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Monday, January 30, 2017

Biased about biases

One time, I was talking to my daughter one time about the concept of 'bad words'.  I said certain words are always inappropriate like curse words (and sort of implied an example).  I said other words, are somewhat inappropriate, but not curse words such as stupid.  I then said some words on the other hand, it really depends.  I used the example of fat.  If call or refer to a person as fat, that is a bad or rude word.  If you are using fat (as in wide) to describe a street or space, then it is just a description.  Anyway, this is the second in set of blogs regarding motivations and biases.  The first entry was Motivated to write thoughts on motivations.

The terms bias and discrimination in and of themselves are not bad words.  When we think of them, we tend to attach to them a negative connotation or context.  But, let's take each word separate.  You can have a bias in favor of vanilla or chocolate ice cream without being considered a jerk or you can have a bias towards your child and be considered reasonable in many cases.  Similarly, if you discriminatory tastes that can mean you have the ability to tell and appreciate the difference between two wines.  Also, if you are showing discrimination, you might be talking about being able to discern the difference between right and wrong.

Anyway, I have thought that sometimes people are trying so hard not to appear biased or discriminatory that it gets to a point of ridiculousness.  Meaning their actions almost seem based on the notion that they are trying to convince themselves that they aren't--discriminatory--or don't have what they actually have--biases.  I think this feed what we call political correctness.  Most people want to appear reasonable and fair-minded and in most cases people--even those of different of different views--are, but that doesn't mean ignoring reality about ourselves.


Let's look at bias or discrimination and face certain realities
  • We tend to favor our subgroups
    • Family
    • Friends or clique
    • Teams or those who have something in common with.
    • City, state or national group
    • Ethnic, cultural, or religious.
  • In God's eyes we are all considered equal, but that doesn't mean that all groups or subgroups are the same.
    • Until people have shown otherwise, I have always felt they should be respected regardless of their differences, provided the respect is reciprocated.  To wit, I went to Meramac Caverns with my stepson's cub scout troop and ran into a guy from Kenya. We got to striking up a conversation and though in many ways we were very different, we seemed to have a genuine respect for each other and could have talked all day.
    • If a subgroup does not enforce norms effectively, its foolhardy to ignore that.
  • Groups are still composed of people and therefore can have problems.  Sometimes problems are specific to a group and sometimes problems cross groups.
    • For example, certain ethnics groups show higher incidence of health issues compared to others.
    • The drawbacks to children being raised in a one parent household is something that is a problem across many groups.
  • When we are unfamiliar with a group or just are lazy, it is much easier to assign characteristics to the group or 'stereotype' them. 
    • Individuals within the group may not necessarily fit the characteristics (properly or improperly) assigned to the larger group.
      • There may be a higher rate of crime in a certain communities, but that doesn't mean that its okay to assume someone from the community is probably a criminal.
      • Certain communities may be known for placing a stronger emphasis on education, but that doesn't mean you should assume that a member of that community inherently will be more studious than others who are not from that community.
    • Certain elements of a stereotype may have some truth to them, but that doesn't make the whole stereotype valid. 
      • For example, just because a group, community or regions tends to have higher rates of poverty doesn't automatically mean that higher rates of crime have to follow.
  • Biases can protect us, but they can also hinder us.  
    • For example if an area is considered to be dangerous walking alone in after dark, we'd be foolish to walk alone there after dark (and our bias would serve to protect).  
    • On the other hand, if we hear a city like Chicago is unsafe when in reality only certain parts of it are unsafe, we might decide to avoid vacationing there and therefore might miss out on the rich experiences of Chicago.  We'd miss out on it because we let our bias dictate our behavior.

Unfortunately, our country has been governed by large swings in direction.  When we error in a certain direction, it is not uncommon for us to try to correct the error by going too much in another or the other direction.  Another way of saying it is that often we think in terms of black and white (no pun intended), when we should think in shades of grey.  Let's face it, in this country, racial and other discrimination have been an issue.  I don't believe the solution is to change the objects of discrimination, but instead to change the culture where discrimination. That being said, sometimes discrimination IS necessary.  For example, when a crime is committed and witnessed to be done by a young person, you typical don't look among groups of older people to find the suspect.  In other words, you discriminate in your search.

I guess my takeaways are this:
  • We all have biases, whether we recognize it or not.  It is best to own them so that we can determine if they are something that really need to work on them or if they are reasonable.
  • Biases are not always a bad thing per se, but it is to what it is applied to that can make it unacceptable or undesirable. 
  • Biases can from time to time protect us. but they can hinder us as well.
  • We have to recognize that in God's sees us as equals, but that doesn't mean we are the same.

