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Sunday, January 16, 2022

Accepting people even when you don't fully understand or appreciate them.

I won't go into much detail for anonymity reasons, but I became aware of a family that had faced a very sad circumstance in their life.  They were culturally very different from me.  I had had some experience (and friendships) from people of that culture.  However, those around me hadn't necessarily had the same.  So, not everyone in my circle fully appreciated the family's reaction to their sad circumstance.  When you broke down their reaction, the family's reaction is quite logical.   Fully embracing it publicly could, at least in theory, involve the loss of face.  Besides, as I discovered with the loss of my dad, mom and closest sibling in recent years, life and its grind and responsibilities do not stop just because you face hardship. 

Putting myself in the family's situation, I am sure I would react differently.   Part of me says, they weren't really reacting well.  However, as I have noted in prior posts, our reactions to life circumstance don't always follow script.   For example, love and grief do not always abide by what is expected or even necessarily socially acceptable.  I have to consider that maybe they are handling thing the way their life needs require them to, especially in light of their particular culture.

This gets to a larger point.  We are shaped by our life experiences.  We are shaped by who we grow up around and who we spend time around and the cultural influences we listen to.   This shapes the way we think and the way we read or interpret situations or people.   For example, if you grow up in an environment in which people are often duplicitous and will not necessarily tell you how they feel (or feel about you) to your face, you will be caught off guard when you run into people who are more honest and say what they think straight to your face.

Unfortunately, in our society, for worse or better, our life experiences, can limit us to understanding others who fall outside our familiarity zone.   For example, if a family member died doing something they shouldn't one family might quietly bury that person with little fanfare or acknowledgement.  The circumstances surrounding the death might bring too much 'shame' to the family and negative publicity in 'their community'.  So, they quietly handle it and move on.   That is their way of coping and surviving in their community, their circle.  They are probably broken up about it, but they also know they have to carry on.   Another family might publicly acknowledge their loved ones' flaws, how they missed the signs and even tell their story in hopes that other families don't have to go through the same heartache.  People not understanding the culture of the first family might see them as coldhearted and be totally oblivious to the pain they are masking and the obstacles they face to fit in.

Personally, often I am a very private person.  My father was a very private person.   There were things that happened in my formative years additionally which shaped this aspect of my personality which I won't get into here.   However, one thing I will mention is this: I have dealt with anxiety disorder since I was 17.   It used to be very debilitating, but between gaining confidence, learning coping skills and having access medicine to combat it, I have learned to cope with it such that I can live a 'normal' life.  That being said, one of my coping skills is being able--to a degree--to compartmentalize that which is bothering me (and that I cannot resolve immediately).  Part of being able to compartmentalize or set aside that which is bothering me is not continually talking about it.  If I am talking about it all the time, I am forced to focus on it straight on and that can cause me excess stress and anxiety, where it is not necessarily productive.   Now, if discover a story or article, find a person who might be helpful and/or have experienced the same issue or problem or have an epiphany on it, I will bring the issue or circumstance to the forefront and discuss or consider it, even if it ramps up my anxiety.   But, I will not keep on bringing up the issue or circumstance constantly when doing so will cause me too much anxiety without any real advancement towards a solution.

A lot of people in this circumstance find a need to 'vent' to find a way to get rid of their anxiety.   They might see the way I handle it as bottling it up or worse they may perceive that my lake of 'venting' implies that I don't care.  That would be the furthest thing from the truth.  Just as I see too much 'venting' as unproductive, stressful and a waste of energy, they might view the relative silence on my part incorrectly and even showing a lack of concern.   My environment and my circumstances shaped me a certain way, not necessarily right or wrong.  Others' shapes them a different way, not necessarily right or wrong.  

I have known people addicted to the bottle and/or drugs, people who have no exposure to either of that in their life may see those people as 'irresponsible' or 'not caring enough' or just some variation of being a 'bad person'.   Yes, there are some people who are sociopaths (or psychopaths) who really don't care about others and will do whatever they want just to 'feel good' and don't care who it affects or who is hurt in the process.  But, with a background that included CSA (childhood sexual abuse), family dysfunction (stemming from at least my grandparents, if not further) and seeing similar issues in others, I know that people do things to try to escape the pain of their traumas, often times not understanding the risk when they start it.  With a relatively healthy childhood and circumstance, this may be hard to full appreciate.   This doesn't mean you accept or condone destructive behavior, but what it does mean is you just classify those who engage in it as selfish, non-caring, narcissist, or sociopath's without knowing the road they've traveled.

I grew up lower-middle/working class.  So, when I hear about a young man or women from a rich and prestigious who are throwing their life away, I can't necessarily relate.  Many assume that if they just have means, life would be totally better and relatively problem free.  However, imagine you grow up in a family with means, but with it you have so much expected of you.   You are expected to join the family practice, business, or become a doctor/lawyer/etc.   You are expected at all times to be on perfect behavior because your name is prominent in the community.   You have all kinds of people who wish to be your 'friend' and you don't really know if it is because they find you interesting or believe that doing so could help them get ahead.   Imagine, you are a person who is not cut out for this, imagine the pressures to succeed put on you by your 'family name' by your family and society, imagine the pressure they put on you to do what they think you should do and not what you necessarily want to, imagine wondering if people are your friends for what they think being such might help them.  Beyond that, we don't always know what demons might hide behind family portrait.  So, I try to listen to their story before I go to the "POOR RICH SPOILED KID" mantra.


