Not Until Hell Freezes Over

There is a classic piece of human folly which I shall call “Not Until Hell Freezes Over”. It pertains to many things. I suspect that from time to time we have all behaved like a right dickhead, an utter bastard, a lying swine, a two-faced slime, a cheat, an obnoxious know-it-all, a manipulative so and so, a ranting lunatic, a slag or a tongue wagging gossip; to a greater or lesser extent. {I have over egged slightly} Which raises the question what do we do, should we even notice? The problem is one of face. We could attempt an apology promptly before things get out of hand or we could think “Not Until Hell Freezes Over”, especially if we think that we are the wronged one. And it, the situation, gets ever increasingly out of hand. Waiting around for hell to freeze is a bit futile. What we then have is a burr of bitterness that grows and acidifies with time. We may in time feel ashamed and have regrets. But should we do, we summon up our feelings of indignation to bat them away, Not Until Hell Freezes Over will I give him / her the satisfaction!!

If we are somewhat obsessed with “being right”, whatever that means, and slowly it dawns on us we find it difficult to admit we are “wrong” even to ourselves and most especially to others. Not Until Hell Freezes Over will I ever do that!!

Do you get the idea?

Have cued this up:

Do I recognise this “Not Until Hell Freezes Over” motif in myself?

Ultimately who does it harm?

What purpose does it serve?

Transcending Face

Sooner or later and in one way or another we all have to learn a little humility. That may be when someone shoves a colonoscope all the way around to your ileocecal valve, or when you need glasses or a hearing aid. Should we make it that far, some measure of infirmity awaits us all. If we are unprepared, then it is not so easy. If we accept our fate, things run smoother. We may have the pleasure of a catheter and piss bag awaiting us, who knows for sure? But if you are offended by corporeal indignity, it is harder to bear. What gets in the way is our Face or social self-image. We are pretty puny but many act otherwise. Surrounded by the accoutrements of our society and the trappings of our power, we swell. Put a powerful man alone at night in the jungle and you will soon get to see his mettle.

This Face is so very debilitating on many levels and it is something we defend as if it were real and made of the most precious substances in the known universe. And so often we cut off our nose to spite our face. Face gets in the way of love, of friendship and right relations. Our Face is kin to our status, another precious, so like Sméagol we become. Our status and our Face, can be besieged and taken from us. In the jungle or the endoscopy clinic, they are not of much use. Our perspective as social beings does not gel with the wider reality.

We are lucky here, there is not much light pollution and every night, without fail, I step outside and see the sky. When there are no clouds, I see the majesty of the universe. “Behold, Alan, the only thing greater than you!” to paraphrase Roots. Only I know that I am but a gnat’s fart in the cosmic scheme. I have seen the night sky in both hemispheres and dawn on top of Mt. Sinai. That sense of the stupendous, so easily lost in the hubris, grounds one. It sows a seed of some humility, which if nurtured grows. It is poisoned by the toxins of arrogance and pride, it withers easily. And it is by seed of humility that one starts to transcend this Face thing. Metaphorically or in real life, it is no bad thing to kneel and accept one’s limitations.

But until one starts to see how destructive this Face is, there is little if any motivation to do anything about it.

Here are some questions pertaining:

What is the cost of Face to me?

What price has it exacted of me in the past?

What damage have I done to preserve Face?

Wanting to be Right

Being right too soon is socially unacceptable.

Robert A. Heinlein

The previous quotation from an esoteric French manuscript, when I first read it, resonated with me. It still does. Sometimes words in another language can do this, better.

Many people want to be right, whatever that means. They want to “win” the argument, it is a compulsion, and some set much stock on this “being right” thing. It is odd. When they are wrong they don’t usually suffer physical plane death, they may be embarrassed. You can observe when someone is caught in the “I am right” loop, it iterates, and it iterates.

One of the social problems of intuition stems from seeing things too soon. Should you mention them, the “ I am right” do loop starts to execute in the minds of those obsessed by “being right”. Maybe some time later they go, at least if only to themselves, “Alan was right after all”. Rarely if ever has anyone actually said this to me. To do so would be to lose face.

To give an example of this at work. When I was a child in a small mines’ school in outback Australia, not doing so well in school because of my lousy handwriting, it lost marks, a babysitter asked me; “who is the brainiest in your class?”. I told them, “me”. They later told another child in my class what I had said. It got around school and I was tormented as a result. To my knowledge nobody else subsequently taught at a world top ten university from that class. I was, in this context, right too soon.

Similar episodes have played out on numerous occasions subsequently. People are convinced they are right, I say something to the contrary and some form of social penalty for me, follows. Often, though not always, that which I have intuited subsequently falls true. It is no wonder that I keep quiet and became more introverted. When someone is hell-bent on being right they lose auditory capability and the ability to assimilate anything which does not coincide exactly with whatever it is they are “right” about. That “I must win the argument” attitude is strong even if it means them effectively going; “la-la-la-la not listening”, like a child in the playground, metaphorically speaking.

There is no better sure-fire way of offending an already omniscient being than saying something which does not align exactly with their omniscience. I have seen this play out many times. I have something useful to add, stupidly I do so, offence and retribution follows. It is partially because of such dramas, that I find myself here.

A warrior has nothing to defend.

Most people have a huge bunch of stuff, rafts of opinions and their status as an “expert” to defend. Even if this means being close minded. Face and status get in the way.

I have yet to find away around this other than to hold my tongue. I can spot someone who is “wanting to be right” a mile off, these days. Have a look around you, can you recognise such as these? Are you one yourself? In the final analysis does “wanting to be right” bring equanimity, peace or freedom? What do you think? Is it possible to transcend this urge, this compulsion of, “wanting to be right”?

