Positive and Productive

Following up on my last post, What To Do When You’re Torn Between Wife and Girlfriend, I noted some all purpose rage in the comments directed at both the man in the middle and the other woman. The short summary being “Dude that’s immoral that you’re cheating on your wife!” and “Home-wrecking bitch!”

Okay… breathe people… let me explain my approach, and why I take a typically underwhelming moral viewpoint on people who ask me for help. So let’s play a game and assume that you, yes you my dear reader, have a very sticky personal problem that you need help with. So you write to me asking for help…  you also write to Ingrid Von Banhammer over at Bridezilla of Christ Blog for help as well.

Over at Bridezilla, Ingrid makes short work of your sinful bastard / whorish ways and expresses utter shock at your disgusting perversion of morality. She clutches her pearls and wrings her hands at you, because you’re so upsetting. Won’t you think of the children?!

Now the purpose of other people expressing moral outrage, is to get you to change your behavior by evoking shame or guilt. When this happens, typically you experience one of two reactions. (1)  You fold up like a wet napkin and admit to your badness, or (2) you engage your Rationalization Hamster and deny you did anything wrong. If your reaction is (2), then you change nothing about your situation and never return to Ingrid Von Banhammer’s blog because obviously she’s a heartless bitch.

Except it would be incredibly rare that you would write to Ingrid seeking a smack down. It’s far more likely that you write to Ingrid admitting to your evil behavior as part of your question. “Hi Ingrid, I know now that I’ve been a totally sinful asshole and made a real mess of things in my marriage. How do I fix it from here though?”  After that point, Ingrid can offer her advice and it’s probably not going to be all that bad and sound a lot like something I would say minus the physical fitness and with a side order of prayer.

However when you write to me, I take a different approach.

My assumption is that when you write to me about a problem, you’re already unhappy about the situation and motivated to change it. Thus I don’t need to jump up on a soapbox and try and shame you into changing your behavior… because you’re already motivated to change your behavior. All shaming you does is make you defensive and thus less likely to change what you’re doing. The question is simply what do you need to do to to solve your problem and be happy?

Your problem dear reader, always stems from you doing something to try and make yourself happy, but it somehow makes you unhappy. You thought that doing X was a great idea and at first it was amazing, but now X seems to have these unexpected side effects and it’s not quite as fun anyone. Also while you were doing X, Y went to hell and now that’s all messed up too. So X and Y are now both problems and you’re even unhappier now than before you started doing X.

After that, I try and find a way to get you what will actually make you happy. Mostly that’s some combination of “Stop doing X, start paying attention to Y again. Once you have that fixed, suggest doing some Z.”  Then because it’s in your self-interest to do all that, there’s reasonable chance that you’ll go do it. I WON’T EVEN NEED TO PUT CAPS LOCK ON TO BE CONVINCING. Seriously, every time someone gives you advice using caps, it’s going to be more about them being angry than wanting to helping you. I’m an italics kind of guy. I use them to let you know that I’m explaining something is in your self-interest to fix.

It’s the same reason I don’t write posts about “The Beta Male Dumbass Of The Month”… it just drives the guys that need help away.  I’m trying to actually help the people that write to me. They open up their lives and share some of the nastiest most personal crap with me. Nowhere near all of it makes the blog and those that do are allowing it to be shared with you.

So dearly beloved commenters…

When someone asks for help on MMSL, you’re for lack of a better term, on their side. That doesn’t mean you need to agree with what they have done, just that you’re willing to entertain ways of improving their lot in life. Nor does it mean we all have to agree with each other, or even with me. Just that we all work from an intention to be positive and productive in assisting our reader.

I get that if you’re used to arguments for sexual ethics based on a pre-existing moral position, that my approach seems extremely counter-intuitive at best and sinfully depraved at worst. Just bear with me, with a little patience you might be surprised at how often I can explain that doing “the right thing” is the answer to the problems caused by doing “the wrong thing.” But if the comments drive the readers asking the questions away, they will likely continue doing “the wrong thing.”

Or put another way… if MMSL was a credit counseling blog, it would be really unhelpful if some comments just said the reader was just fucking stupid with their money.

Comments

  1. Sorry Athol. Won’t happen again. Never tried to do you or other’s bad. Lesson learned. :)

    No worries.

  2. pdwalker says:

    Permalink this post as a “READ ME FIRST MORONS!” on the front page.

    (although the all caps and insult might be a bit of putting)

  3. Most of what I got out of that is that Ingrid Von Banhammer would make a great screen name. :)

  4. Changed Man says:

    Good post, Athol.

    Affairs and the aftermath is an emotionally charged issue, it’s very hard to be objective and not pick a side.

