Here’s the transcript for this episode. I tried to fix as many trancription errors as possible. 🙂
[00:00:09] Erick: Hello, friends. My name is Erick Cloward and welcome to the Stoic Coffee Break. The Stoic Coffee Break is a weekly podcast where I take an aspect of stoicism and do my best to break it down to its most important points. I talk about my experiences, my successes and my failures and I hope that you can learn something from them and make your life just a little bit better. So this week's episode is an interview that I did with Hannah Gabber. Now, Hannah is the host of a podcast called Jewish and she contacted me because she really liked my episode about askers and guessers. So she comes from an ask culture and I come from a guest culture. And so we sat down, I had a conversation about that. We talked about my life about how I left the church and fell into stoicism and kind of, it's a wide range of conversation. It was a lot of fun. Hannah is really smart. She's very funny and I recommend that you give her a podcast to listen again and that one is called Jewish and I will have a link to it in the show notes I will also have a link to the Askers and Guessers episode, which was episode 181. So you can go back and listen to that and kind of refresh your brain on what it is to live in a ask culture or a guest culture. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I enjoyed having it with Hannah.
Erick: Asking doesn't need to be a bludgeon. There doesn't need to be a cudgel that you use against people. And that's what a lot of people have a hard time with directness. They think that it's using it as a weapon because you can be direct and you can still be kind. But some people are just going to be offended no matter what because it is a direct question. But if you can ask any question with a bit of compassion and a bit of kindness wrapped around it and let them know just saying, hey, you know, the reason why I'm asking this is because this is something I really need to understand about us. Otherwise it's going to cause a lot of problems going forward.
[00:02:07] Hannah: Meet Erick Cloward. He's the host of one of my absolute favorite podcasts and very important part of my morning ritual. The stoic coffee break. I discovered the show during the depths of COVID when all of us were searching for something to look towards. I didn't realize it at the time, but he'd been recording for a while and I wasn't that far through his back catalog before I came across his sign off episode. So I finished all the episodes that were available to me and then I unsubscribed, but there really wasn't anything out there like it. So after gosh, probably over a year I decided, forget it. I'll just start from the beginning and listen to all of the episodes again. I went back to the show and there were all these new episodes, I began gobbling up the back catalog and I eventually came across an episode about asking versus guessing cultures. Erick has talked a lot on the show about being raised in Utah and growing up in the Mormon church and his less than always happy family history. But in his short form show, we don't really get to hear a ton about his actual journey out of those places and into the places of exploration and philosophy that he tries to inhabit. Now, when I heard the asking versus guessing cultures episode, just light bulbs going off in all directions. I saw reflections of myself in it. I saw reflections of people I've known over the years of interactions that I maybe didn't really understand in any case. Uh I got cheeky and stalked him on the internet till I found his email. And I reached out and said, hey, I'm nobody. But do you want to come on my show? And in characteristic uh stoic generosity, he was like uh sure. So I present to you Erick Cloward of the Stoic Coffee Break, which I will link in the show notes. Did you find that a lot of people came across the stoic coffee break during the pandemic? Yeah. Um, because you started it before that.
[00:04:05] Erick: Yeah, I started it back in 2018. Uh Actually January 4th 2018, I remember because I, I had made a new year resolution. I was going to start a podcast and I had tried starting one before and it was about music soundtracks because I just, I love music soundtracks, you know. Um, and I, I made an episode or two but it just, it, I didn't like it. It was, didn't sound good. I was just, I sounded terrible in my voice and all the things I was super hyper critical about it. But then I realized that it was going to probably cost quite a bit to actually license the music to be able to play it or because I didn't know anything about, you know, is this commentary covered under fair use or any of those kind of things. So I was just like, I don't want to deal with all that. But yeah, my ex partner made me promise that I would do at least 100 episodes before I quit my podcast.
Hannah: Oh, I love that.
Erick: And because she's just like, you know, I know you when things get tough, you,
[00:05:00] Hannah: the tough get going. Yeah.
[00:05:02] Erick: So I was like, ok, I'll make you that promise. The whole thing was for me, it was like, I don't care if it's good. I just care if I actually do it. And so I just kept putting it out. Um, and then I think after I had like, about six or seven episodes, you know, and they're only like, three or four minutes long, the first, you know, the first chunk of them. Um, I had like 42 listens and I was like, holy crap. That's kind of a lot like 42 people to listen to me. Who are these people?
[00:05:28] Hannah: 42 strangers out there that care what I have to say.
[00:05:31] Erick: Exactly. And then I hit, I hit like 100 then I hit 1000 then I hit 5000 and then it was 10,000. I'm just like, holy crap. I just, it was like, this is just so weird and I actually have a screenshot of like, when it hit 10,000, I actually got it right on 10,000. I was like, yeah, it was just like, no way. Holy crap. That is such a crazy thing!
[00:05:52] Hannah: that's such a crazy feeling. And I'm not gonna lie when I got my, my little email saying, you know, congratulations, you've hit 1000 listens. I was like, that's kind of a milestone, you know, it feels kind of exciting and then I actually just surpassed 2000 listens. So up we go, I guess. I found your podcast mid pandemic. So it was already 2020. And so I'm going through your back catalog. Of course, you were doing it every single day and I cannot imagine what a workload that was once a week is a lot.
