Steve Biddulph Talks…
Hello, it’s great to have this time to spend with you. The thing that I think is always important to say at the start of a talk is that it worries me – this business of experts who give talks.
These days we often get 1,000 or 1,400 or so people to a lecture and people say “isn’t that good ;” and I think, no, it’s a real worry because in the old days people used to be very confident in their ability to raise children and to run their lives. They had a real natural feeling for that They trusted their own judgement much more; now we have this plague of experts that gets around the place and generally undermines everyone’s self-esteem!
What I think is that you are born with a very good guidance system on the inside. You’re born really knowing what’s what. Maybe not the details, maybe not exactly how to fold a nappy or whatever, but with a feeling of oh, that’s the way to go. And then you forget and you lose it. Your common sense gets lost, misplaced somewhere, or knocked out of you in some cases. You go through your life and maybe when you’re thirty or forty or fifty years old, you are in a conversation and you hear somebody say something and you think oh, that’s what I thought. It comes back to you, so you are going through life regaining your own good sense. Does that make sense? And when you finally know it all, then you die!
So I’m not even in a great rush any more. The approach I take to my work is a non-expert approach. I’m over 40 now and so I just opinionate for an hour and a quarter. If my opinions or the things that I’m saying resonate with your good sense, and you think oh, that’s what I think too that’s okay. If you have a completely different opinion, then that’s fine, that’s no problem. I think that what we most need in this world at this time is to be around people who have completely different points of view and still be on good terms with them. So you are welcome to disagree totally and I’ll be perfectly comfortable with that. So that leaves me free to say whatever comes into my heart to say, knowing you’ll think it through carefully.
Some years ago I was travelling in a rented car in outback NSW and I couldn’t find a station on the radio dial to listen to. Finally I found one; it was a young guy talking about raising kids. He was saying that if you’ve got any books about parenting that you should burn them and if you’re reading an article in a copy of New Idea about how to save your marriage, you should skip ii. Just stay with the stuff about Fergie and Lady Di! His ideas sounded pretty good. A bit of a lightweight – maybe a bit young for the job but the ideas were good and I thought I wonder who it is? I kept listening and lifter about ten minutes. The announcer came on and said, ‘this is the ABC and we’ve been talking to Steve Biddulph’! So I pull off the road awhile to calm down. So what I’m saying is, you can be sucked in so please keep your brain in gear!
When I was asked to do the Peace Trust Lecture which is a great honour to do, I’m really proud to be associated with Dougal and his colleagues and what they’re doing. I thought I’ll have to make up a new talk and I tame up with a combination of things. I’ve just discovered poetry and poems and the value of poetry lo carry you to a ‘feeling place’.
In Australia, men are not supposed to like poetry; it’s a wussy thing hut the men’s movement is getting a bit into poetry. I thought there’s a couple of poems I’d like to read to you right at the start, lo kind of set the lone of the evening and the feeling of the evening. The first one is written by a man about his daughter Beatrix and is called ‘Beatrix is Three’ by Adrian Mitchell; it’s very short 1 find il hard lo read it without crying but I’ll give it my best shot.
“At the lop of the stairs I asked for her hand.
“Okay.” She gives it to me.
How her fist fits my palm, a bunch of consolation
We take our lime down the steep carpet way
As I wish silently that the stairs were endless.
Just for a moment, let that feeling touch you.
And another similar one; this is written by Stephen Spender.
“Bright clasped her whole hand around my finger
My daughter as we walked together’ now.
All my life I fed a ring invisibly circle ibis bone
When she is grown, far from today”
And another poem – this poem has a liltlc bit of bad language in it, for which I apologise in advance:
“They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad.
They may not mean to but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old style hats and coats.
Who half the time were soppy stern
Another half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man,
It deepens like a coastal shelf
Get out, as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself
That’s by Philip Larkin.
They kind of get you and there’s the spread of the situation! Families can be heaven and they can be hall.
Now let’s start to look more closely at love in families. When I was a kid, I was sent to psychologists a couple of limes. In the North of England where I lived that meant something. That was a third world situation; they didn’t send you as they do in California! My IQ was duly tested as that was all psychologists did in those days. I was sent back to the school teachers where I came from and the score I got was 90. Does anyone here know what that means? … it’s not good, no! In explanation, they sent my teachers a note that had little categories. I was “dull normal” and I don’t disagree with that. I think I’m a tribute to special education, and doing the best with what I’ve got!
And so the way I’ve tried to understand childhood and raising human beings is a very simple one. We start of! incredibly dependent Human babies arc the most dependent babies that ever lived, certainly in the animal kingdom It’s now believed that originally in the prehuman era, people got around like this, on all fours, and then backs were horizontal In Sandy Bay last night I saw some people like that, a temporary condition’ Because we got around on all fours, our pelvis was a different shape and our leg bones articulated off at a different angle. And so women had much bigger pelvises; pregnancy would go for about 14 months. Nobody says “what a great idea!”, but when you think about it, if a baby was born at 14 months instead of 9 months, it was much more finished, much more able to hang on as the mother swung through the trees and things like that. As we became more upright, our pelvises narrowed and our legs came off the bottom of our pelvis. Women had to bear babies younger and younger for them to survive so that evolved into about a 9 months pregnancy.
What that means is that every human baby now really is a premature baby on the scale of things and needs to he treated with that kind of care. A baby human infant is very dependent. You see, cows born and horses born – the cows don’t even lie down. They just kind of shuffle about a bit round the paddock, the calf falls out, the mother licks it off. the calf gets to its feet. You’ve seen this, haven’t you – walking around in the paddock within hours of birth? see how different that is to human birth and the effects of that are enormous because it means that unless we are able to respond to that dependency, then immediately things might not go well.
