No one can insult you without your permission

I recently said the above, and got some great responses.  To clarify my position, I’d like to quote a story attributed to the Buddha (and other great teachers):


The Buddha was lecturing, and a listener continued to interrupt him with rude questions and insults.  Finally, the Buddha addressed him directly.

“Sir,” he said.  “If I offer you a gift, and you refuse to accept it, to whom does the gift belong?”

“Why, to you, naturally.” the man replied.

“Precisely.  And if you offer me abuse, and I decline to accept it, to whom does the abuse then belong?”

And the man was speechless.

Finding your tribe

Your “tribe” are the people who share your values, and to a certain degree, your experiences and intents.  You will find your friends, lovers, and mastermind partners within your tribe.  They should be the only people who can insult you with words, as the term “insult” included the concept of damage.   Why should you care about the opinions of people who do not share your values?

The clearer your values, and the more courageously you live them, the easier it will be to find others of your tribe. You may be lonely for a while as you move from one level of clarity to another, but trust me: if you are honestly in touch with your essence, there are many, many others who are on your wavelength.   Fantasies are of infinite complexity, but reality is really rather simple.

Among other things, my tribe consists of people who have or value the following qualities:

–Love themselves, and extend that love to others.

–Believe in the equality of humankind, without weasel words: no group defined by race or ethnicity is of greater worth or capacity than another.

–Realize that someone can disagree with them without being stupid or dishonorable.

–Sees that anger is a mask over fear, that attacks are defenses, and that the inability to express yourself without rancor, obscenity or attempted insult is a sign that you feel exposed and vulnerable.

–Prizes courtesy

–Knows what they would die for, and therefore what they will live for.

–Grants to others the primacy of their experience in their own lives, and understands the difference between “outsider” and “insider” perceptions, language, and actions

–Can grant that there are certain philosophical positions that cannot be resolved with debate, such that we must find ways to live together even though we will never agree completely.

–Believes that a life balanced between love, physical integrity and career success is an excellent measure of overall health and efficiency.

–Believes that the meaning of life is to be happy.

Those are some of the characteristics of my Tribe.  Others are welcome to belong to other tribes, and I wish them life and love.   If you are not of my tribe, you cannot insult me.  If you are not of greater accomplishment in my chosen measures of balance I will not place your opinions above my own without the clearest, most powerful and persuasive arguments imaginable. At the least, you are on a different path.

At worst, you are lost yourself, and merely wish me to keep you company as you wander in the woods.



Both focus AND history matter

Loving yourself gives you the courage to look deeply into who and what you are, and looking deeply into who and what you are reveals the beauty worthy of love.   Loving another human being takes this insight and expands it to include at least one other person.  For some, perhaps most, loving another is easier than loving themselves.

But now you have to expand further, to “center” yourself in that loving space so that your boundaries expand.  In fact, the greater your “centeredness” the greater the expansion. The Koisan belief in “Num”: the single soul that inhabits all human bodies, speaks to this.  And this, the attribution of equal humanity to all, is the first thing thrown out the window in times of stress.   Listen to the political discussions and ask if people on one side truly believe their political opponents are, on average, as decent and intelligent as their political allies. It isn’t enough to say “we see things differently”.  It must be “you are wrong” or even “you are awful” (or: “deplorable”, anyone?)

This is the core of racism as well: my definition is clear and sharp: the attribution of differential worth or capacity based on race or ethnicity.   Not “preference”, which is tribalism.  Not “to hate the other” which would be various forms of bigotry.  And not “the ability to leverage power against” which would be the institutional version of that position.  No, my definition excuses no one, and has been hugely useful in teasing aside excuses, as well as revealing damage incurred over multiple generations.

Why?  Because the power of believing you CAN and SHOULD achieve can be damaged on multiple levels:

  1. You can be denied opportunity, and therefore lose hope.
  2. You can be actively discouraged with pain and therefore lose hope.
  3. You can be raised by parents or grandparents who have been damaged by their life experiences, and therefore never HAVE hope.
  4. You can be programmed by social mythology: television, film, The News to see those who “look like you” to be less capable or less “permitted” to succeed, and therefore lose hope.

Remember the “MAGIC formula”?   Magic = Action X Gratitude X Intent X Conviction?   Get a “zero” in any category and you flatline.

Well, if your actions are stifled…if you feel you have little to be grateful for…if everyone around you tells you your Intents are unrealistic…or if you have no deep faith that your efforts will bring you greater pleasure than pain…you flatline.

I was recently asked how I reconcile my own conviction that we can create our own lives with the belief that history (such as slavery and its aftermath) can control our results.

