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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Accepting a Serving of Pie = Providing a Serving of Love

Christmas at my mom's house was always interesting.  She'd get gifts she thought were cool (even if we didn't need them or it wasn't our cup of tea.  We'd sometimes trade some of our gifts among each other until we got what we thought were the best gifts for each of us.  She'd always cook a lot of food and without fail she'd encourage us to take plenty home.  Sometimes we weren't in the mood to have ham, pie or casserole for days, but we saw how important it was to her.  So, we'd take it home and eat as much as we reasonably could over the next few days before we got sick of it or it just got too old.  After about a week, the guilt of throwing away the excess food that we couldn't eat anymore of (or that had gone bad) would have been assuaged and we could go on with our lives.

Looking back it was a little sad, but it was kind of funny.

My mom wanted to be loved.  She wanted to feel useful.  She wanted to feel important.  She wanted to know she mattered to her kids.  I think in most cases among her kids, these things were true, even if she wasn't always sure of it.  It was like a little dance in a way.
I get you many affordable trinkets of my love--some really needed and others not so much--and I hope think well of me.  I feed you and provide you all the food you'd ever want and remember that I love you (and hope you feel the same way too).
I learned a valuable lesson from her.  Love doesn't have to be perfect, love can be a little needy, love can hope it is returned, but the main thing is the person providing it is trying.  They sincerely want to share it with you.  In and of itself there is immense value in that.  If someone treats you with warmth and kindness and tries to be there for you, does it really matter if it isn't always 100% on the mark or part of the motive for it could be hoping to get a little back?  Sometimes showing love is accepting that token, that attempt, that (sometimes imperfect) effort the other is showing you.  Sure, I may have not needed that piece of pie or leftover pie or helpings of turkey, but how hard is it to put away my pride or put away my "oh you really didn't have to do that" or  my "I can't take all this home" How hard is it to accept the 'serving of pie', the gift of love?

God blesses us with people in our lives, people that are willing to make that extra effort to show us warmth, even if sometimes their desire to be loved or appreciated may seem over the top, I think it is important to be grateful for them and love them and show love to them for whom they are.  They may embarrass you at times, but dammit they are sometimes the sweetest people.  

As you might sense, this post actually hurts a bit to write.  I was blessed with a sweet mom who put up with my flaws and idiosyncrasies and all she asked was for a little bit of love in return.  God blessed me with a realization of this as I worked my way from young adulthood to "middle-aged".

I love you and miss you mom.  I wish I could have slowed down and spent more time with you (Even if by phone).  When given the gift of leftover turkey or pie, I will gladly take it home in your honor.

- Rich

(My mom passed away July 6th, 2014 to be at eternal peace with her Higher Power-God)

I won't tell no one your name: Being a True Friend

With Christmas Season (2017) in full swing, I was feeling this message about love and trying to be there for others,  Anyway, I tend to like music with a message, with feel, with meaning.  I guess that's why I like the song  "Grease".  ;-)  Comic relief aside, I was listening to one of my favorite songs from the 1990s: The Goo Goo Dolls' "Name".  I read some of the lyrics below and the take immediately following it on Lyrics Interpretations:

"Its lonely where you are, come back down, and I won't tell 'em your name" 
The take 
"This place you are in mentally/spiritually/emotionally is lonely, you guard yourself from reality and alienate yourself from those who care about you. Come back to reality, let go of your pride and embrace your shortcomings so you can heal. I won't expose, exploit or otherwise hurt you."
Songs (which many can be considered poetry) often have a way of expressing a complex idea in a couple phrases.

Sometimes we aren't in the best place. Sometimes we want to come to reconnect, but "we don't know how".  Sometimes we want to reconnect but we don't feel that it is safe to try.  Sometimes the hurt--or perceived risk of it--that comes from making ourselves vulnerable keeps from engaging those who care about us.  We really want to open up, but like an animal who is out of its usual surroundings we have to get a sense that it is safe before we venture too far out (emotionally).

The holidays are time in which we get the opportunity to connect with the ones we love.  However, for many people it is a time of loneliness or hurt.  

  • Feeling the loss more acutely of those close to us whom have passed.
  • Feeling the lack of a close knit family.
  • In a new situation or surrounding in which our routine has been interrupted (temporarily or permanently).

Whatever the cause, the holidays can be a time of hurt for some.  Ultimately healing is journey in which we have to find our way.  However, having those close to us can guide or at least walk along with us in our journey.  Sometimes all we need is someone who will listen to us without judgment, but instead with love.  We all have been there (or will be there) sometime in our life.   For those with an abundance of serenity, we can't necessarily, nor is it our job to 'fix' love ones around us.  However, what we can offer is love--in the form of being there for others who are hurting.  It can be a family member, a friend, a coworker, a member of one of our groups, or frankly it can be the stranger in line at the store who looks like they could use a friendly ear.

We can give CDs, electronics, gift cards, clothes, etc.  However, the best gift we can ever give to others is sometimes just our empathy and willingness to be there even when our heart may not totally be into it.

So, as we are serving a slice of turkey, a slice of desert or slice of toasted bread, consider also serving a slice of love to those whom we are blessed with the opportunity to be a blessing to.  Listen with empathy, listen with compassion, listen without judgment, but most of all, listen with love.

