The search for a ‘nice’ woman

An old friend of mine posted a hilarious exchange he had with a Sri Lankan doctor. The conversation was about marriage and the doctor’s quest for a ‘nice woman, a teacher-type, with long hair who would wear saris, keep a beautiful house and raise the kids’. My friend being genuinely modern, egalitarian and effortlessly respectful of and chivalrous to women said he found himself going, ‘WTF?’ in his head but refrained from saying it.

Coming from him, I laughed and laughed and laughed.

But the exchange reminds me of how casually these words are bandied about by people, young and old, male and female, who are for all effect, the very thing they say they despise.

I find that sort of deeply entrenched ‘traditionalism’ or machismo far, far more disturbing. Both in that you find it where you least expect it, and that in existing in those who consider themselves truly enlightened, liberal and progressive, it takes on an even more virulent form.

I have been shocked to discover it in women friends and relatives who have otherwise seemed fairly liberal in the way they comment on unusual family situations in surprisingly prescriptive and narrow-minded ways.

And I have been startled to find it in male friends and relatives who go around holding flags and banners for all sorts of causes but in their most intimate relationships display the same sorts of
aggressive, insensitive and bullying behaviour that they say they loathe.

A dear cousin of mine who is incredibly gentle, insightful and kind says some of this ‘just is’ in the genes. He says no matter how much he ‘knows’ it, he finds himself returning mindlessly to ways of behaviour, expression and decision-making vis-a-vis his wife and partner of 20 years that are as he calls it ‘indescribably male’: casually overlooking her opinions, bull-dozing his way through decisions and informing her rather than consulting her on things big and small.

And yet, the problem is not of course with the gender but with the way both men and women seem to agree to entrench themselves in opposite and adversarial positions — and find themselves, before too long, sinking in the mire without recourse to alternative ways of life, living and loving.

On a positive note, I have to say, I have felt very, very, very happy to have met a few young couples here and abroad, who hold a light to a better dynamic in being nearly equally considerate, compassionate and giving with one another. And especially happy to have met and heard about the new-found partner of an old, dear friend who had spent years and years lamenting the absence of a loving companion, and who found at the other end of the world, a wonderful man who seems to still surprise her by being real, loving, deeply kind and right beside her!


The gift of clarity

I wish I could tell some of the people I sometimes work for as a consultant that expecting a clear brief, delivered coherently and if possible in a courteous fashion is not only an old fashioned attribute.

It is the basic minimum one has a right to expect and a duty to give. Not only because we are at times bound together in a contract of work deliverables but also because we are simply fellow human beings.

And yet of course the exigencies of circumstance, professional compulsions and the force of discretion stops me from being so blunt.

What I think is not understood is that being in a rush, or worse, wanting to seem to be in a rush, having too much on one’s plate and a generally patronising approach to ‘everyone else’ undermines one’s own professional competence.

It sets off a chain of sorry consequences where a badly thought of brief, poorly and impatiently delivered has the recipient scurrying around trying to fathom and crack the codes in which you have spoken instead of spending time on the actual task at hand — whether it is writing up a report, cleaning poorly written copy or jazzing up dull, flat text.

But I have also found its far better to leave people to their ways so they discover at some point that taking time out to think something through, with clarity will help them articulate it more coherently and lead eventually to much better end results.

Finding fearlessness with each other


What if your work achieves nothing? Thomas Merton, a great writer and contemplative in the Catholic tradition, said, “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not, perhaps, results opposite to what you expect.

“As you get used to this idea of your work achieving nothing, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as, gradually, you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”

What would it feel like to find our fearlessness with each other? For those relationships to be enough? For us to feel we would have made a significant contribution, and led a good life, just because we cared for, loved, consoled a few people?

“Firsthand knowledge…teaches humility…”

“Firsthand knowledge is enormously time consuming to acquire; with its dallying and lack of end points, it is also out of phase with the short-term demands of modern life. It teaches humility and fallibility, and so represents an antithesis to progress. It makes a stance of awe in the witness of natural process seem appropriate, and attempts at summary knowledge na├»ve. Historically, tyrants have sought selectively to eliminate firsthand knowledge when its sources lay outside their control. By silencing those with problematic firsthand experiences, they reduced the number of potential contradictions in their political or social designs, and so they felt safer.”