Most commonly, we express ourselves through our interaction with other people.
Relationships also enhance our lives in ways that provide us with the opportunity to share our experiences and
as a result, gain more enjoyment from the things that we do. In any area where there are rewards, there is the
presence of challenge in equal measure. If we are to allow our relationships to enhance our lives, we must be prepared to meet those challenges in order to
make the necessary gains.
Come Together (November 1997)
Many seek personal power through joining groups of
like-minded individuals. But taking on a group identity just might mean extra baggage to deal with.
Healthy Wife-Style (April 1997)
A study indicating that married men tend to be more
healthful and live longer may indicate that they have more to live for. More significant than this however, may
be the healthful benefits of frequent exposure to the body's natural 'recreational drugs'.
Many seek personal power through joining groups of like-minded individuals. But taking on a group identity just
might mean extra baggage to deal with.
With the rise of technology and the changes it has brought to modern
living the World seems to have become more favorably orientated toward the individual. It is a trend that has its
critics who see the emphasis on individualism as a serious threat to traditional moral and family values. It's
a trend also with a great many supporters who see the rise of the individual as a necessary departure from the
constrains of racism, sexism and other bodies of restriction that have failed to recognize the value of the individual.
Perhaps the driving force behind the two extremes is a search for a greater sense of self - either by the separating
out of the self to stand alone or by the placement of the self in a group context thereby redefining oneself as
a component of something much greater than a single unit. Too often the solution to one extreme is to replace it
with another. This brand of problem solving will always lead one away from the original inspiration, away from
that which first motivated the search for a solution. The clash of opposing viewpoints essentially is a conflict,
not of motives, for the unifying factor seems to be a response to the recognition that people have to begin taking
responsibility for themselves and for their lives, but of methodology. With so much emphasis on the extremes, perhaps
we have lost sight of what is right.
Organizers of the Million Women March in Philadelphia estimated that 2.1 million women of African American descent
gathered to protest the rights of black women and to address issues that other women's groups have failed to do.
Police estimates of between 300,000 and one million are somewhat more modest but nevertheless the March is being
hailed as a success by its backers. One participant said of the March's objectives: "Before they can begin
their next attack on racism and sexism, they must be able to see the problems they face. And they must be given
the confidence to fight, knowing that they are not alone." Two years prior, Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan
led the Million Man March in a similar demonstration of the rights of black men.
In the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the Promisekeepers are drawing huge crowds to all-men prayer meetings.
The organization generates an annual revenue of $87 million and in six years attendance has grown from 4,200 to
1.1 million. As one might expect the group is attracting criticism for its stated aim of reclaiming male responsibility
and re-establishing male leadership, a result it says, of men having forsaken Christian values. Women are seen
as an impediment to man's immediate soul-searching and are not invited to the rallies, prayer groups or other religious
activities associated with membership.
The proliferation or these kinds of movements that single out a specific group with the objective of better enabling
individuals to live life is testimony to the fact that large numbers of people all over the world are endeavoring
to bring meaning to their lives and to improve their relationships with others. And in addition to this that they
are drawn to the group experience as a way of finding their own purpose. While it could be argued that such groups
achieve a lot of positive results and that many individuals who attend them are leading more responsible lives,
some of the criticism may be valid. Valid in the sense that the exclusivity of the gatherings could be seen to
alienate other non-participants.
But perhaps more serious in its implications, is the fact that belonging to such a group, any group and strongly
identifying with that group, immediately demands of the individual a commitment to the group identity. That is
to say, that when an individual identifies with him or herself as a particular set of criteria, whether its male,
female, black male, black female, Christian or atheist, one is then bound to the confines of that identity. The
identity becomes more important than the essence of the individual, which is essentially without definition and
therefore truly free and independent. And when one identifies with a particular identity, one is dictated to by
that identity beyond the exercise of freedom. It could be argued that the very reason these groups exist is to
break free from the bonds that have come to be associated with these identities. For example in the case of the
Million Man/Woman marches, marching for greater equality and the like, marching to disassociate oppression from
the lives of black people. In the case of the Promisekeepers, men gathering to dispel the aspects of abuse and
moral failure from within themselves as men. However, once again the trade-off between one identity and another
is not what true freedom and responsibility is about.
By contrast, lifestyle trends are indicating the increase in numbers of single parent families and men and women
living alone. Books about female empowerment, life skills for men and self-development material specifically catering
for the individual in a male or female context also clutter the bookstores. The 'Men are from Mars, Women are from
Venus' mentality is pervading popular culture suggesting that fundamental differences between men and women are
at the heart of the spiritual dissatisfaction in people's lives and in relationships. The Promisekeepers believe
a man's spiritual make-up differs from a woman's. The women's spirituality movement endorses the notion of 'women's
These avenues, while endeavoring to empower the individual, perpetuate and strengthen the notion that the difficulties
men and women might experience can only be successfully dealt to if tackled from a male or female perspective.
They determine that unless these differences are acknowledged and specifically addressed from a gender point of
view, that they cannot be addressed at all. They refute the overwhelming and obvious evidence that men and women,
in a spiritual sense at least, are united, they are the same in every spiritual respect.
What differs is not their inherent spiritual nature or even their inherent behavioral patterns, but the identities
created by men and women in the course of life and relationships. These identities then are not to be addressed
by giving the identity more credence and more power but rather by addressing what is deep, inherent and fundamental
within us - that which unites us all. Those qualities of true spirituality are beyond gender, race and anything
else. These are the forces that drive us in life; they are the forces that motivate us to seek meaning; that motivate
us toward loving relationships; toward the fulfillment of ourselves. Attributing our difficulties in life and in
relationships to the differences between male and female identity serves only to drive a wedge between the sexes.
