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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Not so beautiful trauma

It was nine years ago to the day that the police found my brother deceased in his apartment deceased.  A fuller story is in Don't you forget about me: The blog I needed to write one day about my late brother.  Anyway, we had been very close at times and had always had a connection.   He'd been fighting depression and I'd been getting bad vibes that he was struggling to hold on.  But, the life is kind of funny.   The people and things in life seem to be constant and 'always there' until one day they aren't constant and aren't there.   I had an inkling that he struggling.  Enough of one that I threatened to have a wellness check done on him if he didn't call back imminently--which he did.  He called back and said he was okay and acted like I was overreacting.  It wasn't too much later that I got a cryptic text from him saying, something about "feeling like I am dying".  He'd spoken figuratively before and I was going through a life crisis myself.   I took it as, "I'm dying inside" or "I feel like dying".  I little time passed and I got distracted by my own life crisis.  He literally had made himself invisible to family for extended periods and I'd occasionally show up unannounced when I couldn't get a hold of him.  So, I wasn't too shocked when I hadn't heard from him in a couple of weeks.  I now understand that when facing depression, sometimes the last thing you want to do is to show your hurt to those closest.  I speak on my understanding of the subject matter in Depression: It Ain't Over 'Till It's Over.  His words may have been a final cry and I'll never know for sure.  That has haunted me since.  But, I have realized over time you can't save everybody despite sometimes valiant efforts.

 Obviously, the day he was found was in some ways the worst of my life in some ways.  Anniversary number 1 of his passing wasn't easy either.  It has generally been easier every year.   However, for some reason, it was harder this year.   Maybe it was the stress of work deadlines and the pandemic and all that involves?  In any case, it got me to thinking about his life, my life and the dysfunction we grew up in.  Someone he know from college had given me a gift, albeit a painful one, her memories of him.  I didn't see him much when he went away to college.  So, she give me a bit of picture of his life away at school.  She related that even back then she knew he was hurting more than the average kid who moves away for the first time to college.  Anyway, talking about it with her and others reminded me of something I'd figured out along the way.

When we have unprocessed hurt, our tolerance or ability to take more hurt is lessened.  Think of it like this.  We are a 16 ounce glass.  Life's daily struggles can fill our cup part of the way.  If we have a lot of unprocessed hurt, our cup may be well on its way to be full.  So, add life's daily struggles and it can get close to the top.  Now, add a particularly rough period and well you know the rest: the cup cannot take on any more.  For some people, it results in alcoholism.  For others, it can result in gambling, etc.  But, for the really hurt ones, the cup seems to find a way on the grounded shattered in pieces with the contents lost forever.

We may make it and recover from that rough period.  I survived a his passing, losing my house, losing my job, bankruptcy and my dad's health failing.  But, like him I had been scarred in the early years and the period immediately before, during and after his passing had it's own troubles, though I was able to start processing a lot that I hadn't previously.   Anyway, you survive the hurt/injury, but like a broken elbow that heels, it isn't quite the same.  The limb has healed as much as it can and you have 'full' use of it, but it it's not the same.  There may be weakness or scarring.  You may be aware on a fairly regular basis of the injury, but you don't necessarily focus on it.   However, you bang that elbow and the pain from the original injury and/or scarring will be front and center again.

I think hurt, especially that which isn't fully processed or 'healed' is like that.
  • You know it's there, but it is just there and not really interfering with your daily life.
  • You run into a situation or circumstance that reminds you or brings it front and center, and you feel the pain all over again--just not necessarily to the original degree.
  • You retreat or find something to take your mind off it until it subsides.
  • You get back to your everyday routine again and it recedes until the background.

However, sometimes just like the cup that has never been fully emptied, there is always a bit of a risk of it overflowing.   You may never get that cup fully empty and that may be your cross to bear, however, it is never too late to continue to process hurt where it exists.  It is never too late to look for opportunities to heal.  The big key is a willingness to work through it and building a good support system.  As we've discovered more and more during this pandemic, people are social creatures and we thrive on good support systems.

