No-Ass, Half-Ass, and Whole-Ass: How Our Perception Affects Our Ability to “Succeed”, Or: A Tale of Two Insects

One thing (out of many) that marriage has taught me is that personalities and perceptions can vary quite differently, even between two people who have committed their lives to each other. This of course can lead to quite a bit of conflict in relationships. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. No, I want to talk about success and how each of our personalities achieves it or fails at it. 

My wife has a Whole-Ass or No-Ass personality. Pardon the language if you will, but I think it gets the point across, donkeys are notoriously stubborn. She is either going to do something all the way, or she will not do it all the way. If she can’t full-ass it why ass it at all? She claims this has to do with her ISTP personality, I don’t know how much I believe that, but she is not the only person I’ve met like that. 

These people are the Butterflies of the workforce. They flutter around, job to job, task to task, always brilliant, always noticed, and quite good at whatever they do. But they never sit still long enough to leave a lasting impression, and they quickly burn out. 

The Butterflies are specialists. Unless they find a niche to rest on they tend to get blown around by the wind. When they find that niche however, watch out! These niched Butterflies are some of the most “successful” people in the world, career wise. 

The weakness here is that Butterflies never start anything. They are paralyzed by their perfectionist ways. If it can’t be exactly the way they want it, they won’t want it. They would rather do nothing than do a less-than-perfect job. 

This makes life in the conventional world pretty complicated. 

The conventional world generally caters to people like me, the generalist. Generalists are half-assers. We learn to be just mediocre enough to survive. Why get good at one thing if you can be mediocre at all things? 

We are the Jack of All Trades, Masters of None (JATMON). JATMON, unlike Butterflies, tend to be really good at school. Our school systems are designed to bring this personality out in people. Schools are intended to make people “well rounded” which is really just a fancy way of saying “all around mediocre”. 

And schools even reward mediocrity with prestige. As long as our mediocrity is slightly better than the next guy, we are given high grades and puffed up with feelings of accomplishment. 

“Successful” JATMON typically end up as middle management but sometimes rise to the top as politicians or upper management. Rarely do we find ourselves as successful entrepreneurs. When it happens it’s typically because we have just enough of a specialist in us to squeak out a successful business. 

The weaknesses of the JATMON are pretty obvious. While we may be able to live comfortably by world standards, we hardly ever reach our full potential. Our half-ass nature prohibits us from getting much higher than half of our ability. As long as we put in enough effort to sustain the status quo in our lives we aren’t going to try all that much harder. Given that the vast majority of people have been trained to be this way, it’s not much of a stretch to say we live in a mediocre society. 

When an individual JATMON becomes aware of his own mediocrity (such as when he marries a Butterfly) it can be devastating. His whole life he has put in minimal effort and has managed to climb the ladder because his minimal is just slightly more than the next guy’s. 

Now he’s faced with the very real understanding that what he has done is not nearly enough. He’s looking at a Butterfly but he is merely an ant, working diligently within the bounds of the world around him. He will never fly, he will never be noticed, and he will never be exceptionally good at anything. But, at the end of the day, since he is so trained, he prefers the stability of the average to the flighty life of the Butterfly. 

The Butterfly doesn’t care much about a more stable life. She looks at the ant and his relative comfort and loathes his slavery to conventionalism. Whereas the ant is able to relax after a full day’s mediocrity, she will never be satiated with her knowledge of the world around her, and her lifespan at each task will never be comfortably long enough. 

This makes the Butterfly very difficult to hire. While the JATMON ant is desirable for his ability to do any job mediocrely, the Butterfly is hindered by her inability to accept any less than awesome. This difficulty in the job realm eventually becomes a frustration to the Butterfly, not because she wants stability but because she wants something new and different, but the conventional world doesn’t appreciate her inability to sit still.  

So how do both get what they want? How does the JATMON ant get out of the rut of mediocrity or the Butterfly get a job that’s stable enough to get her her niche? 

The JATMON has to find a job where his varied knowledge and broad skill set can be applied effectively. He should strive to push himself to the max in at least one area, and this may require him to reduce the number of interests he has. He has to accept the fact that mediocrity sucks for getting anywhere in life. It will serve him better to take one of the things he’s best at and hone his skills to a fine point. 

The Butterfly may have to settle on something she’s less than perfect at, for at least the short term. She may have to accept that she is not going to be perfect at everything but that doesn’t mean that she can’t do anything. She has to find a job that satisfies her material needs while still offering a challenge and constant entropy that she needs to keep her mind stimulated. 