What is more, these theories about men and women rely on generalizations that do not take into account the diversity
of men and women everywhere. The only generalizations that we can make and that are valid are those that acknowledge
men and women's shared quest for enhancement in life, the search for meaning and for love, the urge to move forward.
These things cannot be pursued by any means other than the means by which we experience them. When we feel love,
are we feeling male love or female love, black love or white love, does the Christian experience of happiness differ
from the non-Christian? The simple answer is of course, that these experiences are universal. They are not dependent
on a specific identity to give them their shape and form.
It is true that for people everywhere who seek to enhance their lives, their relationships and their communities,
taking responsibility is the first step. However, the strength that can be gained from joining in a group identity
is always short-lived, for the individual will continue to be thrust upon his or her own devices in daily life.
Trading identities does not allow us enduring freedom. Neither is the answer to reject relationships in whatever
sense simply to avoid the difficulties, for it is our relationships with others that bring meaning to life and
afford us the opportunities to advance in life. Nor can we expect to get closer to others by emphasizing our differences
and giving power to those differences. That closeness depends on sharing our similarities, upon the experience
of our fundamental sameness. True personal responsibility is a matter for the individual, but the individual not
as a man or a women or any other figure of identity. True responsibility is a matter for the individual as a human
being, for the issues in our lives are human issues, the fact that we color them with separatist perceptions does
not explain their cause but rather highlights the nature of the vested interest we have in them. The experiences
we have in life are not determined by our gender or race, they are determined by the decisions we make about our
gender and race.
Wayfarer International, Copyright
© John & Melody Anderson, 1997 - 1999. All rights reserved.
Healthy Wife-Style (April
A study indicating that married men tend to be more healthful and live longer may indicate that they have more
to live for. More significant than this however, may be the healthful benefits of frequent exposure to the body's
natural 'recreational drugs'.
A recent university survey in Germany uncovered trends in the lives
of a sample of the male population with a particular emphasis on the contrast between married men and unmarried
men. The survey indicated that married men tend to play more sport, are ill less often and eat healthier diets
than their unmarried counterparts. Their conclusion was that on average married men also live longer than those
who are unmarried. Reports do not indicate whether defacto relationships were a consideration in the use of the
term ‘married’. In the eyes of society at large, defacto relationships are becoming increasingly accepted as a
legitimate form of marriage and therefore for the purposes of this discussion the term married could also apply
to the defacto. The point about this survey is not so much that it provides conclusive proof of anything but more
that it implies that marriage, or if we may take the liberty, a relationship resembling marriage, might provide
actual physical benefits to the individual in significant contrast to the single man. Unless there is something
particularly unusual about German men it is probably reasonable to assume that this trend could be representative
of a wider population, although of course we would have to acknowledge that this is only speculation.
The obvious difference between the married and unmarried is the presence of a permanent partner. (In fact it would
have been interesting to survey German women. Would they have fared as well in the longevity stakes as their men?)
While the survey may well be too general to actually prove anything, there is a strong suggestion that life within
a relationship might be better for our health. And if we look at the benefits of a relationship there could be
good reason for this. There are of course many aspects of life that are not the exclusive preserves of a relationship.
However, while we can obviously do many of the things we might do with a partner on our own, those things that
require the presence of another person could in fact be the very factors responsible for the improved wellbeing
of the German men involved in this study. Some of the important ones have also been cited by other studies as having
natural benefits. Laughing is one such example. Generally laughing results from an interaction and is not something
we tend to do a lot of when we’re alone. Even though we can laugh, say in response to something funny that we see
on TV or read in a book, laughing between two (or more) people tends to reflect more sharing than the solitary
experience. This aspect of sharing tends to summarize the other activities that are reliant upon interaction with
another individual. Conversation, co-operation, problem solving, and lovemaking are all enhanced when we do them
with another person. But these are things, one could argue, that occur in families, between roommates and acquaintances;
one needn’t be married to enjoy them.
There is of course something else of significance that is, or at least ideally is, a part of a marriage or relationship
of this kind, absent (we assume) from the life of the solitary individual – romantic love. Scientists have long
known that happiness produces a feeling of wellbeing and that this wellbeing is attributable to the workings of
chemicals in the body. Romantic love however has been described as a ‘brain bath’ of norepinephrine and dopamine,
which affect the activation threshold of the pleasure center and account for all the pleasurable sensations associated
with this emotional experience. Science has also concluded that the chemicals released during the experience of
happiness and love are natural pain suppressants and have healthful properties. Not only are these produced during
sexual activity but in other situations where the individual is experiencing love or happiness. The fact that these
substances, produced naturally in the body, closely resemble chemical amphetamines like cocaine is not to imply
that German men are living longer because they’re crack addicts. We have no survey to indicate the presence of
norepinephrine or dopamine in German men (If we did, what would it reveal?). Besides, the incidence of these chemicals
is fleeting and would be therefore difficult to determine in the context of a formal test.
Perhaps the natural incidence of healthful hormonal activity, given more expression within the bounds of a happy
partnership, has an important bearing on our levels of physical wellbeing. Could the German survey suggest that
a meaningful partnership shared with another person for whom we feel love has enough significance to positively
improve our chances at living a longer and healthier life? If this were so, what are the implications of living
within an unhappy relationship? One can only speculate.
Wayfarer International, Copyright © John & Melody Anderson, 1997 - 2002. All rights reserved.