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Monday, September 17, 2018

Walking in other people's shoes, when they are wearing boots and 'heroism'

When sharing situations or story with others, I've noticed that most of the time people usually are pretty good about listening.  From my experience, when people try to relate, their attempt is usually well meaning,  accepted and appreciated.

However, I've seen and experienced and probably been guilty of one or both of the following sins:
  • Try too hard to relate, especially where it is impossible to relate.
  • Expressing 'my experience' in a way that could be seen as 'one-upping'.
I refer to the first 'sin' as "walking in other people's shoes when they are wearing boots".   The idea being that you might be able to understand or related on some level to what another is saying--walking in their shoes--but that their circumstance is different enough--they are wearing boots instead of their shoes--that you wouldn't be able to get the same feel for their circumstance by just 'walking in their shoes'.

I refer to the second 'sin' as 'heroism' because whether the intention is pure or not, if you are not careful in relating and tell about 'your difficult circumstance', it could be seen as saying to the other person (condescendingly) that 'your problem is bad, but let me tell you about the time when I...".  In other word, "I've had to deal with worse" or "I dealt with it better".  
  • You could be trying to help them 'understand' that their problem 'isn't all that bad' and is 'survivable' based on your experience.  While there MAY be some truth to this, if handled wrong this could effectively dismiss their concern out of hand rather than letting them express it.  Maybe they just need to talk and get it out of their system to realize "you know it really wasn't that big of a deal".  Your motive is pure, but it isn't exactly what is useful to the other party at that time.
  • You could say it out of an impure motive--exasperation, jealousy, etc--and effectively shutting them down and telling them to suck it up.  While this may feel good at the moment when you are frustrated, it doesn't necessarily lead to a great relationship.   I believe when you are getting to this point, 'listen' as much as possible, help where feasible and when it is too much or what you think as ridiculous just tell them, "I wish I could be more helpful" and quietly extract yourself from the situation where possible to not make it worse. 

Having said all that, I realize as a parent that sometimes when a kid is being irrational there are time and a place to not 'humor' their thinking/worry.  There are times and places, when you just have to face their circumstance completely logically, despite a desire not to.  They are times and places also where you have to give them context.   The way I try to handle this is letting them know that their concerns or worry is legitimate and but that in the big scheme of things they are still in a good place. For example, if a kid (or an adult for that matter) says, "my life is horrible" and just refuses to acknowledge that the good they have, point out as bad as things may be there are people in this world who are too busy trying to survive to have the luxury of worrying about what they are.  It isn't to dismiss their worry/concern, but to let them know, let's keep it in perspective.


I look at it this way, I believe my Higher Power, God, hears my prayers and concerns and provided my motives are proper He will address them and not dismiss them.  In other words, while He may not see it as a big deal or big issue, He knows it is to me.  Sometimes addressing my concerns  will not mean trying to 'solving' them, but showing me a different perspective.  In my faith, God, in the form of His Son, has walked in my shoes and he has faced everything we have.  He lets me know that, but He doesn't impose His 'experience' on me, but rather let's me know that he has been there.




Lest it seem like I am saying, do not try to relate, I believe the furthest thing from that.  It is important to relate and try to empathize with others.  But, IMHO, it is also important to remember the limitations of 'relating'.  



  • Sometimes, you are missing key differences that make your situation different enough than theirs as to be not exactly relateable.
  • Sometimes, even if you can relate, sometimes people need to experience a situation as theirs first, regardless, process it, mourn it if necessary.  Only then they may be in a better place to hear that they aren't the only ones to be in that situation/circumstance. 
  • Sometimes, they need a different person, closer to their age or or just an outsider, for example, to relate.  This I believe is hard for parents to accept.
  • Sometimes, they need to hear how you can relate, but they need to hear it at at different time or with a lighter touch such as "I don't know if this helps at all or is anything like..." vs. "I understand". 

I guess the best advice, is to be pure in your motives in listening, attempt to be mindful of what others need and try to give them what you can, understanding that not everyone is open to hearing your words.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Doing It My Way: Is It The Best Way or The Best Way For You?

As a parent, a significant other, part of a larger family and employee, over time, I've seen people of all ages and situations insist things be done their way as their way is the best way (or the only good way) and made some observations.

