Idiocracy

I had this subtle thought a few weeks back and I admit that I cannot for the life of me recall what happened to put these thoughts in my head but the gist of it was that I took the notion that people are definitely getting increasingly ignorant in this country. Scientific analysis actually confirms this theory, by the way, even more so than I’m comfortable admitting. It reminds me of the 2006 film “Idiocracy” where human evolution and natural selection had taken a seriously wrong turn and began to favor traits that weren’t necessarily the strongest, fittest, smartest or noblest. Evolution began to reward those who procreated at the highest rates and left the intelligent to become an endangered species.

To give you some idea of what to prepare for when you rent this movie on Netflix, here is some representative dialogue from the character Doctor and the movies’ Narrator: Doctor: “Don’t worry, scrote. There are plenty of ‘tards out there living really kick-ass lives. My first wife was ‘tarded. She’s a pilot now.” Narrator: “Unaware of what year it was, Joe wandered the streets desperate for help. But the English language had deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valleygirl, inner-city slang and various grunts. Joe was able to understand them, but when he spoke in an ordinary voice he sounded pompous and faggy to them.”

Oh yeah, now I remember why I had these thoughts. My friend Tony was telling me that he’d read a recent study explaining how a large percentage of PhD’s are choosing not to have children. The same study points to the fact that women of high intelligence tend to have fewer children than women of lower intelligence. The conversation surrounding that study talked of the doom and gloom associated with that type of decision and how stupid people never seem to concern themselves with the logical considerations of having children they cannot afford to support, they just keep having more. Thus, the conversation evolved, sufficient inspiration is galvanized, voila é blog.

Then, when I began doing research for this particular blog I found out all kinds of things that made me wish I’d just wrote about ISIS or politics or anything less controversial. It seems that one of America’s foremost testing agencies, the Educational Testing Service, released a report about ten months ago that was quite shocking for me to read to say the least. It demonstrates that adult Americans, regardless of educational achievement are, as a group, less literate with respect to both words and numbers, and less capable of solving problems, than their counterparts throughout the industrialized world. Despite all efforts and the trillions of dollars we’re throwing at education, if anything, the problem of low achievement has worsened over time despite the fact that formal levels of educational attainment across the board have risen.

America has a higher emphasis on education than it ever has before, but Americans are, relatively speaking, clueless about the most basic knowledge needed to communicate effectively and make decisions in an increasingly complex market economy. Moreover, the millennials (those born after 1980) know less than their elders. To be a bit harsh, in America, we’re led to believe that the dumb just keep getting dumber. States, including Tennessee (my home State) are proposing dramatic changes to higher education including our own Drive to 55 program which plans to bolster the number of Tennesseans with college degrees and professional certificates but will these Euro-styled free educations work here when they’ve been disastrous in Europe?

I say that because in every European country that Emily and I have traveled where free two-year colleges are provided by the government, the locals there repeatedly say that those 2-year higher-Ed degrees essentially become more akin to high school diploma’s – the expected bottom level of achievement – while the value of undergraduate degrees become deeply eroded due to the systematic down-escalator of achievement requirements. Students worldwide are getting educated but are learning less. Higher education in America has mirrored the trend of general education…increasingly inefficient per dollars spent and progressively less effective. The lesson here, if the government gives it to you for free, it’s worth exactly what you’re paying for it.

Whatever is going on, it is having a profound effect on not only the intelligence level of the American population but also its ability to learn, process, reason, and think for itself. Are Americans really getting dumber? Statistics say yes. In 2011, the average American IQ was measured at 88.54. (Average intelligence is estimated to be 89-100.) This means that a large percentage of the American population is now considered below average intelligence! Also in 2011, a benchmark occurrence happened. For the first time in American history our children were less educated than their parents. In other words, as generational families have little by little strived to ensure their children enter and graduate college at higher rates than themselves – throughout the entire history of modern America – for the first time in 2011 the generation entering college shrunk from that of their parents.

Looking at this problem more specifically, among 24 developed countries in comparison, the U.S. millennials ranked surprisingly last in numeracy (along with Italy and Spain) as well as in “problem-solving in technology-rich environments”. The youngest examined, those 16 to 24 years of age, ranked dead last in mathematical ability (along with Italy). Even our “best and brightest” fared poorly. Looking specifically at numeracy, the scores of Americans aged 16-to-34 years ranked in the top 10 percentile of U.S. students taking the test, the score of 323 was statistically below the average of 334, and even more below that of such industrial competitors as neighboring Canada (336) , Japan (342), or Sweden (346).

Worse are those in the bottom 10th percentile. The U.S. numeracy scores for that group for those 16 to 34 were the freakin lowest in the world – no one else was even close. As a consequence, the gap between high and lower performers was far greater in the U.S than in the group of developed countries as a whole, and bigger than in any other nation. Borrowing again from the movie Idiocracy: Private Joe Bowers“…and there was a time in this country, a long time ago, when reading wasn’t just for fags and neither was writing. People wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again!”

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So, is it because we have this growing inner-city elementary and secondary school problem in America that is systematically denying our countries underprivileged of a decent education? No not really. Our problem is way bigger than that. Our suburban, rural and privileged students in America are doing poorly too. The American phenomenon is definitely not a lack of formal schooling – we are above the average in that regard, even with respect to higher education. The problem is we impart less learning per year of schooling than almost all other major nations in the world and colleges are far from immune to these charges. To quote the report verbatim, “U.S. millennials with a four-year bachelor’s degree scored higher than their counterparts in only two countries: Poland and Spain. Our most educated – those with a master’s or research degree – scored higher than their peers only in Ireland, Poland, and Spain.”

So the problem is not simply bankrupt inner-city elementary and secondary schools, where the educational care of students borders on the criminally negligent. The problem also persists in our colleges and universities, where master’s level students with years of collegiate training are far poorer than their industrial world counterparts in such core knowledge as basic numeracy. It’s not just the Degree-Mart’s of the world where you can get online degrees served hot or cold, it’s our state colleges and our ivy-league universities alike. Our children are bringing home 100’s on tests and our young adults are graduating with honors, just like all the others before them, it’s just that the high grade of today’s education system is irrelevant to whether the student is actually learning the things they need to learn.

My grandfather may have done better in chemistry than I did but perhaps it’s easier to memorize a periodic table with 11 elements than it is one with 118. Maybe he was smarter in the ways of science and math but he also thought it was perfectly acceptable for black people to drink out of different public water fountains whereas I do not. My grandfather lived in an era when we believed that Gay men were these unicorn like humanoids who would come out of their cocoons for a few years, marry Liza Minnelli, then disappear. I’m being ignorant, of course, but I’m trying to point out that there are plenty of areas where I believe Millennials are far and away smarter than the people we’ve coined “The Greatest Generation”. Yes we’re becoming more tolerant and that is a wonderful thing but what important data is being pushed out our ears as all this emotional intelligence is being added to the top.

We have to ask ourselves why America is doing so poorly. It is definitely NOT lack of money. Our spending-per-pupil levels compare favorably at the K-12 levels, and we blow the world away in per-student higher education spending. In part, the answer relates to a growing disdain for learning facts, basic concepts, historical references, etc. It is reflected at the collegiate level in a decline in the relative importance of general education, and of core liberal-arts type learning. The “self-esteem” movement and the idea that we should not say anything “hurtful” to students is a further manifestation that education is increasingly viewed as less about learning and more about “feelings.” Everyone is a winner in my school – not to say that you guys are losers or anything.

We suffer as a country for much of the same reasons. The same political correct movement that teaches us that all children should win every game and that self-esteem is what we give children – not what they give themselves – has become so powerful that we can no longer point out potentially socially divisive situations for fear of being ostracized as being insensitive or an ogre, a bigot, racist, homophobe, or anti-Muslim/Christian/Semitic. We’d rather put our citizens at risk of being a target of terrorism than admit that some Muslims might be taking Quran 2:191-193 just a little too serious.

Does this sentence make my Fatwa look too Mufti? Our government, in fear of ostracizing anyone entering our country from an Arab State, creates a system of torture for law abiding citizens at our airports. Background checks on immigrants might make us seem bigoted so please just remove your shoes and underwear for the gloved inspector.

Some studies indicate that the I.Q.’s of Westerners have dropped 14 I.Q. points on average since the Victorian Era. Other studies say that our I.Q.’s scores are rising at a remarkable rate. Could it be that it’s just our genetic potential that is changing or perhaps that we’re being judged today on antiquated standards? I mean seriously, smarts cannot simply be defined as just one thing. What makes a person clever on the African Savannah could be nearly useless in the financial centers of New York City. It’s not just a matter of intelligence going up or down, different parts of intelligence could be changing in lots of different ways.

A 1912 8th grade test from the State of Kentucky indicates that 8th graders once could tell us “through which waters would a vessel pass in going from England through the Suez Canal to Manila?”, or, “How does the liver compare in size with other glands in the human body?”, or, spelling words such as pennyweight and bequeath. But, wouldn’t 8th graders from 1912 be equally stumped if we asked them to explain a DNA sequence or Supercolliders? We’ve come a very long way from barnacles and botany to nanotechnology and wormholes and who uses the word pennyweight anymore?

Our everyday vocabulary alone is full of neologisms, expressing ideas that we wouldn’t have even imagined a few years ago (i.e., Have you Googled it yet?)(i.e., I’m blogging about neologisms.) Although the standards are a moving target for sure, one thing that can be certain is that we very quickly lose abilities when we no longer need them. A great example of that fact is that my own ability to recall telephone numbers in the 80’s was astonishing. Now that I have a robot in my pocket that remembers thousands of numbers and faces, I no longer have the ability to remember phone numbers.

Comparatively, most of us have lost much of what would have been considered to be common knowledge in the 1920’s but I believe our 1920’s counterparts would be equally lost in today’s world. One would have hoped that we would carry over all that previous knowledge into each next generation only adding and building onto base knowledge as we evolve further. But that is apparently not possible. Perhaps our brains are only capable of carrying around just so much information. The Victorians lost what was common of the Baroque Era and they had lost much of the Renaissance standards and the Middle Ages saw mass exoduses of the intelligence from Roman times and so on and so forth.

Now, neuro-scientists refer to our brain’s Amygdala as the reptilian brain only because we know it to hold all of these deep instinctive and intuitional survival mechanisms that we’ve completely lost all first-hand knowledge about. I.Q. is always going to be relative to the society that we live within. Average I.Q. is always going to be 100 no matter how advanced or devolved we become. It is more a measure of “how” you know, not “what” you know – Megahertz not Megabytes. Said differently, a caveman could have had an I.Q. of 180 simply by being the only one who could start a fire. Fire is of course not considered to be an advanced science today but it once was the 3D printer of the Neolithic Revolution.