[00:06:21] Erick: Um, I mean, I was really burnt out. I was really working a lot on it. I also had a full time job. I had a partner. I had teenagers. So basically, once I hit 137 I changed it to a full time or to a weekly podcast so that I could do more with it. So the 137 like I said, they were generally about five minutes. And then from that point on, uh they've been about 10 to 15 minutes on average, even then I took another break. Um I took some time off and then, um me and my partner had a big blowout at a music festival. Uh that may which it, I mean, it was really good. It, it taught me a really important lesson and I recognized some things and I was like, huh, you know what this is super important. I need to take this lesson that I've learned and share it with other people. So, um so then I was like, ok, you know what I need to get back and making episodes and I joke around to call them my public therapy because usually what you hear on there is something I'm struggling with and going, “How do I get past this thing? Because you know, this is, this is really challenging for me.”
[00:07:31] Hannah: You've talked a lot on the pot about how you were raised Mormon. And did you find at first when you started looking into stoicism, was there a clash? Was it like there were tenets that I know that you had already left and maybe you can take us through that journey. When, when did you start questioning your guessing culture? Because I know that that's a big theme you talked about in the episode that triggered me to reach out to you, growing up in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You talked in that episode about how like one doesn't ask, one guesses, and one leaves it alone. But you had to ask at some point, some pretty fundamental questions to get yourself up and out of that life. And how did that happen for you?
[00:08:18] Erick: At one point. So when I was 17, I almost left the church. Around that time I remember I got another a once in a lifetime thing that had happened to me. I did a lot of theater work with the University of Utah Theater School for Youth, which is one of the premier youth theater programs in the United States. And we got invited to Soviet Russia for an International Youth Theater Festival.
Hannah: What year was this?
Erick: This was 1990 So I was, yeah. So it was still communist and everything at the time. They still had guards on the streets and all that stuff. Yeah. It was pretty wild. But it was, but it was also kind of the peristroyka thing. So, things were opening up just a little bit. And I remember going over there and at that time I, I kind of like, well, I'm not going to be part of the church or whatever. And, um, and I just remember on that trip feeling a bit, feeling a bit in a strange place because I was tired of how I’d been living in Utah, but here I was in this completely foreign culture. And so I felt like I was much more myself at that point and I didn't fit in with the other kids who two of them I actually went to high school with and they came along with or they were part of the troupe. Um And we were in choir and show choir together. So we spent a lot of time together, but they had their little clique with some of the others, with these two other girls. And I was just like, so it was just kind of me and I was like, well, I'm gonna go hang out with these Russian people because they seem really fun. And they were just like, who's this cool American who's talking to us? And they just thought I was like the…
[00:09:53] Hannah: coolest thing if you were, those were the days.
[00:09:55] Erick:. And so, and so I, you know, I, it was really fun and I hung out with them. I hung out with some of the Germans, um, because I had taken some German in high school so I could talk with them a little bit. Even though they spoke really good, they spoke much better English than I did German at the time. Um, but when I came back, I got sucked back into the church because, you know, when you live in Salt Lake, it's your culture, there's not really a lot you can do about that. Um, ended up going on a mission a year later and which actually was probably one of the best things for me. I went to Austria and so I speak fluent German. I lived in a culture that was very, very different than what I've been brought up with. It was a socialist democracy and we've been told that, you know, good old conservative, you know, capitalist democracy is the only way. And I was just like,
Hannah: Especially in the nineties.
Erick: Yeah. And I'm just like, wait a second, these people are a lot happier than most of the Mormons that I know back home. Why I, yeah, I'm not, I'm not buying this. And so for me that was kind of the beginning of the end. Um But the….
[00:10:53] Hannah: funny thing that really backfired on them,
[00:10:56] Erick: It did in a way. But there were a couple of other things that set it up. Um, number one was, believe it or not. Uh, two things happened. There was the first Iraq war in 1990 and our TV broke. So, and my dad, so my dad was like, you know, for whatever reason, didn't buy us a new TV. You know, even though we had, you know, there was no reason not to, but for whatever reason just didn't. So we're like, well crap, America's at war. Oh, my gosh, we're in a war. Oh, my gosh. So we had to listen to the radio and the best news on the radio was NPR. So I'm listening to NPR and I'm going, ok, these people are telling me the truth, this is what's going on. And so I just kind of got used to going there for the news and when I got back from my mission again, that, that habit kind of came because I'm like, you know, here I was a little more internationally schooled at this point because I've been in two years in Austria. So I was much more aware of the wider world than I had been. And so I wanted to keep up with what was going on in the world. And so that was my news source and then I would find, ok, this is what I heard on NPR but then I read in the local papers, this, you know, this other take on something and be like that doesn't, that doesn't quite jive, I don't, their opinion is incredibly biased and they're, they're discounting a lot of these other facts of things and kind of twisting things around. And I noticed that over time and then I would go check out as, you know, the internet was starting to come up right at this time because it was the early nineties. So I go check other news sources and find out NPR was pretty much as neutral as they come. I mean, they were really on, they were very much very high integrity about it. Let's just lay out the facts. And if we're gonna say our opinion, say this is our opinion on this thing rather than just taking their opinion as fact. And so over time, especially climate change was a big thing for me. So I, I was a big Al Gore supporter even though I was Mormon in which, you know, you're basically default Republican at that point.
[00:12:51] Hannah: Were you allowed to tell anyone or was it like, don't bring it up?
[00:12:53] Erick: I didn't really talk too much about politics with, with that. Um I ended up going to a fairly liberal school for my last two years of college and it had been a Presbyterian School before, and then it reorganized and was a non denominational school. It's called Westminster College. And I found that even though I was still on the conservative side because I was Mormon. I was much more, I found that my viewpoints much more aligned with most of the liberal people that I found there, which was quite a bit, it was kind of like a liberal haven because it was a liberal arts, small, liberal arts college. And so I, it was a really good thing for me. Um, and then I did the whole Mormon thing. I, I got married, you know, way too fast. Somebody I didn't know very well. Um, we ended up getting, we were married for 7.5 years, had two kids and she was a good person. Luckily I didn't marry somebody who was an awful person. And so our divorce was pretty amicable and we, and, uh, you know, my kids grew up to be good kids. So I, I always joke around and I'm like my job was to get you to 18.
