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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Shame: A place we visit, but an unhealthy place to live.


I was talking to a friend recently who was discussing a personal struggle.  Now, the friend didn't let the struggle get the better of him at that time, but it was close.  So, it occurred to me, the situation was like running on a sidewalk and nearly falling on your face, but putting down your hand to break the fall before your head hit the pavement.  Sure, your hand got roughed up a little and needs some first aid, but you could have very easily fallen on your head and ended up in the ER.

The point was not to minimize to the issue, struggle or near failure, but was to let him know that it could have been much worse and not to dwell on or beat himself up over it.  That is instead appreciate that his Higher Power kept him safe and out of trouble.  In the meantime, he could take the near failure as a warning sign and wake-up call to work on his struggles.

I think, as a people it is easy to operate in black and white thinking.  That is, either to blow failures (or near failures) completely out of proportion OR alternatively blow them off.  I believe God gave us a conscience to be aware of our imperfections and need for Him rather than to be used as a weapon to inflict harm upon ourselves or as a speed-bump to be ignored.

I guess I'd characterize legitimate shame that comes with a healthy conscience as a check and reminder for us to be mindful of our spiritual role in family, society and the world at large, but not as a sledgehammer to destroy ourselves.

To summarize, my take on what my Higher Power (God) has revealed to me and reminded me in this story:

  1. Lean on Him, His wisdom and not my own understanding, I should not take it for granted that I have all the answers or strength.  This includes leaning on Him after I make a mistake. 
  2. I am human and therefore I am bound to struggle from time to time and make mistakes.  Not to condone mistakes, intentional or not, but instead to realize that I am a work in progress.
  3. When I barely avoid a bad choice, mistake or screw-up: I shouldn't pat myself on the back for my ingenuity or 'success', but I shouldn't totally destroy myself either.  I should take it as a learning opportunity and be grateful that my Higher Power was looking out for me.
  4. When I make a bad choice, mistake or screw-up:  I should make amends where necessary and possible and reflect on it with contrition.  I should also seek what led to it and use whatever shame I feel from it not to paralyze me, but to motivate me to do whatever I need to avoid the mistake again and/or to make it right where possible.
Anyway, just my thoughts for the day.  As always, it is sometimes easier to give advice than to follow it, but at least putting it down gives me to opportunity to reflect on it myself.

Yours Truly,


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Nothing to Sneeze At: Different definitions of success

History is littered with what we now consider odd symbols of wealth or success.  Being fat used to be a sign of being wealthy especially in accent times, where plentiful or readily available food wasn't always guaranteed.  The ability to sneeze upon demand oddly was one too.  Sneezing was thought to be a way of clearing one's mind.  Those with idle time and/or the money to afford snuff--which could induce sneezing--were typically aristocrats.  Interestingly enough, sneezing in conversation was typically considered a sign of disapproval.  Hence, "not to be sneezed at", indicated that something was worthwhile.  Anyway, when we think about the phrase, "nothing to sneeze at", we think of an amount of money that is significant.  But really you could apply that phrase to any measure of success.

When we measure success, we most often think of how much monetary advantage someone has gained.  However, as we know that is but one measure of success in a person's life.  From my perspective, there are many measures of success and not all traditional.  By it's nature, traditional implies long established or understood.  So, let's start with the more readily thought of measures.

MORE TRADITIONAL MEASURES OF SUCCESS
  • Wealth
    • A person who has a lot of money, especially if they've largely earned it themselves is typically considered successful.   Gaining or accumulating a small fortune is not an easy task for most, so society looks upon it as a sign of accomplishment.
    • A person is considered 'successful' if they can provide a comfortable (aka free of money concerns) for themselves and family.   Being able to provide that in death is also a sign of success. 
  • Power
    • Being able to shape events and shape the world around you is another common sign of success, especially considering those with money can more easily buy influence.
    • Power, often, but not always, comes in conjunction with having 'made money' or the ability to do so.
    • I believe in society we tend to admire those who are able to exert control over as many of us feel like we are powerless in the worlds.  Typically those who are able to do so have a better chance of making sure they and their friends are 'taken care of' and we hope that they can take care of us (those whom they lead or 'rule' over).
  • Awards or Achievements
    • Not everyone can be the best or win at something.  We tend to recognize achievements, especially those that are rare and/or above and beyond the norm as indicators of success.
      • In the NBA for example, there is only one person who is considered the most valuable to their team per year.  So, to get that award really speaks volumes about your success, especially where it relates to helping your team.
      • The Noble Peace Prize likewise is award to person or group every year.  So, if you are nominated and win it, it typically speaks volumes about how people value your efforts towards advancing peace.
    • Typically, but not always, an award or achievement is forever.  Therefore, not only will you be recognized at the time it is given, but you will go down in the 'history books' when you achieve or are recognize for greatness.
  • Fame
    • Typically, but not always comes with wealth.
    • Often is associated with some degree of influence or power.
    • Tends to come with, but not always, awards or accomplishments.
    • Is a sign of 'relevance'.  
      • While it is probable that being rich will tend to make one more memorable, it isn't a guarantee thereof.  While wealth my guarantee some publicity in one's own life or the life of one's own life, it is no guarantee that generations hence that you'll be remembered or even thought of.
      • Once we get past survival thoughts, I believe there is a spiritual yearning in many if not most people to feel like they matter.  
  • Successful influence.
    • Even if we don't 'succeed' according to the world's other measures of success, we may be considered successful if our children that we've raised have achieved one or more of the previous measures.
    • We ourselves can gain some measure of pride if we can claim that we helped our children (or players or students/spouse) to succeed.  