Our life experiences are helpful to us in understanding other people and their circumstances.  However, we have to be careful not to let them limit us in understanding others, their thoughts, their ways.   Specifically, if we are not careful, we can actually get to a place where we judge others' thoughts and ways as ridiculous, invalid or illegitimate.  Unless we are completely insulated in our own cocoon or echo chamber, we are likely going to find people whose life experiences and/or individual circumstances have led them to thinking, believing, responding and/or behaving in a way different to us.  The point is we may not completely understand them, but if they are important to us, we will accept them even when while we are still working on understanding them.  Just like we wouldn't want them to put them into a box of 'their understanding' of us based on their experiences, we should not put them in a box based on 'our understanding' based on our own experiences.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Hubris and getting out of one's own way

I believe most people realize they don't know it all.  Only a true narcissist would think that they do.   However, I think a lot of people think they think they 'get it' when that's not necessarily the case.  That is they think they are easily able to understand people and circumstances.  In other words, they feel like they are easily able to assess people and/or situations based on their life experiences and other factors.   The problem is that not everyone experiences or is taught life the same way.   For example, a person who has spent his childhood being corrected the adult in their life, might view an innocent suggestion given as trying to control him or her.   Whereas, a person who has felt like they've been heard even as a kid and might better read the speaker.  They might properly view the same suggestion as an attempt to help them see an easier way to do something.   This points to what I see a flaw in trying to read people and situations.   Sometimes, our own personal experiences, rather then informing us, can cloud our ability to 'get it' when presented with a person or situation or circumstance.   Sometimes, a mistaken assessment of our own knowledge and abilities--often based on what we've been taught--can get in the way of our understanding.  Sometimes, both combine to get in the way of true understanding vs. a mistaken belief that we understand.

Why we misread others and circumstances.

  • We have been told 'the way it is' time and again by those in authority whom we respect.
    • It could be a parent, minister, teacher or someone whom we look up to.
      • They may have emphasized that people who get poor grades are either a) ignorant or b) don't try hard enough.  Sometimes, it is neither. 
      • They may have told us people from "that side of town" are more dangerous.  This may be due to their own negative experiences and not based in fact or reality.
    • They are/were very sincere in their explaining life as they see it.
      • A strongly held belief if presented well, can be seen effectively as a 'truth'.
      • A strongly held belief if asserted confidently enough can taken as a 'truth'.
    • We wanted their approval or to emulate them, so we take what they say to heart.
      • We don't want to be seen as lazy or a failure.  So, we push ourselves and in the process come to believe that others who aren't "pushing themselves" don't care and/or are lazy.
  • We have experienced what we saw as a similar situation on occasion in our own life.
    • Whether it is from our own life or the life of someone close to us, we have made observations about situations.  In other words, we believe we are familiar with that type of person or situation.
      • For example, if people close to us have let us down, my may 'decide' that most people are 'in it' for themselves.
    • A first or early impression can imprint on us.  We may not have a grasp of what we see or observe, but nonetheless it leaves an impression.
      • For example, if as a youngster, we tried to get an autograph from a player  and instead we got attitude.  This might lead us to a mistaken impression going forward that 'all' professional athletes as ultimately arrogant and self-centered.
  • We have a misconception of our knowledge or experience.
    • If we've never really faced a given circumstance before, while we may have understood intellectually, we never have really 'gotten it'.
      • If we've never had to truly face hunger before, we might not get the level of desperation a person suffering from real hunger has.
      • If we've never had to truly face depression, it sounds easy to tell a depressed person to seek help.  But, we may not understand that a deep sense of shame or embarrassment combined with the negative energy of depression may make it nearly impossible for someone to proactively seek out help.
    • We might have experience in a similar area/circumstance, but that doesn't mean we can apply it to a similar one.
      • A person who is good at drawing and believe mistakenly that if we can draw well we would probably be a good painter.  That is not necessarily a given.

How can we mitigate against misreading.
  • Treat each situation/person separately.  (Guard against profiling)  
    • Just because a person/situation/circumstance reminds you of someone/something doesn't mean it is definitely so.  
    • Attempt to, if you have the opportunity, to seek out more information before you come to 'conclusion'.  You may that you didn't have enough information to assess the person or situation correctly, when you were initially trying to assess.
  • Look for context or understand you might not have context.
    • Often times a circumstance or situation can by itself read one way.  But, when you see the larger picture, it reads completely different.
    • For example, you might see someone you run store might not say hi to you when you say hi to them.   What you may not know is the person might have received horrible news and is distracted.
  • Understand that while you may be knowledgeable and a good read of people, you don't 'know-it-all'.    
    • Sometimes, we may mistakenly think we have enough knowledge to make a value judgement of a person or circumstance.
    • I used to have a less forgiving view of drug addicts until I realize a) what might drive someone to drugs,  b) People don't always know that they are getting into, and c) kicking the habit may sound like a 'if-it is important enough to them' matter, but really it might be way beyond that.
    • A late friend of mine struggled with heroine addiction.  It ultimately led to an early grave for her.  I realized along the line that she had likely been abused, that she hadn't started out on heroine, and less than 10% of heroine addicts avoid dying or going to prison.  In other words, it isn't something that is easily kicked.  
      • If you are weakened emotionally along the way, it can make you more subject to getting addicted and not being able to kick it.
      • Withdrawal is apparently so bad that the sweet lies of 'feeling better' and stopping 'next time' outweigh the physical and psychological torture associated with attempts to withdraw from it.

Ultimately, I helped one friend get off the bottle successfully.  That gave me a false sense that I could do the same again with my other friend who was on heroine.  Hubris got in my way.  

There is nothing wrong with being confident in your intuition as often your gut feeling is right on the money.   There is nothing wrong with feeling confidence in your abilities or knowledge.  There is nothing wrong with forming an impression--after all we all have to live our lives based on knowledge and judgement of people and circumstances.  The problem lies in an inability or willingness to move on from or be open to another read of a person or circumstance.   If we are so used to something meaning one thing in our experience, we may miss that it could mean another.   It may look and sound like a horse, but sometimes it is a zebra.  Ultimately, we have to not like our biases and stubbornness get in the way of better judgment.   In other words, 'getting out of our own way'.   Easier said than done and no doubt that take a lot of practice for many people.   But, the payoff can be great.  

  • We can gain a better understanding of someone or something.
  • We can make better choices based our willingness to do so.
  • We can develop greater and better relationships and friendship or in some cases avoid disastrous ones.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Controlling your life starts with controlling you

You know sometimes you start a blog post about an idea that hits you that you can relate to and before you know it, it becomes deeply personal to the point of being a little vulnerable.  But, here goes.  As a CSA (childhood sexual abuse) survivor who was raised in a dysfunctional home with alcoholism and domestic violence, I became aware at a young age of idea of powerlessness and the idea of having any control over anything was ridiculous to me.   Add to that the fact that our house looked run down and just not generally presentable, that I wore worn clothes to school, that I was bullied and that I never felt like I fit in and then you can see even more clearly why I would feel that way.

