Why the Princess Had to Kiss a Frog

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Those who had early success in the romantic realm can be excused for thinking of it as some sort of magic. For them the “right one” comes along, his awkward introduction goes well enough, then very soon they are entering that world of “meant to be” and marriage.

That was the world of my own teenage fantasies and remained a hope resilient enough to carry me through a decade of disappointment. Reality would slap me in the face over and over again. But, after some moments of despair, I would always refuse to believe the evidence and go with my heart instead: Eventually that mythical creature would come along, the one who loved me for my heart rather than my status or stature, and finally prove my hopes.

Hope, even hope at the level of magical thinking, serves an important role in our survival. Too much concern about the chances and a man might never get out of bed (or leave the cave) and confront the challenges ahead of him. Life requires faith and courage or the ability to overcome fears (based in our previous experience and/or a reasonable assessment of outcomes) and plunge blindly forward into the unknown. It was a bit of foolish hope that enabled our ancestors to continue the species.

Hope Is Not a Strategy

Unfortunately, hope is not a strategy and a positive attitude, while often attractive, is not a guarantee of success. For every miraculous rescue, there have been countless others who likely clung to their hopes until the last hour. Like those students on the ill-fated MV Sewol, desperately clawing for a chance to save themselves to the point of broken fingers as the ferry boat capsized, many have fought hard to survive against the odds and died cold and alone. The lucky ones didn’t spend their last moments in sheer terror and desperation.

Fortune may favor the bold, but if you are a man, in America, standing 5′-2″ tall, and you want to experience happily ever after, then you better be rich or dripping with charisma. Because, whether we like to admit it or not, women (like men) are selective and statistics tend to favor a particular height range in men. First of all, women state their preference for taller men outright and, second, the numbers seem to bear this reality out—taller men have a distinct advantage. Again, this doesn’t mean that men on the average or shorter range have no chance, but it may mean that they will be less sought-after and thus, to be successful, they need to be less selective.

In the religious context that formed my expectations, the above reality was something that I could accept for “the world” and yet wanted to deny as it applied to the women whom I consider to be virtuous. I mean, I’m not extremely short or anything, I’m also in decent physical condition, but I’m definitely not above average in any regard and certainly did not draw as much interest from women as some of my friends who only needed to show up to make the list of the swooned after. It could be a bit nauseating, at times, when women would use me as their means of intelligence gathering about a “hot” friend, but at least I could be a good wingman for my friends, right?

Still, despite my knowledge of how things really worked and a growing number of failures, I remained a hopeless romantic. In fact, as a final act, before everything went totally sideways, rather than retreat or settle (a strategy that had never worked for me anyway) I decided to double down in faith and act in a way that I knew was irrational. For the first time in my life, I would ignore the odds, hope against hope, and find victory over my old nemesis of agnosticism that had always nipped at my heels. This young woman, the impossibility, became symbolic of my struggle to preserve my Mennonite identity and cling to the child-like innocence that had begun to fade over the years.

A Bitter Pill of Truth

What I found, in the end, is that Mennonite girls are really not that different from their secular counterparts. Sure, they wear a different costume, they also have some unique culturally-specific expectations, but being “thirty years old living in Milton” was still something unforgivable to a young woman full of her own ambition. And the more damning truth came in retrospect and in my further consideration of how a medical professional characterized this quixotic pursuit as mere sexual attraction. I had bristled at this. How dare this doctor say such a thing? But I was, like so many others, a victim of my own delusion.

The paradigm of my Mennonite identity came crashing down, despite my best efforts to preserve it, the night that I realized that she was dating and would marry taller more prototypical Mennonite guy over this hopeful fool. The gig was up. And, to pour salt on my wounds, this generically luckier fool, had the audacity to take to social media and crow about his success as a sign of God’s special favor—where did that leave me as the one who had put forward a truly faithful effort and failed? Of course, I didn’t lash out directly against his childish exuberance, I mean had I been successful you may have never heard the end of it. That is some of the reason why I started this blog, to chronicle my irrational belief that the impossible could be made possible and as a means to prove wrong some cynical faithless naysayers.