It’s easy: most people are asleep.  They are programmed from childhood by parents, society, and experiences, and the beliefs you are given prior to puberty have to be blasted out with dynamite.

My mother BROKE HERSELF on the wheel of programming me to wake up, even though she herself was trapped.   Played endless tapes and records of self-improvement books that took seed in me even though she roiled sleepless with nightmares, and foamed with rage and pain that her life would have been better had she not had dark-skinned children who kept her from “passing for white.”   

And that foundation, that programming, that early gift she gave me at the cost of her own happiness, made all the difference.    The average person in the average context given average resources will get average results.   Teach that average person to seek extraordinary resources that teach them to exert extraordinary effort, and they will get above-average results.

Then, of course, comes The Great Loneliness.  We need Tribe, you see.   We can’t be “too different” or we won’t have protection, become targets. So if you are part of a damaged social unit, and begin to excel, you are alone.  If I’d wanted to be a doctor or lawyer, I’d have found “tribes” of similarly inclined people to join with…and plenty of women who understood that path and would have had confidence that my efforts would lead to success, and therefore be willing to cast their lot with me.

That didn’t happen. I was too strange.  Too alien.  And that put me at risk of being the Odd Sock, the lame gazelle, a target for bullying in junior high, and a social outcast by high school.   Anyone who wonders why I found my way to Martial Arts by my senior year in high school need only look at this reality: no tribe from either the internal (black) community or the external (white) community.  I either had to be strong, or my belief (programmed by my mother and reinforced by media and history) was that I would be killed.

Anyone who wants to know how I became so calculating about how sexual relationships work, the “Beauty-Power” exchange, need only look at this rejection.  The women I was attracted to weren’t attracted to me.  I saw that the greater the level of socially-agreed upon beauty, the higher the level of socially-agreed upon power that woman sought in her men.   Countless examples of this, such that exceptions were the stuff of farcical comedy.  At that point I could take the Weenie approach and whine, or simply say: “oh.  O.K.  I’ll be powerful, then.”  I chose the second route, squashing any sense of “It’s not faaaair!!”  It WAS fair. Why shouldn’t every human being make the best trade they can for what they want in life?  It only made sense, once I stopped listening to my wounded ego.

The same process with  the racial issue. It was obvious to me that the same efforts, over the same time, with the same energy, would get me fewer results than if I’d been born white.  Made sense: every tribe offers advantages to their other members, whether that tribe is defined by gender, religion, politics, avocation, or whatever.  Just human nature.   I could either resent that and let it stop me, or find a way to move forward.  I resented it AND moved forward.

I fought my way through these things, always seeking new resources, always fighting, always terrified I couldn’t reach my dreams, filling my house with books on accomplishment, going to every seminar I could find, studying with any teacher who would accept me, crying myself to sleep, waking up in fear, unable to stop, tired of slogging forward…

And then finally hit the level where all my work started paying off. Found a tribe of people who appreciated my accomplishments (both martial and in writing) and had some protection, and some access to women who appreciated the kind of power I had created in my life.


I remember being at a party some twenty-five years ago.  Fannish party.  I’d published a few books, and was feeling that, at last, I had some sense of how hard and focused I’d have to work to reach my goals, and was busy installing them at Unconscious Competence.  At this party, I listened to a couple of unpublished writers, white guys, complaining about how awful the publishing industry was, the Philistines who controlled the purses, the terrible monsters who kept their brilliance from seeing the light.  I did what I usually did: tried to offer some comfort, some advice, a perspective on the way to channel their hopes and dreams and energies to accomplish their dreams.

And they just waved their hands at me: “oh, it looks good to YOU, with all your advantages, in your ivory tower…” and I was stunned.  It was a real WTF moment.   Did they BELIEVE that?

And in the years since, I’ve seen people overcoming various obstacles of poverty, gender, disability, and so forth, and learned a reality: those obstacles cost you. REALLY cost you.  But once you accomplish, people don’t want to believe what you’ve been through, and will assume you were born with a silver spoon.

The first time I heard someone say: “I wish I’d been born black.   All those Affirmative Action advantages.  I’d have gone so much further…” I thought that was the most ignorant comment I’d ever heard, just dripping with racist implications.  Now I understand it’s just human nature.

And when I hear someone say: “I don’t understand how you can believe in individual will and effort but simultaneously believe that history influences our results” I just think: most people are asleep to their potential, and so get the average results of their immediate environment. And most people are just as asleep to their advantages.

