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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Low-hanging fruit: A starting point or a block?

In honor of the upcoming new year and the tradition of setting goals and resolutions, I decided to blog on a concept has been rolling around in my mind for a while.  I think it is appropriate to determine what the purpose of low-hanging fruit we are going after in this context.  Here goes: defines low-hanging fruit as:

  • a course of action that can be undertaken quickly and easily as part of a wider range of changes or solutions to a problem.
I've heard/seen this phrase used in multiple context.  One winter I heard Cardinals management talking about there off-season efforts to build a winning team for the next year.   The phrase "low-hanging fruit" was used to describe their initial efforts.   For impatient fans it appeared that management was rewarding their loyalty by going after the inexpensive, easy to sign, and apparently
mediocre talent at the expense of trading for/signing the greater impact, harder to get players.  It appeared as if the front office was letting possible free agents/trades go by under their nose, while they picked up questionable help.

In my own personal life and from what I've seen in others, going after low-hanging fruit can serve one of two purposes:
  • It can be a way to ramp up, to gear up, to get in the spirit of or to build momentum towards accomplishing a larger goal or a circumstance.
    • When working on a large project at work, sometimes working on the most difficult part of the it can cause discouragement.  Working on and/or solving a smaller part of the puzzle can give momentum or ideas on how to proceed on the larger piece(s).  
    • When cleaning around the house, cleaning out one room at a time or even one portion of one room at a time can make the job seem less intractable.
    • When processing a major loss (such as a death), it can simply to difficult to decompress the whole loss at once.  Sometimes, it helps just to deal with the aspects of it immediately in front of you rather than get paralyzed dealing with the whole ramifications of the loss.
  • It can be a way to avoid dealing with the larger goal or circumstance.
    • Denial - If you are focused on some aspect of the goal or circumstance, then you can pretend to yourself that you are dealing with the problem.  After all, "you are making progress" or so you tell yourself.
      • Paying on time.  Having a 12 month interest free loan and making the minimum payment for the first 10 months, telling yourself that you are going to pay it off in full before the end of the year.  Sure you are making some progress, but you still have most of the bill to pay off.
      • Working on the perfect eulogy, when you haven't picked the mortuary or burial location.  Words are helpful in facing a death, but they don't create the same finality in your mind as discussing where to hold a funeral or bury the body of your loved one.
    • Avoidance - Picking a route to a goal that doesn't fit or explanation that doesn't make sense.  In other words, creating a diversion or to give the appearance of facing what you need to.
      • In dieting this might take the shape of switching to diet soda while not changing your larger eating habits.  Making the small switch will not by itself lead to the larger goal.
      • In counseling, an example might take the shape of griping about a new friend when you have been dealing with the pain/guilt of a close relative for a long time.  While problems with your friendship probably are causing you some consternation, it really isn't addressing the deeper hurt you are facing.

Sometimes it is hard to know whether you are addressing a goal or issue one step at a team, easing into it or you are just throwing out obstacles to dealing with what you need to.  Sometimes, this takes reflection.  Sometimes this takes a close friend to determine.   Sometimes, the difference is so subtle that it can take a trained professional to spot.  Either way, it is best to figure out early on.

Just some thoughts for the day.  Hope this helps someone.


(Originally written 12/31/15, but still hold true today)

Friday, December 25, 2015

And now for something really different: Fun ways to mess with people's mind

I've posted a bit on this in another blog entry ""The 'insane' little voice in our head and entertaining ourselves"", but I thought I'd reiterate and add a few new gems

Life is full of serious moments.  Sometimes it is spending time with at family functions, sometimes it is working on a serious project at work, sometimes it is burying a relative, sometimes it is interviewing for a job, sometimes it is trying to get a loan, and sometimes it is another stressful encounter with the world.

For me, the best way to break up the seriousness is to flake out a little.  One of the ways I like flaking out is messing with people's minds.  It helps if the victim of said encounter has a sense of humor, but sometimes it is funner if said victim DOESN'T have a sense of humor.

For Christmas and the upcoming new year try these ways to mess with the mind of others.

1. One of the all time classics:  When someone is talking to you, ask them in a serious voice after you've heard them clearly, "What?"  Keep a serious demeanor when you do this.  They will either look at you and be like, you heard me or they will say in an agitated voice "nevermind".  If you get them to repeat themselves twice or get them to say nevermind, declare aloud to them, "I win."

2) When someone is talking to you and it is clear they need feedback like a nod or word in agreement, deny them that and just stare at them in a worried fashion as if to say they are crazy.  Once again, if they are unnerved by this, declare, "I win".

3) For those well into their adulthood when you are over a friend or family member's house and are sitting down.  When you get up, bend over a little and put your hand across your back and say, "Owwww".  When they ask, "Are you okay?", you say, just kidding.  Then you announce winning again.

4) When you are talking with someone who is sitting down while you are standing up, walk back and forth without announcing what your intention is.  If their eyes follow you, they will probably say, "stop that".  Once again, announce winning.

5) Make a lot of noise as if you are falling down the stairs and when they say are you okay, yell like you are hurting, "I'm fine don't worry".  If they fall for it, announce winning.

6) Hurry ahead of them and hide around a corner.  As they are strolling in and about to reach you, yell "Boo".  If they fall for it and you scare them, announce winning.

7) In church when everyone is singing a hymn, change the words to funny words--keeping them clean of course--and see if the people around you notice.  

8) When you are at the counter, ask the clerk for something you know they don't carry.  When they apologize and say they don't have it, say with a straight and serious face, "Why do you hate me?".  If they get all defensive and say I don't hate you, say just kidding.  Announce winning.

