Toughening up

When he was a child, his father used to drive out from Denver into the Arapaho National Forest, to camp and hike with him. He was ten when he first walked 25 miles in one day. I could not match that, growing up in Argyll. I walked up to the trig point now and then, I cycled to Tarbert by Kilberry and back by Loch Fyne, but nothing like this. Once, they were out camping in snow, and afterwards a park ranger told them other hikers had said they feared for him.

The sympathetic response would be to ask what he thought. Instead I rolled my eyes, and said, “What would they know?”

He’s told me about these outdoor exploits before, and I realise I have no idea how he felt about them. In comes the self-criticism: you don’t see other people at all! You don’t care about their feelings! That isn’t true, though. Hmm. Well, how do you get from Denver, Colorado, US, to being a CPN in Swanston? Was he running away from his family? He has told me about going back to see them. Some of the conversations can be a bit difficult. They were so delighted when he got together with a woman, but now he’s with a man again, no longer that Bi passing as Straight thing.

This sweet, gentle man…

It is not just me not seeing others, or imagining they think exactly as I do. I pause to think about this. My own family placed a high value on self-improvement and on practical outdoors pursuits. Dad and I walked together over the hills. We fantasised rather than planned going up Suilven as he had done when at University, but we went through Glen Affric. I so wanted to make a man of myself.

Even though I know my concept of manliness did not fit me, and harmed me a lot; even though I have read others’ experiences, of fathers trying to stop their sons being “sissies”, though I know self-acceptance is essential for health, and others’ goals can cripple people; it still feels so utterly natural to me. What would they know, I wondered. Had he been Scots, I might have suggested that these carpers, or decent people seeking to protect him, were English.

Toughening the child up is just so normal, even for me, even now. So is family loyalty: I might criticise mine, but would defend them against anyone. Thinking about that is my answer to my self-criticism. Why don’t you see other people? Without thought, that question just leads to misery. Because I am thoughtless, stupid, only concerned with my own worries, obviously. It crushes me. With thought, I can forgive myself; and, considering what might be behind my unthinking response, I may be able to achieve change which the harsh self-criticism blocks.

Why am I so unfeeling to others? Because I am like that to myself. In my own mind I sometimes reach 49%, when the pass mark is fifty. I rolled my eyes, and have no recollection of his response to that. I did not get the impression that this had bothered him, but perhaps he was hiding that. Never cry! He might have opened up if I had sympathised, or he might have brushed it off (as I brushed off his consolations) but the topic of conversation changed.

Human beings are complex. A single word like “soft” cannot encapsulate us, but often is used to define us. With the Euro election and the Faragist hate campaign, I am depressed and I am talking depressingly. I want to encourage people and don’t.

-Why do you think you might not see people?
I demand too much of myself, so therefore I demand too much of others.
-It surprises me you are analysing this, intellectually, so much. Why is it all in your head?
Well, the heart is a muscle. The limbic system is in the head. And, my own emotional judgment of myself is so much on one note.

Oh my god
I just blanked him!
I was so unsympathetic
How shit is that?

I recognise I have mirror neurons, and I mirror people, for example picking up my glass at the same time as my companion does.

-You value your intellect so much, but your emotional intelligence does not always fire off so well. You have mastered, harnessed your intellect, you’ve played with it, you can ride it, you can get lost in it, you can dive into it.

-Your emotional self sometimes storms through thunderously. It is magnificent, quite spectacular and evidently as deep and prolific as your intellect. But you don’t harness it. It separates you from people, you know it does.

It is like the sea. If I try to stand erect on it, I will flounder dreadfully
but if I try to swim
that might work-

Talk to me.

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