All that said, it appears we have dug ourselves into this deep dark education hole that we’re going to have to learn more about then teach ourselves how not to teach. One has to wonder about whether all of the most modern educational benchmarks set on teachers by which we’re supposed to be able to measure their effectiveness has spawned educational programming that is designed to disguise the failures of children and teachers.

An example might be that children are no longer required to learn cursive writing. Another example is that we now teach our children to memorize words without actually teaching them what those words actually mean, their derivatives in foundation languages (Greek, Latin, Germanic, etc.) or how the word can be used alternatively. It seems the common denominator among students using Common Core is remedial studies. In my opinion, Common Core creates nothing but commonness.

Another aspect of this so far unexplored is this growing trend of anti-intellectualism, anti-elite, anti-reason and anti-science that has been infused into the modern political and social fabric of America. The greater emphasis we put on acceptance of everything and the stronger we push ourselves away from traditionally conservative value systems the more we feel compelled to join this cult of ignorance nurtured by the false notion that real democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge – my poor conditions are equally as valuable to society as your high standards – my failure to take life seriously has significance that pars your diligence and responsibility to yourself and your community.

We get all caught up in the fight for equality, not realizing that the focus we place on one group shades out the light to other groups. We’ve never seemed to learn exactly how to be kind and respectful to all cultures, groups, ideologies, and religions all at the same time. Today we’re focused on the issue of gay marriage and of course that is an important issue, but, its way more important to gay couples than it is to non-gay couples. That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn and grow as a human being during the discussion. We need to be able to learn, fix things, and then move on without denigrating another’s belief systems in the process.

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Similarly, the issues of race seem to be explosive right now. How on earth, when most white people have no concept of racial inequality, can we be having these kinds of problems in America? I’ll tell you what I believe…education. The collapse of our education system has become the new Jim Crow, incubators of criminal behavior by means of failure and lack of self-esteem. They’re becoming conveyor belts into the nation’s prison system. The stigma attached to felony drug convictions eliminates employment opportunities for those who take this path then we and they are stuck into a life of crime.

So, if you’re black, perhaps you have a different perception of how great things are for black people in 2015. White people are running as fast as they can away from any conversations about race or equality because they’re woefully unprepared and mostly in denial. We just point to affirmative action and ask “what’s the problem?” But, the problem is bigger than that. If things are bad for white kids in suburban schools, imagine how bad it is for black kids in inner-city schools. They’re not the ones using the affirmative action programs. It’s the upper middle class and above black kids that are trying to get into ivy-league schools who are using the affirmative action benefits. Sadly, if you’re reading my blog, I doubt your kids are attending an Ivy-league school so what does it matter?

I’ll admit a bit of cynicism here but doesn’t this breakdown of consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good thing actually put this generation in a position to trust least the people who best know what they are talking about? In this new media age, everybody is an expert. Just Google it. There seems to be this universal suspicion of rights, privileges, knowledge and specialization. We don’t seem to be as concerned with educating people anymore. We just train them to get jobs.

Our teachers are skimming through the most basic elements of curricula without focusing on the one thing that turns aptitude into intelligence, a students’ mastery over the basics, before moving on to the next topic. Public schools are the biggest bureaucratic budget item in every city or county. They have little accountability to the general public, and their marching orders come from State and National think-tank’s, not local and regional stakeholders.

History textbooks are badly written and so politically correct that they’re more like comic books than school books. Minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable attention while people of major consequence like Thomas Edison are given very little space at all. Pop culture icons and minorities have their sensibilities massaged into the new history which is taught in categories like Women’s History, African American History, Environmental History, etc., so that many students have no sense of chronology, no idea what followed what.

If generations graduate high school not knowing our past, do not know who we are or what we have done as a people, how will they know and love America, rebut her enemies or lead her confidently? We’re more likely to accept the excuse that Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program overemphasized math and reading so that’s why our children are failing in history. We buy this kind of nonsense when of 31,000 students tested by the National Assessment of Education Progress, most fourth-graders could not identify a picture of Abraham Lincoln or a reason why he was important.

High school seniors given an excerpt from the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education – “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate education facilities are inherently unequal” then asked what social problem the court was seeking to correct, only 2 percent of high school seniors answered “segregation” when the answer was right in front of them. We can no longer isolate education from politics because we’ve allowed one political party to take ownership in all things education. But, the issues we’re seeing in public education are the fault of everyone and the responsibility of everyone. It’s too big to blame on a party. We have to be bigger than that. We must de-politicize education before we can fix it.

Schools have also become incredibly inefficient with tax dollars, riddled with group-think ideology, and are perpetually searching for ways to spend more without any accountability in terms of success versus cost. What other group could survive these kinds of epic failures yet continually convince the general public that if they just had less portables and higher wages then they’d be able to show us real success? It has become so politically incorrect to chastise the school system so that local politicians have learned to just leave them alone for fear of the whole group banning together to oust them from office. We can’t criticize schools or else we’re pinned as being radical and uninformed.

It is exactly this kind of power that has shielded our education system from all accountability. Like some great big anti-trust violation, school boards have taken the path of big corporate monopolies – starving out ideas and innovation in favor of the status-quo. If you take nothing else from this blog, know that that teachers are not the problem here. Our problems lie in a quagmire of bureaucratic dogma pushed downward from modern idealists desperate to dazzle us with new theories on education when 1912 techniques will do us just fine until we catch up with our Great Grandparents. I won’t even attempt to say why or how because I’m one of those Americans who might be missing his 14 I.Q. points.

Since I’m nowhere near informed or educated enough to offer any solution for all these issues, I’ve decided to let “Doctor” from the movie Idiocracy wrap this blog up as I’m certain he can articulate my fears much clearer than I ever could and potentially entertain you at the same time. Doctor: “…Well, don’t want to sound like a dick or nothin’, but, ah… it says on your chart that you’re fu**ed up. Ah, you talk like a fag, and your shit’s all retarded. What I’d do, is just like… like… you know, you know what I mean, like…? Ditto!

 

 

Does This Blog Make My Butt Look Big?

(Warning: Almost 5000 words)

Lately, more than ever before, I’m finding it very difficult to digest some of the more popular dialogues being discussed in this country. Am I really all that disconnected from reality or so naïve that I can’t comprehend what’s supposedly happening before my eyes? Perhaps I’m subconsciously hiding from the truth as a result of guilt or maybe I’m just so caught up in my own life that I can’t see the forest for the trees. Whatever it is that is causing this denial, conscious or unconscious, has left me feeling like I’m on the outside looking in. Either I’m in denial, I’m being intentionally left out, or the whole damn world has gone crazy.

25 years ago I was attending this lecture at the University of North Florida Institute of Police Technology and Management as a part of a Drug Unit Commander school and the instructor was lecturing about crowds, riots, and mob violence. Apparently there is a whole psychology built around crowds. One of the few things my tiny brain remembers from that lecture was something called the Emergent Norm Theory. The Emergent Norm Theory is a predictor for how mob violence occurs, how it is instigated and how it is perpetuated through an event from a psychological/clinical perspective.

Obviously I’m not qualified to lecture about the science but in summary it essentially states that when a large group of people crowd together for a common cause or complaint, they initially may have very little if any real unity except of course for that original singular common theme or complaint. But during a period of milling and spouting about, the key members or alpha personalities start suggesting actions to be taken by the group. If there is a lack of negative response from within the crowd itself, then the whole group will typically stand together in agreement to the legitimacy of their (The alpha members) message no matter how inappropriate their suggested actions may be. We’ve seen that a lot lately haven’t we?

So to all of my readers, friends, family, acquaintances and haters who might be hating on me…if you find yourself in a group of protesters who are pissed off about…hmm – maybe something I might be labeled with… and someone in the crowd yell’s “lets stone him!”, then please speak up and do your part to be the voice of reason because scientists all agree that if you don’t then some fool standing on the hood of a car with a bull horn and a can of spray paint will direct the crowd to start throwing rocks at me.

I was born in 1964, the same year that our most recent civil rights act was passed by congress. That said, I and others my age are among the first generation of racially integrated American school children. I can’t say that there were huge numbers of black kids going to school with me back then, maybe 5% of the student body, but we certainly integrated much better than our parents probably expected we would. My son, born in 1989, grew up much differently. Integration to him was likely just some old-school historical reference used to describe the way African-Americans worked to overcome racial injustices back in the old days when uneducated white men wore powdered wigs, fought injuns, and dined on opossums.

The point I’m trying to make here is that for modern white American’s, racial injustice is mostly considered a thing of the past – something we’d like to forget – and scarcely even thought about. The biggest reason for that is because America is only about 2 generations in to equal opportunity law reform and our kids don’t have any experience with racial injustice. Another factor that plays a bigger role than you’d expect is that all of the people we baby boomers tend to closely associate with the days of widespread bigotry are now mostly dead and gone. Maybe third on that list is that we don’t like to believe that it was our loved ones who perpetuated those atrocities…it makes us feel bad. White people see this world through a different lens than black people. That doesn’t equate to racism, but it could be considered dismissive of the black experience. What it really goes back to is the tried and true theory that perception equals reality. The perception is that the world is fair now so we should all just put our big girl panties on and forget about all that negative stuff.

I didn’t grow up with parents and grandparents who warned me not to trust the government and who had horrific personal stories of tragedy, slavery, violence, rape, and an overall destruction of the family unit that were perpetrated by mostly everyone, sanctioned by the government, and substantiated by the church. I think – I don’t really know – that growing up black would be quite different from growing up white whether we feel comfortable recognizing that or not. The minds of black people are exactly like the minds of white people. They just have an alternate experience. Whether or not they have personally experienced racial injustices or not, they all carry the weight of it from birth which causes many of them to react differently to the same news stories papered on the rest of us. Their perceptions are different so their reality is different.

Just think for a second about the popular website and the corresponding television show, Ancestry.Com, and the interesting stories behind actors and other famous people as they work with historians and genealogists to uncover these compelling family stories that have been mostly forgotten by time. Have you ever thought about how black people respond to that show? For the most part, white people not only denied their African slaves of a present life, but they also denied them of a family history. To this day, black people do not have the simple luxury of going to visit a family cemetery or to research family genealogies because those graves don’t exist and their families were sold and traded like baseball cards. Few records exist for them at all.

