Speaking of Movies …

February 24, 2013

With the Oscars upon us, talk naturally turns to the big screen. Steven Kalas uses movies to make his point in his February 24, 2013 column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Everyone needs a shot at redemption

In the Jim Carrey movie Liar, Liar is a man who, for 24 hours, can’t lie. It’s just so human and funny. Because, when you get down to it, humans are pretty funny. Absurdly funny.

But I also love the movie because it grabs my passion for redemption stories. Redemption is my favorite of the universal human stories. Now, the “universal” part is not that all human beings find their way to redemption, or even that all human beings get around to noticing what in themselves needs redeeming. Nope, some folks, I think, lie in hospice and think, “Whew. Almost there. With a little luck, I can die without ever having to look at myself.”

What’s universal about redemption stories is that redemption sooner or later is everyone’s story. That is, if you’re a human being, you’ll eventually be confronted by parts of yourself that need redeeming. You remain free to ignore and dodge the confrontation. I do not recommend this, however.

In Liar, Liar, Carrey plays a conniving lawyer. Think of all your favorite negative prejudices about lawyers. Carrey’s character is a caricature of all that. So his son makes a birthday wish that, for 24 hours, his father can’t lie. The wish comes true.

And now, everyone sees the naked truth about the man. Which, it turns out, is the only way the man is willing and able to see himself – his own unlovely truth. And, because his uncensored, unpolished truths make chaos out of trial courtroom decorum, the judge thunders, “I hold you in contempt!” To which the man roars back, “I hold myself in contempt!”

And, with that confession, the man’s redemption story can begin.

Now, when moments like that happen in therapy, when a patient truly beholds something ugly in his character (egregious selfishness, cruelties, betrayals, dishonesty, abuses and/or injustices to self and others), and when they blurt out their own version of “I hold myself in contempt” … well, you might think therapist types would jump in to console. To reframe. To say, “We’ve got to work on your self-esteem so you can forgive yourself.”

Not me. In those moments, I tend to say, “Good for you!” Because only people with high functioning self-esteem have the strength to confront in themselves that which does not deserve to be esteemed. Because the only forgiveness worth having emerges from truth and contrition.

Carrey re-upped the same role in the movie Bruce Almighty. Yep, here’s an ambitious, proud, card-carrying jerk who critiques and complains to God once too often. So, God smugly hands the man God’s job. Says, “Knock yourself out.” And, of course, after a brief, hedonistic exploitation of his newfound powers, the hapless man is crushed under the weight of mystery. The movie finds him kneeling on a roadway at night in the rain, pleading up to heaven, “I don’t want to be God!”

And, with that confession, the man’s redemption story can begin.

“I am stone-cold, wretchedly guilty of (insert contemptible behavior here).” … “I am not God.” These two companion confessions are not self-loathing. They are self-respecting.

The Richard Gere character in An Officer and a Gentleman comes to mind. Another self-serving louse. He is confronted and exposed by his drill sergeant. And, when threatened with expulsion, Private Louse weeps and cries out: “I got nowhere to go! I got nothing!” And to the woman he loves, he shouts, “I don’t want anybody to love me!”

And, with these confessions, his story of redemption can begin.

The husband in my office tells his wife, “I won’t ever forgive myself (for my sins against you).” And the wife shocks us both when she pops back, “I’m not going to let it be that easy for you!”

We’re both a little stunned, the husband and I. She tells him in no uncertain terms that there is no way he’s going to compound his utter selfishness and general lousy husbandry with “sucking his thumb” (her exact words) for the rest of his life about how guilty he feels. She tells him her forgiveness is worth more than gold, and he can either accept the forgiveness or get out.

He looks humble. Awed. “Yes ma’am,” he says, obediently.

I can’t help myself. “Where did you find her?” I ask, incredulously. “Did you win the marriage lottery?”


Help for Domestic Violence

December 29, 2012

Unfortunately, the holiday season can be stressful, especially for families already in volatile relationships. Steve Kalas’ Christmas Day column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal shares insight and solutions …

Seek help now for emotionally abusive relationship

I read your article online about mean people and was particularly interested, especially when it noted three things I should be aware of and, I guess, remember.

