Bullying and Depression

One of the things I love about blogging is that the format is much more similar to a discussion than it is a story or news or whatever. It’s much more intimate and personal. We can address the things that are going on in our own lives or in the lives of people close to us and not necessarily have to wait for the next big national news event from which to launch our tirades or sweet-talks. Today I want to express my concerns about someone close to us about depression and bullying and offer a bit of advice.

 The biggest problem with being a young adult or adolescent is the fact that you’re, in many ways, an adult with adult brain power. You’re still in school which means you can still do long math, you can probably structure sentences better than most adults, and you can still recite State capitols and quote Shakespeare. All this mental flexibility makes us feel very bright and ready to take on the world. Our parents are the only adults we’re around enough to really compare our own intelligence to and what we see from them at home isn’t always the most representative of the whole person. So, we know we’re pretty smart like our adult parents but in many ways we’re still children, especially so when it comes to emotional intelligence. Your brain is literally wedged between a rock and a hard place.

 What your parents do have an abundance of (maybe…hopefully) that remains mostly unknown to you is the ability to cope with life’s up’s and down’s…a kind of emotional intelligence that we learn from surviving failure, betrayal, disappointments, infidelity, personal attacks, or the plethora of other lessons taught to us in high school and the work place, none of which that can be found in a textbook. Every single time we survive the next disaster, we sort of metamorphose into the next higher version of ourselves, shedding our thinner skins and growing a newer thicker one more capable than the last in defending ourselves or deflecting the danger away.  

 Without these skills, we’re left vulnerable and susceptible to all sorts of dehumanizing feelings that are sometimes strong enough to put us in a state of depression that can be so strong that it blinds us from finding a way out. It’s kinda like the dichotomy of needing a car to get a job and needing a job to get a car; we don’t always have the wherewithal to develop these coping skills when we need them most or when we’re most challenged by the pressures of growing up.

 When you’re gifted and smart, it’s way harder because you’re way more sensitive to right and wrong, you’re way more aware of how destructive the behavior is to you, and you’re way more perplexed at why you of all people cannot figure out how to solve the problem. Smart people have good ideas so you think you’re supposed to be able to solve these problems and yet you can’t. Not only is it emotionally damaging to be in the situation, but you’re simultaneously feeling insecure and unprepared to make it go away, maybe for the first time in your life. You begin to undermine your own intellect out of utter frustration at not being able to manage these feelings or solve your own problems.

 Depression is a humiliating human experience. Whether the result of bullying, stress, medical conditions or any number of other causes, the consequences are the same. Everyone experiences some form or degree of depression in their lives although some of us are better at shedding old skin than the rest.

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So, what we want to avoid is allowing a tumultuous situation to evolve into depression. If we allow it or if we don’t recognize the seriousness of our condition at a time when we can still think clearly, the ravages of clinical depression may creep into your life and take its toll on you and everyone around you. Whether you’re recognizing it or not (and some of us cannot), depression can turn intelligent, articulate and outgoing people into relative sleep-walkers and robots who can’t so much as wash a dish or change their socks.

 Depression can affect your ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your own children, lifelong passions, and even your relative good fortune. On top of that, the usual medication for depression is usually some sort of psychotropic drug that helps your brain to quit feeling. So, not everyone does well with the drugs. There are both success and failure stories associated with the treatment of depression just like there are success and failure stories associated with the disease itself. I know people from both camps.

 Treated early enough, you can help to file the sharp edges of life away to help you focus on you and what is making you feel things so strongly. That doesn’t let you off the hook to solve your problems. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to reconcile your stress with medical intervention, take your medically induced lucidity serious and work to bring final resolution to the things or situations or people who are causing you problems, even if that means writing that person off completely and moving on.

 If allowed to continue, depression has the ability to scoop out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable muck that finds no pleasure, no delight, and no point in anything outside of a couch. You may alienate your friends at school because you can’t comport yourself socially, your job may be at risk because you can’t concentrate, and you may live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone take out the garbage. Sometimes, we’re just not quite ready to grow up and accept all that comes with being an adult and sometimes it’s the opposite, we just need to get the hell out of an environment that might be choking off our air supply. There is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to emotion and life. 

