Good Men Project — What to do before you complain


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Tim O’Connor understands ‘You spot it, you got it.’ What I complain about in others is in me. 

(Originally posted April 30, 2013)

Here’s a neat trick you can try next time you find yourself complaining about someone:

After you’ve started spewing forth your judgments and opining about your target’s shortcomings, extend one arm and make a pretend gun as if you were five years old.

(Guys will know instinctively what to do. Your index finger will be pointed out away from you and your thumb will point up.)

As you unleash your volleys of venom and bile like they were bullets flying out of your index finger, you may also notice that there are three fingers pointing at you.

Those bullets of judgment are coming right back at you, my friend.

And here’s the deal: whatever I see in someone else that I don’t like … well, it’s because I do it. I recognize this behaviour. It’s familiar. So I react to it.

In the circles of men that I’ve been sitting in, I’ve come to learn this as “Spot it, I got it.” That is, whatever I see in someone else that ticks me off, I do, act, say, or show up in the same way.

I have come to believe it’s a contributing factor to much of the angst in the world, for the polarizing animosity in U.S. politics, the bitterness between families, and the frictions that come between friends and colleagues.

In his brilliant book No BoundaryKen Wilber explains how everyone tends to resist things about ourselves—namely those things that we recognize in ourselves but hide, repress and deny. In other words, our shadows as Carl Jung identified them.

But Wilber argues that the more we resist something and try to cast it out, the more strength if acquires, and the more it demands our awareness. “She sees it (the shadow) in the only way she can—as residing in other people,” Wilber says. Namely, we project our own shadows on other people.

Wilber calls this a “witch hunt,” and notes it can take on atrocious dimensions—the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Ku Klux Klan scapegoating of blacks. It’s also a window on those vehemently opposed to homosexuals, such as the Westboro Baptist Church.

“Why does such an individual hate homosexuals so passionately?” Wilber asks. “He hates him because he sees in the homosexual what he secretly fears he himself might become. He is most uncomfortable with his own natural, unavoidable, but minor homosexual tendencies, and so projects them.”

I projected on to PGA Tour pro Keegan Bradley those things I don’t like about myself.

After considering this, it clarified my experience when I get angry with someone or make a judgment. Recently, I found myself saying that PGA Tour player  Keegan Bradley ticked me off for taking himself so seriously on the golf course. Well, hello. I do the same thing. I only know Bradley from watching him on TV. I have no idea what he’s really like. I might even like the guy if I did.

In men’s circles of Mankind Project, when a man is angry or feels strongly about another man, he’s said to have a “charge” with that man. The practice is that unless the charge is released, the man’s relationship with the other man is poisoned, and the circle is contaminated. In an attempt to release the charge, the men agree to a process called clearing. The object is not to shame, blame or castigate the man who is the target of the charge. The clearing is not really about the other man.

The intent is for the man carrying the charge to get a better understanding of his own shadows. That is, the charge is a projection of his shadows on to the other man. He is bringing his shadows into the light. In other words, he can stop resisting them, take them on and release his projections on the other men. (There is much more to be said about clearing at another time.)

Recently, I saw how my own shadows come to light. As part of a course called Man on Purpose conducted by two senior MKP men, we were asked to identify those inner critics or bullies within ourselves. Then we were to share our bullies with people who know us well to get their feedback.

I chose a friend who I’ve known and worked with for 30 years. We’ve often traded places as editor and writer. I ran past him the idea that I have a bully that causes me to be Mr. Perfect.

My friend agreed, noting my inability to sufficiently delegate or trust colleagues. “You’re worried that their errors are actually your errors, that you’ll let the company down because of the other person,” he said. Ouch.

He said that at one point, he saw me running an agency, and then he changed his mind.

“You would be a micro-manager looking over their shoulders. If it’s not the Tim O’Connor way, it doesn’t happen. I’d write something and you would edit to your way, and I’d go ‘what the fuck?’”

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

I didn’t see it before with such clarity, but he was right.

And then it him me between the eyes. In a previous contract, I had complained that my superior was a micro-manager who didn’t give me enough leeway, made unilateral decisions about my area, and didn’t seek my input.

Bam. I saw that in her because it was a shadow that I had denied in myself.

So I thanked my friend profusely for his candor and helping me in understanding my perfectionist ways and how they stifled me and other people. And for showing me how my former manager was a gift to me for helping me learn more about myself.


Photo credit: CarbonNYC/ flickr


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About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!