My husband is mean, unkind and cruel, and I have the misfortune to be stuck here with him because I am financially unable to leave. I feel that he is mental, and I have realized recently that he is envious of me because he feels I am smarter. But he doesn’t want to know anything new because he refuses to pay attention to even simple things like how to operate a remote for the cable TV. When I try to tell him how to, he interrupts me like a child and sticks his fingers in his ears.

He screams at me out of the blue for no apparent reason, and most of the time I am shocked and stunned and wondering where it is coming from. Boundaries don’t work because he behaves worse. I have called the police, and he stands there and asks why I did it. There have been final straws, but one recently was screaming at me on Thanksgiving, and now I think it was a ploy to have dinner elsewhere.

I have prayed to God that he take him away from me because I cannot take his deliberate disrespect, and I don’t know what to do except scream back, and then he says to me, don’t raise my voice!

I am at my wit’s end as to how to make him stop.

\u2212 S.O.

~

Since Human Matters began, there are a short handful of columns that have acquired a life of their own. I mean months and years later I still get mail about particular columns. The “Mean People” column is one of those.

So let’s – you and me – conclude that you can’t make him stop. I’m very serious now. This is important. What would change if you concluded that you can no more “make him” treat you with decency (forget kindness) than you can shout at the ocean and make the tide stop coming in? You can’t make him stop being cruel. You can’t make him start being decent. As one of my mentors once said, “Never use power you don’t have.” S.O., you don’t have the power to make him stop.

To quote poet Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they really are, believe them.”

And while you’re at it, what if you categorically stopped trying to figure out why he is the way he is. Stopped any and every inquiry of whether, why or how he is “mental.” What I mean is, OK, he is mental. Or, OK, he’s not mental, just mean. Or, he’s mental and mean. I’m asking you to consider that his diagnosis or absence thereof doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. All roads lead to Rome. So let’s start with “Rome.”

Rome is … the way you’re being treated is not OK. However we explain it.

And, while you’re making these huge shifts in your thinking, let’s include a commitment regarding your behavior. What if, in principle, you decided never again to scream back at him. I believe I quoted a poster in the Mean People column. I quote it again, now, and I’m not going for comedy here: “Never wrestle with a pig. You get mud on you, and the pig likes it!”

I’m serious, S.O. The pig likes it! There is no more reason to engage him in verbal fighting than there is to cajole, scold and express contempt for the grizzly bear that’s mauling you.

So I’m curious about something. On the one hand, you are certain that you are a prisoner to this marriage because of financial considerations. Do I rightly understand your predicament? That your choices are relentless degradation (but at least a bed, a roof and three squares) or walking out of that house (and being homeless)? I’m not being ironic. Is this how you conceive your predicament?

If so, then, how would it help you if God granted your prayer and “took him away from you.” Let’s say your husband were to be run over by the proverbial bus today. Would your financial situation be the same? Still be as dire?

Since ancient times, imbalances of financial power between the genders have kept women “imprisoned” in domestic violence relationships. Yes, I said “domestic violence.” Not all domestic violence marriages include physical violence. Some of them are defined only by relentless psychological cruelty and verbal violence. Does this describe your marriage?

S.O., pick up the phone – now – and talk to one of the faithful folks at Safe Nest: 702-646-4981. Tell them your story. Do this right now.


The Idolatry of Individualism

November 27, 2012

From Steven Kalas’ November 21, 2012 column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal VIEW:

Road to satisfying selfhood does not have to pass through marriage

I agree that in order to have a healthy “we,” one needs two healthy “I’s.” But I disagree that in order to have a healthy “I,” one needs a “we.” That’s basically saying that anyone not in a relationship isn’t healthy. I disagree. – E.W., Las Vegas

When trying to describe the paradox of “I” and “we,” I often manage to confuse folks on exactly this point. So, let me elaborate. Then you can tell me if we still disagree. For readers following along, here’s the column from Nov. 4 that E.W. is referencing: www.lvrj.com/living/healthy-we-requires-two-healthy-i-s-no-way-around-it-177141111.html.

In no way have I ever said or believed that unless you are participating in an emotionally committed, exclusive love relationship with an intention to permanence (how’s that for qualifiers?), you are unhealthy. Some folks just aren’t “called” to the vocation of marriage. Some are not “called” to romantic life partnership. Some people just never make it a priority. They might fantasize about it, even imagine enjoying it, even be wistful about not having it, but the simple truth is they never get around to choosing it. They just keep on making other things a greater priority.