Sometimes the way people insist or wish to do something is based on their comfort zone.  I've previously dealt with the subject of people having their comfort zones and how it relates to relationships.    That is, the place where others, especially a significant other, doesn't agree with your way, but gives you the space to do it your way because that's the way your are comfortable doing it.

If a partner's comfort zone in a relationship is say staying out all night, going who knows where, not making themselves available and coming back home with clues that they haven't exactly been well-behaved; having them do it there way might just be a bit problematic.   But, I'm really addressing the more day to day/getting along concerns.  In that vein, here are a few things to consider in determining if each other's way is suitable for your relationships.
  • Is there only one good way to accomplish or do something or more?
    • There are many different variations and ways of  making lasagna.  Some recipes may deemed better than others, but there are a number of recipes that will allow you to make a good lasagna.  Insisting on one way in this case, could be be being unnecessarily strict.
    • To go from O'Fallon, Missouri to Columbia, Missouri there is really one one good path.  That is to say, the best and only practical way is to drive I70 West.  Insisting on going that route vs. another could be considered being sensible vs illogical.
  • Is it a matter of comfort only--the way one is used to--or is it a matter of not being wired to accomplish the goal a different way?
    • The cooking examples:  Some people are just not very good at cooking complex dishes. You can walk them through cooking a complex dish step by step, but for whatever reason, they will not be able to navigate it successfully.  In other words, while they can cook, but cooking is not one of their strength. So, trying to push them too hard to cook anything more than a simple dish will probably end up in frustration for everyone.
    • Conversely, sometimes a person has never effectively been shown or told how they can do something more effectively, but it is well within their capacity to do it successfully. For example, if you aren't used to packing for vacations, you may not really know the most effective way of packing.  That very well could be something within your abilities, but just something you haven't had enough guidance/practice to do effectively.
  • Is doing the goal a different/'less effective' way risky or otherwise problematic or is it just a big deal to the your other party?  
    • For example, if time isn't an issue, you might feel more comfortable driving a certain route.  It may not be the most efficient, but really if it doesn't add too much time or distance, what does it really matter?   It may matter to the other party who doesn't approve of it, but isn't that more on them?
    • Conversely, you might under great pressure to be somewhere at a certain time and the only way to ensure that you reach your destination on time is to go a certain route.  In that case, it makes sense for your other party to insist you take that route vs. an alternative route you might prefer.
    •  Another example is determining whether loading up the car a certain way risks damaging the contents you packed or is it just not necessarily the most space efficient, when space isn't an issue?  In the first case, it could/would be best to insist that the packing is done differently.  In the second case, it might not be that big of a deal and might be a disagreement worth having.

We all have our ways.  We often like to think our way is the 'best' way and when it is just us individually, then we have to deal with the positive or negative consequences of our choice or way.  However, when another is involved, we have to take into account their thoughts, needs and concerns.  We can't just be a puppet of another and always do it their way, we have to have some space or rights to have our way considered and accepted.  As they say, some battles are worth having and some aren't.  Just some thoughts to consider.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Knew You Were Waiting For an Advocate

Aretha Franklin died this week and the music world and society is a bit poorer for it. When you think of old school R&B and Gospel, who do you think of?
I remember back in high school hearing George Michael and her on "I knew you were waiting (for me)" and I thought this was probably the highlight of his career (IMHO) doing a duo with a living legend.
In any case, hearing that song attuned me to her music.
While her passing was sad, it kind of hit home a bit for me more. My mom was born 6 days before her and that was music of my mom's era. I felt like calling my mom and relating to her, but as many of you know, she passed in 2014. Aretha's passing brought that fact home again painfully.
RIP Aretha. Perhaps, "She knew He (the Father) was waiting for her. May her music resonate in Heaven.
RIP Mom I still think about you and miss you.

If we are lucky, we have a few people in our lives who "are waiting for us".  By that I mean really advocate for us no matter what.  I mean those who will stick by us through thick or thin.  Wherever she was, she proudly announced that I was her son.  At times, I thought, "oh mom" or felt a little embarrassed, on balance I liked it.  My mom, in her last couple of years was in a nursing home and still did that.  I jokingly said to a few people that I could go on a rampage and she'd say, "I'm sure you are just having a bad day." She was my biggest advocate.

