Archive for December, 2014

A Beautiful Story

MilitaryArrival

A man and woman happen to meet. It wasn’t particularly notable. These things happen every day. People’s individual circumstances and trajectories cause the necessary interactions that put us in proximity with others. In this case no particular sparks flew, however, over time as they got to know each other something changed. They liked each other. Their personalities meshed in a comfortable way. As they became a little more familiar with each other their discussions began to tread into areas beyond what was germane to their interactions. This was comfortable and enjoyable to them, so they proceeded, and the discussions began to take on more of a substantial quality. Pretty soon they both began to realize that something was happening. You could say that the sparks began to ignite. It felt good. They fed off of each other, and began to support each other in emotionally substantial ways. Finally, with the writing on the wall, one got the nerve to ask the other out on a date. All went swimmingly, which led to another date, and another. Soon they were in very deep conversations. Romantic ones. Discussions of the future. What they each wanted out of life, and out of a partner in that life. As these discussions flowed it seemed to them like they were more than just compatible. They were building each other up in ways that made them greater than the sum of their individual identities. As this happened the physical part of their relationship blossomed, and served to reinforce the emotional attachment that had taken shape. As time went by they made more substantial commitments to each other. The trust was deepened through the continued actions of their partnership as a couple. This is not to say there weren’t issues and bumps, even significant road blocks along the way. While it wasn’t always easy, they overcame those because they were in love, and it was powerful. There was no stopping that force. They cared about each other and wanted to be together. With each passing day it became more clear that they were so much more together than they could be apart. One eventually got the nerve to propose to the other, and they were married. They embarked on a life together, as officially recognized partners. True love – whatever that is – as the fuel that would continue to propel them forward. A beautiful love story with a happy outcome.

 

Here’s another story…

One day a man came terribly close to losing his life. He was badly wounded, but survived. Certain events serve to illuminate the fragility of this thing we call life, and with his new lease he was optimistic, even though there were some serious wounds. During his recovery in the hospital he worked with various mental and physical therapists. The damage was great, but ultimately he would be okay, though scarred.

As he interacted with the various people helping him, they would talk about increasingly varied things. One woman began to stand out as special. Their conversations gradually became more interesting to him, and more compelling. She had such a kind heart and was a beautiful person in every way. In time their discussions became deep. Well beyond the boundaries of what would be considered ‘normal’ between a patient and a medical professional.

Meanwhile this woman, who was very much enjoying this man and their increasingly deep conversations, was struggling. She had been trained not to get personally involved with patients. There was a clear imbalance of power between them. So many things can go wrong. It’s considered unethical – a real taboo. She fought away the thoughts she had about liking this man, but they would return. It’s hard to control thoughts and/or the feelings we associate with them. When she was with him and talking to him, she felt something. It seemed real, and powerful.

The man, having little real understanding of the conflict no doubt going on within her, was just being himself, and enjoying getting to know this person. The woman, seduced by the good feelings she associated with this man, began to forsake her oath and succumbed to her desires. She had needs, and he was meeting them.

We’re told or trained this is a recipe for disaster. He was vulnerable. She took advantage of that to satisfy herself. Once things inevitably would go wrong, for any of the numerous reasons it can, especially under dubious circumstances such as these, it would get extremely messy. Their professional relationship would be destroyed, as both she and the hospital were in a very precarious place legally…because this sort of thing just isn’t done. There are rules against it. She put the hospital at risk, and would have been fired had anyone known. She was the trained professional and should have known better than to ‘get involved’ with a patient.

But of course none of that happened. I’m sure the reader surmised paragraphs ago that these two stories are the same story. Though this writer did provide some logical, common sense embellishments, the story is true. These people are married and happy now.

She broke the rules and risked her professional career. Put the hospital at risk, and most importantly put the patient’s care and well being at risk. Had things not worked out people would have looked down upon her, some likely going so far as to think of her as a bad person. If your thoughts disagree with that, then consider what goes through your mind when you hear about a teacher having a relationship with a student. A high school student. Reverse the sexes of the two and then experiment with your thoughts. Yet there are examples of true and lasting loves being born out of these situations.