LESS TRADITIONAL MEASURES OF SUCCESS
  • Sacrifice
    • This may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes success is sacrifice, especially if that sacrifice was not in vein such as in examples below:
      • A soldier who dies in the service of his/her country, can through his/her efforts be part of a larger success in military victory and/or keeping us safe.
      • A fireman who dies in the line of duty--such as on 9/11--while leading other to safety has succeeded in making the world (or his/her part of it) a better place.
      • A police officer who dies in the line of duty, but helped keep his/her town safe by protecting the citizenry in the process.
    • Sacrifice can mean giving up of our hard earned time or treasure to help others succeed.  If we by our sacrifice help others to succeed, then we have achieved a level of success ourselves.  Successfully passing it on.
  • Survival
    • This can take many forms some include:
      • Literal physical survival such as in a battle (such as in war or a personal fight like cancer). 
        • When pinned being enemy lines, being able to make it out alive can be success (a miracle)
        • When you are deemed to be terminal and given only a short time to live, beating the odds can be a huge success story.
        • When you have a hard-core addiction, especially one that could be life-threatening, it may not seem like much, but success can be as simple as making it alive and sober another day.
      • Keeping a roof and food over your head in a bad economic downturn.  When you don't know how you'll make it, being able to look back and say, "somehow I made" it is a sign of success at navigating the storm.
      • Emotionally surviving after an attack or repeated abuse.  Sometimes having the strength to endure and to recover without getting destroyed or destroying yourself is a miracle.
      • Spiritually surviving trying circumstances (such as loss of job, family members or home).  Keeping the faith despite the world around you seeming to collapse is not something everyone does.
    • People who haven't been through the rough times, cannot always appreciate that success in life can be as simple as surviving.
    • Survival can be a success on the way to other successes (thriving). 
  • Simple Completion
    • In some ways this can be considered a success or a point just past survival.
    • Some challenges are so great that we don't have to be the best to be considered a winner or success.  Examples are as follows:
      • Finishing last place in a marathon is in itself a success.  Many people either don't finish or never have tried in the first place
      • A baseball player who makes it to the major leagues for a short stint, never to taste that success again can be considered a success.  Especially if/considering:
        • That player was not considered to have the talent level to make it.
        • For all those who have played the game, it is a rare class of people that even touch that level of success, even for a moment or brief stint.
  • Serenity or Spiritual Peace
    • We may not have the recognition, the worldly 'successes', the praise, the glory or even the simple notes of appreciation, but there is something to be said for being at peace with your Higher Power.
    • Many people live their whole life, never having achieved any level of serenity or spiritual peace, so achieving it is achieving a success that no other worldly success can match.
    • Serenity or Spiritual Peace can help us whether storms or lack of 'successes' in other areas of our lives.
    • The importance of it best captured by this verse: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)
  • Successfully Leading/Supporting 
    • Our children, students or players may never achieve pinnacles of the traditional measures of success, but that's okay.  Not everyone can be the richest, most famous, most accomplished or powerful.
    • Our spouse may never be achieve the pinnacle of success, but if we have supported him or her and encouraged him or her to be the best they can be, that is a measure of success.
    • In a world in which many people crash and burn and fail, leading those under us to well-adjusted lives is in itself "nothing to sneeze at".  We can't guarantee them 'worldly success', but we can give them the tools to be well-adjusted. 

In this world, we are often pushed by those close to us to succeed according to worldly standards. We are pushed by who are well meaning and by those who live vicariously through us.  While it can be a good thing to strive towards the traditional or worldly measures of success, it is important to never forget the more basic and less traditional measures, thereof.  Doing so, I believe can help us to be more grounded and can keep us from getting discouraged when we aren't succeeding as well as we'd like by the traditional measures.  But, I believe in all our successes we should remember the following:
  1. Never forget those who helped us along the way (especially and including our Higher Power).
  2. It is okay to have some pride in our successful efforts, but it is important not to be too prideful.
  3. Worldly 'success' can be fleeting, so appreciate it while it is there, but always be aware of the the less traditional measures of success which tend to be longer lasting if not eternal.
  4. The measure of who we are is we do with what we have.  (Vince Lombardi)  We are not guaranteed worldly success by any measure, but I believe we are guaranteed being considered a success by our Higher Power if we do the best with what we are given.