9) When you run into someone you know and they start talking to you.  Stop them for a minute and say, "who are you again?".  If they fall for it, say just kidding and announce winning.

10) When you are passing by strangers in the store out of the blue and looking away from them, "Say quietly, Shut-up they will hear you" when you aren't on the phone or nobody is around you..  Look over and say, "I'm sorry you had to hear that" and wait for their uneasy response.

11) One of my favorite, lightly pushing your kid into a wall and say, "Why'd you run into the wall?".  They will look at you like, "Really?"

12) Have an obscure name ready--one that they will know--such as Sam Donaldson.  When they are trying to recollect who is an actor in a movie, what is the name of the music group or singer, say "Ooh, ooh, I know.  It's Sam Donaldson".  When they look at you, like you are nuts, announce winning.

13) When you are in a store, raise your voice and pretend to be talking rudely to someone and yell, "goodbye" and act like you are hanging up.  Look at the person in line next to you and say, "I'm sorry that was my parole officer".   If they fall for it, announce winning.

14) Announce on a pretend call in a loving voice, "Don't worry baby, daddy will take care of you."  When someone looks up say, "I'm I'm sorry, that was my cat."  Watch their shocked response and announce winning.

15) Play frisbee in the park with a friend with a pretend frisbee and see how many people are looking for the frisbee.

16) Change your ringtone to person screaming in horror and when in public have a friend call you.  Watch the surprised responses you get.

17) When you friend gripes about someone, say matter of factly, "Just kill em, that will send a message to the rest of them."  Watch you friend look at you like you are crazy.

18) When you go over a friend or family member who has a beloved cat.  Grab the cat and act like you are going to take it with you and say, "Well it's been good seeing you. Hope to see you again soon."

19) Ask your boss, when he has a fire alarm just outside his office, why he gets all the fun.  He looked at me like, you are crazy.

20) Tell a person who is near a landmark birthday, but not at it that they look good for 30 (when they are 28 or 29), 40 (when they are 38 or 39), etc.

You can add to this list with your own.  Remember a mind is a terrible thing not to mess with.

Cheer and Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Tell me all your thoughts on God: One person's understanding of his Higher Power

With the Christmas holiday approaching, I got an idea for a blog which I think is appropriate: God and his relationship to his creation.

I was talking to my fiancee about my understand of God and how I felt there was no way that I could, in this lifetime, really hope to appreciate the awesome, dynamic and profoundness of God.  Obviously, I can get a biblical understanding of Him, can feel His presence in my life and see Him in nature, but I know I am limited that way, just based on my finite nature.

I don't claim to have all the answers, nor do I claim that I even have a fraction of the answers.  However, I feel that God has given me some insight or at least a way of understanding of Him as I see the world around me.

  • How can one God be a Trinity?
    • I've heard it explained this way: ice, water and steam are made of up the same essence-- H2O.   Yet, they are each have distinctly different forms and purposes.  But, all together, each come from the same pool of elements
  • Why was Jesus take the form of a baby.
    • We needed someone who would understand or experience the human condition from childhood to adulthood.  Someone who would be subject to that which we are subject from an early age, through adulthood.  In short, we needed someone who would experience the trials and tribulations we would from childhood to and through adulthood, yet be able to successfully navigate them.  In other words, He needed to be shown that he could be blameless, experiencing the human experience.  In short, we needed a perfect man to atone for us.
  • Why did Jesus have to shed his blood on the cross and die for us?
    • This one always eluded me.  For me it was always a big mystery.  From the best of my understanding.  Let's start with sin: 
      • Sin is a crime against the perfect nature of God, just like infidelity is a crime against a marriage or theft is crime against another party and/or the state.   Our soul can survive our sinful nature and be in harmony with God, but there is a heavy price that has to be paid. A marriage can survive infidelity, but there is a heavy price to pay for it usually it.  Society can survive theft, but there has to be punishment to atone for it and deter additional theft.
      • Just like a marriage cannot effectively survive unrepentant infidelity and a society cannot effectively survive unpunished theft, our relationship with God cannot survive sin that has not be atoned for.
    • Okay, I've talked about why the need for some form of atonement but someone else paying?
      • A devastated spouse can forgive, but he or she has be able to absorb a lot of hurt. If he or she isn't willing to absorb the hurt, the marriage cannot survive.  
      • A theft requires paying back what has been stolen and a recognition of how wrong it is.  Someone has to bear the cost of the theft in terms of $$ and punishment or risk society being damaged further.  The someone might be the father of the thief who doesn't want his son to be have a tarred record following him around.
      • Similarly, sin is such a profound assault on our relationship with God, that we cannot pay it back ourselves.  Jesus has to intervene.
    • Why Jesus and why dying on the cross?
      • Why dying on the cross?
        • Sin is so destructive that it takes a huge sacrifice to atone for it.
        • It is a sacrifice we don't have the capacity to make.
        • The atonement could not be a simple I'm sorry and I won't do it again.  It had to be profound like dying for us.  Sin is a poison, the poison had to be absorbed by someone.  We all know what happens when you absorb too much poison.  The only way to get rid of poison is to clear it out.  In Jesus' case that was bleeding it out.
      • Why Jesus?
        • He is an infinite being.  He could atone for all sins past, present and future for everyone.  A simple man could not atone or take the fall for all of mankind's sins.  Imagine a simple man trying to do the same for everyone.  Jesus by being both God and infinite Deity could cover both the huge number of sin we individually commit.  Imagine the number of sins being multiplied by the billions of people that have lived or will live.  His infinite nature would always cover all sins that could/would ever be committed.
        •  He was a man.  Sins are committed against the Father by mankind and therefore a representative of mankind would have to be the one to atone.
        • He is all powerful.  His soul could take the poison and punishment required to atone for all mankind's sins. 
      • Why doesn't forgiveness come automatically.  In other words, why do we have to accept his gift of salvation?
        • Imagine you are before a judge in a court of law after you commit a crime. As part of a plea bargain someone agreed to take the punishment for you.  Your part in the plea bargain would be to acknowledge your guilt and to actually accept the plea bargain.
  • How can we conceptualize God?
    • His Word is the best starting point, obviously, it gives the different aspects of His nature, including that of the Trinity.
    • I believe we have his Word and we have glimpses of Him all of nature.  However, I believe none of this will prepare us for Him.  I believe we will be blown away with His awesome nature.  The closest thing I could think of is this.
      • A dot sees itself as a complete being.  It sees a circle as related to him, but it sees a circle as a more profound.  A dot would be blown away by a sphere and above.  It has some clues about a sphere, but clearly cannot understand the sphere's magnitude.
      • A circle sees a dot as a simple being and sees a sphere as a more awesome being.  It sees itself in being in the presence of sphere (and above), but not near as profound as it. 
      • A sphere (and above) sees a dot as a very simple being, but is protective of it.  It sees a circle is something that has its nature, but is still not as awesome as it.
        • Out of a sphere come a dot and circle.  So, clearly the sphere recognizes the dot and circle for what they are.  I
      • The dot is man, the circle is angelic/spirits, the sphere and above is clearly God in this picture.
  • Why is God portrayed as the Father?
    • We tend to understand the family the family unit.  The Father is usually considered both firm in nature, but has a gentle loving side as well.
    • I've heard it is important for a father to be a good leader because he represents the father who is seen.  If we do not trust or have father in our seen father, it makes it all the harder to have faith and trust in our unseen father.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tis the season for music: poetic music is like a rare pearl.