An advocate for us
  • Wants the best for us, period.  Not what they think is best for us, but what makes us happy or fulfilled.
  • Willing to overlook our imperfections.  Doesn't mean they will never say anything to us about them, but they won't define us by them.  Fixing our 'imperfections' will not be the price of admission to being in a small 'r' continued relationship with them.
  • Look for the good in us rather than focusing on our flaws.  That doesn't mean they won't every saying anything negative to us, but they don't live in the negative with us.
  • They will tend to take our side, even if it isn't always justified or even if they don't necessarily agree.  
    • They realize that sometimes it is more important for us to feel stood up for and accepted than to be 'corrected'. 
    • There is a time for revisiting a circumstance/situation later, but they are attuned to our needs now.  
I went through a divorce and someone close to me, whom I confided in, harshly criticized me in the throes of my hurt about it.  That changed my relationship to the person.  While they had some valid points, the time wasn't right.  An advocate would better handle differences of opinion.  But, I digress.

Advocates are a rare breed. When you grow up with them or you find them in life, don't take them for granted or try to 'trade up'.  Yes, there will be other people that will situation-ally or for a time take your side.  But, a true advocate will be there for you, through the good times, the bad times and the times in between.  Just my thoughts.




Friday, August 10, 2018

One Degree off Center: Just Enough to Throw Us Off


I heard someone recently characterize the how sometimes it doesn't take much to separate a person from his or her serenity.  His phrasing was "One Degree off Center".  That struck me as a very apt characterization.  This actually feeds into an idea that crystallized for me as it relates it to stress and worry. 

I've observed in my life and that of others a funny phenomenon.  They are hit with a significant negative and they are seemingly able to shrug it off.  Yet, the same person is hit with a relatively insignificant negative (often easy to recover from--a one degree off center negative).  They literally fall to pieces or have their serenity totally disrupted.  As with everything else in my blog, I have a take on this phenomenon.

I have literally avoided doing much research for what I write about as I want what I write to be organic vs. ideas and thoughts I literally lift from elsewhere.  It was suggested to me that I could strengthen my blog by doing more direct citation.  That is to say, take the kernels of an idea that comes to me, pop them, remove the ones that are burnt or unpopped and flavor it with it citations.  But, at this point I will stick with my 'tried and true' method, which is to write mostly from my soul.

Back to the point at hand.  Why do we shrug when we are hit by a big negative and get stuck on the seemingly small things.  I have a thought on that: It is our sense of control.


  • When a circumstance is well beyond our control and it is abundantly obvious to us, there is a sense that there is little point in fretting about it as there is no humanly way possible that will affect the outcome of it.
    • When my car was wrecked at the beginning of 2017, I had been worrying about keeping it in good running order for another year or so.  I'd hoped it would hold out, but I was nervous that miles were piling up on it.  This had been in the back of my mind for a while.  When another driver caused a wreck which destroyed my car, literally everything else was thrown by the wayside.
      • I no longer had to worry if the car would hold out another 30-40 miles  That choice/concern was taken away from me.
      • I no longer worried that day about making it to work on time.  It was pretty clear that I needed to go home and rest.
      • I figured that their insurance would pay for it and I'd just get a new car.
  • When a circumstance appears to be within our ability to influence or control it is easier to focus on it.  
    • I was fairly sure I left my iPod at work vs. having permanently lost it, but I didn't to drive all the way there to get it.  So, despite my best efforts, I had focused on it on and off over the weekend, hoping that I was right about it.  I was right as I did leave it at work.  I wasted my time worrying on something small because it appeared to be in my control.  

In the first point, it was totally obvious I was thrown completely off center, so I had the sense that I just needed to turn to side or turn around and I'd be back at where I'd need to be rather than trying to make a minute adjustment.  In the second point, I was very close to center, but I couldn't quite get there.  Rather than having to make a large and obvious adjustment, I only needed a slight adjustment to the circumstance to be back at center.  Unfortunately, it would have taken some effort to get back to center--driving an hour and a half to get to and back from work.  So, the one degree off center that that situation was causing me was worse anxiety in some ways than completely having to go from scratch to get a new car did.