May God bless your Christmas season this year.

-- Rich

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Demons Part 4: No matter where you go, you will always be with you...

Recently I was listening to "My Eyes Adored You" by Frankie Valli and it got me to thinking.  In this song, over time, he sings of a lady friend whom he has loved literally since he was a kid.  Even though she never returned his love, it still remained in his heart no matter where he was, how long it had been, and no matter what he did.  In short, that was his cross to bear.  One could say perhaps it was his demon as there was no escaping his unrequited love for his lady friend.  With my birthday coming up soon, I thought this blog idea (and quote) was quite appropriate.

I've come to realize that everyone in this life has their cross to bear--for some it is a physical cross, for other it is psychological.  Sometimes that cross to bear feels like a demon.  The funny thing about personal demons is that you can't outrun them.  You can try to hide from them, you can try to ignore them, you can try to 'medicate' them away, but unless you've dealt with them, they will be there wehn you 'finish the day'.  I'm not sure who quoted it first, but as a wise man once said, "Wherever you go, there you are".

One of my favorite Bible stories is that of Jonah and the Whale.  In that story, the Lord spoke to his servant Jonah and told him to go to Nineveh and preach to the Ninevites.   They needed to repent of their sins lest they faith His wrath and be destroyed.  Well Jonah didn't particularly like the people of Nineveh as they were enemies of Israel.  So, he was fine with the Lord destroying them and therefore tried to run from obligations.  Naturally, the Lord being the Lord, He wasn't going to just sit idly by while His servant Jonah disrespected His will.  So, when Jonah caught a ship going the other way, the Lord sent a great storm that way.  Jonah was then awoken by the ship's captain and implored to call upon God to calm the storm.  Soon thereafter, the ship's population cast lots and determined that it was Jonah who had brought the trouble with him.  Jonah realized at this point what he needed to do to save the ship and its crew.  After some resistance from them, Jonah convinced the crew to toss him overboard to calm God.  Eventually they did and immediately thereafter the great storm had ceased, putting the fear of the Lord in all of them.  Anyway, Jonah was swallowed by a great whale and after three days in the whale, he cried up to God to spare him.  The Lord chose to spare him and the whale spat him on dry land.  When the Lord ordered Jonah to go to Nineveh again, Jonah took the hint and went there, upon which time the Ninevites repented of their sins and were spared.  In this story, Jonah was fortunate as his demon or cross that he had to bear was blatantly obvious: He had to help those whom he hated, no matter how much it upset him.   In our lives, the demons are not always so obvious and/or more not have a way to be (fully) resolved.  Yet,  even if we can't make a demon disappear, we can find a way to come to terms with it even while we work to lessen it.

Dealing with "Demons"
  • Recognizing them
    • Awareness of their existence.
    • Awareness of what they are
    • Awareness of what they aren't
  • Accepting their existence.
    • Accepting the full extent of them.
    • Accepting whatever level of permanence they are at.
  • Dealing with them
    • Knowing what you can and should do to deal with them.
    • Knowing what you can't or shouldn't do to deal with them.
  • Coming to terms with them
    • Accepting the aspects (of demons) that you can't change.
    • Working to change the aspects that you can.
    • Being wise enough to know which demons (or aspects thereof) you can change, which ones you cannot and being willing to accept the difference.

A personal example
Anyone who knows me knows that one of my biggest demons is sadness, specifically missing my daughter.  I have less than half time custody of her (and only half the holidays).  I've learned to deal, but I still cannot escape the sadness.  Sometimes I just have to be sad and maybe shed a few tears.  But, I know I can't just have her whenever I want.  I've accepted that I will have times in which I don't get to see her and I will be sad.  However, I know there are things I can do to maximize my time with her-including volunteering to coach, offering to watch her when her mom has late/early morning meetings, asking for days during the summer if/when her mom offers it.

I've recognized my demon--sadness due to loss of time with my daughter--and accepted it as part of who I am (a man who has strong feelings).   I've recognized what I can do to deal with the demon and what I cannot.  I'm also working to change the situation to the extent I can (and therefore reduce the loss of missing her).

Anyway, just my random musing the week.  Hopefully, you are able to retrieve something out of this post.


Other posts on demons:

Demons: Facing Demonsl

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Are You Tough Enough for My Love?

Recently after a long day at work, I was about to head home and the song Coming Home by Cinderella occurred to me.  Specifically these lyrics: 

I see the fire in your eyes but a man's gotta make his way
So are you tough enough for my love
Just close your eyes to the heaven above
I'm comin home, I'm comin home

In the song, the lead singer is reflecting his time on the road, the impact it has on his family and the anticipation of going back to family.  Anyway, he asks a good question: "So are you tough enough for my love"?  This got me to thinking, relationships can take a lot of work, a lot of dedication and frankly just ability to cope with difficult circumstances.  The common refrain in wedding vows such as listed below.

I, ___, take you, ___, for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part."

