Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Emotional Wealth

It's the end of the year.  It's a time to be thankful and take stock. Running's a [relative] lull, and the End of the Year Post is coagulating in the brain. As a prequel to that post, this missive:

Two separate events in the past week+ have motivated me to write this, admittedly non-running post.

The first: my most recent trip to Placer County, a fortnight ago, for Craig "Lord Balls" Thornley's "Congratulations Roast".  Hosted by AJW and MonkeyBoy, it was half-roast and half-tribute to a great man who is about to take the reigns of the greatest trail run in the world - the spiritual center of the Ultramarathon Running Community.

Among those present were some of the most respected, revered men - Elder Statemen - of The Community: Rob Cain, John Medinger, Tim Twietmeyer, Gary Towle, AJW, and several more great folks.

"If anyone can understand the slower runners, it's Craig" - Tropical John Medinger's ringing endorsement of LB at Auburn Ale House.
Wealthy people.  Not measured by their balance sheet, but by something greater: Emotional wealth.  The collective resources of true friendship and love, wisdom and maturity; wells of emotional wealth of depth and breadth - not only to ensure personal and familial security, but plenty to share amongst The Community.

Secondly: more motivation came from one of my best friends.

I've been doing a great deal of reading and reflection in the past month, and it's been rubbing off on friends (or, more specifically, I've been smearing it on them).  Sharing relationship tales, my friend  related some issues involving her boyfriend: he had some commitment issues, having broken up, then reuniting over the past year.   

Looking beyond all that, she mentioned that he had a child from a previous relationship.  With great reverence, I suggested, "You know, the state of relationship with his daughter is going to play an important role in how your relationship will progress - perhaps you should talk to him about that?". 

She did.  And it completely blew up.  She wants kids.  Because of the dysfunctionality of his relationship with his daughter and her mother, he does not.  Game over.

Woah. Oops. Sorry!

I didn't mean to blow her relationship to hell, but I did.  But as I see it, I merely pointed out to them, "Hey...did you guys notice the sticks of dynamite sitting next to the smoldering fire?"   
Those two experiences (mixed with guilt about my part in her relationship's demise) inspired me to write something.  On her behalf, and on behalf of all women looking for a good partner: The concept of "Emotional Wealth" .  Demonstrated so well by those men assembled last weekend in Auburn,  what are the things that really matter when pursuing a long-term relationship?

Why is Emotional Wealth important?
  • Couples in a long-term relationships are a Team.   The key to a successful, healthy, sustainable, long-term relationship lies in each person being a "Great Teammate", bringing loyalty, dependability, nurturing, toughness and resolve, problem-solving, fidelity, and commitment to the success of The Team.
  • Emotional Wealth represents the resources that a person brings to the Team: resources that can be used in difficult times, during a crisis, or simply enduring the struggles of daily life.  The more resources a person brings, the higher the likelihood that the Team will thrive. Conversely, a teammate with a dearth of Emotional Wealth has less at their disposal to work through challenges that threaten the security of the Team.

These concepts are much more important that compatability, mutual interests, or personalitiy traits.  Anyone who's ever been on a team knows that, implicitly: uncommonly powerful love can form between people, despite vastly different backgrounds and personalities, based on their mutual, unwavering commitment to the Team.

When I met my friend's boyfriend, I could sense, immediately, that he had a good soul: he was a very nice man, and we had an enjoyable time together.  But I also picked up some clues about the status of his emotional wealth - or, in his case, some liabilities on his balance sheet.  Liabilities that, ultimately, became significant issues resulting in the termination of their relationship.

So, how do you measure and determine emotional wealth in a person - a perspective friend or love interest?

Just as people don't wear their checking, savings and IRA account balances on their shirt sleeves, neither do men with their emotional wealth. It can be difficult to perceive. Indeed, even men, themselves, don't realize just how wealthy they are.