I guess my takeaways are:
  • We can't stop 'traumas' from happening to others, but we can be there for others after and provide them a support system.
  • Sometimes we have to face our own 'traumas' head on.  
  • In our recovery from traumas, it can be hard to get rid of the hurt that sometimes hides away.  However, it is best to address the hurt rather than just 'take a couple aspirin and sleep it off'.

If you know my blog you know I always end with a song and this song is screaming out to be included.  I have always liked her music because she faces pain and hurt head on in her music and lets face it, she's a very talented songwriter and singer.  She was hurt in a profound way by her parent's divorce at an early age and she found a way to turn it around into a positive (see Family Portrait).  A funny story: one time we (my girlfriend at time and I) were relating to a guy serving us about her concert and he intimated to me later how it was a brave thing to take her to a 'chick concert'.  I had to laugh as it was actually me that pushed us going to the concert.  I could have corrected him but why bother.  I don't have to answer for my taste.  On a related note, I'm proud of my late brother for being himself.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Stupid Smart: Missing the obvious when analyzing.

In most societies a good education is considered a key to success and prosperity.   Those who are deemed well-educated and intelligent are likely to have their opinions given more weight.  In our society, we generally respect those who come across as well educated and scholarly.  We tend to defer to those who have advanced degrees, especially if we don't.   Imagine you are told your new neighbor is "Dr. Robert Smith" who worked as a researcher scientist at a prominent university.  You would probably be inclined to think your new neighbor was someone whose take carried a lot of weight.   Now say you are told your new neighbor is "Bob Smith" who is an employee of a local school (without giving anymore detail).  You'd probably would give less weight to his take vs.  that of "Dr. Robert Smith".

Switching gears for a moment, we hear new studies coming out every day about how some food or product is good for our health (or not good for our health).  Years later, we hear studies which call into those conclusions into question.   As parents, some of us learned math in the 'old fashioned', 'straight-forward' way and we seem to do alright.   However, we see our children being taught math the "Singapore" way and it seems completely unintuitive.   Also, we read stories about the how science has confirmed what we already know: men are different than women.  In other words, the so-called experts seem be prone to questionable conclusions, methods and being out-of-touch.

So, how do we square these competing thought:  well-educated = an expert to be given great deference VS. out-of-touch intellectuals?   From what I see:
  • Generally speaking a good education opens more doors for those who come across as learned, but it doesn't guarantee wisdom.  Being better 'smarter' and better spoken doesn't imply that one's thought are more accurate.  However,  they might be present their point of view.
  • A person with a title indicative of an advanced degree, such as Dr., will tend to be cited more if their degree can be somehow leveraged to the subject matter at hand.
  • If the person's 'area of expertise' is highly subjective vs. discretely definable, there is more room for dubious opinions and overanalyzing the issue.
  • Sometimes there is a financial incentive to create a crisis or need where there isn't one.  That is a a financial need to justify a person's position.
  • Sometimes there is an ego need to justify a person or group's raison d’ĂȘtre (reason for being).

Some examples or ideas to wit:
  • Meteorologists are paid well to make predictions that are often wrong, especially the further out their predictions go.   If people are more intrigued by a more dramatic forecast, then he or she might hype THE POSSIBILITY of a major storm or weather phenomenon.   Someone who has worked the land for most of their life might see the same data or the same indicators and note that the potential situation, while possible, is highly unlikely.  The 'weatherman' might have an incentive to hype a possibility both for ratings and to show off his or her knowledge.  The farmer on the other hand is seeking as accurate a read of the situation as possible.
  • A psychologist may run across a child who is new to a school, is quiet by nature, has been late to school and spends an excessive amount of time gaming.  The professional may pursue the notion that the child dreads his or her new school and is trying to avoid it.  A quick discussion with the child's brother may reveal that the youngster simply really likes the new game and there is no more to the issue.
  • A physician with a complex understanding of the body, may run across a child who isn't good at advocating for his or herself and struggles with esteem issues.   After listening to the child and running a few tests and coming up empty, the physician might dismiss the child's concerns as being more psychological--especially if it is an uncommon problem for the child's age.  Only later when the symptoms evidence themselves more prominently will the physician catch the health issue.
    • This actually happened to me when was 17 and the ER physician missed a diagnosis of pericarditis and dismissed it muscle soreness and seeking attention.   The physician wasn't expecting a child my age to have heart issues.   Also, he couldn't find any obvious causes for my chest pain.  Therefore, he read too much into my teenage insecurity and decided there was no real there there and that I might be seeking attention.
  • In a competitive grant environment, researchers, in various fields may feel pressure to come up with a unique or different thesis or take on a subject to stand out from the crowd.  In other words, try to 'prove' a take at odds with conventional wisdom.   This isn't necessarily a bad thing to do.   History is full of people who challenged the status quo leading to discoveries, inventions and a better understanding.   However, if the goal of 'proving' that their thesis takes precedent over finding the truth, there may be a problem.  Sometimes, no matter what angle you look at a subject matter from, the obvious or conventional answer is the most valid answer.

