TSOTLS – Ch 1: “If the map doesn’t agree with the ground, the map is wrong.”

Livingston opens with an account of his days serving as a lieutenant in the army. Whilst studying a map he’s asked by his platoon sergeant if he’d located where they were yet. “Well, the map says there should be a hill over there but I don’t see it.” His response caused Livingston to recognise he’d heard a profound truth: “If the map don’t agree with the ground, then the map is wrong.”

He goes on to highlight that “over the many years I have spent listening to people’s stories, especially all the ways in which things can go awry, I have learned that our passage through life consists of an effort to get the maps in our heads to conform to the ground on which we walk.” 

Livingston draws out the nature of intimate relationships to highlight how frequently, persistently, and at times, so damagingly we humans mismatch the maps in our heads with the reality of the ground.

He highlights that we need to look beyond the surface to the values from which people live from when choosing a long-term partner.  He contests that the qualities we value – kindness, tolerance, capacity for commitment; and those less desirable – impulsivity, self-centredness and quickness to anger are traits that are recognisable and reasonably stable over time.

“What would be equally useful would be a manual of virtuous character traits that describe qualities to nurture in ourselves and to seek in our friends and lovers.” Livingston places at the top of the list kindness – a willingness to give of oneself to another, suggesting it governs all others, including a capacity for empathy and love.

I think he’s right. Yet the hard part is that it’s simply impossible to predict who people will be in 5 yrs or how they will react/respond to life’s changes.

The truth is we can’t make someone do something they are unwilling to do – especially in the arena of love and close relationships. Vulnerability and giving of oneself is a choice. We may not like the choices others make, we may disagree, we may even be able to understand why they may make certain choices, and choose to make allowances for that, but we cannot make them change – that comes down to each individual. We can only own our own part, our own choices.  We also do well to pay attention to being kind to ourselves, caring for our own needs and intentionally nurturing self-health and wellbeing.

Talking of profound truths. At a milestone birthday a few years back my young teenage son gave a short speech in which he said “Dad doesn’t just teach us about basketball, he teaches us about life.” Talk about choking the throat and drizzling the eyeballs!  I truly believe that life is full of lessons, stumbled across through living out the questions that consume our minds and control our hearts.

I recall in years gone by as I facilitated numerous “Parenting After Separation” courses I would pose a question to parents – “who do you see your child/ren being when they become adults?” and “what are you doing now and into the future to play your part in making that a reality?” I would always follow it up with a comment along the lines of “in order to be the best parent you can be, you need to be the best person you can be.”

Caring for oneself may seem selfish, but if we are unwilling to care for ourselves how can we genuinely care for another?  The truth is that sadly some people neither care for themselves, nor allow others to care for them – I think the two are often intrinsically linked. Here in lies the damage of self-worth and our own self-perception of how we truly view ourselves. What do you think?

What about you?  What matters? What’s important?  I know for myself I seek to be patient, consistent, calm, compassionate, caring, giving and forgiving – recognising that we all make mistakes, we all make poor choices as we succumb to fears, past trauma triggers, or just plain self-protection…I find the solution and the challenge is being honest with ourselves, and keeping our hearts open – especially when we’ve experienced significant hurt.

Sounds simple hey – but sadly its one of the hardest things to do.

Instead we can listen to past hurts, repetitive negative self-talk, circumstances that don’t align when or how we want, or, at times to our own detriment, we take on board and relinquish self-autonomy to others who may have, and usually do, have their own (often unknown, unstated or un-owned) agendas. Learning to listen to our inner voice is the key for living with ourselves. I know there are times I’ve failed to do that and instead fallen victim to my own feelings (which change) thoughts (which aren’t always accurate) and made poor choices as a result.

Livingston references the formal definition of personality to include our habitual ways of thinking, feeling and relating to others. The thing I grapple with is what happens when these become damaged, distorted and we struggle to reconcile consistency of word and action…what some refer to as a credibility gap?

Is learning the only consolation for our painful experiences? According to TSOTLS it is. Personally, I reckon that if life was only about learning from these experiences that would be a sad existence indeed! My hope is that my heart holds onto hope, my prayer is that my heart heals and continues to embrace the good and look for kindness and my head clears the way for healing of my own faulty maps.  Truth is we all have faulty maps…if we are willing to be honest about it.

I’m reminded of a saying: Courage – not the absence of fear, but the willingness to face our fears.  If we succumb to our fears we hold ourselves captive to the past, rob ourselves of a future, and mistakenly diminish our capacity to embrace the present. Acknowledging our fears AND facing them is the road to growth, to life, and dare I say, even to love. 

For now, stay strong, stay gentle and choose to be kind.




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