That vow wasn't created for no reason.  It's been widely recognized across time and cultures that marriage isn't always an easy journey.  Often times, I think people really have no idea just how much work it is or will be.  Hence the vow doesn't sugar coat marriage.  It speaks of a commitment.  Not just words, but the willingness and mindset that you are in it for the long haul.  Anyone who has been previously married or has been married for a long time is likely to get this (or should get it), but you know I get these inspirations and feel the need to remind everyone of this.  ;-)

We don't always know what we are getting into when we get married and really how can we?  Typically, there is usually so much we don't know about each other.  We go off our gut, we go off our instinct and lets just be frank, we go off our hope based on something intriguing we find in each other. 

In my blog post, It's just you and me and we just disagree..., I explored the idea that not all relationships that end are do to a "bad guy" or lack of effort, but that it's an easy trap to label failures as having a "bad guy".  In my 48 years, I've seen friends and family have failed marriages, been a child of and once even been part of a failed marriage.    Here are some of the obstacles I've seen to successful marriages which require "toughness" or "understanding" or "commitment" (that in some cases can apply to both partners).
  • Partners in the marriage either don't have or haven't made the time necessary to get to know each other.  
    • Work schedule
    • Kid schedule 
  • A trauma has hit close to home.  Examples include:
    • Child gets sick or dies.  
    • Someone has had health problems, sometimes to a point in which it has changed the person or the dynamics of the relationship.
    • Financial disaster such as bankruptcy or failed business.
  • A spouse had unresolved hurts.
    • Especially, but not limited to family of origin hurts.  
    • Perhaps we already know that he or she has hurts, but not necessarily the extent.  
    • In a way, this is a trauma at an early age.
    • His/her reactions seem out of proportion or puzzling to us.  But, when taken in the context of hurts can be seen as 'protecting' him or herself.
  • A spouse has hangups (or a tendency towards) that we weren't aware of or aware of the extent of.  Examples include:
    • What we perceived as having an occasional drink was in reality our spouse hiding (or denying) a real problem with alcohol.
    • A spouse gets sick and takes pain killers only to have them take over his or her life.
  • A spouse has annoying habits or idiosyncracies that we didn't see so clearly when we were just dating.  Examples include:
    • Being a control freak.  What seemed like organization on their part or "being helpful" now is more clearly control.
    • Making important decisions/purchases without at least passing it by the other spouse.
    • Being disorganized.  It may not have seem like such a big deal or obvious during the dating stage, but we find that it gets in the way of being productive.
This isn't meant to be an all-inclusive list of obstacles to a successful marriage, but just some things I've observed over the years.  Your list very probably will be different.  In any case, even when each partner in a marriage wants the marriage to succeed and truly cares about the other spouse, this is a question that can be asked.  We don't always express our love to our spouse the same way.  We don't always express our love to our spouse in the same measure.  We don't always express our love to our spouse effectively in our actions.  But, in each case, that doesn't mean it isn't present.  In a way, I guess it boils back down to the question.

"So are you tough enough for my love."

Each partner has his/her flaws and his or her ways of expressing themselves, but I guess the question we have to ask early on--when we are answering the question, "Do you take..."--is our we tough enough to accept the imperfect love that our spouse shows us?

Just some thoughts.  Thanks for reading and I hope everyone who reads this finds the courage, strength and fortitude they need to appreciate their imperfect spouse, especially when their spouse really does care about them.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Hooked on Feelings, Logic or Both

I was watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 with my family and it was refreshingly funny.  In an era in which the heroes and the superheroes in the movies seem to be stiff, stilted, overwrought, too self-important, grandiose or otherwise not capable of being relaxed or relaxing, seeing the humorous interaction in that movie between them saving the galaxy just completely put me in a good frame of mind and good humor.  While, it had its funny moments, it also had it's serious and sentimental moments.  Speaking of sentimental moments, I heard a song from the movie "Hooked on a Feeling" which really spoke to me.  If you listen to the song it seems to speak of love in a drug-like fashion.  For some reason, that I really connected to that song and it's become one of my recent favorites.

When listening to it this morning, I thought about how we process information and express ourselves.  Some people are very emotive people, some people seem to fancy themselves as Mr. Spock-like logicians, but there are a lot of people who have varying degrees of both characteristics--emotion/logic.  I myself seem to be be strongly steeped with both, sometimes seemingly competing for my approval or expression.  Everyone is different and you may see yourself as strongly emotive, strongly a logician or both.  I guess it's all a matter of interpretation.  In any case, each characteristic has its benefits and drawbacks and I believe in a good balance can work well together.   So let's consider all this from what I see:
  • Emotive People
  • Logical People

Emotive People - Driven primarily by passions or emotions
  • Benefits
    • They can be some of the most sensitive or empathetic people.
    • They can be some of the most driven people.
      • If you passionately believe in a cause, you will be more inclined to push/live it.
      • If you passionately believe in a cause, you will be less likely to give up when facing adversity.
  • Drawbacks
    • Their passions when unchecked can draw them down the wrong paths.
    • Their passions when unchecked can keep them stuck in the wrong direction.
    • Their energy when unfocused can be tiring, ineffective, and be used against them.

Logicians - Driven primarily the 'need' to be (or appear) logical
  • Benefits
    • They aren't weighed down by the "burden" of excess emotion.
    • They can see beyond the overwrought emotions of issues/situations and see what is really important and what is overwrought.
    • They can make cool and calculated decisions in times of crisis when more emotive types can melt under pressure.
  • Drawbacks
    • They can come across as very insensitive or lacking empathy.  While leaders need to be logical and cool under pressure, they also need to be able to connect when people are suffering.
    • Their decisions, while possibly for the best, can turn people off as they can seem to be heartless.
    • By focusing too much on logic, they may not have developed the relationships and passion necessary to push through necessary changes.

