Archive for October, 2012

Art as Expression

I had something written about the value of art in our lives…but my friend Todd beat me to the punch, and did a better job of it to boot. So just read his post.

http://dinoisdead.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/daily-bread/

To that I will add the disturbing truth that for an artist the process isn’t always pleasurable. I’d say much of the really great and most moving art we encounter is probably a result of difficulty. Sometimes as we dredge up painful feelings or memories it feels like we’re dying in the crucible of our lives. Because of certain associations I have with it I don’t always find solace in picking up a guitar, or working on music. Sometimes, in fact, I want to never touch that stuff again, because as Todd says, maybe the examination of life is overrated.

Cheating

The fall of Lance Armstrong is complete. He has now been stripped of his seven Tour de France wins, has left the Live Strong organization he founded, and is now for all intents and purposes “retired,” and spending time with his family. Not a bad deal, actually. Of course they are going to come after him for the money he won, but that’s only a small fraction of the money he made.

Sadly, he is being singled out and made an example when in fact 20 of the 21 riders who placed in the top three during the years he won the race have all been connected to doping. The handling of it has been quite ugly and embarrassing on the part of cycling’s governing body, and the sport may never fully recover, at least in the U.S.

While he still maintains his innocence the questions can now shift away from if, to why. Why did he do it? That fact is, it was just a part of the sport. People close to it are convinced nearly all riders were cheating in some way. And even though some may not have been it’s likely most of the riders believed they were. It was simply deemed necessary to stay competitive. It’s important to understand here that these sports aren’t just sports anymore. It’s a business. Short of breaking the law we seem to act as if it’s okay for businesses to do whatever is necessary to get ahead. Aside from risks to one’s own health it wasn’t generally believed that any harm was being done. Add to this that for the most part the best drugs were very difficult to detect at the time and you have the perfect storm. It was easy, and necessary, and not considered particularly dangerous.

Lance’s fans are probably too quick to pass it off, but the righteous indignation with which the judgement came down belied a complete disconnect with how corrupt the sport has been for a long time. Did they need to clean it up? Certainly. But the witch-hunt after the fact is not productive.

All are on the same footing if they all are doing it, eh? Is that really still cheating?  You could opine that cheating is cheating and the moral man wouldn’t have done it. Perhaps. There are people who fit that bill. You’ve never heard of them and for the most part never will, because to survive in the sport required the type of performance only attainable with drugs. An article by one gets into some interesting detail about the sport, including some in-depth background about why the cheating occurs and what to do about it.

Is underage drinking okay with parental supervision? Legally it varies by state.

Maybe it is still cheating, if taken literally, but is it acceptable under these kinds of circumstances? What about speeding? Do you obey those laws? What about your taxes? Is everything 100% copasetic on them? Do you pay use tax when you order something from out of state (and aren’t charged state sales tax)? Most of us are willing to do a little cheating when we need something, especially if we perceive the potential for harm as minimal (i.e. everyone is doing it).

Just don’t get caught. That changes everything. I’ve paid many a speeding ticket over the years, yet I don’t think many would think me a bad person for speeding. But let someone get hurt and see what people think.

Judging

Things are not always as they seem. Social comparison research has shown that people tend to view others as less ethical than themselves and as less ethical than they actually are (Halbesleben, Buckley, & Sauer, 2004).

Much of this is because we see and hear things that appear to add up to something we’ve seen or heard about before. The more you’ve been trained (or trained yourself) to identify these recognizable patterns, the more of them you will find. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And it follows that if you’ve trained yourself to see/fear the negative outcomes more than the positive ones then what you remember finding will often support that belief. These patterns of recognition aren’t reliable because the things that stand out  — and are therefore easier to remember — are often the exceptions, the extremes. Most of the time it really is just a coincidence, or something relatively innocent that is happening.

