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Saturday, February 20, 2021

Facing Reality and Arizona

A number of the years ago I watched the movie Pump Up The Volume.  I was intrigued by the storyline, but let's face it I was a bit entranced by the lead actress.  But, I digress.  In the movie, the lead character, Mark--played by Christian Slater--was an awkward shy teenage kid.  He had moved to a new city with his parent and moved to a new high school--Hubert Humphrey High.  He felt like a shy, out-of-place, outsider.  Not being able to reach his friends back east via shortwave radio, he uses his equipment to start broadcasting a pirate radio station in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.  He finds his voice and identity in his radio station.    It became his platform for what is wrong with American society (and eventually his own high school).   He would start each broadcast with the song Everybody Knows.  The song is pretty cynical.  It speaks to the bad things in life we know to be true, but typically don't talk about.  "Everybody knows that the dice are load/the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer/the war is lost..."  Anyway, so it got me to thinking about when and why we don't speak up about 'wrongs' and consider if speaking out is the right option at the time.  It also got me to thinking when we do acknowledge a problem or wrong, how do we acknowledge it and how we move forward.


Why and when we don't speak up?

  • We are afraid of consequences.
    • Fear of consequences to us and those close to us.
      • Sometimes we fear consequences to our everyday life.
        • For example, we are aware of corruption at the highest levels in our place of employment, we may fear retaliation--such as job loss--if we speak out.
        • For example, if we speak out against problems in our child's school district, we might fear doing so puts a target on their back.
        • For example, if we point out corruption in our place of worship we risk being shunned by the church.
      • Sometimes we fear consequences to the safety.
        • For example, if we witness a murder or embezzlement, we might fear harm if we agree to cooperate with law enforcement investigating it.
        • For example, in Nazi Germany those who spoke out of turn about the Third Reich were at risk of never being heard from again.
    • Fear of consequences to society as a whole.
      • There has long been speculation about the 'truth' behind the assassination of JFK.  There has been speculation that the government either knew more about it than they admitted and/or were more involved than they admitted. The unspoken fear is that if the 'public knew what really happened', it would undermine our government as an institution.  At least that's the theory about it.
      • In other words, the 'truth' is just too damning for us handle as a society.  In other words, as a society we are not "ready" to handle certain truths.
  • We are too entangled.
    • Are we compromised?   Are we corrupt as well? 
      • It would stand to reason that a politician on the take would be less likely to out others on the take, especially if they felt their corruption was 'known'. 
    • Are we entangled with one who is compromised or corrupt.
      • We are likely to be silent about corruption, for example, if a friend or loved one is in the middle of it.  
      • We could have a bias to protect the person or persons.  
  • We don't know how to or where to start
    • Sometimes a problem or wrong is so huge in scope that we aren't sure where to start.
    • Sometimes we just don't have the words to express what we know to be true.
      • Much of the public doubts the official version of the JFK killing and what followed (Lee Harvey Oswald's killing).   While there are a number of alternative theories to what REALLY happened, there are many people who doubt the official version because it just seems to convenient or similar.  They can't say for sure what happened, but they KNOW that the official version just sounds a bit to nicely wrapped up.
  • We don't have 'all the evidence', despite it being blatantly obvious the problem exists.
    • We have a good circumstantial case, but we don't have the 'body' or 'smoking gun'.  This is the case when law enforcement has a good working theory on a crime but doesn't indict or go public until they have concrete evidence/irrefutable proof.
    • The scope of the problem is not fully evident yet.  For example, an auto manufacture may hold off an an official recall until they get their arms around the extent of a defect or flaw.
  • We are in denial of the scope of the problem.
    • In numerous high school shootings, the perpetrators were known to be students and staff as 'problem children', but for whatever reason no one stepped up and took decisive action to avoid a tragedy.
    • People sometimes behave as if they ignore a big enough problem it will just 'go away by itself'.
  • We have decided it is not the right hill to die on or not the right time.
    • When I was a teen, my dad gave me lunch money for school.  Sometimes I packed a lunch and just pocketed the money.  It wasn't the most honest behavior and I found out later my dad figured it out.  However, the matter apparently wasn't important enough in the big scheme of things for him to address as I did help him a lot.

