Monday, October 27, 2014

What Hope Looks Like

Sometimes I find it easy to lament the speed at which life happens. Today with easy travel and constant connectivity, time certainly can get to feeling compressed.  

We've been compressing time for as long as there has been time.  Poetry, prose, movies, plays...all of them compress time.  What takes days, weeks or years to happen in reality gets compressed into easier-to-handle slices of time.  Things like love or hope become a little stereotyped so that readers or viewers can recognize them clearly and quickly.  But in reality, things like hope and love happen all the time, but not nicely compressed and laid out for easy consumption. 

I recently had a bit of an epiphany that made me feel better. A little.  I was re-reading a book, written by a close acquaintance of mine, Pat Jobe.  In this 2008 book, Falling In Love With Everything: A memoir, but mostly made up, hope happens at normal life speed in the early part of Chapter 21 (reprinted here with Pat's consent).

To set this up, this is one of a series of conversations with Tinkerbell Starbelly, who is Pat's somewhat real, somewhat made up sweetheart /muse/nemesis.  Throughout the book, she seems to want desperately to validate his falling in love with everything, but just can't seem to get herself to buy it.

Tinkerbell Starbelly and I decided to play a game.  We sought ways to disprove my love for everything.  We drove across the James Island bridge from the south into Charleston and looked out on the spot where the Ashley and Cooper rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean.

“You are not, you could not possibly be in love with children living in refugee camps in Rwanda because their parents were chopped to death with machetes,” she told me as we looked out on all that ocean, those sailboats and that lovely city by the sea.

"Would I prefer they not have camps to live in?" I asked her. 

“You would prefer that they had their parents and the war that killed their parents had never happened,” she said.

“Yes, but I don’t have that power, do I?  I can’t make that happen.”

“No, but you certainly can’t be in love with the fact that it did happen,” she insisted.

“So what is the better chose?  How do you react to children in a refugee camp in Rwanda?” I asked.

It makes me sad, frustrated, angry, afraid something like that could happens to members of my own family or friends,” she said.

“And what comes of your sadness, frustration, anger and fear?” I asked.

“I participate in the broad discussion of the issues.  I support organizations that are working for a better world for those children.  I let people in my church know of efforts being made by others in our larger church family,” she said.

“Sometimes I do those things, too.  So, how are we different?  I fall in love with children in refugee camps and do what I can to help them.  You feel sad about children in refugee camps and do what you can to help them.  How are we different?  Being in love with everything doesn’t mean I have to be so overjoyed with any injustice that I ignore it or refuse to do anything I can to set things right.  It simply means I draw energy and strength and joy from being in love with everything.  Besides, being in love with everything does not preclude some sadness or even righteous anger at injustice.  Being in love often gives me the energy to feel whatever sadness or anger I need to get through a tough place.”

“Ok, that sounded almost normal, reasonable, practical,” she said.

“Don’t go all soft on me,” I teased.  Her eyes narrowed like she might slap me.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Birthdays Cakes

Everyone is so focused on quality of life these days.  

Although I am sure that I would not want a long life of low happiness (happiness is a stand-in for quality).  I also am pretty sure that the whole James Dean thing is a bunch of crap, too.

I heard a comedian once wonder what might have happened had Martin Luther King not been assassinated.  Would he have pulled an Alex Trebek, or a Henry Winkler and be hocking life insurance or reverse mortgages on underproduced TV commercials?
"Hello, my name is Martin Luther King Jr.  You may remember me from such events as my "I Have a Dream" speech.  Have you ever considered what financial affect your absence would have on your family?"
And so what if he had? Long life and happy life are not mutually exclusive. Life full of birthdays.  With candles and birthday cake because how many bad days have you had that involved birthday cake?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Post-Marked Everywhere, Always

Hello, everyone

We're sorry we've been away for so long.  Far from here, they have a game that puts cricket to shame in terms of how long it takes to play.  Being rather time-insensitive, we're big fans of it - plus there are the social aspects  (wink, wink).

Anyway, it seems you've been busy while we've been gone.  We missed a lot, but they have a condensed version on Netflix, and we did watch most of that.  The crusades seemed a bit over the top, but then again in the grand scheme of things, you certainly seem to have chosen to generally be "over the top".  We would love to have stayed and chatted, know how it is.  However, in the interest of just about everything you know, we figured we'd leave you with a few observations.

First, we have to say that we hadn't considered just how dangerous religion would turn out to be.  Guess that one is on us.  In retrospect, we should probably have seen that one coming.  A few things on that:

     1. Not quite sure how religion has become something used mostly to separate you from each other.  Suppose its not really religion, more fear - religion seems to play more of a scapegoat role.  It is interesting how you've integrated fear into just about everything you do.  We're being polite.  Its quite troubling, actually.  From your perspective, things like saber-toothed cats must have seemed a little over the top on our part, but in our defense, they evolved while we were taking a nap.   Sorry if that set a bad precedent.

