Let's Get Off Our Buts

Part One:

Hurt Feelings and Anger

I buy women shoes, and they use them to walk away from me.


How much closer to living our dreams we'd be if everyone who ever promised us something delivered. How much fuller our lives would be if, any time we asked people for something, they would give it to us. When we don't get what we want from others, when they fail to keep their promises, when they let us down, we often have hurt feelings.

Even deeper (and more frequent) are the times we have let ourselves down. How much greater are our imagination and desires than our physical abilities to fulfill them.

The result of all this letdown is often hurt feelings--sadness, loss, grief.

In our bodies, hurt feelings are usually felt in the center of the chest, in the area most people refer to as the heart. (As with the stomach, it's not located directly over the physical heart, but close.)

A common "cover-up" for hurt is anger. We blame whatever or whoever let us down, and we get steamed. ("How dare you!" "Why didn't you?") Some people have anger as the automatic response to disappointment. In almost all cases, however, hurt is just underneath.

After enough hurt and anger, people tend to decide, "I'm not going to do anything that causes me any more pain." That would, of course, include any dream-fulfillment behavior that includes asking people (including ourselves) for things--some of which we'll get, and some of which (let's be honest: most of which) we won't.


Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.


Over time, the result of all this fear, guilt, unworthiness, hurt feelings, and anger is discouragement.

There is a story told of Beelzebub, who had a meeting with a few of his sub-Beelzebubs (subbubs). Beelzebub asked for ideas on the best way to keep people constantly frustrated by not being able to follow their dreams. All sorts of physical barriers were suggested by the subbubs, but Beelzebub rejected them all, citing examples of human beings overcoming one physical obstacle after another. Finally, one of the subbubs suggested something that would keep human beings from even attempting to overcome the barriers between themselves and their dreams--discouragement . It was such a profound and innovative idea that Beelzebub put this subbub in charge of Strategic Planning to Make Humans Even More Miserable. Since that time, this subbub has invented, among other things, elevator music, tamper-resistant packaging, and commercials in movie theaters.

Don't ask the barber whether you need a haircut.


It's hard to imagine anything more pernicious--and effective--than discouragement. Discouragement promotes inaction, and inaction guarantees failure--a life of not living our dreams.

Baby elephants are heavily chained to stakes driven deep in the ground. Pull as they might, they remain firmly tethered. Soon, the baby elephant becomes discouraged and stops pulling. It learns to stay put. Over time, the trainer uses lighter and lighter restraints. Eventually, a small rope attached to a stick barely anchored in the earth is sufficient to stop a fully grown elephant from moving.

If you cannot catch a bird of paradise, better take a wet hen.


In a sense, discouragement makes us all like elephants. Although we, as adults, have the power we didn't have as children to pursue our dreams, discouragement keeps us from using it.


This section on the comfort zone is becoming uncomfortable . All these elements of the comfort zone do have a positive side. I'll discuss that in Part Two. In this part I'm talking about how people use these tools to limit themselves. It's not easy to write about, and it might not be easy to read about, but imagine how uneasy it is to continue living it.

So, I thought I would pause here and take a breather before going on.

Why should we take up farming when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?


Let's see . . .with what shall we take a breather? What fun things do I have lying around here? Ah, quotes!

Quotations are comfortable.--The author

Life is like a dogsled team. If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes.-- Lewis Grizzard

I've always thought that the stereotype of the dirty old man is really the creation of a dirty young man who wants the field to himself.-- Hugh Downs

Father, each of your sermons is better than the next.--Anonymous churchgoer

Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved. -- William Jennings Bryan

The denunciation of the young is a necessary part of the hygiene of older people, and greatly assists the circulation of the blood.--Logan Pearsall Smith

I don't want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs.


Eighty percent of success is showing up.--Woody Allen

Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess.--Samuel Johnson

Once you accept your own death all of a sudden you're free to live. You no longer care about your reputation. You no longer care except so far as your life can be used tactically--to promote a cause you believe in.--Saul Alinsky

It matters not whether you win or lose; what matters is whether I win or lose.-- Darin Weinberg

My idea of an agreeable person is a person who agrees with me.-- Benjamin Disraeli

Good behavior is the last refuge of mediocrity.--Henry S. Haskins

God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant, the ant. He has no real style. He just goes on trying other things.--Pablo Picasso

Not as bad as you might have imagined.--Motto suggested for New Jersey by Calvin Trillin

Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.--John LeCarre

I've been promoted to middle management. I never thought I'd sink so low.--Tim Gould

Condoms aren't completely safe. A friend of mine was wearing one and got hit by a bus.--Bob Rubin

Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function.