 My deceased brother suffered from depression. His depression was the result of a psychological disorder that limited his ability to cope in many ways but that never stopped him from feeling – just as you and I do. The world, as viewed from my brother’s eyes, was different than it is to me or to you but he was still a human being who felt and loved and innately understood that he was making the people around him uncomfortable. Although he lost the ability to recognize his own responsibility for how he made others feel, he nonetheless understood fully how everyone suddenly became afraid of him. While his empath began to fade, his overall sensitivities were elevated which made him acutely aware of the world, his family, and how he saw himself fitting-in among everyone and everything around him.

 It’s so sad to think about someone with a mental illness who once had full-competency. To live in a world that you perceive as dangerous, but in ways that you alone can solve if people will just give your ideas a chance. To want nothing more than to protect the one’s you love but to then feel the rejection of your ideas and the pain associated with the recognition that everyone thinks you’re crazy. Depression can be the catalyst that manifests itself into this type of mental illness, especially if you have other stressors that are working synergistically against you.

 Sadly, people with severe depression start to become pathetic and they know it. It’s one of the least appreciated parts of the condition. Depression, if untreated, can manifest itself into more serious conditions leaving its victims with little or no capacity to stop the downward plunge they see as inevitable. They begin to lose all perspective, all emotional reserves, and have no faith that things will ever get better. So they begin to feel guilty and ashamed of their inability to deal with life like any regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation.

 Those of us around the depressed grow increasingly insensitive because we don’t understand the logic of it all (There is no logic). We only see how our loved one’s condition negatively impacts our own lives. Our loved one’s problems can be so overwhelming sometimes that we just want to run away to escape what we see as unnecessary chaos. We become desensitized to the whole affair and even duck and evade our troubled loved ones in order to find some normalcy and solace in our avoidance of them. I’m guilty of that myself. The guilt associated with that avoidance can also be overwhelming. You find yourself either victimized by psychotic drama or by self-guilt for not wanting to subject yourself or your family to psychotic drama. No one wins.

 If you’ve never been depressed, give thanks to your DNA providers and back off the folks who need to take a pill just so they can make eye contact with the grocery store cashier. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over a typically turbulent normal life. That said, normal life is typically turbulent and we all take a few fastballs to the chest occasionally; it’s all part of stepping up to the plate of life.

 As I’ve written about previously, 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 a part of your history or a part of your destiny. Discovering that you have the courage to move on from destructive forces or people contributes to the cultivation of our super-powers, resilience being one of those. Depression cannot thrive among resilience.

 Recognize that we’re all perfectly flawed. Yes, you’re a kind and sensitive person and you need a pill right now to help you cope. But, alternatively, the bully has way more problems than do you. If you really think about it, what type of false-reality is that person living in right now? How much further toward adulthood or success or realizing your dreams are you right now compared to him/her? That person has a long hard road ahead and reality is going to suck way worse for him/her than it is for you right now. If anything, you should be feeling sorry for them.

 Stop judging yourself unnecessarily. The person bullying you is likely so selfish and full of themselves right now that they don’t even believe they’re a bully, much less able to recognize how destructive they are to those around them. While you’re reconciling the bully, don’t fail to recognize your own responsibility in how these situations evolve and encompass everyone and everything around them. Don’t be guilty of believing that the “high road” is somehow conveyed by your absence or refusal to stand up for yourself. If chaos is met by silence, chaos still exists because it creeps into new places you would have never expected. It’s also not anger or retaliation that defeats chaos, its wisdom and order – which, BTW, also defeats depression.

Depression is not just an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world. It’s an incapacity to function. No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It can run in families and it can ruin families. Most of us cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy. But that is exactly what victims of depression do every day. My goal is two-fold; I want to scare you into facing whatever it is that is luring you into depression, and, I want to help you and others empathize with those who are suffering now.

 Bullying is real. Just because you’ve never suffered from it doesn’t make it imaginary. The way you survive it is to confront it and just proudly announce that what is happening to you is hurtful, whether they care about or want to take responsibility for it or not and that you’re done worrying about it. There’s something profoundly powerful about vocalizing your intentions that has a way of making your words come true. If you tell them you’re done…you’re done. 

 

Good Luck.

