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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