Still other people find they have a calling that must exclude committed life partnership/marriage. Monastics, for example, eschew mortal, love relationships, instead “marrying” a religious path. I’ve heard occasional celebrities say that fame isn’t particularly conducive to the health of committed love relationships, and for this reason, they haven’t chosen one or perhaps will wait to choose such a love upon retirement and return to ordinary life.

I do not make any assumption that single people are unhealthy because they are single. Assuming, that is, you are single because of your own conscience, clear intention – an expression of your authentic self – or you have consciously accepted that the accidents of life have cast you that lot.

I’m saying that someone with, for example, an observably avoidant personality disorder is likely also single, but we would not say he/she is single because of a healthy, conscious, clear intention. The chronic absence of human intimacy, not to mention the chronic inability to make lasting commitments to intimacy, are part and parcel of the unhappy diagnosis.

But, even assuming an individual who chooses singlehood from a place of authentic selfhood, it would make it no less true that growing, developing and nurturing a healthy “I” would still necessitate encounters of intimacy and commitment with some kind of “we.” An individual who says “no” to emotionally committed life partnership would still need to commit to something beyond the mere self.

Strictly speaking, a monastic isn’t single. He/she is radically committed to a life of strict religious discipline, committed to a community of other monastics and committed to particular ministries to the wider world. Strictly speaking, an unmarried doctor serving in a Peruvian jungle isn’t single. He/she is “poured out” of self into the love and intimacies of the work and the people thus served.

For ordinary moderns who are single by choice, any chance of realizing the work the selfhood will depend, sooner or later, on the kind of committed friend you are, your duty and faithfulness to family, your willingness to work for the common good in some particular cause, charity, ministry, etc.

As I rail on about the critical paradox of “I” and “we,” what I’m rejecting categorically is the Idolatry of Individualism. There is no Individual Steven worth knowing except the one in faithful relationship with you!

I blame my own profession in large part for fostering the idea that, after I have successfully “worked on myself,” then I will be ready for a healthy love. It follows logically, of course, that if you are married but find that you need to work on yourself, then you probably should divorce. This is a bill of goods. Divorce, per se, is not an effective strategy for finding oneself.

So, in short, I would never say you have to be in love or with a life partner or in a marriage to be healthy. I would say – emphatically – the only antidote for post-Freudian narcissistic navel-gazing self-absorption is finding something or someone to whom you are radically committed. Find something or someone who moves you as much or more than you move you. Reach for something beyond your individual self.

If you want to find yourself, then lose yourself. (I’m offering a free Dairy Queen Blizzard to the first reader who can identify the person I just plagiarized.)

Now, having said all that, here’s an observable fact: The vast majority of ordinary human beings will tell you that a thriving life partnership is, for them, a crucial ingredient of a meaningful and satisfying life. Even most people who don’t find such a relationship will tell you they wish they had found one. So, is it possible to live a meaningful and satisfying life without a thriving life partnership? Of course! And many single people do find great meaning and satisfaction in their lives. But some large part of that group will die saying, in as many words, they made the very best out of a life that was not their first choice.

It’s certainly what I will be saying, should this be my lot. And this won’t make me unhealthy. Just a man acknowledging a loss.

So, do we still disagree?


Kalas Keeping it Fresh

September 2, 2011

Check out the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Sundays as  author Steve Kalas shares his thoughts and commentaries on  mental health, personal responsibility, life in general in a weekly column.


Open Heart Writing

April 15, 2010

Blogger Bryan Farley recently interviewed author, therapist, musician, priest, and friend, Steven Kalas as part of his “31 day writers series” project. Enjoy their insightful Q&A below:

So, I have come up with three questions. First, why do you write? Second, what inspires you? Third, what do you do to overcome “writers’ block?”

Why do I write? I write for the same reason people ride roller coasters: it’s a rush. A flow. Movement and rhythm. It’s sensory. Aesthetic. Words, for me, are like being 8 years-old and having a huge bag of Legos. Every day my dictionary contains the same English words, just like every day the bag contains the same Legos. But today I have the chance to assemble them differently! And that’s fun for me.