Living Outside The Box

Everyone knows I love movies. I have been intrigued with and entertained by movies since before I can remember. It is a passion born from mostly my mother who also loved movie going. I’m often quoted by my wife who likes to mimic me by saying that “I even love bad movies because at least they provide an escape from reality for two hours.” My background in law enforcement draws me to suspense and action movies but my overall nerd-ness loves all things technical too – so you can imagine what my favorite movie genres may be.  But since I turned 50 and my testosterone levels have plummeted to levels deeper than Raquel Welch did in the 1966 science fiction film Fantastic Voyage (look it up Jon), I’ve noticed that the increasingly sensitive side of me is starting to totally dig the chick flicks nowadays too.

I have this amazing memory of my mom taking me and my siblings to see a double-feature film at Harding Mall in South Nashville when I was 10 years old. It was Barbarella (Jane Fonda) and another movie called The Groove Tube which was Chevy Chase’s low budget film debut. I don’t know what my mom was thinking at the time but I think it must have been one of those duh moments because she only let us watch about 15 minutes of the second feature before jerking all of us up and getting us out of there. I distinctly remember the film sequence that instigated our hasty exit; a mock public service announcement for venereal disease that covertly used a real penis made-up with a face as its actor-spokesman. At ten, I didn’t fully understand all of the sexual innuendo but I knew we were watching something we weren’t supposed to be watching which is pretty damn cool if you ask me. I still laugh about that all the time because we had brought along my next door neighbor Wayne and I wonder today if he has the same memories I have.

One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is the testing scene in the beginning of the movie Men in Black. To refresh your memory, let me sum it up as follows:

Will Smith’s character (who later becomes Agent J) is in a room with other candidates so the MiB can supposedly find the proverbial best of the best candidate for the MiB job opening. The candidates are all men from either military academies or elite law enforcement and are squeezed into tiny egg-shaped chairs that barely contain their bodies. They are each given an exam booklet which is sealed in fragile paper that tears easily and a pencil. As they all scrunch up in their pods, twisting, wiggling, crossing and un-crossing legs to find comfortable positions for holding the booklet and writing at the same time, Agent J – after breaking his pencil while trying to open the envelope – stops, looks in front of him, and sees a more traditional looking table across the room.

SCREEEEEEECH! The otherwise silent and sterile room is filled with a deafening noise as Agent J drags the heavy metal table across the floor toward his egg chair. The other candidates shoot him some ugly eyes while trying their best to concentrate on the test while Agent J, oblivious to an unwritten decorum, makes himself comfortable to take the test. He repeats this type of abhorrence to all things status quo later when at the firing range.

At the firing range, these same best of the best candidates have no problem at all accurately shooting all the monsters on the targets but Agent J shoots the little girl instead. When Zed (Character played by Rip Torn) asks J “May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?”, J responded with something like this: “When I saw little Tiffany, I’m thinking, y’know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of the night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit Zed.”
In that scene, Will Smith thought outside the proverbial box and instead of following what everyone else was doing. He was not afraid to literally make some noise, free himself from tradition or modesty, and do something bold that may help him achieve his goals. The situations he was placed in were structured to the point of absurdity, which is an exaggerated reflection of how complicated we tend to make life in general when we could just as effectively do things simply. In J’s view, being quiet and conforming to others’ tin-soldier mentality only hindered his ability to accomplish the goal of passing the tests. His ability to think asymmetrically turned out to be his strongest quality.
Now if you are rolling your eyes at the phrase “thinking outside the box,” I completely empathize. The phrase has become trite and jargony and has an honored place on the list of most overused clichés and axiom’s by teachers and professors, which includes but is not limited to (yes, there are others) “seeing the forest for the trees”, “learning to think like a businessman”, or “An ounce of prevention…”, you get the idea. Personally, I am more moved by axioms which make you think rather than one’s which tell a commonly known truth such as: “99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name”, or “Madness takes its toll – please have exact change.”, or “It was recently discovered that research causes cancer in rats.”.

But stripped down to its core, “thinking outside the box” says in four words what I believe to be the key to success in almost any venture as well as general happiness in life. To me, thinking outside the box means not blindly following conventional wisdom as well as challenging assumptions about yourself, others, and the world around you. It is a shift from conceptual frameworks and paradigms to free-flowing uninhibited thought that challenges all common perspective. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t educate yourself with all that old-school knowledge, it’s just a theory that examines and explores the things unsaid rather than the things said.