The one creates a tragedy of lost lives. The other creates a tragedy of contempt, misunderstanding, and self-righteous blindness.

Yes, you can be born into disadvantage and still achieve. But stories of those who do so are told BECAUSE they are uncommon.  You can be born into great wealth and power and fail.  But stories of those who take such falls are told BECAUSE they are uncommon. Most people remain in the social tissue into which they were born.

What can you do if you are in such a disadvantaged tissue?  Wake up.  Find role models of those who excelled. In 99.9% of  cases they found role models, coaches, mentors who could provide a road map.  They suffered and stressed and dealt with loneliness and fatigue while others were partying.   They fell and got up and fell and got up.  FOLLOW THE HERO’S JOURNEY, or another pattern you can believe in with all your heart, because you will be spit on and threatened and warned and beaten down, and you will have to find a way to keep going.

And then…when you arrive?   People will tell you the obstacles you faced were illusions. That you are simply “different”.   That anyone, even without a mother like mine, without teachers like Steve Muhammad and Larry Niven, could have done the same. And you’ll want to scream, or hit them.  Do neither.

Instead, understand that this is just the human condition. We all have advantages and disadvantages, the degree of which can probably measured by looking at average results within the group.  Acknowledge any advantage you had, give thanks for them, have compassion for those who didn’t: they are doing the best they can with the resources they have.  STAY AWAKE.

And…let your light shine.   Be a role model of possibility.   Help two people to the Light.

And…stay awake, no matter how seductive the whisper to “go to sleep.  Go to sleep. You are successful because you are simply better…those less successful are just less innately capable…they LIKE their pain…go to sleep…”

The monsters, the ones who actively feed on the pain, really love it that most people can’t wait to go to sleep.  And those of us committed to staying awake will always be tested.  Speak your truth.  Be strong, or the children are not safe. Be vigilant, or the monsters will drain the sleepers, and they will never awaken.

Understand human beings, our history and psychology and sociology without guilt, blame, or shame.  That is a doorway to wisdom.



(If you would like to learn more about how the Hero’s Journey applies to our lives, especially our storytelling, the Lifewriting workshop will open again in February.  You can get on the waiting list at:

Residual Ego Shell

(I wrote this in 2007 over at Dar Kush blog.)

In studying writings on the unraveling of the human ego and the state of enlightenment, I begin to suspect that I understand more clearly the reason most world religions are structured as they are. They know that actual enlightenment is “the small boat”—it is not for many people. Frankly, most aren’t up to it. Most people just want to have a comfortable dream. Fine. So teachings have to be constructed in multiple levels, so that they work for you at whatever level of understanding or maturity you have reached. This is one of the brilliant things about Christianity, by the way. It can work for 5 year olds, and it can work for sixty year old geniuses—but on different levels. But if I’m right about this, even after the unraveling process, in order to move through this world, you have to wear the residual ego shell. And that implies that those social rules which abide at the level of unconscious competence or reflex, which are in alignment with the deepest emotions and genetic imperatives, will remain. Implication: those who can automatically, unconsciously, function healthfully and joyously in all three arenas need have little fear of drastic external transformation upon Awakening. Those whose external behaviors are out of alignment with their inner nature, on the other hand, will probably destroy their lives in the process. Caveat Emptor.

-Steve Barnes

The Power of Love

Yesterday’s post about maladjusted intelligence triggered a lot of comments.  I’m blessed to have lots of intelligent readers, and it is easy to notice that the percentage of intelligent folks who struggle with their emotions isn’t much lower than the percentage of those of average intelligence. It does seem to me that they are doing better than those of lower intelligence, but opinions on that vary.

But the question: “if I’m so smart, why aren’t I happy?” or “If I”m so smart, why aren’t I successful?” would seem to underlie the issue.   Its rather like a weightlifter saying: “if I”m so strong, why can’t I lift object X, which other, less intelligent people, seem to lift with ease.”  In other words, it triggers doubt, leading to impostor syndrome a fragile ego, and depression masquerading as superiority complext.

It is the wrong question.  A more accurate comparison would be “If I’m so strong, why can’t I run fast?”  The image of the “muscle bound” athlete comes to mind, usually the minds of the ignorant.  Because the fastest, most dynamic athletes are MUCH stronger than the average person–but that strength exists in balance with other qualities like endurance, flexibility, balance, and coordination.