Moral of the story: Be willing to give up the worry about that which you believe you can control.  Because a) the sense of control often is an illusion anyway and b) somethings just don't make a difference in the bigger picture.

Just my 1/50th of a dollar worth here.

-- Rich

Life's Destinations and Stops Along the Path.

I was talking to a now former fellow employee recently and she let me know she was moving on from her job from our employer. She was telling me that she had reevaluated her priorities and determined the time was right to consider her options.  I asked her about how she came to the conclusion.  I won't reveal much of the conversation except to say she felt like it was a move she had to take for multiple reasons.  One was financial, but even more important to her was that her new position gave her the sense that she'd make more of a difference in the lives of others.  She gave me a bit of her history or path to this position.  It made me ponder why she didn't hadn't made a beeline to the new position in when she had applied to my work.  In other words, if she felt like this new position would be more in line with her 'need' to make a difference, why didn't she go in that direction first.  Inasmuch as her new position will be a different sort of job, I had also wondered how she felt about her current position.

Her responses paraphrased included:
  • I have learned a lot from my current position.  In other words, while it may not be ultimately where felt she was called to be, it wasn't like she wasted her time.  She learned a lot and helped others to the extent she was able to.
  • Personal circumstance opened me eyes as far as what is important to me.  She had a recent tragedy in her life and that focused her attention on what was important to her.
I respect that and it also got me to thinking that it is so easy to second guess why we didn't see the obvious earlier.  Hindsight is said to be 20/20 for a reason.  It is also easy to ignore or forget the fact that we weren't ready for the situation or the situation wasn't ready for us.  Sometimes, we have to make another stop before we get to the destination we need to be and sometimes we have to have a game-changer in our lives to push us in a direction that we didn't have the courage or motivation to go.  And just sometimes, a seemingly small ripple can eventually become a wave.

A few examples:
  • I bought tickets to a sold out show for my now ex-wife's birthday.   On the way to the concert I lost the tickets.  I didn't really realize it was sold out and I figured I'd get more tickets.  However, when we got there, they were turning people away who didn't have tickets.  I felt awful and made a commitment to her that if the band came into town again I'd get her tickets to it.  
    • As Aerosmith was taking their sweet time making it back to St. Louis, I looked where they were touring and I saw Las Vegas and I got this idea?   Why not see them in Las Vegas and taking in Las Vegas.
    • I loved the rental car I drove much more than my own car.  I realized I'd rather have that car.  After holding out two months, I finally caved and traded in my car for a car just like the rental.
    • One seemingly small event--the loss of tickets, led to a trip to Vegas and trading in my car.
  • It was 2016 and my wife was pushing me to trade-in or replace my 10 year old car.  I was bound and determine to hold on another year to it, even if I had to dump more money into it.  I hated the car, but I was determined to work on fixing my credit more.  I had this plan in place as of January 5, 2017 that I would wait until the beginning of next year (2018) to get a new car and would keep the old car as a 2nd car to offload some of my annual miles (30K+)
    • One day (January 5, 2017)  on the way to work on snowy, slightly icy day, the driver in front of me spun out around a curve, hit the wall and came to dead stop.  By the time I got around the curve in the road and saw her, it was too late.  In one instant my best laid plans came to a crashing stop (literally).
    • I had to replace the car immediately.  I got a new car, but was unhappy as I didn't have the 2nd car I had planned. (2016 Ford Focus Titanium).  This led me to get a 2nd car that was 7 years old.  (2011 Mazda 3 GT)
    • I like the 2nd car engine and handling so much I wished I'd had the new version of that car as my first car.  After about 6 months, i traded in my 2011 Madza 3 GT for a 2018 version which had the fun of the 2011 version and the features of a new car.
    • So, in one instant, I went from having a 10 year old car to eventually having 2 newer cars.  Who'd have thought?
    • I was injured for the better part of 2017 from the accident and that led me to be aware of people's reckless driving. 