I'm not sure when it hit me, but I've always related life to music and music to life.   Anyone who knows me realizes this.  I have always realized that writing good lyrics and good music to accompany isn't easy.  As I've gotten more involved in writing I've come to realize a good idea, concept or thought is a process that evolves.  I have found that while an idea may come together within a day, an hour or literally minutes, generally the formless or structured thought has been circling around in my mind for a while.  Sometimes, all it takes is a little nudge, conversation or event to crystallized the idea.  Music I believe flows similarly.

Quality music is art in words, a story that is put to a symphony of sound.   Sometimes it can be a simple statement like "It's Time" by Imagine Dragons in which the lead singer tells his struggles to get to where he is now in a poetic fashion.  He tells how he hasn't lost himself in the process.  The musical arrangement on the song I believe is time perfectly to the story.  It slowly builds as his story is told and it hits a crescendo as he expresses how he has kept himself in the process of his personal and career development.  Sometimes, it can be a more complex story.

Either way, having poetic lyrics effectively written and then tied to sound from what I see is a process that evolves over time.   From what I see, it is a process that for most successful musicians/songwriters happens only a few times in life, just as pearls are a rare gift from oysters.

We take it for granted, but I believe that even the most talented songwriters and musicians realize this and they try to strike gold when they are in the zone.

Anyway, just a thought.  So, please take with the me the opportunity to enjoy a Christmas treasure with me while appreciating this thought.

Merry Christmas,

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Anxiously awaiting - Not just words for some

This blog entries is probably one of my most personal ones.  It has been nearly 30 years in the making, perhaps more depending on how you look at it.  To me, the whole point of it is to share a journey from anxiety to freedom.  When I was a kid and young adult I had no reference point, I had no one who understood, appreciated or accepted it.  I don't take it personally as you don't understand or know what you don't know or haven't experienced.  Anyway, my hope has been one day that my story would help others.

I was talking to a friend recently about anxiety.  What is it exactly. indicates:
Anxiety is the vague, uneasy feeling you get when you're dreading something. Anxiety can also be a permanent state of nervousness that some people with mental illnesses experience, a kind of milder version of panic.

I've always hated the 'mental illness' description of it.  It implies that it is "all in your head".  To me, it takes away from the understanding that there is a deep physical component to it.  How would I describe anxiety?  I can only speak for myself as others experience it in different ways.  Furthermore, from day to day or week to week it varies in nature or degree.  Sometimes, I barely can sense it if at all, but sometimes it be severe to a point of partially disabling.  But, I digress.  What is it to me?

* Imagine the stress you feel when a bee is buzzing around you and you can hear it.  When it is more severe, it is like the stress of multiple bees buzzing around you.
* Imagine it is a poison or toxin to your body which you feel a need to get rid of.

I  will first give a bit of a history of it for me and then dive into what I have learned.

I won't go into great detail, but I grew up in a very dysfunctional environmental from as early as I can remember: alcoholic father whom we often walked on eggshells around, parents that fought, a hell-fire and damnation church as preschooler/early-schooler, living in unnecessary poverty and sexual abuse.  Suffice to say, it was circumstances that would cause anxiety in any kid.  I say all this as a setup, not as a call for empathy.  Anyway, as you might imagine, it wasn't exactly circumstances that would lead to a carefree anxiety-free childhood.  I have also come to the understanding that there may be a tendency towards it that runs in families.

But, I digress.  So, I had a built-in anxiety growing up and into my teenage years.