Thanks for reading,
Rich


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Getting your Moby: Strategies for Success

A good friend of mine recently went whale watching around the tip of Cape Cod.  I asked him if he brought the tarter sauce along with him.  He just kind of laughed and I asked him if he got his Moby on.  He laughed again unaware of what I meant.  Unbeknownst to him--that is until he reads this--his story reminded me of a time back in high school when I was a cross country and track athlete.

Anyone who has competitively raced knows that success at it is largely mental.  Of course, you have to have decent God-given talent, but you have to have determination and drive too, especially to push when you don't feel it.  Competitive racing and training is such a grind that it is easy to dwell on the negative such and pain and discomfort.  When you are tired, hurting and/or just having a not feeling it day, it can be easy to just want to throw in the towel.  Anyway, my track coach was big on the power of positive thinking.  He would usually have us get comfortable, lie down on a table or carpet and close our eyes.  He would throw then on a tape. We would listen to motivational speakers such as Zig Ziglar.  Anyway, one particular tape comes to mind.  In the tape, the speaker implored us to expect success.  He spoke about bringing tarter sauce with us in the pursuit of Moby Dick.  His point was not that you'll end up dying in pursuit of your goal--though for a few that might be a reality--but rather to expect success.  That is to say, be so tuned in or focused and confident about succeeding that we don't give the negative thoughts any space in our mind.  In other words, EXPECT success, not just hope for it.  (Of course, as teenagers we thought the tape was hilarious, but it's over 30 years later and I still think upon or remember it.  So, clearly its message was not lost.

So, it occurred to me that Moby Dick represents our goal(s).   Not easy to achieve goals, but goals which take time and focus and which can be elusive.  I touched upon this in an earlier blog, so some of this is a repeat, but I'd thought I'd expound a little.


We have choices in life as to how to live:
  1. Do nothing and failure is very likely to come.
  2. Make a minimal effort by "Going through the motions" to try to fool yourself or others into thinking you've tried.
  3. Push hard and hope to succeed.
  4. When your body and soul are screaming out, "I can't take it anymore.", push a bit further and further.

Your likely success for each choice in the same order will be:
  1. Probable failure
  2. Marginal success
  3. Taste some success.
  4. Live with numerous successes.

No one ever said success would be easy.  It may seem like it is impossible at times.  But, how can you succeed at those points.  In my own life I've found the following strategies tend to work.