Had someone said control starts with you, I would have laughed at them.  The idea of 'being in control' would have sounded utterly absurd to me.   As previously mentioned, I didn't have control over what I could wear or what eat, the home in which I live in and its state of repair or disrepair.   In my house, I didn't have control over the dysfunction--the yelling, the screaming, in some cases the domestic violence.  On my person, I didn't have control over the sexual abuse that happened to me and the bullying in the neighborhood and at school.   So, to me the idea to me that I controlled anything would have met with like a "yeah, right" type stare.  Before I go on, I just want to state that I'm not focused on what I "didn't have" but am setting up a point.   I do realize that I am still fortunate in some ways living in the wealthiest country in the world.   But, I digress.  I didn't realize it then, but I realize these days that in some ways I had much more control than I understood. 

Let's move forward into my adulthood.   I was always the 'peacemaker' which in some ways is another way of saying "approval seeker" or "people pleaser".   I had started that role in my childhood and played that role in my adult life too.  It didn't help that I developed a moderate to severe anxiety condition as a 17 year old and as such sought calm as a result.  In any case,  this desire for approval (or better yet to not be disliked) led me to not properly stand up for myself.   I didn't stand up for myself as a kid and as a young adult I continued this pattern.  In some ways, I let those closest to me continued to control me by using my need for approval and my need not to be disliked or unwanted.   So, in some ways to me it felt like a progression from my childhood with the manipulation and being controlled that was part of needing acceptance.


Despite having the sense of 'powerlessness' in my early years and my earlier adulthood,  I believe I gradually have awakened to a different view or perspective of control (or power).  I used to be view power or control as:

  • Something that is given or allowed.  
  • Something we have to grab aggressively to gain.
  • Necessarily involve or interact with that which is outside out.
I've seen the results of a child who had everything taken from him.  This child ended up being a bully.  He felt like he needed to try to control others to gain control himself.  Instead of realizing that he was just a kid and as such his authority was limited, he felt like he needed be pushy with adults to get his way and he needed to demand that he get to do what or get he wanted when he wanted.   When he felt his 'authority' being challenged he would get belligerent.  When he felt like what he had was at risk, even if that wasn't the case, he felt the need to make proactive threats.  In short, he was relying on trying to control others, being aggressive to get and 'keep' power, and blatantly involving outside forces.  As you might imagine this didn't work out well for him.   If anything he pushed others away, he tended to not get what he wanted in the long run and in many ways lost some of the control or power he had had.  In short, he represented the downfall of viewing power the way I had.

As I've grown and matured, I've come to realize that power or control can be:
  • That which we can implicitly gain or earn.
  • That which we can find within ourselves.
  • It isn't necessarily something we are given or allowed, but what we own.

As a teen, when my parents divorced, I was my dad's helper.  He wasn't very good at the 'bachelor' thing.  I had somewhat taken over cooking near the end of my parent's marriage as my mom spent a lot of time out trying to escape her unhappiness.  My dad noted this and when they got divorced, I had 'earned' the role of cooking and shopping.  For someone who didn't feel like he had any control that is pretty significant.  I had gained my dad's trust in 'taking care of' the house in some ways.

While I've had to push back on family and friends who I felt took me for granted or in some cases took advantage and had to assert control.  I've come to realize that control also comes is not necessarily asserting power externally.  For this young person I'd met, he often didn't think his behaviors through.  He was captive to his emotions.  In other words, he wasn't even in control of himself.   Often times, control is as simple as making a decision not to let your emotions rule and ruin your day as well as cause conflict.  In other words, control in your life is to put yourself in the best position to succeed.  When I trained over the summer running during high school, I exhibited control.  Running was never easy, especially by myself.  But, in order to perform well, I would have to do that which was not comfortable.  In a sense, I made a conscience decision to control my actions and in the process exert control over my own future (performance).  In short, control here is a conscience decision to what I needed to and try to avoid doing things which were harmful to me.

When my daughter's mom was pregnant with her, often I didn't feel like I was given the respect or taken as seriously as I should have been.  I had wondered exactly how I would the "parenting authority".  In time, I came to realize it does not have to be something that I would given.  Such as voters give to the winning candidate for public office.  Nor does it have to be something allowed, like my parents letting me hang out with my friends.  What I realized in time was this little person, my infant daughter was learning something profound.  In her own infant (and then toddler way), she sensed that her parents were taking care of her, were meeting her needs,  we being supportive of her.   We didn't really ask for permission so much as we accepted the role of parents.   We owned our responsibility.  In her own way our baby/infant daughter had learned that she should mind us as she 'knew' that we were there to meet her needs.  So, we owned the role and therefore the power or authority that comes with it. 


So, what is my takeaways?
  • When someone in your life tries to control you, to a large degree the control over you is what you allow or tolerate from them.
  • Control doesn't need to be something achieved via threats over others.  It is best achieved or earned by doing the right things for the right reason and therefore gaining authority or power with that role. 
  • You can't control how people treat you, but you can control your response.  You can influence your outcomes positively with control of yourself.

Anyway, just another perspective on control when others in position of power raise endless sum of money trying to essentially 'buy' it.   In many regards we are more free than those who seek to gain power.  

Thanks for reading and I hope you took something from it.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Blind spots: Judging yesterday by today's standards

I recently remembered a conversation I had with my daughter.  It reminded me of the need to be cautious in judging people by today's standards.  It was about two years ago and I was talking to my now 14 year old daughter about about something related to women's sports or something like that and I referred to college-age/young twenties women as 'girls'.  In talking with her, I had an epiphany.  It is most appropriate to refer to women over 18 as women, especially if they are no longer in high school.  At some some point in their childhood, it is appropriate to refer to female children as 'young lady/ladies' or 'young woman/women' also.  In any case, calling a woman 'girl' or 'little girl' can be considered demeaning of her, just as calling a man, 'boy' or little boy' would be.

