This morning my kids are at each other again. They agree to play plastic animals, but one would like to introduce a single Lego man into the game. He sees nothing wrong as the Lego man is also plastic. His sister won’t allow this ‘cause “Lego is Lego and were playing plastic animals now!”. They’re onto each other like two knights of the same castle – in a way that nobody could possibly win. Both relentless. They get more and more angry and self-indulged as each try to convince the other of their point of view. The more they argue the less either is willing to give in. Each state their case with conviction and aggression. Hearts are hardening and anger grows.
The third child (their other brother) who is happy to play either way, sits alone and sad, waiting for the other two to sort out their madness so they can play. At the end of the ordeal, the game is abandoned. Nobody wants to give in and nobody wants to play anymore because of the anger and negativity. It is a sad ending, especially for the unintended victim. It is like a rope bridge over a big river with two people on it, blocking the way for everyone else. The bridge is only wide enough for one, so someone must give way but nobody does. At the end everybody loses as nobody’s able to move across the river.
How does this often turn out in real life? What happens when we are relentless in insisting on being right? We force our thoughts and ways and points of view onto the other person, completely convinced of how right we are and how wrong they are. But where does it leave us? It leaves us feeling isolated and alone, feeling guilty of the hurt we produced. We have violated trust, created sadness and have driven someone away from us. They may have eventually backed off and given in, but it is at a great expense. It may have cost us a relationship.
How does that make us feel? Was it worth it? What did we gain by being right? Did it add value to our or the life of the other person? Are we in a better place now because of insisting to be right?
Is it not sometimes better to feel good than to be right?
What do men tend to notice first in a woman? The way she communicates; maybe her beautiful personality, right? Off course not! We men tend to focus our attention on the external beauty first, hoping that there would be a nice person in that beautiful body. Some guys don’t even think that far and just hit on the “hottest” girl they have the guts to approach. Maybe it was programmed into our reptilian brain – that part of the brain that is instinctive and automatic. But that’s the problem: This is where so many relationships begin that are doomed for failure. Our reptilian brain operates both unconsciously and irrationally. It does not focus on “bigger picture”or “greater good” nor does it take a long term stance – it simply focuses on the instinctive here and now. When you are a cave man threatened by a Sabre-Toothed Tiger, this may be very useful, but when it comes to relationships it will probably lead to disaster.
Hollywood teaches us that love is a feeling – a special excitement that creates fireworks in our mind and makes our heart beat faster. Our society teaches us that relationships are disposable, commitment is overrated and that marriage is merely a contract of convenience. Once the fireworks have subsided or the relationship isn’t so much fun anymore, you have the right to move on to find that special feeling again. Nothing can be further from the truth. This path leads to the life-long misery of unfulfilling and shallow relationships.
Love is a verb: By living love and practising it every day, the emotion – the feeling of being “in love” – becomes real in a very practical and lasting way. You start living a life of love for your special person. This is what being “in love” means – on a more permanent and solid basis.
The most beautiful and true description of what love is (as a verb) is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Love, in its purest form, is unconditional: Acceptance rather than rejection; understanding rather than judgement; participation rather than manipulation. But it takes hard work to practise these traits – and it needs to be intentional. The more you practise, the better you become and the bigger the results in your love life!
Love is not just a feeling. Relationships are not disposable. Marriage is sacred and forms the foundation of family – it becomes an amazing and beautiful nest to grow new souls (your children) into wholesome, balanced human beings who are able to make this world a better place; not broken individuals who attempt relationships based on the flawed recipe they learnt from their divorced parents. Marriage is not a contract of convenience – it is an act of commitment based on integrity and fuelled by clear intention and consistent action.
If love is an act, and if love grows stronger through action, then it is perfectly possible to become “in love” with someone who may not be as attractive as the supermodel you imagined when you were a teen. The most beautiful characteristics of any person – any soul – only start appearing over time when that person is nurtured and feels safe in a loving relationship. Those unique imperfections quite often become very attractive in a special way, the better you get to know them. The long-term consequence of bonding two souls together through love (as a verb) is a beautiful, fruit baring relationship that will stand the test of time – that will still last when the beauty is gone. May this be true in your relationship.
My wife described our first three months in Austria the best: She compared the craziness of it all to the first three months after the birth of our triplets. That precious human messiness that changes your heart and soul forever – beautiful and brutal at the same time!
At times we wanted to cry (and did!) and at times we laughed and laughed ‘till our bellies ached (we did that too)! But probably the most beautiful thing I have learned from our new Austrian friends so far, is the concept of “egal”. It is usually used in a sentence like: “Es ist egal” meaning: “It is all the same” or “it really makes no difference.” But for me, there is a deeper meaning to “egal” and the way it is used. It also means “let it go” – almost in the same way that Elsa meant it in “Frozen”. It is like dropping a small twig into a stream. A gentle but intentional act. You are letting go of the twig by opening your hand and letting it slip out. You see it dropping into the water and watch as it is slowly carried away, going further and further, being carried away with the flow of the stream until you see it no more. It is gone.