When white people see an ignorant redneck on television who is obviously still fighting the civil war, we just see one lone racist with a mullet…we don’t think that much about it. When a black person see’s the same guy on TV, I can imagine that it is both evocative and personally felt. There is a real disconnect between our races that no one really discusses but it’s very important to recognize. In some ways, we have become the Divided States of America because we white people feel hamstrung by political correctness instead of just being real and thus black people are forced to digest that canned insincerity that modern political correctness forces white folks to use – which leaves them feeling manipulated. We are both left wanting for anything resembling something real.

Ferguson, MO 2014 is an perfect example of much of what we are discussing here because all the elements came together in one imperfect storm. They had the rioting and the mob violence perpetuated by a few people who completely distorted the facts of the case but somehow illogically managed to engage an entire nation including some National figures (ala Emergent Norm Theory); and, you had lots and lots of white people who were honestly trying to empathize with the black community but couldn’t really because they had no idea what the facts were and they have no idea what it really means to be black (ala Political Correctness meets Empathy); and, you have a nation of black people who now know the facts but really don’t care because their sense of identity as historical victims has been re-ignited even though there were no real reasons (In Ferguson) for that to have happened (ala News Media Fanning the Flames for Ratings). White folks are laying in the streets side-by-side with black folks but neither knows why.

There are literally black Americans out there who have grown up in a mostly color-blind country and whom are enjoying the fruits of their own successes without any racially inspired obstacles to education or employment who are now suddenly talking about 2015 like it’s 1965 when the only thing they have in common with the black folks in Selma, AL on Bloody Sunday is the color of their skin. That’s not happening because it’s real today…its happening because it once was real and the media has fueled the embers of a flame which may likely never go out. White people are appalled by it, black people are moved by it and our country is paralyzed by it.

I’m not saying that racism doesn’t exist in this country because clearly it does. We’ve also had dozens of police killings of black people since that Ferguson incident which have further fueled those flames and a few of them have surprised me too. The cop who shot the black man in the back nine times as he ran away was definitely an eye opener. But, as a white guy who spent 20 years wearing a badge, I see a rogue cop doing a terrible thing and trying to cover it up. It doesn’t look racist to me because a bad cop like that could just as easily have shot and killed a white person and reacted similarly. But, I can totally see how a black person could see this as evidence of racial injustice perpetrated by police.

Our country, like every country, is a combination of the haves and have not’s. It’s not only a symptom of a capitalistic society but a very natural and necessary one. God and nature have very systematically produced nearly equal numbers of men and women just as he/it/she has produced people with different skills, strengths and weaknesses in order that we all rely on one another for survival. We take all that for granted but if you stop for a second to think about how organized the human species really is then good luck trying to justify your atheism. Depending on the century you live in, different skill sets have demanded differing levels of income thus creating division among us. Have you noticed lately who is finally starting to earn a decent living? Yup – farmers. Farming is finally getting cool, just when there is a shortage of pork and beef. Who’d have thunk it? No matter your skill, we all have our time in history when our skill was or will be a highly sought after skill – be patient.

Tinkering with the natural balance of things usually results in failure. Carl Marx recognized the unfairness between the social classes of the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat’s and became the founder of a political system we now call socialism. Although his ideas are considered valuable in the overall understanding of the dynamics between social classes, we’ve learned through historical contexts that socialism doesn’t work because it eliminates the drive to produce and create. If you want the government to help people, somebody has to be earning enough to pay those taxes – as it turns out the top 5% are paying 90%. Those people don’t exist in socialistic societies. Thus, here we are with an incredibly wealthy society with some very poor people living among us and a disproportionately large percentage of those poor happen to be black.

Is that by chance? I think not. I think that black people have two things working against them which have kept them demographically among our poorest. The first element is that the institution of slavery itself and its common practices of selective breeding and denial of education has yet to be fully overcome. We are only a few generations beyond the days of slavery and even fewer ahead of equal rights and educational opportunities. That says nothing of the psychological weight and stigma it carries if you happen to be among those who’ve been born with the legacy of it. An inheritance of victimization creates two kinds of people in general, one who challenges the status quo with conviction and distrust and one who accepts his fate and believes that he must be flawed and imperfect. Animosity and apathy, a legacy born of victims – our victims.

The second element is the social welfare system itself. For those who are born into it, moving beyond it forces you to not only be different, which attracts negativity and sometimes violence, but it also forces you to peel away the arms of a protective mother only to jump off a cliff of uncertainty and competition. Competition that you’ve not been prepared for or exposed to. Most of us have no idea just how difficult it is for someone rise up from those circumstances. For the people who grow up in that environment, they have little that is precious to them nor do they have the same respect for laws and rules which have done more to protect white people from blacks rather than protect blacks from whites.

It’s really similar to what’s happening in the Middle East. If those Shiites and Sunni’s who hate each other but collectively hate Americans had a decent income, an Xbox and satellite television then why in the heck would they choose to strap a bomb on their chest and kill people they really don’t know anything about? In every country where Muslim’s are a minority and living in societies where they have opportunities, they are generally passive with the exception of either low-functioning individuals who’ve been radicalized or by those who’ve immigrated for the purpose of conducting terrorism. In every country where Muslim’s have a majority and where all of the wealth is centered on those in charge leaving the citizens destitute and poor…guess what you have? Yup, terrorism, despair, hunger, and an overall lack of humanity.

Not every Muslim country has a ruthless dictator who steals all the money for himself. In those countries who share the wealth with its citizens – a la the UAE, they have stability, a robust economy, and peaceful relationships with others. Personally, I think the religion itself promotes intolerance of other cultures and religions, that’s just me looking through my own lens of life, but you can certainly parallel how poverty and despair effect lifestyle, opportunity and political views even if the motivators are unique.

Similarly, in America, some of our social welfare systems, while good intentioned, have been allowed to manifest themselves into perpetual class makers whose unintentional outcomes have resulted in a separate society of the mostly self-disenfranchised. We’ve long since recognized the consequences of that system gone amuck but no one has stepped up to the very hot plate of political correctness to fix the broken system. Those who are stuck in that place between veritable impoverishment and a safety-net have little motivation to do anything other than what they’ve been schooled their whole life to fleece. Why would they – life without a net can be difficult. If you pull the rug out from under those who have grown up dependent on it, what would we do to prepare them to live without it? It’s very complicated.

White people get especially roused up when black people start talking about reparations for slavery but when you stop to hear the argument, it actually made sense back then. I’m not smart enough to know if it makes sense now, I’ll leave that one up to you but here me out. This country made it legal to enslave human beings, mostly Africans, from about 1619 until the conclusion of the civil war in 1865. That’s almost 250 years. During that time colonists, farmers, plantation owners and simple households alike were allowed to inflict any form of oppression over their slaves as they saw fit because those people were not considered, under our laws, to be human. Of significant importance was that they denied their slaves of all forms of education – social, scholastic, legal, or otherwise – to ten (10) successive generations of human beings. Those human beings are now our neighbors, friends, co-workers, preachers and soldiers.

It took another 100 years (4 more generations) for the US government to recognize that blacks deserved the same rights as any other American – with some white Americans kicking and screaming all the way. When blacks were finally set free, America just handed them a green card and said, “Here ya go”. No one offered to help educate them or assist them in their assimilation with the rest of the country or offer them any financial means of self-reliance to get started. These people were woefully unprepared to live autonomously anywhere but somehow they did. We put them in boats of isolation and poverty and yet we marvel at how each vessel has traveled in alternate paths, never really able to reach the same destination. Maybe we do owe them some penance to help them catch up. It’s difficult to rationalize the fairness of it 150 years after-the-fact but it’s also difficult to ignore the consequences of not having done it.

Last year, I re-connected with an old friend from middle and high school who happens to be black. It’s kind of funny because Emily was out-of-town for work and the TN Walking Horse National Celebration was going on in town so there were these food trucks situated all along Madison Street selling/grilling BBQ and since I was technically a bachelor that week I decided to visit one of them and get some take-out for dinner after work.

All of the sudden, this great big black guy comes up and gives me a huge hug. It was late August and he’d been grilling BBQ in the high heat which made him quite sweaty but he was so expressive and affectionate that it scarcely phased me…I just wanted to know who he was. “Chris White! Damn I sure have missed you, I think about you all the time.” All of the sudden I recognized Isaiah Kelly from school. We played drums together in Jr. High and played football together on a team my dad coached. I ended up hanging out with him for at least an hour or two catching up on him and his life since school then stopping in again the next afternoon to get more BBQ and another big sweaty hug. I had also dropped by the horse show grounds to get a box of Optimist Club doughnuts to give to him and his crew which was a big hit.

For Isaiah and I, there were no barriers of race or history or distrust, we were just two 12 year-old’s both turning 50 and happy to be doing so. Just two happy Guinea Pigs, one white and one black, from a 1960’s social experiment that seemed so very ordinary and normal to us. It’s funny that when you talk about race on a macro scale, it always controversial but when you bring it down to a personal level it’s always just about personality. Once you wipe off all of the dust that gets kicked up by people who don’t know or understand each other, it’s just you and I that remain. While Isaiah may have his doubts about white folks in general and while I might look over my shoulder in a bad part of Nashville, he and I have no doubts about each other and I have no doubt that time, honest conversation and a ban on political correctness could heal much of what plagues us in America today.

Going back to our conversation on reparations, what if black people would have been treated differently after emancipation? What if we would have offered educational opportunities, a place to live, and some spending money? What if white America would have embraced those terribly mistreated souls instead of segregating ourselves from our own shames and what if we would have admitted the horrible mistake of slavery instead of being indignant about it? Do you think that perhaps America would be different today? Do you think that a natural assimilation of the two cultures could have emerged, trust would have prevailed and we’d all be speaking, acting, living, working and praying similarly?

Looking through my own lens on the world, I seem to see a lot of that anyway. I see our country as mostly healed and I see lots of black success stories both on television and in our community. But, the one thing we all have to remember when we begin to put our judge robes on…we all don’t live in the same city, we all don’t have the same life experiences, we all don’t have the same familial and generational stories and backgrounds, we all don’t have the same political ideologies and none of us are privileged to see things from the same viewpoints, heights and angles.

I cannot help to think that America may be repeating the sins of our colonial cousins today, only with a new victim…homosexual people. Yes forgive me, I said it, gay people are being mistreated horribly, just like black people were back then. Of course no heterosexual male stereotype worth the weight of his own pot-belly wouldn’t first say up front that “I AM NOT GAY” when trying to write about a subject like this. I guess I might as well say “up-front” that I’m not black either. Anyway, with all the proper documentation now expressed, let’s now proceed and put this blog to bed.