A quick way to summarize emotive vs. logical is this.  Emotive people will tend to have the emotional understanding and the passion needed to accomplish great things--large or small-- and motivate people, but the passion can sometimes can overwhelm and blind them to the best approach.  Logicians will tend to have the intellectual insight to see beyond the emotional clutter and be cool under pressure, but they can miss the necessary human nature or human touch that can motivate people.   For me, in an optimal mix, a person will have a strong emotive side which fuels their passions to accomplish great things, but also have a strong logician side to focus, utilize and guide their emotive side rather than suppress it.

Just as the world cannot operate on one personality type.  We need creative type to think outside the box and invent, but we also need the orderly type to manage the chaos.  And so it is with emotive vs. logicians.  We need emotive people with the passion to push necessary social change, but we need logicians to help implement necessary change in the best way possible.  I guess the takeaway is this, embrace the personality type that best reflects you (emotive vs. logician) and utilize it to your advantage, but be open to elements of or people who favor the other.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Freedom from obstacles can be an obstacle itself

We hear on a regular basis about the privileged class such as Paris Hilton, Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan, the Kennedy's and so on.   We hear about the mistakes and struggles they go through such as drug and other addictions, unhealthy relationships and just general misery.  From those not born with a silver spoon in their mouth, there is often a certain contempt with the 'poor' privileged folks and often times a lack of empathy for them.  When that 'poor privileged' people lectures us we are quick to show contempt for them. This is especially true when that class publicly fails or makes mistakes. Disgust/contempt/condemnation can manifest itself as:
  • Irritation and anger that they would 'dare' tell the rest of us who struggle to make it, how to live.  Especially if they've never had to.
  • Resentment/envy at the advantages or opportunities they have (and are in many cases throwing away).  We put ourselves in their shoes and note how if only we had such opportunities how we'd do a millions time better them.
  • Disgust at them when then when they show themselves as ungrateful for the advantages they have or seem to obtusely complain about their struggles.
  • Rage when they seemingly avoid consequences for their mistakes and actions that the 'rest of us' wouldn't dream of being able to escape.
I used to be one of the stone throwers and perhaps to a degree I still am, however, a funny thing happened on the way to heaven: I started to see past the common takes, the contempt, and the like.  I started to see the 'poor' privileged people as not caricatures, but as real people.  That's not to say the privileged class don't earn or should be exempt from scorn heaped on them when they abuse or otherwise take for granted their privilege.  It's just to say that "beyond the headlines" there is more to the story or more than a simple take.  I'm not sure what got me to thinking about this all except that I was thinking recently about some of the obstacles that I have had to overcome in my life and I realize in some ways they made me stronger.  It occurred to me that had I been born into privilege I might have never had the opportunity to grow and develop coping skills.  So, let's consider some differences that some of a privileged and someone of a non-privileged class may have in their lives or development:

Privileged vs. Non-privileged.
  • Necessity of Work
    • Non-privileged: Not an option, if I don't find a way to make money I could be hungry and homeless and may not survive.  Therefore, the need to work has helped me develop certain skills.
      • The need to budget/spend wisely.
      • The need to choose a career wisely.
      • The need to keep/sharpen my skill set.
    • Privileged: Optional possibly.  If money is not an issue, there is less pressure to do the following.
      • Budget/spend wisely.  If hard time comes, a person who has never been forced to do this could struggle to survive.  In other words, the lack of this skill could be an obstacle.
      • Make wise career choices.  If money isn't an issue, there may not be an urgency to making a focused career choice.
      • Keep/sharpen skill set.  If money isn't an issue, the incentive to do the hard work of 'keeping skills up to date' can be greatly diminished.
  • Sense of Purpose
    • Non-privileged: Forced to find a purpose or at least something they are good at.  Pride in earning a living can give a sense of purpose.  Success in earning a living can also give confidence to explore other ways to have purpose.
    • Privileged: When the absolute need to work and find a skill is lessened if not altogether removed, it can rob a person of motivation.  When you know you'll be fine either way, motivation to succeed has to come from somewhere else (besides survival).
  • Friendships/Healthy Relationships
    • Non-privileged: Relationships can tend to be purer or more legitimate
      • When you don't have excess resources or financial value to offer others, you are less likely to be "befriended" or "loved" based on what you can do for others.
      • When you have less to impress others with (including fame or popularity), if you are appreciated, it is likely to be based on impressing others.
    • Privileged: Relationships can be more questionable.
      • To some extent people are attracted to what others can do for them.  If you have means or something that you can effectively trade for money or fame, then you are more likely to attract gold-diggers, hanger's on and/or people who are looking to trade of your fame/privilege.
      • When you have privilege, people can get stuck on your privilege or seeing you for what you have or offer (worship) than a more honest person to person relationship.
  • Expectations
    • Non-privileged: Less likely to have absurdly high expectations.
      • Success is more likely to be treated as a nice accomplishment rather than an expectation.
      • Failures and mistakes, while not good, will not tend to be as high profile (and therefore easier to get past).
    • Privileged: More likely to have absurdly high expectations.
      • People that come from privilege, especially where their family tree is littered with great achievement, are typically expected to live up to or at least continue the success of the family name.
      • Pressure to live up to the family name can be enormously stressful.
      • Failures and mistakes will tend to be more well known or high profile.
  • Relatability/Empathy.
    • Non-privileged: Easier to relate to the "average" person if you are closer to their class.
    • Privileged: If you are not exposed to "average" people, but instead mostly to other "privileged" people, it will be much harder to relate or understand them.