A friend of mine in South America was working with mothers and premature babies. In Colombia when premature babies are born, they don’t have the money for humidicribs and such. Since they would die anyway, someone said “why don’t we try something out? let’s put it in the mother’s cleavage, tied in with a scarf and see how it will get on”. So they had mothers with babies strapped in the front getting on with their lives. Then they looked into what were the survival rates of those babies. Any predictions how they went? What do you think? … Yes, they went as well as if they had been in neo-natal care. It may be that this is what cleavages are for; people have wondered! And they also discovered that when they did that, the mother’s area of skin on her chest increased by one degree of temperature over the rest of her skin surface. So there was a natural heating pad built in there. And so it’s very interesting. It’s actually called “kangaroo care”,
And another study with babies that are born prematurely ? one of those things where you can trust your instincts. II’ you sec a baby in a humidicrib, you know, those “lunch box” things they put them in, what’s your automatic feeling of what you want to do when you see those little babies lying there?… Yes. that’s right, you want to pick up the baby and give it a hug. And somebody had this great idea: why don’t we get someone to put their arm into the crib and massage the baby a few times a day? And these babies are so little that means like massaging with a finger, not a hand, just a little finger stroking them. They discovered (hut these babies gained weight 75% faster than was otherwise the case. This means they get out of hospital much quicker and save tens of thousands of dollars with each baby. I think that the way that works is, when you are a baby in those circumstances, you are not .sure whether life is worth living and the touch of a human being who cares about you gets lo he the best part of the day. Then your metabolism kicks in and you decide that this is certainly worth having a go. You start to fight for life; you start to gain weight and you go well.
And so we have early-on need, (his need to he carried and cuddled and touched and cared for. Still today you’ll have leading peadiatricians who write books .saying that babies are manipulating us when they cry and that we shouldn’t he manipulated by them and should let them cry, shoul leave them alone. We’re at the tag end of a very cold era in society.
A study, which I loved when I heard of it, was a Ugandan study where it was found that Ugandan children by age of two were six months ahead in co-ordination than American two-year-olds. This was not popular in America. And if you have any idea how Ugandans live – they don’t have a very good life in a lot of ways. But when they looked into it, how do Ugandans care for their toddlers? They carry them all the time, they carry them on the hip and they never leave it all just to the mother to do. There are always aunties and sisters and brothers and other people so there’s always someone sharing doing dial. And they carry their babies bum to hip, the hand goes under there, the baby sort of hangs forward, can you picture that… their bottoms on their mum’s hip and their top’s hanging out. And so if you imagine you are the baby, the mother just gets on with her life, so she’s stirring the pot over the fire, then the pigs come in to try to steal the corn, so she turns around and shoos the pigs out. Then a friend calls her from the other side of the village and she goes out and talks to the friend.
Now from the baby’s point of view, there’s the fire, then a kind of whoooah and it’s faced with a pig! And then whoooah back over to here and they are continuously adjusting their “Where am I? what’s going on?” Those babies have necks like rugby players, and their motor development is wonderful. Little children need lots of movement for the brain to grow properly. If they don’t get that, it’s a problem. The best diagnostic clue of a neglected baby is to see them rocking. You see this often in institutions. Children rock themselves to keep some vestibular stimulation going so that their brains don’t shut down. That’s why kids like swings and things that move them around a lot.
So this is where we begin. We start out very very dependent. As far as raising kids, what’s the destination do you think? Relative to that, what’s the goal? Where do we want to end up? Independent, You know you’ve succeeded in parenting when you gel a phone call from Vancouver or Honiara or Mawson Base from your young adult offspring and they say “just called to say Hello! I’m having a great time, so I just wanted to tell you how good it is out here” and they don’t want to borrow money!! And then that’s when you have a party; you know you’ve got there. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
Now this isn’t the goal of life by any means. This should happen at about nineteen and last for 3 weeks. But, from a parent’s point of view, that’s the goal, to make yourself redundant. So you out with the dependent stage and what you’ve got to be is dependable. It’s simple. Incredibly hard wor but simple. Now you can see if you think about it, that this isn’t getting you there. You could end up with a 19-year-old sitting on your lap lugging at your blouse. Not a pretty sight. And so nature doesn’t like that idea. So nature puts in another stage which comes in automatically. It’s like it’s wired in; called counter-dependence. Counter in the sense of ‘anti’.
The counter-dependent state is when a kid – it’s more than they just want to explore – they want to figure out what, of the thousand possibilities in this room, that I could do, is the one that you don’t want me to do, and that’s what they do. People say, “How do I know when lo discipline a toddler?” When do you start with a little kiddy to actually say ‘no’ to them. You know, tell them off or whatever? There’s no mystery about this, you can tell to the second when to do it, because they give you a look, which tells you, a look like this. With children you have to have subtitles. What is that look saying? Yeah, that’s very close, yes! “What are you going to do about it?” It’s a teasing, challenging sort of look. That means they have hit counter-dependence and they are needing something that is quite different.
Earlier they are needing you to be dependable. What are they needing now? Discipline, yes, that’s good, and boundaries and guidelines. They need to be stopped. My best description of it is that they need a relaxed struggle, where you’re relaxed and they struggle. People lend to gel that the wrong way around! So be very clear on that. It’s an attitude thing as much as anything else. This is normal, “It doesn’t matter how much you yell and scream, it doesn’t matter how much you kick and light, you are not going to get the lollies”, “It doesn’t matter what sort of lace your sister pulled at you, you’re still not allowed to hit herh Once you know that it’s normal you can relax. If you’re raising a 2-year-old child, your job is to make them miserable five times a day! Just briefly of course. And if you’re not doing that, you are not doing your job. A lot of parents today say, “We’ll just let them run amok and then we’ll just let the school sort them out.” And it doesn’t work.