  • Break the big goals into smaller, easier to conceive, easier to achieve goals.
    • If I am pushing a hard 20 laps around the track, I don't focus on all 20 at once, I focus on achieving portions of the 20.
      • While completing the first lap, tell myself, I'm almost at 5% done.
      • While completing the second lap, tell myself I'm almost at 10% done.
      • ...
      • While completing the tenth lap, tell myself, I've almost got the majority of my run out of the way.
      • ...
      • As I am wrapping up my last lap, tell myself, I just need to push a little longer.
      • I now have completed the 20 laps.
    • If I am working on a project at work, I focus on getting smaller units of the project working.
      • Design
      • Create
      • Test
      • Implement
      • Repeat the cycle for each element of the project.  Pretty soon I'll have all elements of the project done.
    • Having smaller successes keeps morale up, keeps the forward momentum and most importantly increases confidence.  Successes build on each other.
  • Realize that failure is part of the path to success and work not to take it personally.
    • Even within failure there can be some success
      • Sometimes 'failures' result in getting closer to your ultimate goal.
        • You miss making the team this spring, but you've shown enough get on the team's radar--being a possible next call-up.
        • You miss being named the starter, but you shown enough that you are second on the depth chart vs. third last year (in short closer to starting).
      • In 'failing' you can learn lessons that can lead to ultimate success.
        • Thomas Edison had hundreds of failed attempts at the light bulb.  With each failed attempt, he eliminated options that had failed.
        • Eventually, he found a combination of material and design that worked for him.
    • An easy early 'success' can lead to a false confidence or taking it for granted.
      • Initial failures can teach persistence.  That is, it can ingrain the need to stay at it when success is elusive.
      • Having to really work to achieve success, can make success sweeter vs. having a 'cheap' victory.
    • Use failures or setbacks as a motivating tool to try harder.  When you lose a job, lose a promotion or have another setback, mourn it where necessary, but turn around and vow to work that much harder to avoid a similar setback again.
  • Focusing on what you can do, not what you can't.
    • That means don't get stuck on your 'failures' or weaknesses, but instead focus on your strengths.  
      • Focusing too much on weaknesses or failures can be mentally or emotionally disabling, such as a relief pitcher that cannot get past a blown save or two and loses his nerve.
      • Focusing on strengths can help you build confidence for when you have to face the tougher situations again.
    • That doesn't necessarily mean ignoring weaknesses, but instead not letting them overtake you.
      • If you have a weakness, own it rather than letting it own you.  Don't live in shame of a weakness, but instead live in awareness.
      • Instead of letting it overtake you, use it as a motivator.  Realize that it is something that you can and will always work to get better at.
    • As a kid and young adult, I focused on the fact that I wasn't particularly handy around the house or with cars. 
      • I should have spent more time focusing on what I was good at.  I have always been very technically literate and good thinker and now writer.
      • Over time some of the problem solving/critical thinking skills used in dealing with technical issues, I could learn to channel into everyday handyman type issues.  That is, I might never be an expert electrician, carpenter or the like, but that doesn't mean I couldn't learn anything.
  • Surround yourself with positive people and doers.
    • It is human nature to want to fit in.  If you are with positive people and doers, you will tend to strive to emulate them.  In other words, you'll tend to actively emulate success.
    • Positive people and doers will rub off on you.  Without even knowing it, you can pick up positive traits, helpful hints and just positive thinking.  In other words, absorbing the positive energy and steps necessary to be positive and successful.
  • Keep or limit the negative people and circumstances in your life and find a way to bleed out or channel the negative where necessary.
    • Negative people or circumstances can be very draining.  They can actually feed negative energy in your life.  Nobody needs that.
    • Unwittingly in a desire to fit in, you may start to dwell too much in the negative along with negative people.
    • This doesn't necessarily mean ignoring, disowning or acting like you are above them, but instead understanding that you cannot live in their negative. Therefore, limit exposure to them where necessary or possible and recognize their toxicity in either case.
    • Understand we live in an imperfect world and not every day or every situation will be 'peaches and cream'.  Sometimes we can't totally wish away or ignore the negative.
      • Do not live it, but instead acknowledge and surrender it.
      • Do not live it, but instead properly deal with or mourn the negative where necessary.

I'm sure many people have their own route to success.  These are just some techniques and observations I've used in achieving the successes I've had in my own life.  As always, I recognize that I don't have all the answers and others may have their own strategies or paths to success.  So, like I do, take what you find useful or helpful from my words.

Thanks,
Rich


If you like this blog, you will like: 
Baseball and life: The winner mindset, a tribute to the upcoming season 
and
The Fine Line: Failure takes no effort, success takes a lot of work




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Playing God with Vices and Virtues

As long as mankind has had standards, rules or laws as it relates to behaviors and actions, we will have had people who press hard on others to follow them, while they secretly break them.  There are many ways to describe this behavior.  How we describe this behavior goes by many names (below of which are but just a few):
  • Duplicity
  • Hypocrisy 
  • Sanctimoniousness
  • Cognitive dissonance
--

For the sake of discussion, let's just call out a few examples of this behavior:
  • Publicly preaching tolerance (religious, racial, sexual...), while privately condemning or discriminating those whom they preach tolerance about.
  • Railing about the depravity of gambling, while going in the gas station and picking up a handful of lottery tickets.
  • Lifting oneself up as a champion and protector of kids, while engaging in inappropriate behavior with kids on the side.
  • Calling for others to conserve energy or water while extravagantly using them.
--

Most people see this behavior as hypocritical, which it is.  I believe many see this type of behavior as being contemptful towards perceived 'lessors', which it can be.  While this behavior can fit both of those perceptions, it can also be an indication of deeper psychological or spiritual problems.  I believe a person who engages in what we see as hypocritical behavior--do as I say and not do--can get to a point where they are so far passed the appreciation of their hypocrisy and consideration of contempt.  They can get to a point where what we are seeing is a spiritual or psychological battle played out before us.  From my observations, I see this play out in one of two ways:
  1. Feeling like they are pushing so hard to help others or society at large that are entitled to not having to fight the struggle.  Mindset includes such thoughts as:
    • My fight against the ill is so draining or taxing that I simply don't have the energy to fit the temptation in my own life.
    • As someone who is heavily involved in fighting the ill or vice, I am familiar with how not to take it to an extreme, but the public or groups I'm talking to not so much.
  2. Feeling guilty for having that vice or behavior rule their life that they have to 'atone' for it somehow.  Mindset includes such thoughts as:
    • I know I am a bad person for engaging this vice, but if I prevent others from doing so, then on the moral/spiritual scale, I will have done more good than bad.   Therefore, will have atoned for my own behavior/failings re: this vice.
    • I'm not such a bad person.  Sure I may have this problem--deviancy, for example--but when you consider what good I've done for society in helping others, why its small in comparison.
    • How could I be that kind of person--bigoted or intolerant, for example--after all look at who I associate with, treat well or champion.
--