When evaluating a new member of your team, you might consider the following as indicators of emotional wealth:

Q: Does he smile and laugh?  A lot?
Why: Capacity for Joy, Love, and Survival.  The ability to smile and laugh, a lot, is a measure of Joy: one's ability to seek out and appreciate the good things in life.  It is the recognition of beauty and gifts.  And, according to researchers, it is a survival trait.  In his book, Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales notes that survivors consistently demonstrate joy and the ability to find beauty even in the darkest circumstances.  As such, the ability to smile, laugh, and be silly represents a deep well of coping ability and survival strength for when times get tough - as they invariably do in important relationships.  The capacity for Joy is also a correlate for ability to Love.  Love is not simply about happiness in good times; it's finding and appreciating the gifts of Life at all times, most notably the Dark Times.

Example: When I first witnessed AJW racing, he appeared to me as an insane person: constantly smiling, laughing and having a grand-old-time in one of the most grueling physical feats that man voluntarily endeavors.  Craig Thornley laughs like a teenage girls...most of the day.  Their capacity for survival, triumph, and overcoming obstacles - due in large part to their limitless joy - is well documented.

Andy Jones-Wilkins, LB, and "Monkey Boy" Scott Wolfe.  No shortage of joy amongst these guys.  Photo: John Mackey.

Q: Does he finish what he starts?
Why: Commitment, Perseverence.  Finishing what you start is a rare thing in this world.  Attention spans are short, commitments many, distractions endless.  The ability to finish something, no matter how seemingly easy, or unexpectedly tough, is a true measure of commitment and perseverence.  It is the inner Warrior of the man that finishes what he starts, and sticks with commitments even when obstacles seem insurmountable. This is an extraordinarily important factor in relationships.  In their book, The Warrior Within, Doug Gillette and Robert Moore point out that "Perseverance and fidelity are products of the Warrior's determination.  Though the Lover initiates a relationship, it is the Warrior who maintains it - without the Warrior, the Lover is merely promiscuous."

Example: Though I can count on a single hand the number of hours we've spent together, I consider Scott "FastEd" Jaime as a friend and role model.  Scott has a decorated ultra resume, including a half dozen Hardrock finishes (and at least two podiums).  In 2011, he ran two of the most competitive 100s in the world: Western States and UTMB.  In both, he ran early amongst the top runners, only to run into trouble.  But despite struggling, as many of his peers dropped, Scott did not.  He stuck it out.  From his WS report: "At this point it was all about getting done to see my family. And I knew my family, including my boys, would be there waiting. That was enough to give me the strength to get to Placer High School."  Giving up, with his family there to support him, was not an option.  Indeed, a quality of immense value in a man.  

Only a little worse for wear.  "Team Fast-Eddy" at the finish of the 2012 Hardrock 100.

Q: How does he treat strangers, store clerks, wait staff, and other service industry people?
Why: Empathy, Gratitude, and Patience; Humanity.  This might seem random, but it is an important indicator of a measure of a man.  During the dating and courtship process, it's a no-brainer that a man will treat you well.  If he's smart, he'll also treat your friends and family well.  But courtship is about earning something - the lengthy job interview process.  But what, then, happens once they're hired and on-the-job?  How a man treats his fellow man of all types speaks volumes.  His interactions with "the unimportant" -- waitresses, convenience store clerks, gas station attendants - can tell you a lot about how he will act with you, his family and "his kingdom".  His interactions with people outside his realm reveal two important concepts.  One, his capacity for empathy, gratitude and patience.  Even if that person - be it a snooty waiter or gruff highway patrolman - is impolite or rude - does he have the empathy to relate to their experience, and what they might be going through at that moment?  This is enormously important, as this is a measure of his ability to provide you that same degree of empathy, gratitude, and patience in the many moments where you aren't at your best - anxious, tired, grumpy, angry, stressed.  Additionally, his interactions with "the unimportant" reveal another important quality - his ability to recognize the value and gifts of the random individual, of Humanity.  Just because they work behind a counter, or wearing an apron, does not mean they're not extraordinary people.  Respect and empathy for all people demonstrates the ability to find value - and Love - in all people and all humanity.