Humans, no matter what generation we live in or what behavior we are trying to support or condemn, we can always find biblical references to support our beliefs. If you’re a supporter of capital punishment then you subscribe the biblical principle of “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24). If you’re debating the legitimacy of capital punishment then you would cite Exodus 20:13 – “Thou shalt not kill”. During slavery times, it was just as easy to find supporting scripture to justify your behavior, i.e., Ephesians 6:5 and Titus 2:9, “They asked who should question the word of God when it is said, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”, or “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect”.

I’m not suggesting that the bible contradicts itself, what I’m saying is that there are contexts with which those scriptures are written and they are not to be used selfishly and without a thorough understanding of their meanings within the contexts and confines of the particular message being conveyed. It’s not hard to find all sorts of biblical references to all sorts of common behaviors or lifestyles especially homosexuality, but, when you choose to make a personal judgement are you not missing the forest for the trees? Opponents of gay marriage follow a very literal approach to the bible when they cite Old Testament passages that declare, “You shall not lie with a male as with a women; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22)

There’s not a lot of ambiguity in that passage, however, shouldn’t Christians be citing passages from the New Testament instead of the Old Testament? Why did God put Christ on this earth anyway? John 3:17 clearly states, “For God sent not his only Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 12:47 says, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”
You see, we as humans are not capable of understanding everything that God has put before us. There are some things that are beyond our abilities to fully comprehend. We, as humans, like to put things in neat little boxes so that we can be comfortable and safe in our little worlds. But God knows our fallacies and our accomplishments without explanations or YouTube tutorials. Clearly we should not be judging anyone as even Jesus Christ did not think it was his place to judge us, but God only.

I’m carrying a few extra pounds and that would be called gluttony in the bible and thus a sin. But God knows my troubles and my weaknesses and he forgives me. Some people might smoke. Some people might covet another’s wife or husband. Some of us, including me, have lied a few times and have used God’s name if vain. The bible says we are all sinners. Every stinking one of us. We cannot escape what God says we can’t escape. We are born to be sinners. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do better, it just means that one day we will all be judged for something.

Maybe your sin was small and mine was big but I made amends for mine and felt genuine guilt and empathy for my victim and yet you felt nothing and did nothing but try to conceal your tiny little sin. Maybe God gives me a pass for my big sin and fry’s your ass for your little one. Who knows? I don’t and neither do you. Again, just another reiteration for you… “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already…”(John 3:16 (17)(18).

What I’m saying is that we should stop looking for ways to condemn anyone for anything, whether we personally accept or approve of the behavior or not because we all have offensive behaviors and we are all sinners and none of us have the biblical authority to judge other human beings. If Jesus Christ said that he doesn’t have the biblical authority to judge or condemn people then I’m terribly sorry to inform you that you don’t either. If a gay couple gets married, it’s not taking a single thing from you. Why should you care? If you think that it offends your religion because marriage is a religious institution then stop personalizing Christianity as being yours. It’s not. It belongs to anyone who accepts ALL of what it teaches, including but not limited to homosexual people.

The New Testament values faithfulness, love, sacrifice and promise-based commitment. Those things can be just as prevalent in a gay marriage as in a heterosexual marriage. Your faith is a personal relationship you have with God through Jesus Christ (if you’re a Christian). Your sins are between you and God and He knows your heart, drives, weaknesses and sacrifices. The rest of us don’t know all those things about you and thus should not be doing the work of God without all of the personal inside information with which to conduct a fair assessment of just how great or terrible you really are.

All that said and 4892 words later…please stop all your judgement’s for just one minute and start to think about your faith and your influences on those around you. Are you perpetuating and teaching positive things or negative things? Black people deserve to be heard and their voices shouldn’t be silenced just because the dialogue makes us feel uncomfortable. I get that you’re a generation X’r and that you have no idea what racism is…that doesn’t negate the fact that racism still exists or that black people are naturally going to feel more threatened by the perception of it. There are messages inside those speeches and on those posters that we all need to digest so that we don’t dismiss the very things that are causing so much dissension and chaos among us.

Gay people deserve to be heard too. All they are asking for is to be treated equally. If you or I don’t understand why their brains are programmed the way they are then it’s ok, we will all survive. I don’t understand a lot of people’s brains but that doesn’t give me the right to decide whether or not they deserve to be treated equally and/or with some dignity. We need to stop thinking of homosexuality as a behavior and start to recognize it as simply an alternative way of thinking. It’s a brain thing not a penis thing. If you’re born with the instinctive attraction to the opposite sex then we like to consider you a heterosexual. If you’re born with an instinctive attraction to the same-sex then we like to call you a homosexual. They’re words not swords. At the end of the day, we’re talking about that which is instinctive, not that which is decided. Gender and Sexuality live in our brains, not our sexual organs, and they are not always going to be consistent with our genitalia because they reside in separate places in our brains.

God says I can’t be all-knowing because I’m human – SO, even though it pisses me off to say it – I hereby officially accept that I don’t know every f’ing thing. I get that not everyone will agree with me. It’s a controversial subject.

Resilience – Navigating the Art of Moving On

Many of us are living lives that could be somewhat characterized as having started off in one particular direction, confident that through our efforts we would become this or end-up doing that. But, instead of locking in to that initial hand-picked path and following through till the end, we got a little distracted along the way and dove head-first into a glistening new pool, only to come up for air in some totally different place or profession which was never even on our radar at the onset.

We all just knew, with the confidence of General Patton, that our paths were certain. We were going to marry a certain someone, have X number of kids, have a well-paying job with excellent benefits, then retire with a great big house overlooking God’s glorious creation in its most subjective splendor. If you’re reading this blog through the eyes (or mind’s eye) of the fairer sex, your dreams may or may not have included a sparkly crown, glass slippers, and a blue-eyed Greek shipping magnate.

Nowadays, girls would be lucky to find a guy who regularly washes behind the ears or plucks his ear and nose hair, so if you’re still waiting on the sparkly crown, I shouldn’t have to be the one to inform you that your high expectations, not a regression of mankind, that may be to blame for perpetual loneliness.

You could be one of those people who are still thinking about all those daydreams-gone-bad, or instead, you may be living and gorging yourself on every ounce of your initial prepubescent insight. Most of us, however, are probably living somewhere in-between being pissed off at our parents for not being honest with us about our true capabilities, or, just happy to have a decent car, job, mortgage, and income/debt ratio.

To put it bluntly, where I am today and where I thought I’d have been at fifty-years-old couldn’t be much further apart. I actually thought I would grow up and become a psychiatrist.

A short stint in college majoring in Pre-Med cured me of those dreams as I quickly realized just exactly what I was a naturally gifted at and what I sucked at. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still love giving advice or tinkering in psychological subjects. It just means that I wasn’t prepared for everything else that comes with an education in science, particularly all the stupid crap I don’t like. Maturity might have played a role….?

So what happens when you suddenly realize that all of your dreams were simply well-intended hallucinations?

In many cases, our parents have pushed us toward our most outwardly apparent aptitudes or instead the things they always wished they’d have done and our teachers push us toward the trending job market. We were provided with lists of job-titles along with their equivalent salaries and were immediately driven toward the big 3 – Pilot; Doctor; Lawyer…?

Sometimes we have dreams that don’t fall into any of the above categories. Maybe you wanted to be a musician or a dancer or an artist but you were discouraged by worried parents. Aside from psychiatry, I was a very good musician and had teetered on becoming a studio musician instead.

School was very easy for me. I honestly never really took schoolwork all that serious and my grades were high enough that my parents never worried about me enough to check on what I was doing or not doing. I just sort of did what I wanted and floated through school never concerned in the least about my grades or challenging myself. My parents had much more serious challenges with another sibling so I guess it was easy for me to fall between the cracks and pretend that I was doing everything I should be doing.

That it all came to a head in college when I suddenly realized that I hadn’t really paid all that much attention in high school. A perfect example of this was in my sophomore year of high school. I was enrolled for an honors level English class but my best friend was enrolled in a resource English class.

On our first day of school I showed up to Ray’s class and took a chair beside him because I just wanted to see if I could pull it off. When the teacher, in her first roll call, failed to call my name from her list of students, she asked the class, “Is there anyone here whose name I did not call?”

I raised my hand, she wrote my name down on her list, and I ended up spending that year in a class that I could sleep in and still make straight A’s. The good thing was that I was just smart enough to fool the system; the bad thing was that I was just smart enough to fool the very system that was otherwise programmed to help me.

Maybe if I’d have paid more attention and taken school more serious, I’d have been writing professionally by now, instead of writing for fun. On another note, maybe if I hadn’t have done all of those stupid things in life, I wouldn’t have anything to write about.

Of course, I might also not have spent so much time and ingenuity overcoming adolescent ignorance with better adult decisions, to have gained the perspectives I now have, all of which led me to the wonderful life and the precious wife and son that I have today. It’s kind of like the song by Rascal Flatts called Along the Broken Road, “Every long-lost dream – led me to where you are…God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.” The lyrics are a metaphor for adolescent stupidity mixed with a little luck or a lot of grace, whichever form of mercy you subscribe to.

Broken roads and broken dreams are just part of the plan it seems. We don’t realize it when we are fifteen but most of those dreams are pretty lofty anyway. Plus, that girl you like so much turns out to be bi-polar at forty, and the football quarterback with dimples and a hairy chest is on disability, has diabetes, and plays video games well into the wee hours of the morning. Fifteen turns out to be way too young an age to determine just what is and what is not a good quality for a spouse. Boobs are a wonderful thing indeed, but if that girl doesn’t love you enough to protect you from your own ignorance then she ain’t worth having.

resilience-dandelion-through-asphalt

Resilience, the subject of this blog, is something you learn from all of the little and big faux pas we are destined to make along the bumpy, curvy, divided, and forked road of our youth. Even though you’re way smarter at fifteen then you are at fifty (Just ask Jeff Foxworthy), you don’t have enough real-life experiences with which to relate all that natural born brilliance.

You end up learning a lot more about the real world from good ole Murphy than you ever would have, had you’d actually listened to all those lectures. You must know that Murphy is a complete asshole. He helps to thicken your defenses and sharpen your offenses, yes, but he could also destroy your confidence and leave you crying in a fetal position if you’re not prepared.

Never afraid to pack up and move or to take on some exciting new adventure – my mistakes and misfortunes have spanned an immense territory and I’ve met many hundreds of people with whom I have shared some stunningly stupid experiences. Yes, I have a tendency to brag.