In AA, such behavior is referred to as "stinking thinking".  The way I see it, in essence a person who engages in this behavior or thinking is effectively playing God with their vices and virtues, hence the title of the blog post.  Effectively, they are engaging in one or more of judgments in their own life that we normally think it is the role of one's Higher Power to determine:
  • Judging their own inherent goodness and therefore what they are 'entitled' to.
  • Judging, by themselves, their own strengths and weakness rather than including or being open to their HP for wisdom.
  • Judging what 'sins' they need to atone for and how to do it on their own terms rather than on their Higher Power's.
  • Judging or determining what is a 'real' sin and what is a big deal.

Anyway, just my thoughts for the day and what I feel I have been led to say.  While we may be right in determining a person to be a hypocrite and maybe contemptful based on their 'do as I say, not do behavior', as I spelled out above, I really do believe sometimes the psychology of 'hypocritical' behavior shows a deeper spiritual problem.  Namely, playing the role of God with virtues and vices and the associated rationalizations and thinking that goes along with that.

Whether you agree, disagree or are somewhere in between on this point, I appreciate you taking your time to read my thoughts and analysis on this subject matter.  My goal with the analysis in my posts isn't to be 'always right', bur rather to perhaps give an alternative or less considered perspective.

Thanks for reading,
Rich


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Strays: Thoughts on those who don't conform or fit in.

I am leading this blog post with part of my story, not for attention, to gain sympathy or empathy or anything like that, but instead to establish my credentials for personally understanding the subject of what I call 'strays'.

So, those of you who know me pretty well know that I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family.   I'm not going to get great detail about how or why I say it was dysfunctional as that is not the point of this post.  I will say however that there was anger and alcoholism present.  Let's just say the dysfunction hampered mine and my siblings 'socialization'--whatever that means.  We went to school looking like the poor family in a middle class school.  A telling time for me was when this kid ripped my shirt after picking on me and was told to bring a replacement shirt for me.  The next day he brought a couple of beat-up old looking shirts and when I complained about their condition, he noted he was just replacing what he tore.   Suffice to say, I was humiliated.  Our home life had that poor look too.  Additionally, we were taught that it was more important not to bring trouble or grief home than to stand up for ourselves.  In other words, not to bring unwanted attention from school or wherever.  I know for myself that led to me avoiding fights (or at least defending myself) most of the time during elementary school.  I was more afraid of getting in trouble for getting into a fight than defending myself.  Furthermore, I never got to know any of my relatives like aunts, uncles, cousins or Grandparents and due to our dysfunction at home, my opportunities for socializing were tremendously limited.  Given all of the above as well as sexual abuse, I never had a chance to socialize properly into or to be the 'popular' or 'cool' kid.  Instead, I was going to be the awkward, low-esteem kid, who didn't know how to relate, who was intense at times, who painfully craved approval and was focused on survival.

I was more likely to be picked on than to be appreciated. Honestly, at times I would have been grateful to be invisible.    In any case, due to all these circumstances, I developed a strong tendency to view myself as an outsider and to be very introspective.  As I have reached my mid to late 40s, I realize that far from being unique, that there are many who for various reasons did not fit the mold of the in-crowd or those who could at least blend in enough to fake it.   When we use the word 'stray', we think of an animal who could be a beloved pet, but instead of having a home is forced to survive out in the 'wilderness' for a while, if not forever.  As I see it relates to people by denoting someone who may have a place to live, but doesn't quite have a home, at least in terms of an accepted group.  But, like a stray animal, often times such a person below their unpolished and maybe awkward exterior, has hidden value and the potential to thrive in the right setting.

Back to my story.  I felt I would never 'fit in' and maybe didn't deserve to.  Perhaps, I never truly never will totally 'fit in'.  I used to view that as a curse, but, as time has gone by, as I've gotten older and had more time to consider things.  In some ways, this is a blessing.  Instead of being a 'cog' whose credentials entitled me to roam among a group of 'surface' friends, I know those who count me as friends do not require me to offer my credentials as the price of admission.   In short, I know that I can be who I am and will be accepted (and even loved) for that.  To me, this is better than trying to be a "Jones".  Had I 'fit in' from early on, I may have never had the richness of meeting and getting to know others who didn't grow up 'credentialed' either.  In other words, 'strays' who are beautiful, individual, non-pretentious souls who value people and relationships over being a 'Jones'.