I grew up in a working class family and was the first person in my immediate family and the second person in my extended family (that I knew) to graduate from college with Bachelor's degree.  Given obstacles that either directly addressed (or implied) in other blog posts--see Anxiously awaiting - Not just words for some--success has never not come easy for me.  But, I was blessed with a good mind and an instinct for survival.  I had many opportunities in my early life and early adulthood to hone my survival instincts too.  I didn't see it that way back then, but I see it now.  In any case, it occurred to me that if I had had everything that I could ever want, I may not have developed a strong personality, I may have found less authentic friendships and I may not have honed well my survival instincts (for when bad times hit).   But potentially what bothers me most is that I probably would not have developed a good sense of relatability or empathy.

As any athlete who has ever tasted success knows, you can't develop mental toughness and take your game to the next level without facing and overcoming obstacles--injury, pain, even some agony.  As with athletics, in life the obstacles we face give us an opportunity to grow and better ourselves.  If we are exempted or protected from obstacles or not required to overcome obstacles, our emotional, mental, spiritual and in some cases even physical growth will be limited.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Being boxed into other's expectations: Thoughts on

In a prior blog, called Boxing others into our expectations, I wrote about the tendency of placing expectations on others that we not necessarily realistic.  In a way, it was seeing others through the lens of our expectations--or more likely the needs of what we 'need' for them to be to us.  In it I had unrealistic expectations of family.  I thought the family member should be more loyal, have more empathy and just generally behave more like my expectation of 'family'.  Once I accepted that the family member was who they were, I realized it really wasn't personal.  Who they were was more about what they were capable than about how they felt about me.  So, I stopped stressing about the relationship so much.  Anger, bitterness, appeals to them as 'family', etc. gradually and mostly ebbed as I stopped boxing this person into my expectation of what 'family' should be like.

In "It's just you and me and we just disagree...", I touched upon the other side of the coin.  That is, when you aren't someone who others think or expect you are (or should be).  I had been talking to someone whom I met at my daughter's skating lessons for about a month.  Anyway, one day she just started being critical of me for what reason I don't know.  Anyway, I was the same person I was when I first talked to her, but somewhere she'd developed an expectation of who I should be or impression of who I was.  After a time, apparently that expectation or impression didn't match up with my reality? (That's the closest I can come?).  Anyway, I was able to detach from her negativity towards me as I knew I was the same person she had met on day one.   Essentially, I refused to let her box me into whom she thought or expected that I was or thought I should be.  A more down to earth way of describing the situation is that "she didn't get me".  That's okay, we aren't necessarily entitled to being completely understood, but it is important if we commit to someone and them to us, that we attempt to understand them.

As we know, successful relationships (family, friends, spouse, etc) are based on communication.   Sometimes we don't always communicate effectively whom we are and sometimes the other party isn't able (or willing) to see whom we are.  Sometimes the difference between  able and willing is clouded.  For example, the other party believes they are willing to keep an open mind on us, but they have an unrecognized block.  It could be a relationship or hurt or disappointments in the past that clouds their objectiveness.   But, I digress, if I was taking the side of the one who would be 'boxed' into expectations, these are types of questions I could ask:
  • Did I not express/reveal myself effectively (unintentionally)?
    • Sharing oneself is a gradual process.  In other words, it is not something that can (or should) be done in a matter of weeks or even months. 
      • People who are interested in you will tend to fill in the blanks when absent information.
      • They may tend to fill in the blanks based on their own experiences.
    • Sometimes due to sub-conscience blocks of my own, I may avoid sharing parts of myself.
      • For example, if I have hidden trust issues, I may almost subconsciously pause in revealing parts of my personality.
      • For example, if I have shame issues, I may on some level, close off certain parts of of my life.
  • Have I intentionally been cautious about revealing myself (intentional)?
    • If I'm unsure of how the other party will take a certain aspect of my personality or self, I might tend to tread lightly rather than easily express that part of myself.
    • If I've been hurt before, do I want to risk revealing myself only to be hurt again (and have to maybe do it over again)?
  • Does the other party have the time or energy to get to know me?
    • Sometimes, when either or both--time or energy--are absent, the other party may not be easily able to get to know me.
    • I may have to take the initiative and reveal myself better (if the relationship is important to me).
  • Does the other party even want to get to know me?
    • Are they comfortable with close relationships or do they prefer arm's length distance relationships in which they can comfortable control or keep their own self hidden?
    • Have they placed me in an a 'sort of' friend box vs. others in their circle (and are not wanting to invest much in getting to know me)?