Late in my teenage years (17), I developed a temporary, but painful heart condition: pericarditus or inflammation of the lining around the heart.  It was in the hospital for a total of 22 days between my junior and senior year in high school.  I went in with a painful heart condition and I left the hospital with a proneness to painful anxiety.  Unfortunately, I didn't recognize it until years later for what it was. Given the limitations of the time--lack of knowledge, exposure and awareness as well as having some unhelpful medical professionals (including the doctor my dad had for us), I was destined to have to deal with it the best way I knew.  This led to many years of what I call "suffering in the wilderness".  That is to say, I had an unknown, undiagnosed and untreated GAD (general anxiety disorder) which at times could be disabling.  Being unknown, undiagnosed and untreated, I effectively had to do what I 'knew' at the time would help.  Sometimes, that included avoiding conflict, avoiding large groups of people, resting and hoping it would settle down or subside.    Sometimes, it would involve me talking ibuprofen on a regular basis (as I didn't really understand it) for the tension headaches or aches and pains.   Anyway, when you don't know what you are dealing with, you deal the best way possible.  My dad was old school, predisposed to be skeptical if not hostile to anything that even remotely resembled counseling or "a behavior/mental" issue.  He also had a "deal with it" attitude.  I will write in a future blog--now called Don't you forget about me: The blog I needed to write one day about my late brother--as to how I believe this attitude helped lead to my brother Bill's downfall and eventually taking his own life (though I don't 'blame' my dad so much as recognize the how different pieces in a person's life lead to the picture being formed).  But I digress.  My mom and dad had divorced a couple years earlier and I rarely saw my mom from that point in my teenage years.  I think she had a better ability to grasp, but she wasn't readily available to help.  Anyway, my dad just wasn't in a position to or even open to being able to 'get it'.

I had stopped going to church when I was 20 and had moved away to school at UMR (now Missouri School of Science and Technology).  I felt in my mid-twenties that God had reached back into my life and reminded me of his presence.  So, I started going back to church.   Over time I have realized that God puts people in your life for a reason, and what follows is nothing short of an instance of that.  I was new to my church at the time and dealing with an unknown condition.  In my young adults group, we had a bible study at the house of someone in the group.  Anyway, we broke up into small groups to discuss our prayer concerns.  I met a friend who would change my life forever.  So, I opened up in this group about my symptoms and we prayed about it.  Afterwords, Elaine confided to me that she had an anxiety problem.  I saw her as 'having it all together'.  I had seen her as a very Godly woman, a person with a deep concern for her 'fellow man', but I NEVER would have guessed that on the inside she struggled with the demon of anxiety.  Anyway, she directed me to the church counselor and he directed me to who was to become my doctor of 18 years.   What I've come to learn over time is that some doctors are problem solvers and when they can't figure a problem out they are quick to dismiss it (almost to the point of dismissing the individual).  I have heard this referred to as having 'bad bedside manner'.  However, my doctor was quite the opposite.  He listens to the individual. He listened to my symptoms, he listened to my concerns and he didn't carry an attitude (such as this person doesn't know what he/she is talking about).  Anyway, over time he ruled out what it wasn't and gracefully ruled in what it was.  We went through a few medicines and he finally found one that helped (xanax).  I wasn't cured, but I felt hope finally and I felt like I started to really live at that point.  My usage of it has changed over time and for years I knowingly and purposefully was able to go without it.  I use it sparingly now, as over time, I have learned how better to deal with anxiety.  Where at first it was my crutch, it has become a complimentary tool in my arsenal.

Things I have taken away in dealing with anxiety for many years.   Some of these actually seem to be contradictory:

  • Sometimes it cannot be avoided.  Nor should it be.  Sometimes anxiety is your body's way of telling you that you are avoiding dealing with the hard issues.  In a way, it can be an extension of your conscience.  In other words, anxiety can be a good motivator to change what needs to be changed.
    • Examples of avoidance:  
      • Living beyond your means and avoiding the reality of having to adjust your lifestyle or declare bankruptcy.
      • Avoiding talking about relationship/marital problems.  Walking on eggshells around your spouse or kids.  Not standing up to an abusive/controlling family member that you need to.
      • Your company is bought out and you are purposely not facing the possibility that you could be laid off.
    • The price of necessarily dealing with an anxiety producing circumstance may be physically or emotionally 'expensive' at first, but in time it will become less expensive.  
    • Avoiding dealing with a necessary problem due to the anxiety it produces typically make it more 'costly' emotionally and physically later.  
  • Sometimes it is your body's way of telling you that you are biting off more than you can chew at once.  Some possible examples are:
    • Bought a house that you cannot afford.
    • Took a job that you are woefully under-qualified for.
    • You are in a relationship where your significant other doesn't accept you for who you are, but 'accepts' you for whom they think they can shape you into.
    • You are trying to 'rescue' a friend or family member from themselves, especially when they aren't helping themselves out.
  • Things that can help reduce anxiety (not necessarily in this order).
    • Medication.  It can help with it, but can't or shouldn't be used a substitute for dealing with the underlying problems that are aggravating it.
    • Working out.  This allows you to channel in an outward direction the negative inward energy you have.
    • Reasoned self-talk. 
      • Learn to recognize circumstances/situations for what they are and don't blow them out of proportion.
      • Learn that usually problems don't have to fixed or dealt with all at once.  They can often be broken down into multiple steps.
      • Learn that fear/uncertainty is okay--riding the razor's edge.  Fear is a natural and reasonable response, but if you allow it, it can rule you and effectively disable you.
      • Recognize that everyone makes mistakes and don't hold yourself to an unrealistic standard.  The important thing is to learn from your mistakes.
      • Recognize when you are in the right and don't let another attempt to manipulate you into believing otherwise.  In other words, confidence in your position.
      • Recognizing when you are wrong and not having the courage to face what that that leads to or implies.  Once again when we intuitively, or even explicitly, know that we are in the wrong, anxiety is the body's natural response to it.  I believe the technical term for it is "having a conscience".  ;-)
    • Meditation/prayer/journal/counsel
      • Realize that you cannot control everything and be willing to give it up to your higher power.  Doing what you need to, giving it up to your higher power (God) and accepting your higher power will lead you to the best resolution if you are open to it.  
      • Realize that sometimes the best way to overcome anxiety is to understand what you are facing - writing it out, talking it out, praying it out, releasing it.
      • Realizing everything we have is a gift and being willing to let go if necessary.  Sometimes this includes unhealthy relationships; sometimes this includes possessions; in the most extreme circumstances, it can include your life.
      • Accepting your role(s) in life, even if you are not necessarily fond of them.  
      • Being open to advise of others and not being stuck in your own preconceived solutions or notions, yet maintaining core values--not being so open-minded that you will accept anything.