     2.  While we're on the topic of fear, the whole heaven thing you've created is quite intriguing.  Honestly, we've never seen that one before.  Hell, on the other hand is quite disturbing.  Have you talked with your therapist about that?

     3.  This concept you all seem to have developed of of being fundamentally messed up is just really, really hard for us to wrap our arms around.  You call it "original sin" and "original suffering".  "All life is suffering"?  That viewpoint tells us a lot about you, but we're not quite sure we're better for knowing.  We had to sit down when we heard it for the first time.  We happened to be in what you call a "pub" in what you're calling "Ireland".   One good thing about needing to sit down in a pub is that we simultaneously understood the purpose of beer, which under the circumstances, seems to be a very good idea.  Almost as good as the afore-mentioned heaven concept.

On another topic, you're not the first we've seen spend so much time and effort developing ways to kill each other.  You are, however the fiirst to do it in tandem with developing ways to kill yourselves.  That's quite baffling, but may also explain beer and heaven.

Lastly, we just love what you did with the Enlightenment.  That was quite a wonderful rebound from your dark ages.  However, you seem to have taken it a bit too far.  Just because you can understand more than you thought you could doesn't necessarily mean that you can understand everything.  We by no means want to steal your hopeful thunder, but let us give you a hint:  you can't.  For that matter, we can't.  Of course understanding that you can't understand doesn't really fit into the whole "scientific method" thing you've developed - which is cute, we must confess.  Its certainly better than what you had before, but it is still quite limiting - just in a different way.

Well, that's all the time we have right now.  We would love to wish you well and enourage you to keep trying, but we're afraid that one group of you will somehow turn any well-wishes on our part into a license to punish or annihilate other group(s).  So we'll just leave it with we'll be back around some time.  Hopefully when we come back, you and Irish Pubs will still exist, and we can talk a few things over a pint or two.  Until then, best of luck.  We'll be rootin' for ya.

Peace and love.


Monday, October 6, 2014

My Tail Wagging Me

"The tail wagging the dog" is a current-day slang phrase that tries to communicate that what we think of as "normal" cause and effect have been reversed.  (Two side notes:  First, whether or not cause and effect can actually be reversed is a subject for a different conversation;  Second Wag The Dog was actually the name of a movie meant to illustrate what this reversed state looks like in leadership.)

For example, the Federal Reserve, which is supposed to be setting monetary policy (cause) to create desired outcomes, mainly in the fixed income markets (effect), largely reacts or catches up to the those very same markets.  The tail wags the dog.

Congress, which is supposed to lead our greatest society on earth for the mutual pursuit of happiness largely reacts to social movements by codifying them after the fact.  Again, the tail wags the dog.

Lastly, we, as a nation, have a foreign policy which does not lead our allies into mutual-benefit international relations so much as react to what seem to be a increasing string of surprises.  One more time, a wagging dog.

But it is easy to blame or criticize big nebulous things like the Federal Reserve, Congress and Foreign Policy because they have been designed to be unable to fight back or defend themselves in civil discourse.  For me, right now, my concern is with my tail and whether or not I am wagging it or it is wagging me.  

Some days, I feel like I can be influential, persuasive and wildly participatory in the well-being of those in my circles.   Other days, I feel like a leaf helplessly being whisked down a stream.  I suppose this has always been true, as the song says, some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug.  Its not the realization so much as my reaction to it.  Maybe I'm getting to an age where I don't want to be wagged anymore,  Maybe I'm impatient, or maybe, just maybe, I need to refuse to be wagged just a little more every day.

Either way, I hope wagging can eventually go back to being an unbridled expression of joy rather than one half of a somewhat discouraging cause and effect progression.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Thank You, Saint Anslem, v 2.0

I had previously written a post entitled Thank You, Saint Anslem.  It was about the actual Saint and his theology.

This one is directed with gratitude to the Monks of the Abbey of Saint Anselm College.

When I younger, although we were happy, my family was not affluent [that's putting it rather mildly].  The Monks of the Abbey of Saint Anselm College allowed me to go to school there for four years and earn a Bachelor's degree for pennies.  I was graduated with no student loans.

A couple weeks ago, I was in a discussion with some pretty thoughtful friends and the quesiton came up about spending yet-unearned future lottery winnings, if they were to occur.  I was first to chime in, saying that I would repay the Monks.

One of the other group members called me out on this. 
Says He:  Do you think they allowed you to go to school there for free so that one day you will pay them back?
Say I:  No. 
Says He:  So, then why would you cheapen their gift to you by making it all about the money?
I was unable to respond.  I had no response.  My friend was correct.  I was cheapening my debt of gratitude to the Monk of the Abbey by making it all about money.