So we say, “Okay, maybe that can happen, but it isn’t likely,” therefore we need those rules and associated taboos to prevent people’s bad judgement from doing damage. Maybe. I make no argument against the rules, such as they are. Love and passion, if strong and powerful enough, sees those only as points of resistance. Things that can be overcome or worked around. Then we have the judgers. All of the people who may look down upon the situation as being morally and/or ethically ‘wrong.’ The black and white crowd, who feel licensed for whatever reason to apply their own moral sensibilities and fears to the circumstances of others, even though they don’t usually know or understand many of the nuances, and often don’t know the people involved. It was probably very difficult for the two of them to navigate it at times.

It’s a beautiful story because love conquered all of this. The two individuals had the character to handle it and each other in a way that worked. There was risk. And yes, it could be argued the risk was too great for her to have proceeded. But now that it all worked out we don’t think about that. We tend to just see and report on the beauty of a feel good story. And who is to really say that even if the romance derailed and went wrong anything notably bad would have happened? Romances end peacefully every day. They could have moved on as friends who went through some interesting and tough times together. Who is to say? There is always risk in life. Being a good human involves taking calculated risks. Hardly anything good will happen unless risks are taken to get there. Life just isn’t that comfortable and clean.

Be careful about judging too harshly the risks others are willing to take. The perhaps more measured than you’re aware of decisions to try to find happy and good outcomes for themselves. If we give up on that, and all just live in the box…life wouldn’t be nearly as compelling. Here’s to the risk takers, and rule breakers! Happy New Year.

Bump the Spinning Plates

02-lFAqTMany of us feel like we have too much going on to keep up with it all. Truth is there is a lot of comfort in being busy all the time. We feel good about being involved in it all. Stuff is happening. That’s what life’s about, eh? It provides a license for us avoid.

Perturb that system and you create an opportunity to discover what’s really important, or what’s really wrong. When you allow things to crash and burn a few times you get some wisdom otherwise missed by being trapped in the self-induced role of master plate spinner.

Want to Have to

havetodoWhat do we really have to do?

Non-obvious actions taken in pivotal moments, difficult decisions that might be easier to avoid, responses instead of reactions, and most of all, the choices we make when it doesn’t even seem like we have a choice – all of these, taken together, define who we are and the impact we make.

“I had no choice,” actually means, “I had only one path that seemed easy enough in the moment.”

The agenda we invent and act on defines our organizations, our work, and the people we choose to become. It is born out of a correlation between what we want and what we believe is possible – what we deserve.

Two Kinds of People

ManGirlThere are two kinds of people – those in the group who are like me – or who I choose to be like – in some way, and all the rest, otherwise known as…”them.” The people who are like me depends on what characteristics are being measured.

An advertisement that appeals signifies that one identifies with a particular group of like-minded people. We often choose a product based on our sense of feeling like we are similar to other buyers of that item/brand, or because we want to feel more like our perception of the buyers of that brand.

A news story appeals because the message resonates among people who want to feel a part of the group who would like such a story. Maybe at face value: who doesn’t like a nice ‘feel-good’ story? Or maybe on a more conceptual level, such as a story that paints a particular politician in a light that’s congruous with an already held view.

Maybe a particular political agenda is initially favored, not because it’s beneficial (quite the contrary can be true), but because it is promoted by a party or individual one already supports for other reasons. Sides are chosen. It’s ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ And almost no matter what ‘we’ do, one chooses to support and believe in the action of his/her chosen team. We will learn the rhetoric and reasoning why our position makes sense and own that explanation, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

There are multiple facets to it. One may like a certain type of music and therefore begin to associate with others who are of like minds in that respect, but very different (on the ‘them’ team) in other respects. Someone could like the skill/sport of shooting a gun, but vehemently disagree with the political sensibilities of most others who do. An automobile enthusiast may become a fan of open wheel racing as opposed to stock car racing due to the perceived stereotypes of other members of that ‘tribe,’ not to mention the history/narrative of the endeavor itself.