It’s this ‘vitamin S’, if you don’t get vitamin S for Struggle, then you don’t learn to he human. It’s not enough to be nice to children because, what they learn in the 2-year-old stage (this is when it starts happening and continues to about age 5) is that they are not the centre of the universe, that there are other people in the world and they matter as well. If they learn that, then by the time they go to school they become nice people.
If they don’t learn it, they turn into an adult who thinks that all they’ve got to do is have a tantrum, pull a pouty face, slam a door, burst into tears, and everyone else will come running to them. “Do what I want!” And everyone in the room would know someone like that. And they are not your friends; they are probably in-laws or someone at work. But these are not nice people because they haven’t got to this stage. This is when you learn to think, to care about other people as well. Now, if that stage goes well at about five or six, you come out of there and gel into the big learning stages of life and by the time you are 12, you’re in good shape.
12-year-olds are usually very sensible, so sensible they’ll tell you how to run your life. A lot of parents think, “Well, that’s great, we can relax now. What’s all the fuss about, kids are 12, they’re going great.” It’s a bit like the people who were in Darwin when the wind stopped. The old and wise people in the room know what’s next: you know what happens next – Yes … puberty.
Puberty comes along and puberty is much more than sexual change. What it does is rewire your whole nervous system so your arm, when you reach for the crystal sugar bowl, is longer than last time – crash! So it’s it ‘s a bit like, if you’re a computer person, you put in Windows 95 and nothing works anymore! That’s what it’s like to be in (he body of a 13-year-old child, 13-year-olds are disorganised. They are all over the show. You ask them how did they go at school and they say “school?” Have you got your swimming costume? “swimming costume?” Terrible. And you are back lo lists on the refrigerator, you know, and you just can’t let them – my son’s just hit this age. It’s a hit early; he’s still 12 – just kicked in.
The other day, we’d taken a video out and hadn’t had lime to watch it and it had to go back the next day (you know how you get caught with videos) and he said “Could I get up early and watch it?” and I said “Sure” because normally he’s very trustworthy about things, hut, new phase, he got up at 2 am. He watched it three times through and was just finishing the third round when we got up at 7 o’clock in the morning and of course he was hopeless for the rest of the day. Anyway, there was a big .showdown, you know. “You’re just impossible because you got up at 2 am and when we said early, we meant like 6. In future we’ll slay in charge of when you get up.” Now you can leave a 12-year-old in charge of your house, you know, school holidays, go lo work, not a problem, but not a 13-year-old, no way. So they go round a second time and if you want to understand adolescents, then you subtract 12 from their age. It’s a very good guide. So what does that make 14? Way back again. You understand? Back into: “Why do I have to? It’s not fair!”and so on.
This means that if you’re running a family you’ve got to have certain qualities available to you and it might make the white-board a little messy but I’ll try and gel this all on.
With little babies it’s very clear the quality you need is what you could call soft love. Soft love is the kind of love that is very patient and lender and not in any big hurry. It’s like ‘I am here for you, and I’m going to enjoy you and cure for you and that’s my priority now.’ And soil love seems to go best with people who are not worried too much about the house looking like Home Beautiful or their body looking like Vogue magazine. They’re able to forget all that and just say “I’ve got this little baby for a short lime, that’s what I’m going to do.” And (here’s a hormone that’s produced, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to breast-feed, your body produces a chemical called prolactin.
Prolactin flows into your bloodstream when you’re breastfeeding, and what it does is make you kind of like “well, who cares, you know”, “Ah! I don’t care about a tidy house”, “I don’t care about making a career statement, you know, I’m just going to be here with this baby ”
I saw mothers on the streets of calcutta with their babies, the semis going past and the dust and the dirt who were just absolutely blissful with their babies being with them and massaging them and so on I think prolactin sounds like good stuff. I was with a fathers’ play group the other day and they were saying, “Now where could we get some?” In NSW people are very worried about stuff their kids are taking at parties; some were saying wouldn’t it he nice if, when our kids go to parties, they’ll have prolactin and say, “It was a great party, someone got hold of some prolactin, you know. We all took some and sat around and patted dogs all night,” And so soft love is what works the best at that stage and it helps it all through.
But around about age two, there’s another quality that you start to need. If you’re going to provide this, you also need to have firm love as well. Firm love is tricky, you don’t see much of it It’s that ability to say, “I will stop you doing that because I love you. You are not allowed to hit your brother. Every time you hit anyone at all, you will have me to talk to about it and we will stop that happening in your life” and doing that out of love. This is one of the reasons, for instance, that a child cannot emotionally mature in child care because there is no way that a child carer could be as hard on our children as our children need somebody to he, Do you understand? We would fire them if they were that hard. But only someone who loves you can be that hard.