You know, I really never thought about that particular item too much until my daughter was around 12.  It wasn't that I was trying to be disrespectful or demeaning, it's just what I had grown up with.  Heck, I've heard in many song a girlfriend or love interest referred to as 'little girl'.  Where I grew up nobody indicated that could be demeaning and perhaps few women felt comfortable complaining about it back in the day.  It was really only by chance in talking to my daughter that I realized that one day she would be a young adult and she wouldn't be 'girl' or 'little girl' anymore (and I wouldn't want her to be referred to as 'girl' anymore).  In essence, this was a blind spot.   This begs some questions: 
  • What are some 'blind spots' we have in society?
  • What causes or what is behind blind spots?    
  • Should we hold people responsible for unintentional blind spots?  That is, should we hold people of yesterday to today's standards?
It goes without saying that race has always been to one degree or another a blind spot in our society.  An interesting story.  In high school, I didn't remember the name of a classmate and a fellow student-athlete.  I called him the wrong name.  He said, "Don't worry, we all look alike.".  Not wanting to be a thought of as a jerk I let him know that race had nothing to do with it, that I just didn't remember his name and I grasped at the first name that seemed right to me.  I think he was giving me s**t as much as anything.  But, he did make a good point.   Often people have a hard time identifying that which they are not familiar with.  Growing up, I'd had few African American/black classmates.  So, I didn't have  enough exposure by high school to always recognize differences between people of that demographic as easily.  Maybe this was part to blame for my referring to my classmate by the wrong name?   Who can say for sure, but I'd be being dishonest if I said that wasn't a possibility.  It wouldn't have been intentionally insensitive, but still...  Ironically years later I had a friend in college who was born in Eritrea.  If she was an American, she'd be classified as an African American, but I digress.   Anyway, for much or most of her childhood she had seen very few blonde woman.  She confessed in a conversation that to her all blondes looked alike for a long time.  I thought it was mildly amusing.  But, it went to show me that 'blind spots' are universal, especially with regard to 'groups' you haven't been exposed to so much.

In my interaction with my daughter, I had realized that gender can be a blind spot.  Sometimes when talking about people of the opposite gender or even interacting with them, we can say things that are insensitive without necessarily even realizing it.   I was trying to relate to my daughter something about young women, probably sports but I don't remember.  But, as I mentioned previously, I referred to the group as 'girls'.   Now, part of it might have been that I recognized her as a girl and that teams or groups that she'd be associated with would be called girls (and I was trying to relate it to her) and part of it might have just been the culture I was raised in.   Now, gender blind spots just don't go one direction.   I have felt that men don't always talk about things that bother them and that can be taken as they don't care.  Sometimes, it is completely the opposite.  Sometimes, we compartmentalize things that are bothering us if we feel like there is nothing we can do about it at this time.

We have regional blind spots too.  We watched a film about John F. Kennedy.  Many of the kids in class had never heard a thick New England accent.  I remember vividly much of the class laughing at JFK on film when he first uttered the famous phrase, "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".  I don't think those who laughed had contempt or malice in their heart for a fellow countryman, but instead were just totally caught off guard by the thick accent.  If you watch enough comedy specials you will probably run across people from different regions or locals who poke fun of those whom they grew up with.   While there is some truth to what they poke fun at, it is often a complete stereotyping.    Unfortunately, I think this bleeds into how we actually think about others. 

I could literally go on about instances of blind spots within our society and among groups, but I think you get the point.

So, now that the idea of blind spots has been addressed, I think the next question to ask  is what leads to these 'blind spots'.   I will list what I believe some factors are in the creation of 'blind spots' (and some will sound familiar, I'm sure).  This list of factors isn't meant as an excuse for and a rationalizing of blind spots being okay, but more of a 'how we got there' explanation.   I believe everyone could make there own lists, but here is a list of factors I believe lead to blind spots. 
  • Lack of exposure to people that are different than us.
    • Unfortunately, sometimes you don't know what you don't know.   My friend in college I'm sure she wasn't trying to be racist or anything.  She just literally hadn't been exposed to so many blondes and as a result had a hard time distinguishing among them initially.
    • When we don't know about "others" from personal experience we go by what we've heard about them or what we've seen in a limited, often bias, setting.   If there is anything I understand about people is the need for some level of certainty.  Sometimes, this leads to taking whatever we can have or 'think we know' to fill in the gaps.  Unfortunately, often what we 'know' or 'figure' about others isn't necessarily consistent with reality.  
  • Those around us (or society) were not or seemed to not be fazed by that which bothers people today.  
    • In my case, I've heard men and sometimes even women talk about young adult women as 'girls'.  So, for me it made it seem like it was okay.  I've heard songs referred to an adult love interest as 'little girl' and little push back.  To me, I thought that reference was 'cringeworthy' but not necessarily that big of a deal.   
    • Growing up, a married woman was often rereferred to as "Mrs. <husband's full name>.   For example, if a woman's maiden name was Jane Thomas and her husband's name was John Smith, her married name  be referred to as Mrs. John Smith as opposed to Mrs. Jane Smith or however she wanted herself referred to as.  Today for much of society that seems dismissive of a married woman's individuality.  But, back when I was growing up that was common and from what I could tell largely accepted. 
    • Growing up I heard what we call African American or black people referred to as colored people or the other 'n' word.  But, growing up those references seemed common and heck two organizations are founded with those labels UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).  To older people--not of the demographic--who grew up with those labels being thrown around and even seemingly well accepted among the referenced group, referring to African American or black people as "Colored" or "Negro" was considered more normal and uncontroversial (at least from what I could tell).  To most people today, not only do the labels seem dated, but degrading.  However, back in the day they were more widely accepted.
  • Those closest to us modelled bad behavior for us.
    • If our parents and adults close to us privately--or not so privately--referred to a racial or ethnic group a certain way that wasn't necessarily complimentary, essentially they were condoning the slurs.
    • If those around us made a sexist references often enough, we might not because numb to them.  In other words, misogamy or misandry was normalized in such a way that we might not recognize it as such when we heard it.
    • In our earliest, most formative years, we are literary are influenced the most.  In other words, we are trained essentially to think and/or behave a certain way.   Unfortunately for many, the 'training' is on poor thinking and/or behavior.  Early training, especially if complemented by similar outside the home training, can be hard to easily overcome or as some say 'deprogram'.
  • Biases are not always blatantly obvious. 
    • Some things in our society were blatantly wrong from the beginning, such as slavery and the mistreatment of those enslaved, but were tolerated for too long.
    • Referring to African Americans as 'underprivileged' can seem like 'understanding the historical imbalances', but it can also unfairly stereotype many people who are doing just fine, thank you.
    • Using the term 'model minority' for people of Asian descent can sound complimentary, but can be insulting.  It obviously is insulting to those minorities who aren't of Asian descent.  However, it can be dismissive of the individual differences within the group and hold people of that group to an unreasonably high standard.
Those I believe are just some factors in why we have blind spots in today's society.  Over time, many things that were seen as acceptable, or at least weren't condemned as non-acceptable, have changed.  As our knowledge base has grown, as our appreciation for differences in others has grown.  As our understanding of what is 'fair' has grown and as our exposure to others and other cultures has grown, we've shed some of the 'old thinking' that we had.   Compared to 'yesterday', it can be argued that women seen as equals in importance.  In our society, minorities are treated in popular culture as equals (in a way that they hadn't been before), even if society at large still has a lot of worked to do on that.  Anyway, many standards today weren't always standards of yesteryear.  This begs the question, how should we judge people of yesteryear who are long gone or judge people who were still around relative to their thinking and behavior of the past?