I called this post "stupid smart" because sometimes people who are highly educated or credentialed look past the obvious for answers and may be seeking a deeper or more thought-provoking meaning.   In other words, they 'outthink' themselves.   Sometimes a shovel is just a shovel and not some specialized digging tool, no matter how much you might need for it to be.

I guess you'd say this is my STUPID SMART take on society.  Thanks for humoring it.

- Rich



Saturday, July 11, 2020

Conflict is in the Middle: Black and white thinking avoids the conflict of nuanced thinking.

With Covid-19 and George Floyd's death and the ensuing protests/riots, I've thought a lot more about our society--what's right with it, what's wrong with it and what could use fixing.  While this includes what we can do or be as society, it also includes what I can or be as an individual.   In other words, part of this examination is internal.  As I've gotten older and seen more of the world, I've come to realize more of nuance in my thinking.  For example,
  • I support the right to protest and be heard, but protest has to be orderly.  It has to take into account the needs of others to get to work to take care of their families.
    • Free speech/assembly isn't absolute and unlimited.  Rights come with responsibilities and abiding by the responsibilities can help to preserve that right.
  • Law enforcement needs reformed, but law enforcement needs to be strong.
    • We need to make sure law enforcement is done equally and justly and respect the rights of citizens.  But, erroring on the side of too hands off can embolden criminals
  • Freedom of assembly is important, but it needs to be done in a responsible way during a pandemic.
    • Meeting can be done virtually where possible, but people shouldn't lose their freedom to assemble but should mitigate against risks--limiting numbers, proper spacing and encouraging high risk people to avoid for example.
  • It is important to stand again all who say racially or otherwise charged things, but it is also important to make sure we aren't shutting down free speech by destroying people who WE believe are crossing a line.  
    • People can out of frustration say things WE find offensive, but if we clamp down too hard we  are setting a precedent.  One day, the future WILL be led by others whose take on what crosses the line is different (and possibly absurd or abusive).  
    • If we clamp down too hard on what WE deem is offensive speech, we risk freezing speech as people may not want to risk saying things that could be thought even remotely controversial. 
  • Your words and actions can, in many cases, rightly have serious consequences.  However, where possible, a path back or second chance should be allowed.  
    • This allows people to have the chance to be a positive on society rather than a drain.
    • It also exhibits a good side of humanity -- forgiveness.
    • An absolute unwillingness to do so, can exhibit anger and contempt.
  • You can condemn behaviors of yesteryear, but can also understand some of them were a product of their time.  That doesn't mean excuse them, but that means that realize that like a family, people can grow and learn.   
  • Bad moments in history can be recognized without being celebrated.
  • Most people are neither completely evil or a complete saint.  Even 'heroes' have flaws, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are not heroes.  Likewise, 'bad people' usually have some redeeming quality (or the potential for them).
  • Drinking is acceptable, but not always advisable.
---

I've come to realize that part of the human struggle is wanting to 'getting it right'.  We may do that to be thought of well by others, by ourselves (self-respect) or by our Higher Power (God).   Whatever, the motivation, part of 'getting it right' means treating others well, thinking and behaving righteously and just striving to be good people. 
  