Now these examples aren't tragic, though the injury related to accident was rough.  My point is this.  Sometimes we have plans and we have goals (and sometimes we don't even realize them fully), but we don't always get to the destinations we are going to directly.   We sometimes take detours.  I was gong to get a new car and have a 2nd car, but I was going to do it on my own time or so I thought.  I wasn't ready for a new car.  I was stuck in the punishment myself (by driving an old beat up car) for having to declare bankruptcy after divorce mode.  It literally took a crash course in crashing to break that mode.


My former coworker was eventually going to get a teaching job (destination), but she didn't know it at the time.  She had to first have a layover at my employer (stop over) and than a tragedy in her life (catalyst for the change).   She had moved from her previous employer to a similar position at my employer and clearly that where she felt she was right for.  It took a tragedy to realize that my employer was a stop along the way rather than her destination.  She could have said, her new job is what she should have 'always done', but she chose to view our employer as a good stop along the way from which she learned from and which gave her time to figure out what she needed.

-

As we get used to seismic shifts in our life, we take for granted how we got there.  Sometimes we get there gradually and we have time to adjust, but sometimes they happen in an instant and we just have to immediately adjust to a new reality.  There can be a sense that the shift was to a place that was 'always' going to be our destination or destiny.  But, it wasn't always that clear.  How we got there may ultimately be a result of a small change (losing concert tickets) or a larger one (losing a loved one) that changes our trajectory.

Sometimes we think where we shifted to is our 'true' destiny or destination, but as we get older and look back we can also see that it was always just a stop along the way. 

I guess ultimately my point is this: Life changes sometimes whether we want it to or not.  Sometimes it is in an instant, sometimes it is gradual. It may be a 'destiny' or a stop along the way.   Sometimes it is change we see we needed for a long time (and we can condemn ourselves about it with the clarity of 20/20).   But whatever the case, I think it is important to be open to and embrace, even if it is painful a new reality.  Even if it is somewhere we don't want to be, we have to always remember, in time it may be where we need to be or it may be a pathway to where we will be.

Just some random musings on changes in life....


Friday, July 20, 2018

Life: A Highwire Act

I was talking with a coworker today about my mornings when I have my daughter and need to drop her off before work.  One thing she noted was that she has a checklist of things she needs to do before the kids are out the door and to where they need to be.  I too  have a mental checklist of things I need to do:

  • Make sure she's awake and stays awake.
  • Make sure she takes a shower if necessary and gets dressed.
  • Make sure she takes her medicine
  • Make sure she has breakfast or knows where she can get it--packing it if we are short on time.
  • Take a shower and get ready and get dressed.
  • Feed my cat his medicine
  • Pack myself and her a lunch.
  • Feed my cat his medicine.
  • Make sure her backpack is packed and whatever needs signed is signed.
  • Make sure I have everything I need.
  • Make sure everything we need is taken out to the car.
  • Kiss the wife goodbye and say bye to the kids if they are awake.
I'm sure I'm probably forgetting something, but I have to do all that in roughly about an hour.   That's just one part of my regular routine and by the time I drop her off, making it in about 80 minutes after I left, I feel worn out.   Suffice to say, I have to keep track of a number of things and make sure to stay focused.

Sometimes my wife is wide awake for this and sometimes she's resting.  I have such a routine going where everything is done in the same order.   If she's awake she sometimes tries to ask me if  I remember this or that.  Sometimes it's okay and sometimes I tell her, don't worry I'll let you know if I need help.  It might come across as being an ingrate or being brushed off, but I finally found the words to communicate what it is like in the morning to my wife.

Mornings are like a high-wire act.  I take one step at a time going from one end of the wire to the other end--that is to say I methodically check items off my checklist from the moment I wake up to the moment I start my commute.  I'm very focused an on task, but very intense, just like someone who would be crossing the high-wire.  Sometimes, when she intervenes, it breaks my rhythm.  I forget my place and have to readjust.   Just like if I was on a hire-wire and out of nowhere a person appeared in front of me on the other side.  It could startle me for a moment enough to throw off my balance.  I would quickly have to readjust, factor in the person on the other side and continue my progression to the other side.