[00:13:56] Hannah: You're on your own now, buddy.
[00:13:58] Erick: Got you 18 alive. So, um, but my kids are, my kids are good people and I'm very, I, I, I'm just super happy with who they are and, you know, I'm just, just one of those things and they were pretty good kids all the way growing up, um, and just good people and I worked really hard to be a pretty good parent because my dad wasn't. And so I knew what not to do. And so the bar was kind of low of being a good parent basically just don't do what my dad did and I'd probably be all right.
[00:14:28] Hannah: You talk about that a lot in the podcast too. Yeah. Was, was questioning your dad one of those things that would, like, set him off. What was that like?
[00:14:35] Erick: Yeah. Um, it was kind of like living with an alcoholic but there wasn't a bottle, you know, if I'd had a bottle, it would have been easier to come home and know dad's in a shitty mood, you know, keep cool.
[00:14:47] Hannah: You could have explained it away and just
[00:14:50] Erick: avoid it, somehow avoided it because at least I could
[00:14:53] Hannah: have had a flag. I see.
[00:14:54] Erick: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Some kind of signal of like, stay away from dad tonight. But, and it was hard because there, when he wasn't in one of his moods, he was funny, kind, generous, smart. He was very intelligent, very curious about a lot of things. Um, but, you know, living a double life, you know, because I've mentioned it before so he was bisexual and was having sex with men on the side. Yeah. And so that's why, I mean, yeah. So it's like, well, like
[00:15:27] Hannah: what a tortured way to live, especially in such a dogmatic community.
[00:15:32] Erick: And he, he believed in the church, but then he also had this other life and the two conflicted pretty strongly. So. Yeah. So I recognized that. Um,
[00:15:43] Hannah: well, and it sounds like that was one of your big motivations to get away from that, that was that sense of inner conflict too.
[00:15:51] Erick: Well, it was inter conflict because I had, I had never felt like I was ever good enough. So there was always this feeling that no matter how I live, no matter how I tried, I was just never good enough. And so the whole time I was married, I was on and off with the church. So there were a couple of times where I didn't go for a whole year, then I'd finally go back and I give it a try. But then realized that I never felt like I really fit in or belonged or, and it's the whole thing of, of what a lot of religions do, which is, if you can't live like this, it's because your faith isn't strong enough. You. Exactly. And it's kind of like, you know, it's the whole thing, like with the, the secret, you know, you didn't manifest it because your faith wasn't strong enough o manifest it..
[00:16:35] Hannah: You must not have done it. Right. It's like the system is rigged. Right. The whole thing is rigged because if you do it, you can't really ever do it. Right. But then when you do it wrong, it's because of you. It's not because it's an undoable thing.
[00:16:49] Erick: Yeah. And so for me, I never felt like I, I was good enough for the church. And so we reached a point, um, kind of last year of our marriage where she said, you know, hey, I'm not going to be going to church anymore. It just doesn't work for me. I'm, I'm out and you can go if you want. And so I think I went for another couple of weeks and it was just like, you know what, I'd rather be out cycling. So I'd rather be out on my bike and it was just like I made that decision and I felt physically lighter. Like I was, I actually seriously looked around from him just like, am I floating off the ground here? This is a weird feeling. And I always tell people, I'm like, you know, those big statues out on Easter Island and they're like, yeah, I'm like, imagine feeling like you had one of those on your shoulders and you just brushed it off how light you would feel and they're just like, whoa. And I'm like, yeah, it's a heavy load just to get off your shoulders because you realize that this whole belief system that made you feel like you were a terrible person, your whole life that you were unworthy and you could never live up to these standards. You realized it was just all bullshit. And so you didn't have to live the standards anymore.
[00:17:56] Hannah: Tell me where you came up with the concept of the asking versus the guessing culture and like, how would you define each of those?
[00:18:02] Erick: Um It wasn't me who came up with it. It was the… Yeah, it was on meta filter. Um So I, I stumbled on this. Uh I can't even remember how I found this, but um I think I saw a link towards it and then, you know, somebody mentioned it and so I searched for it, found it on this thing called meta filter, which some kind of Q and A thing, I guess, like for, you know, Quora type of thing. And so they kind of came up with that definition of it. And I was just like, as soon as I saw it, I recognized it and I'm like, oh my gosh. Yes, absolutely. 100% understand this. This makes perfect sense to me. And so I just took it and expanded upon it from my own experience. And it's definitely one that I've gotten a lot of people who are like, oh my gosh, you know, I'm a guesser and my, my wife is a guess my friend, Ben from high school actually sent me a note and he's like, ok, so I'm a guesser and my wife is a guesser and we both figured that out. And so we've, we've been able to work together to, to be a little bit more askers in our relationship, which is great. But how do we help our kids be not guessers? And, and so we're talking a bit about that and, and chatting about it and luckily, first and foremost is he doesn't live in Utah anymore. So that helps right there. So he's in California. And so that made a big difference. And I just said really, it's just about the more honest you can be with your wife about everything and anything. It's an example thing for them that it allows them to be open and honest about those kind of things. And one of the things that I appreciate about my ex partner was that she helped me be a much better parent because she was not a guesser, she was an asker, she helped me be such a better parent for that because she, when the kids were, you know, early teens, she would bring up things about sex, try to embarrass the crap out of them by asking them questions about things um to the point where it was no longer taboo. And so they could then ask us anything they wanted to about sex and it was just fine and they reached a point where they would try and embarrass us with saying things about sex and we just like, oh, you guys are so cute. It's like if we told you what you can't embarrass me. Yeah, it's like, yeah, good one, good one guys but not gonna happen. But because of that, it's really comes down to just being an example of that. And the thing is, is that asking doesn't need to be a bludgeon. It doesn't need to be a cudgel that you use against people and that's what a lot of people have a hard time with directness. They think that it's using it as a weapon because you can be direct and you can still be kind and presentation has a bit to do with it. But some people are just going to be offended no matter what, because it is a direct question. But if you can ask any question with a B with a bit of compassion and a bit of kindness wrapped around it and let them know just saying, hey, you know, the reason why I'm asking this is because this is something I really need to understand about us. Otherwise it's going to cause a lot of problems going forward rather than just going, why, you know, why don't you just tell me, you know, there's a very big difference between those two.