The hard truth, the wall that I hit, was that my faith could not overcome my lack of tangibles (at least tangibles that mattered) even amongst those seemingly most sincere. On top of that, despite my initial thoughts of this girl having a sort of strange or alien appearance, the reality is that she was a hot commodity amongst many guys. In other words, the very idea that my admiration of her was something special or spiritual fell flat against the clear contrary evidence. I had fought against my cognitive dissonance, refusing to accept things were not as I had imagined they should be, not as I was told they would be, and no amount of faith would change what was true about my culture.

The Rejection of Average

Anyhow, my sentiments aside, the trends that I encountered in selectiveness reflect a growing inequity in the dating economy of our time. This selectiveness is found in the data of various dating sites and as it turns out, is a phenomenon especially true of women. That according to studies cited in an article, “Attraction Inequality and the Dating Economy,” bearing this reality out. The summary is that around 80% of women consider about 80% of men to be of below average attractiveness and thus are competing for the top 20% of men.

It doesn’t take a degree in probability and statistics to see the problem. As a result of a variety of factors (our affluence, ability to travel, exposure to marketing and media, etc) our expectations have gone through the stratosphere. A young woman believes she can afford to wait and is thus willing to turn down a dozen potential suitors who she deems to be too average for her tastes. I mean, why settle for the frog, doesn’t every princess deserve her prince?

Sadly, for women of high expectations, this increased selectiveness does not correspond with increased numbers of above-average men. What it does mean is that fewer men, born with the right physical features and charm, have more women at their disposal. It also means that there are many other men of average stature or appearance who get very little attention. And, whereas marriage used to take some off the market (at least on paper) that is no longer the case. So, as it goes now, many women are eagerly awaiting the opportunity with those few of exceptionally attractive men who do not need to take them seriously and, meanwhile, are ignoring those whom they have a real chance with.

Mennonites Raise the Threshold

In the conservative Mennonite world where I came from the expectations are even more stringent. Not only do we have the influence of Hollywood, but we also have an increased starting commitment that comes with the purity culture teachings that crept in with the embrace of Protestant fundamentalism. In other words, not only are Mennonite young women as superficially selective as their secular counterparts, but they are also afraid to so much as having coffee with an average guy lest they are somehow defiled by this frog—accidentally marry him or something?

But the big difference is that, in the conservative Mennonite world, the guys are also as selective as the girls. Basically the threshold of commitment has been raised so high that a guy wouldn’t dare risk his reputation by dating that average girl. No, he’s going to go for that cherub-faced icon of Mennonite beauty and that’s because he already knows that the average girl will likely reject him as well. So, unlike the secular situation, where the problem is that 80% of the women are only attracted to 20% of the guys, with conservative Mennonites it is also 80% of the guys who are after 20% of the girls.

In such circumstances it is amazing anyone gets married at all. Of course, it helps that conservative Mennonites often marry younger when they are still too dumb to have established their impossible standards. It also helps now that there are more opportunities for Mennonite young people to humanize their other gender counterparts through fun group activities, like global missions or Bible schools. Nevertheless, there are many of average attractiveness who are left behind in the current Mennonite paradigm and I was one of them—there simply was not a path for me to romantic success within that context.

Willingness To Kiss Frogs

Fairytales are not only fun stories, but many of them are also full of meaning waiting to be unpacked and applied like a Biblical parable. And such is the case with the fairytale about the princess who kisses a frog and ends up with a prince. Sure, that never happens literally in real life, but it does illustrate the utility of taking a chance on an unproven commodity and the potential for a change of perspective. That awkward guy in the youth group or in the gym might not seem like much of a catch from a comfortable distance, I mean he can’t even protect himself from tripping over his own feet let alone be that dragon-slaying hero of female fantasies, right?

But sometimes those average guys have something beneath the surface that those other catered to “top 20%” guys don’t have and that is a thing called character. I mean, it isn’t easy being last picked in gym class. A clumsy guy is indeed very aware of his shortcomings and especially while he’s tripping over his words, despite a large vocabulary, to talk to the slightly above average girl (in his eyes) who treats him with that carefully hidden distain. If he just had a chance, if he would just be allowed to show a little of his heart, then maybe he would start to look more and more like a handsome prince rather than an ugly frog?