Thanks for listening to my story and as a country song says, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."
-- Rich

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Playing the long season: winning at baseball, life and relationships.

I know it's vain, but anytime I have a thought which I consider might be remotely profound I write it down.  Usually, just the title.  Obviously, if it hits me hard enough, I tend to write on it immediately.
With baseball season winding down, I thought this one might be appropriate.  

Anyway, in talking to a friend a week ago or so, I realized that playing effective baseball, living a long, productive life and having long and healthy relationships have a few things in common:
  • Usually when each are handled well, they have a long season.  In baseball, only a strike can cut short the long season.  In life, obviously, some people die young, but most live to they are old.  A healthy relationship can last a long time, if not a lifetime.
  • In order to be effective at each, requires a lot of effort or hard work and persistence.  
  • Each require you to make adjustment from time to time.  If a team isn't playing well, the lineup needs to be shaken up or the coaches need to be to find better chemistry.  Life, of course, throws us curve balls that we have to adjust to or risk emotional or physical demise.  It goes without saying in relationships we hit ruts, fall into the same bad patterns.  So, we have to make intentional changes.
  • We sometimes have to be willing to lose in order to win.
The last idea really captured my attention.  It goes like this: we can't go full speed, all out, trying to win at all costs all the time.  We will get burnt out and/or break down if we try to do that.  Each circumstance requires some compromises or sacrifices which in the short term, may lead to more 'losses' or 'discomfort', but in the long term can lead to a "winning season".
  • In baseball, teams intentionally rest their best players from time to time.  This includes intentionally allowing pitchers to skip a start or go with an extra day of rest--leading to a less talented pitcher taking the mound.  In the short term, you might be sacrificing your best opportunity to win a certain game or games during the season--evidenced most obviously when a team rests their best players after clinching the division.  However, in the long run, the team is making sure the players/pitchers are rested appropriately to allow the team to have the most opportunities to win in the most games.
  • In life, sometimes we have to take a break from work, school or other challenges in order to make sure we don't burn out and risk having multiple aspects of our life falling apart.  Some examples are:
    • In school this could mean taking a lesser course load per semester or taking a summer away from school.  This might lengthen to finish up, but might allow us the best possible results.
    • In work, taking time off even when it slows the progress of your work.  In other words, saving your energy for another time. 
  • In relationships, we sometimes have to be willing to let the other person 'win' on their point rather than just arguing or debating the point.  Even if you feel the other is completely wrong, some points are not worth fighting over.  Besides, if you play to 'win' every point, then you risk alienating your partner.  You risk leaving them with the impression that they are always wrong or their views aren't important or ever right.

Anyway, just some food for thought today.  Until next times....

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Decisions/choices we make and the "fog of war".

This will be a short sweet blog this morning.   This reminds me of a blog that I did on Finding peace in the eye of the storm vs. shelter from it.

I was talking to a friend the other day and he explained to me that if he was back in the situation he was years ago he'd have approached things much differently.   As the famous saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.  But what does that really mean?

  • Clearly we just learn more over time.  We are exposed to more circumstances that we have never faced or been through.   We also are exposed to similar circumstances multiple times.  This is to say, we can't help but pick up more knowledge and/or a greater understanding.  For example, we may empathize with a friend who lost a parent, but until we've lost a parent and had to handle that, we just don't know what all goes into dealing with the death of a parent.  Hindsight being 20/20 means if we'd known all that goes into it before it happened, we'd possibly have made better decisions.
  • We 'had the knowledge' at the time we faced the circumstances in question, but there was something blocking us from truly seeing it situation completely and/or executing the choices/decisions we should have.  This is what I refer to as "the fog of war".  Here are a few examples of the 'fog of war':
    • We know what we need to do, but our pride gets in the way.  We simply can't get or see past it.  For example, we might be struggling to find a job in our field, but we also need to pay the bills.  In this situation pride might cause us to not take a lesser job for a while, while looking for the job we 'should be able to get'.  After our pride has cleared, we will realize that we probably brought on more hardship than we needed to.
    • We feel shame or guilt over something in our own life and let it get in the way of decision-making/choices.  In other words, shame and guilt cloud over our thought process.  For example, I think it is common for divorced parents to let the guilt or shame in their role in the unraveling of their marriage get in the way.  Also, guilt or shame over the damage of divorce to the children, can get in the way of their parenting.   If someone feels like they played a large role in the failure of their marriage, it might leave them feeling compromised, for example.  If they feel guilty about what a divorce is doing or has done to their child, then they may be lax in discipline or let things slide that they normally wouldn't.  When you feel bad about yourself, it can be harder to hold another accountable the way you should.  After the feelings have subsided, it will likely be much easier to see past the guilt or shame and just focus on exactly what needs to be done.  We might look back and said I tolerated too much disobedience and I wish I'd be more assertive.
    • Someone close to us is dying or dies.  We are busy mourning their passing or imminent passing.  We can be overwhelmed with thoughts about the situation.  Our normally clear thinking can take second place to the intense hurt or passion of the situation.  As a practical matter we are focused on the (impending) loss and we just don't have enough emotional space to allow our clearer thoughts to take root.  After the situation has calmed down or we've had time to grieve, things can be much clearer.