Example: A terrific example of a friendly, loving human in the Ultra Community is my friend, Jorge Maravilla.  Few could even think of anyone more consistently kind, friendly, energetic and joyful as Jorge.  Both on and off the course, in good times and bad, easy times and tough, he is consistently this man.  Yet Jorge's had his battles and challenges.  Despite those struggles, his positive regard for everyone is inspirational and represents a vast wealth -- part of what makes him so damn tough on the trails!
Jorge Maravilla, finishing the 2012 Western States 100.  I could barely stand up straight; he's karate-kicking.  Awesome.  Photo: Glenn Tachiyama.
Q: How is his relationship with his mother?
Why: Indicator of respect for women; Capacity for sensitivity and nurturing.  As boys, our mothers are the first important women in our lives.  Their energy comforts, nurtures, and grows.  As we venture toward manhood, we must ultimately become independent from her and that powerful female energy - referred to by Moore/Gillette as Anima.  However, it is vital that we maintain contact with it, as it is an important resource that teaches us nurturing and sensitivity.  In short, men's relationships with their mother is like the Earth to the Sun: too close and we incinerate; too distant and we freeze.  Men who are too distant from their mothers often lose their capacity for nurturing and sensitivity; men who are too close often have difficulty being loyal, or are overly subservient to their adult female relationships; or conversely, they can be overtly disrespectful to women, on account of their resentment from their inability to break free from their mother.  (Deep stuff!  Told you I've been reading!) 

Examples:  I don't know a whole lot about my ultra friend's relationships with their mothers, but I do know Craig's mom, Carol.  Great woman with incredible energy and positivity.  Yet, when discussing his move to Placer County, within minutes of his mother, in 2013, LB said, "We've already had a discussion on how often we will see each other".  ;-) 

Q: How is his relationship with his father?
Why:Predictor of a man's relationship with his family; Support and mentorship.  A man's relationship with his father is incredibly important.  A father is the role model of what Moore & Gillette, in their formative text, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, refer to as "King" energy - stability, peace, fertility, and affirmation.  A man's relationship with his father - past and present - can be a strong indicator for those traits in a relationship, between man and woman, and amongst the family and community.  A distant or absent, or tyrannical or weak father represents a possible liability.  Will he transpose those qualities on your "realm", or will he be able to transcend them?  A father also represents a rare, invaluable resource for a man: elder mentorship - a vitally important part of life at any age.

Examples: I have several examples of strong, supportive, fatherly role models: my high school friend Max's dad, Ron: a respected college professor and black-belt in karate, who taught his sons about strength, endurance, and loyalty; my friend James' dad, Mike: a role model of knowledge, passion, commitment, and love for family and community.

Q: Does he have true friends? 
Why: A vital resource for support, feedback, honesty, moral compassing; Strength and material support.  This seems like a no-brainer - men having real friends - but it's shocking and saddening how few men have true friendships.  This is a keynote point in Jeffrey Marx's book, Season of Life.  It is a story of Joe Ehrmann, a former Baltimore Colts lineman whose lifework is devoted to the mentorship and development of mature masculinity of teenage boys. In his work as football coach and community organizer, Ehrmann points out the crisis of modern men: of having no other close relationships outside their girlfriend or wife, and instead investing in False Masculinity: athletics, sexuality, and money.  This presents a dearth of resources for a man, and a threat of dependency on a single person - or material objects -  for strength and support.   True male friendships are enormously important, as men and women need sources of support, honest feedback and moral anchoring in their lives.  True friendships also provide material support at times of greatest needs: be it a family crisis...or something heavy that needs moving.  ;-)

Examples: The gathering at the Auburn Ale House for Craig was a powerful example of his relationship wealth; but a small collective of people who would come at moment's notice if LB needed it.  Indeed, the nuturing, competitive relationship between he and AJW has been a great example for many younger fellas like me.  I, too, consider myself blessed by incredible friendships, most notably Jacob Rydman (aka "The BGD") in the Ultra community.  That guy would run 38 miles in the heat and dust for me...coaching and cajoling and serenading...  And then some.  And some more.  An amazing man and friend to the end, indeed. Like any great friend, both on and off the race course, he tells me the things I need to hear...even though I might not want to hear them. 

