Monday, October 19, 2009

His and Hers

He likes CSI. She likes BBC costume dramas. He watches her TV shows with her because he loves her and values her mind. Even though her shows don't energise and engage him the way CSI does, over time he has grown to enjoy the subtlety and erudition of the British programmes. She, on the other hand, cannot stand CSI. She finds it slick and empty. She cannot fathom why anyone in his right mind would enjoy such a thing! It's dark and violent and showcases an underbelly of American society she doesn't care to contemplate.

When he explains to her that the dark and seamy elements of the show are mere backdrop to the profound rationality of the crime solving, she is unmoved. When the CSI crew pieces together the clues that lead to the successful incarceration of a criminal, he feels a profound joy in man's ability to use his mind successfully. He gets such a lift from the weekly drama that his work and mood improve dramatically afterward. His co-workers sometimes roll their eyes over his 'obsession,' but nonetheless find it charming he gets such a charge from the show. Meanwhile, his partner just rolls her eyes in contempt.

This scenario, while fictitious, underscores a common problem in romantic relationships: differing values. Is she wrong to condemn his enjoyment of CSI? Should he even bother to watch the British dramas, knowing they don't move him the way they do her? What is the solution to this seeming conundrum? One thing is for sure: neither party should ever relinquish cherished values for the sake of the other partner. To do so would be to introduce an element of resentment between the two. In giving up CSI, he would begin to entertain thoughts such as: 'Who is she to tell me what I can and can't like?! After all, I have made every effort to enjoy her shows. The least she could do is give mine a chance.'

I side with the man in this story. I support his attempt to be a loving partner and try something she values so much. He may not get the same enjoyment she does, but he values her so much - and her reasons for liking the costume dramas - that it is worth the effort for him to share those programmes with her.

The woman, on the other hand, has failed to ask key questions about her partner's values. In being dismissive instead of inquisitive, she has committed the error of assuming no one should like a show like CSI. By declaring that no one 'in his right mind' would like such a thing, she is insulting her partner's values, and more deeply, his value judgements. She may not intend to insult him. They are, after all, a loving couple committed in every other way.

The issue at state is one's chosen values. I find that a relative handful of people today can articulate what their values are and why. The typical response I hear is: 'I just like this song.' When pressed to elaborate, the same person often turns huffy or indignant. In my forty odd years of living, I have made it my personal policy to examine everything I value. I can name reasons for liking Dolly Parton and Dostoevsky. I can wax eloquently about the superior quality of coffee served in Australia. I can stand in awe in front of the Sydney Opera House and know exactly why it moves me, even after seeing it practically every day since moving to the city.

To me, this is a key ingredient to living well. It isn't enough to slog about our daily lives without taking the time to appreciate the things that make up our world, both natural and man made. In short, the key to fine living is living the examined life. When I encounter people who have differing values, but who are essentially rational, I get excited to find out why they appreciate Rembrandt, even though his paintings don't move me personally. When someone announces that Pretty Woman is a top favourite movie, I want to find out what they love so much about it.

Returning to our fictitious couple, we can see that he wants to know why she likes the costume dramas. He wants to examine his partner's values. Conversely, she has shut herself down to examining his values just because they are not her own. No, she is not morally obligated to like everything her partner does. In a romantic relationship, however, love grows more when both parties value each other enough to examine what makes one love CSI, while the other is moved by Pride and Prejudice.

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