Hopefully, this blog post makes sense to people and/or at least gets people thinking.  But, those are some of my biases about biases.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Motivated to write thoughts on motivations

I am political by nature, but I normally attempt to refrain from politics in my blogs.  To me, when you are trying to reach out and share what you think are helpful 'self-help', 'introspections', 'observations', etc., the worse thing you can do is antagonize those who might be in your audience. In that vein, I've noticed a number of years ago that people will double down on views that are at best dubious if they perceive you are attacking them personally vs. sharing a different perspective.

I mention all this because I think this blog & the follow-up one because it includes the idea of political correctness.  This blog post will be the first of two, the second one will be about biases called: Biased about biases.

All that aside, I have pondered motivations.  What motivates us to do or not things and/or exhibit certain behaviors?  From my perspective, it usually falls in one of these categories (which I don't think are necessarily completely separate from each other).
  • Fear
  • Face
  • Faith
  • Full of self
  • Feeling good about self

FEAR as a motivator, is pretty obvious.  When your back is up against the wall & when you are afraid of the consequences of your actions or inactions, it can be a powerful motivation.  Some examples.
  • Studying for a test because you are afraid of failing it.
  • Avoiding someone who threatens you or who is threatening to you.  That is fear of getting bullied.

FACE can be a powerful motivator, especially within certain communities.  Sometimes people bravely say things like I don't care what others think, but their actions put lie to the words.  Anyway, trying to 'keep face' is actually based on a specific type of fear.  That is the fear of ridicule, humiliation or being shunned.  Some example:
  • A family to trying to hide a 'family issue', like a spouse's drinking.
  • Parent(s) threatening to cut off their children if they get involved with someone whom they don't approve of.  Especially, if it causes 'shame' in the parent(s) circle or community.

FAITH to me is doing the right thing, even when it is not the easiest or popular choice to make.  It can be tied to a certain 'religion' it is an acquired sense that a certain set of choices are the right thing to do.  In a sense it is adherence to doing the 'right' or 'honorable' thing to do AKA the golden rule.  Some examples:
  • Helping a person stranded on the side of the road change a tire or helping a stranger jump their car even when we are tired and want to be somewhere else.
  • Standing up for an unpopular kid at school.

FULL OF SELF to me means you're motivation is to do what you want because you think you deserve it or are owed it.  Essentially it is a narcissist's motivation.  I don't believe that trying to save face is narcissistic, but I believe that it can be a characteristic of someone who is one.  Some examples:
  • Being demanding due to your status because you believe you are entitled to it.  We've all heard of stories of famous athletes, actors, singers, politicians, authors, etc. treating people around them poorly because they believe that due to their importance, they shouldn't have to be bothered in any way and should be catered to.
  • Shutting others down and showing an unwillingness to entertain another point of view because your so smart or so important that the point of view of others doesn't inherently matter.

FEELING GOOD ABOUT SELF as a motivation can have overlap with faith.  If you are acting on your faith, you will likely feel good about yourself.  That being said, I am talking about political correctness (left or right) and the desire to present or see yourself as a 'good person' because you are thoughtful enough.  As a disclaimer, I think just because something is deemed 'politically correct' doesn't mean that it is wrong.  I just may mean the motivation for it might be off.  Some examples:
  • Pushing what can sell to yourself  is 'thoughtful' agenda to prove you are a thoughtful person.  
    • The agenda itself might be appropriate, but the desire to prove yourself as being the more thoughtful person could be too self-centered.   
    • It could be on the left trying to show how 'tolerant' you are (as compared to others).
    • It could be on the right trying to show how 'patriotic' you are (as compared to others).
  • Pushing extreme tolerance or extreme righteousness to overcompensate for your failings/feelings when the best thing to do would just be to work on yourself or come to terms.
    • This could look like pushing tolerance to the extreme to overcome your discomfort with yourself.  In other words, if I push to make everything acceptable, then I can 'normalize' to myself what I'm uncomfortable about.
    • This could look like pushing extreme religious piety to compensate for your hidden failings.

There are a number of black and whites in life, but there are also many shades of grey with regard to motivation.  To wit: one's motivation(s) may be off, but their actions (or inactions) might be appropriate.  In politics, that can lead to what we call strange bedfellows or people who arrive at the same point coming from a different motivation.  Similarly, people often have mixed motivations that is to say, they may have a more altruist motive for an action, but they also may have a selfish motivation for the same action.  For example, setting up a play date for your kid with a neighborhood kid.  On the one hand, you are giving him or her a great opportunity to socialize.  On the other hand, it can free you up to catch up on your sleep or run an errand just for yourself.