We had a friend who had a drug problem and was a single mother coping with that. We knew her when she had got on top of her problems, pretty much She raised a daughter as a single mother living in Redfern. The way she survived with her many stresses, she just gave in to her daughter, never ever opposed her daughter if she possibly could avoid it. She got through by doing that. But of course by the lime the daughter was 14 she was a very, willful girl and very street-wise, she was also very mature, physically mature One day this daughter announced that she and tins 22 year old boyfriend were going on a trip round Australia in his van and began to pack for the trip. The mother was beside herself; she was standing in the hall of her flat, the boyfriend was in his car outside. This was a young man who had already served time in prison, sitting in his car, waiting, whilst her 14-year-old daughter packed her clothes into her schoolbag to leave home Our friend said she remembered thinking, gif I ever make a stand on anything in my whole life this is probably the time’, and she put her back to the door of the flat and waited. Her daughter came out, breezing along, you know, great adventure, the ‘sunnies’ on the head, ready to go. The mother said, “you are not going” and the daughter just laughed, so, her mother who never stopped her from doing things, how’s she going to stop her, and she said, “you can’t stop me”. She just grabbed for the door handle and the mother grabbed her arm, “you’re not going”. Within seconds they were physically fighting and, within seconds of that, they were actually on the floor in the hallway of the house, wrestling and fighting and yelling. The daughter was very upset and in the middle of it all, the mother remembered hearing the van start up and drive away. Like he was a real committed man! And encouraged by this, she kept going and, of course, as these things happen, very often, when you are confronting in that whole-hearted way, it changed from anger into tears. And the daughter’s crying and shouting “Why are you doing this?” and the mother’s saying, “Because I love you, that why I’m doing it.” It ended with them, lying there kind of puffing and panting with hair in their hands and declaring their love for each other. And it worked out very well.
I’m not saying this is how you should do it. This is what you want to avoid. You avoid it by starling a lot earlier in the picture. But do you understand the feeling of that; “It’s because I love you that I will not allow this to happen.” That’s firm love.
You understand where that comes from and so those qualities summed up as heart and backbone – you have to have them.
What this means if you are looking at yourself as a parent, there are two criteria if you like. There’s the soft low criteria like that, that everyone on the world is somewhere on their. Some people are very warm, some people are very cool, and that’s the way it is. Some people when you go to their house and feel, “ah. this is great. I can unwind here it doesn’t matter, you know, it if I’m not perfect” You feel welcome to be there Some people when you go their house and you feel “I had better not move a muscle here.”
Why do you think that is? Why is there such a variety? What makes you a warm person? Affection? Yes. that’s a sign of a warm person. But what makes you like that in the first place? Yeah, yeah, being treated that way. If your parents were warm then you kind of know how to be warm. So the best thing is to choose your parents carefully! If you’re not so lucky, then you might have to catch it as you go along.
My Mum and Dad cared about us a lot, but in those days they were very tense and so, all through my twenties and into my mid-thirties, I hung around with people who were warm and with older people who would actually affirm you as a person. The part of England I come from, a compliment would kill you, I don’t know why. you’d be struck by lightning it you praised anybody.
The other dimension, this one, is the firm love direction. So some people are very strong and some people are very soggy. That means that you’ve got 4 different kinds of possibilities of being a parent. Some parents are strong but they’re cool. This was around a lot when we were kids. You knew exactly what the rules were, you just weren’t sure whether they liked you or not. A lot of people are warm but soggy, so you go to their house and you’re knee deep in an equal mixture of bread crusts and Lego. They come to your house, if you hear that they are coming you move significant items of furniture to the garage. They’re lovely people, they are very loveable people but disorganised. They go to the beach and they come back short one kid, gwhere’s Damienh you know.
So we’ve got strong and cool, warm and soggy. It was a real breakthrough for me to realise that you can he firm and warm. They actually go together. You can have both of them. I kept meeting people who grew up in families that had a really hard life. They had to bring the cows in in the morning, because Dad had his injury from the war, he couldn’t walk in the frost. So they had to bring the cows in at 5 o’clock in the morning and they couldn’t wear their shoes because they had school shoes and they couldn’t get them wet. And the little brother had Down’s Syndrome and times were hard but they were in no doubt that
they were loved and everyone in that family belonged absolutely and you meet people like that – firmness and warmness. They worked out so well – that firmness and warmness combined. You get human beings with backbone and with heart.
Cool and soggy, a bad combination. You don’t get a lot of these to come along to talks like this. They wouldn’t be bothered, and if they did they’d never find the venue. What I’d like to ask you to do just for a couple of minutes with your immediate neighbours just close by, not the one you came with, but the one on the other side if you can manage that, but don’t leave anyone out. Just have a brief talk about where you would put yourself, where you think you would be at this point in time. Self-ranking.
Okay now, just get you to put your hands up. You can have two votes if you like. Who found themselves saying “Look, I’d like to be warmer?” We want to have more warmth. That’s great. Okay. And who said they want to be firmer? All right, okay. One of the keys to the warmer ones is a very important thing, especially in this society, that love grows it you give it time. If you spend time around another human being, them love will grow between you. And the biggest enemy of family life in this society is rush and hurry. Where I’m staying I was looking over at the Lady Cowrie Centre this afternoon, and there was a beautiful sound of children all day at play. Parents started coming about 3:30 to get children, then at 4:00 then at 5:00 and 6:00. And in the 6 o’clock ones, by that time I was feeling sorry for the children, I suddenly heard this loud voice of a man shouting. I got a bit scared of that and I went to have a look and what he shouted was “If you undo that belt I’ll smack you.” And he got his kid and put him in the car and the kid was not quite cooperating and it was a very loud shout. I thought, well, that’s quality time coming up. It was a sad kind of reunion.