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We live in such a heavily controlled environment. The restrictions placed upon us do much to stymie our creativity and our ability to think freely. Perspective and perception are also powerful governors of our minds. We often view reality through narrow lenses sculpted, polished and honed by years of experience and education. But is my reality the same is your reality? In some cases yes. To you and I, red IS red and the number 4 IS the number 4. Those are constants nationally and worldwide. But what about the organic and obscure? Are we looking at the same things in the same way and coming up with the same conclusions? I doubt it.

If thinking beyond this proverbial box is so great then why do so many people encourage (or implore) you to color inside the lines, follow the rules, and stay inside the damn box? Well they are either inside the box themselves and not sure how to get out, are afraid to get out, or even worse — they are actually selling the box. People often disagree with me about these things, citing the importance of their specific life anomalies, and I am often prone to accept the reasons they espouse because I have the heart of a teacher not a preacher. But the reality is that most of these people are simply afraid. An example of this is that in my car, while alone, I believe I’m an accomplished singer…but I’m too afraid to demonstrate just how great I am in public. Is that a fear of performing or fear of revealing how much I suck at singing? I don’t know; ask Emily, she’s probably heard a few subtle a cappella moans and some interesting intonation going on in the car before. Fact of the matter, I will likely never sing to anyone in public – ever. It’s just not something I’m willing to let out of my box.

That “box”, for those whom are afraid, represents all that is stable and controllable and accepted. I get it. I really do. I understand that the box is rigid and sturdy and comfortable. But, it is still a stupid box and I know of no one who can truly spread their wings and fly inside a box. You can paint the box and decorate it and bedazzle the box with rhinestones or Harley Davidson stickers or whatever it is that you enjoy but at the end of your life, you will move from that one beautifully decorated box to another more simple and tasteful box. But will you have really lived? Ask Bruce Jenner what he thinks about living in boxes. For him, his life was always about making the rest of us comfortable. His box was covered in rustic leather and had spikes and beer stains and cigar burns all over it. But the inside of his box looked somewhat different I suspect.

I’m not suggesting the “box” is about gender or sexuality at all, but I’m neither saying it is not. I think the box is different for everyone and the same rules apply no matter what is in that enigmatic box. The box can contain a multitude of things that have the effect of holding you back in life or in situations. It’s just as important to recognize that your box might contain the elements of shyness as it is to recognize that thy neighbor’s box is full of Pollyanna. Both qualities can hold you back from achieving goals but for entirely opposite and unexpected reasons which are only relevant to that one person.

Look, I love plans of attack and guidelines and goals and milestones and all those things you have read about, and yes, in some areas of life there are definite paths that must be followed to reach a specific destination — i.e., you are not going to become a doctor without going to college, taking the exam, going to medical school, passing your boards, doing your residency, etc. But overall, never underestimate the value of thinking outside the box, figuring out your own way to get from point A to point B, and trusting your instincts along the way. Heck, maybe you don’t even have a point B in mind yet. No problem! Think of your current lack of a point B as already being outside the box. We can be sure that people like Michelangelo, da Vinci, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg never knew a box existed.

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And look, while thinking outside the box can certainly be about sitting down to solve or approach specific problems, it does not have to be. In fact, I like to think of it more as a way of life. Writing down your ideas or making a vision board is never a bad idea but there is something about saying it out loud that makes an idea sound really stupid or really profound. Don’t be afraid to bounce ideas off the chests of friends or parents but don’t be afraid to execute a really strongly held idea just because that trusted person doesn’t have the same vision as you. Just be honest with yourself enough to recognize when  you’re being stubborn and when you’re being driven.

Be forewarned, however; sometimes when you operate outside the box, people look at you funny, make not-so-nice comments about you and your actions, and maybe even tell you that you are crazy for doing what you are doing because, oh, I don’t know, you are not making any money at it; or, people won’t like it; or, you’re making people uncomfortable; or, you will never get anything out of it anyway; or, no one else cares but you; or, you are too old; or, you are too young; or, you are not being serious enough to really achieve anything… so what is the point?

Well that is just the thing and the most beautiful part of living outside the box, even if it’s just from time to time. Sometimes we do not immediately know the point when we venture outside our boxes. What is the point of doing as you feel? I don’t know, perhaps it is just because it makes you feel good, and what is the point not to do it? Sometimes a small spark of interest ends up turning into a passion and perhaps then into a new life or career. Or maybe your life becomes enriched with a lifelong love of a new author, subject, art, or activity. Or maybe you develop amazing new friendships that remain long after that particular dalliance outside the box is over. Or maybe your time out of the box is special just because it was time out of the box, and there really is no point besides that. You’re going to grow as a person regardless of the reason, the activity, or the point.

