Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
January 2019 - Volume 19, No. 1
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Inside / Outside - The Two Places Where We Live

Awhile ago, I was working with a young man (young from my own perspective, being in his upper 30’s). Much of our work has been focusing on communication patterns in his marriage, which was a source of much friction for them. We’d covered a number of the primary patterns and mistakes of marital living, but still there was an edge we just couldn’t access.

Then one week he mentioned he’d come to a realization. Whenever she would mention something, he said he’d instinctively respond in a casually opposing manner, considering that what he was doing was “making some space for conversation.” I asked him if worked; he laughed and said no.

I laughed as well, and then shared what came to my mind. I’d gotten to know her fairly well through his sharing about her through our sessions. She would experience this as opposition and even belittling. He had just come to this realization as well.

To negotiate for Price - an outside-in-the-world gift.

But first, I approached this as a skill. His business was real estate, and he apparently headed his company well. I reminded him that in his business, it was a skill to negotiate a ‘deal.’  If someone offered him say “245”, it wouldn’t do him well to immediately agree.  No, his ‘skill’ would be to counter with a carefully higher figure, and then bargain or ‘haggle’ to an agreeable price. I don’t know much about the real estate business, but that made sense, and he agreed. And I told him that without that skill he wouldn’t have been able to take his family on that Caribbean cruise they’d enjoyed a few months ago - to which he also agreed.

But when he uses that ‘skill’ as a base for inside (domestic) interaction, things can (and often do) collapse. What’s going on here?

Shortly thereafter I came up with the term Enterprise for the outside skill/gift.

Thinking out loud at that moment (and I claim the right to do that since it’s my office…), I came to realize that the primary base for internal (domestic) life would be Safety.

To negotiate for Safety - the inside, within-these-walls, gift.

Safety of self is what the wife of my client needs at home, safety for herself and those she wants to love and protect. She has already endured divorce, being a single mother of three, and having the whole package accepted by a good man with no children of his own. That’s what I and my client had been missing. I think all men and women, regardless of the difference even in traditional roles, want the home to be a place of safety for themselves, as a safe place for children to grow toward an adult (outside) world, and as a safe place for friends, neighbors and guests. In a much older world, and from within my old Celtic heritage, the ‘Law of Hospitality’ was often the highest law, that even an enemy was given a meal and bed. Whatever else needed to be ‘negotiated’ waited till the next day. The greater darkness was always considered ‘out there.’

The Two Fierce Shadows

It’s been said, and often experienced, that wherever there is a great good or a great light, there’s a deep darkness close at hand.[1]

The Shadow of Safety

Here the term ‘Domestic Violence’ comes to mind. The overwhelming fact that a primary place of human safety, the home, is also the place of so much violence. I have come to instinctively see when I’m in a church congregation of any sort, or any ‘normal’ gathering of folks, that probably 20% of the people gathered are or have been involved in some sort of domestic violence. Experts tell me the percentage is higher, but I can take only so much ‘insight.’  

Then there’s what I’ll call over-safety, also considered coddling. I recall a number of years ago some educational folks would make sure everybody won a prize in whatever contest was going on, to avoid any bad feelings on account of low performance.  

I believe it was in the 1940’s when proponents of Freud sought to sanitize the old fairy tales to excise the violence.  This gave rise to the Disney versions of much fairy tale literature. However, subsequent research seems to reveal that children raised on the traditional versions seemed to fare better in adult life.  

The Shadow of Enterprise

The Millennial generation (those reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century) seem to have a general reputation (quite readily observed by myself and others), as having a poorly formed work ethic and a sense of entitlement regarding their expectation within the world of work and employment.  

Correlative to this is a current labor fact that whatever a human’s body can do, there’s a machine that can do it better. And now it’s becoming the same with a human’s brain. From the (19th century) ballad of John Henry to the current plethora of sex enhancement materials on the internet, it seems to be almost a losing battle for the humans.

Returning to my original thoughts

Now let me circle back to my original sense of a household, a marriage, or even within an individual, that a life lived within a balance of Enterprise and Safety, provides an inner human balance for a fuller life.

The balance of Enterprise can be a job, where one’s work is valued, even if only that it provides a wage or some other negotiable currency. More-so that one can be productive, that his or her body and mind can add value to the household, the community, the nation, the world.  

The balance of Safety can be to live within a caring community - be it a relationship, marriage, a family, a neighborhood, a town or city, a church, a club or union, a professional identity, military, an affirming racial identity, a national identity, a sense of larger purpose. And also that this identity or community has gifts or a gift for the larger world. From the bottom to the top of the list, it’s important that we each have and can develop gifts for a larger purpose.  That our ‘belonging’ provides a safety of identity that we are here for a purpose, even if we aren’t clear what it is. For many, it can be just as a ‘Child of God’.

The Balance within a Marriage

Much of my work is with couples - sometimes where a balance of enterprise has been lost.  A partner cannot find work, either because of accident, illness, addiction, incompetence, a shift in the economy or just ‘laziness’. The balance of enterprise goes either to the partner, or to the state, or degradation (the street).

Or (more common for me) the balance of safety has been violated, by violence, infidelity or incest. Or by carelessness, habit, boredom, depression or ignorance. Safety and trust are tightly interwoven, and when one or the other has been violated, the entire structure often has to rebuilt.

Marriages are fragile, that’s why the state and the church are so sensitive to their protection, let alone the concern for children.


I began these thoughts as hopefully a useful mapping of the territory of the marital conflicts that enter my office. 

I don’t know how accurate or ‘true’ this pattern is. No map is ever fully true to its territory.[2] But much of my work with people is to provide useful maps of their world that will help folks navigate what’s going in their heads and relationships. And in such a way as to help them lead a good life, and also be of benefit to the larger world around them - both inside and outside the home.

I’ve been sharing this with other client couples, and it seems to be found helpful. May they be so for you as well.

Pay Attention


[1] The fascinating correlation or opposite is also true:  Wherever there’s a great darkness….  I’ve often enjoyed Steven King for this reason. But that’s for another conversation at this point.

[2] “The map is not the territory.” A statement coined by Alfred Korzybski, Polish Scientist,  (1879-1950).

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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