Intelligence is problem solving.  I feel comfortable saying this because almost every means of measuring it is presented as a problem of some kind.  According to the Dalai Lama, the meaning of life is to be happy, and therefore one of the core questions, the FIRST questions, should be: “how can I be happy?”  Properly asked, this question leads to ethics, courtesy, honesty, self-knoweldge and human connection.  Just keep asking, and observing people who are happy long term, and you’ll find the answers you need.  Depending on how long you’ve been traveling the wrong road, it may take some time, but the effort is worth it.

While the First Principle would be to know and love yourself, the very next one is to know and love another human being.   Relationships with others demand that we step out of ourselves, extend our own humanity, seek to understand how the world looks to them and introduces us to the idea that (as Larry Niven says): “There are other people who think just as well as I do, but differently.”  Empathy with ANY other human being will do this, but across gender and culture lines it can be devastating to our world view.

Relationships with ANYONE else will do this, but a significant other is most important.   Kids often  struggle with real-world relationships, creating and sustaining close friendships.  Video games, on the other hand, are a world in which you can create “pick up” friendships, “buddies” with whom you can engage in great adventures, even though you’ve never met them, and they really don’t know or care about you at all.  The average person you meet in a video game would, if they heard you got hit by a car, might say “damn.  That’s harsh.”   And look for the next GTA Crew to join.

The same is true of casual real-world friends. Casual lovers.  They can move in and out of our lives easily.   Children open your heart amazingly, but that adult-child relationship, because of the power dynamics, will teach you a different category of truth than the adult-adult relationship.  However, adult-adult relationships have been the root of all child production.  A leads to B, but B doesn’t lead to A.

Relationships with parents also have a power differential that produces one category of growth, but not quite the same.  Hugely valuable, both parent and child connections, but not the same.

And forget about pets, shall we? As much as we love them, if you think they are the same as bonded adult-adult relationships, I respectfully submit that you’re playing a very different game.

But the number of times I’ve seen hyper-intelligent but maladjusted people grow rapidly once they form a committed romantic relationship.  A number of reasons:

  1. Living day to day with another human being exposes our true selves. When you are tired, sick, excited, angry, and so forth, your mask slips.
  2. Constant sexual relations with the same person demands that you deepen the connection, otherwise it becomes boring and one or the other will seek new partners.
  3. Sharing “roommate” duties forces you to connect on adult levels (business) . But you also have “kid” time of mutual play, and “elder” time when you parent or advise each other.   This can be the broadest, healthiest, most complete relationship of your life.
  4. IF the relationship is healthy, love and sex and common goals creates an intimacy that will show you the soul of your partner.  If you are sensitive to its beauty, you have to begin to ask how you attracted so wonderful a spirit into your life. This can turn introspection into healing and acceptance: “if this intelligent, good person loves me, I must be lovable.”  To think you aren’t worthy of the love of your beloved it to question their judgement, and is an odd form of egotism: “hah!  I’m smart enough to know I’m not good enough for them, and they aren’t!”   You are putting yourself above them by putting yourself below them.  It is a sick little game.
  5. You must learn to listen.   Communication is the result of questioning and absorbing the information received, then being questioned in turn.   Without this, even honest, ethical people get trapped in a maze of miscommunication, misunderstanding, different definitions of words and concepts, hallucination about past events or future plans. We are not psychic.  Speaking or observing are about the only ways to know what is happening in another’s life.  The only way to derive the basic principles driving their decisions, their sense of right and wrong.  People who will not ask or answer questions honestly are not interested in communicating–they are playing a different game, and you need to decide if you really want to play it.
  6. You will learn to deal with heartbreak. Oh, yeah, you’re gonna get your heart broken. But if you learn, ask the right questions, model successful relationships, you will learn. And a good relationship is worth all the pain it took to get you there.
  7. Sex probably has the fastest baud rate of any human activity. In one package you learn more about someone’s intelligence, emotions, physical health, creativity, communication style, maturity, and almost any other quality you can think of.  At blistering speed, from initial contact through social negotiations through “breaking frame” by initiating physical contact, through first sensual intimacy (hugs or kisses) through foreplay, sex, afterplay and cuddling, and the way they deal with the emotional aftermath of the connection.  Every stage reveals a vast range of information, and if you pay attention BOY do you learn.
  8. Perhaps because sex is so important to the continuation of human life, it also conveys a vast range of non-reproductive benefits.   That’s a subject for another time, but a relatively mundane exploration of this arena can be found in the “Miracle of Sex Transmutation” chapter of “Think And Grow Rich.”   To make a simple statement here, if every major world religion uses something as simple as breathing to transform consciousness, consider what happens when you play with the most powerful positive sensation your nervous system is capable of processing.  The implications are staggering.