In a 12 step or recovery program, those questions would be considered "my side of the street".  After assessing my role in or feelings about a relationship, I have to step aside and consider the relationship.  If after dealing with my side of the street, the other party is still trying to box me into their own expectations, I have to consider how I want to handle it.
  • Am I going to let myself be bothered by what they expect or think about me? If so,
    • Do I want to work to clear up any misconceptions or misunderstanding they might have about me?
    • Do I find a way to accept that perhaps they are incapable of understanding me?
  • Will I decide that it's not worth the trouble?
    • Will I be myself in dealing with them and let the chips fall where they may?
    • Will I step back from the situation and the expectations place on me?


Applying questions like that to my own life, I've come to realize:
  • I can't please everyone and I can't base my life on living up to the expectations of others.
  • If a relationship is important I can try to help the other party understand me.  If it isn't I can just let it go and understand that not everyone will 'get me'.
  • If someone has expectations of me or who I am that are unrealistic for me, I can express that point.  But, I can't control them and I can't spend my life being worried or stressed out about it.

So, there you have it and the song below is sort of an extreme response to being boxed into the expectations of others.  I'd don't necessarily advocate that point of view, but I had to put it in there anyway.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Stereotypes are often not Stereo, but instead Mono

When I thought of the idea of this blog, I was going to have the big focus of it be based on the  Michael Brown case in St. Louis. I was going to note how there seem to be two very distinctly different camps on the issue, each supporting a largely separate narrative.  My point was going to be the narrative, when told by each camp, was only part of the story and that at least in some cases was based on stereotypes.  In other words, instead of the story being played in 'stereo', it was being played in 'mono' by each side. When you combined some elements from each side (mono) and added some missing elements in the story, you got the story properly told in stereo. Anyway, that was going to be the direction, but my the direction of my post changed.

A number of years ago, a heard a phrase that stuck with me which encapsulates how I feel when in the process of doing or saying something, my mind or direction suddenly changes.  I'll have an epiphany and my direction changes dramatically.  The phrase is "a funny thing happened on the way to heaven..."

Anyway, a funny thing happened on the way to heaven considering how to open this blog.  Veteran's day celebrations happened.  It reminded of my father who passed away in May 2015.  He had a hard life as a child and adulthood that wasn't easy. He didn't always make the best choices, show the most compassion, exude the most sensitivity as it relates to societal issues.  My relationship with him wasn't the Hallmark Channel child/parent bonding moment.  Nor was it the hey let's go for beers and shoot the s***.  It was unequal for a long time.  But, when he was shuffling between the hospital and nursing home in his final days among the feelings I felt for him--besides regret that circumstances got in the way of a close relationship over his life--was a sense of this is my dad who gave perhaps only what he was able to in relationships.  In dying, he was honored with burial with full military honors.  Whatever mixed feelings I had for him, I was very proud to be honored as being the one who was tasked to set up his military burial (as well as other arrangements--with help from my brother).  I was proud to be the next of kin for my veteran father.  I was proud to take my daughter of 8 to his funeral and have her experience firsthand what it means to be honored militarily that way. 

So, back to the point at hand and my original idea.  What I've found in life is that when we discuss people we don't know (and sometimes people we know or think we know), we tend to get stuck on the seemingly obvious point(s) about them and ignore the rest of the story.  

Michael Brown's life story ended August 9th, 2014.  All we usually hear is the events of that day.  If siding with the pro-MB side, we hear of a troubled young man who was working to better himself, who was trying to comply and was shot down.  If we side with the anti-MB side, we hear of a thug who had what was coming.  Either way, we miss the backstory.  What events in MB's life led up to the confrontation.  Who could have been there him in a more profound way, but failed him along the way?   People talk about the events of August 9th, but I believe the situation had been working towards an unhappy ending for years.  But, I digress.

My father's life story ended on May 1st, 2015.  If you peeked in on his life, you'd see a person who wasn't always good with kids.  You might see a person who wasn't always racially sensitive.  You might see someone who wasn't one to open up.  You might see someone who abused alcohol for many years.  You might see someone who struggled in his relationships.  In short if you just peeked in, you'd see Mr. Old School, someone who seemingly didn't have a softer side.  You wouldn't necessarily be wrong with your assessment, but you'd only see the "mono" (or stereotyped) version of his life.  The father I knew, he was placed in foster care early and never was fully accepted by his family.  The father I knew was raised by a strict, old school, older foster father.  The father I knew on some level wanted relationships, but never had close relationships modeled closely in his life.  The father I knew, despite his bluster about others and 'others', I witnessed to be polite to and even helpful to others including people of color.  The father I knew served his country honorably and deserved a proper military burial with full honors.  The father I knew in his later years, was helpful to older people. The father I knew could be very generous too. In short, one could see a lot of Archie Bunker in him, but that would only be part of the story.  That would be a stereotype. In reality, he was a much more complex man in some ways with good mixed in with not so good and even some of the not so good wasn't totally as advertised (or blustered).


In my own personal life, when I let the dust settle with regard to others, I see that they either aren't as 'perfect' or as 'bad' as advertised.  It would be easy to place them in bins and label them as good and bad, but I know in my heart, that would be emotionally/intellectually lazy of me.  So, finishing up this Veteran's Day, think about veterans in your life and give them the thanks they've earned.  But, also consider others in your life (and in our society) and give them the benefit of the doubt.  That is, attempt to see them honestly, rather than seeing them conveniently.  It may take some work and it may not be satisfying, but I think the exercise could help you be more honest about yourself as well.