It's easy to condemn others based on standards of today.  It can be the functional equivalent of being a 'Monday-morning' quarterback.   That is, some things with the societal mindset or understanding of today are completely obvious in a way that they weren't 'back in the day'.  Alternatively, some thinking/behaviors of yesteryear were wrong even back then and there was enough information back then to know.   That is, in applying the 'golden rule' test back then,  those things would have clearly failed it.  Anyway, it is important that we consider a few things before we condemn those of yesteryear by standards of today.  This is especially crucial when we consider that one day what seems 'normal' or 'acceptable' today could easily be considered 'condemnable' by the standards at some time in the distant (or not too distant future).  It is important to keep in mind the measure by which we judge others today could be the measure by which we are judged tomorrow.  That being said, here are some factors in judging 'yesterday' by today's standards.
  • Did the person have anyone in their life that firmly stood up and/or provided a strong counterbalance to the thinking/behavior they were taught?  
    • It is hard to model behavior/thinking that you never see or have never been taught. 
    • A weak counterbalance may not be respected, but instead be seen as weakness.
  • Was there a strong counter-movement to the prevailing wisdom?
    • Sometimes prevailing wisdom is so pervasive that there is little space for any other thinking to occupy.   I would imagine that this is an intentional feature of autocratic societies.  
    • Sometimes the counter-movement can be one person or just a few people if they have have a strong resolve and strong presence.  Martin Luther took on the Catholic church.  He was just one person, but he led a historical break from the Catholic church.
    • If there was no good prevailing movement to prevailing wisdom, there maybe little for young people of good character to hold onto.
  • Is there any context in which the behavior or thinking can be seen as anything other than breaking the golden rule?
    • Luke 6:31 says, "And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them and the Declaration of Independence tell us "All men are created equal..."
    • Most people, even back then I imagine would not have wanted to be slaves or to been treated as second class citizens.
    • So, the idea that slavery or Jim Crow could not be understood to be unfair or unjust, even back then, is seemingly ridiculous. 
  • Is there a possibility of an innocent misunderstanding?
    • Sometimes slights are tolerated by others for so long and seemingly accepted or "approved".  This can lead to the idea that the slight isn't really a slight, but showing appreciation or acceptance.  
    • In reality such slights are often overlooked by those not wanting to be accepted, those that are too polite to say otherwise and/or those not wanting to rock the boat.
  • Was the person in question ever subjected to an alternative point of view and how did they take it?  Do they seem contrite about their 'stinking' thinking/behavior of yesteryear.
    • If your upbringing leads to unintentional insensitivity, but you attempt to correct the poor behavior when you are made aware of the offensive nature to it, there will tend to be a lot more forgiveness.
    • When you continue the poor behavior even after it has been reinforced that behavior could be considered offensive, you are all but begging to be judged.
  • Objectively, if subjected to the same societal forces of the one we are judging, how would we respond?
    • Can we honestly say that we'd have been the 'voice of wisdom' in a sea of well established and protected ignorance?
    • It is easy to champion a cause today when it is widely accepted or blessed.  However,  would you have championed the same cause when there was a cost to do so and doing so wasn't as widely popular? 
  • Does the person(s) seem contrite about their immature thinking or behavior of their youth in yesteryear?  Are they attempting to atone for it?
    • If they have worked make adjustments to said thinking or behavior, it is easier not to condemn then in perpetuity.
    • People, especially those exposed to widespread ignorance in their youth, can do and say ignorant things.   The measure of a person can often be seen in how they mature.
    • This is not to condone or remove all consequences for youthful ignorance, but to allow that people can grow and change and to factor that in when judging it.  In fact, some of the worst 'sinners' can become 'saints' over time.
  • Does the person in question attempt to make excuses for our justify their poor behavior yesteryear?  
    • If so, it would appear they that they are more interested in their reputation than of how they treat others.
    • Sometimes the best thing to do is to own your ignorance and poor behavior of yesteryear rather than fight to explain it away.
I've always felt like people have the capacity for selfish and inconsiderate behavior.  However, I have also felt like people have the capacity to show their better nature.  Sometimes, all it takes is learning what their better nature would look like with regard to treating their fellow man/woman.  Of course, as we learn more and/or have had the luxury of time/history to clarify things, what seems obvious now as to what is our better nature, may not have been obvious historically.  It is important to recognize this as a reason for yesterday's not so perfect behavior/thinking, but not as an effort to fully escape culpability for such.   Ultimately, the question of whether we should judge harshly yesterday can be answered like this:  Should they have realized their bad thinking/behavior was bad with the information, influences and understanding of the golden rule we had at the time?  If so, it is completely fair to judge yesterday by today's standards.  If not, then judging yesterday by today's standards is a dangerous task that could come back and bite us in the ass if and when the standards of today are replaced and judged by the standards of tomorrow.

Just my thoughts for today,

I believe Mathew 7:1-2 gives us guidance and warning of judging others.  

This is not to say we should have no standards, but to realize that excessive judgement of others can come back and bite you.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

How inconsiderate!: 2D vs. 3D relationships revisited.

I've had a person at some point in my life that has the capacity to be considerate--no it's not my wife or someone close like that--but anyway the person gets stuck.  He's the type that would be helpful, but on his terms.   He's the type that would seem to be thoughtful or considering you, but then he'd do something which would remind you that you ultimately he is considering himself first.  