And besides that, there is nothing more stifling and frustrating than feeling boxed in, and that is because we are not honoring that part of ourselves that wants, that needs so desperately to get out. Last year I was feeling like I was in a box. A box of social and political correctness. The box grew more and more confining as the accepted conditions of my career held me back from engaging and being myself. So, after suffering as much as I could stand, I decided to leap outside that box of political correctness and even beyond my own normal social boundaries and resolve my situation in the only way my life has trained me to do. Was I right to do it or wrong? That is a matter of perception for others but for me there’s no question that I did the right thing?

So what this blog is really saying, I suppose, is that thinking or living outside the box is not about what others think and it’s not about what’s good or comfortable for everyone else. Living outside the box allows you to shed the layers of social acceptance and just be the person you need to be at the moment. Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Creativity comes from peeling away the things which quintessentially make us adults, and instead, looking at situations and life from pure naiveté. Living and thinking outside the box is just a cliché way of expressing that same thought. When we strip away those latticed layers of conformity, maturity, shame, rationality, power, ego, reciprocity, and emotional clutter, then we can harness those crumbs of ingenuity floating around in a sub-consciousness that is much less chaotic.

I’m stepping outside my box right now. When I express my inner thoughts about life, love, parenthood, or politics, I’m pushing my own self-imposed boundaries that characterized the first 50 years of my life. While I’m nowhere close to inventing an Alfred Hitchcock character like in the movie “Vertigo” nor could I possibly do justice to a character like Russell Crowe played in “A Beautiful Mind”, what I can do is articulate the things that keep my mind busy when put into a square room and asked to administrate black & white procedures all day. One little dalliance out of the box last year and now here I am carving out the next half of my life, only differently, more honestly, and more deliberately. Maybe the lyrics from “Carry on My Wayward Son” will never resonate beyond the confines of my Jeep but the lyrics of my life and my thoughts will resonate in words on some digital cloud somewhere forever and that is enough reward for me to keep writing, teaching, entertaining or whatever it is that I’m doing these days.

When is the last time you stepped outside of your box?

Resilience – Navigating the Art of Moving On

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Most of us are living lives that started off in one direction, confident that we would become this or end-up doing that, but instead we dove in head-first only to come up for air in some totally different place or profession which was never even on our radar at the time. We just knew that 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 a woman, your dreams may have been much loftier and may or may not have included a sparkly crown, glass slippers, and a blue-eyed Greek shipping magnate.

Nowadays, you’re lucky to find a guy who regularly 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 may be to blame for perpetual loneliness. You could be one of those people who are thinking about all those daydreams-gone-bad and or instead you may be living and gorging yourself on every ounce of your prepubescent insight. Most of us, however, are probably 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 and mortgage debt.

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 time 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.

So what happens when you suddenly realize that all of your dreams were simply well-intended hallucinations? In many cases, our parents push 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.

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 really 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 worrying about my grades or if I’d have benefited from making higher 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 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. I was enrolled for an honors level English class but my best friend was enrolled in a resource English class. On the first day of school I showed up to his class and took a chair because I just wanted to hang out with him and when the teacher didn’t 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 trying to help me.

Maybe if I’d have paid more attention and taken school more serious, I’d have been writing professionally 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 had the opportunity to overcome my own adolescent ignorance with better adult decisions 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 in a spouse. Boobs are a wonderful thing but if that girl don’t love you enough to protect you from your own ignorance then she ain’t worth having.

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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 if you’d actually listened to all those lectures. Murphy is a complete asshole. He helps to thicken your defenses and sharpen your offenses. 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 have spanned an immense territory and I’ve met many hundreds of people with whom I have shared some pretty stupid experiences. 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 think 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 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 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 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 of striking out and absorb something valuable from each failed attempt in order to improve their 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 and 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, she said she just wants to build exactly what we want and need within the limits of our budget. 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 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 marriages.

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.
    • 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.

Finally, resilience requires you to stop judging yourself unnecessarily. There is not one human on this earth that is not also a sinner or 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 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.

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 particular sinner, among a building full of other sinners who all have an unhealthy interest in what you’re doing such that 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 they will find you. Above all, do something. Be brave and be bold. Resilience is about fighting back.

Living With Authenticity

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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.