And not at all saying that we should not take the opportunity to better ourselves. There are plenty of guys and girls who refuse to make any effort to change themselves or adjust their approach to reality and end up repeating the same failure over and over again. They are a lost cause.

But there are many more, like me, who do shine when given a chance. There is a beautiful woman (not Mennonite) who allowed this frog an opportunity to speak into her life. She learned about some of my better qualities. However, more than that, her mere presence in my life created a new kind of strength in me. She gives me something to protect, she gives me a specific purpose and a reason to develop my abilities. I love her because she calls me her “average bhest” and uses that as a reason to embrace rather than disqualify me. It is because she knows that I am dedicated to her, that I am not like the guy who took from her yet never provided the security she needed for herself and her son.

The metaphor of a princess kissing a frog comes from the reality that women need to be selective and the other reality that most men need some catalyst to reach their full potential. The tragic part is that when impossible expectations are allowed to creep in the result is impotent men and dissatisfied women. Even those who are successful in getting married, who do not shed their romantic perfectionism, could very well end up with a relationship on the rocks. We need to renew a practical love, the ability to love people who are just average, like we are, or we will end up missing out on the opportunity for romances that go deeper.

It is time to show some faith where it actually matters. Most men aren’t six feet tall with the face of a Hollywood lead man. Most women don’t look like Ariana Grande or whomever else the entertainment industry puts on their billboards. Most women, whether they know it or not, are more frog than princess. Most men, even the decent ones, are not as worthy as they think themselves to be. Most of us are average. It is time to stop being so full of ourselves and start kissing some frogs. Or we could just keep hoping for that magical prince (or princesses) to show up and love us for no reason other than that we exist. Your choice.

 

Statistics hate men…and police too?

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If I were to tell you that one category of American is twenty-seven times more likely to be killed by police, would you sense an injustice?

Well, it is true that men were twenty-seven times more likely to be killed by police than women in the years between 1988 and 1997.  In fact, according to the NCBI data, of those killed by police from 1979 to 1997 of them 97% were male.

I suppose we could conclude from the statistical data that men are victims being systematically slaughtered by the law enforcement agencies.  But, that would likely be the wrong conclusion and I believe most of us can come up with theories as to why men are more likely to be killed by police than women that do not include a nefarious plot or even include mention of anti-male sexism.

Men are typically more testosterone driven and aggressive.  Men are also probably more likely to be involved in criminal behavior.  Men are killed more often by police because they are more likely to be involved in activities that put them at risk of being killed.  I could spend time proving those statements, but I think most people do not need further proof because it is fairly obvious and understood without needing to go into great depth.

There is another ‘endangered’ group of people that includes men, women and minorities.  This group is those who respond to our calls for help, they are tasked with bringing law breakers to justice and the people we complain about when their serving their duty involves enforcing laws pertaining to us.  This group is those who are police officers.

According to one statistical analysis I found, more than ten per 100,000 police officers are killed in the line of duty each year.  In a recent column Michelle Malkin gave this breakdown of the numbers:

“The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) reports that a total of 1,501 law-enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the past ten years, an average of one death every 58 hours, or 150 per year.”

But, how many, one may ask in retort, are killed by police per year?

Reliable statistics are hard to find on police homicides.  However, from what I have found, from those trying to fill in the gap of information, is that around one thousand people are killed by police per year.  In a population of around 316 million people that works out to be around 0.31 people killed per 100,000 people living in the US.  So, combined and compared, police are over thirty-two times more likely to be killed by us than we are to be killed by them.

Understandably, police have chosen a career that increase the chance they will encounter violence and the occasional innocent person who is gunned down had less of a choice.  However, the vast majority of those killed by police have made choices that have increased their likelihood of a violent encounter and in most likely could’ve avoided the outcome had they employed a bit of restraint themselves.

The real tragedy in recent cases that have been deemed newsworthy where young men have been killed by police is the absence of conversation on more obvious reasons.  The mainstream media is quick to point out a possible racial motive, but fail to mention all of the other factors from culture to behavior that have an influence over outcomes.  We do a great disservice to both police and young men by claiming that this is a matter of systematic oppression.