Elspeth mentioned that I don’t have question time because what I find is that the answer depends on who asks the question. I had a lady in Sydney a couple of months ago who came up and said, “How do you discipline kids about numbers?” and I said “What do you mean? what about numbers?” and she said, “Well, my son, he’s four, was playing with another boy. They were looking at a book of numbers and the other boy said that’s ‘seven’ and my son said ‘no, it’s a one’. Then the other boy said, ‘no, it’s a seven’ so my son hit him. What should I do?” The problem is how many answers there are to that. But I looked at her as she was asking the question. This was a Saturday morning workshop. This lady, I guess she was 36 or 37, she looked like she’d stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine. She looked absolutely immaculate, colour co-ordinated, made-up, everything was just perfect about her, I said to her “What’s life like at your place? how’s it going at your place at themoment?h And she sighed like a balloon that had been let go She said “Ohh”, like that. She said, “It’s hard at our place at the moment. My husband’s partner died of a heart attack last year so my husband’s doing both jobs no he doesn’t get home till ten at night. I’ve got my job and we’ve got three children under six” And I just said, “Look forget your little boy and the numbers, you need a holiday. Are you short of money?” and she said, “Well, not really” “Go home and talk to your husband. Talk over – is this how you want to be living?” Because life is pretty full-on with little children. I see this all the time, everywhere I go. There’s this crazy self-pressure. You could say that we need to earn this money but I don’t know about that. It used to be that when you had little kids you were poor, it just went with the territory. People just used to share food and to go to each other’s place and lend you the clothes that their kids had grown out of and things like that. You actually had this luxury of being able to be a father or a mother.
Love happens when you give it time to happen. It’s the same with husband and wife. Sharon and I started by having a week-end away when our son was about 2 or 3. We did that occasionally and we discovered that we would fight for the first 24 hours! This is what’s called ‘catch-up fightingh. The fight that you haven’t had the luxury of having and you think ‘oh, what a disasterh. You’ve got to stay for 36 hours till you get through to some good times – and so time is a very big part of it.
We’ve got to start to close down the first part of the evening, and before the break with our music. And so a last little bit I’d like to tell you.
We’re working at the moment on a Vietnamese translation of The Secret of Happy Children. It’s been translated into 7 or 8 languages. I’m talking with Vietnamese parents on how they raise their kids; they sent me some notes on the difference between their parenting and ours. One of them was on eating and how they eat. When westerners eat, we have an individual plate with full the food on it. Vietnamese will have a separate bowl of rice hut all other food is served on plates on the table, like a smorgasbord. This can cause problems if the food in scarce as most of the time it in in Vietnam. Now, how can a family of 8 children and 2 parents and 2 grandparent, equally share the food? Some young hungry child will be inconsiderate enough to take the beat pieces of meal or fish or take more than is reasonable. However, this form of group-share eating in a great lesson in sharing, control of greed and community spirit. The children will notice hat their mother and father always eat less and leave the best pieces for the grandparents and the younger children.
The grandparents will act like the parents, the older children will imitate their parents and learn too, and this is a Vietnamese word, will learn lo “nwong” and “nwong” meant to give in to younger siblings, “nwong” does not have a corresponding word in English (that’s kind of a comment in itself), it means to care for someone younger or of a lower status; to value and to put that person first; and to sacrifice one’s own needs for the benefit of that person. In the end the family will tend to “nwong” to the youngest siblings, the frail elderly, and the often sick brothers or sisters because they need the food to grow. The family will reserve the best food for the grandparents to show respect for the elders but the grandparents will usually decline that. Some days they will “nwong” to the big or fat or healthy children to compensate.
Vietnamese parents often use a proverb for their children which is translated as “when eating, watch the saucepan and when sitting, watch the directions.” Watch the saucepan means that the child has to be careful to always leave enough rice in the saucepan for the other family members. It is a daily exercise in consideration for the needs of the other family members around eating. So do you understand the training that is happening there? Notice who’s hungry around the place. You give to the old people, the old people say “thank you’ but sneak it to the children, and there’s this whole thing going on of learning to notice who needs it most. Now, by the lime I was raised in Yorkshire, this had degenerated to always lake the smallest piece of cake. Did anyone else have that? Yeah, so you’d wail till last to get the biggest piece!
There is another thing I won’t go into detail about, but the Vietnamese don’t have a word for ‘I’. There is another word for I/me. If they are speaking, they may say ‘son’. For instance, son loves father or youngest sister likes older sister’s dress. If a middle-aged person addresses an old person in the street, she has lo call her ‘auntie’ or him ‘uncle’ and use the word ‘niece’. So whenever you speak to anyone, you speak in a relationship. Understand? You are totally defined in the web of things.
We need to round up this pan of the evening. I really wanted to ask Rose to sing for us because when we were first I talking about this talk, it was very much in the shadow of Port Arthur. Things are changing but the importance was very evident at that lime, of not being too horrified and not being caught in negativity. When there’s negativity and pain around, it’s very important that we, having stepped in something, kind of wipe our shoes and keep
I was amazed the other night watching a programme about the Dunblane massacre in Scotland. What actually happened there was that the man went armed and equipped to kill the whole two hundred children in that school. He had found out from a child when there was going to be an assembly – when the whole school would be there – and the little boy who told him said 9.30 but it was actually 9.00, so they had their assembly for 20 minutes and then they all went to their classrooms. So when he got there to kill them all, there were only the 16 children having their gym class. So maybe there is a God. And so I would like to ask Rose to come now and sing the song that we chose and then we’ll have a short break, just a 5 minute break, and then we’ll start talking about men.
Song-writer and singer Rose Harvey says of this song; “What I love best about The Choosingh is that it brings people together on the inside and reminds us that peace lies within each of us. It’s so simple really. Peace is an attitude, a way of seeing and relating to others. The one thing we can always change is our attitude, so every day offers new opportunities for us to bring peace into our world.”