A "Bay Area Bisexual" told me I didn't quite coincide with either of her desires.--Woody Allen

Your request for no MSG was ignored.--Fortune cookie

Advice to expectant mothers: you must remember that when you are pregnant, you are eating for two. But you must remember that the other one of you is about the size of a golf ball, so let's not go overboard with it. I mean, a lot of pregnant women eat as though the other person they're eating for is Orson Welles.--Dave Barry

Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don't do that by sitting around wondering about yourself.--Katherine Hepburn

When I can no longer bear to think of the victims of broken homes, I begin to think of the victims of intact ones.--Peter De Vries

When I played pro football, I never set out to hurt anybody deliberately--unless it was, you know, important, like a league game or something.--Dick Butkus

I'm not a vegetarian because I love animals; I'm a vegetarian because I hate plants.--A. Whitney Brown

If at first you don't succeed, find out if the loser gets anything.--Bill Lyon

My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.-- Rodney Dangerfield

Please give me some good advice in your next letter. I promise not to follow it.


Childhood: The Psychological Basis of the Comfort Zone

I learned the way a monkey learns by watching its parents.


No, this is not going to be one of those chapters in which our parents are blamed for everything we are and are not. Parents seldom look in the eyes of a newborn baby and say, "How can we screw this kid up?"

Our parents (or whoever raised us) loved us--in the most fundamental sense of that word. Maybe they didn't hug us all we wanted, but we are alive today because they (at least minimally) fed us.

The primary reasons parents don't raise their children free from trauma are

  1. Parents don't know any better. Most parents have as much training for being parents as children have for being children.

  2. Children learn by example . If parents knew how to live their own lives better, naturally they would--and that learning would be passed on to the child.

  3. Parents have other things to do besides raising children: making a living, keeping house, maintaining a relationship with their spouse, dealing with their parents. Life can be overwhelming even without children.

    I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.


  4. Who on earth knows what a child needs when? Some complain their parents ruined them by not enough attention--they needed more loving; others claim their parents gave them too much attention--they needed more freedom. Many complain about both. To have given us precisely what we wanted, precisely when we wanted it, our parents would have had to be psychic--which some children would have considered painfully intrusive.

  5. Children require different rules than adults. Children are not as capable as adults. The less capable we are, the more rules we need. This, of course, can seem terribly unfair.

Given this preamble, let's look at childhood--the place where we learned to use the elements of the comfort zone to limit ourselves.

Fear. Young children don't know the difference between playing in the street and playing on a playground, between drinking poison and drinking milk, between petting the nice neighbor's poodle and petting the nasty neighbor's pit bull. In order to let their children out of their sight, parents must teach them not to do things that might cause themselves physical harm. The parents' tool is fear.

In turning children loose on the world (and vice-versa), parents give the basic message, "Don't do anything I haven't personally shown you how to do." In other words, "Don't do anything new." While most of the "new" a child could do is perfectly safe, a small percentage of it is deadly, and that small percentage is what the parents want to protect their child from.

Guilt. Naturally, children sometimes ignore the warnings of parents--curiosity is more powerful than rules. So, the parents "lay down the law." (Actually, the law already has been laid down; now they're laying down the punishment.)

Punishment can include yelling (which includes the perceived removal of love), deprivation (of freedom, food, toys), or physical pain. From a parent's point of view, this may not be much, but from a child's point of view, this can be devastating.

To children, parents are (a) big (imagine someone thirty feet tall, weighing a thousand pounds); (b) the source of love, caring, comfort, dry diapers, etc.; and (c) the ones who protect them from all those other thirty-foot, thousand-pound monsters. In addition to all that, parents control the food .

Little wonder, then, that when parents exact punishment--even though they're doing it for "your own good"--the child reacts strongly. Sometimes the child hates the parents, and sometimes he or she feels self-hatred for doing whatever provoked the parent's wrath. When the latter happens, it's called guilt. First, we learn to use fear as a reason not to do anything new; then if we do it anyway, we learn to feel guilty afterwards.

If you want a place in the sun, you must leave the shade of the family tree.


Unworthiness is programmed in at the same time. If the child plays for two hours within the parents' comfort zone (toys in the living room, for example), all is well. There is little interaction with the parents; they're reading or watching TV or whatever parents do when children are being "good." When the child goes beyond the parents' comfort zone and starts playing with, say, a can of shoe polish, the interaction with the parents becomes suddenly intensified--and almost entirely negative. Bad, wrong, nasty, naughty, no good.

What does the child remember from an evening at home with "the folks"? The hours of harmonious play, worthy of a Rockwell painting? Or the moments of intense, negative interaction? The intensity, probably. After enough negative memories, a child can build a self-image of being bad, wrong, nasty, naughty, and no good--in a word, unworthy.

Hurt feelings. From a very early age, we are taught that what happens outside us should affect what happens inside us. Someone jangles keys, and that's supposed to make us fascinated. Someone makes faces and silly noises, and that's supposed to make us happy. Someone gives us a Teddy bear, and that's supposed to make us feel loved. Eventually, our inner feelings are linked to external events. When those external events don't go the way we want them to go, we feel hurt.

We also learn by watching. Father arrives late; mother's feelings are hurt. Mother doesn't cook father's favorite food; father's feelings are hurt. Mother's choice in food has some direct connection to father's emotional condition.

Anger. If we respond to hurt feelings with anger, we could have learned it by watching how our parents responded to hurt. And what kind of anger? Lashing out, or withdrawal? Noisy blame or quiet revenge? Do you see any of your patterns in your parents?

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