It is not a matter of oppression or sexism that men are vastly more likely to be killed by police than women.  No, it is a matter of men being more likely to do things that lead them to violent encounters and to fix that we need to encourage men to work out their problems differently.  Similarly, disproportions between men of different races may also be explained by other factors rather than by oppression or racism.

I do not believe we should ignore statistics nor should we downplay history either.  However, if we are to have a conversation, we should make it an honest and fair conversation.  We should not just be discussing police abuses, but we should also be discussing fatherless homes, cultural glorification of violence, the idea that manhood means avenging all insults and a mentality of blaming circumstances rather than overcoming them.

The real injustice is that we apply a different logic or reasoning when it comes to considering the statistics that show men are disproportionately more likely to be killed by police than women.  If we would apply the same logic and reasoning we would be holding ‘male lives matter’ signs and creating hashtags like #alivewhilemale or #crimingwhilefemale would be trendy.

And, yes, apparently women do get away with criminal behavior.  That is, at least at DWI checkpoints where men are disproportionately selected despite not being more likely to drink and drive.  From the article linked:

“A surprising study finds women have the advantage when it comes to DWI checkpoints. They are more than 3 times less likely to get singled out for inspection.”

Encouraging outrage will likely only contribute to a continuing cycle of violence.  At very least angry protests or promotion of mistrust and hatred for police is not a solution.  We need less dividing people into categories of blue, black or white and more discussion of factors other than race or gender that have an influence.

More understanding, more truth and love all around is what we need.

Our power to influence reality…

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My life would be incomplete without the influence of my brothers.  I was in conversation with my brother Kyle about the book I am working on, about life and faith. That dialogue eventually resulted in the thought that sparked this post.  Much of what we discussed seemed blog-worthy, but one particular thought came that I knew I would need to expand on and that is the idea of our influence.

We influence reality even if we squander the opportunity to exercise that ability in an intentional and directional way.  No matter if you have resigned yourself to ‘it is what it is’ fatalism, or if you live deliberately to change the world, you will have an influence in creating reality and not just reality for yourself either.  We are creating reality for ourselves, but we are also creating reality for those whom we come in physical contact with and possibly even in realms beyond that.

I believe it is easy to understand that if a person shoves another person physically they have altered something about the other person’s physical outcomes.  No, that action will not determine if the person has a good day or bad day, but you might change the way their day plays out if you push them hard enough that they fall and break their arm.  Again, they could be happily in the emergency room despite the pain, but you still have shaped some part of how their day progresses even if it did not break their spirit by your influence.

Good parents attempt to influence the decisions of their children.  I believe it is safe to presume that most parents do not want their children to become violent criminals and would attempt to in some way prevent that outcome.  Parents do have some influence over the direction of their children, perhaps mostly by genetics and not by things taught or at least that is where Steve Pinker suggests the evidence points.  However, parents do have an influence and that true whether or not they have given up on trying or if they stay entirely engaged.

The epidemic of fatherless homes bears out the reality of parental influence.  I would make the argument myself, but fortunately, another blogger has done the numbers for me and you can click that link if you need convincing.  The absence of a father correlates with many things we would consider bad and therefore the opposite is also true.  Statistics cannot tell us the whole story, but there is definitely some sort of connection and I am guessing the type of interaction also would have a part in the outcomes of children.

The influence of our physical proximity to other people is likely not something that is too much dispute.  Our intentional attempts to influence outcomes are a sign also of our belief in an ability to influence others.  But what if that is just the tip of the iceberg?  Could our very thoughts influence the outcomes for our neighbors beyond even our outward actions? Is our influence deeper than the surface level influence of our own physical reality?

Speaking of the ‘tip of the iceberg’ idiom, one could visualize the Titanic streaming the frigid Atlantic ocean and consider the implications of the block of ice it encountered.  The iceberg was visible on the surface and yet the destructive mass of the iceberg was actually below the surface.  The Titanic avoided a direct collision with the above water portion, but it was the underwater or invisible influence of the iceberg that ripped open the hull and actually doomed the ship.