Those are just a few morning thoughts about why the second rule is “love another person.”  It goes way beyond these, and touches the spiritual realm, but let’s just say that loving another human being deeply will teach you more about yourself than any other activity common to human beings.  Probably more than anything other than deep meditation or introspection, something relatively rare.

So there are thoughts.   The very intelligent person who asks “how can I be happy?” will probably be led to “how can I love and be loved?” which will lead to paths of healing, giving, sharing.  To tears and laughter.  To caring about another human being more than you care about maintaining appearances.  The ego cannot compete with such power, and it leads most human beings to growth.  Not all…but probably more than any single human experience under our conscious control. We can DECIDE to have a relationship. Decide to find someone to share our lives with.

And that decision, if we will seek understanding about the ways to succeed in this, can be the best of our lives.



Start moving, keep loving

In this essay, a high-IQ lady speaks of her struggles to find meaning and joy in life.   She speaks of her vast store of information, and the sense that she is surrounded by dullards.  Criticizing her perspective would be easy, as would empathizing and saying “intelligence can be a curse.”

Well…maybe.   But if the First Law is to “Love and Know thyself” then some possibly applicable ideas emerge.

  1. “Love and know thyself” implies that if you know yourself, you will love yourself, as well as the notion that loving yourself gives you the courage to look within and know yourself better.  The two notions connect and feed each other.
  2. Early life programming, especially the programming gained prior to puberty, can corrupt this. Abused or neglected children can be so damaged they feel that their essence is corrupt rather than divine.  This makes introspection painful: you are diving into a cesspool of apparently infinite depth.  This is an illusion, but it is hard to tell that to someone swallowing shit.
  3. The parable about the man searching for his keys “where the light is, rather than where he dropped them” comes to mind, and is a common problem among very smart people.  They use their intelligence for things it finds easy, like manipulating external data, or recall of trivial facts. Its proper use would be to answer the question: “how shall I live to find joy?”, which question, pursued over a lifetime, will lead to the greatest depths of wisdom, service, love, and connection.  The most powerful computer in the world is of no use if you ask the wrong questions.
  4. Happiness and satisfaction do not lie in the intellectual arena. They are in the heart, not the head.  You are using the wrong tool for the job.  Sri Chinmoy’s admonition comes to mind: you can awaken from the heart out, or from the body “up”, but never ever from the head “down.”   
  5. This means to start with love: loving yourself. Removing any obstacles and flowing around any damage that speaks to any reality other than Thou Art Love.      
  6. It also means that we must act, and find the actions that are in alignment with joy and contribution.   Physical motion connects us to reality.  “The Secret” makes a primary error: it thinks you can create your reality with powerful thought, without asking a central question, namely “how do you know when your thoughts are powerful enough?”    The answer is simple: when you get your ass up and start moving in the direction of your dreams.  If your thoughts and feelings aren’t strong enough to motivate you to get off the couch, what in the world makes you think the universe will care more than you do?
  7. As a child, things are brought to us, by people who love and protect us…at least, that’s the way it is supposed to work. But as an adult, WE are now in the position of adulthood, and if we still expect our needs to be brought to us we are thieves, refusing to pass on the wealth we were given. The children are not safe unless adults are adults.  Don’t be a thief.  Whether we speak of external “real world” children or our own tender hearts and dreams, our “inner children”, only being adult works in a world of adults.   Weakness attracts only broken people and predators.   

Start with loving yourself, seeking to know yourself, deeply. That daily work is the beginning of everything, the starting point of all worthy accomplishment: actions taken (adult) in alignment with our fondest dreams (child) and deepest values (elder).    Begin with your heart, or with daily action.  If you start with your heart, you will run into the garbage others threw in your direction. IF you begin with action, you can get daily feed-back on your progress, and so long as you love yourself enough to keep going, you will take one step after another, fall down, get up, and pass horizon after horizon until you reach apparent wizardry.  But it’s just the path.  Just your heart.

Start walking, or start loving.   Motion and love are your ways out of the box.



Lucid dreaming and sexual protocols

I do love a good conversation.  My statement that I would not engage in a lucid dream (a dream in which you have conscious control, are “awake” within the dream.  It is very much like performing “real magic” as it can seem 100% real)  fantasy of sex without asking permission of the woman in question set off a firestorm of comment, some curious, some offering their own experiences, and others suggesting that such a question was tantamount to sexual harassment.   My response was that no one was asking how I chose or approached these ladies, and that I feel confident that they’d have felt comfortable saying “no”.  When told I was likely mistaken, I said that I had specific knowledge of them, and felt no compulsion to assume they were too frightened to speak their truth about such things based on a general assumption about women in the 80’s.