[00:21:09] Hannah: I mean, I have found that to be effective in ending interactions.
[00:21:16] Erick: Ending but not connecting…
[00:21:17] Hannah: yeah, that's definitely a skill I had to learn. I think it's really interesting because if I were to guess, I would say that when you read that you immediately connected with the guesser profile. But when I heard your episode, I immediately connected with the asker profile and like I said, it just immediately put so many past experiences into, into perspective for me and it explained immediately for me so much of the discomfort that I must have been causing people without realizing it. And then in turn, of course, that explains some of the reactions that have mystified me like my whole life
[00:21:50] Erick: Yeah. And what it does is for me, I look at this as a and stoicism in general as a kind of a a meta lens you can view the world through. So it's kind of like honestly to me, stoicism is kind of like Neo in The Matrix where he's going along, he's fighting Agent Smith, he's doing all this stuff and suddenly he like he has that moment where bing, he sees the code behind everything and he goes, oh yeah, this is how it all operates. This makes sense. That person is feeling uncomfortable because they're a guesser and I'm an asker and I just ask him this thing which makes them OK. Now I get that and then you can start to piece all of these things together because you have that ability to not just see the situation for what it appears to be, but for what it really is. And that's what for me, stoicism and philosophy is all about. It's that ability to not just to see what's behind the, what's on the surface, but what's behind the facade.
[00:22:50] Hannah: So, you know, being raised in the Mormon church, you say it, you told me it is based on the Bible, right? The Old Testament and New Testament as we know it theoretically. So I'm very curious because in Judaism, it's just so funny because it, it has become, I'm not sure how to say this. It's almost like an apocryphal truth that sometimes people just don't even question or say anything about, I guess in some ways you could even think about it, like, as a positive stereotype that Judaism is seen as just like about asking questions, right? So often you don't even look into, like, why do people say that? Is it just a cultural thing? Is it like uh Jews are so nosy? And it's like, well, yes, but which came first the chicken or the egg. So I of course looked into it. But a lot of the what we would call like the mid rush, which is the commentary on the scripture um or just general commentary, rabbinical commentary is about how in the very first, the very first person who became a Jew, which is, of course, Abraham, his very first thing that he did was to question God. The very first thing that he did was, you know, try to argue for the saving of, of Sodom and Gomorrah. The very first thing that he did was to push back and say, why have you know, well, let me find this quote right here. Shall the judge of earth not do justice? Says Abraham. And then of course, Moses says, why have you brought trouble on these people to God? Like these are the prophets are saying it directly to God being like, just please don't you know why are you doing this? So it's taken as a Jewish value that you always have the right to question and, and perhaps even more deeply than that, you always have the right to question why. And you know, we see this again carried out in our, one of our most important traditions, which is the Pesa Seder, the meal. The four questions is a really important part of the Seder because that's where from the perspective of someone who knows nothing at all and is perfectly innocent. That's the the um simple child, right? Is what they called it when I was growing up. And then you have the wise child who asks the complicated question where it's like we know the basics. But what about this part? And then you have the wicked child who, which I don't think they call it that anymore. I think it's gotten a little gentler in the language. But when I was growing up, it was still a wicked child. And that child was definitely like, why should I care? You know, which, by the way, a lot of people have that attitude. So let's address that too. And then there's the child who doesn't know how to ask for whatever reason. And we must also formulate an answer for that person. And so that's generally taken as a metaphor for like how we should interact with one another when sharing, when sharing anything, we should be cognizant of all of these different ways of approaching the world or the topic at hand and be able to explain whatever it is that we're talking about or the thing that we're doing or the food that we're eating, you know, whatever it is we're trying to share, we should be able to look at it from all of these perspectives and to address them. And I'm really curious then as a biblical religion, how did Mormonism, at least growing up in your specific experience of that culture as being anti questioning? How did it address this type of, you know, existing narrative in the book? Or was it just glossed over? Was it rewritten? How was it, how was it addressed?
