice versa.  Well, you can either say, “Oh gee, I wish I had ‘x’,” and spend your time being miserable, or you can be motivated by it.  You have to choose between misery and motivation. 

Ultimately, you have to put your I.Q. over your emotions.  I talk about that dichotomy on my program on a daily basis.  Emotions are irrational and powerful, and they can only be combated with your brain.  You have to realize that although you may be 100 percent correct about something being unfair, there is not a damned thing you can do about it.  You can tear yourself up or tear them down, but either way, you won’t be acting like the kind of person someone else would envy.  Instead, use it as motivation to turn yourself into the kind of person everybody envies. 

No matter if it is envy or jealousy you’re consumed by, it’s going to be difficult for you to enjoy others’ success if you continue to dwell on it.  And furthermore, nobody’s going to envy you if you’re a bitter, frustrated, ugly, angry person.