If I really want to pay the Monks back - not that I think they're asking for that - what I need to do is live a full life in the service of others, like they do.

They paid it foward, now its my turn.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Time for a Re-Write of the Ten Commandments

God spoke all these words:

I am God, your God, who watched you wander around and generally be mean to each other while simultaneously trying to figure out how things work.  Now, post-Newton, post-Darwin, my hope is that you’ve come to figure out these Ten Really Good Ideas:

1.   Go ahead and worship any god(s) you choose, including me. It’s all the same thing anyway. I'm not afraid of them because I am them.

2.   Your god(s), including me are not reasons to fear each other.   They’re reminders to love each other.  If your god is not a constant reminder to choose love over fear, then you may wish to check yourself and your friends out on that.

3.   Worshiping god(s) doesn’t mean giving up hope in yourself.  It is quite literally impossible to respect god(s) if you don’t first respect yourself.

4.   Teaching loved ones to fear or hate your god(s) is probably not a great idea and will take generations to unravel.  A relationship based on fear is never a good one.

5.   Making fun of your god(s) by using their name in a rude or disrespectful way is sort of a confession that you’re afraid of the unknown.  Take the unknown seriously, but don’t be afraid of it.

6.   Take a break every now and then.   Check in with yourself on your work/play balance.

7.   Be mindful of the way you treat those you love.  Even though they are not perfect and they don’t necessarily deserve your unconditional respect, you deserve to not bear the burden of having to withhold yourself from them.

8.   Be nice to each other.  Don’t murder anyone for god’s sake.  Also, don't break your commitments to your loved ones.  Ask before you take something that might not be yours already.

9.   Only you can make you happy.  Stuff and other people can’t make you happy.  Wanting it badly can drive you nuts and should probably be avoided.

10.For god’s sake, don’t be boring, tedious or pedantic.  You know you don’t like those sorts of people, why would you be one yourself?

This I can tell you:  “Don’t be afraid. The great sin is sinning against your own conscience.  Be true to yourself while keeping these Really Good Ideas and you will be at least able to see oneness with everything from where you’re standing."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dear Democratic Party

Dear Democratic Party and Assorted Candidates,

Thank you so much for all the wonderful e-mails - as many as twelve per day - more if something significant happens to be going on.

I'm not an advertising executive - I'm just a slightly less than average "bloke" - however, I thought it might be beneficial to share my thoughts - and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone here - about your e-mail campaign(s).  I'll just number them to keep my thoughts straight.

1.  About the volume.  The sheer number of e-mails is astounding.  Where do you ever find the time?  I have all I can do to send out the few a day I manage.

2.  About sharing my e-mail address amongst yourselves.  Thanks, but just because I send $25 to Equality Maine, it might not mean that I want to also send money to every other Democrat who ever ran for every race in Maine, mostly because I live in South Carolina.

3.  I'm just speaking for myself here, but the fact that some or one of those other guys or maybe the whole bunch:

     a) Are people you don't like;
     b) Are about to do something you don't think is a good idea;
     c) Are evil;
     d) Are well funded;

Doesn't motivate me to suddenly choose to exceed my political activism budget.  It motivates me to think ugly thoughts about those other guys, and I'm honestly a little flush on that.

4.  What would motivate me to exceed my budget is not who you are, per se, but what you're going to do with the money.  Simply stating that "they" have more than you doesn't necessarily ring my bell.  Also, it kinda makes me think your plan doesn't extend much beyond "please send money".

5.  Does anyone actually believe that if they donate $5, they could win dinner with President Obama?  Seriously?

6.  While I'm on the topic of President Obama, how big exactly was that birthday card?

7.  One more thing about President Obama.  I seem to remember from Junior year in high school that two terms is pretty much the end of the old rainbow in terms of being President.  So, why are you asking me to send money to his election fund?  Is he thinking maybe of running for Alderman or something?  Dog catcher?

8.  I get the whole idea of having one person send me an e-mail to ask if I got someone else's.  But you should probably wait more than an hour or two.

9.  Again, just talking for myself, but is anyone actually buying the concept of a political fundraising emergency?

10.  Are there seriously no Democratic Party equivalent for the Koch bothers?  Tell me about them.  I'd love to hear about them.  I might seriously exceed my political contributions budget if I knew I wasn't alone.

So, that's all I've got right now.  Best of luck.  I'm rootin for ya.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why I am a Socialist

I have decided after a long period of evaluation, that I am a Carter/McGovern Democrat.  But the Democratic party has left souls like mine behind, leaving us to find our way to greener pastures, like the one in which I now graze - the Democratic Socialists of America. 