I guess my takeaway from this whole post would be:
  • For people to make sure their motivations are healthy.
  • For people to be honest--especially to themselves--about their motivations.  
  • For people to accept that selfish motivations can be okay from time to time, especially if it doesn't infringe on others and/or if there is a non-selfish motivation tied to their actions as well.
  • For people to not let their hangups guide their motivations, especially if their motivations impose their one-sided view on others.
  • For people to understand that it's okay to have mixed motivations such as trying to help others while feeling good about yourself in the process.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Making good choices for yourself--not just for God or others

I learned a valuable lesson back in 2006 when I lost around 50 pounds.  Choosing to do what's best for you has to be a personal choice in order for you to best implement or stick with it.  My personal choice happened by 'accident'.  I hadn't been happy with my weight for a long time and I tagged along with my daughter's mom when she hired a personal trainer at the gym.  The trainer was actually very cool and didn't mind me working out along side her.  Anyway, in the process, I'd started running again and I started losing weight.  Once I dipped below 200lbs, it was like a light bulb went off.  I realize that I could really lose a significant amount of weight with exercise and diet choices.  In other words, I'd personalized the steps necessary to lose the weight.  I'd been teased about putting on the weight and I'd been told by my physician that I could stand to lose some weight.  Heck I remembered that the Bible even exhorts us to remember that our "body are a temple", which can be interpreted to include keeping ourselves fit or in shape.

Yes, despite wishing I could weigh less, teasing, my doctor's encouragement, and even biblical reference to respecting my body, I could not be moved to do what I needed to.  It was only when I embraced the choice to lose weight and become more fit that I actually did it successfully.


Part of the equation of losing weight was to realize that I couldn't just deny all 'bad foods'.  I realized doing so would just put me in a mindset that I was 'depriving' myself and in a weak moment that I would binge on junk food.  Once again, if I tried to avoid all 'junk food' at all cost because I was 'supposed to', I would fail.  I knew I could not embrace a total ban on junk food, so I did the next best thing, limit and replace--limit servings & proportions and replace with a 'less bad' choice when possible.  Once again, in order for me to be most successful in my weight loss, I had to embrace a wise choice.


I've come to see in myself and others around who have struggled at times with making the best choices and/or addictive behavior, that only we will make the best choices only when we are ready to.  It can be frustrating or upsetting for those close to or who live with such a person.  But, they have to be aware that it is rarely about them, but instead about the one who is struggling.  The person struggling with bad and/or addictive choices often times doesn't always feel like they are in control.  Shaming the person might work for a little bit, invoking or pointing out their religious beliefs (Christianity) might work for a little bit and even getting someone else to intervene for a bit might help, but ultimately the person has to be ready.  

It doesn't matter how much an addict loves his family, friends, God, etc.,  If he or she tries to 'sober up' strictly for any of them, he or she will likely fail.  If he or she on the other hand wants to 'sober up' because they don't like that aspect of their life and they are ready, then they have the best chance to succeed.  As a secondary motivation love of family and friends and love and obedience to God are wonderful, but it has to start with the addict.

Perhaps the biggest revelation on the matter occurred regarding my faith.  As a Christian, I used to expect that I should be perfect and I would beat myself up for being flawed, making mistakes and falling short.  Eventually, after so many failures, I became discouraged that I couldn't be a 'good enough' person to call myself a Christian.  So, I gave up trying.  It is only in more recent years, that I learned that I will make the best choices if underneath it all, I want to.  I want to be obedient to my faith and Higher Power, but I ultimately, it has to be something that in my heart I strive and long for.  For example, it is important for me to be a good father for my daughter.  If I were only do the right things for her because I wanted to keep her mom off my case, eventually, I'd fail.  But, it is my goal in my heart to be the best dad for her.

I am sure if I opened this post to everyone I know or friends of friends, literally, we could write a book on the subject matter.  But, alas it is late and I have to get sleep.

In the meantime, from what I see: When desiring to make the best choices, always, always make sure the choices are yours first and foremost.  You should desire to make the best choices in your life for others involved too, but you risk failure if they are the sole reason for your choices.

Anyway, the twelve steps of AA, effectively communicate this message (focusing on step 1 and 6):

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Hopefully, this post proves helpful to a person or two.

-- Rich

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dealing with others: People will get along with you IF they want to.

I was talking with a friend a while back and one of his in-laws has been a divisive force in his family.  It seems as if she never really tried to accept him.  He found a similar dynamic in another situation near to him.   It made me think about something.  Sometimes, for no good reason people close to you decide not to accept you.  Often to the point of outright rejection or hostility, leaving you wondering what the hell happened.  Other times, those close, if they do 'accept' you, it's a grudging because we are related or friend of friend situation. In other words, within the tie-in, they'd reject you.