1. So many times we talk of solutions,
When the answer lies in how we choose to see,
We all agree to share this life together.
And a love of life is our reality …
So which part of me is doing the choosing,
Am I working in fear or building with joy?
The sun shines from the centre of my Being,
Let the stillness in my heart be my reply.
2. Each day we paint a picture
Of how reality appears.
You can choose the many rainbow colours
Or paint the night to make the darkness real ….
3.When ihings go wrong we blame each other,
Forgetiing I am in you as you are in me. For we are each a part of one another. And we can choose our thoughts so carefully ,, Chorus:
4. Each night the while dove she goes flying
To the secret place where everything is known:
A place where there can be no judgement,
Now, when Rose was talking about doing what comes into your mind to do, there’s a story that I just love to tell but it’s terribly out of keeping with a peace lecture so it probably means that I should tell it.
In the old world before they had universities and before they had training courses or books or anything like that, they were very good at education. They had the young people ready to he adults about the age of fifteen; they needed to have them v?y competent, very caring, very balanced, ready to become full Hedged members of society. So they got to be very skillful in transmitting their culture and their wisdom without books or schools or television.
The things that they used to transmit their culture, does Anyone know what they did? … Yes, they told stories, long long long stories that went all night for weeks. The stories would persist; if the stories had value, they would persist for a thousand, two thousand, five thousand years. And the great thing about a story is that the little children would hear it one way, the teenagers would hear it another way and the old people would hear it in another way and everyone would kind of ride on the stories, at the level that made sense to them.
The story I’d like to tell you is a Nigerian story about men and boys. It begins “Once upon a time” and gonce upon a timeh means under a time or inside a time or around the outside of a time – once before time was something you strapped on your wrist. So it’s the landscape of the mind we are talking about, not the real world. That’s important to understand.
Once, when people had plenty of time, there was a father who was a hunter, and in the village where they lived, he was regarded as the best and the greatest hunter although he himself would not have said that. The hunter had a boy, a son, about eight years old and the son was very aware that his dad was the best hunter. He had seen his father come in with gazelles, with bits of giraffe. And the boys did not go hunting with the men. Hunting was men’s business. But the boy was very surprised and happy one day when his father came over to him and said. “Tomorrow I’m going hunting on my own and would you like to come with me’.'” To an eight-year-old boy, the question “would you like to come hunting with me?” is like “is the Pope a Catholic’?” or “does the bear sleep in the forest?” The answer, of course, was “Yes, I would really like to come.” Well, the father said,”In that case you better get some sleep, go to sleep now and I will wake you up.”
The boy could hardly sleep he was so excited; he could picture them coming back into the village with their catch. Eventually, as always happens, he did fall asleep and he woke before he knew what was happening to him, his father was shaking him. “It’s time, get up, get ready.” The boy stumbled to his feet, wiping his eyes clear and it wasn’t even light yet. The sun hadn’t even come over the horizon.
The father is gathering up a son of antelope skin carrying-bag, with hunting tools in the bag. They set off and go into the bush. They had been going for about 20 minutes. The sun is just starling to touch the horizon. The boy is in from and sees a large bush rat jump out from a thicket of grass. And out of his peripheral vision, suddenly, he sees his father moving beside him in one seamless movement; he brings out a spear, strides forward and spears the rat straight off. The rat is pinned to the ground by the spear and the father is alongside the rat, grabs it, breaks its neck so it doesn’t feel any unnecessary pain, takes out the spear and gives the rat to the boy and says, “here, you carry this.” That’s all he says and they set off again.
They go for hours and don’t see any other game. It’s dry; there’s not a lot around this time of year. The boy gets hot and tired, the rat gets heavy. They don’t have morning tea. If this was a women’s story, they would’ve had morning tea! They don’t even have lunch. A mother would’ve packed a lunch; it would have had something from the three major food groups! They just keep going; sometimes the boy falls behind the father, you know, 20 to 50 metres behind him. The father doesn’t seem to slow up very much.
A moment occurs in the early afternoon, a moment you have all experienced where feelings go straight to action without passing through thought. The boy takes the rat, hurls it into some bushes and runs to catch up with the father. He thinks, It doesn’t matter; it’s just a little rat. We’re going to get elands, gazelles and things.’
They continue all day; they don’t see a living thing. The sun is touching the other horizon now. The father turns to the boy and says, “Sometimes that’s how it is when you’re hunting … doesn’t matter, we’ll stay here; it’s too late to go back, we’ll stay here overnight.” He lights a fire and the boy begins to grow uneasy in his guts. And eventually when the fire is going well, the father says to the boy, and he says some words which are already forming in your mind. I’ll count you in … one, two three – “Where’s the rat?” – Sounds like you’ve had this moment?
The boy’s answer is not all that clear. The father says, “what’s that?” Eventually he gets it out. “I dropped it 3 hours ago back in the bush.” The father, in one movement, is over by his tool bag and, moving towards the boy, strikes him to the ground where he lies immobile. And that’s the end of the story.
When Michael Mead, a collector of stories, tells this story, he says every man in the room can feel where the blow strikes, although it’s different for every man. In the high schools today, you get a perfectly nice story or a poem and you’re supposed to work out what it means. It kind of kills it. A story like this, you don’t have to worry about it; the story grabs you. anyway. Some detail of the story will have already lodged itself in your soul. And if a different detail for every person in the room. Would you talk briefly with your neighbour about which part of the story stayed with you? If you’re a man, where did you feel the blow? Share that for a minute or two before we go on … Yes, the side of the head… Was it the blade or the flat of the axe? Okay, so you’ve got a chance of living.