President Carter came to office during a very difficult time.  Sure, they're all difficult.  Nobody is saying that Roosevelt had it easier, although he had the war as an economic engine.  Carter didn't have to drop an atomic bomb or declare any wars.  However, Carter didn't really have an economic engine, and he knew it.  We had consumerism and a very high expectation of delivering lots of goods and services at very low prices - prices over which we had lost control.

His malaise speech - the very speech that probably ended his chances at a second term - will go down in history of one of the most important speeches ever ridiculed and ignored by so many. Nobody wants to be told to turn down the thermostat and tighten our belts a bit.  A plan based on austerity is for other people, not Americans.

A few years before that, McGovern tried to get us to believe in the power of the American spirit.  McGovern believed that we could take care of everyone first and still have enough energy, innovation and productivity to earn and hold the world's admiration - all boats would rise in America's rising tide.  He too was ridiculed - winning only 17 out of 537 electoral college votes in his loss to Richard Nixon.  He even failed to win his own state - a state which had sent him to Congress 3 times by the time of the election.

Some 30 years later, Carter/McGovern democrats like me are few and far between.  We've mostly been branded as "liberals", a term which has become a dirty word.  In 2008 Obama talked of hope and the mostly dormant Carter/McGovern genes awoke and we sprung to our feet.  But a term and half later, we've sat back down, victims of yet another hoax. 

America's prosperity has been and will continue to be for a short time more, largely policy-driven.  America's world leadership is based not on admiration and collaboration, but fear. Sustainable and beneficial leadership cannot emerge from fiddling with the rules and playing the bully.  Those tactics can work for a while, but they will eventually flame out, as we are flaming out now.  If we are unable to pay for our Empire, I don't think anyone else needs us enough to come rushing to our rescue. Many have followed our lead and find themselves now needing to pay for years of keeping up with the Jones'.

So, in the end, it turns out that Carter's interdependent realism and McGovern's strength of spirit have left the Democratic party.  In its place remains merely a different view of how to fiddle with the rules and where to spread fear and where not to.

The Democratic Socialists are small, scattered and barely organized.  But unlike the what's left of the Democratic party, it speaks my language and I believe them when they talk.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Labor Day Prayer

Here we find ourselves again on Labor Day.  A day to remember those who the history books probably forgot.  No last names synonymous with a New York Stock Exchange companies, no monuments to their individual contributions, no chapters in text books.  The many have a tendency to become the one on days like today.

I will hold dear in my heart those specific individuals from whose work I now benefit.  I will list them by name in my thoughts as I barbecue or putter about the yard.  I will hold their commitments to themselves dear and reflect on how their work moved time all the way to today.

Happy labor day to all of them and to everyone whose committments to themselves and to their loved ones are moving time right now.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Separation of Church and State

Say I:           You know, one day if I ever do manage to serve as a minister, I may run for political office.

Says He:       You can’t do that!  That would violate the separation between church and state!

Say I:           I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t.

Says He:       (a little more emphatically than before).  Damn straight it would!  No minister can serve political office.

Say I:           Pretty sure that’s not accurate.

Says He:       Well, even if you could, nobody would vote for you.

Say I:           Why not?

Says He:       Because you’re a minister!  Would you wear the collar?

Say I:          (after a few seconds thought) Probably not while I'm working as elected official.

Says He:       Doesn’t matter.  Nobody would vote for you because you were a minister.

Say I:           Because ministers can’t be active in civic society.

Says He:       Right.  Separation of church and state.  Period! No iffs, ands or buts about it.

Say I:           What about the priesthood of all believers?

Says He:       What does that mean?

Say I:           Well, many Christian - specifically Protestant Christian - religions believe that all believers have a duty to minister in their faith. Every believer is a priest.

Says He:       Like which ones?

Say I:           Well, I’m a little shaky here, but I’m pretty sure that’s Lutherans for sure, and I think Presbyterians, but I have to admit I’m not always super clear on some of the difference between the denominations.  Anyway, if they’re all supposed to be functioning as priests, does that mean we can’t invite any of them to serve in secular government?

Says He:       Don’t be stupid. Its only real ministers who can’t hold elected office.

Say I:           And why again is that?

Says He:       Because they all have an agenda.  They’re all pushing their religion on everyone else and that’s not right.

Say I:           So, you can’t separate a minister from his or her religion?

Says He:       Of course not.

Say I:           But you can separate a non-minister from theirs.

Says He:       Yes. They know how to separate church talk from regular talk.

Say I:           (after a few seconds of consideration) Maybe you’re right then.  I pretty much am the same way in church as I am in the rest of my life.

Says He:       Exactly.

Say I:           Well, you’ve made your point.  Maybe not the point you’d hoped to make, but you’ve made a point.