So, how can you tell if someone close is really rejecting you or grudgingly 'accepting' you?Here are what I see as symptoms of such a relationship:
  • Do they ever ask about how you are doing or do they just go straight to how they are doing?  If they do ask you, do you feel it's a formality? 
    • Sometimes I think people just aren't in a place to be a friend or family, whether it is out of selfishness or brokenness.
    • They talk to you because they feel like 'they have to'.  Therefore, they talk about what they want and not what's important to moving the relationship forward.
  • When evaluating whom to spend time with, do they treat you as a priority--not necessary 'the' priority--or a fallback option?
    • Everyone has to live their own life and take what time they need for themselves.  Healthy relationships start with making sure to treating ourselves well.
    • In unhealthy relationships, they always treat you like they'll spend time with you IF there a no 'better' options?
      • You find out after rejecting spending time with you, they quietly spend time with others.
      • You find out that they asked others first and when they were rejected by others, they reached out to you late in the game. In other words, when all other plans/possibilities fell through, they reached out to you.
  • Do they ever attempt to or offer to meet you half way or do they 'expect' you to always shoulder the burden.
    • This could mean time, money, location, effort, etc.
    • This doesn't mean an expectation of shouldering the burden equally, but instead the sense that they are at least trying to be fair.
  • Do you get the sense that if you didn't have the tie-in, you'd never hear from them?
    • Tie-in could be relatives in common, friends in common, kids in common, an immediate neighbor or some other similar dynamic.
    • They rarely talk to you outside of the 'group'.
    • If they do talk to you, it is only because not doing so would be more awkward or obvious.
I used to get mad, upset or irritated with these type situations or people when I saw this dynamic in a 'relationship'.  I realize there are effectively two ways to deal with these situations: Taking it personally and treat it as about you or treating it as a limitation on their part and deal accordingly.  I have come to realize, it is usually best to treat it as a limitation on their part.  That is to say, they don't know how to be a friend or family to me.  In some ways, it didn't matter whether that was due to their selfishness or ignorance.  It still wasn't worth fretting over.  

Ultimately, my takeaway on how to deal with people who reject you or accept you grudgingly is this:
  • Don't take it too personally. Often times, you just happen to be the person playing the role--brother-in-law, the other friend who is the object of jealousy, the 'competition' for your friend's spouse, etc.
  • Don't repay slights.  It shouldn't be a race to the bottom, but a race to the top.
  • Realized that not all people are capable of treating you as you should be treated.
    • Expose yourself to them only as much as you are willing to safely.  Think of it as taking only the amount of money that you are willing to lose to the casino.  If you accept and put a limit on your loses, then if you actually 'lose' it won't be as big a deal as you've factored it in. 
    • Where necessary, step away as quietly and gracefully as you can in order to protect yourself.  Stepping away doesn't have to be a drama, but it can in a way be a quiet, but definitive statement. 

What it all boils down to this: if someone wants to get along with you, they will and will overlook any flaws you have.  If someone doesn't want to get along with you, they will find a reason not to like you. You can take it personally, but it's usually not worth it.

As I am posting this around Inauguration Day 2017, I realize this applies to Presidents too.  If someone wants to like the POTUS, they will despite any/many flaws.  If they want to dislike the POTUS, they will in spite of good deeds or good policies the POTUS is has pushed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Boundaries: Places to avoid, but also goals to shoot for.

One day as I watched my stepson being trained in Taekwondo and got a chance to listen to and converse with his instructor, a blog idea came to mind.  I don't fully remember what his instructor said, but I think it was the following: In order to reach your goals you have to picture them first.  It got me to thinking about boundaries. 

I think we are so used to the idea of boundaries being a negative: 
  • Things we can't do
  • Places we can't go
  • Stopping points
that when we hear the term "boundaries" thrown around it can feel like a lecture, scolding reminder. In other words, a downer.  I will call that an "inward boundary" or protection.  But, if you think about it, a boundary doesn't have a stopping point, but instead it can be a jump off point or a place to push pass.  I will call that an "outward boundary" or goal.


Now a little comparison.

Inward boundary (protection)
  • Usually in place for our own safety or that of those around us. For example, they can 
    • Keep us from intentionally or unintentionally hurting ourselves or others-physically, emotionally, mentally and/or spiritually.
      • They can limit our actions.
      • They can limit our behavior.
    • Inform us where to stop. Al Some examples:
      • A sign or barrier can tell us it is unsafe to drive past this point.
      • A fence can direct keep us from entering an unsafe area.
      • Sexual harassment rules designed inform us at what point conversation/interaction goes from being acceptable to being inappropriate or questionable.
  • It is dangerous to keep letting them slide.
    • Sends the wrong message. Namely, if you don't like the rules or laws, you can just ignore them and face no recrimination.
    • Brings us one step closer to disaster. It is best to stay away from the edges.

Outward boundary (goals)
  • Usually in place as a starting point--I want to do better than this--or a destination--I want to reach this point.
  • Inform us exactly where to go.  That is what to shoot for or exceed. Some examples:
    • A student needs to get a minimum score on a college entrance exam to get a particular scholarship. The student may do practice tests until he or she is confident that they can get at least that score.
    • An athlete is shooting for a world record time, if he has a goal aka an outward boundary, he/she will have something tangible to reach for and pass.
  • It is actually preferable to slide or move the boundary.  
    • It means we are achieving our goals (outward boundary). 
    • It means we are pushing for a greater achievement (that is a new goal or boundary).
    • It is best to approach and exceed or surpass the 'edges'.