One comment struck me as the kind of thoughtful words deserving of a little time, so I decided to post it here on the blog, as it would also connect to my FB page:


Kristina Forsyth said:  Steven Barnes, you said “you obviously don’t know the women I knew.” you are indulging in the fallacy of illicit transference. Samson made a statement about women in general 25 years ago, and you refuted that statement with a specific subset of women.

Frankly, I find the idea of asking for permission to ravish women in your dreams (regardless of what sort of ravishing you have in mind) a little creepy myself, even though I understand your point that , in the relationships you had with these women, this was actually a respectful instance of asking for consent. I also agree with those who have said that simply stating your desire to have lucid, sexual dreams about a woman could make her feel uncomfortable, or even unsafe. Indeed, if a woman did feel that way, it is possible she would also feel uncomfortable, or even unsafe, saying so.


First, I’ve admitted that the word “ravish” has at least dual definitions, and one of them is definitely rapey.  I admit I could have chosen a better word when I said: “I would ask a woman if I had their permission to  pull them into my dreams and ravish them.”  Should have said: “make love to them” as it would have conveyed my intent more clearly, while still conveying thoughts or assumptions that could be questioned.

I used a personal experience to buttress a set of general principles gleaned primarily from women.  I totally “get” that some women would be uncomfortable with the question, and guess what? A really good question might have been: “how do you avoid asking a question like that of the wrong person?” (or: is it even possible?)

If THAT isn’t the 64 thousand dollar question, I don’t know what is.  An excellent question, which is actually a version of “how can you ask a question like that without giving offense?”

May I back up a bit before answering?  If you’ll let me do that, I think I can explain.

Here is an assertion only a lunatic would make: “human beings should not request sex of each other unless they’ve already had sex.”    That statement is an extinction-level event, clearly.

So the real question is: “under what circumstances may one human being ask another for sex?”  And THAT question has been debated and interpreted by every culture in every time, and about 99.99% of the human beings who have ever lived on the planet. It is a GREAT question.  And my answer would be:

The rules under which one human being may request sex from another differ by acquaintance, rapport, level of mutual attraction, availability, relationship, time, place, frame of mind, culture, and other factors.    Sensitivity and courtesy must be maintained, and refusal is the right of any human  being, and should be accepted with good grace and as a learning opportunity.”

If you can find fault with that statement, PLEASE tell me where.  Because it is that basic premise that underlies everything I have ever said or done in relationship with women, from my first kiss to my current marriage.  If we agree that this statement is acceptable, the rest is who, what, where, why, and how.

I can believe you would have thought the question was creepy.  But I’ll make a bet: out of 100 women, if you ask “can I have sex with you?” you will get fewer “yes” responses than if you ask “do I have permission to dream about having sex with you?”

And if THAT is true (and wouldn’t that be an interesting social experiment?  I sure think it would) then the rest is: who do you ask? How do you ask? Under what circumstances is it permissible to ask?  How do you frame the question?  How do you gain trust and rapport?  

And so forth. In other words, the exact same questions one would ask about the actual physical act, only asking the person involved to take less risk.

And since we’ve established that this question has been asked countless billions of times through history, with endless rules and principles and social conventions around it, ranging from raunchy to courtly to “creepy and disturbing” to romantic, from direct to oblique,  it is obvious that there are both positive and negative ways to ask, appropriate and inappropriate, polite and ghastly.

No one on that thread, and I mean NO ONE, asked me the who, what, where, why, when, or how of it.  If you imagine I’m saying: “hey!  There’s a woman on the street I’ve never seen. Like to jump her bones!” and I walked over to her and said “hey, baby, can I screw you in my dreams tonight?” you are making an interesting set of assumptions.

If you agree with the basic premise: ““The rules under which one human being may request sex from another differ by acquaintance, rapport, level of mutual attraction, availability, relationship, time, place, frame of mind, culture, and other factors.    Sensitivity and courtesy must be maintained, and refusal is the right of any human  being, and should be accepted with good grace and as a learning opportunity.”

Then ask me anything you want about what precisely was going on, how I derived my rules of engagement, or anything else. I can promise you one thing: I didn’t learn them from men.  You can certainly say that the women in my family, my circle, whose articles and books on the subject I read, and who I observed were all a limited set.  That would be true.  But then any set of human knowledge is limited, so it is also not as relevant as it might seem.