I've come to realize that part of 'getting it right' is recognizing nuances and not being dogmatic.  The Pharisees of old were focused on being righteous by 'following all the rules'.   They may have succeeded in 'following most of the rules', but in their hard hearts they missed the whole point of the Father's teaching.  Jesus and his disciples did many good deeds and miracles on the Sabbath.  Pharisees pointed out that wasn't 'resting' on the Sabbath.   The Pharisees, with their dogmatic, black and white thinking, had no internal conflict.  They just knew that good deeds and miracles were 'work' and weren't appropriate for the Sabbath.  Jesus' disciples may have been raised to understand that and when Jesus led them to 'break' the Sabbath, it might have been out of their comfort zone.  However, it would seem they understood quickly that they were doing God's work and came to understand it was appropriate to do so on the Sabbath.

I feel a bit conflicted on how we can best move forward and how I can best grow to be a better person in today's society.  For me, that isn't necessarily a weakness or failing.  For me, it is like a baby chick trying to break out of its shell.  There is some internal struggle and conflict, but it is a healthy struggle.  I don't think anyone in this life has all the answers, but has shells of ignorance.  I'd like to think that each of us would should try to break shells of ignorance and uncertainty, where they exist, and trying to be a better person.  

We could avoid the internal conflict that goes along with striving to 'get it right' IF we felt like we always had the answers.  We could avoid the internal conflict that goes along with find the right nuance in thinking and actions if were judgmental and always thought in black and white.  I believe part of where we fail in society is ending up in 'camps' where we think and behave in black and white.  Yes, there has to be some absolutes, but I think it is important that we search and strive for the best answers, even if they may not fit our preconceived notions.

Searching for the best answer can result in nuanced thinking.  President Nixon has campaigned on being a hardline anti-Communist.   He could easily have kept the hard line and not made overtures to China.  He was probably counseled by some in his circle against it.  Even he may have had his doubts if his actions would yield positive results.  He was in an election year and the comfortable 'election' position would be the hardline against China.  But he chose to try to find some middle ground with them.  This came with conflict, both internal and external.  But, he had enough nuance in his thinking to realize that a) we could benefit with a better relationship with China and b) it could be a hedge against Russia.  In our relationship with our own kids, we have rules, but we don't inflexibly stick to every rule indefinitely.  We adjust where it makes sense, where we feel like we can get better results and proven responsibility on their part dictates reconsideration.

I believe part of maturing is understanding and being willing to go through conflict that comes with finding the 'right' (often nuanced) answer.   We could stick dogmatically to the same answers, same positions, and same rhetoric and be very comfortable and self-righteous with it.  However, I think it is critical in our own lives, the lives of our family and of our society that we be willing to consider nuances.  After all, if Jesus has the nuance to realize that he should dine with the tax collectors and 'sinners' as that was the way to reach them.

Speaking of Jesus, that brings me to one final and probably the most insignificant point.  Jesus was able to reach out to and relate to sinners* and not scorn them like the Pharisees, because He wasn't caught up in His own pride.  The Pharisees however were.  To change their dogmatic position to a more teaching, understanding forgiving position would have required them to essentially admit they had failed in how they executed their role.  In essence, they'd have to own up to their own failure and/or lack of understanding of their role in helping others get to know and follow God.   

I think part of the block of being willing to adjust our thinking to a more nuanced position is PRIDE.  When we take time to reflect on our positions and thinking we open ourselves to the possibility that we've been wrong.  Unfortunately, it isn't necessarily just mildly wrong. It can mean completely wrong.   Who want's to acknowledge to themselves and/or others that they could be greatly mistaken or totally missed something?  Admitting to yourself (and possibly others) that you are or were wrong is effectively humbling yourself.  We revere the apostle Peter, but he wasn't always the Peter we have come to appreciate.  He used to be a Saul and he used to actively undermine God's work.  The Lord literally had to call him out Acts 22.  He was so self-assured of his righteousness, only a complete humbling of him would cause him to change his position to be a more nuanced thinking loving man.   Overcoming pride to see a more nuanced position, can be a very conflicting (and humbling) experience.

