Thursday, 3 December 2009

Getting a "Thick Face" - Regaining Your Personal Autonomy

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As promised, here's the first installment of how you can understand and cultivate the profound philosophy of "Thick Face, Black Heart" in your own life. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you MUST read the previous post FIRST.


You probably know that Asians tend to be VERY concerned with matters of face (as in the expression, "saving face"). In other words, reputation means everything to them and what others think really matters. To us in our individualistic culture, this seems a trifle overdone at times and it has a couple of major disadvantages - it means you cede control over your behavior to other people's ideas and standards and it also makes you reactive and highly predictable.

Not surprisingly, "Thick Face" (hereafter "TF") is quite the opposite. It's more like our concept of "Thick Skin". It means you stop caring what other people think or say about you. You stop trying to live by other people's standards and start living by the principles you really believe in.

Yes, at its worst, this could mean you're a sociopath who thinks he's the center of the universe and the fount of all wisdom. Hitler, Stalin and Chairman Mao all had very thick faces. However, consider the following...

Back in the early 1920s, a very enthusiastic young spiritual seeker arrived on Mount Athos, the most important center of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. Despite immense pressure to "settle down" and join one of the large monasteries, to become "one of the crowd", he steadfastly refused. He knew exactly what kind of spiritual life model he wanted to follow and endured lots of abuse for it. And later on, when he was living the life he so ardently sought, he was verbally abused by other monks who condemned him as eccentric and unfriendly, all because he insisted on following a schedule and carefully managing his time and the time of those who had joined him (and that meant, "if you show up when we're praying, we won't stop to talk to you! Hence the reasons others felt slighted by him).

This young monk's name was Joseph... later known as Joseph the Hesychast, one of the great spiritual masters of the 20th century. Joseph's refusal to cave in to the pressures to conform or to surrender the integrity of his lifestyle to criticisms of others are the epitome of THICK FACE.

Politicians tend to have very thick faces. They have to. Of course, not a few of them are self-centered sociopaths who don't care who gets hurt. On the other hand, consider Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King - they were all the object of violent criticism and they all survived and succeeded by having a TF.


By now it may have dawned on you that you can't have a TF without trusting your own judgment. That may sound arrogant, but it isn't always. So let's clear up a common misunderstanding - being humble does NOT mean you cave in to other people's opinions. After all, Joseph the Hesychast's whole life was about cultivating humility, and he never caved in. Humble people do not surrender their principles for any reason. Opportunists do... at the drop of a hat.

Think back through your life. Can you think of times where someone in authority was pressuring you to do something or agree with something you thought was inadvisable or wrong? Looking back on the incident, were you right? Should you have trusted your gut?

When have you been right all along? On the other hand, you need to admit the truth when your judgment has been wrong.

I've been viciously criticized and even plotted against because some people found the "controversial" things I wrote in "The 5 Pillars of Life" totally unacceptable. They would happily have banned the book and had me tossed out of the priesthood of the Orthodox Church.

However, if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's to trust my gut on matters of spiritual life and personal development. I'm so convinced I'm right about certain things to do with the history and development of Christianity, for instance, that all the opposition in the universe won't even make a dent. Now, if someone comes to me with "new evidence" and can prove that I might be on the wrong track, I'll happily listen. This isn't an egotistical thing - it's about what's true and what's not.

And you can probably find a parallel in your own life.

The essence of TF is regaining your personal autonomy, no longer having your life controlled by the opinions of others, by what they think of you or say about you, by the standards of the prevailing culture - standards that always claim absolute truth is on their side, even though they differ from one culture to another and shift over time.

It is NOT POSSIBLE to do anything significant in life if you don't have a TF, simply because anything worth doing WILL bring criticism. People WILL try to drag you down to their level. They WILL be jealous of your accomplishments and rain on your parade. Get used to it now and determine from this moment on to adopt a TF.

Fortunately, everyday life gives you lots of opportunities to practice. Think about it and make a list of what you'll do this week to practice!


Chin-Ning Chu was quite right to call TFBH a "warrior philosophy" in her subtitle. In fact, I'm convinced that the warrior traditions of the world's "Authentic Ancient Traditions" (as I called them in "The 5 Pillars of Life") already contain the essence of TFBH, simply because TFBH describes your natural state once you're rid of all the cultural conditioning that's holding you back.

To learn about the most comprehensive Warrior training program I know, go here:

In the next post, we'll go on to discuss how TFBH can give you COMPLETE CLARITY about what you want to do, and very quickly!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

1 comment:

  1. I love this. I have TF and I've known this for a long time, though I didn't have a name for it. I stick to what I believe in, creating enemies in the process, mainly my husband's relatives, who are all Iranians ( I'm a Filipina). When I first answered them (after 3 years of observing there culture), they saw my true character and respected that to this day. I just know what I am and what I want and I don't care about what others think. My husband once commented that I never say "I'm sorry" to which I replied, "that's because I never try to make a mistake."