I guess the takeaways from this post are to (1) be aware of when boundaries are there to protect you, (2) be aware of when boundaries are meant to be broken (goals).  I think this goes hand in hand with the "Serenity Prayer".  

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

  - Reinhold Neibuhr

Accept the things I cannot change (or should not change) - protect.  Courage to change the things I can - goals.  Wisdom to know the difference - between what is in place to protect and what is in place to achieve.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Losing everything else, but keeping ourselves

In a previous blog entry, The Fine Line: Failure takes no effort, success takes a lot of work, I observed that failure is a essentially a default position.  That is to say, failure comes 'naturally' by effectively doing nothing.  Success typically takes a lot of effort.

It occurs to me that a corollary of that point is in this life, if we live long enough, we face profound loss.  Loss is hard to avoid.  Also, even when we gain, it is usually temporary.  Even the 'permanent' gains can lose some of their edge.  In other words, there is always a degree of loss, even profound loss.  However, we don't have to be lost.

I will go over my concept--losing everything else, but keeping ourselves--and give what I see as a backstop to looking at life as hopeless.  First, losing.  On our travels through life many things pass. These are just a few of them:
  • Most people when they are born, spend a lot of time around one or both parents.  We get the attention and love, warmth, the security, the attention of them.  In time, as kids get older, their parents realize that they can't just hold onto their 'little one' forever.  They must allow their little angel to fly.  From the perspective of a kid, it is gaining their freedom.  From the perspective of a parent it is the loss of sharing joy and love with their child.
  • People come and go in our lives.  It is hard to lose someone we thought was our friend.  Sometimes, it is in a dramatic destructive fashion. Sometimes, people just drift apart. Other times, they just stop reaching out or back to us and we don't know why.  Even when it is not a dramatic exit, it the sense of loss is still present when friends just move away or fade out.
  • Loved ones pass away.  It can be the loss of those very close such as close family or friends.  It could be a friendly familiar face.  It could be a beloved fixture in the background we never got to meet such as Carrie Fisher.  Regardless, a passing still has a sting to it.
  • Our youth, our energy, our health fades.  The carefree nature of youth is lost to adult problems to where we miss the romanticized version of our youth.
These things, if we let them, can make our glass seem half-full or less.  These things can make us seem like we've lost more than we've gained or have.  But, I have learned in a much less dramatic fashion than Job, Anne Frank, or MLK that there is one thing that we can only lose--and therefore feel lost--if we choose to give it away or let it go.  That one thing is OURSELVES.

We can lose a lot in our lives, but we won't lose ourselves and be lost if:
  • We keep our self-respect and dignity.
  • We keep our honor.
  • We keep our basic sense of fairness and decency.
  • We keep our sense of who we are (our roles).
  • We keep our faith and purpose.
  • But most of all we keep our relationship between us and God (our Higher Power). All else flows from this.
So, let this world and this life try to keep us down.  Let this world and this life try and defeat us. We can lose everything, but we are only truly defeated and lost if we lose ourselves.  

* If you like this blog post, I think you'll like:
Always darkest before the dawn: Cleaning requires a bigger mess first

In the spirit of a man who lost everything (his life), but did not lose it all.  MLK kept his pride...

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Always darkest before the dawn: Cleaning requires a bigger mess first

As I've been recovering from a concussion recently, I feel the crispness of my thoughts is not there and it has been frustrating.  Anyway, this is a blog post idea I've been thinking about for a long time, but I'm going to attempt to finish it.

We commonly have heard the saying, "It's always darkest before the dawn", but really what does that mean?

As we know, overnight the sky gets progressively darker and darker until the morning sun starts it's gradual ascent over the landscape.  When we face struggles or darkness in life, as the struggles intensify or become increasingly dark, life seems to be more hopeless.  Often times, just like the impending dawn or light is just over the horizon.  Hidden by the darkness, the light ahead or the better times just ahead, are just out of our view.

The key to seeing past the darkness is the ability to see through the clutter or haze of our life.  For example, when you are straightening, cleaning out and rearranging a cluttered room, you go through a couple steps which could discourage you.
  • You look all around the room and it appears that there is barely enough space for everything.
  • You start to clean out the room section by section, drawing clutter out into the open or center of the room.  With everyone out in the open and in the way, the room can seem more hopeless cluttered or messy.
At this point, you could get discouraged and think I've got a bigger mess on my hands OR you could look at the newly emptied closest and look across the room and picture what could go in it.  Now, at the moment you have a cluttered mess in the middle (and things stacked everywhere) and it might seem like the room will never get cleaned.  However, if you stick with it, bit by bit, item by item, piece by piece you will gradually see the closet fill up in an organized way and the clutter from across the room lessen.  When you combine this with a trash bag or can nearby to throw away the things you don't need, the task becomes more and more manageable until you have a straightened/uncluttered room.