Yes, there are definite right and wrong in this world, but I feel like there is plenty of nuance and sometimes getting to the right nuance can be stressful.  It can be easier to just stay in the black and white thinking, but it is important to be willing to adjust that to more nuanced thinking where led.

Just some deep thoughts for the day,
Rich


* I used the term sinners to represent those who were known to break God's laws and the 'religious rules' of the day and had the capacity to recognize their failings.  In actuality, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God...".



Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Being my brother's keeper: A guide to honoring society as our family.

I suspect that recent unrest in this country has a lot of people thinking and reevaluating their perspective on society. Given the sharpness of the unrest, I have found it hard not to. I have taken some time to break down my perspective or thinking on society including race. I don't necessarily think I've had a major shift, but I think I have focused me better on how we should treat each other.
In this (reevaluation) process, it occurred to me that a helpful perspective or lens to view society through is that of family. Whether we like it or not, as a society we are a family. For a family to function in a healthy peaceful way, each member has to consider other members of the family. We have to consider where they are, not where we think they should be, but where they are. For example, we could get into a debate on how far we've come with regard to race relations and how much progress we've made as a country, etc. Different people and different groups would tend to have a different points of view. Some would believe that since we have solid enforceable laws in place and integration going on for decades, that 'society' has done its role. Some people believe we've basically made no progress. I tend to believe somewhere in between those two perspectives. Yes, we could get into a precise debate on how far we've come or haven't come, but I think it misses the point.

For me, if my brother or sister is upset and feels like he or she hasn't been heard or been treated equally in the family, what would happen if I told him or her: "Yes, you have been heard" and "Yes, you have been treated equally in the family."?
You Got It: We'd have a big blowup. This is especially true if historically his or her point of view is valid. If he or she had been mistreated or marginalized in the family previously, to dismiss his or her concerns now would be insulting. Even if I can't see his or her perspective at this juncture, what good would it do for me (and the family in general) if I rigidly stuck with an opposing position? While I might feel satisfied that my position or perspective is justified, I can kiss any semblance of family harmony goodbye with that pose.

If a family member feels like he or she is disempowered relative to the rest of the family and I'm the 'head' of the family, shouldn't I see that keeping a rigidly opposed position is harmful? Wouldn't it make sense for me to really listen to why my brother or sister feels that way? Wouldn't it makes sense for family harmony to see what we could do to make my brother or sister feel empowered? For example, if my brother or sister has been bullied in the past within the family and survived it, I could say, you know, "It happened and you are stronger person for it, so let's just move on for the sake of unity". However, chances are that attitude would cause problems. Yes, it is good that he or she survived the bullying and it toughened him or her up, but that doesn't mean it had no long-term negative effects or damage. Nor does it mean that it could be ignored or pushed aside casually out of convenience. Sure, I might not be responsible for the bullying that happened. I might not have even been there when the bullying happened, but that doesn't mean that it's fine to avoid a role in the family healing process. Maybe there have been overtures from the bullies in the family towards my brother or sister. That doesn't mean that I can say, "well they've dealt with it and it's all good now". No, as a leader of the family, I should willing to dig deeper and look harder at the damage. If my brother or sister still feels hurt or marginalized, I should be willing to see how I could lead an effort to make him or her feel included and protected.

Switching gears for a moment, I realized a few years ago you can't easily fix everything. That doesn't mean you can't fix anything or shouldn't try. Instead of throwing our hands up in the air or saying what's the use, shouldn't we attempt to work on that which we can fix or improve? If we value family harmony, shouldn't we work to find a way to make sure everyone in the family feels equally respected and valued? In the case above, equally respected and values includes addressing the bullying that occurred. In a sense, we when we address issues like that, we are taking on the role of our brother's keeper.