A child drops her melting ice cream into the grass beneath her feet and begins to cry. “Es ist egal”, her mother says softly. Let it go – it is not that important.
A businessman just heard he’s been retrenched. “Es ist egal”. Just let it slowly drift away. For when it is gone, it can do no more harm. Things can only get better.
I am standing in a room full of people, alone with my glass of wine. I take a sip every now and then whilst glancing at the people around me. My eyes meet those of a beautiful stranger, also standing alone, seemingly entertained by the buzzing noise of the people around her. I quickly look away, knowing that someone so gorgeous wouldn’t be here alone. I wouldn’t want to intrude. Later, I see her leaving. Alone. My assumption was wrong, but now she’s gone.
Sometimes we make a lifelong, life changing choice in a moment. Very often, that choice is based on assumptions, which are based on our frame of reference – our experience. We don’t realise that it is life changing right there at that moment, but we still make that choice – for better or for worse.
Do I make the call to him or not? If I do, he may reject me. Maybe not even answer the phone. The story ends right there.
However, if he shares my infatuation with him, it may be the beginning of a lifetime of shared experiences – a lifetime of magic!
We make these choices all the time, not knowing that the consequences of each of our choices open up, or close countless doors of opportunity. Every opportunity not taken, ever person not met, every experience not experienced ends the magical wave of possibilities which could have grown from that first encounter, right there.
It is better to do, despite the fear of failure. Do it anyway!
Better to try than to shy away. Better to hope than to live in hopelessness. Better to move now than to wait for the right moment.
That moment may never come. Do it right now!
A week or so ago we went to a holiday resort with our kids. The resort has a big water-slide – about three storeys high. Two of our kids were instantly excited about this cool ride! But the other two… not so much.
Facing your fears and overcoming them is something often talked about, but the programming begins at a very early age. Very early in our lives, the connections are formed. We start telling ourselves that we are able to do scary or difficult things. Or we tell ourselves that it’s just too difficult. That we won’t be able to pull it off and therefore shouldn’t even try, as the risk of failure and humiliation is too high.
My eldest wouldn’t go on a water-slide since he was old enough to understand his own fearfulness. For years we would try and convince him to at least try. We would beg, offer to accompany him and try to explain what he was missing out on, but to no avail. He just wasn’t ready. And to force him was no option. It would break the trust between us.
But this time was different. He watched his sisters come down the slide a couple of times and then went up with them to investigate. It took him years, but he was ready to look his fear in the eye. When he came to the top, he hesitated: this was tougher than he expected. But he decided to do it anyway! And when he came to the bottom of the slide – he’s laughter said it all! He probably went down the slide another thirty times after that first “breaking the ice” experience that day.
Then it was our youngest boy’s turn. He’s two years his brother’s junior and had absolutely no interest in trying. It seemed way too scary and he was happy watching from down below. But I knew he would love it if only he tried! So I tried a little psychology: No. More psychology: No. A portion psychology with a hint of positive guilt: Nope. Okay, so I needed another approach: Psychology (to face the fear) plus reward (to make it worth facing the fear) and… voilà! He conjured enough courage to try the slide once, and then spent the rest of the day enjoying the thrill of the adrenaline rush, as prophesied. By the time the reward became due, it was already irrelevant. The real reward was the gift of leading him through his fear, enabling him to “show his fear who’s the boss”. We discussed this concept with our kids when debriefing on the day’s events (as we usually do).
It is so important to instil a mindset of “I have what it takes” in the early development stage of a child. It is commonly known that the first seven years is a crucial time from a “programming” perspective. This is the time when the most important connections are made in the brain. It is therefore a decisive phase to start showing Fear who’s the boss. If this life skill is mastered at an early age, the benefits will manifest exponentially throughout the life of the child.