    It’s helpful to remember that affairs are not about the betrayed spouse. Statisically, revenge and attention-getting affairs are extremely low. Once the hamster kicks in, ethics, morals, and cultural standards are out the door all that’s left is a person who is hurting, trying to stop the hurt, sometimes in the most horrendous of ways.

  5. Not judging someone’s behaviour and looking at their situation objectively is not easy for some people.

    I had a reader on my blog who accused me of pandering to “cheaters”, when all I was doing was not judging their behaviour especially since, via the internet you really don’t know anyone. I guess he expected me to admonish their behaviour.

    His feeling was that married people who had been cheated on would be turned off by other cheaters and I was going to lose readership.

    My response was that readership is what it is, but I wasn’t going to compromise myself and judge others for the sake of readership, there would be no judgements on him just like there would be no judgements on them.

    My blog isn’t about helping people like yours is, but good on you for taking the moral high ground. Mistakes or not, each reader has a story to tell and obviously appreciate what you have to say.

  6. Over It says:

    I’d guess people were critical, shaming, etc. because the reader from yesterday’s post hadn’t said, “oh, of course I’m a dick and I’m going back to make it all up to my wife and kids!” You know, what most people would think is “doing the right thing.” But then the guy isn’t sure that’s what he’ll do, so it messes with people’s hamsters and they start thinking about all their own values, morals, etc…and then the hamsters start becoming cannibals and eating each other alive. Controversy can breed crazy.

  7. Fred Lunge says:

    My comment in that thread was meant to be more general, more about the “divorce industry” attitudes that often reign, and how children are often shunted aside. I make no judgment on the people themselves, but lament the sadness of it. The mess is well and truly made, judging them doesn’t help, and I have no quarrel with the advice, certainly.

    I have been front-row center at some similar debacles over the years, and had advice demanded of me despite my insistence I was not qualified to give it. And I know sometimes bad things just happen. But I just felt bad for the kids who are caught up in the storm, didn’t want to forget them.

  8. Magster says:

    I’m a devoted Christian who finds adultery deeply contemptible, and yet I thought your handling of the situation, Athol, was pitch-perfect. I especially appreciated your calm presentation of the fact that, should the man leave his wife for his mistress, he would be stuck with a woman who not only disrespects marriage, but who would not be accepted by his children. Much more powerful than an angry admonition.

  9. Very well said AK.

    It’s easy to have a knee jerk reaction to infidelity, a little harder to accept that there are two people contributing to the decline of the relationship. Infidelity is never a good choice, but it is a symptom, not a cause.

  10. Peter North says:

    Very well articulated, Athol!

  11. Thank you for pointing out how religion has no business on your blog, Athol. The Reader’s issue yesterday wasn’t about how many Hail Mary’s he should say, but rather which path to choose: love or obligation.

  12. Wandering Stranger says:

    Well said, Athol. Those who *are* religious might remember that the only people Our Lord really beat over the head with their sins were…the religious leaders. To the woman caught in the midst of adultery, He said “neither do I condemn you.”

  13. Jaz71said:
    “love or obligation”

    Well put. His struggle was he wanted both and probably came here because Athol has a way to have both.

  14. Well said, Athol. Those who *are* religious might remember that the only people Our Lord really beat over the head with their sins were…the religious leaders. To the woman caught in the midst of adultery, He said “neither do I condemn you.”

    And followed it up with an admonition to “go and sin no more”

  15. LOL @ the screenname “Peter North”

    My idol

  16. Athol: Do we ever get updates on these guys? Would like to know what path this guy chose.

    I recieved a follow up email after I published this post, he has made no decision as yet. He was not reacting positively to the comments though.

  17. JCclimber says:

    I wonder if those women (and womanly men) would react with JUST AS MUCH moral outrage to the equally odious sin of gossiping.

    Check your Bible. Unless you’ve got a severely modified Bible, ALL sin is condemned EQUALLY, in fact, I’m pretty sure Peter and James put a little more time into admonishments to bridle your tongue than into bridling your sexual parts.

    So, are you just as morally outraged at anyone who does any gossip? Yeah, I thought not. Hypocrites.

  18. Rico couldn’t help it could he? Wandering Stranger made the point that Jesus didn’t beat anyone (except religious, self-righteous, people) over the head about their sins. But Rico wanted to remind us that they are sins nevertheless. Yes, Rico, but Jesus won’t condemn people for them. If she did it again, (or 77 times more), he would still say “neither do I condemn you”. He “admonishes” us not to do certain things, because they will have negative outcomes, but he doesn’t condemn us himself. How many times did Jesus say that you should forgive? There is therefore no condemnation for them in Jesus.
    Now can we start helping people instead of condemning them, Rico?

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