The Beast in Me

I have a confession to make.

I’m afraid of women. Specially when I am physically attracted to them. As to why I do, I just realized it two years ago when I was 41. After knowing this, a lady friend told me, “Bro, you have been deprived of many things for so long.” About those things I’ve been deprived of, that’s debatable. As for “so long,” I concur. 😁

People usually mistaken me as a confident man who have mastered himself. Well, in some degree, that’s true. Normally I am confident to face a woman (or anyone) if I am to talk to her about ideas, beliefs, values, or anything related to work. Or any other topic for that matter. But when I admire a woman, I become shy, too shy that all my self-confidence vanishes in the air.

And why is that?

Two years ago, through the help of two female friends, I discovered why. Here’s the summary: I grew up in a very tight family. Five young ladies took care of me during my youngest years: my mother and her four sisters. One of my aunts was very influential to me. Her words — her daily reassurance — became an irrefutable fact in my mind. Every day, she assured me that I was ugly. That no one would ever be attracted to me. That I would never have a girlfriend because no one would ever like me. That brainwashing process began before I was five years old.

She would tell me those words when she was combing my hair or fixing my school uniform or tying my shoes. She would say that again whenever I would attend a class Christmas party or acquaintance party or whenever she would take me to school or to the park. She would remind me again before I went to church for a Sunday service. Almost untiringly, she told me that many times every single day.

I didn’t even question her. I was too young to reason out or even to clarify. I just believed her with all my heart. Everyday it sank to me just a little bit deeper without me noticing it. As the years went by, the sound of her consistent voice gradually became truth to me.

When I reached high school, she would always ask me, “Do you think one of your classmates would have a crush on you? I doubt,  you’re ugly!” During college, she commented, “I’m sure you still don’t have a girlfriend. That face (pointing to my face) won’t ever have a girlfriend!”

Through the years she would relentlessly convey to me the same message over and over. She would just use different words, and structured the statements differently — sometimes in a form of authoritative declaration (You’re not handsome!); sometimes in a form of a compelling question (Would they even notice you?). Nevertheless, the message was the same: I am ugly. And no one would ever like me. Ever!

As I recall now, she was just teasing me like an older sister to a younger brother. But nevertheless, her joke became true to my heart.

Her words were injected in my mind without any resistance. They were like toxic fumes that I breathed daily, unawares. I never felt hatred or resentment to my aunt. I just stupidly believed her. Remember, I was just five years old. And I was ugly!

That’s why the Disney animation “The Beauty and the Beast” became my instant favorite the moment I watched it more than twenty five years ago. I have loved the movie for three reasons:

  • First, because I can relate fully with the feelings of the beast — knowing how ugly he is. I knew the fear, the assurance that I would always be rejected no matter what. I knew the pain of not having someone who would love me. I understood the loneliness.
  • Second, I knew how hot-tempered I was, just like the beast. I admit, that it wasn’t only my face that was ugly. My temper too.
  • Third, I still hope against hope that one day, someone would love me for all my ugliness! But of course I never expected that I would be transformed into a handsome prince one day. Hehe, that part, I was sure to be fantasy. Besides, I wasn’t cursed. There was no magic spell to break. I was simply dealing with my “ugly” reality. 😊

Few years ago I wrote the article Unlikely Protagonist. There, I mentioned that most of the time, when I watched movies, I fantasize myself as the protagonist. I can immediately relate to the star of the story, the good guy, the hero. There is one exception though: my favorite movie — The Beauty and the Beast. Only in that movie that I can relate fully with the antagonist, the bad guy, the ugly one. That’s why it’s my favorite!

Yesterday,  I watched it again. And I was laughing at myself. After all those years the movie can still touch me to my core. Honestly, I’m still the same shy person. But I’m not bitter.

What have I learned?

When my friend told me that I have been deprived… I knew that’s debatable. My aunt’s words took a different form in my heart. As a growing young boy, I naively accepted the fact that I’m ugly. So I didn’t attempt to court any lady. Instead, I satisfied myself to become “just a friend” to them. As a result, most of my closest friends since grade school up to now are women. I realized that if I became “just a friend,” I won’t get rejected. And true enough, I have never been rejected.

But if you are to ask me about sex, maybe that’s where I’ve been deprived of for a long time. All of my lady friends are really just friends. We never had sex, or had any romantic relationships. Comparing to other males out there who had too many sexual experiences, I cannot compete. But why should I? My friendship with those women are more meaningful to me than sexual relationships. I prefer a soulmate than a sexual playmate. Sex had become the last thing in my mind. Rather, I focused too much on trust, respect, encouragements, growth, and love!