If you had a friend like that and he was throwing you a birthday party, he'd run it in a way that he thought was cool.  That is, it would be more important that he do something he'd like and tell himself that he'd know you like it, than to actually find out what is truly important to you.  He'd be the type that would contribute to a cause you had, but only if it was in a way that he found appropriate rather than the most helpful way.   He'd be the type that would watch you dog, walk him, medicate him and feed him, but only in the manner (or timing) that he thought was appropriate or comfortable with him, not in the manner closer to which the dog is most comfortable with.  He'd pat himself on the back for 'taking good care of Rover', when his 'help' confused Rover and threw Rover off his schedule.   Sometimes you are just so grateful for the help that you overlook the self-centered  nature of other's 'consideration'.  However, in a romantic relationship (or other close relationship) that can be a problem.   Considering others on your terms is NOT a building block of a healthy relationship.  You might pick out a gift which you think is really neat and your spouse will thank you but not use--a sign of not knowing him or her (or not being willing to consider clues they've given).   When that disconnect seems to be the rule rather then the exception, it leads to what I call a 2D relationship.  That is your significant other knows things about you, but don't really know you (or accept you for who you are).  I contrast that with what I call a 3D relationship, where they know things about you, but they ultimately know what really makes you tick or what is important to you AND accept you for it.

When asked what are the building blocks of a good relationship, people.   According to Psychology Today by Abigail Brenner M.D. (April 26, 2017), the following are the building blocks of a good relationship:

  • Trust
  • Commitment
  • Intimacy
  • Respect
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Equity
We can all come up with our own lists which might look a bit different, but at the end of the day, what do the elements of all our lists have in common?  They all reflect or are underpinned by the thoughtfulness of  consideration.   I'm not talking about just sort of thinking about the other person, but what I call True Consideration.  That is, consideration of others on their terms and because it is the right thing to do.  I will differ it from what I call Narcissist's Consideration.  That is, so-called consideration you would give for selfish motives and on your terms..  Let's take a look at how you can reflect each and how True consideration underpins the building blocks of a good relationship.   Above I discussed how consideration would look when it is offered (or not) by another.  Below I decided to switch the perspective to YOU being the one who offers (or doesn't offer) consideration.   


  • You work to know the other person and what is important to them.  
    • You ask questions, observe and listen to them, not just hear them.
  • You focus on what they indicate is important to them. 
    • You don't just listen for a few keywords, but you listen to their thoughts, especially in context..
  • Your helpful or thoughtful actions are done optimally because you really want to and with a cheerful demeanor.
    • In other words, showing consideration/being helpful for others brings you a level of satisfaction.
  • Even when you really don't feel like being particularly thoughtful or helpful, you do it anyway.
    • The person is important to you and you know it is just the right thing to do.
  • You don't make or base your decisions  to 'show consideration' based on what you figure you'll get out of the equation.
    • You don't look for praise by your significant other or outside praise.  In other words, you are looking to show everyone or make a case what a considerate person you are.
    • You don't look for "advantage" to be gained by 'showing consideration''.   In other words, you don't cynically look at consideration as to what can I get out of this later.
  • You may even 'hide' consideration.  
    • You just do considerate things without being asked or saying anything.  In other words, it just seems like a nice thing to do and your heart just wants to do nice things.
    •  If help or consideration is 'discovered', you may minimize or dismiss it. 
      • It could be out of being shy or embarrassment of positive attention that way.  Some people just don't like to be the center of attention.
      • If could be because your faith or code encourages you not to brag on yourself.  As I understand my faith (Christianity), I shouldn't seek out praise of others.   

  • Your focus is often more on what YOU think is appropriate for other person, rather that what is important to them.
    • This shows it is all about what YOU and your hubris as it relates to others.
  • When 'showing consideration', you only show consideration in a way that is comfortable to you.
    • That shows it is more about what is easiest or best for you, rather than what is the most helpful for others. 
    • That shows that you are trying to 'control the terms' of helpfulness or consideration.
  • When 'showing consideration', you calculate what will get the most positive feedback and positive attention. 
    • You are trying to impress everyone and put on a 'good presentation' for everyone.
    • Really this is trying to control what others think about you.
  • When 'showing consideration', your motive is doing so to gain advantage or even control.  
    • 'Consideration' may be withheld when you determine there is little advantage or more disadvantage than advantage.  In other words, what's in it for me.
    • Conversely, consideration may be shown when there is enough advantage for you.
      • Help or 'thoughtfulness' is contingent on returning favors or you gaining a tactical advantage.  Help or consideration is only offered if you get something out of it.

  • Trust - Our actions and words are undertaken with consideration as to what would help to build trust in a relationship, where applicable.
  • Commitment -  This takes a lifetime of true consideration towards your other.  You are considerate toward the other and the relationship in general.
  • Intimacy - Consideration in intimacy is the willingness to bare your soul or allow your other to be their soul, even if it is not always comfortable.  In other words, when we are willing to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we are considering the other person as we are giving them the chance to know us and permission for them to do the same.  We are appreciating their needs that way. 
  • Respect - True consideration in a relationship implies respect for our other.  We are regarding their other person to be an equal partner to us.  We would hold deep regard for them and what is important for them.   Obviously, a relationship works best if they hold the same.
  • Communication  - This can be challenging.  Being considerate with communication means you are willing to let the other express what is important to them w/o cutting them off and truly listening to them, not just hearing them.  It also can mean considerate enough to show restraint in expressing yourself where it could be harmful or showing a willingness to have express yourself to, especially where it could be helpful.
  • Empathy - If you are stepping in your other's shoes to try to empathize with them, you are clearly considering them.
  • Equity - To be fair and just with your other, you have to take into account what is important to them.  That is, what what they might see as fairness. You cannot just decide what is equitable in the relationship and then impose it on the relationship. 

I believe consideration underlies all the building blocks of our relationships.  It is important that we are truly considerate with others and vs. more or less fake it.  This is especially true with our significant other.  Like much in life we have to check our motives, to know if we are being truly considerate.  Are our motives for being 'considerate' more based on ourselves or based on others?  Intuitively, if we are honest, we know why we are being helpful or 'considerate'.   If we are honest, we know whether it is authentic and in a way that others find helpful.  Alternatively, we would know if it is for show or advantage.  Also, we would know if consideration is just given in a way we think it should be given or that only in the way we think it should be given.