That kind of adventurous free-spirit comes with a price. I was talking to my wife, Emily, a few weeks ago trying to figure out just how many times I’ve moved since I first left home as a fledgling adult. The number was much more difficult to figure out than you can imagine because the number was pretty high; like 26 or something. It was this painful exercise that inspired me to write this blog.

Each one of those moves, however haphazard it may seem now, had something to do with career, emotion, opportunity, relationships or going broke. I’ve certainly never been afraid to try new things. That has probably been the defining statement of my life.

The excitement that always comes with some new discovery has driven me almost on auto-pilot. You might say I have the repertoire of an articulate hobo. I’m sure my mom must have been pretty worried about me for a long time, but all of that uncertainty and seat-of-the-pants living contributed to the broad vernacular you see in my blogs today. And don’t believe for one second that every move I made was done so by choice.

That resilient protective layer I’ve been talking about comes from standing in the batter’s box and taking a few wild pitches into the torso. Just being honest and good or generous doesn’t gain you any immunity from trouble at all. It turns out that Murphy is also an Atheist and doesn’t care that you sent $50 bucks to Joel Osteen last week.

There is a literal cornucopia of chaos that life can throw at you at a moment’s notice. Surviving these moments grows our experience-knowledge and helps us to nurture more buoyancy and assuredness so that we are able to survive and cope through the next wave of pandemonium. That level of comfort grows and grows with each struggle until we emerge with something very close to confidence. Then our confidence can yet again be shattered when we learn that Murphy also throws a great knuckle ball.

An old Chinese proverb says “Failure is the mother of success” and I believe it wholeheartedly. But sometimes people get caught up in the failure itself instead of the lesson. Failure is never a person; failure is an event.

How would anyone ever know how sweet success really tastes when they’ve never tasted the saltiness of sweat and failure? So you strike out every now and then…knuckle balls are hard to hit. The players that make it in the big leagues learn how to ignore the pain or embarrassment from occasionally striking out, and to absorb something valuable from each failed attempt in order to improve the odds of their next “at bat”.

In discussing our near future a few days ago, Emily and I were talking about what type of home we may build on the farm. She said to me that she’d come to a place in her life where she no longer cared about what people might think about how she lives or how successful others may think we are or aren’t.

The crux of her response was along the lines of building exactly what we want and need within the limits of our budget – not some sort of monument to our professional achievements. I think that moment where you live your dreams not because of what it will prove but because that is all you want to do is the definition of contentment. I’m very lucky to have her.

Being married to Emily has helped me to realize that love is not always about winning or losing. Perhaps real love is more about a few sweet moments in time, followed by an eternity of growth and discovery. The fruits of a healthy marriage can last indefinitely through our children and the people we touch.

From this perspective, I realize that we not only benefit in life from the one’s we love the most, but we also benefit from the love’s we have lost and the relationships that have failed for whatever reason. We as spouses both get to benefit from each “other’s failed endeavors and “practice marriages. There was this one bitch though…oh never mind.

That level of recognition comes from the ability to let go of baggage, hate, failures, and the heartaches in your past. Letting go of unnecessary baggage doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t care about that person or that endeavor anymore it is simply the realization that the only person you really have control over is yourself.

If the weight of certain things are dragging you down instead of lifting you up then you should move on to the next thing. Looking straight into the eyes of each person or situation; you must decide if this is going to be a part of your history or a part of your destiny.

Letting go of anger and hate is also an incredibly important concept in moving on. If you hate something or someone it/they will always be with you. You may think that you can move away from a person you hate but as long as you are feeling the emotion of hate then they are going to be with you metaphysically.

Discovering that you possess the courage to move on from destructive forces or people contributes to the cultivation of our super-powers which are Resilience, Courage, Dignity, and Peace.

  • Resilience we learn from getting back up after being knocked down and discovering that no matter how hard the punch – we will always be able to find a way to get back up.
    • Courage promotes discovery which contributes to wisdom. We obtain courage from ignoring our fears and just being ourselves, trusting we will be OK.
    • Dignity is a personal emotion that is derived from doing the right thing even when doing wrong would better serve you. Resilience and Courage allow us to maintain our dignity even when others question our motives.
    • Peace comes when you no longer even think about any of the aforesaid attributes. Peace is not caring either way. You know you’re going to do what’s right so why waste time worrying about what others think. Your resilience to criticism and your courage to stick to your guns give you a place of peace that only time and experience can buy.

The rest is all up to God, thus forget trying to know what all that means. God knows; man thinks. It is how knowing differs from knowing-about or wisdom. Man thinks he gets to know when he thinks, but he never does because he only thinks from his own singular experiences.

Each of our human perspectives about life, the world, family, sexuality, war, or whatever are molded and shaped by what we have personally observed and learned in the way a blacksmith hammers and forges iron. Our brains are like hot furnaces that shape, anneal, and organize whatever metals get thrown inside and what comes out are products of that very individualized mixture.

No matter how smart you think you are…you really don’t know much in the big scheme of things so get over yourself and be real because cousin Murphy is always watching for an opportunity to let some hot air out of you. “Chris, what’s that smell? Is that you?” “No dear, it was Murphy.”

Finally, resilience requires you to stop judging yourself unnecessarily. There is not a single, solitary, human on this earth that is not also a sinner or otherwise worthy to tell you what kind of life you should be living. Insecurity, especially religiously oriented insecurities are like Kudzu to the psyche. It climbs, coils, and latches onto every part of your life if you allow it. There are few things in life that can be as destructive to your soul as the counterfeit son of Man.

As I already stated: God knows; man thinks. If I cannot really know you as God knows you and if I cannot really know why you are the way you are or why you do the things you do then how can I judge you in a religious context?

I have no problem judging you as a singer, a cook, or a mechanic, but judgement of the soul is reserved for God only. Interpreting the word of God is not just about reading specific words; it about reading the whole book and understanding the context in which those words are describing something. Something few, if any of us are truly capable of doing.

Example:
Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ephesians 2:3 “…we were by nature deserving of wrath.”

What I’m trying to point out is that we all have this very modern and contemporary view of religion which always involves some particular sub-faith being taught to us by some other particular sinner, among a building full of other sinners. All of which who have an unhealthy interest in what you’re doing, such that these same people are less likely to be asked what they themselves might be doing.

Even the idea that one church has a higher favor with God over another faith is an arrogant and sinful concept. It’s exactly what we humans do. Every generation thinks it’s smarter than the generation before so we evolve our beliefs and attempt to gain followers in order to prop up our own arrogance. Your faith, or lack of it, exists inside you and is a personal relationship you have between yourself and your God. Simple as that.

Whatever your weaknesses and guilty pleasures may be – you can be forgiven by the One who really counts. It’s not up to me and not up to your neighbors. Stop allowing the judgement of others to undermine your own confidence and self-esteem.

You are always going to be whatever you are – always. If you believe that you’re sinning by being yourself then also believe in the concept of Grace. God knows that human biology creates an occasional misfire and sometimes those misfire’s can be beautiful. It’s a Grace thing. The God I know is anything but mercilessness.

There are enough land-mine’s in life and enough bully’s to fight without having to deal with them in a place of worship. Stop worrying about your failures and start looking for the hidden carrot in those failures.

We all have weaknesses; find out what you’re great at and do that instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole. If you cannot find that special job – create it. If you can’t find that special person – be that person yourself and maybe someone a lot like him/her will find you instead. Above all, do something. Resilience is partly about fighting back. Be brave, be bold, and behold!

Living With Authenticity

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been writing as prolifically as I seemed to be doing a few months ago…there’s a good reason for that. I’ve actually been writing quite a lot, it’s just that I’ve been working on a bigger writing project and you don’t get to see its progress on a weekly basis. My blog has just a fun way for me to be expressive and sort of think-out-loud from time to time. It helping me to live a more authentic life and introduce my friends and family to a side of my personality that was rarely expressed before I started writing.

What exactly is living authentically you say? Well, it generally means that we bring our actions closer in line with our actual thoughts and beliefs…quite simply to be ourselves. Living authentically requires us to identify what makes us feel alive, real, and vibrant and then have the courage to live and operate in that space while battling any fears that would inhibit us from doing so. My blog forces those thoughts to the surface so that I’m held accountable by those who read and care about the things and ideas I’m expressing.

Writing, for me, is the conduit that carries my most inner thoughts from the grey recesses of my mind into full-technicolor. Writing helps me to live more authentically because it exposes what is normally shaded and adds light and clarity to the way I think and feel about different subjects when my normal outward persona is perhaps less expressive or conservative.

It all sounds very simple, in theory, but it’s actually rather difficult for some of us to be outwardly authentic or at least sustain such a lifestyle for very long. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out a way to pry open our souls. Not everyone enjoys writing such as I do…we all have to find our own methods of free expression that work for us. Whether it’s societal, professional or familial norms and pressures or just our own inner monologues messing with our heads; finding and expressing one’s authentic self can for some be a monumental struggle.

Rooster

My sister Lisa is an artist. She expresses herself through a median which is perhaps less immediately identifiable than if you were allowed to just read her words from a page but they are her voice nonetheless. The amount of love and admiration she has for a particular subject is easily detected in blended brushstrokes, expressive painted eyes or a sculpted brow. The details of her life are forever etched into the fabric of each canvas, one needs only to look carefully before recognizing a bit of her own personality in every work.

Lisa is a person who authentically loves. She has chosen a path in life that allows her to express her love of humanity in a way that will last well beyond her own life. In a way, she’s been very authentic and un-pretentious her whole life. She’s always colored outside the lines. Most of us, however, take ourselves way too serious to be authentic. It takes a little time and a lot of soul searching to really understand the benefits of exposing what we consider to be a vulnerable underbelly.

In some ways I guess the idea of living with authenticity has become quite the “in” thing to do, or at least to strive for, though some ultra-conservative folks may still find some of what people do to be authentic a bit “TMI” (Too Much Information). When I was growing up, you rarely saw people, especially people on television, living authentically. Morality moguls and the FCC had a responsibility to protect “normal” folks from the evils of the real world. So of course women were supposed to look like Cheryl Tiegs, men were supposed to be like John Wayne and kids were supposed to behave like “the Beaver” and the “Brady Bunch”.
Deviations from those examples would have been, let’s say, outside the norm even though our society has always consisted of people who marched to the beat of different drums. I often wonder how my grandparents might have reacted to some of the television programming common to our generation.