Still I feel lucky, perhaps luckier than most men who had many sexual partners. In fact, I have male friends who envy me because most women trust me more than they trust them. I still remember in my grade school and high school days (during camping and other outdoor events) when my female classmates would prefer me to accompany them when they were to change their clothes over my male classmates who were volunteering themselves.

When it comes to sex, I admit I’m still afraid of women. I still don’t have that “macho” confidence many males have. I still see that ugly beast in me who will surely be rejected. I still feel that it’s impossible for a woman to like me or be attracted to me. Without doubt, the decades of brainwashing took a strong almost permanent effect on me. It really did sink in, so deep that it’s now difficult to uproot.

My aunt may have succeeded in exposing me to a toxic fume that I naively breathed without noticing. But without both of us knowing it, I have acquired other things — things that are more important than sex. Because of fear I learned to be gentle to women. My ugliness taught me to focus on building trust, respect, companionship, encouragement, deep care, and other virtues rather than sex.

Because of my childhood I have learned the meaning of platonic love — something many men don’t fully understand.

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Humility? Forget about it!

You produce water!

That was one of the first commands I heard when I was still a cadet in a quasi-military academy. “You produce water!” means you need to sweat.  Problem is how are you going to do it directly? Can you really do it? Just sweat? Or you need to do it indirectly…by doing other things that will make you sweat.

Be humble!

Humility is a difficult topic. It’s difficult for some reasons also difficult to explain. One is: who has the authority to teach us humility? Can an arrogant person teach us humility—a trait he does not have? If not, then only those humble people have the moral authority to teach us humility. That leads us to another dilemma.

The other reason why it’s difficult to attain comes from the old saying, “The moment you think you are humble is the moment you can be sure you’re not.” This implies that humble people are somewhat unaware of their humility.

Now, if arrogant people cannot teach us humility because they don’t have it, while humble people are not aware that they are humble, who is then left to teach us humility? How then will we learn and practice it?

How can God give me a command for which I cannot be aware of obeying? How can the Bible urge me to learn something when nobody seems to be qualified or available to teach me? How will I develop my own humility if I cannot be aware of my own progress? Should I always ask myself, “Am I humble yet?” and then what, confidently proclaim that at last I have attained it—and then feel proud about it?

The Bible is full of Paradoxes: give your life to gain it; the first will be last; the greatest of all is the servant of all; humble yourself and you’ll be lifted up.

The Bible seems to be a famous source of difficult commands as well as difficult-to-understand commands. And “Be humble!” Is one of those. A logical person may ask, “How can I obey a command if I cannot be aware I already achieve it?”

I think, humility cannot be treated through a logical formula. Like grace, humility is beyond human logic. And the best way, perhaps, to approach it, is to focus on other things. In other words, we’ll attain it indirectly.

Indirect approach!

Humility is an extremely elusive quality: the more we think we have it, the more we cannot be sure we really have it. Perhaps that’s why very few people have it.

Honestly, I’m one of those people who have struggled a lot about humility. Because every time I check whether I have already attained it, I always end up being proud of myself—thinking and believing that I have achieved something most people couldn’t achieve, only to be humbled again by striking realization that by practicing “awareness” in achieving humility, I achieved the very opposite.

How then will I approach humility indirectly?

In one of my old articles (Can We Manage Science?), I mentioned that creativity cannot be managed. If you want to manage it, you have to concentrate not on managing creativity itself but rather the environment that fosters creativity. In other words, you need to manage the other factors that will make creativity to be unleashed.

You produce water! You sweat! How do you do it? No, you don’t do it. Do push-ups, squat jumps, or other activities that will make you sweat.

John Haggai, In his book Lead On, suggests a similar approach to nurturing humility. Instead of achieving it directly, he encourages us to concentrate on the paths that will lead us to humility:

  • By enthroning Christ in your heart
  • By obeying Christ
  • By assuming the attitude and behavior of a little child
  • By following Christ’s example on prayer
  • By following Christ’s example in personal relationships
  • By serving others

How can I tell whether I am humble yet?

You don’t need to tell, let others tell it for you. What you need to do is focus on other objectives and let them flow smoothly into the direction of humility. When you get there, you are no longer thinking about humility—but there you are…already having it.

When people notice it, they will tell it. When they do, you will return the glory to God because your focus is not about attaining humility; your focus is to glorify God.

Humility? It’s tricky, the more you chase it, the more it repels you, so don’t focus on it! Forget it. Instead, focus on the other virtues that will foster humility. Focus on Jesus and his principles. Then humility will naturally follow.