The long and short of it is this.  When the passions, emotions, guilt/shame or other demons are present, we may know on some level what choices to make, but we may get distracted from making the best choice based on those obstacles to our 'sight' or not having the strength to move past them at the time.  We may unintentionally rationalize our decisions/choices due to our lacking strength or courage.  That is to say, if we are not up to making the best decision, we may just make the decisions that we are able to and find a way to rationalize it as the 'best decision'.  This isn't meant as a criticism, but an unfortunate reflection of the reality at the time.

I guess this all points to the following plan of action:

  1. Doing the best we can do with the information we have at the time.
  2. Considering that unseen and underestimated obstacles might be in the way of our making the best decision or choice.
  3. Praying for wisdom and insight into making the right choice. Praying that we can see past any obstacles.
I believe if we work those three basic steps we can cut down on hindsight or regretful thinking no matter how things turn out.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hope delayed is hoped denied

One of the pillars of our legal system is the right to a fair and speedy trial.  That idea or concept is so important to the health of our Republic that it is enshrined in law as the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.

Sixth Amendment Text

Amendment VI

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."

Anyway, one of the basis for this concept is that "justice delayed is justice denied".  That is to say, if you have to spend too long in jail awaiting trail or with the threat of no future hanging over your head, effectively you are being punished already whether you are guilty or not of the charges against you.


"Hope delayed is hoped denied" is in essence an expansion on the concept of "justice delayed is justice denied".  While justice delayed obviously applies strictly to constitutional law, "hope delayed" can apply to many aspects of your life.

  • In our professional lives, if we work our tail off, but continually get passed over, we lose hope. If our reason for hope--the promise of promotions if we give our 100% to our organization--is continually put off or delayed, we eventually will lose the hope.  In essence, our hope will be lost or denied..
  • In our spiritual life, sometimes we realize the life we have led, the things that we put our faith in are all wrong.  So, we adopt a new faith.  If we go into our new faith thinking that our higher power (God) will remove all obstacles and/or that we will never face troubled times, we are setting ourselves up for a rude awakening.  If our hope is that following God's will lead us to easy times, yet we continue to face hard times, our hope will eventually disappear,  In a sense, we will have denied hope by our misunderstanding of the reason for the hope we have.
  • In our relational lives, we can get unwittingly stuck in ruts.  We can talk about better communication, being better attuned to each others  needs or feelings and so on.  However, if we continue to see little or no movement towards a more healthy relationship, our hope will lessen or get delayed.  We may push our hope back and say, let's give it more time.  But, as more time passes and progress continues to be slow or nonexistent, our hope dissipates.  Eventually, this leads to a sense that things will never change.  That is to say, our hope is denied.

Our continued contentedness, productivity and sometimes existence require hope.  With hope, we can function in our daily lives.  Without it, we will struggle to do so.  I guess the takeaways from this blog are these:

  • We need to anchor our hope in things that aren't passing.  This is the spiritual aspect of hope.
  • In dealing with others, whether in a professional or personal environment, we need to be aware of the role hope plays in their life.  In other words, we need to have a sense of what brings hopefulness to them and what drains hopefulness from that.  That doesn't mean we bear responsibility for their overall sense of hope, but it also doesn't mean we play no role no role in their sense of hope either.

1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sometimes black and white (either/or) thinking is good. Avoiding it can be itself black and white thinking.

I was having a discussion with a friend one time.  We were discussing an aspect of people with addictive personalities.  Really, it can apply to young kids, people with developmental disabilities and people with compulsive behavior or thinkingas well.

What exactly am I talking about?  

Splitting (also called black and white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking) is the failure in a person's thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism used by many people.[1] The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual's actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground).

When we are little kids, largely out of necessity we are taught to think in black and white.  Some of it due to a lack of ability to comprehend the shades of gray, some of it due to our inability to stay focused enough to listen to a shades of gray messages and some of it for our own protection.
  • Don't touch the oven/stove--you'll get burnt.
  • Fighting is wrong.
  • Guns are dangerous.

As we grow older we learn that the world is not that simple. 
  • You can touch the oven/stove provided you use a potholder or oven gloves
  • Fighting is usually wrong, unless it is to defend yourself. 
  • Guns are acceptable for hunting and for protection, but they need to be in the hands of a responsible adult or older kid being taught gun safety.

As a matter of fact, we are often discouraged from thinking in black and white.  Often times if we don't think/express thoughts in shades of gray, we are labeled as 'narrow-minded'.   Essentially we are talking about moral relativism.

In the discussion with my friend it occurred to me that always thinking in shades of gray is actually a form of black and white thinking.   That is to say, if you are unwilling to ever consider that sometimes life has definitive right/wrong, yes/no, all/nothing conditions, in a way you are thinking in black and white or the extreme.  In other words, thinking there are no absolutes is a form of absolute thinking.  

If you truly want to think or live your life in shades of gray, you have to include all possibilities on the spectrum.  After all, the gray color spectrum includes white on one end and black on the other.  

The takeaway is this: some aspects about life and humanity do change with the times (shades of gray) such as theories on parenting,  while others are timeless and definitive such as murder is wrong.   In short, it is black and white or narrow-minded to think everything is up in the air.