I had certainly never heard the term “living authentically” until a short while ago so it wasn’t really a conscious goal of mine to be more authentic. Instead, it was more like an unrealized necessity brewing within an oyster shell. There was this imperfect pearl inside me which needed to be heard and I needed an impetus, the right impetus, to release the genie from its bottle. I wasn’t like my sister Lisa who had been perfecting her authenticity from an early age, instead I was like two people; one public persona and one private persona. Unless you really knew me well, you never got to know my thoughts and feelings or sadistic humor. My wife even said that I was “unapproachable”.

I remember distinctly when I was attending the Police Instructor Development Course (circa 1993). A very close friend of mine was attending the course with me at the police academy and had been called up to the board to give his mock presentation. In the very beginning he, very authentically, announced…”Uh, I can’t spell for shit so forgive me if I misspell something.” After the class, I warned him that in the real world, he might have lost his audience – off the bat, by exposing such a weakness to the audience. “Teachers aren’t supposed to have weaknesses.” I advised him that in a real classroom, he should just pick someone from the class and ask them to assist him at the board in order to conceal that weakness. I laugh about that today because I was essentially advising him to not be himself while today writing a blog about being authentic.

Living authentically doesn’t always equate to winning friends or making ourselves or other people feel comfortable. When we grow older, our need to be more authentic sort of trumps our desire to placate the whims and egos’ of family and friends. Sometimes our own children may feel neglected or un-loved as our desire to be real unravels the confidence of those we once praised unconditionally. When children move on to adulthood, a parents expectations of them evolve thus a once doting parent may seem unimpressed which forces our loved ones to uncomfortably reevaluate themselves.

Is that a bad thing or a good thing? I don’t know but adult children must realize that they will never benefit from anything fake. They’ve been taught as children to believe they can do everything…now, it’s time to move on and amend that statement to, “You could have done anything, now, your choices are limited by the decisions you’ve made.” Regardless, as adults, we need to move on and accept that everyone else does too. Adulthood is different from childhood and we all need to be comfortable with our parents evolving too.

I think age and maturity, more than anything else, compels us to evaluate our lives and how we’ve lived them. We grow to care more about others but we care less about what those people think about us. We expect our friends and family to be mature enough to recognize that faults and flaws are the norm – not the exception. Writing about my ideas on life brings me closer to living an authentic life because my thoughts are exposed and unfiltered.

I’m a firm believer in the concept of “wherever you go, there you are,” but sometimes starting a new hobby, career, or relationship can give you the perspective you need to shed old labels and notions you have of yourself and gradually get to know the real you a whole lot better — and not the “you” the people around you have told you that you are for your entire life, or who you’re “supposed” to be or the “you” that a parent “wants” you to be or even the “you” that you believe you “should” be.

And that is a big part of finding your authentic self: releasing the past and living in the present. Being mindful of every moment and of those who surround you can better ground our souls while simultaneously allowing us to be open to new experiences as living authentically is a moving target. Mindfulness can also lead you to become more empathetic to the struggles of others as you accept not only yourself as you are but also others’ authentic selves as well.

Still Good, But Not Too Good

If you’ve been paying attention to my blogging for the past 6 months then you’ve likely noticed the wide berth of subjects I’ve written about. It’s kind of all over the place, much like my real life. If you know me personally you’ve probably wondered why I’m not writing about about the things I’m most familiar with…the things I’m sort of known for being best at. I’ve wondered about that myself.

The best answer I can give is that I’d very likely bore the crap out of you because I’m one of those detail oriented people who obsesses over minute details when I’m explaining things that I love the most. I’m that guy that rarely speaks but when someone asks me what time it is will explain the history of Swiss watch making in order you get a well rounded answer. So, if you want to know my opinions on guns and shooting, meet me at the gun range and I’ll be happy to oblige you. If you just want to escape sanity for a few minutes, stick to my blog as-is and we’ll burn a few of those brain cells together.

I actually have a technical training manual I’ve written on the subject of advanced combat handgun shooting based on contemporary neuroscience that’s more than 300 pages. It’s used by certain military training camps – not to teach them anything valuable but to see if they will wash out of training before being forced to finish reading it. Not exactly what I was shooting for when I wrote it but you take your wins wherever they’re found right?

Some writers struggle to develop topics or ideas about what to write about but I’m not really one of those people. I can literally write about anything or nothing, anytime – anywhere. This blog is a particularly good example of that useless ability. It’s probably because big-boy writers take themselves serious and attempt to stay true to a particular style in order they not disappoint loyal followers and fans. Since I really don’t take myself all that serious and have no real audience, I’m not required to filter out anything that might tend to make me look ignorant. There are some things that are so obvious about us that we’d be wasting our time to try and hide it from people.

I guess I fear that seriousness just a little bit. When my son was about 13 years old I came up with this lofty philosophical expression in hopes I would sound profound and worth listening to. I told him repeatedly, “When a man begins to take himself too serious, everyone else stops.” I actually came up with it as a response to a friend at the time who liked to embellish his life to the point of downright dishonesty. Instead of being a volunteer reserve police officer he became, to people not in the know, a CIA agent. Then, after a disability, he became a CIA handler who recruited covert operatives and planned international missions against terrorism right from his bedroom.

My mom, in this same situation, would likely say that he had a great imagination…”If you can’t say something good about someone then you shouldn’t say anything at all!” I hear ya mom. But, I’m a dad now and this man’s inadequacies inspired powerful teaching moments for father-son conversations. My son probably doesn’t even remember how cool I was back then. The last remaining fragment of coolness from my 50 year old existence is a full head of mostly black curly hair. Any other positive attributes are muted first thing every morning by having to pluck ear hair, taking handfuls of prescription cocktails and a sobering number from my trusty blood-glucose meter.

I used to enjoy rappelling off high cliffs, now I fear climbing an aluminum ladder up to my roof. Oh how my life has changed. I barely recognize myself anymore. It’s a great thing I didn’t meet my wife back when I was a real guy. She’d be sorely underwhelmed at how I’ve evolved. But since I met her in my 40’s, and since I do well at concealing my age inflicted inadequacies, she still thinks I’m pretty cool. Just wait till she finds out that it was a fear of heights and not forgetfulness that kept me from fixing the leaky roof.

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Narcissism Sucks!

“It is much easier to make good men wise than to make bad men good.” Henry Fielding said that in 1749. I like Henry Fielding as a writer because not only did he lace his thoughts in humor but he also had curly hair and a law enforcement background. I like people with curly hair and law enforcement backgrounds, I don’t know why.

Forgive me for ranting a little bit but this week has been just a little stressful. I don’t often have to deal with true narcissists in my job but when I do it’s a depressing reminder of my deceased brother who suffered from a mental illness late in life characterized by extreme narcissism. In defense of my brother, he couldn’t help it. He was principally a victim of circumstance, a war, and probably some crappy genetics. If you hang out with me for very long at all you will easily spot some of the crappy genetics I’m referring to (not from you mom).

There should be a test people take before being allowed to procreate. Men should have to account for all of the sperm they produce and pay a tax for any that escape an allowed allocation to partners who are on a list of government approved recipients. If your DNA has a genetic marker that could produce a narcissist then you should be sterilized. That way, the rest of us have some say about the kinds of folks we have to live with, deal with, subsidize or carry the burden for. I’ve met a few folks that have had some hard times but they’re so nice I didn’t mind them having an EBT card. I’ve also known a few folks that have no problem whatsoever carrying their own weight but really should have been aborted.

I’m not making any political statements here but I will say this about gay couples, at least when they decide to have children, they research the heck out of those eggs and make sure their kids are coming from good stock. Everyone make sure and watch the news tonight. When you see the barefoot – snaggletooth – meth mouth – blue gum – redneck talking about the latest UFO sighting at the local dairy dip then political correctness dictates that there’s only one thing you can openly say about the person with any real certainty…this person was definitely not procreated in a test tube. Next time you see a gay couple, hug them for saving the human race.

I digressed didn’t I? Oh well, sorry. Narcissism is a serious thing. I can’t imaging growing up with one as a parent. It’s probably one of the most difficult psychological legacies you can have. These are parents who are incapable of real love, who blame you for everything because they cannot make mistakes, who undermine your initiative because they fear your success, who dismiss your feelings because no one’s feelings matter except their own, who may adore a sibling because he/she is a reminder of himself/herself. These are some serious issues for anyone to overcome and grow up normal.

I’ve read that there can be some genetic markers for this but by and large everything I’ve read about them suggests that they are products of their own creation. It’s not an accidental thing, unless caused by mental illness, but a series of life-long choices that manifest themselves into problems which cannot be solved because by doing so it undermines an entire lifetime of embellishments and denial. They create their own disorder then go around inflicting it on everyone around them.

And somewhere along the line they all wander into my office and find me minding my own business. They ask for advice and information and I gladly give it. Then they pursue an agenda driven by a complete disregard for rules and a spirit of “I’d rather get forgiveness than permission” and ultimately fail. Then, unable to admit personal failure, they blame their problems on me as I was the one “who told them what to do”. Then, they punish everyone in their proximity because they were “against” them all along, not realizing that those same people have now become his/her victims and he/she may be going to need their support later on when he/she sticks his/her middle finger up and makes another go at it. Then they file a lawsuit against me and lose but because they’re a narcissist, cannot accept that they were wrong so they go about recording everyone in an attempt to capture “conspiracies and lies” so that they can one day prove that they were right all along.

narcissists

Or maybe it’s another type of narcissist who inherits a business and never has to work for anything but feels jaded because he knows that his intellect is far superior to those around him but life and luck superseded his ability to “prove” his own immense value. So, in evaluating those around him whom have worked hard to better themselves and who may get a little attention because of that hard work, he finds it unfair because he’s the one who really deserves the attention, he’s the real genius. His narcissism just cannot allow others to share the spotlight so he manipulates and undermines everyone around him in order to expose what he perceives to be weaknesses in the armor of his rivals for attention. His goal is not to accomplish anything, but to undermine the success of others. Why should he accomplish anything, everyone already knows that he’s awesome. Can we all make a very strong alcoholic drink and make a toast to this type of narcissist?

Let me get a breath of oxygen because that was a mouthful. Ok, what I’d love to impart in this blog is that no matter how smart or gifted you are, someone in this world thinks you are a complete dumb-ass. Trust me, I’ve met more than a few people who think that about me. I like words but I suck at math. My wife loves math and she sucks with words. God did a great job of equalizing and distributing the powers among us. None of us could live fully independently of others. We all have to accept our own limitations and inadequacies then praise and recognize those around us whom possess the missing puzzle pieces of our own lives. If you do nothing else this Christmas, give the gift of acknowledgment to your spouse or children or parents and friends that they matter and that they make your life a lot better. Then quickly pour some cold water on that ego. Don’t just listen to me, I’m not an expert on anything but I heard from a reliable source that Santa Clause thinks narcissists suck!

