Community Profiles, Connect
Editor’s Notebook: A Conversation with John Gray
In a cardboard box full of books at a Sugar House yard sale last Saturday, I noticed a copy of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, by John Gray, a best-selling book about innate differences in men and women and how they can learn to communicate better. It, or one of its many siblings, is a book commonly found at yard sales. After all, 50 million copies have been sold; I figure at some point a person either “gets it,” or gives up; either way, the book then becomes superfluous.
I asked the 40ish woman whose sale it was if she had read it, and she nodded. “I was raised with the notion that men and women were pretty much the same. Then I read that book and a lot of stuff started to make sense. It was much closer to my actual experience.”
A few days later I asked a younger friend if she had read it. She said no, but her parents had. “It changed their lives,” she said, with a look of awe. “It was like a light bulb went off in my dad’s head. He stopped being a jerk.”
I, myself, had just started reading Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance: The key to life, love and energy (2010) —Gray’s latest, excluding three more volumes recently published online. The book felt… popular. After a few pages, I started skimming. There was a lot of repetition. Yeah, yeah, I get the point….
But within a few days, I noticed “John Gray says…” slipping into a lot of my conversations. And “you should read this book….”
The privilege of being publisher is that I get to do cool stuff like… talk to John Gray. I phoned him at his home in California and we spoke for an hour.
Expectation: I didn’t suppose I would like him all that much.
Reality: It was like talking to a good, old friend. In fact, in a way it was like talking to myself. Turns out John Gray and I were born on the exact same day, of the same year, in the same time zone, three and a half hours apart. We’re practically twins. And—no surprise—he has excellent communication skills.
Mars/Venus, first published 22 years ago, was 10 years in the making. I asked him how he thought relationships between the sexes have changed since he began researching the book—and how his work has evolved to engage with these changes.
“Then, we were just moving into more women in the workplace. Girls were growing up to realize they were going to have more independence than previous generations.” As a result, women are facing greater challenges of balancing their work life with their home life. “That changes the dynamics between men and women and we see stress levels going up as a result. An intimate relationship can be one of the best ways to lower that stress level—or it can increase it if we don’t understand the dynamics of what men and women need under stress. My purpose, now, is to assist men in understanding better how to support their partners in coping with the stress of their lives; women can also help men.”
The big difference in his work is that, till recently, it was based on empirical evidence—lots of it, but still, it was story-based. In recent years, however, scientific research is bearing him out. Oxytocin’s effect on the female brain, and the effects of testosterone on the male brain, form the main point of Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice. Men and women’s brain chemistry is different. Different behaviors are required to stimulate positive responses.
Gray’s book is slim on scientific reference, but google “oxytocin” and you’ll see he’s on the right track. From Medical News Today, June 4, 2015: “Scientific research has…uncovered brain oxytocin’s specific ability to modulate social behavior, including effects on motherly care and aggression, bonding between couples, sexual behavior, social memory, and trust.” Those folks (and there are many) who criticized his work for simplifying complex behaviors may have an intellectual point, but it may not be as complicated as they think.
Gray is also clear on the importance of completing past relationships, which opens the door for the better relationship to come forth. “Understand what went wrong, with forgiveness and acceptance. As long as you have unresolved issues with a past relationship, that door will remain closed; we’ll tend to avoid involvement, or to find someone we can go through the same issues with again till we’re able to make peace with the mistakes of the past. That closes that door, and we can open a new door and find true and lasting love. Of course, it would be naive to think that true and lasting love is automatic. Every relationship has its ups and downs. The trick is to have the skills to come back into love.”
I asked what life experiences informed his career path: How did John Gray become John Gray?
“What made me successful is my spiritual relationship as a foundation for having a personal relationship,” he said, succinctly. He spent most of his 20s as a celibate Hindu monk in the service of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, practicing TM meditation sometimes as much as 16 hours a day. “I was able to come to a place of love, feeling fulfilled in myself. I stopped being a monk to help my brother who was bipolar. That’s when I went to California to study psychology. And that’s when I discovered I had this talent for counseling. When you feel fulfilled within yourself, your tendency to judge others is less.”
John Gray will be in Salt Lake City for a private Q & A Session on September 11 and a seminar on “Venus & Mars in the Modern World,” 9am-3:45pm at the University of Utah on September 12. Reservations for the dinner and tickets for the seminar are available at www.RisingPathways.com
Greta Belanger deJong is the editor and publisher of CATALYST. Greta@CatalystMagazine.net.