True Friends, and a Terrific Team.  BGD and Sara, post-Waldo.
Q: How are his relationships with exes?
Why: His ability to deal with conflict; to establish boundaries.  Almost every man has an ex-relationship - a love interest that, for one reason or another, ended.  All relationships end; how they end, and what remnants remain, can be a powerful indicator of future relationships.  Are his ex-relationships conflicted, or hostile?  This could be an indicator of his inability to fairly and respectfully deal with conflict - a measure of man's grasp of his Warrior energy.  The Warrior energy - in its mature form, wields his destructive power only with the object to create something better in its place.  Often, this means ending a relationship such that both parties are better off in the end.  Wielding this energy with fairness, justice and respect is vitally important for relationships, family and community.  Conflict, long past the end of the relationship, might indicate a poor control of emotion, and a lack of empathy.  On the other hand, does he have [seemingly uncomfortable] closeness with his ex?  This may be an indicator of a weakness in the Warrior energy - an inability to establish boundaries.  The establishment and protection of boundaries is extremely important in relationships.  All people need boundaries - between mine and yours, in and out, right and wrong.  Defending boundaries is crucial in defending relationships.  Without boundaries, outside forces can jeopardize a relationship, family or community: other people, career demands, vices (e.g. drinking, partying).  Without defensible boundaries, every relationship is at risk.

Q: Does he have a Cause greater than Himself?
Why: A true measure self-efficacy and emotional wealth; Moral grounding. Having a Cause greater than oneself is enormously important.  Not just because it generous, or kind.  Not simply because there are vulnerable people out there that need help.  It's more important than even those things.

Both Moore/Gillette in Warrior Within and Marx/Ehrmann in Season of Life point out the overwhelming importance of A Cause.  The former call it "a Transpersonal Other" - an over-arching principle to which a person is dedicated.  Moreover, that "other" must be beyond one's own selfish needs; indeed, one other person, your immediate family, or even a personal relationship with God are insufficient qualifiers, as they are ultimately self-serving.  A Cause is a belief, ideal, group, or community that requires our efforts, dedication, and commitment.

Ehrmann, in his work with adolescent boys in his football program and the community ("Building Men For Others"), uses the Cause - justice for the weak, helping the poor, housing the homeless, working with other young men's groups - as a way to develop two crucial parts of young men: one, that their abilities are best actualized, and happiness truly obtained, when applied to others; two, to develop these boys' self-efficacy - their strength and abilities as real men - instead of False Masculinity.  Moore and Gillette talk about the importance of the Transpersonal Other in guiding the immense power of the Warrior; a sort of moral grounding and target for that power in formative, constructive ways, as a warrior is committed to king and country. 

Having a Transpersonal Other/a Cause is a tremendously important factor in a man's life.  Without it, you run into two serious emotional liabilities:

1. Without a Cause, is the man focused on selfish fulfillment: using talents for personal gain?  This person may lack moral compassing; he may lack the security and always feel the need for more: wealth, things, power, women.  He may be collecting things. Including you

2. Without a Cause, does a man, because of his wounds, feel like he lacks the ability to help others?  This person may lack the fundamental self-worth to feel like he can contribute to a Cause; or, they're so wounded, that they're focused solely on meeting their basic needs that they cannot devote any resources beyond themselves.

Both represent significant red flags, a potential emotional bankruptcy resembling a black hole, tossing thing after thing into it, trying to fill it.  One of those things could be you. 

Examples: Where do I start?  There are so many excellent men out there in the Ultra Community, devoted to Causes:

Craig Thornley. We joke about how little LB works at his real job; it's because he's too busy with his many causes: Ski Patrol, race directing, stewardship of trails and public lands, and serving the Ultra Community.  We joked about his "Boy Toys", but Craig's dedication to helping us younger guys learn the sport - with respect and reverence for the community - is profound.