[00:26:29] Erick: Um Basically, they have their own kind of interpretations of most things. And so most times in Sunday school, when questions were asked, it was, it was really less about a rigorous interrogation of the idea and much more about trying to twist things around to fit the narrative that they've already put out. And so as long as they kind of fell within what they taught, you know, the leaders of the church and what was in the Sunday school manuals and so on, then it was acceptable. But if you stepped out of those and said, well and try to be contrarian and say no, actually, I think it's a complete opposite of that or I think it's something completely different over here, it was just kind of like people would be like, um, anyway, back on topic over here, you know, there was just very much this whole, there was very little honest, intellectual inquiry on things and it was much more about finding ways to use what was taught to basically almost cherry picking what you see to, to fit the church line. And we see that in a lot of modern Christianity, they'll pull the things they want out of the Bible to fit their world view to fit their political, you know, viewpoint of things. They don't actually look at it and go well, what did God really want from this? What did God really mean from this? You know what in trying to tease out the meaning of things? It was almost the exact opposite. It was saying, see, here's a place where God tells us this thing and, you know, in the, again, cherry picking all of the evidence of things. What I think we miss out on that is there's a great quote from this guy named Ward Farnsworth and he's a uh a dean at a law school down in Texas. And he's written a number of books on stoicism. He has one called the Socratic Method, a handbook. And in that book, it's fantastic because he talks about the importance of questions and he said, asking questions is about applying pressure, applying pressure is good because it makes you think it, it puts pressure on you to grow, it puts pressure on you to come up with something deeper than what is really there. But giving your opinion is the exact opposite. It's release of pressure. Most people talk in opinions because talking in opinions is much easier. They just tell you what they think about it rather than actually questioning what they think about it. And in Judaism, at least from what I've seen and, and my friends who are Jewish that I've talked to about that and even a good friend of mine who wasn't Jewish, but spent a lot of time, you know, talking to Jews and he um he had a phd in Slavic languages and literature. And so he was just like, he's like, he's like in Judaism, like the first thing is you question God, you know, you watch Fiddler on the Roof. Yeah. He was like, you watch Fiddler on the Roof. Tevya is going, you know, why, why all the time? He's like looking up to God going. I, I don't get this. Why are you doing this to me? You know, I don't understand. And so it's never a and whereas a and so I think that I think that Christian culture is very much a guest culture. It's very much about this is what God wants you to do and they lay it out and you, you, you fill yourself with that culture and anything that, that, that pushes against that is something to be avoided, not something to go, “Wait a second, this is a question…” So my ex partner, uh her dad was a pastor in just a, a fairly mainstream uh uh Christian church. Um But she even talked about that how she went on some of the, the youth retreats where they go and do missionary work and, you know, they go and try and talk to people about this stuff. And she was like, it's, it's almost like you are kind of brainwashed into this, this, this culture, this hypnotic way of thinking about things and then where you're not really supposed to question you're just supposed to do and it's, it's, you know, you, you put on this facade of how you're supposed to fit in with all of these things, even if you disagree with it because you're not really supposed to question those things. And asking those hard questions.
[00:30:28] Hannah: Also you need your social circle, right? Like you can't, we're, we're social animals, we need each other. And if that's the air you breathe, I don't know that you would even know that there was any other way to go about it. That was one of the questions that I had for you is if you're growing up in a culture or a version of a religion or a version of a culture that really impresses upon you that not just to like do the quote unquote right thing and like be good at the religion, for example. But even for you to retain your social connections, how do you even get to where you understand, to where you imagine a different way? You know, I, I really liked, especially in this episode. I felt like you really treated the guessing culture as you call it with a lot of compassion. Um I'm sure obviously you having grown up that way, as you describe it, you kind of know what that like psychology is about, what that lived experience is about what that pressure must feel like.
[00:31:28] Erick: There was always a joke within the church. I don't know if they have it in like Jewish circles. But there was always, you know, the people who, who tried to live it as best, they could almost to a, to a fault, you know, they, they call Peter Priesthoods. And then we had Molly Mormons.
[00:31:45] Hannah: We don't, we do not have that. I think maybe Jews are just like, so we're so like, but I mean, now that I was going to say we're so argumentative and then I was going to say contrarian and then I was like, actually all of those are assignations of a qualitative assessment to the questioning. I think, I think you could really, really take that perspective. And one of the things that really struck me was how you remarked upon how people who are in a guessing culture feel that being asked directly is basically conflict and they're super conflict diverse. And that really resonated with me because I'm obviously like a very direct person. I always have been, I would not say that I have not always been a little bit, you know, drawn to conflict or whatever, but especially now, like in life, I certainly feel that just asking directly and getting to the point is how to avoid conflict because it means I know what we're dealing with. I don't need, and I've said this to people that I've dated, I've said it to friends during arguments or whatever. I don't need you to feel any certain kind of way or think any specific thing. I just need to know how you feel. Then we can operate. Now, we know what the data is and we can make some informed decisions. But my experience, so I lived in the South for 10 years. I would say that a lot of cultures in that part of the country, I would say a lot of perhaps more conservative cultures are guessing cultures rather than asking cultures. And so like living in the South for 10 years, I would call that a guessing culture. And it always, it seemed like any time that I spoke in my characteristically direct way, being raised in a culture that just does that it was taken as a conflict and it caused conflict. And I honestly never understood the directness and the openness and the honesty as a source of someone feeling attacked. And you, you really helped me understand that quite a bit. But yeah, I never understood why people would feel attacked by the directness. What do you think? It feels like such a fear based way of being? I mean, what do you think that fear is about?
[00:34:02] Erick: Um the fear is about being different, being homogeneous, meaning fitting in with the culture was far more important than having truth, having understanding, being authentic. It was about fitting in. It was about, you know, I mean, think of middle school, I mean, it really, it's, it's a very good…
[00:34:24] Hannah: Oh god, my stomach. Ok.
[00:34:25] Erick: Yeah, it's a very middle school mentality where fitting in is more important than being, who you truly are standing out is, is one of the worst things that can happen to you when you're in middle school. I mean, unless, unless it's like being a star athlete or something like that,
[00:34:42] Hannah: Unless you're the cool kid who stands out in the way everyone wants to be cool.
