Valentine’s Day Advice
Posted by Trevor on 6 February 2013 | 6 Comments
Between The Lines (check your PBS stations) is a TV program of rare quality. The host, Barry Kibrick is a skilled conversationalist. A fan of the show saw my interview aired in Los Angeles last week, then read Three Simple Steps, and later sent me this powerful excerpt from an essay by Emerson called “Character.”
“I know nothing which life has to offer so satisfying as the profound good understanding, which can subsist, after much exchange of good offices, between two virtuous men, each of whom is sure of himself, and sure of his friend. It is a happiness which postpones all other gratifications, and makes politics, and commerce, and churches, cheap. For, when men shall meet as they ought, each a benefactor, a shower of stars, clothed with thoughts, with deeds, with accomplishments, it should be the festival of nature which all things announce.”
I immediately thought of a dear friend of mine. What am I saying… a dear friend? Now I am speaking like Emerson. I tend to do that when words move me. If I watch a repeat of Pride and Prejudice on TV (The Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy version) I start speaking with that elongated clarity for a few hours. It drives my wife insane… or as Lady Catherine De Bourgh might say “beyond the bounds of reason and calm logic of senses!”
This “dear friend,” Edwin, is actually more like a brother to me. He was my partner in my first company, and we have started another one recently. He is mentioned in the acknowledgment page in Three Simple Steps. We have known each other sixteen years, argued a lot, and laughed a whole lot more. One of the things I enjoy most with Edwin is his ability to discuss any topic in depth. We have oftentimes been removed from dining tables and bar stools because we lost all track of time while excavating a conversation and the place around us shut down for the night. For me, a good conversation truly is a “happiness, which postpones all other gratifications.” That is what made the Between the Lines episode a hit. It was not two people making a show, but two men who were sure of each other having a chat.
For Edwin and I, he with a strong Latin-American roots, me an Englishman, conversation like this, especially over dinner, is as natural as the eating and drinking. We have opposite political and religious views, but we were brought up in an environment where opposing ideas are encouraged and investigated in conversation without anyone taking offense. In my business career in the UK it was common for a group to have heated exchanges, sometimes resulting in raised voices and demonstrative behavior. When it was time for a cocktail, however, people were able to leave their disagreements at the office door. Edwin grew up in the same sort of culture.
I find in America people with opposing views tend to stay apart, and often interpret my attempt at debate as a personal attack on their beliefs. Free speech seems to me to be more about being at liberty to hurl insults at each other than the art of open debate to expand knowledge. When I first came to the US, I had to learn quickly to tone down my words in the meeting room, because opposite views polarized and I was then in the bar by myself!
I worked for a company in which the prevailing macho-culture centered around golf and strip clubs. I did not play golf and going to strip clubs afterward is not something I care to do. In the group was another non-golfer, non voyeur, called Charles. He was from Cuba, and while everyone else was doing whatever they do in those places, Charles and I enjoyed wonderful, stimulating conversation over food and drink. We covered every topic from soccer to Socrates, and I learned things about his upbringing that no one knew because they never spoke to him. He had spent several years in a camp for political dissidents, and had one time been a young minister of economics. How the company could have used that talent.
When the strip club crowd returned to the hotel they found us in exactly the same place as when they had left several hours earlier. Much to our amusement rumors about the weird aliens who do nothing but talk intensely to each other all night soon circulated. I have to admit Charles and I played that up a bit to mess with their minds.
I love so much about America, but when asked about what I miss from the UK, I respond without hesitation “good conversation.” That is why I agreed to do the Between The Lines show. I don’t enjoy doing interviews on TV and radio because little of it is authentic, but when I find a genuine show I am all too happy to have a chat with the host. There are some recordings of quality radio hosts and chats on the multimedia page of www.threesimplesteps.com They are hosts who care more about exploring the topic than selling commercials.
Good conversation is not just in a business or work setting. At home my wife and I sit down to dinner together every night. We have never eaten dinner on trays in front of the TV, or at separate times. It is part of the fabric of our marriage and the thing I look forward to the most each day. Even when we worked opposing hospital shifts we managed to find a way to eat together. I suppose it helps that we both like to cook, and the conversation starts at the prep stage. Sometimes it continues through the night and only when the wine is gone, and the late hour takes its toll do we quit and head for bed.
Barry Kibrick told me that he and his wife always sit down to dinner and often chat until the early morning hours. We have both been happily married thirty years, and although there may be lots of reasons, I think deep communication between couples is an essential factor. Communication is energy connecting. It is sharing. I know couples with rocky marriages, but I also know they never sit down to dinner as a family, nor talk openly to each other without one or the other taking offense.
I don’t accept that it is difficult for a couple to find a way to sit down together and talk, or that a family can’t find one or two occasions a week to dine together… to commune. Where there is a will, there is a way. My advice for Valentine’s day is to forget the cards and flowers and all the commercially-triggered false romance. Simply cook together, and dine together, and let the conversation flow.
From a technical standpoint: men, please remember that women do not want you to solve the problem they are talking about, they want you to listen and understand. Women; a man’s silence at times does not mean there is anything wrong, that he is not sympathetic or that he is not listening. We process thought differently, one byte at a time. We are simpletons in comparison to women. Be patient with us! After dinner, put on Pride and Prejudice. You can’t go wrong. A perfect recipe for a romantic night.
That is the only Valentine’s day advice I can offer, because my wife and I don’t actually “do” Valentine’s. It is a little too commercial for us, and we don’t need to be cajoled by commerce to show each other respect and love. Open communication between couples makes every day feel like Valentine’s day.