Face and Self-image 2

In the limit of Buddhist thinking these are conditioned things, and unless you are a self-realised Buddha, a Pratyekabuddha as Siddhārtha was, it is unlikely you are in your final conflict with Mara. One could argue about the various “ranks” of being a Buddha if you are fond of classification. He is simply given The to go before. What follows are not definitions, nor classifications, nor exhaustive; they are illustrations only.

Face or social self-image.

This is what you present to the outer world, how you might like to be perceived, the qualities which you may or may not aspire to. It is by way of a public relations statement and one which you may go to some length to prop up and propagate. It has the in-depth veracity of something you might put on a dating site, in an author bio, in a corporate blurb, a job application or what you brag about to your mates down the pub. It is nearly always tending towards superhero and rarely balanced. It is a kind of sales pitch which you do not in fact embody. The less pleasant aspects are redacted. It is not consistent with the entirety or actuality of you.


This is how you perceive yourself to be. It may share some overlap with the above. Yet many have coruscating self-images. It has an often-distorted body image. One may be a superhero in own eyes though not entirely convinced. Or one may be a complete failure pretending to be a superhero. These can be both overly positive and overly negative. It is comprised of all the stories you tell yourself about yourself, good and bad. There are parts sensed but not addressed. It is propped up by the internal dialogue. “I am misunderstood”, “nobody loves me”, “why can’t these fools see?”, “I’ll never be good enough” etc. etc.

How we are perceived by others.

One never truly knows this, suffice it to say it is likely to be inconsistent with both of the above.

True nature

This is to be determined.

People will go to inordinate length to defend and protect their face or social self-image, even when they know it to be a pack of lies. In pretending to be what we are not, we introduce the fear of being found out anxiety. But this Face and social self-image has taken on a new significance in the last few decades or so, thanks to electronic and social media. Public relations are a booming business and even school children are doing bios. This outer hyped up presentation with photos, is everywhere. People photoshop their photos and photoshop their bios. This is a new phenomenon of our times. We are the architects of our own houses, the lifestyle of sales pitch living. If one was for example to put a comprehensive accurate bio on a dating site, I doubt you would get many dates. Guess what, the reality hits home soon enough if the relationship is to go past a quick knee trembler. Almost inevitably our words and our actions do not match. Until such time as they do there is fear, which is suffering.

I do not know of a way around this apparent need for self-promotion and hype if one wishes to partake of the world. People rely on what is written, even when they know that it is likely to be skewed. The shop window, does not match the goods inside. Yet we all do it, to an extent. We want to see other people’s bios. There is a strange disconnect, we read it, and kind of buy it. Subject to this we interact from our mythos with their mythos… It is a bit loony…but everyone does it.

In our bios we make some claims, which we may or may not be able to back up. This is our Face we show to the world. Hence, we have a whole book of Faces, Facebook. You can judge for yourself how imaginary some of the claims people make are.


This is how we identify ourselves. At the moment, I could say that I am an unemployed Welsh, ex-academic, who spends his time blogging and being a house-husband, for example. None of these claims are false. But this identity fails to provide an adequate description of my true nature. This thing, our identity, enables us to find a posture or a position via which we interact with the world. This sense of identity is important, it tells us how we might fit into the world, it gives us a sense of context. We can then, from it, assimilate our world-version. Without a sense of identity, we can feel all at sea. Loss of sense identity is known to cause psychological trauma. In the limit there might be no identity at all or we could take a face from the ancient gallery, as and when we need one. Redundancy, divorce and illness, can all change our identity. Shifting from I am married to I am divorced, freaks people out. It changes the whole outlook and the stories we tell others.

So, we have a Face or social self-image, an Identity, a self-image, how we are perceived by others and our True Nature. Getting to our True Nature ain’t easy. We are rarely what we claim ourselves to be.

Not Losing Face

Quite a while back I used to do a number of personal and team development workshops for Ph.D. students. During these I used to use MBTI, in the sometimes-vain hope of raising awareness. As a part of this I used to ask the participants the ill-defined question;

“In situations of conflict what is your worst fear?”

Around 30-40% of the grouping without fail used to say, “being wrong”, the secondary fear was “losing the argument” followed by the tertiary fear of “death”. All of these self-identified as “T” types. The other part of the audience used to say; “damaging the relationship” and “hurting feelings”. These were the “F” types. The question never mentioned arguments. One “half” was worried about losing face, the other “half” was worried about losing a relationship. Such a simple question split the participants if not down the middle, then at least in two.

I have come to the conclusion that fear of losing face is a major hindrance to learning, to relationship and to world peace. In order to save face people will bomb the shit out of each other. Out goes the chin, a posture is struck, and the button is pressed.

What then is Face? It is another way of saying social self-image. Which is of course yet another one of those conditioned things. The clue is in the name self- image. It isn’t real. Yet people will die for it. They will risk losing a relationship or a loved one over something imaginary. Pride gets in the way. Fear of loss of power that this imaginary face thing apparently confers, prevents them. It is a bit fucked up. But there you go. Many cannot ever admit they are wrong even when the “proof” is strong and high, they will try to brazen it out. Many will lie. If you ever watch one of these “Border Control” TV programmes you will see this in action.  “Why did you tick the no food box?” “I did not think it applied to the ten kilograms of noodles, the two kilograms of nuts etc…in my suitcase.”

This bizarre desire to want to win the “argument” is not uncommon. The fear of losing, isn’t rare. But sometimes in winning there is a much bigger loss than the argument. Is an entire relationship less important than one or more arguments? Discuss….

I am going to come back to Face in more depth tomorrow. But to kick off the thinking a little here are some questions as an excercise:

Am I afraid of losing face?

Have I ever done anything stupid in an attempt to preserve face?

How inventive am I in my efforts not to lose face?

What were the consequences?