Just my thoughts for the day...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Walking Wounded - A look inside.

With the holidays creeping up on us and decisions needing to be made not too long from as to where celebrations will be held, ect., the loss of family and the lack of closeness of remaining family has started hitting me.
(originally published 10/6/15)

An interim minister of ours--Van Williams--touched upon this subject a few weeks back.   He reminded our parishioners  about those of us who have faced losses in the past year of loved ones.  To not forget them, to keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well as in your circle.

After losing a friend and both parents since May 2014 and losing my brother just over four years ago, sometimes my head spins.  People talk about getting together with family and a certain emptiness hits.   A certain sense of 'what family?" hits me.  i.e., a sense of pointlessness about the holidays.

I've been on both sides of the equation.  I've had people around me lose their parents, some a sibling, some a friend and some a spouse.  My extended family wasn't close due to parental conflict/in-law resentment and the like.  So, I used to be able to 'brag' about never having felt a close loss.  I empathized for friends who'd lost parents, etc., but I never really got it.  I understood the general idea of loss, but emotionally, I didn't connect with it.

There are a few observations I've seen in others and I've introspected on about the close losses.  Some words from the distant past from a coach as well.

  • If you've never had a similar loss to someone, it is best to not say "I understand".    It can feel a little hollow.  It is usually meant well, but it can almost ring dimissive of the level of hurt.   My high school track coach gave some insightful words on it.  He said it was best not to say "I understand" when you couldn't possibly.  Instead he suggested, "I couldn't possibly understand what you are going through, but seeing your hurt makes me hurt for you."  In other words, empathy.  You are acknowledging your limitations and not inadvertently being dismissive.  But, at the same time, you are saying, I hurt for you.  Saying something like that means more than a cliche.

  • In our society, it seems like we spend a minute or two mourning the losses before we are required to "go back to work", "move on", "get back to it".  If the loss is sudden, it almost feels surreal.  It's like you've had your time to mourn, now we need you to get back to it.   I suppose in a way, it has to be that way, but in a way the needs of life/society almost feel like a cold slap in the face when you are saying, "wait, wait, I'm not finished weeping inside".

  • Dealing with death can be a touchy subject for those around the one who has had the loss.  They often don't know what to say.  There is often a discomfort for them.   They are usually nowhere near the place you are.  Their life's concerns/interests are about a million miles away from yours.  It may feel like for them that they are dealing with a baby monkey, whereas you are dealing with an 800lb gorilla.  When they don't seem to want to deal, try to be kind to them as a lot of times, they just don't know what to do or say.   While you are clearly dealing with the bigger loss, they are dealing with a loss of sorts--a loss of a lighter relationship with you.

  • To those who don't know how to deal with a loved one who has had a close loss a few pieces of advice.
    • Check in from time to time with the love one.  Just ask how they are doing.  Sometimes, the one in mourning won't need to lay down their heavy heart on you.  Sometimes they just need to know that someone cares.  
    • Don't feel guilty that you aren't comfortable dealing with the one with the heavy heart.  Sometimes, you just aren't there yet or have never been there.  A few moments of discomfort dealing with the heavy-hearted person may make all the difference in the world.  Just try to think past what discomfort you might have and think what is the Godly thing to do.  Maturity isn't always liking, but doing anyway.  In other words, if you do the comforting out of obedience, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that.  Also, it can give you a sense that of wellness doing the right thing.
    • Please don't just say, call me if you need anything or I am there for you.  It would be best to offer help up front if possible and/or to just make a point to check in. Often times the grieving person doesn't want to reach out.
      • The grieving person's sense of self might be off.  They don't want to feel like a burden on those around them--even when it completely understandable that they should be able to lean on others.
      • Sometimes, they have not processed their grief and/or are still in shock.  Sometimes, they don't feel like opening the door to their heart.  A natural extension of this is not wanting to reach out to others.  Reaching out to others may feel like to them exposing their hurt.   Their heart may be heavy and they may just feel like shutting down.   Knowing how difficult it can be for those who are not gifted/experienced at dealing with people with a heavy heart, it may seem to you that well the grieving person doesn't want anyone around or anyone to reach out.  But, sometimes that is just the time.  
        • When someone is sick as a dog and could use someone to watch the kids, a bowl of soup, or just someone to give them their meds and something to drink, we don't think twice about it, even when they ask us not to worry.
        • Depression related to grieving can be just as heavy.  They may not feel like doing anything or asking for help, but that doesn't mean they couldn't use a kind word, an offer of help, an ear to listen or just a break from the grind.

Life is a learning experience and until you've been in another's shoes, it is often difficult to know the road they are/have traveled.  Reasonable people shouldn't expect you to 'get it' when dealing with circumstances you haven't faced.  However, they might reasonably expect you to try.  I guess the best piece of advice is to think a little bit about how you'd like others to relate to you in that time and give of yourself that way.   Sometimes being a 'friend' to your loved one just means trying.

Thanks for reading my blog.

-- Rich

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Positive narcissist vs. negative narcissist vs. balanced view

A while bac, I was having a conversation with a person whose kid sees himself negatively.  While I don't necessarily think what I am writing below applies directly to the kid,  the conversation did remind me of a theory or view I had developed on narcissism.

We all have ran across someone who behaves as if their stuff doesn't stink.   Similarly, we all have run across someone who is like  Eeyore who is gloomy, negative and often rates his or herself no good.  I call the first type a 'positive narcissist' (or simply a 'narcissist') and the second type a 'negative narcissist'.  I will elaborate on why I see both types as narcissists.