Our influence likewise could be more than our spoken words or even our visible actions.  I speak now of the realm of our attitudes, spirituality, and faith.  We know if we push someone it could shape the outcome of their day, but what if we think well or ill of a person?  Do our very thoughts change reality for ourselves, but not only for ourselves and also for others as well?  I say, if we are more than just physical beings, if we do also dwell in an extra-dimensional spiritual reality, then we certainly do and should exercise that influence with responsibility as well.

My evidence, if you are Christian and accept the Bible is true, is that the ability of Jesus to heal was blunted where he was not believed (Mark 6:1-5 and Matthew 13:53-58) and the implications of this are huge.  If even Jesus, with a more complete faith, was hindered by the faithlessness of others, then how much more will we who struggle with faith be hindered and prevented by those in our midst who do not have faith in our abilities or God’s?  I believe we need to be aware of the influence we wield below the surface of physical reality, take ownership of it and use it for the glory of God.

What does it practically mean?  I believe it means we extend our love for others to our very thoughts about them.  I believe it means we recognize that we might be hindering other people by our very attitudes towards them, severely unfairly limiting the potential they have because of our negativity and perhaps creating them in the image that we have decided for them.  This is serious stuff if we consider the implications.  The words of Jesus equating hate to murder could be more literal than we realize.

At very least, we do have an influence over what other people think of another person.  Things like poisoning the well do actually to some degree shape the opinions of others and could do literal harm to a person by damaging their reputation.  We wouldn’t have laws against slander and libel if our words could not be literally destructive of something of value.  A person’s reputation is a priceless commodity.  Our reputation is what allows us to obtain a job, what another person says about us could be the difference between getting a chance or not.

Do you take seriously how you wield your influence both above and below the water line?  Perhaps you do not attempt openly to shape the opinions of others, but do you realize the potential influence of your non-verbal communication and thoughts about the other person?  Our influence is not only what we do for a person, but our influence is also what we deliberately choose not to do for a person and our very thoughts could be the spiritual power we withhold from them.

Belief is a powerful influence on reality.  Belief is a powerful influence over other people.  If we do not have faith in another person we may be effectively killing their ability to use their spiritual gifts effectively even if we do not realize it.  Belief also seems to hold some influence over God’s will.  The Bible is full of promises for those who have faith, but also gives many examples of where faithlessness influenced outcomes in a negative way and thus we who are spiritual should be aware.  Our doubt may cause harm to others.

We need to think of ourselves less as individuals and more as part of an interconnected whole.  Certainly, I am a big believer in our individual responsibility.  However, I do not see it as an either/or that we are either individual or we are not individual.  I believe reality is often better explained as a both/and, which means we are both individual and also a part of the collective whole.  We should not tend to one extreme or the other in this regard, we need to embrace both and take 100% responsibility for both.

We are, in fact, our brother’s keeper and he is our keeper as well.  In this regard, I am truly blessed to have brothers who care, share and pray for me.  I speak first of my thankfulness for biological brothers who are of shared faith and a similar mind, but also of my spiritual brothers as well.  I am glad for those who understand their influence over my outcomes and exercise their influence deliberately on my behalf knowing they could be the difference between my success or failure, these are the brothers who I seek.

But, lest this blog post be incomplete, the influence of sisters is as great or greater.  In my own religious setting this is an influence downplayed and gender separation outside of marriage encouraged, but to do that is to forget that the best example of love for Jesus was probably the pouring of expensive perfume on his feet by a woman (other than his wife) that drew the ire of his male disciples.  I for certain do not underestimate the influence of women.  My mother is probably the most influential person in my life and I believe the opinions of women go further with me than those of my male counterparts.

So, in conclusion, one should acknowledge their own full range of influence beyond just what they openly say or intentionally do.  One should perceive the potentiality that what is visible on the surface is not the beginning nor the ending of their influence and maybe the smaller part of their influence.  We need to take responsibility for how our influence shapes others for better or worse and exercise that influence in a positive way.  We should never limit the power of good by our faithlessness in our own influence and shown towards others.

If your influence of word, action or hidden attitude can harm or help other people, what has your influence been? Do you love others with more than just your words, but also with the influence of your thoughts (prayers) and actions?  Is your influence positive, do you build the good of others and your own character, or dwell on the negative and destruction?