Originally Aired: March 28, 2017
EPISODE 7: The Animal Within
FOR FIFTEEN YEARS, TWICE A MONTH I HAVE MET WITH THE SAME FIVE MEN FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF TALKING ABOUT THE THINGS WE ENCOUNTER AS MEN IN THE WORLD.
WE TALK ABOUT OUR JOBS, OUR MARRIAGES, OUR DIVORCES, OUR KIDS, ANYTHING THAT COMES TO MIND. AFTER SOME COAXING, I CONVINCED THEM TO LET ME RECORD ONE OF OUR MEETINGS. DO ALL MEN THINK ALIKE? DO ALL MEN ACT ALIKE? AND WHAT IS IT WE NEED TO DO TO BECOME BETTER PARTNERS?
I ALSO TALK WITH EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST MARC BEKOFF ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF STUDYING ANIMAL BEHAVIOR TO UNDERSTAND HUMAN BEHAVIOR.
MY NAME IS ANDY HORNING, AND THIS IS ELEPHANT TALK. IT’S ABOUT ALL THINGS RELATIONSHIP – THE SOULFUL, THE SILLY AND THE SEXY.
AH Men traditionally have been stonewallers and one thing that they need to do is to be open to being influenced by their wives. Men are not open to being influenced by their wives. Do you have any take on that and more specifically how have you been influenced? How have you changed?
Chris I was living out this belief that life was hard and that my disappointments, so my frustrations and all of these things that I was really up against it in terms of financial challenges and making my way in the world. And she challenged me around that and she confronted me and took a lot of persistence and guts on her part to assert that and say, “Look, it’s a choice. Happiness really is a choice and you’re choosing to be unhappy.
AH Were you open to it at first?
Chris She gave me a challenge. She said, “Choose to be happy for a week.” I said, “Okay.” That week fell into the second week, the third week, fourth week, next thing I know I finally realized it really is a choice. She got me to see that. I was really choosing that and that’s an age old pattern I’ve had since probably before I can remember.
AH For me, Genny has shown me that I can be intimidating. I can be a little mean. I can say things that are unkind. She continues to remind me over and over again that that’s a part of me, that it’s not her that’s doing that and that it hurts when she’s the receiver of that kind of energy.
Burke I know myself I have resistance to being changed. If I think someone is trying to change me, make me be something that I am not or doesn’t feel authentic to me…
AH What do you do?
Burke That really pisses me off. I resist. My wife would make comments about my shoes, my jeans, like whatever I was wearing and I thought it’s so shallow. She’s trying to make me into somebody I’m not and it wasn’t until we had a knockdown, drag out fight around it. And at some point, she explained to me that she has a sense that people can dress their souls and literally use clothing to be expressive of who you are inside. It was a completely new paradigm for me.
Her sense was that I was dishonoring that through the way I was dressing and that I could dress differently and actually honor something about myself.
AH Will you explain what you were wearing?
Burke Oh, baggy kind of stuff, yeah, untailored shirts and jeans that – she called them turd catchers. [Laugh]
AH Turd catchers?
Burke Kind of baggy in the front, like old Levi’s.
Eric She certainly pushes me in ways to grow and change, there’s no question about that, and challenges me in various aspects of how my character shows up.
Andrew My relationship history prior to meeting Lynn was I would call pretty chaotic. She’s very grounded, has tremendous integrity, and very in touch with emotions, and that was helpful to me as well in terms of – I’m very good at talking and explaining things and how I feel but to actually be encouraged and supported in expressing emotion was very helpful.
She just really is an example to me of someone who I respect and admire
AH Sometimes outside of this group I feel isolated a little bit in terms of what other men are out there trying to embody the masculinity of being a man while also holding on to the feminine and the other qualities and not being a stereotypical man, what are your thoughts around masculine and feminine and what it means to be a man and a husband in a partnership?
Chris I kind of look at it in two different ways that masculinity for me has been. You know as much as I do like stuff that I like to do, that I grew up doing, that’s physical, that’s got to do with nature like hunting and fishing, you know just being up by myself for long periods of time. And I just love that connection with being in my masculinity in that way. And what I also learn was that for me, masculinity was coming from my emotional depths and then being able to articulate that
Andrew I don’t feel there’s this huge division, male and female, although I feel like I can be in this relationship and be vulnerable and she encourages that and that I don’t have to be the strong one. There are certain things that I just either don’t want to deal with or not particularly oriented towards and I defer to her and it’s okay and she does it, and there’s a lot of things for me if there’s a problem, if there’s danger –
It’s snowing, we got to drive back home. She’ll hand me the keys and there’s no question, like, “Okay, you’re going to handle this right. You’re going to get us home.”