Says He:       Right.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Commie Bastards

Says He:        Ending war.  You’re an idiot.  Wars are necessary.

Say I:              They are?  Why?

Says He:        Because everyone wants our stuff.  We have to protect our freedom.

Say I:              Oh.  So, is it our stuff, or our freedom that we’re protecting?

Says He:        What’s the difference?

Say I:              Well, I guess that’s a matter of interpretation.

Says He:        What the hell does that mean? You don’t need to interpret freedom.  You either have it or you don’t.

Say I:              I’m pretty sure it’s not that simple.

Says He:        Damn straight it’s that simple.  You’re either free or you’re not.

Say I:              And freedom means you have stuff that you want to protect.

Says He:        What does that matter to it?  I guess.  I guess if you’re not free, then you can’t own anything.

Say I:              Well, we’re going to have to disagree on what freedom is all about, but back to war, just for a minute.  So, what you’re saying is to keep your stuff safe, and to keep your ability to have stuff, you think it’s a good idea to send total strangers to kill other total strangers before they can take your stuff or slow down your ability to get stuff.

Says He:        Damn straight. Americans!

Say I:              Ok.  That’s what I thought you said.  Just checking.

Says He:        You and your commie bastard friends are all the same.  You all think you know what’s right for everyone else.

Say I:              I can see your point.  I can see how I would be a threat to you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Effect of Weak Language

One more thing on Robin Williams, then I will leave it alone, at least publicly.

It seems to me that we have chosen a weak path in our choice of language when it comes to mental "illness".  I'm assuming this is out of some societal or self-placating fear of confronting our uncertainties on the topic.  Whatever the cause, it should be reconsidered.

In the 1980's the medical community shifted their language from the rather spelling-bee sounding "hyperglycemic" to the much more matter-of-fact, and scary sounding "pre-diabetic" to name the exact same medical condition.  This is one clear indication that at least some parts of the medical community understand that use of language can have clinical benefits.

However, when confronting the deadly syndrome that ends the life of so many, now including Robin Williams, we tenaciously stick to the weak "depression".  The reason "depression" is a weak clinical word is because it doubles as an everyday word.  We've all been "depressed" from time to time.  Very few of us need medical help.

Can I suggest that it is finally time for us to change our language? Medically-serious depression needs its own "pre-diabetes".  Let me offer a starting point:  Acute Dissociative Perception Syndrome.

     "Robin,  it seems to me as your doctor that your depression may be getting worse."


     "Robin,  it seems to me that your symptoms indicate that you may have moved from simple depression into having Acute Dissociative Perception Syndrome, which is a different thing altogether and needs different treatment."

I know the medical community can do better than that.  Anyone who knows how I can share my thoughts with them, please let me know.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


I don't normally post on Tuesday's but the world lost Robin Williams yesterday.  That merits a post.

I spent last night in my hotel room watching YouTube clips of Robin.  With Craig Ferguson (my favorite), with Whoopie Goldberg.  Doing stand up.  I went to sleep feeling self-conscious about being so affected by the loss of someone I had never met.  I felt rather alone in whatever sense of loss I was feeling, feeling sort of silly about feeling sort of punched in the gut about the loss of a complete stranger.

This morning, I read the newspaper articles.  I started to feel reconnected. I'm terribly disconnected from pop culture, so I was relieved to see that I was not alone in...I guess grief, to give it a name. Sense of loss.

After work, I popped open Facebook and the blogsphere and I was amazed.  Among my circles and my circles' circles, folks had been processing all day.  People I love owning their own battles with depression, supporting each other, being real.  It was cathartic.  I'm still ringing like a bell.

But for me, the reality is a little more detatched than his and our "stuff".  Its  more about the sense of loss I have over the vacancy in the role he played.  It's the vacancy for me that is the punch in the gut.  

All I can say is that I get it.  Not so much the suicide part, but the unbearableness of it.  I can't touch it like he could.  I wish I could.  I so, so, wish I could.

Just off the top of my head: Mitch Hedberg, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh, Richard Jeni, Brad Delp (from the band Boston), Freddie Prinze, Ray Combs, Janis Joplin, Edgar Allan Poe, Kurt Cobain join the list of loved ones remembered in the posts of today.

Maybe they were the "normal" ones and we are the ones who are throwing our lives away?

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Legend of the Flying Flip Flop

I sit under an umbrella at what is now the third of five beach-front hotels through which my life's path has wound in the past couple months.  I feel like I don't belong here, and in many ways, I don't, but I'm a little conflicted getting to a point where I can consider this somehow negatively.  And there is always the five-o'clock-somewhere Cuba Libre I'm managing to guiltlessly integrate into my day.