The conventional world often defines success in terms of dollars earned. The Butterfly defines success by how good she is at something, the JATMON by how many things he can do. All should define success as a mish-mash of all three: be legitimately good at a variety of things such that you can comfortably meet your material needs. 

By adjusting their definitions and making small compromises, both the Butterfly and the JATMON can be successful despite their limitations. 

Dealing With the Dreaded Monster of Disappointment 

The saddest picture I could find…

The other morning I woke up disappointed, my wife had promised me that she would do something the night before. But we arrived home late and having chased children all day and gone shopping she collapsed exhausted into bed without doing what she said she would do. 

I went to bed sad that she hadn’t done what she said she would do but I forgave it and went to sleep. But after she woke me up at 5:00 AM to lower our awning during a storm,  I could not go back to sleep. I kept thinking of my disappointment.   I did not want to go back to bed. I let my disappointment ruin my sleep.  I was so resentful that when she finally did what she said she was going to do I let the disappointment ruin my gratitude for it.

Disappointment is not sinful. We live in a world filled with sinners and sin, there are going to be plenty of times when we are disappointed.

What is sinful is allowing that disappointment to fester into discontent or resentment. 

What is sinful is using that disappointment as leverage to be selfish and disappoint others. 

There are ample opportunities in life for disappointment to rear its ugly head. In marriage, in parenting, in work. Any place where sinners interact is a place where disappointment can take up a comfortable residence. Everywhere that we have expectations of others is a place we can be disappointed. 

Don’t be like me and not voice those expectations. And really don’t expect others to randomly know what you expect and meet those expectations as though it was their idea. 

Does that person know your expectations of them?  Does that person know how strongly expectation is? Do you express your expectations in a healthy way or do you expect that that person is just going to meet your desires of their own volition?

Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  I’m sure that your wife or your child or your coworker do not make it their goal in life to make your life miserable.  I doubt that they make it their purpose in life to disappoint you.  Sometimes they just don’t know your expectation. Sometimes they just don’t know how strongly you expected it.  Often, they may not know how to go about it or they’re just not going to do it until you press the matter and make it important to them. 

Even in places where we don’t have to interact with people we can find ourselves disappointed. When rain washes out your evening walk. When weeds choke out our favorite garden plants. Really, anytime we don’t get our way is a time in which disappointment can take hold. 

The best way to avoid or turn away that disappointment is to adjust your expectations. Understand the fallibility of those you interact with. Understand the fickle nature of the universe around us and realize that it doesn’t revolve around you. Nature will hurt you, people will hurt you. 

Adjusting your expectations doesn’t mean that you become a pessimist and expect others to fail. It just means that you anticipate the possibility and have the grace to accept failure when it occurs. 

When my wife fell asleep before the lights of the trailer were even out, I responded sinfully by holding onto her failure towards me and letting it fester into resentment. Instead, I should have forgiven her and given her grace. I should have adjusted my expectations (she was exhausted) and let it go. Then, when she did get around to doing it, I could have enjoyed it and been grateful instead of grouchy. 

Disappointment is a fact of life. The better we learn how to handle it the better off we will be. Adjust your expectations of fallen man and learn to forgive. Only then can you begin slaying the beast called disappointment. 

Spanking? Or Every Other Method? 

The Gluesticks of Correction

When I said that my wife and I have adopted peaceful parenting techniques I didn’t mean that we completely ruled out physical techniques. This is one area where my wife and I slightly disagree. While she completely rules out spanking, I don’t. 

I reserve spankings for very specific moments, often when natural consequences would be too traumatic or permanent. There are moments when a child needs a quick attention getting and oftentimes (short duration) physical pain is the best way to accomplish it. These circumstances tend to be circumstances where behavior change is more important perhaps than heart change. Physical enforcement is useful in these cases.  

If a child has a habit of running out into traffic, a quick swat on the butt is often helpful in driving home the concept of danger. If the child pesters an animal it is often useful to gently swat their hand before the animal responds with a far more painful gesture. 

My wife makes several good points about spanking and why she doesn’t do them anymore. First, it is difficult for sinful parents to spank without anger. If there is even the slightest bit of anger, you are spanking for the wrong reasons. Second, we don’t hit adults, why do we think it is OK to hit children? There is a certain degree of dehumanizing that we do to children. I have had an avid spanking advocate tell me that children are just like dogs and only respond to physical pain. If they are only intelligent enough to understand physical pain, how do we expect them to understand the explanation required by Tripp’s methods? 

