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Thursday, April 23, 2020

A negative tends to have a greater impact than a positive.

As Mark Twain was purported to have said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”  Obviously, what he meant was that it is easier to spread a falsehood than to correct it.   I also realized when in was in my first year of college that failure is easier than success and spoke about this concept in The Fine Line: Failure takes no effort, success takes a lot of work .  Most of the time you don't have to do anything to fail.  In fact, I believe that it is doing nothing that will inevitably usually lead to failure.   In more recent years, it has occurred to me that a negative generally has greater impact than a positive.  As a matter of fact, the concepts here actually go hand in hand.   Just as failure is easier than success, a negative tends to be the default or more pervasive state than a positive.

But, think about.  When studying history what do we put more of our energy on?  When we have both good and bad interactions with people, what do we tend to focus more on?  If we have an otherwise good driving record marred by a life-changing accident, what will we and others focus on?   When we have a good work record marred by a very bad screw-up or marred by an unfortunate interaction--especially if we are dismissed as a result--will we feel like a success?  When we have an uneventful or clean deployment that ends with a trauma, what will we be tend to focus on?

I've had some successes in life, but in my later 40s and 50s, I have worked through and processes a lot as a childhood sexual abuse survivor.   The successes have helped me keep perspective BUT they did not completely erase the impact of CSA.  This all leads to the questions:  Why does the negative in many (or I dare so most) cases have a greater impact than the positive?  I'm going to consider that here:

Impact of Negatives vs. Positives

  • I think the positives, though we appreciate them, we can take them for granted and not realize their goodness or importance.  Negatives on the other hand I think are harder to dismiss as 'these things just happen sometimes'.  I think we tend to look for a reason or why.
  • I think often the consequences of a negative just is more devastating than a positive.  
    • I understand a common exercise to teach teens the difficulty and challenges of raising a baby utilizes an egg as the baby. 
    • The goal is to take the 'baby' wherever you go without 'breaking it'.
    • No matter how many times or days you've handled the egg, if you drop it once on any kind of hard surface, it will break.  Similarly a baby can easily be injured if you drop him or her once.
  • I believe we may savor the good or positive times and relive them, but they will tend to become a distance memory. Their impact can fade over time and we won't usually tend to second-guess them.  Bad or negative times, if bad enough, can come to the forefront.  From my experience, if they are not resolved, can come to the forefront very quickly.  Bad times are a lot more likely to lead to second guessing.  That is, how could we have made that choice, said those words, done that thing, etc.
  • I believe we tend to view 'negatives' as a moral failure.  Meaning we have a harder time 'forgiving ourselves'.  I think this is especially true if the weak or more challenged our faith is.  The positives we take pride in but we are taught not to gloat too much about them or take too much credit for them.

So believing that negatives tend to have a greater impact, what do we do to mitigate against that?  I don't have all the answers, but I do have some ideas.

Mitigation Strategies (Against the Oversized Influence of Negatives) 

  • Make reminders of success prominent in your life.  Not to gloat on them or to show or develop arrogance, but as a reminder to yourself when the bad times or negatives hit that your life has balance.  Meaning that as much of a particular failure or negative hurts, it is not who you are.
  • Remember who your Higher Power sees you as.  Yes, it hurts if the world or you in particular sees a negative or failure in your life, but how does your Higher Power view you?  For myself, I've been taught that we are made in God's image and 'God doesn't make junk'.
  • Surround yourself with those tend to be uplifting for you.  That's not to say surround yourself with yes men, but those who will be more willing see you in a positive light than a negative.   In other words, while you don't want those who would 'Blow smoke up your *ss', you also don't want those who would "Rain on your parade' either.
  • Learn to view negatives or failures as blessing in disguise where possible.  If not that, then at least learn to view them as a learning experience or point along the journey.

Few people can completely shut the negatives in their life and I believe it is human nature to focus on the negatives over the positives.  However, that doesn't have to be a place 'where we live' but instead maybe a place we visit from time to time or a reminder of what to avoid.

Anyway, that's my thoughts for the day or my story and I'm sticking to it.

-- Rich

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Strays, Part 2: Those whose struggles we struggle with.