Andy Jones-Wilkins.  AJW is teased for being a "taker" on the race course, but beyond his commitment to his family is his commitment to his other kids: his high school students that he leads and mentors.  His love of The Community, and of the Western States 100 as a celebration of community, is unrivaled. And, like LB, AJW is a tremendous mentor and role model on competitive, spirited running. 

John Medinger. As a long-time race-director, board member of WS, and a literary leader as editor of UltraRunning Magazine, "Mr Tropical" is an excellent example of leadership and stewardship of the ultrarunning community.  His commitment to helping the Children of the Vineyard Workers in the Sonoma area is noteworthy and admirable. 

Jacob Rydman. This guy's so wise beyond his years, it's almost annoying (almost). He's just got it together. He's learned a lot of tough lessons and amassed incredible emotional wealth. BGD's cause is his athletes he coaches at William Jessup.  This inspiring work with young people, I feel, is just the tip of the iceberg for this "kid" - from whom I expect even greater things in the future.

There are many, many more excellent examples of emotionally wealthy men:

Rob Cain
Nick Clark
Yassine Diboun
Gary Gellin
Hal Koerner
Matt Keyes
Jason Leman
Bryon Powell
Tim Olson
Ken Sinclair
The EUG crew: Tom Atkins, Dan Olmstead, Lewis Taylor, Cliff Volpe
Scott Wolfe
Kelly Woodke name just a few.  This is what is so special about our sport, and the single greatest motivation to sustain The Community as a supportive, inclusive entity.
Sitting amongst that group at the Ale House, it hit me:  These guys here are f-ing loaded!*  I hope some of it rubs off on me.  And my hope is that my friends, and all of us out there, can identify emotional wealth and encourage its continual growth.

(*the open bar added another dimension of meaning to that...)

Emotional wealth is so important.  Financial wealth is fickle; it comes and goes so easily.  And it's far less helpful for the real challenges of life.  Emotional wealth, once earned, is difficult to destroy.  More importantly, it rarely - if ever - runs out.

In fact, it's the opposite: the more you spend, the more you earn!


  1. Awesome!! I really enjoyed this post. Thanks Joe.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out Double OJ! And I too consider you a friend with a kindred soul! What a brilliant article! Ironically, I have read Deep Survival 5 times. Each time in the off season to center myself and gain a commitment to the upcoming Ultra season. But what I've found, and exactly what you point out in your article, is that these skills are transferable to life. Every person you list here I consider a friend and one of the main reasons I travel to so many races.

    Take care and I look forward to the next opportunity to churn the brains over some beers. In fact, I will have one for you - it's called Chocolate Coffee Stout a la the Lips of Faith series (New Belgium Brewery)

    1. FastEd! Thanks for the comment, good to hear from you! Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to you and the family, and all the best in 2013!

  3. Amazing post! The openness and "emotional wealth" of which you speak is certainly palpable whilst in the company of the Eugene crew (even while traversing sketchy, snowy hillsides through thorny bramble!). As an aspiring Couples and Family Therapist, I found this good fodder for my professional development. Thanks for being an inspiration in this area as well as in the physical arena.

  4. Great stuff! Well said, and a solid inventory of questions.

    You forgot to add "willingness to openly mock each other at every possible opportunity" to teach humility and equality. ;-)


  5. As I've said to you, brilliant post. Many thanks for the compliments, although, there's no way I can take any credit. I'm thankful for the "BGD'S" in my life (and, of course, Sara) who care enough about me to lead me into truth, model a high-level of character, and speak the truth to me. Thankful for our friendship!

  6. That is one impressive post! I'm extremely flattered, and you've made a lot of interesting points. This will no doubt occupy my mind over the next couple months. Thank you for writing this, I might have to read some of your sources (Deep Survival?). You've been a huge inspiration and mentor for me over the past few years, and I'm honored to know you. Until we meet again, Cheers! Next one is on me. Much Love, Jbob.

  7. What a fantastic post. My EI (Emotional Intelligence) and wealth is something I've been thinking about a lot recently after reading Daniel Goleman's book on the subject, and this post really reinforced the importance of being aware of it.