DEAR JON LETTERS
A Reply to Adam
Helping the Beast Within
by Dear Jon
August 2, 2005
ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:
Your letter was well written, but its themes are such that we really cannot post it on the Partial Observer. Yet I do want to respond, since you raise some hot issues in our culture. In sum, you are concerned about loyalty in "real" relationships when the world of cyberspace offers the opportunity for "virtual" relationships, even with an ex-girlfriend.
If you are sixteen, you write very well. If you are sixteen, the internet activities which you describe are truly disturbing. There are statutes at every level of government designed to protect minors from this kind of access, with one goal: Your protection. If the women involved are truly fifteen, the prosecutors that enforce the statutes tend to find male minors to be the aggressors with female minors, and you could end up in real trouble.
This does not mean Dear Jon is naïve about teen sex. Rather, Dear Jon is concerned about the naiveté in the teens. It is not what you describe that makes me doubt that you are a teenager; it is the quality of writing and self-reflection which makes me wonder if Dear Jon has become the bait in an FBI sting. On the other hand, the letter does not smack of some internet spy trying too hard to sound like a kid. In fact, when I was sixteen I was writing and talking like an adult, so I am treating your letter at face value.
So, Adam, here is how I call it for your life:
1. Your "ex" is a psycho. Distance yourself for that reason alone. She is a cyclone of sickness and she needs real grown-up intervention – professional counseling. Teenagers believe that only other teenagers can be their best support. Adam, that is just plain naïve. The more you let her depend on you for "balance" in her life, the more she will use you. You referred to her "self-abuse." That is the first red flag that you are in over your head.
I do not blame you for thinking that you are your "ex's" best support. Most that you have read and heard and seen in popular culture has confirmed your assumption that kids are supposed to take care of themselves because no one else will. That is sad and tragic. A great book by Robert Bly called Sibling Society shows how culture has fostered this belief and raised up successive generations that are rootless and neurotic. I trust the maturity in your letter to help you see that this is the wrong course to take with your "ex." She needs help from grown-ups and professionals.
You might twist my advice to conclude that you will be the one who can persuade her to get the help she needs, and you will stick close by her until she gets it. That is just another anchor for her to use to manipulate you. Say it once –that she is disturbed and needs a form of professional help you cannot provide. Then tell her you will not answer her calls anymore, or meet her on-line anymore, or have much of anything to do with her except being polite to her in large groups (five or more) of mutual friends while your girl-friend is along.
2. You know something about your hormones. Adam, that never goes away. When I was 16 I believed that the true love in my life would mean that no other woman would get a second look. I believed that true love would satisfy my hormones. If love were true and pure, I would be cured of temptation—otherwise, I must be at fault for not loving enough or not being moral enough. Guess what? I was naïve.
Courage does not mean we lack fear in the face of danger, and loyalty does not mean we lack desire in the face of a temptation. Danger and temptation cause that "beast" inside each of us, which you mentioned, even calling it a"monster," to wake up.
The book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, identifies three levels to the brain: Reptilian, Mammalian, and the higher brain, the neo-cortex which sets human beings apart. From what I remember and tying it to what you wrote, your "monster" is the function of our instinctive "reptilian" brain. For the reptile in our nature, danger inspires one of three responses: Fight, Freeze, or Flee. Otherwise the reptile has some base motives: Eat, sleep, be warm. Temptation usually appeals to these three motives: toward greed, laziness, or a selfish need to wrap ourselves around someone else.
When we talk about sex as rising out of an instinct to have children, we are giving ourselves too much credit. The mammal brain includes the child-bearing instinct, a nurturing instinct and a protective "herd" mentality. There is nothing nurturing in the reptile. Your psycho "ex" has a need to be warm. She is predatory in her manipulation of you, and she is tempting you according to your basest of instincts: your need for warmth. One of the great confusions is the naïve belief that shared warmth is a nurturing relationship.
Johnny Cash in his album American Recordings just a few years before he died, sang "God Help the Beast in Me." Your reptilian response to danger and temptation are the most powerful impulses you experience in your body, but that does not give you an excuse for acting like a creep or being a snake. Know your reptile brain for what it is, so that you can name it and gain power over it. One trait that sets apart the human being is that we have the power to give names; it is one way God has given to help tame the beast in each of us. To give names is part of the brain's highest level of function.
Human beings have given names to feelings and to abstract principles. The words "courage" and "loyalty" and "right" and "wrong" are names for things that are abstract. A brave person does the right thing despite the danger, and a loyal person does the right thing despite the temptation. By drawing on this highest order of the brain, we are able to name and then modify our behavior according to right and wrong.
Some philosophers have tried to dismiss these concepts as illusions which we impose on reality. They are both right and wrong. If the highest brain allows us to modify our environment to improve life with air-conditioning and cyberspace chat rooms, why should the highest brain not be allowed to modify our base impulses to improve life?
Right and wrong, loyalty and betrayal, honor and shame, courage and cowardice, are abstract and imposed on our world in order to improve life. This does not mean they are false, any more than abstract mathematical principles are "false" when they can help us build bridges that will not collapse. The reptile, that ancient serpent with humanity from the beginning, prefers that we reject the abstract and follow the base impulses of food, sleep, and warmth. No matter the strength of your hormones, you know that you are smarter than that. Right, courage, loyalty, and honor, which set you apart as human, will not cure you of the reptile and its feelings, but they will give you power over it.
So, Adam, (how curious you signed your letter with this name!) if you are a healthy, normal man, you will be struggling with courage and loyalty for most of your life, because dangers and temptations are real and do not vanish. The reptile lurks within you but you have the brains to keep it on a leash.
P.S. Whatever else you take away from this, I am urgent in my advice: Your "ex" needs professional help and YOU need to keep your distance.
About the Author:
Dear Jon thinks that 'gator wrestling' in the Gulf States is an allegory of what all of us must do.
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