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Can We Talk

By Dr. H David Burstein February 2011

Authors Note: This article was edited by three women!

In his book "What About the Big Stuff" Richard Carlson presents an imagery that life is like driving along a highway. If you want to have a safe journey, you have to know the rules of the road, respect speed limits and use the advice given on the road signs. If a sign says "Do Not Enter, guess what? Don't go there. You are asking for trouble.

When it comes to the conversations we have I wonder who is and who is not placing the "Do Not Enter" sign. With the internet, many people think that their life is an open book. However, certain things are meant to be private. That is why we need intimate friends and therapists.

But what about talking about life? Why are we afraid of bringing up issues of difference? Why is conversation about reality so difficult?

There is political correctness. Because of it, you cannot make challenging comments without, in the acronym of radio talk show host Dennis Prager, being accused of being a SIX HIRB (Sexist, Intolerant, Xenophobic, Homophobic, Islamophobic, and Racist Bigot). Instead of actually dealing with the issues that are brought up, by labeling someone and attacking them personally, there is an end of dialogue.

On a personal level, discussion is shallow because most people do not want to examine their core. Often we are not grounded enough to laugh at ourselves. We are so concerned with our image, that we cannot expose weakness, or admit that we may be wrong and need to rethink our ideas on a particular subject.

In his 2010 book, "The Shallows", Nicholas Carr argues that because of the distracting nature in the convergence of communication technologies, the opportunity for deep thinking has been undermined.

Oddly enough, it was an exercise in distraction that has led to an honest discussion about the differences between the sexes.

I have a television in my operatory to help distract my patients while I work. Recently a female patient told me that she wanted to watch HGTV. She then said "You know David, these interior design shows are pornography for women." I laughed, but there is truth to what she said.

When it comes to be accused of being sexist, I admit to it. I have the chutzpah to think that men and women are profoundly different.

But having the conversation about how these differences play out is often too difficult. But I like Prager's approach. He seeks clarity of thought more than agreement.

A few general observations that I have been learned (Please remember all of this is nuanced):

i) The sexes relate to each other in three ways: physical, emotional, and intellectual. Men are focused more towards the physical, women towards the emotional.

ii) Human nature is insatiable. Men are physically insatiable. Women are emotionally insatiable.

iii) Our biggest battles are with ourselves and our natures.

iv) The human capacity to pervert the beautiful is endless.(Prager)

v) People want to make connections. (Alison Armstrong www.understandmen.com) .

Men want affirmation/respect for their physical achievements. Women want affirmation for their emotions.

These affirmations usually come from the same sex.

I think a lot of our differences go back to a primal view of our sexuality. For men, sex is a motion out of the body, for women it is taking in. For men it is providing a seed. For women it is providing a home. For men it is protecting the home from the outside. For the woman it is wanting a safe home and making it comfortable on the inside.

While men may be geared towards the physical, one of the areas that they will have an emotional vulnerablilty relates to how we are as protectors and providers for our family. The Jewish awareness for this is borne out in Maimonides's 8 levels of charity. The highest level is to give someone a job, as it helps a person regain ones self-respect.

Conversely, though women may be geared towards the emotional, they can often be vulnerable worrying about their continued attractiveness.

This is where the comment about pornography comes in.

I have yet to meet a heterosexual man who does not like looking at nor have sexual thoughts when he sees a beautiful woman. (Or as the joke by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin "A survey was done and showed that one out of every ten thoughts a man has is not sexual.)

One of the downsides of women being multitaskers is that I have yet to meet a woman who is totally satisfied with the look, comfort, and functioning of her home. There will always be something to be done. This is not a bad thing as long as there is perspective.

When women watch home renovation shows, they get exposed and titillated by something that they would love to have. While men can often completely separate emotion from sexual lusting, a women will often add an emotional component to wanting the fantasy renovation.

It is pornography in that a man may be made to feel inadequate for not affording a fantasy renovation, in much the same way as a woman being made to feel inadequate if a man would over react to the soft porn of billboards or graphic nudity of a beautiful woman.

Men and women need each other. We are not an island unto ourselves. Jewish life has understood this literally from the beginning. In the Book of Genesis, when God creates the world, the first negative observation He makes is that it is not good for man to be alone and that He would make man a helper, opposite to him.

There is tension because men are men and women are women. This tension needs to be respected. It also provides a creative energy that needs to be celebrated. As Stephen Covey has said "Interdependence is a higher quality than independence.

Thanks for reading this article. Any feedback is welcome at hdburstein@rogers.com.

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