This morning I woke up late – the perfect way to start a morning on a bad foot! As with most mornings, I try to cram too many activities into one morning, despite being late: Prayer and meditation (the day will be even crappier without it), some prioritisation of the tasks ahead (otherwise I’ll get nothing done), replying to overdue emails (before office hours for extra effect), doing a few stretches before my shower (my back kills me if I neglect this) and having a few words with my wife whilst preparing our breakfast protein shake (a quick chat is even more important than the protein shake!). I grab my briefcase before I run out to jump into the car. By now I am really late. Wifey gets a quick kiss and the kids will have to do with a “Enjoy your day guys – love you!” for today as I head for the garage in a frenzy. Once inside, I start the car and head for the driveway. Just then, my one daughter (5 years old) comes running out from the front door. I didn’t give her the hug that she is used to this morning and she’s on her way to demand it! I contemplate a clear and distinct wave as a consolation to her before I drive off – I’m really late and my first meeting starts in 20 minutes! Just as I lift my hand for that cowardly wave, she trips and falls on the hard paving underneath her. Looking up at me, she starts crying – tears running down her cheeks. There and then I stop the car, park it and get out. I run to my daughter, grabbing her into my arms and holding her tight whilst wiping away tears and telling her everything is alright. I slowly drop down to sit on the driveway – legs crossed with daughter on lap – just being with her for a while. The tears start to fade and after a while a smile replaces the frown. We sit there a little while longer, breathing in the fresh morning air, connecting with each other and enjoying our moment as if the world around us does not exist. When I eventually get back into my car, I notice that five minutes have passed. Only five! That’s the time it took to reconnect with my little girl. Was I late for the meeting? Yup – five minutes late. But that five minutes meant all the world to her. I prioritised her over anything else when she really needed me, and the five minutes late at the meeting was forgotten five minutes after the first agenda item was announced. Many a time, five minutes is all it takes to mend a heart or to break it.
Many a time, five minutes is all it takes to mend a heart or to break it.
My father was a military man. I loved him to bits. He was a man of stature; both physically and in rank. I was very proud of him and I can remember specific occasions which made me feel even more proud than usual. Like the times we would drive to his base camp in his big old Mercedes-Benz. We would be saluted by the guards at the gate and by everyone else in uniform as we made our way to the main building where his office was. Once there, we would walk into his big office at the end of the corridor – an office befitting to the senior rank he held with flags on both sides of his huge wooden desk. The walls were decorated with honorary awards of all kinds. Throughout his office, there were all sorts of interesting artefacts: Spent cannon shells, bayonets and scale models of military vehicles. Photographs of friends and foes with a story to each them scattered throughout. His office kept me busy for hours.
He was a senior officer, and I was the senior officer’s son – a title I keenly assigned to myself as if it was a rank in its own right. I believed that my dad could conquer the world! He was able to order the mobilisation of tanks and cannons and other armoured vehicles in a matter of hours. The politics and authorisations around doing was unknown to me, obviously. The way I saw it, he had what it took to move and shake the world! And because I was his son, I believed I had that too.
But I didn’t always feel this way about my dad. He did not always act honourably and principled. There were times when his short temper would get the better of him and he would take it out on me. There were times when he would say things without thinking. Things that he didn’t really mean and would not have said had he thought it through.
One specific day – I must have been about nine or ten years old – my dad said to me: “Why are you not more like so and so?” He was referring to a friend of mine. I can’t really remember what the context was, but I remember that he wanted me to be more like someone else’s son. He wasn’t happy with the way I was put together – with the only me I knew how to be. Or at least, this is how I felt. From that moment on, I could sense my “not having what it takes” in almost every interaction with that friend of mine. In that very moment, my self-esteem was gone – stolen unintentionally.
Although he probably only said it to me once on that specific occasion, it kept replaying in my head, over and over a hundred times. It became like a broken record – something I wasn’t able to stop that kept on repeating itself in my mind. It became part of my inner voice. In my mind, I declared that I did not have what it takes. Why? Because my dad said so. The guy in uniform – my ultimate figure of authority. If he said so, it had to be true.
You may wonder how it is possible for me to still remember that incident of so long ago. But we all have incidents like that. Just get over it, dude! Well, I believe I have. But it probably took me three decades to figure out that I DO actually have what it takes – in so many ways! Ways that are totally unique to me; that taps into my traits, abilities and personality to create a package of valuable service to those around me. I discovered that I could be of great service to man and God alike – very fulfilling experience!
I believe that my dad probably struggled with the same burden I struggled with. I wonder if his father ever took him on his knee and told him that he loved him and that he had what it takes – that he was so proud of him. I doubt it. I never asked him about it because he died when I was 15.
How can a man’s heart be big enough to support the needy and strong enough to defend the weak if he does not know that he is loved? And how can his character be strong and steadfast if someone didn’t tell him that he has what it takes? But there is someone very special that can make magic happen in a little boy – someone who can make him believe that he has what it takes – better than anyone else. That someone is his daddy. No one else will be able to say to him – with more effect and credibility – that he has what it takes. No one else can do it like dad. A son yearns to hear it from his father.
We can share with our boys what it takes to be a man. We can guard and direct their minds so they can grow strong and resilient with a moral compass. We can pray with them daily to teach them where their Strength lies. We can teach them to work hard and play hard and to be brave in the face of danger. We can encourage them to stand up for what they believe in. But all of these concepts will only blossom in a young man whose dad took him on his knee and told him that he has what it takes.