John Lee—who will be teaching once again at the 2017 Minnesota Men’s Conference—has the habit of explaining the most baffling problems we confront in our lives with simple, direct language, and memorable examples. Misled by our fascination with novelty and complexity, we may second-guess him. But, in much the way that we find a thing in the last place we look, right where it was supposed to be, we must concede that while we have found nothing, he is pointing directly at what we have never seen. His knowledge is hard won. He is one of those scientists who has tested experimental procedures on himself, scrapping the failures and accumulating the successes. He would be the first to tell you that some of those experiments have left their mark. Through it all John has arrived at age and wisdom. Now, his great heart, is to my eye, a peaceful heart and we are lucky to have his company once again in Minnesota. In a sense he has never left. From afar he has been looking in.
~ mark gardiner
John writes, “My first conference with Robert [Bly] was in 1993. I did a couple of Great Mother conferences with him. For sixteen years we co-hosted the Mentone, Alabama conference and spoke at many other venues. God, it was my privilege!!! I sorely miss our time on the road together.”
Passivity is a compulsion or learned tendency to live at half-speed regarding certain segments of life. Almost no one reading this is “purely” passive, but rather exhibiting passive tendencies which ultimately leave people feeling their life or career glass is half-empty, and thus, they half-heartedly commit to projects, plans, and goals. Passive people are half in and half out of relationships. The passive person who suffers the effects of a half-lived life is attached to not having what they think they want or desire even though they protest loudly this is not so.
A client of mine, James, is forty and a very successful real estate agent who earns a high six-figure income. During a session he said, “I work all the time on my marriage. I’m in therapy, I read books, and I regularly attend self-help workshops. No one can say I’m passive.” When asked about his marriage he quickly replied, “I want more physical contact, more touching. and yes, more sex, but I hardly get any at all.”
James wants his wife, Brenda, to be more affectionate and yet he indulges in a whole host of behaviors that guarantee he won’t get this and actually gets him just the opposite of what he thinks and says he wants.
I asked him to give me an example of his efforts to get affection from his wife so I could see and show him his passivity and addiction to not having what he says he wants. James said, “I go into the living room all the time and Brenda is on the couch watching television for hours on end. I say something like, ‘Can’t you turn that thing off for a little while? There’s nothing intelligent or worth watching on TV. I don’t know why you watch these silly shows,’ but she never agrees, and I end up storming out of the room frustrated as usual.”
I jokingly said, “How’s that working for you?” Then I offered a suggestion. “Try sitting on the living room couch next to her, gently lifting her legs and placing them on your lap while you massage her feet, instead of shaming, criticizing, demeaning, and judging her. Then simply ask her what’s on that you two can watch together.” He looked at me like I was speaking in a foreign tongue; and in a way it was an unfamiliar language because it was the language of compassion and assertiveness. James looked a little dumbfounded. “No, I have never even thought of it. It sounds so simple. Why didn’t this ever occur to me before?” he said very seriously.
Is it because of his passivity and his fears of rejection, abandonment, and intimacy?
By the way, he tried my suggestion the very next week, and told me: “We got up off the couch ten minutes after doing what you suggested. She looked at me and said ‘Who are you?’ Before I could answer she laughed and said, ‘Never mind, I like this.’ We got up and got in bed and made love for the first time in a year.”
John Lee Looking In
This same man devoted an exorbitant amount of time to reading about relationships and marital counseling. He said he worked all the time on his marriage. But in reality, he thought his wife had the problem and not him. Passivity then is an offense of omission—not doing or saying what you need to, not responding, not accepting challenges, and refusing to take risks—rather than commission, and that is one reason why it has been overlooked by clinicians and writers.
Passivity compels people to wait in a state of suspended animation until something or someone outside themselves “rescues” them from their current circumstances, which would then allow them to have the full life that has been eluding them. This knight in shining armor (whether a person, the world, society, or a supernatural being) is supposed to bring the passive person something they feel they have lost or had taken from them. That something could be hope, energy, love, trust, or faith. It could mean a perfect job, an unconditional lover, winning the lottery, or [retroactively] having good parents. It is a psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual condition that plagues even the most educated and self-directed people, and therefore, the whole person must be addressed.
Passivity pushes people to replay the feelings and memories they’ve stored in their brains and bodies possibly for decades. One of those feelings is the feeling of “Not Having What We Really Want or Need.”
~ John Lee
* * *
A Thunderstorm in Mentone – a Poem for my Father
The wind is different tonight.
The leaves on the trees move easily.
Summer rain cleans the horses
grazing the wet grass in the pasture
across the road.
I saw lightning for the first time
in months. It looked like a ragged
tuning fork, and I felt the thunder
roll through my body.
Today, in a house a hundred miles
away I saw my father for the first
time in ten years.
He sat beside me with his bare shoulder
against mine as we looked at a map.
Years ago I would have wanted more to
happen and felt a disappointment,
but this meeting moved easily.
A part of me – the part that always wanted more
felt cleaned. The lightning comes
down in straight lines and then
separates into its tines. A tuning
fork is like that too.
We talked about mileage; then
he showed me the peas he’d grown in his
This is the most affection I am going
to get, I thought.
Today, this amount of affection was finally enough.
~ John Lee / published by John Lee Books and Seminars
For further information and insights into passivity please see John’s book
The Half-Lived Life
John’s latest book,