Brother's keeper role:
  • That doesn't mean we do everything for our injured or marginalized brother out of pity for the hurt or unfortunate circumstances he has found himself under. But, it means giving of ourselves where we can and it would be helpful. It means making sure our brother has the tools available to help him help himself. For example, if I make sure my brother has access to a good education, I am helping to do him right in the long-term.
  • That doesn't mean that we absolve our brother of any responsibility for his role in the family or of any expectations. Instead, as a family, we can seek to find a healthy and strong role in the family for our brother. We should encourage him to have high expectations for himself and seek to make sure he has all the tools available to achieve that. That may include giving of our own tools.
  • It means we take a role in making sure our brother feels like he has an equal stake in the family. He needs to know that his input matters. He needs to know that his contributions can lead to him reaping the rewards that the family yields. If he feels empowered, it will help him and help the family as a whole. If he feel disempowered or hindered, the whole family suffers and he likely feels alienated.
  • It means we work to make sure that our brother feels like he has an equal voice in the family. In the example above, part of this process includes addressing the bullying and working to make sure that doesn't happen again. After being bullied he may not feel that he has a equal voice, especially if it appears like the bullying never went away or that he feels he might still be subject to it.
  • It means realizing that even if our brother makes a mistake that our brother is not a mistake and not to treat him like one. In other words, showing compassion and forgiveness. Each of us are imperfect and make mistakes, but that doesn't mean we can be marginalized. Similarly, we shouldn't marginalize family members when they make mistakes.
Ideally, if we all seek a role as our Brother's--or Sister's-Keeper, we will have each other's back and hopefully will have an empowered family. However, if we ignore our role as our brother's (or sister's) keeper and let our brother or sister feel disempowered without trying to remedy that, our family will not be as strong as it should be and ultimately it is at risk of collapsing.

--

I could have spoken of race relations directly in this blog post, but I feel sometimes we get lost in the 'black and white' literally. Meaning we get lost in tribalism or a camp and can't see the bigger picture. Historically African Americans have not been treated well in this country. Slavery, lynching, Jim Crowe, etc. are a huge stain on our country which only through cooperation we can fully move forward from. By move forward from, I don't mean to ever forget, but I mean to row in the same direction. If we keep fighting the same battles over and over again, we are rowing in the opposite directions and will not get very far. If we find a way to row in the same direction, we work towards rowing to a happier and more spiritually healthy destination.

We have to identify where we've made progress and where we need to make progress. We all--black, white, brown, yellow and red--have to be part of the solution. We have to be willing to to adjust where we find ourselves part of the problem. For our country to survive long term, I believe we have to view each other (by group and individually) as members of a larger family called SOCIETY. I cannot control what was done before me and/or by others, but what I can control is pushing to make sure that people as individuals, a group, a resident of my state and as a U.S. citizen are:
  • Treated justly
    • Under the law.
    • Under my faith. (Think golden rule)
  • Treated fairly.
    • Making sure that all have a legitimate shot at the dream.
    • Includes doubling down to make sure those who have historically been disadvantaged and underserved have a legitimate shot too.
  • Treated equally.
    • We should strive to treat people as even-handedly as possible, even when their circumstances differ.
    • It doesn't mean we don't reward excellence. On the contrary, it means push for excellence for everyone.
  • Treated respectfully
    • Essentially treated each other as one of God's children.
    • Love all people as my neighbor and help where I can.
It's funny I was listening to TLC the other day and read up on them. I didn't realize that they were the 2nd largest selling all-female group of all time and the largest selling American one. In other words, their music crossed over everywhere. Obviously, I come from a different background than them. I'm sure how I express myself in word and in message is different in many ways. However, I realize that they are part of the fabric of our society. When I listened to them, I realize that I wasn't listening just listening to three young women singing R & B music, I was listening to three young women singing American music whose accomplishments I think deserve to be honored in our Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They captured a moment in the 1990s breaking down gender and race barriers. They are not just the best selling African-American all female-group of all time, but they are the best selling AMERICAN all-female group of all time. They are part of the fabric of our society. Part of our healing is making sure that each of us, independent of race or starting point, feels like they are part of our society. We are very diverse it is not always comfortable for all sides, but we have to find a way, to find a middle ground where we can respect each other properly and not point fingers. We have to find a way where we can appreciate what everyone brings to the table instead of isolating.

I dunno, just some thoughts.