Welcome To The Hotel California

Here in Tennessee we are busily preparing for Christmas now that Thanksgiving and all those enigmatic shopping days are behind us like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Small Business Saturday. So, of course one can’t really be inundated with all of those marketing schemes and family-friendly euphemism’s without thinking about your own family.

For me – I must say that I’m very lucky to have the family I was fortunate to be born into. Not only the one’s my parents gifted me but also the one’s I’ve had some level of responsibility to create or adopt as my own. This would of course include my wonderful wife Emily and my eximious son Jon.

Enough of the bombastic family descriptions, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with my chosen title “Hotel California” aren’t you? You guys and gals already know that I like to use creative titles on my blogs and of course why would today be any different. Well, last week I was driving to work in my Jeep and that famous Eagle’s song came over my radio, just as it often does, but instead of just enjoying the song and lyrics as I normally would, I was somehow taken to a place I’d never been before. The lyrics subconsciously enunciated a metaphor that I’d never before noticed.

Now wait just a minute, I know what you’re thinking and it’s not true. At least as far as I know anyway. With the best of anyone’s ability to recognize these things, I don’t think I’m losing my mind and I don’t think that I’m hearing voices. At least not any voices that my own brain waves are producing anyway. The voices I heard were those of Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Don Henley and Don Felder talking about an ominous sounding hotel in California.

The song was first released in 1976 when I would have been twelve years old, right about the time most kids really start identifying with whatever the popular music of that day happens to be. And I was no different.

I still love to hear those old songs which kind of take me back to the time when I used to lay in bed with my headphones on, cranking up the volume, and escape all of the stresses of being a twelve year old – you know, like what you’re going to eat when you get home from school – are there any coco puffs left – when will I have the necessary funds to purchase the latest AC/DC album…

Anyway, that song used to evoke an ominous feeling when I listened to it back then. The lyrics artfully play around with phrases like “Heaven and Hell”, “Her mind is Tiffany twisted”, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device”, “just can’t kill the beast”, and of course the last famous line, “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.” What do those words mean anyway? They’re not quite as weird as “someone left my cake out in the rain” but they’re not as easily dissectible as “you ain’t nuthin but a hound dog” either.

As I got older I always just thought of these lyrics as a way of describing drug addiction. It makes sense right? Play the song right now and think about drug addiction and tell me what you think. But, alas there is more.

There is always more. What some of you know is that my eldest sibling Cindy lives in California. When the song played last week, and because these are holiday times with family-friendly euphemism’s flying about like blue-arsed flies (creative idiom – √), I started to think of these lyrics as a metaphor for moving to California.

Cindy, my wonderful and lovely sister who used to beat me up when I was a kid…just kidding, actually did not want to move to California when her husband first landed the great job opportunity that led them there. Kicking and screaming, she reluctantly moved there as any supportive spouse would do but I never really thought they would stay there long.

Why? Because we all knew she’d hate it and because her husband is so damn smart that he’s always getting these amazing offers to move – and they always do. Not this time. Nope, they “saw the shimmering light” and “stopped for the night” and now that her husband has achieved everything that he and his family could ever have hoped for, they could “check-out anytime they like” but for some reason they “can never leave”.

Hotel California cartoon

Now, my sister Cindy “is just a prisoner there of her own device.” How many places on Earth could you possibly live that trap you like a drug addiction. You heard it just a minute ago, you know the song is a metaphor for drug addiction right? What about the beautiful State of Tennessee? We got trees and grass and pie for God’s sake. I once was told that they don’t have pie in California. Sounds a lot like hell to me.

This year I’m sending my sister a subscription to “Garden & Gun” magazine and maybe a homemade pecan pie. Perhaps that will shake things up in a palatable way. Anyway, I was just thinking about my awesome sister and thought I’d write about her. I didn’t mean to drag a bunch of innocent people into it, just wanted to do the girl some justice.

Just for the heck of it, listen to the song again. One more time. Now think about the lyrics in the context of a person being drawn to the shimmering lights of a place and being trapped there by its beauty. A place where the weather is almost always perfect. A place where they have shoes. A place with a total absence of mosquitoes (tradeoff for not having pie). A place where you can come and go at-will but never really want to leave. Now what do you think? It’s a different song isn’t it?

Now, whenever I hear that song, I won’t be reminded of my secret heroin addiction, I’ll only think about Cindy and how that someone in that Godforsaken hippie commune of a State has probably brainwashed her from ever coming home to beautiful Tennessee. Just kidding. Merry Christmas Cindy, the magazine subscription is on the way but I might have eaten the pecan pie.

My One True Love & Cracker Jack’s

My whole life I’ve heard about the idea of true love. There are many ways to express it (i.e., real love, made for each other, perfect partners, soul mates, numero uno, love of my life, my one and only, etc.) but how many people among us can really comprehend the idea of such a thing in its full context? We’ve all had our up’s and down’s and most of us end up tied to someone special eventually, but are you truly with your “one true love” or did you just settle for someone just a little less “perfect” than you expected?

Most people can’t wait to get married. Sometimes it’s because they just want to get out of a bad home environment, or sometimes it could be that they just want to grow up and move on with life. Perhaps it’s because all their friends are getting married, having kids, and they think they’re supposed to do the same thing. But when you’re young and fresh out of school, you’ve not really lived and navigated through enough personal relationships from which to accurately judge whether your current person is really the best person for you or not. That is one reason why statistically more marriages fail than survive.

I’ve blogged about the idea of perception-versus-reality several times because I truly believe that each of us have our own special reality shaped by several things including nature (DNA), nurture (parenting and mentoring), and experience (what we do with both of those things). To truly experience something as rare and complex as finding your soul mate, wouldn’t you think we’d first need to live just a little? Aside from the good stuff, we also need to suffer just a little in order to fully appreciate just how low things can get when we’re with the wrong person.

Experience develops our individual perceptions and helps us to recognize not only what is special about a person generally…but what is particularly special about that person from our own personal perspectives – through our own jaded and subjective eyes. These are two distinctly different things.

I’m sure there are a few very lucky people out there who were fortunate to find that special someone on their first try but I seriously doubt the probability of that happening very often. Most of us think we know, then proceed to jump off the proverbial cliff of sanity, directly into a pit of uncertainty, then swim against the current in the river of probability, then drift slowly toward an ocean of insolvency and finality. Those are not great odds. To make it worse, our own ego sometimes refuses to allow us to quickly resolve a mistake and let go before we become so entrenched that leaving becomes problematic or even dangerous.

We fail mostly though not because we hitched our wagons necessarily to bad people but because we had no idea who we were in the first place. Our idea of what a relationship should be is just as undeveloped as our sense of who we are or what makes us happy. How can we begin to address the issue of what we can do to please another person when we’ve ignored our own needs and wants?

That’s not selfish, it’s absolutely critical. If we ignore what’s inside, foregoing that critical component of personal happiness and instead focus on making someone else happy, then we are doomed to eventually implode with anger and expectation of reciprocation. But it becomes unfair to the other person because they’re expectations are based on who you started off as, no matter how unrealistic it may all seem.

Well; I’ll let you in on a secret. When you give yourself an honest opportunity to figure out who you really are, forgetting about the idea of love or marriage, the internal images of prospective mates is suddenly illuminated. Sort of like the secret decoder ring in the box of Capt. Crunch; you suddenly have a magical lens by which you see the world that illuminates that which is good and healthy and filters out that which is…maybe a bit unripe.

That’s a kind way of saying that sometimes people who will eventually become great partners start off with no idea of what being a great partner is, and, as a result will potentially hurt you. We are not all ready at the same time or at the same age. Thus, a great partner for me may not make a great partner for you. No matter how awesome my wife may think I am for her has no bearing on whether I would be viewed as equally awesome to another person.

Cracker-Jacks

We’re all like big irregularly shaped boxes of Cracker Jack’s. We all have a little prize inside. But since we’re all looking for something different, the value of that little prize weighs more or less to whomever it is that gets to open your prize package. Some folks may love that little magnifying glass you have but I might just think it’s cheap. So, here we are, you with a cheap magnifying glass and me with an awesome rubber ball. On a higher note, just because one person doesn’t fully appreciate the value of what’s inside or what you have to offer, doesn’t mean that someone else won’t.

After my divorce, I was single for 16 years. There were moments where I thought I’d be married again and moments where I believed I’d be single my whole life, mostly the latter. I think my son was more worried about me than I was. There were times when I embraced the idea of being single and times when I wept about it. There were girlfriends along the way, some good, some better, but with each failed connection I was forced to excavate the archaeological remains of failure and grow a higher understanding of me.

Initially I had this superficial mental idea of who I was supposed to find, not realizing that there was a real person inside of all that perfunctory shallowness. Then slowly but surely I got to know me better which added some depth to my minds-vision of who I should end up with. The best way I can describe it is like comparing a road-map to a relief-map – with all the mountains, rivers, bumps and valleys to provide some perspective. When you’re ready, your like a blind person reading braille – you can feel your way along the route. For me, it took a little while longer than it does for most people.

When I first met Emily there were no questions and no concerns. I already knew her from my mind. I wasn’t looking for a hair color or a particular personality, I was looking for her and there she was. But even though I had that initial easiness about her, she wasn’t all that prepared to meet me. She believed, like I did, but wasn’t ready to accept it until about a year later. There were, of course, obstacles to overcome and trust to establish but the hard work was done internally in both our minds while we both recovered from previous bumps and bruises. Fortunately for me, she was looking for me too. All I had was this stupid rubber ball but it turns out that she loves stupid rubber balls.

cracker-jacks

I got the better end of the stick. It turns out that her Cracker Jack box was chocked full of generosity, kindness, a sweet spirit and awesome twice-baked potatoes. In my mind, my rubber ball really didn’t really compare to all that but I guess it must have been exactly what she was looking for because it turns out that Emily is my one-true-love. She is the perfect person for me.

Seven years of marriage, some seriously screwed-up butter cream cake-frosting, a job related police-raid, one failed business venture, and a tumultuous local election later and yet we still love spending time with each other. Believe it or not, she is still bringing me breakfast in bed. Not only do I love her immensely, but I can feel how strongly she loves me too. When you have what we have, you never feel jealous and you never feel insecure. No matter how our bodies evolve through age or how many mistakes we make, the love we have for each other is always profoundly present.