Andy Let’s say I have encouraged her to be more assertive and then when she responds in a way that is assertive and claiming, there are mixed feelings that I can have. I was like, “Well, okay, I’m giving something up in that.” And, “Okay, then what’s my identity? What’s my contribution to this?”
I think there have been times when I felt from her that when I’m expressing more from my feminine side that it’s somehow, you know the figurative sort of pat on, “Nice, you’re doing really well for a man.” It’s, like, no. If I’m going there, my version of that is just as valid as anybody else’s, it’s not a secondary or less than, you know?
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Eric For some time I struggled in my relationship with my identity around providing for the family when I’m not the breadwinner for the family. So what does that mean for me to be a man and to be in my masculinity and what do I offer the family in that regard? And it’s really challenged me to look at myself and, “Wow! What does that mean? Who am I? It’s been challenging. That is hard. It’s been one of the more difficult things for me to come to grips with around my identity and that sense of masculinity in what I provide or offer.
Chris I think that the expression of emotion, the deeper fears, sadness, anxiety, those kinds of things that you’d put on the side of feminine only women cry, you know those kinds of things like that. For men to express those, that’s freaking courage. And I think that on a flipside of that stoicism, not all the time, but a good percentage of the time is fearful. That’s fear. The ability to stand in and go, “I’m scared.” I don’t have an answer for this, shit, I really feel awkward, I’m anxious, that to me is strength. The other part about covering that up and act like I know what I’m doing, that’s just being stoic and a wimp.
AH So by that definition, women are incredibly strong.
Chris Yes, and for a man to do to take that risk, to step in to our feminine feelings and express those, that takes huge courage
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AH I wish that there was more dialogue around being in intimate partnership. In my experience, people don’t talk about it. There’s either the lovey-dovey perfect couple or the couple that is always frustrated with one another and they look like they’re going to kill each other or they’re icy with one another. And then there’s this vast middle ground that looks like people are resigned, the land of resignation, like this is as good as it gets. Because, here’s what I think is that the lack of dialogue out there negatively impacts my relationship with Genny. So that’s my wish going forward that there was more rich, robust dialogue about the full complexity of intimate partnership.
Chris It’s not necessarily resignation but it is getting the notion of perfection out of the way. Get that out of the way because I believe that’s the most poisonous element to relationships is carrying into it the idea that something is going to be perfect and then being disappointed and not having the resources to do anything about that, except for, “I’m disappointed. Therefore, It didn’t work. Therefore, I guess I either shut down or I drink or I get divorced.”
Burke When I think about my relationship, I’m so grateful for her witnessing my essence, my beauty, my strength as well as, giving me opportunities to see where I come up short. Relationship can be the most profound learning ground that we have an opportunity to experience. So
Eric I’ve really thought about how I show up in my relationship with my wife, but I really also need to now look at how I show up, how I want to choose to show in relationship with my daughter in relationship with my wife so that my daughter can see what it’s like to live with a couple and for us to model the values that I want her to look for in a partner.”
AH So here’s the next question. What’s hardest to talk about in your relationship?
Burke Hardest thing to talk about is disappointed. We want to make each other feel good about ourselves and disappointed goes immediately for me to the place where I don’t feel good about myself. I’m aware I feel like I’m letting her down. So it’s the hardest thing to talk about whether it has to do with money or sex or power dynamics or any of that. It’s where we’re disappointed.
Andrew A couple of areas that are very challenging to talk about. Beyond menstruation, postmenopausal, is working with that and talking about that and talking about the tremendous changes for both of us aging in our bodies but particularly for her, it’s been just tremendous changes in her body and her moods are affected by that and it’s very hard to talk about that at times. The other part that’s hard to talk about is the finances and what it looks like to try to retire and what it looks like to try to find someplace where I can even start slowing down a little bit. That’s tough to talk about.
Eric I think the thing that comes up for me the most about at this point forward is our aging and the impact that has on each of our sexuality and our desires and abilities and that kind of thing and just being more clear on what we want and how that changes as we age and what we’re capable of and all that kind of stuff.
Eric I do want to point out as far as the expression of strength, masculinity, we’re choosing to be here to talk about these things while the Rose Bowl was on and I just want to point that out. We’ve made the choice to be here doing this instead of at home drinking beer and watching football. I think that says a little something.
AH When you said that, I was like, “Oh shit, USC’s play. Damn it!”
Eric I’ve been thinking about it the whole time.
MEN HAVE, AT TIMES, BEEN COMPARED TO ANIMALS. WE FIGURED LET’S TRY TO UNDERSTAND THE ANIMAL WORLD MORE. THAT WILL HELP US UNDERSTAND HUMANS AND HOW THEY RELATE TO ONE ANOTHER IN RELATIONSHIPS.