Similarly, when trying to working through the issues or problems in your life, they can seem overwhelming and contribute to a general sense of hopelessness.  When stopping to take inventory of your life and everything is out of the closet, out on the table and out in the open (at least where we can see it), it can seem like there is a lot to work through. Questions such as the following can weigh us down or add to the clutter.

  • Are we happy in our current circumstance or with who we are?
  • Are we being honest with who we are and what is important to us?
  • Do we have the courage to make changes where we can and should?
    • Can we let go of the people/things weighing us down?
    • Can we let go of our own demons and fears that weighs us down?
  • Do we have the courage to accept our roles?
    • Head of the family, parent, power of attorney/executor, leader, responsible party...
  • Are we a victim of our past mistakes or failings or we a student of them?
  • Do we see the glass as half full or half empty and are we willing and able to adjust our perspective to how we need to see things.  For example,
    • Gratitude list vs. complaint list.
    • Blessed/honored with responsibility vs. being cursed.
In effect, what I've been talking about is step 4 in twelve step recovery programs--"Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself."  While I think this is best if we write it out, I think we can also process this in other ways.  Now, while in cleaning out the clutter of our rooms (and our lives),  focuses on getting rid of the unnecessary/unhelpful, it isn't solely that.  Often times, when we are cleaning we run across things that we'd lost or forgotten that we had--sometimes treasured items and sometimes just useful items we didn't know or remember we had.  In a similar way, working on the clutter of our lives and taking an inventory can reveal our strengths too.   We can look back on tough times and realize that we had more fortitude than we realized at the time.  We can look back and realize that we are wiser than we gave ourselves credit for.  We can better see the things we are talented with.

I've had points in my life in which I seemed 'stuck' or in a low spot.  Once in my early 20s and another time during and after the period of my divorce. The takeaway for me in this not to get discouraged when thing are really bad and know that my Higher Power (God) is with me.  He never promised an easy life, but He let's us know that He will give us what he needs.

Consider the case of Job.  In the Old Testament, God had a servant named Job whom he saw as blameless, but for a time, God allowed Satan to take from Job everything he had and to place plagues upon him.  Despite it all, Job persevered and did not curse his Lord.  Job was eventually rewarded for his loyalty with a greater reward than what he had taken from him prior.  When his time was up, he was said to have lived a long and full life.  Now, most people's life circumstances aren't going to be as extreme as Job's were.  However, the lesson holds, realize that often times the darkest periods of our lives are a gateway to better times.

* If you like this post, I think you'll like the following one too: 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Survivor's guilt, thriver's guilt and the unbearable lightness of being...

I was talking with a good friend one time about why people feel guilty about being the one who makes it.  By that I mean the one who survives or the one who succeeds vs. the one who passes away or fails.  I see it as "survivor's guilt" and "thriver's guilt" respectively.  We also discussed the concept of "lightness of being"--something which I feel few people ever learn to appreciate or hold onto if they do come to appreciate it.  To me that's a sense of being carefree.

Anyway, I will delve right in by first introducing the concept of guilt over being the one who makes it.
  • Survivor's guilt -  I'm not going to delve into this concept too much as I feel it has been explored.  But when someone close to us passes--naturally or not--especially if they are younger, we feel like we could have helped them somehow, that they didn't 'deserve' to be the one or that somehow we contributed to their passing, it is not uncommon to feel guilt over being the one that is left behind.  Much of the time, the guilt is misplaced:
    • It is easy to second guess how you could have 'helped' another after the fact, when the 'evidence' or problem is more clearly obvious.
    • No one 'deserves' to die per se--except for maybe those convicted of a capital offense. It's a natural part of life however.
    • Even if you somehow contributed, it probably wasn't intentional.
    • It doesn't seem fair that a younger person, especially our kids would go first.