Did you think the boy survived? Okay, not sure …. Anything else in your head? You feeling better now? It’s only a story. Anywhere else? So you’re fearing the worst? The father’s going to eat the boy? That’s terrible. I’m going to ask a question the women can relate to: which detail of the story particularly stayed with you? Which touched you the most? Would you like to come with me? The excitement – a beautiful moment. Struggling to keep up – he won’t wait for me. Where’s the rat? Where’s your report card? Who forgot to put the dishes through last night? Any other details? Yeah, the father obviously hasn’t done a parent effectiveness course, has he? Lucky it’s not a story about parenting skills!
So one of the things you learn with people who tell stories is never to trust them. And so when I said that was the end of the story, I lied. There’s more.
Eventually the boy awoke. Who thought he was dead? Obviously there’s a lot of expectation of parental homicide in our society! I worked with some Americans recently and often they have this Disneyland mentality. A number of people thought another rat had run out from behind the boy, the father threw the axe through the other rat, just missing the boy who fainted. We’ve got to have a good ending here if we can possibly arrange it.
The boy awoke, the father was nowhere to be seen. He could see the track where the father had gone back to the village and he turned and went the other way, heading off into unknown country. And he walked for days, ate crickets, berries and things, stayed right away from rats. And after many days he came to a bluff and, looking down, there was a large village, almost like a town, and he headed for that.
When he finally got there, it was late, the middle of the night. There were a few torches but the place was in darkness. He went through the village which was bigger than he had ever seen before. There was a big hut where was a light burning. He went inside, and there was; the king of the village sitting on a throne, wide awake. He said, “who are you?” The boy! told him. The king said, “this is very good because I had one son who was lost in a battle) so it is good that you have come; you can be my son. When the people wake up, I’ll tell them that you are my son and you have returned. There’s a little age discrepancy, but I’d the king, tough.”
When the people; woke up, the king said. “this is my son you have to do what he says.” And the eiders of the village looked up a little puzzled but didn’t say anything. So the boy lived there as the prince of that place. Life was very rich, magical, wonderful, glorious. He’d been there 4 or 5 years but time doesn’t matter in stories, had grown up in young manhood. Guess who tame to the village? Thats right. One day a skinny scrawny hunter came to the village; people met him on the outskirts and he told them, “I’m looking for a boy who was lost.” (This is the moment that makes my eyes burn when I’m telling this story.) “He looked kind of like this and it was about this time of year. Have you seen him?” The people said, “well, there was someone who showed up who fit that description about that time but the king said it was his son. and we don’t know. Perhaps you should talk to the king.”
So they look him to the king who look in the situation and said, “okay, hunter, boy, come with me. Everyone else stay where you are; don’t follow us.” He went to a large casket, opened it up and look out a bejeweled sword. They went into a clearing in the forest; the king said to the boy, You have two choices, only two choices. I’m going to give you this sword and you either cut off your father’s head and come with me to be my son – or you cut off my head and go with your father.” And this is the end of the story.
So have a talk with the people closest to you, don’t cop out, what would you do? … You would like the cavalry to come? That would really complicate things – who would they kill? If you had to decide, who would opt to kill the king? Okay, who opted to kill the king? Okay, yeah, why was that? “I would forgive the father.” Okay, so he’s a human being and allowed to make mistakes. Great, yeah … So he wasn’t perfect either and this was a chance to make it up. Right, I’ll relay that in case you didn’t all hear – “The king was making the boy dependent but the father was making him independent.” He certainly was, wasn’t he? He was selling him off on his own into the world.
Who voted the other way – to kill the father? Oh, a lot of people copped out there. Refused to choose, son of stuck half way. Some people killed them both – some people kill themselves, and some throw away the sword! That would be a very Quaker way. And the thing to realise is that we get very hung up about this, you know. Anglo-Saxon culture; we don’t like lo talk about cutting off heads so we have peaceful stories and huge wars. These guys had very blood-thirsty stories and very peaceful lives. Remember that this is ‘once upon a time’ so it’s in the landscape of the mind. It’s a choice you make every minute of your life, every lime you want to do anything that is glorious, special, going beyond the normal expectations of your life, you have to “kill the father”. There’s no way I could get on this stage without “killing my father”, speaking metaphorically. He’d say, “who’d want to listen to you?” Perhaps he was joking. I could never tell. Every time you get on the stage, there’s a huge danger of getting up yourself and so you have to very careful at least a dozen times a day to “kill the king”. And be humble, normal and fallible and admit mistakes and so you’re continuously having to do both, to be able to have glorious dreams and to keep your feet on the ground. Do you understand?
The other thing the story is about and it’s very clear, it’s about wounds – especially the first half of the story. There were three people who got wounded in the first part of the story, if you include the rat. Sometimes we spend two days on this story and we get all the people identify with the father and we talk for several hours; then we set up a permanent institution for the people who identify with the rat!
The first half of the story is about wounding; there’s no doubt that the father wounds the hoy. Who was aware that the boy wounded ihe father as well? How did he wound Ihe father? Yeah, he lei him down. There’s another way.
What was the boy saying when he threw away the rat? What makes sense to me is that he was saying – “If this is the best you can do, it’s not good enough.” Who here has got more education than their parents? My dad was a draughtsman. When I was sixteen, he gave me a set of drawing tools – didn’t make a big fuss about it. I think I used them twice. I wanted to do something different so I ‘threw away his rat.’ And I think a parent can’t help but think about it – I’d love my son to be a therapist, but there isn’t much chance.