If we truly want healthy relationships, we simply just have to know how to properly consider others.  This is especially true with our significate others.  For some couples, they pick this up early.  For other couples it takes time and maturity.  And still yet for others, they may never really learn how to be truly considerate of each other (and probably end up getting divorced).  Ultimately, the most important ingredient here is a willingness to learn how to do so.  If you are open to learning how to be truly considerate, the sky can be the limit for your relationship.  If not, well, your relationship might just be another statistic.

In closing, I'd like you to CONSIDER all I've said and see if it could help you. 

-- Rich

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Facing Reality and Arizona

A number of the years ago I watched the movie Pump Up The Volume.  I was intrigued by the storyline, but let's face it I was a bit entranced by the lead actress.  But, I digress.  In the movie, the lead character, Mark--played by Christian Slater--was an awkward shy teenage kid.  He had moved to a new city with his parent and moved to a new high school--Hubert Humphrey High.  He felt like a shy, out-of-place, outsider.  Not being able to reach his friends back east via shortwave radio, he uses his equipment to start broadcasting a pirate radio station in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.  He finds his voice and identity in his radio station.    It became his platform for what is wrong with American society (and eventually his own high school).   He would start each broadcast with the song Everybody Knows.  The song is pretty cynical.  It speaks to the bad things in life we know to be true, but typically don't talk about.  "Everybody knows that the dice are load/the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer/the war is lost..."  Anyway, so it got me to thinking about when and why we don't speak up about 'wrongs' and consider if speaking out is the right option at the time.  It also got me to thinking when we do acknowledge a problem or wrong, how do we acknowledge it and how we move forward.

Why and when we don't speak up?

  • We are afraid of consequences.
    • Fear of consequences to us and those close to us.
      • Sometimes we fear consequences to our everyday life.
        • For example, we are aware of corruption at the highest levels in our place of employment, we may fear retaliation--such as job loss--if we speak out.
        • For example, if we speak out against problems in our child's school district, we might fear doing so puts a target on their back.
        • For example, if we point out corruption in our place of worship we risk being shunned by the church.
      • Sometimes we fear consequences to the safety.
        • For example, if we witness a murder or embezzlement, we might fear harm if we agree to cooperate with law enforcement investigating it.
        • For example, in Nazi Germany those who spoke out of turn about the Third Reich were at risk of never being heard from again.
    • Fear of consequences to society as a whole.
      • There has long been speculation about the 'truth' behind the assassination of JFK.  There has been speculation that the government either knew more about it than they admitted and/or were more involved than they admitted. The unspoken fear is that if the 'public knew what really happened', it would undermine our government as an institution.  At least that's the theory about it.
      • In other words, the 'truth' is just too damning for us handle as a society.  In other words, as a society we are not "ready" to handle certain truths.
  • We are too entangled.
    • Are we compromised?   Are we corrupt as well? 
      • It would stand to reason that a politician on the take would be less likely to out others on the take, especially if they felt their corruption was 'known'. 
    • Are we entangled with one who is compromised or corrupt.
      • We are likely to be silent about corruption, for example, if a friend or loved one is in the middle of it.  
      • We could have a bias to protect the person or persons.  
  • We don't know how to or where to start
    • Sometimes a problem or wrong is so huge in scope that we aren't sure where to start.
    • Sometimes we just don't have the words to express what we know to be true.
      • Much of the public doubts the official version of the JFK killing and what followed (Lee Harvey Oswald's killing).   While there are a number of alternative theories to what REALLY happened, there are many people who doubt the official version because it just seems to convenient or similar.  They can't say for sure what happened, but they KNOW that the official version just sounds a bit to nicely wrapped up.
  • We don't have 'all the evidence', despite it being blatantly obvious the problem exists.
    • We have a good circumstantial case, but we don't have the 'body' or 'smoking gun'.  This is the case when law enforcement has a good working theory on a crime but doesn't indict or go public until they have concrete evidence/irrefutable proof.
    • The scope of the problem is not fully evident yet.  For example, an auto manufacture may hold off an an official recall until they get their arms around the extent of a defect or flaw.
  • We are in denial of the scope of the problem.
    • In numerous high school shootings, the perpetrators were known to be students and staff as 'problem children', but for whatever reason no one stepped up and took decisive action to avoid a tragedy.
    • People sometimes behave as if they ignore a big enough problem it will just 'go away by itself'.
  • We have decided it is not the right hill to die on or not the right time.
    • When I was a teen, my dad gave me lunch money for school.  Sometimes I packed a lunch and just pocketed the money.  It wasn't the most honest behavior and I found out later my dad figured it out.  However, the matter apparently wasn't important enough in the big scheme of things for him to address as I did help him a lot.

When we do speak up 
  • How do we address an issue.
    • Do we address it directly?
      • Do we put all our cards on the table, acknowledging the extent of the problem?
      • Doing so could make others defensive or alienate them.
      • Doing so could put us in an awkward position of being forced to make a difficult choice or decision (especially if we are not prepared to do so)?
        • For example, if a relationship is broken addressing the brokenness directly could build pressure for us to get out of it from those around us.
      • Dong so could also kick the 900lb. gorilla out the room and allow us a fresh start as a family, group, or society rather than a wound that continues to slowly bleed out.
        • How can we even remotely hope to heal a relationship, for example, without addressing what is actually broken in it.
    • Do we address it indirectly?
      • Do we tacitly acknowledge a problem without speaking directly to it or fully to it?
      • Doing so gives could give people room to address the problem and save face.  
        • In court, this looks like a 'no-contest' plea.   

        • In international diplomacy, it may look like a quiet solution to a crisis.
        • In a relationship, this could look like a plea for individual counseling.
      • Doing so could allow us the space to work out a solution.  An unspoken understanding of an issue could also lead to an unspoken solution, where a problem is addressed quietly without a public outing of the problem and the pressure that brings.  
        • When the St. Louis Cardinals traded Keith Hernandez they wanted to get rid of a popular player with drug problems, but they didn't want to publicly humiliate him.   
        • They orchestrated an unpopular trade to get rid of the problem from the St. Louis clubhouse.
        • Had they outed him as drug addict beforehand that could have caused a bigger disruption in the clubhouse and would have forced them to get rid of him under more pressure.
      • Doing so could unfortunately can sometimes give the problem more space to fester.  
        • Sometimes problems need to be fully out in the open before real solutions can be undertaken.
        • For example, quietly or indirectly addressing a problem with a loved one about their drinking, might get an acknowledgement and a commitment to do better.  However, if it is out of control it might offer them the space to ignore you.  An intervention might be necessary to force them to face their issues.