I had one single intent: to be courteous and polite, to go beyond the call of duty in being absolutely certain my actions toward women were as clear and kind and loving as they could possibly be.  That’s it.  Period.   If you accept my basic premise, ask anything you want.  If you don’t accept it, please tell me where you find a flaw.



Ask a blind midget

Wow.  Woke up this morning having passed a minor threshold, and feeling good about it: by closing the doors on the Lifewriting: Revolutionary Writing class I can step out of “marketing” mode and just concentrate on helping people and having fun for the holidays, with no obligation to “ramp up” again until next year.  Yaay!  We will have a link to a waiting list available soon. But not now.  Right now I’m drinking tea and enjoying my morning.


“Is it worse to be X or Y?”   That question gets asked a lot, with various psychographic and demographic categories for each variable.  Sometimes it is difficult to find an answer (“is it worse to be dead or insane?”) because there simply isn’t enough data available, and we fall back on individual opinions.  Probably not the best example, but like I said, I’m just waking up.

But I do remember people saying things like: “is it worse to be caught in a sandstorm or a snowstorm?” and the obvious answer was: “I don’t know.  Find five people who have been caught in both and ask them.”

And it became more interesting when people claimed that one group, defined by race, gender, ethnicity, income, age, physical disability, nationality, or whatever, had it worse than another group.  At one party where, frankly, inebriation had become the evening’s thematic core,  “Midgets have it worse than blind people…” was offered as a thesis.  

And I came back with: “why not ask a blind midget?”  I mean, someone with both characteristics would probably be able to tell you which “issue” was more onerous.  I remember the room laughing, and I was accused of being rather nuts, but in rather more scatological and obscene terms.  But it did seem to me that if you asked five blind midgets which was more of a hinderance, and they all agreed on an answer, it would be reasonable to draw a tentative conclusion.

What was interesting was two other comparisons: gay, or female, and black.  I’d heard each  described as being more of a problem.   The fascinating thing that happened  when I said: “well, why not ask ten black gay people which is more painful?” or “why not as ten black women which is more problematic?” was the response.   Some did a kind of Scooby take (ur??) and actually did it.  Frankly, I’d not done the exercise myself, and I was curious what the answer might be (yeah, I’ve done it since that time).   But some got angry, claiming that one couldn’t get an honest answer because, um…well

My, my.    It was rather obvious that someone had a preconceived notion they didn’t want questioned. Or…that they really didn’t care about the answer, they simply wanted to win the argument.    They wanted points for their team, to control the conversation, or shut an opponent down.

It was years before I encountered the formal notion that there are different kinds of argumentation, and that two major divisions are:

  1. Arguing to win.  This is the political arguer.
  2. Arguing to determine “what is true?”  This is the philosophical arguer.

Of course, political folks can be honest inquirers, and philosophers can be dishonest asses, so I’m not drawing a clear line.

But over the years, its been a very useful tool.  The truth is that sometimes it IS good and useful to know which of two life circumstances is more advantageous or limiting. And it seems to me that if you ask multiple people who are in both groups what their experience has been, you have approached truth in a responsible and effective fashion.  There are others, of course: things like objective standards of life span, income, inherited wealth, infant mortality.  Subjective standards like indices of life satisfaction across hundreds or thousands of respondents.

But that’s tricky, because the politicized will tend to argue backwards from a premise, or in this case, to select standards that favor their argument.  Is there an answer to that?  Well…if you have used that standard to extract perspective and you got an answer that defeated your argument in a painful way, I have more respect for your use of it in another context.  (Yeah, this happened to me using World Health Organization standards of general population health like life extension and infant mortality to evaluate the health of blacks in South Africa under Apartheid compared to the neighboring countries.  Oops.)  

Anyway, for those interested in such things, that tactic of finding people who bridge both groups and asking THEM, and actually listening to what they say, has been valuable, and some of the answers I’ve received have stood me well for decades.   Give it a try.



The “Machine”, once built in any arena, supplies a beautifully direct and simple route to success.   One of the invariable truths is that you will break down at some point.   If you set a goal of two stories a month, you will reach your publishing goals within four years–guaranteed. If you have any self-image or emotional block issues, you will either grow and expand…or you will break the “chain” of action.  In the first case, GREAT!  You’re on your way!

But more likely, you’ll find yourself “forgeting” to write, failing to finish, or not able to put your stories in the mail and keep them there.  You might fail to read, which is a “soft” way of decreasing likelihood of success (“I’m too busy to read”) or simply forget the whole thing after five or six stories.

The trick is that if you will step out of guilt, blame, and shame and simply look at where the break-down occurred, you will find that you have a superb diagnostic.   Once you know WHERE the problem is, you have a good guess about WHAT the problem is.