I recently read about and heard a lecture from and will probably buy a book of a man who was at age 12 started to lose his ability to communicate with others and fell into a vegetative state.  After less than three years, started to regain consciousness. By age 19 he was fully conscience, but with exception of eyes, was unable to move and thus found it hard to let anyone know he was conscience and aware.  Eventually a compassionate and perceptive caregiver realized when talking with him that he 'was there' and understood him.  By age 25, he was sent to Center For Augmentative and Alternative Communication at the University of Pretoria, where they tested him and realized that he was conscience and aware--essentially that he was 'alive' as we know it.  He was a boy, then later a man trapped in a locked body.  He effectively lost his ability to communicate in virtually any way. His name is Martin Pistorious and his story is told in a book called Ghost Boy.  He eventually gained some control over his upper body and was able to communicate with others via computer software and now he even wheelchair races.

I had written a blog called Strays: Thoughts on those who don't conform or fit in.  It was about those who don't fit into society's mold of what is preferred or acceptable.  Effectively, in a way I see outsiders as 'strays' of a sort.   After reading Martin's story, I feel compelled to expand my definition of 'strays' or give a specific category of strays.  If we live long enough--usually by an early age--we run across and struggle with those who struggle physically, mentally and/or emotionally.  I think individually many people struggle with them.  I believe as a society we struggle with them.  To me these are the true 'strays'.   It's one thing being an outsider and being largely invisible.  It's quite another having struggles you didn't bring on yourself  that literally few around you can relate to or even know how to deal with.

Mr. Pistorious was alive and aware but he was literally out of reach of people.  For most he was a chore, something to take care of.  He was a living shell of a human, but not a person.  It got me to remember someone in high school.   I knew a kid in high school who had stunted growth and got around in a wheel chair and reminds me of a teenage version of a Shiner's Hospital kid.  I sat with him, but I didn't fully embrace him as I was not sure and a bit selfish.  Instead of focusing on a possible friend,  I was worried about how poorly I fit in and how I'd wished I'd fit in better with the "cool kids".  I have thought about that circumstance from time to time and have felt ashamed of myself that I didn't embrace him more and be a true friend.  I don't know what happened him or if he's still alive, but my hope is that he was able to have a fulfilling life despite his limitations and despite not being embraced properly by people like me.

I guess my point is this, when given the chance take some time out, go out of your comfort zone and embrace someone who is not easy to embrace, that you struggle with embracing.  I don't mean to not embrace the 'run-of-the-mill' outsider, but take the time to embrace those who could use a little compassion and love.  Yeah, it might awkward, you might not know exactly what to say or do, but do a random act of kindness.   At this time our nation is in the clutches of a pandemic, so the opportunities might be more limited, but I would guess there still are some.  When it lifts, opportunities will be plentiful.

Whether it is volunteering to feed the homeless, to offer childcare at a 'crisis nursery', to sing to the elderly, to plant a flag for our fallen soldiers or veterans at a memorial, or to help a sick kid get a wish, they opportunities are out there to embrace 'true strays'.

 - Rich

  •  Even fallen soldiers are strays, they are people who deserve to be remembered or thought of.  You may never get spiritual feedback from them, but I think on some level, you will give something to them.  Whether it is to their spirit or to the families that lost the loved older one, you are still giving.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Projections of the Way I Used to Be

You ever make a boneheaded mistake or  poor choice that you were not proud of?   You ever hurt anybody in way you weren't proud of?   You ever fail as a parent in a big way?   You ever just fail in a big way you weren't proud of?  I think everyone has been there.  Sometimes or some people may want to talk out those situations or circumstance, but other times and other people will not.  I think sharing with the world all your dirty laundry can be really dumb, but avoiding it all costs is just as foolish.   For me, I've never been one to brag on social media or elsewhere or otherwise just breathlessly admit failures.  For me, it can be like the "Wanna Get Away" commercials from Southwest Airlines.  If I were to wrecked my car, the last thing I want to do is admit on social media about it.  For me it feels like admitting that I'm a terrible driver--even if that is not a proper characterization. I'd rather be just wanting to get away and to pretend the bad thing or mistake never happened.