Suffice to say, I've had the opportunity to get to know people of many stripes.  Many of them, for various reasons don't fit any particular 'mold'.   In other words, they are good people, but don't necessarily fit in the nice cozy, comfortable, 'corporate' and (sometimes) counterfeit cliches.  They won't necessarily have a huge circle of friends, but the ones they have are legitimate.   As I mentioned, I refer to them lovingly as 'strays'.  I'm a proud stray.  Sure, like everyone else I want to fit in.  I don't want to feel like an outcast in a cold unfeeling world, but I don't want my relationships to be defined by me being accepted because I am 'socialized' in the 'approved' way.   So, whom and what do I view as 'strays'.   Not all points will apply to those people I see as strays.  But, I digress.

WHO IS A STRAY (AS I SEE IT) AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ONE?
  • A stray is someone who doesn't fit into the usual social structure.
    • They may not be widely accepted in church.
    • They may not be widely accepted in school.
    • They may not be widely accepted in corporate.
    • The don't necessarily comfortably fit into any cliches or group.  
  •  A stray is someone who for some reason (often beyond their control) cannot easily fit in well.
    • Their family of origin had limited means in an environment which was littered by family with means.
    • They have or had physical or other limitations in an environment where others don't.
    • They have a dysfunctional family in an environment in which all others seem to have a 'normal' family.
    • They do not have the 'approved' or 'normal' interests for those whom they are surrounded by.
  • A stray is someone who doesn't necessarily follow 'the way' of groups they are around.
    • They value their independence over being accepted.
    • They can and do engage others and will try new things, but will not (and often times are incapable of) being something or someone they aren't.
    • Their interests do not necessarily fit into any specific group.
    • They can't necessarily strongly relate to groups that they are considered part of or that happen to share a circle with.  Though, they can appreciate them.  Examples below:
      • They are around hunters, but do not hunt.
      • They are around bikers, but do not bike.
      • They are around cooks or bakers, but do not cook.
      • They are around devote people of their faith who like 'Christian' or 'gospel' music, but they aren't in love with such music. 
      • They are around those who are public speakers, but struggle to speak in front of large groups.
      • They are technical types, but they don't feel like identifying as a 'techie'.
      • They are around those who drink socially, but they don't feel a strong desire to.
  • A stray values truth or authenticity vs. just trying to fit in.
    • It doesn't mean they don't any effort to relate, it just means they aren't willing to sacrifice who they are in the process.  They'd rather have truthful, authentic and deeper relationships than 'friendships' of convenience.
    • Even if they don't necessarily realize it, they do have their own unique identity.  It is a matter of realizing or finding it.
    • Trying to be someone who they aren't to fit in doesn't feel comfortable to them. 
    • At one point, they may have tried to fit into a group or groups, but either were not welcomed or didn't feel the same of being in place.
    • They tend to relate best to others with a similar sense of 'being out of the mainstream'.
History is littered with examples of people that were viewed as different, odd or who just didn't fit in but later grew to be accomplished.   Andrew Jackson started out as a humbly in the Waxhaws region of NC.  He was an outsider to the political class, but became a hero in the War of 1812 and later became the Seventh President of the United States.  But, perhaps the most famous 'stray' in history was Jesus.  He was born of humble virgin birth with His earthly father being a carpenter.  He could have 'fit in', but he challenged the orthodox views of the day.  Jesus, by choice and obeying the Father, chose not to identify with prestigious and powerful, but instead chose to relate to the modest.  With His authority He could have been a rich and powerful ruler, but instead He choose to be a stray.  He walked a path in obedience of His Father, sacrificing His life for ours.   He could have had it all, but instead He focused on what was important, being there for us, shunning the comfortable life and a set home.  He truly was the ultimate 'stray'.  Know who He was and how He viewed 'strays' aka 'the meek', make me realize that if He can see value in those who are forgotten or overlooked, then perhaps I'm not too important to do the same.

Just some thoughts.





Saturday, July 8, 2017

I Want To See You Be Brave: Foolish courage versus legitimate bravery.

Due to a just completed Washington, D.C. trip, I took a bit over a week away from my blog. However, given that part of my D.C. trip consisted of visiting heroes of the American Revolution as well as those who died in the service of our country, I think the topic matter of bravery is appropriate at this time.

Anyway, I think that I like most people, have some areas of life in which I'm brave in and some areas in which I am not so brave in.  I can be very brave in tolerating pain, but I've been known to avoid making necessary calls to deal with a creditor.  Sometimes, my bravery (or lack thereof) will be based on whom I'm having to deal with.  Sometimes, however it can be dependent on how I am feeling at the moment--anxious, carefree, etc...

I thought I'd take the opportunity to make a few observations on bravery, specifically when it is legitimate and when it is what I call 'foolish courage'.  I tend to be a realist by nature, so I don't expect 100% agreement on my take from someone who is more of a dream, but I digress.  Below are some examples.


