There is much in that book I do not understand, but also a lot that strikes me as deeply insightful. One of the most relevant sections for me is about naïveté. I have never considered myself to be naïve, but in the sense Bly uses the word it describes me uncomfortably well. Not all that he says applies, but these extracts are both true and distressing (p. 63ff):
The naïve man feels a pride in being attacked. If his wife or girlfriend, furious, shouts that he is a “chauvinist,” a “sexist,” a “man,” he doesn’t fight back, but just takes it. He opens his shirt so that she can see more clearly where to put the lances. He ends with three or four javelins sticking out of his body, and blood running all over the floor.
He feels, as he absorbs attacks, that he is doing the brave and advanced thing; he will surely be able to recover somewhere in isolation. A woman, so mysterious and superior, has given him some attention. To be attacked by someone you love – what could be more wonderful?
The naïve man will also be proud that he can pick up the pain of others. He particularly picks up women’s pain. ... He is often more in touch with women’s pain than his own, and he will offer to carry a woman’s pain before he checks with his own heart to see if his labour is proper in the situation. I think each gender drops its own pain when it tries to carry the pain of the other gender. I don’t mean that men shouldn’t listen. But hearing a woman’s pain and carrying it are two different things.
We all have special relationships but [the naïve man] surrounds the special person with a cloying kind of goodwill. The relationship is so special that he never examines the dark side of the person. ... He accepts responses that are way off, conspires somehow with their dark side.
Sincerity is a big thing for him. He assumes that the person, stranger, or lover he talks with is straightforward, goodwilled, and speaking from the heart. ... He puts a lot of stock in his own sincerity. He believes in it, as if it were a horse or a walled city. He assumes that it will, and should, protect him from consequences that fall to less open people.
A naïve man acts out strange plays of self-isolation. For example, when an angry woman is criticizing him, he may say, quite sensibly, “You’re right, I had no right to do that.”
The naïve man will lose what is most precious to him because of lack of boundaries. ... He confides the contents of last night’s dream to a total stranger. ... He rarely fights for what is his; he gives away his eggs and other people raise his chicks. We could say that, unaware of boundaries, he does not develop a good container for his soul, nor a good container for two people. There’s a leak in it somewhere.
The naïve man often doesn’t know that there is a being in him that wants to remain sick. Inside each man and woman there is a sick person and a well person; and one needs to know which one is talking at any moment. But awareness of the sick being, and knowledge of how strong he is, is not part of the naïve man’s field of perceptions.
The naïve man often lacks what James Hillman has called “natural brutality.” The mother hawk pushes the fledglings out of the nest one day; we notice the father fox drives the cubs away in early October. But the ascender lets things go on too long. At the start of a relationship, a few harsh words of truth would have been helpful. Instead he waits and waits, and then a major wounding happens farther down the line.
His timing is off. We notice that there will often be a missing beat a second or so after he takes a blow, verbal or physical. He will go directly from the pain of receiving a blow to an empathetic grasp of the reason why it came, skipping over the anger entirely. Misusing Jesus’ remark, he turns the missing cheek.
As a final remark about naïveté, we might mention that there is something in naïveté that demands betrayal. ... When a woman lives with a truly naïve man for a while, she feels impersonally impelled to betray him.