A mother and three beach-aspiring little ones, all four in flip flops and one still in diapers make their way along a wooden path that leads to the beach.  The one in the diaper trips, lands on his hands and all hell ensues.  Diaper-boy is going for the academy award -tears and all. Diaper-boy's two little sisters strategically place their little bodies in a position that subtly states both their neutrality and their concern over the effect of this event on their trip to the beach. I felt terrible for the whole four of them.  

Within a minute or three, screaming diaper boy and his entourage had moved along and the peace had been restored.  The sun had shifted, so I repositioned my chair under the umbrella and now had a clear view of that wooden walking path.

Shortly, (or what passes for shortly under an umbrella on the beach with a five-o'clock-somewhere Cuba Libre) another similarly demographicked family came past on their way to the beach.  This family was not carrying anything at all, which distinguished them from screaming diaper-boy's family, who were beach-bound pack mules by comparison.  One of the second family's members also tripped at roughly the same spot.  This little one also landed on her hands.  In the process her flip-flop went spiraling through the air, landing clear off the walking path.  This flying flip-flop brought great amusement to her, and that amusement spread quickly through the family.  By the time she had recovered her rogue flip flop and returned it to its rightful place, the story - soon to be legend, I suspect - of the flying flip flop had become the central point in the family's conversation as they made their way to the beach.

As they left, part of me hoped that flying-flip-flop-family somehow managed to take their beach position in close proximity to screaming-diaper-boy's family.  And, part of me hoped they landed far, far away.

Monday, August 4, 2014


Says she:  (matter-of-factly)  Look.  The sky is purple.

Say I:          Its spectacularly purple!

Says she:   (after a considered pause)  Sure.

Say I:          Sure!?  You can't just say "sure" to thing like that!

Says she:   (after another pause)  Sure.

Says she:   (after a lengthy slice of silence)  You, know, its really kinda pink.

Say I:           I was just about to say that same thing!  Is spectacularly pinkish purple.

Says she:   (after, what at this point in the conversation must have been an intentional pause)  Sure.

Say I:           You know, that doesn't make it any less spectacularly pinkish-purple.

Says she:   Sure.

Monday, July 28, 2014

$1 Beer Night

It seems like I am not the only one who thought $1 beer night at the ballpark sounded like such a good idea.  The line to get tot the place is really, really long.

The average age of the "baseball fans" tonight seems to be about 21 1/2, roughly, or in more personally relevant terms, less than half my age and not that much older than my daughter, who I love dearly, but with whom, 9 innings of progressive intoxication is no longer my cup of tea.

But, after all, it is $1 beer night.  How bad could it get?  Where do you draw the not-worth-it line on $1 beer night?  How about a band consisting of a drunken trombone player, an asthmatic bagpiper and one of those wind-

up monkey toys that klanks away at a drum and a symbol?

What about too-loud karaoke in a too-small bar - and not the Japanese kind, the American kind?

The natural follow-up to these questions, is of course:  What kind of beer is $1?

Alas, my body turned around and walked away while I considered these things as well as other life mysteries such as whether a trombone player is a "trombonist" or a "tromboner".

Monday, July 21, 2014

Nobody Right, Nobody Wrong

There is an existential argument raging in and about the industry in which I am employed that both in form and in substance is disheartening me.

Both sides have their arguments down almost to the point of cliche.  It is either good, without room for critical reflection and certainly without room for dramatic improvement; or it is bad categorically and should be scrapped and started over from scratch.

Having been around this crowd for 20+ years, I can tell you in factual terms that they are both right, and they are both wrong.  In making their arguments, both sides can wander from intentionally misleading to mindful (or mindless) blindness to the merits of the other's arguments.

Unfortunately for everyone else, the dualistic, polarized shouting matches of this sort have become the norm.  Discourse doesn't happen much these days.  Discourse has been left to loud displays of categorical, unyielding, and - it would seem - intentionally confrontational side-choosing. It just seems that in more and more critically important societal conversations, the only voices we get to hear are the unyielding ones.

The argument going on in my industry is societally relevant, and I would say critical.  To make it into something that can be yelled about, it has been turned into simplistic black-and-white components, leaving non-specialist stake holders and observers feeling the primal urge to chose from black or white, failing to consider the grays because those voices are drowned out.

Compromise is not always a good thing, but the complete absence of compromise can be equally destructive.  At least compromise follows discourse.  Winner-take-dualism is killing discourse. 

As a society, we wander along, declaring a "winner" and swiftly moving along to the next loudest topic, failing to reflect on the effect of our decision.  Governance becomes not much more than a jousting match with the prize of prudent governance being replaced with victory laps for the "winners".  Those governed end up the innocent bystanders.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Superman Effect

It seems that in every town, in every county in every state, some time around this time of year, a few kids - out "just being kids" - die in some seemingly pointless, probably at least partly self-induced tragedy.
It happened to me just a month out of high school.  One of my friends, seemingly out of nowhere killed himself and another was killed by the reckless driving of her boyfriend.