Legitimate Bravery 
  • Handling an illness, especially where pain or discomfort is involved, with grace and dignity.
  • Facing (legitimate) and certain discipline without complaining, making excuses or trying to justify the actions or behavior which led to it.
  • Facing an unexpected loss (personal or financial) and focusing on what needs to be done rather than being paralyzed
    • Making burial arrangements
    • Making payment arrangements when unexpected expenses show up.
  • Risking your own safety and health to protect others
    • Fighting fires as a fireman
    • Protecting lives as a police officer, especially in dangerous situations.
    • Stepping up and protecting loved ones (or strangers) when threatened
  • Saying no to peer pressure especially where there is a high risk of being berated or worse.
  • Standing up for your beliefs when there is a cost to it.

Foolish Courage
  • Building up the 'courage' to do something reckless, stupid or wrong.
    • Drag racing or a reckless stunt where you aren't trained at either in an attempt to prove how 'brave' you are.
    • Purposely confronting and being antagonistic toward an aggressive person or group.
    • Seeking to get illegal drugs or in illicit behavior where there is a high cost to getting 'caught'.
  • Trying to do a dangerous task by yourself, when you have readily available help.
  • Not avoiding a troubled area of town just to show how 'brave' you are, when there is a perfectly legitimate alternative route.
  • Taking on an assignment which you are hopelessly unqualified and will likely fail rather than taking on a challenging but more realistic task, especially where the motivation is greed or to prove something.

Sometimes it is clear whether one is engaging what I call 'foolish courage' or 'legitimate bravery' and sometimes the lines are blurred.  Sometimes, I believe the two can overlap.  For example, when you try to rescue someone you clearly aren't qualified or able to and put your own life in danger.  On the one hand that is brave, but on the other hand that can be foolish.  For me the biggest determining factor is what is the individual's motivation.  That is, is he or she being 'brave' because it is the right thing to do, or because it is designed to gain them validation or fill a selfish desire. If the behavior is done because it is the right thing to do, it is more likely to be done with legitimate bravery.  If it is because of wrong or faulty motivation, it is likely done with foolish courage.

A good way to wrap this blog up is by asking a few questions when considering whether you are being brave or being foolish (some of which I have already alluded to):
  • Are your actions based on the need for validation?
  • Are your actions based on seeking some selfish gain?
  • Are your actions putting your own interests over that of another?
  • Are your actions based on desiring to the the right thing? And do you think about them or just do them/
  • If your actions have mixed motivations, would you engage in the 'brave' behavior if there was no chance of gain or validation for you out of it.  
    • If only your Higher Power (God) knew of your good deed, would you still do it?
    • Or do you feel the need to have your good deed noticed?
  • Are your actions based on trying to satisfy an addictive 'need'?
  • Is there a safer (and effective) way to accomplish what you are considering doing?
  • Has the opportunity to be 'brave' presented itself or is it something that is being forced?  

In many cases, it is clear to all whether we are engaging in foolish courage or actual bravery.  However, in many cases, only we and our Higher Power (God) truly know.  In those situations, if we are honest with ourselves, I believe we will know the difference.  My takeaway: There will always opportunities to be brave should you desire to do so.  When the opportunity appears to present itself, put your motivations second and see if it is the right time to be brave or if you are likely just going to engage in 'foolish courage'.  I believe at those times we know in our heart what is the right thing to do and if we don't get in our own way will do it.


Just some thoughts...


    Saturday, June 24, 2017

    I will survive: Survivors vs. victims


    I was visiting my brother's grave-site today and realized that he'd tough circumstances and obviously he didn't make it.  Yet, I had faced some of the circumstances or demons that he had, yet with God's help and grace, I managed to pull through, though not unscathed.  We were very close in age and had similar personalities.  So, I've wondered to myself why him and why not me?  But,  I digress.

    Long before the reality TV show Survivor started its run, people actually did have to emotionally and physically survive trying circumstances.  Survivor has people artificially "marooned" in various remote locations and they must seek out food, water and shelter.  To me, it seems like a little extreme version of roughing it to try to win a huge cash prize than an actual situation or circumstance to survive.  I mean really are they going to let the contestants get anywhere close to dying or allow them to be risk deep trauma?   When we think of survivors, we think of those who have had to endure the horrors of war and being subjected to daily risk of not coming home, the trials of sexual and other types of abuse, the devastating effects of illness or the stress of not knowing where their next meal will come from and other similar extreme circumstances.