So it may be that we strive to minimise the wounding; we try to he nice to our kids and to have everything peaceful. It may be that it’s unavoidable. Even if we’re so nice to them, that’s a wound in itself, you know? The thing that we’ve learned about wounds in the men’s movement is that wounds are universal. Everyone is carrying wounds. Robert Bly says, “if you don’t examine your own wounds, then you will wound your own children.” Notice he uses the word ‘examine’. He doesn’t say, “fix them up, go on a weekend workshop and get them sorted out.h He said ‘examine them’.
What does a wounded animal do? If a kangaroo gets wounded on a fence, what does it do? It goes somewhere cool and safe and quiet, and then it tends to the wound. In Anglo-Saxon tradition, if you are wounded in 17 places and you’re bleeding from every orifice, you’ve just got to soldier on. “I’ll survive, you know.” The animal waits for the wound to heal, pays attention to it, examines it … When I was young and foolish, I used to lecture on the discipline of children at night-time. I would never now do that in less (ban a whole day because it brings up so much. I was having a discussion with a group in Wagga or Alice Springs or somewhere about. I would be saying something like:.. “It’s smacking your children – there are better ways than smacking your children,” Then after the lecture, always, when the people get up lo go, a large red-faced man would get up from the back of the room and make his way to the front to confront me. Wherever we went, it was always the same man! He was large, he was red-faced, he was usually in his fifties, he often had the badge of a sporting-shooting association. And he aways said the same thing ? Again you know what he said – when there had been heated discussion about corporal punishment. What did he say’.’ Our old man used to beat us and it never did us no harm. I was a very ‘wussy’ kind of young man, and I was just trying to find my way out of there. What I’ve learned from the men’s movement, is that men will often start an argument as a way of getting close. And that an attack is a way of trying to make friends.
So, latterly, I say, “That’s interesting. Tell me about it. What did your old man actually do? You know, was he sensible or was off his face?” And he’d say, “no, look, he’d come home drunk and he’d throw you around. He put my brother through a window once.” “Were you ever scared of him?” “Oh shit, yeah.” And he’d begin to tell me about it. They’d close the hall and we’d be on the front verandah of the Wagga Memorial Hall for hours as he told me all about the stuff that happened when he was a kid which ‘didn’t do him no harm’. And you have this funny juxtaposition of where he started that ‘it didn’t matter’ but he had an awful lot of energy to tell you all about it. Do you understand? And he could begin to examine his wounds. Perhaps, too, he could begin to change.
What happens – if you can be in touch with your childhood and what it felt like – many people here would have the feeling of cilher physical or verbal blows. And I can’t underscore the amount of physical violence that goes ijuo parenting, not just in Christian Brothers orphanages but in the world over all. Hairdressers will tell you, when they cut underscore the amount of physical violence that goes into parenting, not just in Christian Brothers orphanages but in the world over all.
Hairdressers will tell you, when they cut people’s hair, they find little patches with no hair and are told” that’s where my dad used to hit me with a belt.” That’s very common. Many times clients of mine will have the mark of a hand with broken blood vessels on their leg or on their side. You won’t see them in bathers or shorts and that’s why.
So what happens, if you don’t examine your wounds and say, git never did me no harm,’ then you pass it on. You understand.’ But if you get in touch with that, there’s no way that you could harm a child, if you can remember what it felt like to be a child. And a big part of what the men’s movement is on about is creating a safe place for those wounds to come out and be delt with.
Everything you put into a human being comes out again. And it will either come out as more of the same or it will come out in some creative healing way. In the Iron John story, (I don’t know if you’ve read it) the boy lets the wild man out of the cage and injures his finger as he lets the wild man out. The wild man says “come with me” and takes him to the forest and tells him to guard this magic pool. He says, “don’t let anything go in the pool, just guard it,” In the late afternoon the wound on the boy’s finger begins to get hot and itchy so he dips it in the pool, and he brings it out and it turns to gold. Immediately the wild man is back – one of those “rat” moments – “Something went into the pool, what is it?” The boy says, “I don’t know.” The wild man says, “Why are you holding your hand behind your back?” The boy brings it out and it is gold! So the ingredients are that you have, a wound, a pond, and some gold. Gold in the old stories means something special and powerful – a talent, a great gift.
When we used to train Therapists at Collinsvale, we found that many of our trainees were people who had significant wounds, sexual abuse, physical abuse, deaths of parents ? things like that. They were always, if we did our job properly, the best therapists when they came out. We had some who were sent along by the agency and paid for by the agency who were lovely people, nice human beings, but you knew dial they just hadn’t had enough depth of suffering to make it as a therapist.
Of course you can get wounded and have no pond and you just get around and being wounded – it’s not automatic, you understand. The trick is how do we provide, in this society, the magic pool to turn the wound into gold so that people become artists instead of schizophrenic – so that they become incredible campaigners, leaders and teachers because they know what it feels like to be the other way. Does that make sense to you?
So this is the thing we need in this world, we need to have movements. Many of the people here were part of the peace movement ? and incredible change in this world that we stopped the Vietnam War, stopped making nuclear weapons and threatening to use them. And the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and the green movement which has barely begun – we need to have masculine energy happening now. If we arc going to stand up to things like media monopolies, BHP, Shell. Nestle’s, the arms industry, and enormous forces of destruction and carelessness in the world – you don’t have to have evil in the world, you just have lo have people who don’t care. Evil is just the absence of good.
I think women have mobilised their energy very beautifully, but it’s only half – like a vine with no trellis – unless it has the male energy around it as well. I very much encourage you, if you are a woman, to appreciate and support men’s changes, and if you are a man, to get on board.
Thank you very much for coming along tonight.