One of the most frequent is the third step in the “Hero’s Journey” (and I hope you are starting to see how these different models interact and overlap): “Accepting the challenge”.

Have you accepted the challenge to write, and write, and write, and learn, and submit, and handle rejection, and keep to the process until you have reached your own maximum expression?  Just saying “Yes I do!” makes a big difference—you can then see what stops you. Is it fear?  Lack of clarity?  Lack of belief?  Motivation?   Time management?  

Here’s what I promise you: whatever stops you has stopped you in other arenas of life.   GUARANTEED.  Habits generalize, spread like yeast in bread dough from one area to another. And this is why working on core characteristics, working on a “machine” in all three-four basic arenas of your life at the same time, is so damned hard, and so damned useful.  You see patterns, and once seen, if you commit to heal it, any success in one arena automatically propagates to the others.  Body, Career, Relationships, and Finances are a dynamite set.  Handle these, and everything else flows from them as emergent qualities.  The “Program Minimum” (a term stolen from Pavel Tsatsouline of Kettlebell fame) might be:

  1. Body: Three reps each of Five Tibetans in Morning Ritual.  
    Goal is 21 reps of each.
  2. Career: One sentence per day, speak goals aloud during Morning Ritual.  Goal is 1-4 stories a month.
  3. Relationship: Five Minute Miracle of sixty-second “breathing breaks” once every three hours. Alternate with five minutes of Heartbeat Meditation in the mornings three days a week.  Goal is a “Diamond Hour” of self-care every day.
  4. Finances: 1% of income placed in retirement account weekly.  Goal is 10%

These will work.  Look for the ways you lie to yourself and say you don’t have the time.  If you had the time to read this, you had the time.  Look at the excuses for not writing a sentence, or performing three Tibetans, or stopping to breathe, or saving 1% of your income.

Each of these practices is hugely generative.  All of them are such low bars that if you can lay down and stand up, and have the resources to read these words, you CAN do all of them. But you WON’T unless you have full internal permission to grow and change.

Using these as measures allows you to see where you need to “patch” your energy.  If you have the courage to write your findings down, you are on the right path. If you can share them with just one other person, better still.  BUT IF YOU CAN MAKE A PUBLIC DECLARATION, and request support from a “Mastermind” which you commit to support in return, you have struck gold.

The choice is yours. The new year begins in four weeks.   And a year after that, you will either be a year older…or a year older AND closer to your goals.

Which do you choose?



(p.s.–the opportunity to join our  Lifewriting group ends tonight, and will remain closed until February.   We focus on applying these principles to life, and specifically to writing.    The first module, the “Revolutionary Writing” section for writers committed to making a social contribution, concludes today at 3pm pst, with an interview with Daniel Jose Older.   All past modules will then be available on the site for watching at your convenience.  You will also have the opportunity to be part of the short story “hot seat”.   Within the next couple of days we’ll choose a story, contact the winner (or victim!) and give everyone a chance to read it. Then we’ll have a teleseminar where we analyze the story and your writing process, showing you how to look at story from the Lifewriting perspective.  I charged private clients five hundred dollars a month for this, and I can’t wait to share it with the Lifewriting group!)

Teacher in America

Reading Jacques Barzun’s meditation on teaching and learning at the behest of Jerry Pournelle.  A brilliant paragraph presented itself:

“Teaching is possible only because there is a dialogue and one part of the mind can be used to rearrange the other. The whole secret of teaching–and it is no secret–consists  in splitting the opposition, downing the conservatives by making an alliance with the radicals.  It goes without saying that I am not using these words here in their workaday sense. My meaning applies to the multiplication table as well as to anything else. The conservative part of the pupil’s mind is passive, stubborn, mute, but his radical minority, that is, his curiosity and his desire to grow up, may be aroused to action.   The move forward is generally short; then the conservatives return to power; they preserve, they feel pride of ownership in the new acquisition and begin to think they had it as a birthright.  This rhythmical action is one reason why teaching and learning must not go on all the time, nor at an accelerated pace: time and rest are needed for absorption. Psychologists confirm the fact when they tell us that it is really in summer that our muscles learn how to skate, and in winter how to swim.”

One could unpack this paragraph endlessly, especially if you refuse to either take umbrage or pat oneself on the back regarding the political implications.  It implies a wholeness, a relation between the aspects of our individual minds, inter-personal communication, and our society, that lends perspective and can trigger “ah hah” moments.   Really, really good thinking there.


Steven Barnes