    When we discuss people who have gone through rough circumstances, we generally put them into two main categories: survivors and victims.  Being a survivor doesn't mean you go through life unscathed, just like being a victim doesn't mean you end up dead or permanently maimed.  A survivor is thought of as a person who has made it through trying circumstances and come out alive, if not mostly physically and/or emotionally intact.  A victim is thought of as a person who faces trying circumstances and dies or is significantly physically and/or emotionally damaged or destroyed.  In some instances, however, whether a person is deemed a survivor or victim depends on perspective.
    For example, a recovering drug addict can be emotionally intact but physically debilitated, but yet we might view them as a survivor if we focus on their emotional well-being or spirit.  But, we might view them as a victim if we focus on their deeply compromised physical health.  But, I digress, why do some people face rough circumstances and "live to tell" about it, whereas others are destroyed physically and/or mentally if they even live after them?   As they say, "That's the $64,000 question."  Anyway, the purpose of this blog post is ponder the characteristics of each and what leads to or is behind those who fall in those categories.

    First characteristics of "victims" as I see it:

    Victims

    • If they don't die or give up immediately, they tend to break down over time.  Either way, they tend to be heavily physically and/or mentally damaged if not destroyed (either figuratively or literally as in death).
    • They have stopped being able to recover from bad breaks or circumstances in life.  They've had one too many bad circumstance or too large a circumstance for them to recover from.
      • For example, an addict who loses custody of their child and that is an psychological bridge too far for them and as a result they lose the will to live or have a death-wish.
      • An childhood abuse victim who seems to "make it", but really have just been hanging on and finally a bad break destroys their will to live.
    • They have lost their hope or faith (and often feel the loss of support)
    • They tend to live a glass half-empty type life. They may be:
      • Afraid of living.
      • Afraid of failing. (paralyzed by it)
      • Afraid of trying.
      • Afraid of dying.
    • They lose their ability to 'scramble' or 'cope' when adversity hits.
      • They may fold under adversity, expecting that there is no immediate hope or that it will all end up bad anyways.
      • They tend to be more paralyzed by fear rather than more motivated to find a way past it, when adversity hits.
      • They may end up 'requiring' someone to 'save' them.  But as we know ultimately, there is so much 'rescuing' that others can do before that option is exhausted. 
    • They may not be blessed with the same level of survival skills as others.  I believe that while survival is based largely on spiritual and environment factors, I don't discount that DNA plays a role in our ability to survive.  After all, some people from a family with a history of mental illness for example.  (In short, they may have some Humpty Dumpty built into them).
    In short, victims tend to get stuck, lose faith, ultimately expect failure, may be fragile, tend to fall apart rather than recover and fold when their support system fails them.



    Now characteristics of "survivors" as see it:

    Survivors
    • They tend to find a way to make it through rough times (even the roughest).  The find the resources to either limit 'breaking down' if not halt it or to recover from when they break down.
    • Their hope and faith may not be perfect, but deep down inside they know they have support from their Higher Power (God).
      • Their Higher Power (God) may allow them to face adverse circumstances, but they sense that He is with them and will help them through the bad circumstances.
      • They know someone has their back (their Higher Power, family and/or friends)
    • Their Higher Power (God) may have blessed them with the constitution & mental toughness to withstand even the worst pressured.
    • They tend to see the glass as half-full and even when they don't, they are aware that more often than not, the glass has enough in to allow them to get what and where they need. 
      • Afraid of not having tried (will take chances or try)
      • Motivated not to fail,
      • Determine not to give up or in (to live).
      • Not paralyzed by the fear of dying.
    • When adversity hits, they go into "assess and survive" mode.
      • Determine what they need to do to survive.
      • Determine what is extraneous to the need to survive.
      • May ask or be willing to ask for help.
        • They don't sit around and wait for it, but plan for the possibility that they may not get it to the extent they could use it.
        • Though they may be able to count on others, they understand that ultimately it is up to them and their Higher Power 
      • They are willing to do what it takes to pull through, even when the price is steep or level of effort is extreme.
    • Their Higher Power has blessed them with an inner fortitude.  They may not always thrive, but they have been blessed with the fortitude to make it through or hold on even in the toughest scrapes.  In short, they are like a blessed with a spine of steel.  That is they may bend in the storm, but they will not break.
    In short, survivors find a way, find hope and faith, have enough optimism, have the ability to scramble and they have a strong enough spine to endure, if not thrive.



    Now, this covers the two extremes: survivor and victims, but I believe there are many people who've faced trauma(s) and are hovering between "life" (survivor) and "death" (victim).  Granted if you are not completely a victim, then one could actually argue that you are a survivor (at least at that point).  Ultimately, we all will be a 'victim' of human mortality and pass on one day, the real question is will we live (and die eventually) as a victim or survivor'.  Ultimately, though we may have support of others, this is really a question that we have to resolve with our Higher Power.

    Thanks and I hope this sees everyone who reads this hanging in there, even in the roughest moments.

    -- Rich