There’s nothing that harshness does that loving firmness doesn’t do better.
I often say in a workshop or therapy session: “If you get nothing from today other than this one thing, your life might well be changed.” What is that thing?
Simple realization that there is nothing redeeming about harshness. It has no value of any kind.
I once had a client, I thought of as my Clint Eastwood. He was a dead ringer for the actor, and indeed he grew up as a cowboy in Wyoming. I remember saying this to him and seeing it really sink in. He teared up and I looked at him. “You’re thinking about how hard a time you’ve given yourself over the years,” I said. He shook his head.
“No,” he told me. “I’m thinking about the damage I’ve done to my sons.”
We men in particular can often see harshness as a goad, the whip the jockey uses on us poor horses. “Keeps me going,” a client told me once that, like he wasn’t hard on himself, then he’d never get out of bed. But think of any moment calling for leadership, as a parent to your child, as an important team member at work, managing a direct report – harshness has no constructive place in any of these situations. We’ve come to accept that an encouraging leader gets better results than a critic. Mostly, we’ve tamped down harshness toward others.
But what about ourselves?
I often find myself saying to clients: “If it was someone outside of you, a real person talking like that you wouldn’t tolerate it for a second. But because it’s you talking to you…”. Treat your relationship to yourself as thoughtfully as you treat your external relationships. I coach my clients to thank their critical adaptive child for his or her good intentions but say that the adult part of them is here now and that part will take care of itself as well as all the inner child parts, all the orphans.
If you think that harshness has left the masculine world go see Whiplashed. It portrays an abusive relationship between a stinging mentor and the young drummer desperate for his approval. After bone crushing sadism the teacher validates his violence with a male peon to the excellence for which he, as so few, strive. “You know the two most destructive words in the English language?: Good job.”
The movie tries to have it both ways, and after over an hour of cruelty, it tacks on a gratuitous climactic scene in which – surprise- our young hero is… excellent. (Perhaps beating the snot out of your students spurs them on to the achieve greatness after all. What a cop out!)
The friends I’ve talked to got the import of the final scene but didn’t seem to care as much as I did. “It’s Hollywood,” one said.
“Patriarchy is what it really is,” I answered. This is as old as Sparta.”