True love, soul mates, perfect partners…call it what you want. There are so many bad things that never enter your mind when you’re with the right person. Similarly, there are so many good things that are always on your mind when you find that certain someone. It’s a wonderfully liberating, incredible, and rewarding feeling to be with the one person in the world who really knows you inside and out, loves you unconditionally, gets all your jokes, and still wants to spend time with you regardless. When you read some of my jokes, you may understand just how lucky I truly am.

Of Selfishness & Coco Puffs

I was reminded last night of a time while I was still living at home with my mom when I knew I had been a very selfish boy. My sister Lisa was pregnant with her first child Lauren and I had selfishly eaten an entire box of Coco Puffs for lunch that she had apparently purchased for herself while suffering from some powerful pregnancy-induced food cravings. The chocolate-flavored Deity of American cereals we both loved so much was just too powerful a draw. I mean really, who on this planet with 30 available minutes, a clean spoon, and a gallon of ice cold milk could ignore such a beacon of nutrition and chocolatey goodness? Not me, I’m very sorry to admit.

Lisa, I know it’s been 33 years but I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself and I didn’t mean to make you cry on the kitchen floor. I hope to make it up to you one day, but I’ve never actually heard of buying make-up Coco Puffs yet, maybe soon they’ll start selling them at grocery stores for people like me who didn’t really know how to appreciate an awesome sister when they were young. I do hope you understand. Lauren, if you’re now suffering from any medical ailments or allergies related to or associated with Coco Puff deficiency as an adult, it’s not your mother’s fault, it’s mine.

Why are we so selfish when we’re young? I’ve thought a lot about that lately because it’s true. I was very selfish back then and from my own personal observations and experiences, I can easily observe most other young people are too. If you’re young and you don’t think this applies to you then you’re probably way more selfish than I was. You can’t recognize it because you lack the empathy to understand just how much you’re disappointing the old folks around you who are busily working to please, feed, clothe, encourage, comfort and bathe you. So, pull that free car over to the side of the road and call your mom on your free cell phone and thank her right now. For exactly what – you can figure that out when you’re 40.

We old folks, and now I’m officially one too, like to sit around and gripe about how disrespectful our young folks are today and how our parents would have whipped us with Hot-Wheel racetrack sections if we’d acted up like that. But the reality is that we were doing similar things ourselves. We just didn’t get caught. It’s not that we were more respectful, it’s just that we were more creative. This is because we didn’t have video games and the Internet, we had to learn creativity by turning tiny green plastic army men into a scene of the Trojan War, OR pretend they were cowboys & indians, OR imagine them as our first idea of what courtship was…all with the same toy. Don’t ask me to reenact any scenes, just go with it please.

On a serious note, I think that selfishness is perhaps a perfectly normal human survival mechanism. We’re all born with it because human children are born and live several years without the ability to do anything for themselves. We are completely dependent on our parents or our parental figures for our very survival, so we’ve been blessed by God with a few personality characteristics which make it completely impossible to be ignored when we need or want something. Since it’s my 50th birthday this week, imagine how difficult it is for Em to ignore me right now.

When scientists compare the brains of children and adults, the brain scans show that a region called dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, located in the left side of the brain toward the front, was more developed in adults. The area is considered to be involved with impulse control and empath. Researchers also report that younger children are more willing to accept unfair treatment than older children.

Science suggests that selfish behavior in children may not be due to their inability to know “fair” from “unfair,” but rather an immature part of the brain that doesn’t support selfless behavior when tempted to act selfishly. This area of the brain matures as we get older thus the majority of us do eventually develop a capacity for empathy…notice I said, “majority of us”. We all know a few adults who could use a steroid shot or two in their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex but that’s another blog.

So, when you look at it that way, how can you really stay mad at your daughter when she tells you she really needs the expensive Matilda Jane outfits after you’ve just been laid-off from your job? Go ahead and just buy the latest video game system for Junior because you already know he lacks the creativity to survive “old school” without it and if he doesn’t get to play, he’ll have absolutely nothing to talk about with his friends or anything to do during family dinners.

So, parents out there should rest at ease and think of two things. First, reminisce a few minutes on the things you’d still be embarrassed about if your mom found out to this very day…and second, know that the guilt of childhood selfishness is what fuels the benevolence of our adulthood. The worse your kids are today, the sweeter they will be to you when you’re old.

Luck: The Good Choices We Had Nothing To Do With

“You’re so lucky”, how many times have you heard that? Luck — good and bad — plays a big role in all of our lives, right? I know I am lucky — ridiculously, amazingly, fantastically lucky. And I am ever so grateful.

I am lucky to be alive; I am lucky to be healthy; I am lucky to have been born into a family that could care for me, and in a place where I did not have to fight medical odds just to survive infancy; I am lucky to possess the DNA to let my body develop in a way that is acceptable to my mind; I am also lucky that I was born with a decent amount of intelligence and natural tenacity to steer me where my luck may provide advantage; I am lucky to have a healthy and intelligent child who loves me back and who I can proudly observe as he discovers all the things I write about independently of me; I am lucky to have found and successfully trapped a wonderful woman who loves me like crazy and whom I love the same way back; I’m lucky to have a good job when a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet; I’m lucky to have a fantastic mother who has always been attentive to both my physical and mental well-being; I am lucky to have wonderful siblings who have continued to support me emotionally throughout my entire life; yes, I am one lucky SOB.

Every single one of those things, I would say, make me one of the luckiest people on this planet. I had nothing to do with most of those things, partial responsibility for a few, and I am lucky as crap they all went in my favor. Heck, one time I found a McDonald’s bag in a rental car with $500 cash in it…that’s pretty darn lucky huh?

Has everything gone perfectly in my life? Please. We all have bad luck too, but more than that, we all have challenges and struggles and disappointments and just plain ole crappy times. But none of those things – good, bad, lucky, indifferent, or unlucky – are what defines us. We’re way more complicated than that.

The way in which each of us handle good as well as bad luck is what best defines who we really are. If we are willing to learn, the way we deal with good and bad times can tell us quite a lot of what we need to know about ourselves. If things go your way do you get cocky, or appreciative…if things go South, do you pout and feel sorry for yourself, or just try again and again?

The knowledge gained from both situations becomes useful in many situations, but especially when we face hard decisions and potential life-changing opportunities. Because even if you have great opportunities constantly falling into your lap, luck is never going to be what pushes you forward to take advantage of or get the highest and best use of that opportunity. More often, it’s what you’ve learned from failures that will be the thing that propels you forward when an opportunity presents itself. People who don’t try, never fail. If you never fail, what have learned and how will you apply the wisdom from failure when luck avails itself? 

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca (2 BC-ish)

I drank it

Making the most of any opportunity, indeed, even to recognize an opportunity for what it is, means you have to be prepared. You must do the hard work to put yourself in the mindset that makes you ready to jump when your “luck” shines upon you. When you see that sliver of light, that tiny bit of hope, that opportunity you have been waiting for, which sometimes comes cleverly disguised as the exact opposite of what you had been waiting for, what will you do? Luck has a strange sense of humor; it is a 1st cousin to karma.

What happens at that point is called choice.

No matter our relative luck levels and no matter how dire our emotional, financial, work, or other situations…that choice – that free will — that is what makes us human, right? The ability to step back, look at our lives, and decide what to do next is so very precious. But sometimes we do not notice an opportunity for what it really is. Clarity cannot happen if we are not ready or prepared for it. Circumstances do sometimes limit our choices. But even not choosing — being a chronic non-decider who just lets things happen around them — is too a choice.

Tough decisions, the ones that tend to yield the highest rewards, are called “tough” for a good reason. So how do we become more self-prepared? Well-informed decisions and smart choices are built on a lifetime of getting to know better who you are, what you want, what makes you happy, what makes you anxious, what makes you intolerable — and you do not learn that kind of thing in the Valley of Unicorns and Leprechauns.

In Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Polonius told Laertes, his son, “To thine own self be true.” Timeless advice yes, but the only way to know thine own self is to put yourself out there, try new experiences, meet new people, try different professions, and make lots of mistakes. Through this “trial and error”, you will learn what works for you and what does not. You will discover other people’s methods and decide to take them on as your own. You will learn where you want to be, what you want to do, and an amazing number of other things about yourself that you never knew you didn’t know.

Although that particular line in Hamlet is one of the more recognizable lines, another of Polonius’ lines I find to be equally valuable is, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”. Remember that line when you’re out on a limb doing something unorthodox and people are giving you a funny look.

In case you are looking for some sort of reward for all that hard work – your journey to self-awareness not only becomes enlightening along the way but it WILL make tough choices down the road a lot easier for you. Easier to make, that is. Not necessarily easier to carry through. After that initial choice, you see, comes the all-important follow-through, and that consists of tiny choices every single day to continue the path you have now chosen. And now we are getting to the real important part, Thoreau’s “suck[ing] the marrow out of life” I mentioned in my last blog.

This very blog, the one you are reading now, was written because of a series of small choices made each and every day. I love writing and I love teaching. Making the choice to write more, to teach those around me who I really am inside, to help those I care about navigate life’s up and downs…these are all things that I can do because of decisions I’ve made in my life that allow me to do it – and some good ole luck which provided me with the DNA needed to develop a love for words. The doors we open AND close each day will decide what we become and how we live our lives.

But, sometimes doubt creeps in because I would dearly love to be writing for a living. My failure or lack of initiative or lack of time and money and other distractions in my early life has delayed my own ability to finish what I started with my formal education. I continue to tinker with it but I never seem to find the time to just commit to finishing school. I changed majors 3 times and I finally know what I want to do, I just haven’t done it. That lack of a diploma closes a lot of doors for someone who likes to write…thus some bad choices were made.

Hey, no one ever promised that living life on our own terms would be easy, and sadly, no magic unicorns have shown up to guide me. I never found that pot-o-gold at the end of a rainbow and I still do not have a rocket propelled jet-pack to travel back and forth to work on. Perhaps I would if some rocket scientist out there had taken an unconventional path instead of the NASA path of least resistance.

But, that’s another story. Getting to know yourself and making conscious, informed choices on how to live your life, your one and only life, is based on what you should now know to be true – and that is experiencing life to the fullest without fear of failure. I do not know of any better way to move closer toward Shangri-La, which, by the way, is a moving target if you are doing things right.

Indeed, the learning process, realizing things about yourself, looking at situations from different angles, dreaming up of new ideas, goals, and adventures — those never end if you don’t allow it. How lucky are we? How lucky are people with luck? Well, if we have learned anything at all I think it would be that lucky doesn’t necessarily mean successful. Make choices and make every choice matter – good or bad. Living deliberately doesn’t give you the key to every door, it IS the key to building your own door.