When we do speak up 
  • How do we address an issue.
    • Do we address it directly?
      • Do we put all our cards on the table, acknowledging the extent of the problem?
      • Doing so could make others defensive or alienate them.
      • Doing so could put us in an awkward position of being forced to make a difficult choice or decision (especially if we are not prepared to do so)?
        • For example, if a relationship is broken addressing the brokenness directly could build pressure for us to get out of it from those around us.
      • Dong so could also kick the 900lb. gorilla out the room and allow us a fresh start as a family, group, or society rather than a wound that continues to slowly bleed out.
        • How can we even remotely hope to heal a relationship, for example, without addressing what is actually broken in it.
    • Do we address it indirectly?
      • Do we tacitly acknowledge a problem without speaking directly to it or fully to it?
      • Doing so gives could give people room to address the problem and save face.  
        • In court, this looks like a 'no-contest' plea.   

        • In international diplomacy, it may look like a quiet solution to a crisis.
        • In a relationship, this could look like a plea for individual counseling.
      • Doing so could allow us the space to work out a solution.  An unspoken understanding of an issue could also lead to an unspoken solution, where a problem is addressed quietly without a public outing of the problem and the pressure that brings.  
        • When the St. Louis Cardinals traded Keith Hernandez they wanted to get rid of a popular player with drug problems, but they didn't want to publicly humiliate him.   
        • They orchestrated an unpopular trade to get rid of the problem from the St. Louis clubhouse.
        • Had they outed him as drug addict beforehand that could have caused a bigger disruption in the clubhouse and would have forced them to get rid of him under more pressure.
      • Doing so could unfortunately can sometimes give the problem more space to fester.  
        • Sometimes problems need to be fully out in the open before real solutions can be undertaken.
        • For example, quietly or indirectly addressing a problem with a loved one about their drinking, might get an acknowledgement and a commitment to do better.  However, if it is out of control it might offer them the space to ignore you.  An intervention might be necessary to force them to face their issues.

Conclusions:
  • As a society, it is best to be as transparent as possible about problems we face.  However, not everything that can be said has to be said.  Sometimes doing so could be more harmful than good, esp. when dealing with those who don't have our best interests in mind.
  • There are sometimes legitimate reasons for delaying transparency--such as preparing people to deal with bad news.  However, sometimes we avoid transparency for selfish reasons such as not wanting to expose our role in a problem or issue.
  • We can quietly acknowledge issues or problems to allow people/society space to work on them.  However, quiet acknowledgement should not be used as a means of avoiding dealing with them.

I believe it is best to be transparent as possible.  There is giving out important details and coming clean, but there is also giving out TMI and damaging others in the process.  So, it's like anything: Intent and nuance matter.

-- Rich






Monday, January 18, 2021

Contentment about the Future: We Are Free To Decide For It

Every four years we have an national election for President.  After one particular election, a coworker and I were having a very civil discussion on the election (and the inauguration) that had just past.  If I remember, her choice did not win.  I said, you know after every election, there is a large segment of the population that is not happy.  I said, no matter who wins or loses, we ultimately have go on with our everyday lives in much the same way.  Besides, in another four years, everyone will get a chance to be heard again.  She seemed to appreciate and accept that point.  This election (2020) and the last election (2016) were no different.  In each case, it seems like there is a sizeable segment of the population that feels hopeless, like it's the end of end of world and that life as we know it is over.  Perhaps at some point in the future, election results may signal the 'end of world', but I don't think we are at point yet.

As bad as some feel after a their side faces defeat in a hard fought election, I don't think it can compare to the end of the world hopelessness that many likely felt during WWII.  I expect that sense pervaded Europe in particular and the world in general at the time.  I can't even begin to fathom what prisoners in places like Auschwitz had to face.  Seeing and facing starvation, cruelty, torture and death all around them with seemingly no end in sight is something I think few can relate to  A friend recommend a book to me called Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  In that book the author chronicled his experiences as a concentration camp prisoner and how he identified a purpose in life to feel positive about and then immersed himself in imagining that outcome.  In other words, in a horrible and seemingly hopeless situation, he was able to find a purpose, meaning and hope.  He was saying that even in the worst situation, that we have a certain freedom to decide how we are going to view life. 