[00:34:45] Erick: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But standing out in your weird sort of way and not being like everybody else. Oh. Wow. Those shoes. Wow. Wow. Those are a statement. You know, those type of things, you know, where you don't want to be noticed for being different, you want to be noticed because you're cool, you want to be noticed because you fit in. Those are the things that, that, in a guess culture. It's much more about fitting in than it is about just being yourself and being honest. And so if you call somebody out by being direct. You're basically, you're ruffling their feathers, you're going well. But I don't understand you're saying this. But I, that doesn't make sense to me. And they just kind of look at you like, well, it's just the way it's, it's done and they can't necessarily explain it because they don't want to have to explain it because, you know, like you said, it is very fear based.
[00:35:38] Hannah: Is it like, what if I'm wrong? Is it like, I don't want to be the one to explain it because then what if I'm wrong? What if I give my explanation? And that's not really why everybody else is doing this at all. Do you think it's something like that?
[00:35:48] Erick: I think a lot of them don't know. A lot of them just don't know why it's done that way. It's just done that way. That's the way it's always been done. So we just continue to do it that way. And so when somebody comes up and says, you know, that's a really stupid way to do that and everybody freaks out and everybody's like, oh my gosh, why are you doing this?
[00:36:04] Hannah: Yeah. It's an interesting thing because when you, when you re enacted it just then it gave me all these flashbacks to people and it made me and I always felt really guilty because it sort of made me like, I could feel their panic, you know what I mean? It's like a little bit of like a panic. I'm like, what, why am I, why am I the one don't ask me? I don't know. And I wonder like, one of the other things that you hit on that really resonated is that, that point of being honest. And I think like, it's, it gets a little complex but it really does come down to if you're not saying what you really feel want or need, not only are you not being honest about your feelings, you're also denying the other person the opportunity to not just share that with you, but provide you joy. So it's like if I say to you, hey, do you want to go out to eat here tonight? And it's like, sure that sounds good. But you really hate that place. You're denying me the opportunity of going somewhere you really would like with you or even coming up with something and being like, I present you with an option that you would like. I love you. This is a gesture of happiness and that is so sad. It just makes me so sad.
[00:37:10] Erick: Well, I mean, and to kind of take a slightly less PG turn. I mean, think about it when it comes to sex, for example, if you don't tell your partner what you like, how are they going to give you what you like? But yet how, I mean, when I was married, I didn't know how to talk to my ex-wife about those things because sex had been so shamed based and so filled with shame about having sex and all of this stuff because you're not supposed to have sex before you're married. And it was just this whole raft of guilt and shame that was piled on top of that, that being able to talk with her about those things was not really even possible. So, after I got divorced and then I wasn't, you know, married and I wasn't in the church anymore. It was like, ok, I'm going to change how I do those things. And so, you know, with my partners, I was very open like I like this. What do you like? And, you know, even then some of them, they were like, I had issues talking about it and because
[00:38:08] Hannah: It’s a weird culture we’re in man…
[00:38:09] Erick: and the funny thing was, is that the guessing culture actually was helpful in some ways because I was much more attuned to body language. I was much more attuned to reading things and the reading their emotions about things. And so I could actually please them fairly well because I was much more in tune that way. So it did end up helping me in a bit of a way. But there's no, no, but my, the ones that usually work the best were like, you know, after we enjoyed each other be like, ok,
[00:38:34] Hannah: what worked? Which is so fun by the way, like the post game is like, super fun. I'm very curious how you, was it a, was it a long road to getting comfortable with that kind of thing or was it more like that was always what you wanted and you couldn't do it? And that was the uncomfortable part until you changed your basically cultural surroundings, your internal culture? Like, do you still struggle with being comfortable with some of that stuff?
[00:39:05] Erick: Um As far as like sex goes, that was, it was a bit of both. It was a little bit of like, it took me some to, to change things and one of those things is because you'll laugh at this. But um there was always this implicit thing that women don't like sex. That was, that was in a
[00:39:22] Hannah: I’m sorry, that is so fucking rude. OK. Go ahead. Yeah.
[00:39:25] Erick: OK. But then it occurred to me and this is going to probably, you know, if you have any Mormon listeners probably going to offend them. But they may find this hilarious too.
[00:39:32] Hannah: They're probably offended by now, they're already offended.
[00:39:34] Erick: But what I figured out one time is I was sitting there thinking about this and I'm just like, wait a second, these are basically the most leaders of the church are the stuffy old windbag white guys. And the reason why they don't think that women like sex is because their wives probably don't like sex with sex with them because they suck at it because they're so self absorbed.
[00:39:55] Hannah: Oh my God, that's very perceptive. Yeah, once again, we return to the like, maybe you should be asking yourself some questions.
Hannah: OK. So in the episode, in your sign off in your fake sign off episode, that scared me that from 2019, that episode was about self advocacy. And the there's such a tie in there to me between these two things because the not saying what you need or not advocating for yourself is similar. I think in the way of like, not, not questioning, not asking or just not communicating directly because it's inherently dishonest. Like you said, it's fundamentally dishonest not to say what you want and then behave as though you're happy when you're not or not speak up when you're unhappy. And like I said, give the other person who cares about you an opportunity to bring you joy, but it's also giving, not only is it giving away your ability to be happy or be made happy by the other person, it also makes that person responsible for your feelings without them knowing it. And that's not fair. And so it's like, oh, I couldn't have known that I was stamping all over something that really mattered to you because because as a people pleaser or you didn't say anything but you've been resenting me this whole time. And it's been my experience that that usually leads to a blow up and those can be incredibly unfixable. They can really damage relationships. You said that you were a recovering people pleaser, I'm sure this is all tied together to growing up in that culture. Is that an experience that you've had? And how did you get to the other side of it?