Was she experiencing a thrill as they came down that hill and slammed into that retention wall?  We never found out.  

This week, it was my town's turn.  My freshman daughter knew the kids, even hung out with them.  When you see the site of the tragedy, a seasoned driver knows that something isn't quite right.  It seems impossible to accidentally hit  that tree, so far from the road.

But, alas, another passage of summer. For some, a devastatingly permanent passage.  The pain is palpable.  And yet, the teenage years seem to inevitably be a time of life for most people when we, groping for the boundaries of our own independence, are able to raise the stakes without yet understanding the contra side of the trade.

This phenomenon of being adult-sized in body but still kid-sized in mind and experience seems to be addressed mostly - in of all places - driving schools.  There, they call it the "Superman Effect". 

The "Superman Effect's" can't-happen-to-me definition make it painfully and unfortunately circular and cuts it off from external intervention.  The only person who can shut down the "Superman Effect" is the individual.  I can't shut down yours, you can't shut down mine. 

Meanwhile, another summer, in another town, in another county, in every state passes by.  I guess the freedom we like to talk about here really does have its price. It is truly tragic that no matter the age, that price is so often paid by people who don't understand the trade they're in.

Friday, July 4, 2014

An Independence Day Prayer

Freedom is a funny thing.  We all want it for ourselves, but we’re a little less keen on it for others.  Truth is, we like to restrict other people's access to activities that bother us.  We’ve even been known to stretch safety concerns to get our way. 

We embody this conflict in our language.  The difference between a “freedom fighter” and a “terrorist” all depends on where you stand.  The party is either “rockin” or “disturbing the peace”, again all based on perception.

It gets pretty mellow and fuzzy when you’re dealing with people one-on-one.  Where is the line between compassionately wrestling self-destructive freedom from someone and anxiously standing around and watching them be freely self-destructive? 

Is freedom really as sacrosanct as our ideology needs it to be?  

In Southern Africa, there is a philosophy of community called Ubuntu.  I would call it a theology.  Roughly translated, it means “I am because We are.”   That would seem to fly in the face of disengaged anxiety that seems to be the response to watching self-destructive freedom.  Uncritically prizing individual freedom over collective freedom the general welfare at higher risk.

I am left feeling that we all we can do is engaged compassion.  The truth is, one person can’t make another person do or think or say anything that’s meaningful or sustainable, no matter their age or physical status.  All you can do is support them, even when they use their freedom to attack themselves.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Great, Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals

If you have accommodated yourself to have low expectations, then the only thing that will happen is that expectations will get lower.  

What you focus on, does in fact, truly grow.  It is a goofy little Buddhist mantra, but that doesn't make it any less true. 

A focus on getting by; avoiding poor results really only has two possible outcomes, both negative.  The first is the desire of avoiding the negative takes over the desire to attain the spectacular.  When poor results occur, the focus will shift on making sure to avoid those same results, thus, creating a more myopic focus on the dodging the pain.  The second possible outcome is a redefinition of success.  If negative outcomes can be avoided easily, the bar should be lowered.  Can these low expectations be attained cheaper? Faster? Easier?

The antidote is to focus on Great, Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals.  GBHAG's create the opportunity for more distributed success.

GBHAG's should always be the first thought when the welfare of others in at stake.  In fact, if you have any capacity at all to do so, you have a moral imperative to always keep GBHAG's as a target and walk away from an ethic that thrives by avoiding bad things. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thank Goodness Good People Die Every Day

I was reading an obituary last night.  I didn’t know the person, a friend posted it on Facebook.  Out of some vague sense of concern, I read it.

Turned out it was an former high school teacher of my friend’s.  There were several posts of praise for this teacher.  I found myself thinking:  “Its too bad that good people die every day.”  The thought came and went and I didn't think too much more of it.

A little later, that thought came back to me.  Apparently, it wasn't done with me yet.  I realized that in fact, it is not too bad that good people die every day, rather, it’s thank goodness that good people die every day.  That means that we have a lot of good people.  The more good people who die every day, the more that means that people have lived their fullest life, touched the most people and made the most of their time here with us.
I remember waking up the next morning to learn that Maya Angelou had died the previous day.

It’s not that they die, its that they lived.  Fully.  That’s why I’ll say “Thank goodness good people die every day.”

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Good Question...

My 16 year old daughter, in a discussion about socialism and communism:

"The first time it came up in class, the teacher read the definition 'an economic system which favors equality and insures everyone has access to the resources they need' or something like that.  I laughed because I thought the teacher was making a joke.  What's so bad about that?"