MARC BEKOFF IS PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF ECOLOGY AND EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, BOULDER, AND CO-FOUNDER WITH JANE GOODALL OF ETHOLOGISTS FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS. HE HAS WRITTEN MORE THAN THIRTY BOOKS, ONE THOUSAND ESSAYS, AND WON SEVERAL AWARDS FOR HIS RESEARCH ON ANIMAL BEHAVIOR.
ANDY In one of your books on- called ‘Animal Morality’ you talk about the three clusters: cooperation, empathy and justice.
ANDY It sounds like we take the aggression of animals and make that the whole story, and part of what I hear in your work is that there’s so much more, in fact, a greater percentage of it is collaboration, cooperation than it is aggression. Can you expand on that a little bit?
MARC That’s exactly right, I mean, you know, there’s no doubt that non-human animals will fight with one another, that occasionally kill one another and I’m not talking about predatory behavior, that’s completely different but I’m talking about, say, within species, types of competition or fighting but for all the animals who have been studied, more than 90% of their behavior is what we call pro-social or positive so, you know, when you turn on the TV and you look at a newspaper or magazine, and there’s been some kind of horrific violent event with human and they say ‘they’re just behaving like animals’ it’s wrong! And is a really grievous misrepresentation so I really say ‘look, the norm is helping, cooperation, empathy, compassion but there are going to be situations where non-human animals do fight and they occasionally harm or kill one another but is incredibly rare. But really, if you really want to report animals you can report about other positive emotions and positive interaction because that’s really what is characteristic of them.
ANDY Why are we not seeing the true essence in the sentient being that animals are?
MARC Part of it is just the media, they misrepresent animals mainly because they’re ignorant of what we know from studies to animal behavior. But like I said, I think part of it is looking for roots of violence and evil behavior, and blaming it, you know, if you will, on other animals and that’s why I’ve written articles that basically say ‘don’t blame them for our behavior.’
ANDY What animals represent a way of being together beyond the mating that we might learn from as humans about how to be in relationship and partnership with one another?
MARC It’s actually a lot of them, I mean sperms were also a great example, they have long lived bonds, they’re very social. Killer whales live in pods, dolphins, lots of birds and I’m sure invertebrates, I don’t know them well enough. Pretty much across the board you can find representatives of all animals or all taxa of animals who develop long term social relationships that go outside of mating,
ANDY What’s been your experience as you’ve tried to change the thinking in the scientific community?
MARC Oh! I think it’s changing radically. There’s more and more research papers and popular essays and books being written, if you will, about the nice side of things, you know, the cooperative side of things, I mean Darwin, you know, talks about survival of the fittest and people misinterpret that all the time but he also wrote a lot about cooperation among really various groups in non-human animals. I like to believe that people like Franz de Wall, who studies great apes, Jane Goodall and others, are playing a role in that change saying ‘it’s just sort of ignoring what we know to just say: animals are aggressive or dominant or, you know, violent beings.’
ANDY When there is some aggression, that is for some greater good to hold people accountable to the rules of the community and that’s pretty incredible that that kind of communication and rules setting and shared values in the community exist and function that well.
MARC What I’m experiencing since I do this for a living is people want to know who other animals are not what they are. You know, some of my colleagues might say ‘oh! You know, wolfs are friendly, sharks are friendly, get over it!’ well, they all are but once again, on occasion they harm one another but that’s true to humans and, you know, the research that has been done on humans also shows that we’re inherently beneficent, we’re inherently kind and you can’t judge all member of the species by the behavior of a few. Across the board there’ve been studies that have shown that we are very generous, cross-culturally. Once again I think it’s a balance of putting out the facts but not letting people go overboard on the negative side because that’s a misrepresentation.
ANDY When we do make mistakes in a partnership and- and our humanity at time does show itself, what are we holding on to the number of good times we showed up in our partnership or the mistakes we make when we occasionally say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing? There’s a little carry over there.
MARC Oh, yeah, no, there’s definitely a carry over. Most of the people I know have done or said things in relationships, not only- you know, not only partnerships in terms of, you know, male-female, male-male, female-female partnerships but just friendships. No one I know hasn’t done or said something they regret, you hope that you can then- you know, get past that by admitting you did something you wish you didn’t do. Accepting the fact that we all blow up sometimes just like non-human animals do and we apologize and we hope that we’re forgiven. As far as I know, I’m a human but I’m not a psychologist… long-term relationships based on dominance and fear and aggression don’t work, we- we know that, right? I mean, I don’t think I’m saying anything that is going to win me the Nobel prize on that but we have to accept the fact that on occasions we’re going to do or say something, that we come to regret. Forgiveness is a huge part of social relationships and you see forgiveness in non-human animals.
ANDY Is there an example of forgiveness in the animal community?