[00:41:41] Erick: Oh, I wouldn't say that I'm on the other side of it and I still struggle with that a lot because my natural default is to in, in any conversation where they, where it feels like the other person is angry, annoyed, frustrated, whatever my brain immediately goes to, oh shit. What's the right answer? Like not, what is the, what is the actual answer? What is the honest answer? It's like what is the answer that is going to diffuse this situation? And that comes from one with my dad. I always had to figure out what it was he wanted to hear. So I didn't get beat up and two with the church is “What kind of excuse can I, can I come up, can I come up with so that I don't get in trouble with the bishop?” And so those two things compounding, make it very, very challenging to just be honest about something when somebody is frustrated, annoyed, disappointed with me. And it doesn't even, they don't even have to be angry, just they're frustrated and annoyed with me. So my ex partner, that was one of our biggest challenges and, and one of the things that kind of doomed us was that she would feel frustrated and annoyed about something which she has the right to feel and I would immediately try and change how she felt about it because my default reaction was terror. Oh, my God, she's mad. She's frustrated with me. And because in my past that meant that I was either going to be a, in trouble with the church or be in trouble with my dad and possibly get. beat up.
[00:43:10] Hannah: And that was an existential threat like that was a legitimate danger.
[00:43:14] Erick: Yeah, exactly. And so those are my default reactions and it's been a lot of work to try and change those things and incredibly, incredibly challenging to do because it's so hard wired and from when I was a little kid and so it, it takes so much work just to go, I don't need to control their mood. It's not my job. They can be mad as hell as they want me. That's their problem to deal with. And it's going to be ok and it's so hard to, and, you know, it's going to be ok if I say what I honestly think about things and that's incredibly hard. And I feel for people who are in situations like that because that's the, that's the environment I grew up in. And so that's how I was trained if you will. And it's almost like a hardwired system and so becoming aware of that and learning how to take that beat and just be like, “The right answer here is the honest answer. Even if the other person doesn't like it, it's ok because it's the truth.”
[00:44:16] Hannah: There can be no other answer. This is what it is. Yeah. That's really freeing and it's really, but it's, it is also really scary even for, for, for me. Right? Because like at the end of the day, like, even people who are raised in a culture that values that type of, I mean, Jews are often characterized as being brash or rude, which is like, I don't know if you've been to Israel but like not incorrect. But anyway, but that's not Jews, that's Israelis. I would like to say by the way, there is a difference in any case, the being characterized that way. Again, it comes from this really directness. But even for someone like me who's raised in that, like, I still don't want to hurt people that I care about. Like I would love it if the answer that I think you want was the answer. I've just learned personally over my life that like, I can't be anything else. I can't do anything else. I could, you know the the one word that used to haunt me so much, especially as a young woman. Um a young single woman was like, why can't I just be demure? It's never gonna happen. I'm never gonna be a quiet like leaning against the wall being mysterious like there's no mysterious is the last thing I'm ever gonna be. You're always gonna know exactly what I'm thinking about and, and I, I wanted that for myself so badly and I do understand that impulse. I think it's really, really human in the same way that it's like you would stay inside these guessing cultures, even if, like, maybe not necessarily, even if you did know that there was another way because again, the thing that keeps you there is those social is that social netting and you lose everything if you lose that and and nobody really wants to just be alone out in the world. And if you don't know that there's another way to be. And by the way, a whole group of people doing it and enjoying it, how can you know that it's safe? And that also goes back to another point that you raised. I think you were very honest about it now too. And you brought it up in the episode too of like, it's also inherently manipulative to not just say it to not just ask it to not just say, you know what when you did X, it made me feel Y or if I ask you when I did X, did it make you feel Y to skirt the answer or not give the answer. If you want to look at it from the perspective of for example, someone who may have experienced some like narcissistic emotional abuse where it's all about trying to control the situation. It could even be seen as that at the very, very least, even if, what you're trying to do is make somebody feel better, quote unquote. It's still trying to manipulate someone else's feelings and that inherently digs away at their human dignity at their right to have their own lived experience at their right to feel however they want to feel.
[00:47:01] Erick: Yeah, it's ultimately about trying to manipulate the other person
[00:47:04] Hannah: for your own comfort in a lot of ways too.
[00:47:07] Erick: And it's that whole social cohesion of trying to fit in and trying not to, not to uh to rock the boat. I mean, my brother went to his mission on to Japan and they have a saying there it's like the tallest nail gets the hammer. So, and yeah, and then I heard that I went, oh, I see.
[00:47:27] Hannah: So it's just humans. We're the worst.
[00:47:31] Erick: Well, it's just people, people and especially people with a, who have subjected a population or a group to a type of culture because it affords them power. They don't, they want to keep that in play. And that's so you said, you know, it comes from a place of fear and it's because the people in charge have enforced these norms to keep people in fear in order to keep control over them. I mean, that's really what it comes down to
[00:48:00] Hannah: Whether that's a state or a church or a. Yeah, I see. I see what you're saying. Yeah.
