I know... It’s bad form to use the word “pussy” as a pejorative, but I need an emotionally charged word to express what I’m feeling, and I can think of no better trigger word than the preferred insult of the schoolyard bullies and locker-room tormentors of my youth.
In school, my aversion to conventional male aggressiveness, my precocious rationality, and my resistance to the usual accusations of unmanliness (pussy, wussy, fag, etc.), led ironically to what I am now playfully referring to as my pussification.
Yes, folks, I am a pussy.
To be clear, I wouldn’t say that being a pussy is necessarily a bad thing. My reluctance to fight has been a factor in some of my best life choices. But conflict avoidance has a dark side which includes the tendency to suppress or distort “negative” emotions like anger, rather than using those energies creatively. It also includes the tendency to throw oneself under the bus when it comes to expressing unorthodox views, of which I have many.
In the early days of the internet, I delighted in my newfound ability to connect with like-minded unconventional thinkers and form online communities to compare notes. It didn’t take much courage to “let my freak flag fly” in such spaces, insulated from those who would see me as a freak. Thus, I could get away with being a pussy.
But today — amidst the rapid onset of Orwellian doublethink and the rise of authoritarianism in the name of “safety” — I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t grow a pair and start speaking up, regardless of the social consequences.
If you read our August newsletter about cancel culture, you may think I’m repeating myself here, which I am, to a degree. But this time it’s personal. I’m confessing that my own pussyness is part of the problem.
That said, the old solution — finding the courage to fight — is also part of the problem. Fighting as a one-size-fits-all solution is largely why we’re in this mess. The time is ripe for a new kind of courage to take center stage. So my intention for the New Year is to discover what it means to be courageous when avoidance and fighting are both off the table. And I need to learn by doing, not just talking about it.
Given that the root of the word courage means heart, let’s go with love as the main ingredient in our new courage recipe. More specifically, agapē, or unconditional love.
Even though most of us aspire to love our partners and children unconditionally, we have largely forgotten that we can love anyone for no reason other than that they exist. Instead, we’ve settled for a shallow substitute: sameness. Turns out that if we hold the same beliefs and speak the same lingo, we can let down our defenses and generate a primitive form of attachment security — one that is developmentally appropriate for 2-year-olds. The internet’s algorithmic amplification of this infantile trend may explain the increasingly common experience, especially online, that there are “no adults in the room.”
To express divergent views courageously — with unconditional love in our hearts — we need to let go of our sameness security blankets and learn to rely on a higher form of connection. For me, this amounts to a spiritual practice.
When I reach for courage, I get a distinctively different feeling if I start by connecting with my “Higher Self” — in other words, when I remember Who I Am — which I have come to believe is also Who You Are. This many/one paradox is easy to forget in our hyper-individualistic culture, but it’s confirmed through direct experience in moments of peak love and oneness, such as with mother-child bonding, nature communion, and the miracle of forgiveness. The act of choosing authentic courage is itself a reminder of the transcendent Power that underlies it.
At the same time, I can’t help but notice how I often fall into the trap of using “spiritual values” as an excuse to be more of a pussy. What’s up with that?
In part, it’s the tendency to conflate spirituality with being “nice” and feeling “safe,” and this plays right into my conflict avoidance habit. How convenient when my cowardly silence makes me seem nice and you feel safe. But for me to un-pussify without descending into assholiness means I need to see both of us through the lens of our Higher Self — knowing that Who-We-Really-Are cannot not be safe, just as a shadow cannot harm the Light from which it is cast. And this does not preclude compassion for the suffering we all endure when our illusions of separation make us feel unsafe.
Another factor is the tendency to hold that judging is incompatible with spirituality, while failing to distinguish righteous judgments from humble opinions. The latter (IMHO) are going to be the secret sauce in this newly upgraded courage and the key to any nontoxic un-pussification: I can have bold opinions AND humbly admit that they are invariably WRONG, because the human condition is such that no one is ever 100% right.
Unfortunately, that kind of humility feels like a death sentence to the parts of me that are most invested in being right. (Parts which, incidentally, have no problem with me being a pussy.) And that is precisely why real courage is only accessible through connection to the Higher Self — that which transcends the motley crew of frightened ego parts that are too often running the show.
To be humbly opinionated is to approach knowledge the way children do (at least until their natural state of wonder and curiosity is crippled by schooling and other forms of indoctrination). Younger children are smart enough to know how little knowledge they have, so everything they do “know” is actually provisional and subject to change the moment a more delightful or useful perspective comes along. They are comfortable “living in the question,” and their easy acceptance of mystery allows them to enjoy a magical existence.
So I’m hopeful that “Courage 2.0” can be a lot more fun, creative, and magical than the old version that implores us to “bite the bullet” or “grin and bear it” or “feel the fear and do it anyway.”
By the way, the term “magical thinking” is often invoked as a pejorative (meaning “unscientific”) by adults who lost their sense of wonder at some point — perhaps traumatically (and frequently involving lies about God and/or Santa Claus). Ironically, such traumas can lead to approaching science in a religious way, and this dogmatic religiosity is often present in “scientific” arguments about a particular topic or issue. However, children’s innate openness to replacing their magical mysteries with new empirical understanding reveals that they are the true scientists, while those who zealously defend “settled science” seem to have forgotten (or never learned) that science is a process, and thus never settled.
Let’s pause for a joke...
A progressive athiest and a conservative rabbi walk into a bar and start discussing politics, religion, and science. The bartender (who looks a lot like me) listens as he polishes the tumblers stacked behind the bar. The dialogue soon morphs into a debate, which rapidly escalates into a verbal brawl, replete with insults and ad hominem attacks. Unable to stop the escalation, they turn to the bartender and ask him what he thinks.
Still caressing his glassware, the bartender calmly says, “I think you’re both full of shit.”
Stunned, the combatants glance at each other and momentarily consider the possibility of uniting against a shared enemy. But before they can formulate a response, the bartender amends his:
“Actually, I meant to say that I think you’re mostly full of shit, which means there’s some non-shit in the mix, and I’m curious about that.”
In contrast to his guests, the barkeep has remained calm and centered the whole time. A long silence ensues as the adversaries try (and fail) to make sense of their host’s bizarre response.
Finally the athiest addresses the bartender: “Fuck you, asshole.”
The rabbi offers a similar (but more rabbinical) response. They both throw down some cash and leave the bar together.
Not really much of a joke, but I enjoyed writing it! I didn’t know how it would end when I started with the “walk into a bar” trope, but my muse’s point seems to be that it doesn’t matter. Whether we fight, flee, freeze, or engage harmoniously, underneath it all there is only Love. It defies conventional logic but seems to be the key to this new kind of courage.
Some of you who’ve enjoyed my writing for years may be disappointed by what will be revealed in the wake of my un-pussification. That’s okay. Others may think, “It’s about time!” Either way, I can assure you that I’ll be “mostly full of shit,” and I’ll do my best to remember that it’s all Love.