Unfortunately we often convey, in subtle ways, a lack of trust that goes hand in hand with these assumptions we make. This undermines our interactions and in the process can undermine those with whom we interact. It can be very subtle, but if you convey a lack of trust the other party will be less inclined to trust you, and this basis of distrust can lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I’m not suggesting you foolishly trust everyone, but based on the above research, people deserve to get the benefit of the doubt. When in doubt…ASK.

Being First

Be first, but don’t talk about it.

Being first can be the biggest advantage. You can be the first to do something, the first to listen, the first to build something, or the first to hit the nail on the head. It’s not always the decisive advantage, but in many circumstances it sets the standard or otherwise produces enough of a tactical advantage that others can never catch up (see the iPad for just one of countless examples).

Whatever value is inherent in having been first is all of the advantage there is. Telling people you were first may feel like you’re staking a claim to that victory, but nobody cares. If they weren’t already seduced by you having paved the way then talking about it after the fact is next to useless, because the fact that you were there first HOLDS NO INHERENT VALUE for the customer/recipient. When you waste everyone’s time talking about it you look desperate and defensive.

The sort of exception to this is if there exists a qualitative or technical advantage from having been in the game earlier (more development, refinement, etc.), but in this case it isn’t being first that makes the difference. That advantage will or won’t stand on its own. Saying you were first may provide some backstory to substantiate it, but that’s all.

Likewise it can be spun as a disadvantage. Everyone else can say they’ve learned from your mistakes or that you’re trapped in your own pigeonhole.

If you’re tempted to talk about being first you should consider that you don’t believe you have enough of an ‘actual’ advantage. Your time would be better spent there than trying to spin some value from what happened in the past.

Signs?

Sometimes the cards are truly stacked against us. Events conspire in ways that cannot be overcome.

Are these signs, or just bad luck? That’s a religious debate.

Cruelty and the Benefactor

A policeman pulls over a speeder, and now all of the other speeders slow down. Have you ever had anything bad happen to you where, upon thinking about it, it seemed like others derived the only benefit from it? It’s almost as if your role was to suffer so someone else could be better off. Usually dots can be connected to lead to some possible, hypothetical benefit to yourself, but it can be pretty far-fetched at times. That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Those are the easy ones.

People are  sometimes put into heart breaking situations. Why? One side of the religious debate says it’s chance. Just the way the cards were dealt. The other says there is a purpose to it.

Usually the circumstance does leave room for the sufferer to have some upside, but on occasion that’s not the case. We don’t talk about those much, but we have to look all the way to the worst cases to try to see the truth of it, which then can be applied to the rest. A child is born and knows only suffering (I’m referring to the really bad ones), and there is a purpose to this? Who is the purpose for? Is it for the onlookers? Maybe they will appreciate what they have more? Is it for the parents? I have seen parents rise to the occasion in truly inspiring ways.

I will not pretend that no good comes of the awful situations that can happen in life. But to think how others benefit as any sort of rationalization for these circumstances is disquieting to say the least. If they are just chance occurrences, random, more or less…then it’s easy to accept as part of the general messiness of life. If they are by design…Yikes. I know, we’re not supposed to understand. “Mysterious ways,” and all that.

A designer chooses to make someone miserable so another can gain some benefit, or some appreciation, or some other mysterious, and possibly forever unknown upside. And this supreme designer has no other valid means to accomplish the desired outcome? Hmmm…

I know this is not a new argument. I wish there were some semi-rational explanation beyond cruelty for the designer theory. It’s one more leap of faith…

You believe what you believe. Perhaps it’s just what makes you feel good, and that’s okay.

Either way when it’s our turn in the barrel all we can do is control our attitude. We take the beating, learn what we can, and hope to move on.

Pure

Don’t use electrical appliances in water, we’re told, because water conducts electricity.

That’s not entirely true.

It depends on exactly what counts as water. We’re also told in science class that water is made up of two hydrogen atoms chemically bonded to one oxygen atom. If that’s what counts as “water,” then it doesn’t conduct electricity.