Why do I write? I write because I love words. I hate jargon, but I love words. Yes, there’s lot of different ways to talk, but words matter. The right word can help us apprehend our lives in deeper, more intentional and more meaningful ways. There’s a reason the Hebrew verb dabar can mean either “to say” or “to do.” The Hebrew worldview speaks to the power of words: “And God said (emphasis mine), ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

Words have a creative force. Until we say “I love you,” there will be something about love that does not yet exist.

Am I a ‘word snob?’ Oh, maybe. Okay, probably. Dammit, yes! But I don’t think my demeanor is snobbish. More relentless and passionate. I admire excellence and precision with language. I’m a harsh critic of the way American pop culture lazily conscripts the English language willy-nilly. Americans tend to think of this – when they think about it at all – as another entitled ‘freedom.’ A creative evolving of language. Most of the time it’s exactly the opposite. We broaden, distort, and thereby cheapen the meaning of important words. This undermines meaningful discourse. In the end, it’s worse than merely me not understanding what you mean to be saying; you no longer can accurately apprehend your own experience with anything like clarity and meaning.

For me, there is only one dictionary: The English Oxford Dictionary. Why? Because it alone is willing to guard the power and meaning of the English lexicon. If I step out on my front porch, and shout “Labeedoowitz” loudly enough, the word “labeedoowitz” will show up in the next printing of the Rand McNally Dictionary. Okay, that’s hyperbole. But, I swear, coin the word “labeedoowitz” in a hit Broadway musical, and it will indeed be automatically included in the dictionary your son and daughter takes to college.

I want to chase people to the dictionary. Regularly. I don’t apologize for using important words when just the right word matters. I love it when I hear a new word. I interrupt people, right there on the spot. I say, “Ooo, I don’t know that word!” That’s a rush for me. A delicious feeling in my brain.

Why do I write? I write because I’m a compulsive communicator who loves to think out loud. Critical thinking turns me on. I like building an argument the way little boys like Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and Erector Sets. I even have fun when the argument collapses. My best friends will tell you that I flat LOVE being wrong. Yep, when someone puts a finger clearly and accurately on the flaw in my argument, my brain stem hums as if I’d just bitten into a vanilla crème chocolate. If your argument can derail my argument, then I’m like a little kid with a new toy! I’ll race back home with your argument. Take it apart. Put it back together. Play with it. Integrate into my worldview, now changed.

Bring me a good argument, and I’ll ask you to marry me. (Uh, metaphorically speaking. I am so off the market.)
What inspires me? Life. Love. Tragedy. Suffering. Redemption. Evil. Beneficence. Truth. Beauty. Moral dilemmas. Mystery. The human journey inspires me, in virtually any form or circumstance.

What do I do to overcome “writers’ block?” Two things. First, I surround myself with deadlines imposed by others in authority over me. I’m inherently lazy. Not much of a self-starter. Without deadlines, I tend to sit around congratulating myself for thinking about all the brilliant things I could write. The thing that best ‘jump starts’ my most creative self is the high expectations of others, especially if I have contractual obligations with them.

Second, I overcome “writers’ block” by writing. It’s like pumping the pump handle on a reluctant well. At some point I stop saying, “When I get a worthy idea, I’ll start writing.” No; I just sit down and start banging the keys, until a worthy idea shows up.

Read more about Steven at any of these links:
http://www.stevenkalas.com/

http://www.lvrj.com/columnists/Steven_Kalas.html

http://www.lvrj.com/blogs/kalas

http://www.stevenkalasmusic.com/

Read the full article here.


Family Matters

February 5, 2010

YouTube Preview ImageSteven Kalas highlights from the 2009 convention for the National Organization of Mothers of Twins.


Coping with the holidays

January 18, 2010

100_kxnt_colorWEBSteven Kalas shares his wisdom regarding “Human Matters” as KXNT’s Morning Source R-J Headliner of the Week, and provides listeners with some great insight into coping with the holidays.
Click here to listen.


All About The Atypical

August 3, 2009

As a guest on KNPR’s State of Nevada, Renaissance man Steven Kalas was summed up as: “he is not the typical therapist, nor is he the typical advice columnist.”
Listen to the atypical interview here.
knpr_w_tag_head-WEB