Next comes the person who succeeds and who sees others who have not:
  • Thriver's guilt - This is a term that I thought of.  I'm not sure if it has ever been used before?  Anyway, the concept behind this is that I believe there are successful people who feel guilt over the fact that others around them are not thriving.  It's like they somewhere in the back of their mind they feel that they don't 'deserve' to be doing well, while others are suffering, even if they have done nothing to cause or lead to the suffering of others.  It can be feeling guilty about having opportunities that others did not have.  That is wondering why they are fortunate to have a leg up.  This can persist even if they take the opportunities provided to them and work hard to be successful.   Here are some of my thoughts on 'thriver's guilt'.
    • People have no choice to decide to whom and what situation/circumstances they are born under.  
      • It is proper to be thankful to your Higher Power (God) to be born into a family which is thriving and/or has opportunities.
      • It is proper to want to help or look for opportunities to help the not-so fortunate.
      • It is not proper to feel guilty about being born into opportunities, but instead by grateful and take full advantage of the opportunities you were given.  Guilt over squandering opportunities can be very appropriate.
    • People usually have some amount of choice as to how to deal with the situation or circumstances they are born into (or raised in).
      • In some cases, others are less fortunate due to poor choices they've made.  However, often is the case, that they are less fortunate because they have less opportunities.
      • In some cases, others are more fortunate due to hard work they've done.  They were given the wisdom or had the opportunity to be positively influenced by others in their life.  Therefore, with hard work, they've raised themselves out of a bad situations.  In many cases, they are more fortunate in spite of poor choices they've made. We've heard stories of the kids of rich being rescued, enabled or protected by their parent's money. 
      • Once again, if you've worked hard to succeed regardless of where you started out, there is no reason to feel 'thriver's guilt'.  However, if you've succeeded in spite of yourself, then a little perspective or 'thriver's guilt' isn't a bad thing.
    • If a person has succeeded by working hard and doing right by others, regardless of where in life they started, then it is not appropriate to try to shame them into feeling guilty about their success. Nor is it appropriate shame them into feeling their success is undeserved.  What is appropriate is reminding them that not everyone has the opportunities they had and to remember that and be helpful or charitable where they can.
      • It is not our place to judge others like that.
      • If a person is raised properly, they are more likely to respond when encouraged to be helpful to others than being shamed into being helpful.  
      • Encouraging them to spend time with helping the less fortunate is also a better way to reach their sense of empathy rather than trying to shame them.
      • No one likes to live in shame and even if it works for a while, an eventual backlash is probable. 

Now the final subject, people who are at ease with themselves and their lives/relationships:
  • Lightness of being - When I think of that term, I think about not having a care in the world. In reality, a lightness of being is a place of serenity.  It is a sense of ease in your own skin.  It is a place where you are at peace with your Higher Power (God).
    • It can be a place in our lives that is hard to reach and/or is fleeting. 
      • It can take a lot of effort--praying, meditating, introspecting, pausing to observe.
      • Circumstances happen which lessen or destroy our lightness of being, but we don't have to live or stay in the circumstances, no matter how bad they are.
    • It can be a place we reach not because our life is problem free, but because our perspective has become better.  That is to say, we see the glass as half-full more than we do half-empty.
      • We see our problems are not as big as others or even as we had originally thought.
      • We are able to see a gratitude list in our mind, rather than a list of complaints.
        • Perhaps it is because of misfortunes we've endured and are past.
        • Perhaps it is because we see others with less fortunate circumstances.
    • It can be a place we reach when we see the value we can offer or our significance in life
      • In other words, it is as much spiritual as it is emotional or mental.
      • If we are able to see our role or place in this world, even if it is tough one, we at least have an anchor to hold onto.

I guess my take away from the whole subject is:
  • Survivor's guilt - Is a place that we can visit, but not a healthy place to stay.
  • Thriver's guilt - We shouldn't feel guilty for our success if we've put hard work into it.  Not everyone will succeed to the same level and there is nothing wrong with that.  It is when we  don't appreciate properly and respect our fortune that we need to be reminded of it.  It is important to appreciate the means and/or tools that God blessed us with and to bless him back by helping the less fortunate.
  • Lightness of being - A fleeting place which takes some work to achieve and stay there and is based on our outlook and spiritual well-being as much as anything.

I don't always know if what I write is meaningful or helpful to others and I know everyone's experiences are at least somewhat different.  So, take what helps you from this post and leave the rest for others.  


* I got the title from the novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" which posits some interesting existential questions which I let you click on to explore.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Renaming songs appropriately: Tell Us What You Really Think

I wasn't going to write a new blog post today, BUT I was listening to the radio and "How to Save a Life" today came on.  I've always imagined an alternative title to it. You know how you hear a song and sometimes you just feel like the artist is trying to tell you something else besides what's in the song?  Anyway, this is just a short list of songs and how I would rename them if I bought the rights to them.  I would match the new titles of them to the message that I get out of out the song.  Obviously, everyone has their own list, and this is mine.  I realize I may offend a few people in the process, but that's a risk I'm willing to take.  Cheers.

1. How to Save a Life - The Fray
    How to Whine a Song

2) Stressed Out - 21 Pilot
    This Song Is Stressing Me Out

3) Soldier of Love - Donny Osmond
     I'll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me - Expose
     Love Touch - Rod Stewart
     Unskinny Bop - Poison 
        each becomes
    I Have No Self-Respect

4) Everybody Wants to Rule the World - Tears for Fears
     This is the Most Boring Song I've Ever Sang

5) Most U2 Songs
     Could We Just Lighten Up a Little

6) All For Love - Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, Sting
    All For Giving Away Our Man Card

7) Grenade - Bruno Mars
    Please Throw a Grenade at Me

8) Never Going to Give You Up - Rick Astley
    Never Going to be More Than an 1980s Joke

9) Girlfriend - Avril Lavigne
     Less Serious Artist

10) You Oughta Know - Alanis Morisette
      You Oughta Know How Physcho I Feel

* In my opinion, a song that an established, renown , respected grown male artist should never have agreed to record.  I can imagine his British peers laughing at him and saying: "Now what were you thinking mate?" 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Heavy straws & a broken camel's back.