Just my 2 cents worth,

* I hope one day when my life story is 'written', that I will be looked at fairly. I can accept the bad, but I would like to think it would be balanced out with the good.

(posted originally on 11/11/17).  

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Exercises in Bridge Building (or Not)

I was having a conversation recently with someone who will remain unnamed.  I was trying to express or get out a thought and wasn't quite successfully relaying my thoughts. That person was just looking at me in a cool, unhelpful way, not saying anything really and not reaching out trying to help me to where I was headed with my thoughts.   Anyone who has spoke in front a group of people and got stuck on blank, disinterested or even hostile stares knows the feeling.  It is like being stranded or exposed, where the discomfort quickly becomes acute.

So, it occurred to me that I could express this (purposeful?) disconnect in terms bridge building.  That is to say, I was building a bridge to my audience (of one) and ran out of materials--got stuck completing or explaining my thought.  Now, I was left stranded or hanging out there without a way to reach my audience.  Had the person been more friendly to me, they'd have grab some supplies--ideas or thoughts--and started building a bridge back to me.  That is to say, they'd have helped me finish my incomplete thought.  Then we'd have had a connection or been 'bridged' together.  Unfortunately, when what you are trying to communicate is important, something suffers when the other party won't help with building the or connecting to your bridge.

After further reflection, I figured or determined that there are at least four types of bridge-building exercises.  Two involve a misconnection, one involves a one-sided connection and the final one involves a good connection where both sides share in the process and benefits

Scenario 1: Leaving me stranded.
  • Characterized by one party getting stuck when trying to express or communicate a thought or idea (run out of supplies and can't build to the other party).  
  • The other party instead of helping the the first party finish connecting--building a bridge towards where they had to stop--leaves them hanging.
    • A blank, clueless or hostile stare.
    • Impatient words or attitude
    • General unwillingness or inability to help the other connect
  • Compels the first party to make sure they have their thoughts or ideas completely buttoned down when communicating with the other party.
  • Discourages the first party from attempting at communicating or connecting, lest they be left hanging when and if they get stuck.

Scenario 2: Close but never quite meeting.
  • Characterized when two parties communicate past each other.  It is like each is building a parallel bridge to the other.  
  • Both parties want to communicate with each other as characterized by both working on a bridge to the other, but don't know how to reach each other or connect.
  • Instead of listening to what the other is saying or the needs of the other, they build a bridge in the direction of where they think the other SHOULD BE and expect the other party to meet them.
  • Instead of stubbornly continuing to build a bridge past the other (talking past each other) and trying to force the other into building their bridge in their direction (expecting them to fit into their thinking), each party should actually pause and see how they can meet.
  • If they stop in their efforts to build a bridge past each other and they start building a bridge towards each other, the bridge my not look pretty, but it will get them where they need to be--specifically communicating and connecting.  Communication doesn't have to be perfect to be effective.  Just like a bridge doesn't have to be built perfectly to get people to where they need to go.

Scenario 3: Bridges always built completely from one direction
  • Characterized when one party is always doing all the bridge building. i.e., in reaching out or communicating with the other.  The other party is open to what you have to say, but they aren't willing to do reach out or do the work to get their.
  • Eventually the first party will run out of building supplies when they are the one(s) always building the bridge to the to other side.  That is to say, eventually when one party is responsible for reaching out, communicating, or connecting, eventually that side will tire of being the bridge builder and no longer have it in them.
  • This type of bridge building may be effective and communication may be good for a time, but for long term bridge building it will fail miserably.  It doesn't compel or teach the other party to work on a bridge towards you. It may even deprive them of the opportunity to learn how to reach you or even worse it may cover up their disinterest in reaching you--communicating--if it isn't on their teams.

Scenario 4: The two sides shall meet in the middle.
  • Characterized when both parties participate in meeting each other in a bridge building exercise (aka communicate or connect).
  • One party might do a bit more of the bridge building, but it is clear each side is trying to their part in the bridge building.  (Each are reaching out, communicating and engaging in give and take).
  • This is the best long term model.  If each believe the other is an active participant in the bridge building exercise, they will know that if their efforts to build a bridge stall (they struggle with communication/connection for a bit), that the other party will carry the effort for a while.
  • In the situation I originally described, the other party to my thoughts or efforts to communicate saw where I was struggling to express myself.  In this scenario, they could have waited patiently while I processed my thought, they could have suggested to me what they thought I might be driving or they could have asked questions to draw that information out.

I feel that it is best possible when needing good communication/connection when dealing with others that, it is always best to extend a little bit of bridge to the other party to start with.  This will show the other party that you are willing to make some effort to meet them in the middle and don't expect them to do all the heavy lifting.  If it is a party that is not necessarily favorably disposed to you, while you extend a little bridge, you limit what you extend.  If it is a party that is favorably disposed to you, it is safer to extend quite a bit of bridge to the other party.  In either case, at some point it is best to give the other party the opportunity to work on building their own bridge back to you.  To deny them that opportunity, deprives them of the opportunity to work on their own communication/connection skills as well sets up an expectation that they don't have to.  In either case, it is important to remember bridge building with others, especially loved ones is not necessarily a one-time exercise but a life-long process.  Learning how to effectively connect and communicate--and maintain such connection/communication--with others, especially loved ones, is something that will always require some work and never should be taken for granted.