I don't know when, but it occurred to me that both types actually have a lot in common:
  • Each type of person is being emotionally, intellectually, mentally and/or spiritually lazy.
    • It is easy to label and/or rationalize to yourself that you are either just good or bad.   If you decide that you are either 'perfect' or 'rotten' by nature then you don't have to continually evaluate yourself.
    • It takes much more work to actually dig and effectively evaluate yourself.  It takes much more work to separate the flaws from the virtues. 
  • Each type is disconnected from his or herself.  
    • Once again, labeling yourself as just a great person or horrible one or the other frees you from having to process or evaluate yourself.
    • You can easily stay at the surface level and find an example or two to support your contention.
  • Each type disconnected from others.
    • A narcissist by his or her very nature has hard time has accepting anything that could be seen as criticism.  By itself, this shuts down much of the conversation that is possible with others.  Furthermore, the self-focus drowns out the ability to see ability to see past oneself and really see others.
    • A negative narcissist by his or her nature has a hard time accepting anything that could be seen as a compliment.  Once again, this shuts down much of the conversation that is possible.  Once again, the self-focus gets in the way of being able to really others.
  • Each type has issues with humility.  
    • A narcissist lacks humility.  He or she may feign humility, but it's usually pretty easy to see through the false humility.
    • A negative narcissist in a way lacks true humility too.  He or she may come across as not wanting to be egotistical, but what I see it as is really a defense mechanism.  To accept praise or to self-praise requires one to step outside his or her predefined role as a 'no-good' or 'worthless' person.  In a way, in the deflecting praise is not being modest, but rather a way of avoiding the shattering the 'negative self-portrayal'.
  • Each type gives a way of freeing the individual with the given personality of culpability or responsibility.
    • A narcissist will tend to think of his or herself as being incapable of making a bad decision or failing.   When they actually do make a bad decision or fail, he or she will either:
      • Push fault on another (scapegoat).
      • Push fault on the cosmos (it was beyond me control, even if it wasn't)
      • Spin the poor decision as a good decision (or intentional) and the failure as insignificant or really actually a success.
    • A negative narcissist will portray themselves as fatally flawed and incapable of doing anything but making bad decisions or failing.
      • In their mind and heart this frees them.  After all, if I am destined to fail, in a way what does it matter how I got there?  In other words, since I am going to fail anyway, I can choose the 'selfish' option as it will end up bad either way.
      • If I blame myself for everything, then in a way I am blaming myself for nothing.  In other words, I am not really evaluating my role, but rather just sticking a label on myself and the situation.  Just like sticking a label on a batch of cookies that look good without actually sampling them to make sure it is good.
  •  Each type has esteem issues.
    • Narcissim is often a way overcompensating for insecurity.  A narcissist, in buying into their inflated sense of self, often is trying insulates his or herself from the effects of their insecurity.  After all, if I buy my own hype, then I can suppress and otherwise ignore my deeply buried insecurity.  Thus anyone who poses a threat to bring them down to earth, threatens their cushion against insecurity.
    • A negative narcissist in a sense has bought into his or her own insecurity or low esteem.  When assessing his or herself, a negative narcissist has effectively conceeded that their insecurity or esteem problems are legitimate.  In other words, they've decided that they are implicitly bad and/or a failure and therefore will tend to focus on that which 'supports' their contention.

I think most people have an element of each--positive and negative--narcissism in them.  It is healthy to think of oneself as inherently good.  But, it is also healthy to think of oneself as having the ability to make mistakes.  It is when a person doesn't attempt to balance out the ledger--see the good and the bad--that a person is not really mentally, emotionally, or spiritually healthy.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Just a gigolo - lacking a feeling of purpose or sense of being appreciated.

I think at times in most people's life they wonder: what am I here for or what is my purpose?  Alternatively they may wonder would I be missed if I wasn't here or would the people I know care about me if I couldn't do anything for them?  In other words, am I appreciated for who I am or just what I can do for others?

Sometimes it's a moment of insecurity.  Sometimes it's a stage of sadness or depression.  Sometimes, it's an idle curiosity.  I believe that some of wealthiest, most popular or famous people actually feel this more acutely.  They seemingly have more on the surface to offer.  So much so that people around them don't take the time to get to know them.  It is easier to enjoy the glow of their fame or the shower of their wealth than to actually invest in getting to know them.

Anyway, "Just a Gigolo" captures it perfectly: this sense of lacking purpose, reason and a curiosity if at the end of the day if one is appreciated.

In this video David Lee Roth is a singer, a VJ, a showman.   After recording a clip of "Dave TV", he has a small gaggle of people coming up to him looking for something from him: one needs David to autograph paperwork for her kids while the others seem to be yes men seeking to leech off his fame.

Anyway, he wonders what he would do if he could do his own video.

In the video he knows that he has something to offer--his companionship--and that will keep him busy and give him the false sense of being appreciated while he is young.  But, in his heart, he know that won't last.  In his heart he knows when he grows old, he won't be able to count on even that to keep him feeling appreciated.   In a sense, he wonders will anyone care about him when he apparently has nothing left to offer.   It is really quite sad.  He puts on a show with pizzazz with flair and apparent sense of fun, but in a way that just masks a sadness that he feels about his real value.


What it has meant to me at times in the past:

Am I appreciated for shallow reasons--to provide a service or meet a shallow need of another?  Or am I sincerely appreciated for who I am and/or do I have a larger purpose? 


What I see it can mean:

Does my employer appreciate me for the value I add or am I just a paid gun for hire to be disposed of when they've got what they needed out of me?

Just some idle thoughts.  Anyway, my daughter and marriage family helps me to realize that life just wouldn't go on without me.