I'm not even going to imagine that I can relate to the search for hope, meaning and purpose in such a horrific circumstance.  Yes, I've faced some blows in this life, but nothing quite like that.  But, I have experienced enough to know that survival and even eventual thriving is possible during and after bad circumstances.  Finding Jewels in the Darkness tells my ability to find good at a bad time in my life.  I'd literally lost much of what was (or seemed) important to me--my brother, my house, my job, my marriage, much of the custody of my daughter--in the space of a year.  However, things started to settle down and I was able to find some special moments with my young daughter.  Moments that I would have not likely had or paused to appreciate otherwise.  I was able to strip down life to the basics and figure out what mattered.  Among the things I found was my writing voice, a greater self-respect and the understanding that I could survive serious blows in life.  In other words, I sort of found myself.   Eventually, my finances and job prospect and personal relationships looked up, but I couldn't have necessarily seen that during the height of the storm. 

I'm not going to be Pollyannaish and say everyone does survive life's seemingly harsh blows or that everything turns out fine.  But, to me life is like a journey where picking up "wins" along the way and avoiding "loses" is important, but not nearly as important as the good fight we fought along the way.  After all, what else do we really take with us besides the intangibles of a well fought life?  I believe there is a dignity of striving to be the best version of one's self even as days grow more cloudy, even as the journey works towards a close.  There are many things we can lose in our life with little or no control over the process.  We can lose our worldly possessions, we can lose others we love, we can lose our independence and in some cases, we can lose the battle with sickness and disease.  However, there are some thing we don't have to lose.  Among them our dignity, our spirit, and our freedom to decide how to see our lives.  Those things we have to be willing to part with.  I'm not saying holding on to those is always easy.  However, we can, if we choose, hold onto those things.  

I believe in the lives of many/most if  you dig deep, you will find a point in which they have felt hopeless.  The key for me and the key for many in that circumstance is to find something to hold onto to or for.  It could your faith.  It could be your family.  It could be your memories of surviving before.  It could be your vision of what could be.  It could be your knowledge that there is someone who championed us--and may have passed away--that we'd hate to disappoint.  It could be our pride.  It is important to be able to find this and when we do we have a choice at that point.  Do we give in to the brokenness or hopelessness OR do we decide that we want to find that which sustains us?  For some, it seems the brokenness is too great and they don't feel like they have a choice.  But, for those who are able to recognize it, we are free to decide to push forward and to decide to accept life on its terms or work to change it.

Tying back to this election and prior elections, many have or had a deep sense of dread or hopelessness afterwards.  For many people, it feels/felt like 'the wrong person' won.  If feels/felt like our country is/was headed down a dark, unrecoverable path.  There is always a risk to what we perceive as poor leadership dragging down our country.  However, elections do not have to feel like an impending disaster.  This election for some, like past elections for others doesn't have to feel that way.  We have always had the choice, even when we aren't happy with the results, as to whether view ourselves as a victim of them OR to view ourselves as those who continue to fight for what we believe in or what is important to us.

Whether you are happy with this election, upset about it or ambivalent, how we choose to view it and our lives in general is ultimately up to us.  This is something I cannot stress enough.   So, let's decide to come together and set an example for our leadership on all sides of the aisle.

Just my 2 pennies worth,
Rich





As an aside, there was another time I was woefully underemployed in my field.   I had an undiagnosed severe anxiety condition.  It hindered me in getting my Bachelor's degree, but didn't stop me.  However, it made it almost impossible to interview effectively before and after I graduated.  Anyway, it was four years before I got a job in my field after graduating college.  I could have given up, but something inside kept me going forward.   Just like the struggle above in "Jewels", I fought depression and a feeling of hopelessness at times, but something inside me said, no, it's not time to give up.