I believe my Higher Power (God), made us social creatures, but He also gave us a free will.  Therefore, the desire to communicate and connect with others is always there, but knowledge how to do so effectively and the willingness to do what it takes can be a sticking point.  I believe if we remember these things when considering how we relate to others, we will be at a good starting point for effective bridge building...

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How to Save Yourself Without Drowning Others

Why are there federal, and in most cases, state laws on whom should wear a life-jacket or PFD (personal flotation device) on a moving boat?   I'd venture to guess it's because it is recognized that kids of a certain age are either a) not likely to know how to swim or b) they are likely to weak of a swimmer.  That is they have built up the stamina to swim far or for an extended period should they be required to.  In other words, they are deemed to be a greater drowning risk if the boat takes on water, they fall in the water or they get too far away from the boat.

Absent such a device, our natural instinct is to fight as hard as we can to keep our head high above water (See wikiHow to Prevent Drowning).  Unfortunately, even with the presence of another nearby to help us, the natural instinct is to panic when we feel ourselves going under.  We have to have the presence of mind when an experienced lifeguard is trying to save us from drowning to listen to him or her and not inadvertently pull them down too.  Sounds easy--listen to the experienced pro--but in the heat of the moment when panic starts to set in, we can lose our perspective and flail. 

From what I see, the same can happen in our personal lives.  That is, when we are in the process of 'drowning', fear can take over and we can allow ourselves and others around us to be dragged down by the path we choose.  Instead of taking from our faith, listening to others who are there for us, remembering that we've made it through rough circumstances before and focusing on the things that are going well, we get stuck on path that inevitably is destructive to ourselves and others.

I think most people have a story involving them or someone they know in which someone was stuck on a destructive path and could not get beyond it.  One that hits home for me occurred around at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013.  The situation involved my dad.  In hindsight, he'd had symptoms of Parkison's disease for quite a while, but had not been diagnosed with it until earlier in late 2011 or early 2012.  

If I recall correctly, he tried to hide the extent of his health problems until the first time his legs locked up and he fell.  At that point, he couldn't hide that he had a problem and the extent thereof.  As he lived by himself, it quickly become clear that he needed to to have someone available 24/7 to watch over him and/or help him.  My brother and I had been helping him clean around the house, pick up food for him and to take him to places as time permitted us.  But as his fall risk become clearer, it became clear that he'd need someone there all the time or to be somewhere where that would be the case.  As all he'd known for the better part of 40+ years was his house, he wasn't going to move without a fight.  As my brother and I were both single, had full time jobs, I had a child and both of us had other responsibilities, we could do more to help him but we couldn't give him the help he needed and get by.  From what I see, he saw going somewhere that he'd have 24/7 access to help as 'drowning', but he couldn't afford for long the care he needed at home.   So, he came up with a 'solution', he'd give each of us a little stipend in return for staying by his side.  There was no way we could do this and effectively get by.  But in his now more cloudy mind, that was an option.  In short, in his mind, he was drowning.  So, he was doing whatever he could to keep himself afloat, even risking dragging under the ones that were trying to help him.  I realize at the time and even more so now that he wasn't in a good place, but it still was tough saying no to someone who'd be a strong figure in our lives.

This story led me to consider how we affect others around us, sometimes wittingly and sometimes unwittingly.  I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't trying to hurt his kids, but was becoming increasingly confused and afraid.  He had talked for a number of year of getting rid of his house and moving somewhere which he didn't have to do as much.  We were on board with that, but he never took the steps to put that in place.  He never made provisions for anything really.  In short, he'd been swimming in life's waters for a long time and didn't plan for what would happen if he became too tired to swim.   

I believe if we've lived long enough, most people have a story of wittingly or unwittingly putting someone in a bad spot or someone else putting us in a bad spot.  So, how do we save ourselves without drowning others?

How to save yourself without drowning others
  • Plan for the day in which you can't do it by yourself so you don't put the ones you love in an impossible situation.  That doesn't mean don't leave a place for them to help, but don't put them in a situation that is impossible for everyone.
    • Consider the future realistically.
    • Don't leave yourself dependent on needing things to turn out perfectly, because chances are they won't.
  • Listen to your loved ones and don't dismiss their concerns for you  If they've truly been loyal to you, chances are they are looking out for you.  In other words, take their concerns into account.
    • This can involve health and safety concerns.
    • This can involve addiction concerns--to the point of accepting an intervention.
    • This can involve concerns for other negative influences in your life.
  • Learn to lean into your Higher Power (God) and faith.  If you develop a healthy relationship with your Higher Power and/or work on your faith, fear stands less of a chance to totally consume you should disaster or bad circumstances strike.  If we stop to think, we can usually find a time or two in which He was there watching out for us.
  •  When ones you can reasonably trust offer to help and you could really use it, consider taking them up on it.  Better to swallow a little pride and accept the help now than wait until the situation or circumstances have spun out of control--risking the well-being of yourself and possibly others at that point.

(For no apparent reason, except that I like this song).