The other day I was involved in an accident in which the person in front of me hit a patch of ice on the highway, swerved into the wall and ended up stopped and perpendicularly positioned in front of me.  Even though I was driving cautious for the conditions, I had little reaction time.  I couldn't safely get over into the other lane, so I did the next best thing: I tried to slow down as quickly as I could to avoid hitting her.  Unfortunately, as often is the case, this was a doomed proposition.  

The resulting collision set off my airbag, destroyed my car and left me with a concussion & neck strain. Given the location of the accident, the cars had to be moved as quickly as possible.  Therefore, I could not just linger in my car and make calls.  A police officer was nice enough to drop me off at a safe location nearby such that I could stay out of the cold and start making calls. 

Being a problem solver by nature and not one to give up in tough jams, I proceeded to make calls.  I made a call into work and let my boss know what happened, to the insurance company to report the accident, to my wife to let her know I was safe, to a rental car company to get a car, and to the tow yard to set up retrieving my belongings from my now destroyed car.  I know having dealt with rough circumstances before & having faith that I could get through it.  The important thing is that I was safe and that everything else was replaceable or manageable.

Not realizing that I had a mild concussion, I took my daughter back to her mom's house later that day (as was previously scheduled).   So, I have a bag in which I carry a couple of medications of mine & which I was carrying her medicine.  I had taken that to her mom's house to drop off her meds with her mom.  I carried the bag in with me as I brought her other stuff in. Given the distractions with dropping off a rambunctious nine year old and the fogginess I didn't realize I had yet, I left the bag over there.  My haziness was such that I didn't remember even bringing it in with me.  So, I got home and was going to take the bag in from my car and came to realize I didn't have it.  I reached out to my daughter's mom & to a restaurant I'd stopped at to see if I'd left it either place.  Both indicated it wasn't there.  So, I went searching through the rental car and my own place extensively, but couldn't find it.  The brave front I'd been putting up had finally collapsed.  I thought I'd for sure lost my meds as well as those of my daughters.  Only later did her mom find the bag off to the side of the front room.  

Back to the story at hand.  Literally, I had a huge wall of uncertainty thrown up at me starting before 8 a.m. that day and I managed well, but a lost bag of meds that could be replaced if necessary got the best of me. The adrenaline/shock that took me through the day was already beginning to wear off, but it was compounded by a 'final' setback for the day.  I was besides myself and I had to literally force myself to try and sleep despite being very upset.  Looking back on it, I have a few takeaways.
  • Sometimes a concern is so big that we know that we can't immediately deal with it.  Therefore, in our mind, we allow for a significant time and amount of uncertainty rather than panic.  We just take it step by step.  Getting home/replacing the car/recuperating in my case.
  • It is the smaller things that we think we should be able to deal with that get to us.  Thinking I should have kept better track of the bag and that if I look and look and look, I will find it as its got to be around somewhere.
  • The big pressures of the day, I'd already factored in and had been resolved to a passable state (including the other driver's insurance accepting full liability).  But, they were still a burden on my shoulders.  I was not prepared for the final pressure.  In other words, for the day, it was the straw that broke the camels back.  Literally, I wasn't up to accepting another hit on the day.
  • The next morning, I started to make provisions to replace the lost medications.  Soon thereafter my daughter's mom informed me that she did have my bag after-all.  Therefore the stress and worry about it proved unnecessary.
    • One time when I was fretting aloud to another friend about a matter which I couldn't resolve late at night, she asked me: "Is there anything you can do about it now?".  I said, "No".  She's replied, "So, stop worrying about it."  I have always remembered that and always try to remember that when something is not in my control.
    • On more than one occasion, after getting bogged down with stress about a lost/unresolved circumstance, I've stopped and prayed about it.  A funny thing has happened on some of those occasions.  Literally, it is as if my mind was cleared and I was led to a finding what was lost or a solution.  Reminding me that prayer before the complete stress-out might be in order. 
Anyway, when you or someone around you starts to have a meltdown about what appears to be an easily manageable circumstance or seemingly unimportant decision or detail, realize that you may very well be looking at the straw on top of the mound of weight on the camel's back.  Realizing that the straw is on top of what the camel was barely able to carry anyway.  In other words, don't take it for granted that the meltdown is over the small detail or circumstance.  Address the detail of course, but be aware that you may need to address underlying weight that was really the problem.

Hopefully, this is a helpful reminder for those whom I reach.  Cheers.
- Rich

* This blog post I think ties in well to Letting go and letting God - The timing and art of letting go as our burdens often start with a significant loss.