MARC In the dog, an animal might bite too hard during play and they will immediately change their behavior. Say you and I are playing and I push you too hard and you fall down or I jump on you like I’m trying to dominate you or mate with you and you respond in a way where I just go ‘I’m sorry’, I pull away and I do a play signal that says, you know ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that’ basically, let’s keep playing but that’s going to depend on you forgiving me for my transgression.
ANDY And that kind of play signal is read by the other dog and then that dog in term responds with ‘ok, I- I forgive you, let’s keep playing’.
MARC Absolutely, yeah and so, you see it in human, you know when- you know, you say something or do something, you realize that you’ve not elicited the response you want and you go ‘oh! I’m sorry I said that!’ ‘I’m sorry I did that. Let’s move on.’ The moving on means that, you know, the person who received that behavior, that signal, whatever it is, has to forgive you.
MARC And a lot of people go ‘oh, well! That’s just being too human, that’s doing this- you know, you’re being anthropomorphic’ no, we’re not, I mean, let’s get over the anthropomorphous stuff. If you believe in evolutionary continuity, you believe in Charles Darwin, when I use, quote ‘human terms to describe non-human animals’ I’m not inserting something human into what they do, non-human animals today are- feel joy, they feel grief, they feel jealousy, the feel guilt, they feel embarrassment.
ANDY Question, examples of romantic behavior or courting in animals?
MARC Oh! There are so many! They usually, consist of would be very stereotype, very recognizable movements, could be sounds and it could be odors that basically tell that- you know, in a sense, I’m courting you ‘I would like to mate with you, I would like to make babies with you and I’m not trying to fight you or eat you, or dominate you’ There’s very predictable patterns, you know, psychologists study courtship in humans where, you know, people start forming relationships and often times they’re based on very subtle movements and odor.
MARC We tend to down play the role of olfaction, or odor in our social relationships but it appears to be very important and that’s why people talk about the chemistry ‘oh, I just felt this chemistry between me and this other person’ The chemistry comes down to what we call pheromones, chemical signals, that exchange a lot of information.
MARC But the fact of the matter is once again focusing on mammals, we know they have the same parts of the nervous system and the limbic system that are important in experiencing emotions, we know they have the same neurochemicals so slowly but surely the gap is narrowing. The real burden has to be on the people who say that other animals don’t love, don’t grieve. Fact of the matter is a lot of non-human animals work a lot harder than humans to maintain these long-term relationships.
ANDY Over the course of decades of your work, how has this changed you in terms of, you know, influencing who you are and what you believe, and what you’ve come to know about yourself and your world around you.
MARC Oh! That’s a small question! [Laughter].
MARC It’s changed me in the way of just becoming increasingly determinant to protect non-human animals; I have a book coming out, called ‘The Animals Agenda, freedom, compassion and co-existence in the age of humans’ I wrote it with Jessica Pierce. And the main message there is that, you know, we’re living in the Anthropocene, people call it The Age of Humanity but I call it the Rage of Inhumanity because there’s nothing humane about what’s going on in this current epoch that we call Anthropocene. But, in our new book ‘The Animals Agenda’ we’re calling for the science of animal well-being where the lives of each and every individual matter.
MARC I really want to get the picture out there of who animals really are. Follow your heart and follow your passions, and you more than likely will be doing good things for the world.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MARC BEKOFF VISIT MARC-BEKOFF-DOT-COM, AND SEE LINKS OF HIS WRITINGS ON OUR SITE, ELEPHANTTALK.ORG.
HIS NEW BOOK, ‘THE ANIMALS’ AGENDA: FREEDOM, COMPASSION, AND COEXISTENCE IN THE HUMAN AGE,’ WRITTEN WITH JESSICA PIERCE, WILL BE PUBLISHED IN APRIL 2017.
THANK YOU TO ANDY, ANDREW, BURKE AND CHRIS, MY MEN’S GROUP, FOR PARTICIPATING IN THIS MUCH NEEDED DIALOGUE ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS AND FOR SHARING THEIR PERSONAL PERSPECTIVES.
WE’D LOVE TO HEAR PERSPECTIVES FROM OTHER PEOPLE’S GROUPS. IF YOUR GROUP IS INTERESTED IN SHARING, SEND US A NOTE TO HELLO@ELEPHANTTALKORG. OR MESSAGE US ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER.
OUR PRODUCERS ARE LISA GRAY AND KIM POLETTI. OUR THEME MUSIC IS BY ROB BURGER. ADDITIONAL MUSIC BY RUBEN VAN ROMPAEY, TROY BLAND, AND AUDIOJUNGLE. AUDIO PRODUCTION ASSISTANCE PROVIDED BY LESLIE GASTON-BIRD AND JOSH KERN.
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AND THANK YOU FOR LISTENING. I’M YOUR HOST ANDY HORNING. THIS IS REAL LOVE. THIS IS ELEPHANT TALK.