She believes (and is quite persuasive) that if a child is inclined to run into traffic that the child should simply not be allowed to walk.  If a child cannot handle themselves around an animal, remove him from the situation. Rather than be reactionary to “bad” (immature) behavior, be proactive and remove the child from temptation. 

The reason I am inclined to disagree with her logic is that I am not always there to redirect or remove them from temptations or dangerous situations. I prefer to instill an association of pain in them which might persuade them to flee the situation themselves. 

A meltdown in the store is best handled by redirecting the child’s attention away from the object which has caused the meltdown, by quiet words of correction, or by simply ignoring the child and not giving him the attention he wants. We have found that our kids learn quickly what gets them good things and what gets them nothing. 

If we were to haul our child out of the store every time they fussed or whined, not only would we never get our shopping done, we would reinforce in the child’s mind that she is in control. Consistently demonstrating calm strength in the face of chaos is a great way to teach our children that we are in control as parents, not them. 

There are parents who advocate the tactic of taking the child away from the activity as punishment. This is fine, as long as the activity is only fun for the child. If we are participating in a family activity where I am having fun, or the other, more well behaved children are having fun, there is no way I am going to suffer or force the other kids to suffer just because the two year old is grumpy. Our tactic again is usually redirection or ignoring. Harsh consequences are often unnecessary if you consistently train them that tantrums get them nowhere. 

This, I believe, is what the father in the photo was doing. Instead of telling his daughter that her feelings are unimportant or that she should not communicate them, he allowed her to express them in her own immature way. But he didn’t give in. He didn’t coddle her or express to her that her tantrum would get her her way. He simply let her express the feeling and then move on (as adults are allowed to do, just in a more mature manner). 

As for “subjecting everyone in the store to it”, who cares? It doesn’t look like anyone else in the store cares. And if they do, it’s most likely because they either have no children or they are delusional and think they are perfect parents. Having dealt with thousands of little tantrums I can assure you that I do not judge other parents for their children’s behavior (their own behavior however, is another story).

It’s high time we stop telling other parents how horrible they are. Instead, we should focus on our own parenting job and ask ourselves how we are doing. 

When we are perfect, then we can go judge everyone else. Until then, we should probably keep our disgust at other people’s children to ourselves. 

Peaceful Does Not Mean Permissive

The “offensive” picture 

Spankings. Whoopins. Corporal punishment. All of these terms describe physical forms of discipline. But are these the only forms of acceptable or effective discipline? 

This post wasn’t going to be posted for awhile, but there has been a picture floating around social media which has prompted me to fast track it. 

Since adopting the NAP we have tried to move away from coercive and aggressive forms of discipline for our children. We have adopted a philosophy commonly known as “Peaceful Parenting”. 

Among many Reformed folks and among many in the general public, peaceful parenting gets a pretty bad rap. Some mistake it for permissive parenting. Some insist that the Bible requires physically coercive discipline. 

The recent photo of a toddler throwing a tantrum in Whole Foods while her father and grandfather stood passively over her prompted quite a bit of backlash in the conservative world. One post struck me in particular, that of Matt Walsh. I typically agree with Matt on most subjects, but this is one where I find myself in the minority among his followers. 

Many of the comments on his post were along the lines of “I would never let my child do that without harsh physical consequences!” or “If my toddler acted like that I would have drug him out of that store and taken him right home!” Perhaps worst of all, they accused the father in question of raising a snot-nosed liberal who will forever throw tantrums to get everything she wants. 

As a father of five I can say with conviction that if we followed either of the suggested courses above our shopping would never get done. 

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” is an oft quoted verse when Reformed folks debate discipline methods. One would think Reformed people would be more meticulous, as this is in fact a misquote. 

The actual verse says:

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24 ESV. 

No mention there of “spoiling”.  The Proverb actually describes it as something worse. You aren’t “spoiling” your children if you fail to discipline them, you are hating them. 

Some would say that parenting without aggression or physical coercion is parenting without discipline at all. They believe that we are hating our kids by not using a physical rod to discipline them. In the minds of many of these people every infraction (such as a grocery store meltdown) is to be met with a swift swat. Either the hand is to be used or an object like a gluestick or “something that doesn’t leave a lasting mark” (so as not to draw the attention of the Child Protective Services). Their thinking is that physical pain is the only way to reinforce instruction. They insist that discipline cannot happen without this pain. 

A few years ago we went through a Sunday school class on Paul Tripp’s “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”. The process for discipline outlined in this book goes something like this: Child does something wrong, child is sat down and told what they did wrong, child is spanked, child calms down, parent and child reconcile with a hug, child learns. 