So, if your significant other seems to 'reject' your help, especially in crunch situations, don't necessarily take it personally.  He or she just might have their own of coping with the situation.  Maybe after he or she has had time to exhale they can explain.  Perhaps if he or she realizes that the situation is hopelessly beyond their control they will know to reach out for hope.  Just my thoughts and realizations for the day.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Considering others, but answering only to my Higher Power (God)

The 'wisdom' of years & experience can be a double-edge sword in terms of perspective.   You can be so tied to the 'old order of things'--not realizing for example that Separate But Equal is really Separate and Inherently Unequal.  You are so tied to the old order of things that when the enlightenment plane comes along, you don't think it is your flight.   In reality, though the destination had changed, it was still the flight you needed to take.  On the other hand, as a seasoned 'flyer' in life's journey you have seen flights diverted, delayed or cancelled (rhetorically) and you know life like flights change.  Even if you don't totally recognize or understand the change, you at least recognize the need to adjust.

As I am fast approaching the mid-century mark in my life, I can see some of the old ways of counseling and behavioral medicine completely missed the mark.  Kids with autism and other spectrum related disorders were labeled as 'problem kids' and not always given the help and guidance needed. Instead, they were labeled as troubled kids in some cases.  On the other hand, I can see that sometimes in today's society pushed parents to 'relate to' and 'understand' their children more.  While it is important to know your children and be able to explain in ways they understand, sometimes we just have to be the parents.   That is to say, we have to guide and discipline them based on what will need as they travel from childhood to adulthood vs. what they are willing to readily accept.

----

Speaking of wisdom of years and experience, it has changed it has changed the way I relate to people and whom I 'seek approval' from.  When I was in my teens and twenties, I had opinions but didn't always have the confidence that goes along with age and experience.  I tended to defer to 'grownups' (aka parental figures and older folks) more.   As I've gotten older, I realize that I've learned things along the way, gathered experience and that not everything is as it is portrayed, including in politics.

Everyone wants to have their take accepted to varying degrees.  Some people seem to need a constant feedback of praise or validation, while others seem to measure their take against a principle or set of principles.

For what it's worth, here is my take:
  • The take of others has to be considered. 
    • Someone who has devoted time/service to their country--sometimes at great cost--is someone who has earned a right to be heard and considered.
    • Similar people in a place of authority.
    • Your spouse and kids, whom are affected by your decisions need to be taken into account when you make a big decision.  For example, can't just accept a job out of town without consulting them and expect them to go along without any chance of resistance. 
    • A friend or family member who has observed you for years often can give you an outsider's perspective from someone who you'd expect to have your best interests in mind.
    • More often we are able to discern their motive or perspective and assess where it is coming from--a selfless place, a mixed motive place or a selfish place.
  • Ultimately, I have to measure my decisions/choices against that of my Higher Power (aka God).
    • As His child, I know He sees and knows things about me which no one could possibly.
    • As His child, I know He created me in His own image and therefore wants what is best for me.
    • As His child, I know He wants me to trust His divine judgment.
    • As His child, I know He has put forward principles in my life (Ten Commandments/The Golden Rule/Proverbs/etc) for my enlightenment and wisdom.
  • I know He didn't shape me to be one of a mass produced robots.
    • He shaped me individually with my individual talents/strengths.
    • He shaped me with free will.  He wants to be appreciated by His children, but He wants it come honestly I believe.
    • He saw that 'man' cannot live an island.  We are social creatures and need the company/companionship of others in our lives.  Obviously, we have to take into account their needs too. 
    • While we aren't an island, we can't just put the 'need' for acceptance from others above His eternal wisdom ('rules') and his knowledge what is best for us.

I have had family and friends who have properly thought--or occasionally rationalized to themselves--that they were advising me in what they saw as 'my best interests'.   Usually, it is, but it hasn't necessarily always been.  Sometimes the advice is welcomed, sometimes it is not, but regardless I have always felt it best that it is best that either way, I have to do what I understand is best in His eyes.  That is, not just what I can rationalize that He would 'accept', but what I can back up with my knowledge of His word and discern with His guidance through prayer and meditation.   There is a time for quietly listening to the guidance of others and there is a time for letting others know that their guidance is not helpful, but it is always the right time to seek out and follow His guidance.