[00:48:04] Erick: If one person down there gets this idea, they could spread to a couple of other people and pretty soon you have hundreds or thousands of people with this idea. And so they want to crack down on that and the way to do that is through that kind of social pressure. And so, you know, it's really very much about control and it's really hard to get people to see that because it's, it's kind of like telling a fish about water, you know, that David Foster Wallace, he has a whole essay on that where he talks about, it starts off with the joke is like, you know, older goldfish is swimming along down the stream and he sees two other goldfish and he goes, “Hey, boys, how's the water?” And then one of the goldfish turns the other and says, “What, what's water?” Yeah.
[00:48:49] Hannah: Oh, I love that. That's, that's, that's huge perspective
[00:48:53] Erick: And it's really hard for us to see the everyday assumptions that we make in our lives because we are so close to them. And because we just assume this is the way it is. And that's why traveling, I think, and living in other cultures, especially cultures that are vastly different than your own is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
[00:49:11] Hannah: Amen. So how's it going now? I mean, would you say that you, as you say, you wouldn't say you're on the other side of it. Ok. How do you deal with setting and communicating your boundaries these days? And would you say what has been the outcome or improvement if, if that is the right word in your life of learning to be more of an asker than a guesser and less of a people pleaser. How's that going?
[00:49:42] Erick: I think overall, I think overall pretty good, it's still, I don't have any close romantic relationships right now. And I think that's where it springs up the most. Um, especially because the women I'm attracted to are generally much more, uh, much more intelligent. So they are stronger willed. So my last partner was very strong willed. Had a good understanding of people asked lots of questions. My ex-wife always asked lots of questions, which was challenging because my dad would use questions as a, as a cudgel. He would ask questions to try and get you in line and you had to figure out what was the right answer to that question.
Hannah: It was a, it was a trap.
Erick: It was a trap, yeah. And so which made it really hard for both my ex-wife and my partner and that they would do the same thing but not meaning to try and trap me. But they were trying to ask me questions. And I would be like, oh, and I'd be squirming in my seat and lash out because of that. So it's one of the things that I, I have, I know that I have to work on and continue to work on because the type of women I'm attracted to are the intelligent askers. They are the ones and it's funny they're mostly introverts. Not that they have to be, but generally fairly strong willed and intelligent and they're askers and maybe it's because that's what I need. And so even though it's hard, I still go, ok, I'm gonna do this, even though this is going to be challenging, we are going to have conflict. You know, I put myself in that situation because I think there's that part of me which knows that I will grow from that and I will learn from that. And I mean, I cycle now and it's kind of the same thing, like, you know, I'll go out for a 20-30 mile ride and people are just like, wow, how do you do that? And I'm like, I get on my bike, like, can I peddle.
I just keep going.
[00:51:25] Hannah: Just keep going. Just keep swimming.And they're like, what is water?
[00:51:29] Erick: It's like, and it's hard, but it's, I know that I'm not going to grow in the ways that I want to if I don't push myself like that. And so I think in, you know, my romantic relationships kind of the same way, like I don't want somebody who just is a pushover who doesn't challenge me, who doesn't think who doesn't have those kind of things because I'm not interested in that. I want somebody who's going to be, you know, and going to make me grow.
[00:51:53] Hannah: Would you say that your ability to be in meaningful relationships, whether it's friendships or otherwise has been improved by becoming more of a asker and less of a people pleaser.
[00:52:03] Erick: Oh, absolutely. I'm much more clear about what I want and aside from my ex partner, just because we've, we built up so many of those patterns that when we get around each other, sometimes we push each other's buttons way too easy. I mean, we all know that, you know, it's like good intentions of like, no, no, no, I'm, I'm better than that. I can be better than that. But then we get around each other and
[00:52:27] Hannah: you're doing it before you even notice you're just,..
[00:52:30] Erick: It's like, yeah, it's like your siblings, you know, how to push those buttons really easy. Um But because I'm much more aware of that now going into any kind of relationships I can, you know, I can step up and be like, ok, you know, I'll ask for one, I'll be very clear about this and just be like, you know, this doesn't work for me, whatever it is you're doing here and just being ok with that, but also just being incredibly honest up to the point that they're comfortable. Um
[00:52:57] Hannah: and also accepting that whatever their response is, is going to be their response. I mean, one of the most important things that I ever learned was like, we're not choosing between consequence, no consequence. We're choosing always between consequences.
[00:53:12] Erick: It's like which one are we choosing that there's going to be or not be?
[00:53:16] Hannah: Am I choosing to say this thing that might hurt you? But at least then we know what we're dealing with and we might be able to talk and get past it or am I choosing to never say this thing and end up in a place where it's unresolvable because I'm so far down this, this tunnel of resentment, you don't even know how to unpack all this. You didn't even know this was happening.
[00:53:35] Erick: Yeah. Yeah. And the whole thing is as well is that, that, that's also a filter. You know, you throw it out there and if somebody can't handle that, that's a pretty clear sign that they aren't your person or they aren't somebody that you want to be with
Hannah: Worked for me.
Erick: I mean, I've had, I've had that where there's some people where it's just like, you know, this is who I am and if you can't handle this and this isn't what you want. Fine. That's great. Yeah, I'm not for everybody but I'm especially for me. Somebody once said.
[00:54:04] Hannah: Oh, nice. I like it. Well, on that note, this was amazing. Thank you so much for this. Thanks for listening to Jew Ish. If you like what you hear, please give us a follow and don't forget to tell a friend who might be a little Jew curious. It really is the best way to help people find us. Also, make sure you check out the show notes for a glossary of terms you might have heard in this week's episode. Jew-ish is a Say More production.
[00:54:39] Erick: So that's the end of this week's episode. I hope that you enjoyed the conversation that I had with Hannah and as always be kind to yourself, be kind to others. and thanks for listening.
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