The stated intent of the book was to teach parents to to train a child’s heart and not just change their behavior. While I agree with the premise that a child needs heart change more than simple behavior modification, I disagree that spanking is always necessary. In fact this book tries to make the case that spanking is the only Biblical method of discipline. Honestly I don’t believe that this method ends up being much more than behavior modification. 

Physical pain as reinforcement for instruction is less a matter of heart change and more a matter of instinct. When a child (or adult) performs an action and is met with a painful consequence, it is usually natural for them to respond by ceasing that action (I say usually because often we are inclined so strongly towards sins that even physical pain won’t drive us away). It makes sense that we can change a child’s behavior with spankings or other physical punishment. 

But discipline requires far more than just changing behavior. We must not only turn our kids from the wrongs and towards the rights, we must also ensure that they know why actions are right or wrong and encourage them to want to do the right. This depth of discipline cannot be accomplished by spanking alone, if at all.

So how do we ensure our kids aren’t railroading us or everyone else they come in contact with? Permissive parenting differs from peaceful parenting. Where peaceful parenting creates and enforces boundaries (just without coercion or aggression), permissive parenting allows kids to do whatever they want. This is, by definition, parenting without discipline and in fact, hating the child. 

To keep our kids from becoming little hellions we establish firm boundaries and teach them to respect everyone, regardless of that person’s status or position. We teach them to live by the Golden Rule and the Non-Aggression Principle. We teach them to treat others with kindness, even in excess of how they would want to be treated. We also teach them about property rights and to respect what others own or possess. 

Next time I will discuss both my wife’s philosophy on spanking and mine and talk about a few other methods of discipline which we prefer.   

Doubt and the Clouds of Doom

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:4-8

Doubt is destructive. It makes a person unstable and indecisive. It can lock you into a cycle of depression and feelings of inability. Doubt is anti-faith. Just like it’s ugly cousin anxiety, doubt can keep you chained up and numb to the good things you have been blessed with. 

On a recent trip to the “big city” (everything is big compared to Cloudcroft) my sinful tendency to doubt was thrown right in my face. The transmission on our truck began to act up and lights on the dash began flashing. Immediately my mind went to the worst possible scenarios. To my mind, there was no way the situation was going to work out well. What had been a fine day quickly became grumpiness and gloom. 

Indecisiveness is deadly. A few weeks back a rabbit darted in the road in front of us, made it across our lane, and changed its mind halfway through the other. It turned just in time to catch our rear dual. If that bunny had just committed to its choice to cross the road, rather than doubting its chances, we would not have been checking the dual for bunny that afternoon. 

We can all find ourselves like that bunny. If you find yourself running around indecisive and wishy-washy, you might want to ask yourself if you are doubting God’s Providence. 

God will not leave us lacking in anything, if we ask in faith. He won’t give us all of our wants but He promises to provide His child with all of their needs. Doubting this promise can lead us to stop asking Him for our needs altogether. And when we stop asking, we tend to go adrift. 

Don’t be a dead bunny, kill the doubt in your life before it kills you. 

Why We Stopped Reading Marriage Books

Blogs are not a good place to get marriage advice.
Despite sometimes writing about marriage, I personally don’t read blogs about the subject unless it’s to pick them apart.

The Internet is a great source of horrific marriage advice. Instead of going there and being inundated with nonsense, I recommend that you get your marriage advice directly from your spouse, not some credentialed celebrity pastor, not some well known author or speaker, not some mommy-blogger with too much time on her hands. Those folks don’t know you or your spouse. They don’t know your needs or your spouses needs. They know only themselves and some generalities that have been spread around since the beginning of time. 

The assumption of so many blogs seems to be “my husband/wife enjoys this, so yours must too.” They will offer advice like “look good” for your husbands and get your wives flowers once a week. While the advice isn’t always the worst, it doesn’t always apply to everyone. My advice? Do not heed such general and reckless advice. 

It reminds me of those old magazine articles about what women should do for their husbands. Have drinks ready. Fluff his pillow. Get the children cleaned up. It’s not bad advice necessarily, but if you step out and suggest that it’s perhaps a bit stringent you must be a radical. You might even hate your husband.

So much of this bad advice comes from complementarian circles. I’m not anti-complentarian, I’m anti-bad advice. Honestly, I don’t want my wife to do all those things for me. That is just not the way I want to be served. Just because we are complentarian doesn’t mean that we should assume men and women are cookie-cutter and all marriages are going to look the same. 