Good question.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Environments of Trust 4

My last three posts have addressed my feelings and experiences regarding trust characteristics in groups of individuals. To summarize:
  1. Trust environments are recognizable;
  2. Trust environments are definable based on the behavior patterns of individual members of the group;
  3. Trust environments are self-sustaining and self-enhancing;
  4. Trust environments can be changed.
As lame as this may sound, I think effecting a movement toward trust in an environment is so important that it means having to make personal sacrifice.  Avoiding low-trust behaviors that spring up from time to time in high-trust environments is a matter of calling out the unwanted behavior.  In strong, high-trust environments, this process is natural and is often facilitated by the offending party:  "Oh, gosh, that was terrible for me to say, I'm sorry."

But in low-trust environments where apologizing can be dangerous, self-correction is rarely the case.  It takes an individual effort, often at individual peril (not to physical harm, but to group membership).  Small, intentional personal shifts are the only beginning point as trust cannot be legislated.

Self-awareness is the key to these smaller personal shifts.  Someone who may have survived in a low-trust environment/relationship will be able to make a transition into functioning in a high-trust environment.  However it is really, really hard to get someone whose senses are trained to a high-trust environment to get comfortable in a low –trust one.   High-trust environments are like bells – they are very hard to unring.  Friends who all of a sudden get “bossy” and ultimatums are both examples of breeches of trust.  That’s why we’re so offended by them.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Environments of Trust 3

My last two posts have addressed my feelings and experiences regarding trust characteristics in groups of individuals.    To summarize:
  1. Trust environments are recognizable;
  2. Trust environments are definable based on the behavior patterns of individual members of the group;
  3. Trust environments are self-sustaining and self-enhancing.
This time, I'd like to address where I personally get stuck and am currently stuck:  effecting change in low trust groups.

I have found that shifting environments starts with smaller personal shifts and personal choices.  A propensity toward a low-trust behavior such as judgment (a common behavior in low-trust environments), will become “uncool” if there is no buy in from the group and therefore no trend.
Conversely, acting as though you are in a high-trust environment when you're really in a low-trust environment can make you appear to be out of touch, and loose credibility. Breeches of trust are easy to recognize and in a high-trust environment, but breeches of non-trust in a low-trust environment are hard to pick up on, especially by people surrounded by an atmosphere of low-trust.
Next time...effecting change...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Environments of Trust 2

Last time, I wrote about my feelings and experiences regarding observations of group activities and their indications of trust.

I have found that activities I mentioned as either characteristics of low-trust or high-trust environments tend to lead to more activity in the same column. Essentially, among otherwise healthy individuals, trust breeds trust and the lack of trust breeds a continuation or acceleration of the lack of trust. 

So environments in which bragging is a common practice also tend to also favor blaming.  Conversely, environments that celebrate success also tend to be much more collaborative when it comes to fixing problems. 

Next time...breaking patterns....

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Environments of Trust 1

One of the characteristics of high-trust environments/relationships is an ability to talk both positively and negatively in a group setting in balanced and beneficial ways.  Doing this makes many people uncomfortable. 

Books such as Crucial Conversations give each of us more tools to engage in ways that increase the probability of positive results – how to function in high-trust environments/relationships.  Here are some characteristics of high- and low-trust environments/relationships:

High Trust Environment                    Low Trust Environment
Celebrating success                             Bragging
Fixing sources of failures                      Finding blame
Asking for help                                    Suffering in silence
Understanding                                     Judging
Power-with                                          Power-over
Offensive/progressive                           Defensive/protecting
Collaboration                                       Independent Decision-making

Each environment has its proper place.  For so, for example, when the ship is sinking, power-over (Get on the darn life boat!) is preferable to power-with (Do we all agree that  getting on the life boats is a good idea?).  When danger isn’t quite so imminent, such as in business or social groups, I have found that sustainable success will more predictably come from high-trust functioning environments.
Next time...Benefits of Self-Awareness

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Funny how we all see things so differently

Going about my daily activities, I happened to be in the vicinity of a young woman who was struggling to put a lid on a cup of soda.  The lid apparently broke in the process and she made a small-ish mess.  I felt sorry for her, but didn't think much of it as she seemed to have the situation under control, albiet slightly frazzled by the inconvenience.

Then, she said this (explicatives deleted):   “This is all because the environmentalists make them have to make the plastic lids so flimsy.  I wish those environmentalists would just mind their own business.”

She was considering the useable life of a paper cup, lid and straw that would probably span about 10 minutes and complaining about quality.  I'm assuming that the reaction was brought out by frustration over the incident, but I was just not expecting the consideration that the manufacturer of the cup had been mandated to make the utensils flimsy because of pressure from environmentalists.

I was so happy to have been able to get that unexpected refresher of just how wide ranging viewpoints can be on even the very most simple of matters.