  • As a society, it is best to be as transparent as possible about problems we face.  However, not everything that can be said has to be said.  Sometimes doing so could be more harmful than good, esp. when dealing with those who don't have our best interests in mind.
  • There are sometimes legitimate reasons for delaying transparency--such as preparing people to deal with bad news.  However, sometimes we avoid transparency for selfish reasons such as not wanting to expose our role in a problem or issue.
  • We can quietly acknowledge issues or problems to allow people/society space to work on them.  However, quiet acknowledgement should not be used as a means of avoiding dealing with them.

I believe it is best to be transparent as possible.  There is giving out important details and coming clean, but there is also giving out TMI and damaging others in the process.  So, it's like anything: Intent and nuance matter.

-- Rich

Monday, January 18, 2021

Contentment about the Future: We Are Free To Decide For It

Every four years we have an national election for President.  After one particular election, a coworker and I were having a very civil discussion on the election (and the inauguration) that had just past.  If I remember, her choice did not win.  I said, you know after every election, there is a large segment of the population that is not happy.  I said, no matter who wins or loses, we ultimately have go on with our everyday lives in much the same way.  Besides, in another four years, everyone will get a chance to be heard again.  She seemed to appreciate and accept that point.  This election (2020) and the last election (2016) were no different.  In each case, it seems like there is a sizeable segment of the population that feels hopeless, like it's the end of end of world and that life as we know it is over.  Perhaps at some point in the future, election results may signal the 'end of world', but I don't think we are at point yet.

As bad as some feel after a their side faces defeat in a hard fought election, I don't think it can compare to the end of the world hopelessness that many likely felt during WWII.  I expect that sense pervaded Europe in particular and the world in general at the time.  I can't even begin to fathom what prisoners in places like Auschwitz had to face.  Seeing and facing starvation, cruelty, torture and death all around them with seemingly no end in sight is something I think few can relate to  A friend recommend a book to me called Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  In that book the author chronicled his experiences as a concentration camp prisoner and how he identified a purpose in life to feel positive about and then immersed himself in imagining that outcome.  In other words, in a horrible and seemingly hopeless situation, he was able to find a purpose, meaning and hope.  He was saying that even in the worst situation, that we have a certain freedom to decide how we are going to view life. 

I'm not even going to imagine that I can relate to the search for hope, meaning and purpose in such a horrific circumstance.  Yes, I've faced some blows in this life, but nothing quite like that.  But, I have experienced enough to know that survival and even eventual thriving is possible during and after bad circumstances.  Finding Jewels in the Darkness tells my ability to find good at a bad time in my life.  I'd literally lost much of what was (or seemed) important to me--my brother, my house, my job, my marriage, much of the custody of my daughter--in the space of a year.  However, things started to settle down and I was able to find some special moments with my young daughter.  Moments that I would have not likely had or paused to appreciate otherwise.  I was able to strip down life to the basics and figure out what mattered.  Among the things I found was my writing voice, a greater self-respect and the understanding that I could survive serious blows in life.  In other words, I sort of found myself.   Eventually, my finances and job prospect and personal relationships looked up, but I couldn't have necessarily seen that during the height of the storm. 

I'm not going to be Pollyannaish and say everyone does survive life's seemingly harsh blows or that everything turns out fine.  But, to me life is like a journey where picking up "wins" along the way and avoiding "loses" is important, but not nearly as important as the good fight we fought along the way.  After all, what else do we really take with us besides the intangibles of a well fought life?  I believe there is a dignity of striving to be the best version of one's self even as days grow more cloudy, even as the journey works towards a close.  There are many things we can lose in our life with little or no control over the process.  We can lose our worldly possessions, we can lose others we love, we can lose our independence and in some cases, we can lose the battle with sickness and disease.  However, there are some thing we don't have to lose.  Among them our dignity, our spirit, and our freedom to decide how to see our lives.  Those things we have to be willing to part with.  I'm not saying holding on to those is always easy.  However, we can, if we choose, hold onto those things.  

I believe in the lives of many/most if  you dig deep, you will find a point in which they have felt hopeless.  The key for me and the key for many in that circumstance is to find something to hold onto to or for.  It could your faith.  It could be your family.  It could be your memories of surviving before.  It could be your vision of what could be.  It could be your knowledge that there is someone who championed us--and may have passed away--that we'd hate to disappoint.  It could be our pride.  It is important to be able to find this and when we do we have a choice at that point.  Do we give in to the brokenness or hopelessness OR do we decide that we want to find that which sustains us?  For some, it seems the brokenness is too great and they don't feel like they have a choice.  But, for those who are able to recognize it, we are free to decide to push forward and to decide to accept life on its terms or work to change it.

Tying back to this election and prior elections, many have or had a deep sense of dread or hopelessness afterwards.  For many people, it feels/felt like 'the wrong person' won.  If feels/felt like our country is/was headed down a dark, unrecoverable path.  There is always a risk to what we perceive as poor leadership dragging down our country.  However, elections do not have to feel like an impending disaster.  This election for some, like past elections for others doesn't have to feel that way.  We have always had the choice, even when we aren't happy with the results, as to whether view ourselves as a victim of them OR to view ourselves as those who continue to fight for what we believe in or what is important to us.

Whether you are happy with this election, upset about it or ambivalent, how we choose to view it and our lives in general is ultimately up to us.  This is something I cannot stress enough.   So, let's decide to come together and set an example for our leadership on all sides of the aisle.

Just my 2 pennies worth,

As an aside, there was another time I was woefully underemployed in my field.   I had an undiagnosed severe anxiety condition.  It hindered me in getting my Bachelor's degree, but didn't stop me.  However, it made it almost impossible to interview effectively before and after I graduated.  Anyway, it was four years before I got a job in my field after graduating college.  I could have given up, but something inside kept me going forward.   Just like the struggle above in "Jewels", I fought depression and a feeling of hopelessness at times, but something inside me said, no, it's not time to give up.