There are many books out there as well that carry lopsided advice. One is called Love and Respect. The basic premise of this book as I understand it is that men need respect from their wives and women need love from their husbands. Now, again, this is not completely untrue. But it does seem a bit overly simplistic. Not all men want just respect and not all women just want love. Love and respect are not mutually exclusive things. Nor is the desire to have one or the other determined by gender.

Unfortunately, when some of these suggestions are taken to their logical conclusion some people can get really damaged. If your husband doesn’t like make up or your wife is not the flower type, you can be left out to dry when truly trying to find help for your relationship.

Worse still is that some of the suggestions almost become rules. It’s not simply advice, it becomes law. And the authors will often find some obscure scripture (out of context) and say “see, the Bible agrees!”

Sometimes, they will take a verse not out of context, but apply it in a horrible way. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” becomes “confess all lustful thoughts you ever have to your wife.” This is a horrible thing to do, especially if you have a very sensitive wife. It becomes worse when  you’re expected to describe them in detail. This not only may horrify your wife, it makes you dwell on thoughts that you should probably just repent of and move on.

If I could narrow down most good marriage advice it’s this: treat each other with kindness. Be respectful, be loving, both of you. You should both be loving and respecting the other. Treat each other with common decency and humanity. Above all else, spouses should be learning as much as possible about each other. Find out what your spouse likes, asked detailed questions, then strive to do those things. Find out his or her love language. Seek to fulfill them in the way they request, not the way some book or blog tells you.

Learn about your spouse’s personality. Are they an introvert or an extrovert? Do they need time alone or do they unwind with people? Does he need to talk things out or does he need to be alone to figure out his problems? Maybe your wife likes gifts, maybe your husband likes for you to serve his plate. Maybe he likes to do things for himself and can’t stand to be waited upon. Maybe he does not want to burden you with superficial things like makeup. Does he really care? Don’t just assume that he does because a book or magazine told you he does, ask. Make him think about it. He is probably just going along with what other men have told him is attractive and has never really thought for himself about the subject.

It is a cliché, but communication is the key to good marriage. It’s important to communicate constantly so that you have an idea of your spouse’s desires and needs. Realize that they will change over time, but if the communication lines are open you will never miss those changes.

Marriage books will not prepare you for those changes. You read it, you accept it as law, and then you think your marriage will be static and perfect. But you grow and your spouse grows. In different seasons of life you two will always be changing and what was at one time indispensable is now completely unnecessary. Likewise, new needs will spring up and you will find yourself serving your spouse in ways you never imagined. You must communicate to know these seasonal changes.

Maybe I’m too hard on the books and blogs and other marriage related paraphernalia. Read them. Discuss them. Take them with a grain of salt. If something doesn’t sit right with you, make it known. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

Silence Is (Not So) Golden

Nothing new here. Life is moving on imperceptibly slow. Sure, there are minor details of life that may be interesting to some, but for the most part life has been nothing but the slow turn of the Earth, marching onward with no slow down in sight. 
I’m not sure how much time has passed since I have been here. Sure, a calendar will tell me it has been two weeks since my arrival, but every day has felt like many days. Even yesterday is a blur at this point. 

I went without running water in my temporary home for almost ten days only to find that the leak that had once forced me to keep it off has mysteriously ceased. I had a shower today and it was lovely. Also, my dishes that had piled in the sink refound their homes in cabinets and drawers. 

Life has been good, yet lacking. 

I miss the companionship of a wife and children. I miss the noise that accompanies the domestic half of my life. Work is a welcome distraction from the silence of my borrowed trailer, but it is no substitute for the joy of family. 

So I wait, impatiently, for their arrival, angry at those who have delayed it with their careless (and possibly criminal) actions (or lack therof). 

Perhaps I should relish the silence, enjoy the time spent in quiet. Perhaps I should take this time to reflect or grow. 

Not for me. For me, there is no growth without the stress of noise. There is nothing in silence but time for navel-gazing and dangerous over-contemplation of one’s life choices. 

I think too much when I am alone. I go to places the mind should never go. I worry and fret and despair over details of life which I have no control over. I take too much credit for my position in time and space. 

If I have discovered anything in this time of silence it’s this: God has given me gifts which I have taken for granted. I assume that what I have is normal and is a part of me, like appendages. I did nothing to bring them into existence, they just are. Every good gift must be something I deserved, merely because I exist. 

But, a wife, children, and the fertilizer of chaos are not deserved, they are gifts. God supplies them for the growth of a man, and when they are removed, even temporarily, a man can find himself stunted and unable to flourish. 

God knows I need noise as much as He knows I need times of silence. One to grow me, the other to force acknowledgement of His gifts. 

Pray that they arrive safely and more importantly soon.