The water that we all know and love as something we wouldn’t dare have around our toasters and curling irons only conducts electricity to the extent that it is polluted with impurities.* Tap water generally has enough of these to make it dangerous.

Sometimes water is sold to us at a great profit based on the idea of it being “pure.” Again that definition is relative.

Electricity as an Analogy

Humans are 65% water (our brains 95% water), and our bodies conduct electricity. There is no such thing as a pure person, both in terms of our chemical makeup and otherwise.

Purity is a trait that’s often highly regarded in humans. Aside from the fact that it isn’t achievable, I say it’s not even a good goal. It’s boring. It doesn’t conduct electricity. Nothing happens. I much prefer people who have flaws and impurities. It matters very much what those are, but usually the right combination of them is what makes people interesting and compelling to be around. Further, the struggle of someone navigating and rising above certain of those “impurities” is most compelling of all. This is what it is to be human, and to share experiences, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

Pure, whether in thoughts or actions (or H2O), is overrated.

(* — Yes I know this is over simplified. It’s not intended as a treatise on water chemistry.)
 
[Administrative Note — I’ve discovered recently that for the past few months some comments have been getting sucked into the spam filter of this website and not posted. I am trying to look through and rescue them, but some may be lost. Very sorry about that.)

Bear Traps

There are things in life that harm us, or that we cause to harm us, that we need to move on from. Can’t dwell on the past or let them keep you down. You may lose the battle, but don’t lose the lesson, no matter how difficult or painful it may be. That’s the wisdom you’ll need to avoid similar hidden dangers in the future. They are out there, like traps in the woods just waiting for the unsuspecting person (you) to slip up. Get caught in one of those bear traps and you may have to gnaw your leg off to get out. This is not to say you shouldn’t head into those woods. Danger is part of life. It is what separates the willing from the weak. Live it. Take care to look around before you step, but accept that stepping further into the danger of the woods is how you find what’s on the other side. If you don’t go then you probably don’t need that leg you might have to gnaw off anyway. Sit still and go nowhere, or move and risk it.

What Gets Communicated in the Details

As someone who receives a great deal of professional correspondence I’ve learned to quickly assess something about the sender based on the little details of what flies past me as my finger is poised on the delete button. Occasionally I see one where the message is concise, to the point, and punctuated correctly. Well…almost. Case in point…

Dear David,

I am following up to inquire if your firm might be looking to enhance its PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.

Our in house expert has over 14 years’ experience enhancing Executive PowerPoint content with powerful graphics, and audio and video clips that sell ideas.  He has developed presentations in industries such as high-tech, life sciences, consumer products and services, internet, travel, energy, chemical, medical device, non-profit and others.

Please give me a call to discuss.

Regards,

[Contact Info Removed]

What caught my eye was the (correctly placed) apostrophe on the word “years.” I estimate 90% of all writers would have gotten this wrong. Unfortunately it followed a lack of a hyphen on “in-house.”

What got communicated to me was that this is an intelligent and at least somewhat thoughtful person who may have made a small error. Not bad. That’s the kind of people I like to work with. I read the rest. It even had a call to action at the end (what you want me to do). Thank you. I don’t happen to need the service, but at least they had a chance.

Had it just said, “years of experience,” which is not incorrect, I wouldn’t have noticed anything and they’d never have had any chance at all.

Watch the details. EVERYTHING matters.

P.S. I’m well aware of the pitfals of publicly writing about writing correctly! And I happen to enjoy irony, so…

Discipline or Regret

Pick your poison. You can be disciplined and do what you need to do now, or you can regret not doing it later.

An easy example is exercise — I don’t get enough. I try. Although I enjoy certain activities that provide exercise I absolutely hate exercise in and of itself…every living minute of it. But I do it. I sometimes tell myself I’ll do more when _______. It’s all bullshit. When the ______  time comes I still don’t want to do it. The only thing that works (for me) is to think about the alternative (regret) and make myself do it. Good music on an iPod helps a little.