I've noticed an interesting tendency that some people have.  Sometimes when people make mistakes or bad choices or otherwise fail in a way that would be humiliating--or condemning if known, they will try to secretly 'atone' for it rather own it.  Some examples:
  • Rep. Mark Foley - He was chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, yet he was found to have inappropriate communications with a young page.  He "couldn't" publicly own his failings, but by chairing the committee, he could at least feel better about himself.  That is, in his mind, perhaps he could privately even the scorecard.  He'd be helping more people than he hurt or so he might think.  Never mind, his failing would be seized on by those that he had helped to expose.  
  • Ministers/priests who have come down hard on sexual deviancy, but later have been found to have engaged in it themselves.  They can't own their own 'sin' publicly, but they could feel better about themselves.  After all, by cleaning up deviancy in the community, they WERE doing the "Lord's work".  Never mind, that they were compromised and were privately undermining the "Lord's work" in the process.
The mindset appears to be, if I do enough good, it will atone or cover for the mistakes or bad choices I've made.   Anyone who knows anything about a recovery program realizes how flawed that thinking is.  It is important to own up to your bad or failures as it is to own up to your good or successes.  Not doing so
  • Can undermine your credibility on your good.  In other words, good that is seen as a way of atoning for hidden or minimized bad, will probably be discredited as soon as the bad comes out.  Even if the good was done with the best intentions, if it is tied to the bad, it will probably be seen as being done strictly out of bad intentions. 
  • Deprives you of an opportunity to grow and potentially become a positive spokesperson of sorts.  Our culture can be VERY forgiving.   
    • In the movie Catch Me If You Can, the lead character Frank Abagnale Jr. runs into trouble after his parents divorce, and commits widespread fraud, the most notable of which is check fraud.  He spent time in a maximum security prison before FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who was the one that tracked him down and eventually caught him, convinced his superiors to let Frank serve out the rest of his sentence on the outside while helping the FBI with check fraud.  Mr. Abagnale was forced to face his mistakes and instead of continuing his failed path, he turned it around and did right by society.  He owned up to whom he was and accepted the cost of it.  Doing so allowed him to move on and become example of prison leading to a successfully reformed convict.
    • Robert Downey Jr. struggled with drug addiction for years.  But he owned up to his failures and he was given a second chance legally and career-wise.  He is now recognized as a successful man and actor and a serious voice in the national conversation.
  • Can deprive you of the ability to make amends or fix the problem on terms more favorable to you.  Anyone who follows politics knows that politicians who get in front of bad news tend to survive the consequences thereof better.   It's painful to do so, but as Bill Clinton's survival  before and during his presidency indicates, owning up to bad news rather than hiding from it can help you out in the long run.
I've been guilty of something a little bit different than that.  I have sometimes misplaced or projected my feelings onto another mistake or screw-up.  In other words, I'd be VERY harsh on myself for something smaller, but will not want to talk about the bigger screw-up.  Inevitably, I noticed in those type of situations, when I don't own up properly to my mistake or failing, it still had a way of getting back at me.  Over the years, I've lost a friendship or two by not owning up to properly to a/some mistake(s) or failing(s) at the time.

Eventually, bad news comes out and people aren't happy when they've heard it elsewhere.  By owning up to much to a lessor screw-ups when in reality I felt bad about something worse,  I was projecting my shame onto a small/smaller mistake.   It's sort of like dismissing culpability in an accident, but beating yourself up over cutting off someone off yesterday during a drive.   No, if I caused an accident, then I should own up properly to my role in it, even if doing so would expose reckless driving.   Pretending or minimzing my role in it, but then saying, but you know I have inadvertently cut others off before is sort of ludicrous. But that's essentially is the driving version of what I'm talking about.

It's hard to own up fully to mistakes, but in the long run, it is better for all who might be involved.  To do otherwise is essentially like a half-hearted apology or a half-hearted acknowledgement of role or culpability.  Beating yourself more over old news, doesn't help if you need to own up or atone for 'today'.    If I break the fine china and try to hide that fact, but tell you out of guilt or shame that I dropped and broke a glass, it doesn't help you.   For when it time for you to pull out and use the fine china, you will find out then that it is not available and you will be more upset that I hid that I broke it.  My displacement of it by condemning myself too much about breaking a glass, doesn't really solve anything.  Just saying...

I'm sure other can relate.