But…beware, regret is tricky and can rise from unexpected places. Be careful with narrow assumptions about what discipline means, such as assuming it means lots of hard work at the expense of the other joys of life.

The exercise example is simple. I only wish other things were so clear cut. Sometimes discipline is the courage to do what you know you must do. Or it can be the courage to not do what you wish you could do. Or…it can be manifesting the courage to try what is risky, because not taking the risk can lead to as much or more regret than taking it.

Audience — Another Personal Note

There is a principle in quantum physics whereby it is understood that the act of observing a thing changes the thing. (It makes it awfully hard to learn what’s going on in there.)

In music I have worked with a number of artists who started from nothing more than an idea, a vision, and then became successful. Success means there is more at stake because there is now something to lose. There are more opinions to contend with as the artist is pressured to consider her audience. That’s usually death to the art. It may be lucrative in some cases, but once the vision gets tainted in this way it’s often a matter of time before the success diminishes. I’ve seen artists completely lose their way trying to interpret what they think they need to be. The visionary ones can forge ahead in spite of the audience, but it’s hard not to be influenced by it to some extent.

Writers have the same problem. Once one has a successful book, he is tempted, encouraged, perhaps even coerced (by the publisher) to do more of what they perceive made it successful. It can be lucrative, but usually not inspiring. You can’t listen too much. You have to follow your vision.

As I have become aware of some of the people who read my pontifications here I, too, have been forced to think a little bit about the content I put out. Those who read it with any regularity have no doubt surmised that it’s pretty deeply personal at times. Why? There are three big reasons:

  1. I find it somewhat cathartic
  2. It makes me think through things a little more carefully
  3. I hope it is helpful, or at least interesting, and perhaps even…entertaining…

In my ‘band days’ I learned to be a closed book, for reasons beyond the scope of this. Suffice to say it’s a necessary part of being in that kind of role, especially with lots of sycophants around. You learn to be slow to trust, to keep things protected. People had to work their way in — a challenge not everyone is up for. Safe, but limiting. Recently I have been influenced to open up more. It’s dangerous and risky, and heaven knows I have done some serious damage flailing around, but ultimately it seems necessary because….what we (think we) want from people is to really know them, not some concocted facade of who they think we want them to be…at least up to a point. A friend once said, “If you’re intimidated by transparency it means you aren’t transparent enough.” It requires trust in people, and therein lies the risk. It has proven to be costly on occasion, which naturally makes one question the wisdom of it.

I have been taking more risks, although in these writings I admittedly have to be somewhat guarded because I could do some real harm if I threw all caution to the wind. So yes, unfortunately, this blog is tainted (restrained) to some degree because there are readers — an audience. But it’s pretty bold (for me) in some ways, and I think that’s what makes it interesting, and potentially helpful.

One person asked, “How do you think it could impact your career to be writing things like this?” (There are valid reasons why it could.) It’s a calculated risk. At this point I’m not sure how much I care. Again, it requires some trust, which is difficult for me. But it’s also just the backbone to stand up and say what I think. Because any other way is too contrived, and therefore useless. Why bother?

A person I know once asked if I was torturing her. The idea seemed so preposterous to me I couldn’t hear the question as anything other than a light hearted jab to be sloughed off. What if it was a serious question? “Torturing” certainly isn’t how I’d want it to be put, but if you’re in my life then to some extent it’s possible for your views or interactions to (anonymously) leak into this forum. I try to do it in a helpful and constructive way, but…all I can say is that if the shoe fits, you can decide whether or not you want to own it. When you hear a song, and it seems to resonate with you, then…well…you have to listen to that, eh? If it came from someone you know then obviously there is a chance it’s about you specifically, but that really shouldn’t change anything if you think about it.

I really do appreciate all the feedback I get, most of which has been off line. Send me more or comment here. Dare to speak up and speak out. Challenge or encourage. I really want to know what you think. Yes, this means you. I’m learning and muddling through like everyone else.

David


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