The matrices can be quite complex, however, they usually start to erode. The gun shooter may become uncomfortable being associated with others of that kind and decide the crossbow is more sporting. Or, after hearing more of ‘their’ thinking behind their political views, may warm up to some of the ideas. (We will really listen and try to understand the perspective of a friend we disagree with, but generally will not turn on a news station whose views we believe are contrary to ours.)

We’re smart enough to see and understand that people are multi-faceted, but we still instinctively break them down into various ‘us’ and ‘them’ categories, and we still find that the more someone looks, feels, sounds, like ‘us’ the easier it is to like and respect them. We make more of an effort to try to understand them. Offer more help to them. And we subconsciously make lots of small choices to be perceived as a member of that tribe.

We ARE prejudiced. Not all the time. Not in every way. And often not when we’re thinking about it. But it’s wired pretty deeply. Recognizing this is the start to trying to find ways to rise above it. To reach across the perceived divide, even when it’s uncomfortable, recognizing and celebrating similarities that can connect us further in a spirit of true understanding. Watch that ‘other’ news channel for a while. When you begin to get over feelings of anger and frustration at the content you will find that there is something deeper to get. Listen – really listen – to a style of music you don’t respect. Try to understand why people like it. Try to get the joy or identity they seek in it. When you reach half way you will find some others will do their part to reach back. The world just got a little better.

Taking

ChickenCoup

We’re constantly taking. We don’t make most of the food we eat. We don’t grow it anyway. We wear clothes other people make, we speak a language other people developed, we use a mathematics other people evolved and spent their lives building. In the United States we live on land that was taken. As a society, as a people, we do a lot of taking from others, from our own past. We feel it is ours.

That’s the normal course of things. We don’t give it a second thought, and rarely stop to recognize how inequitable it is. So much goes on and has gone on for the purpose of making our lives easier. People paid a price to bring us here, and people (and animals) pay prices today to keep it all running smoothly for us.

Each generation has the luxury of forgetting the past and building on what was painstakingly built, while the underlying mechanics – the dark places we don’t want to see – become more pervasive as they scale to meet our needs, though still residing just below most of our radars.

We can give something back. We can take less. Or work to provide for our needs without having to take as much. We can create. It’s a wonderful ecstatic feeling to create something and put it into the pool of human experience and knowledge. Even if it’s small, make a contribution. Find your art, your expression, and start there.

Be sure to contribute something. And try to take a little less along the way.

Worse Than Nothing

It is fairly common to hear people characterize integrity as things one does when no one is looking, or when there will be no credit given for it or even any benefit derived. It is born out of a person’s character. Let’s first be clear that there almost always is a benefit. As I have written before, we benefit by doing things that make us feel good. Nevertheless, actions that approach some semblance of altruism are considered among the most purely ‘good.’ Of high character.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post called, When Character Battles Reputation, which explores the differences. It’s one thing for a person to ‘do the right thing’ when it doesn’t impact his reputation significantly. That’s an honorable thing to do, and speaks to integrity. But what about those times when doing a good thing shows up as bad? Like, a person does a thing specifically because there is a good reason for it. A hopeful outcome, or at least a necessary one. But rather than going unnoticed and anonymous, that action is noticed, and interpreted very differently.

That’s a hard pill to swallow because we ultimately do care about our reputations, and want people to have positive characterizations of us. How brutal must it be to have done a good thing, and yet everyone believes it was evil? To be cut by the sword of contempt, enduring the resulting consequences to one’s reputation in spite of the actions working behind the scenes to achieve some good. That represents an even higher level of integrity than an unknown action.

Except…

Who gets to judge? What if only the person doing the action knows the real good behind it? What if the perpetrator miscalculated? The good was an intention, but the action ultimately did lead to hurt? Or the outcome is less clearly quantifiable. In these cases it is subjective. The person doing the deed may not even know for sure how good it was, or have full visibility into the consequences.

FingerPointIs it easier to live with the scorn and disdain of others when you know you were right? Should you fall on your sword and let them have their pound of flesh? You can try to defend your actions, but if that defense is unbelievable, or the act perceived to be indefensible, do you not compound the vitriol? What if the very person you were trying to help believes instead you were trying to hurt, or at least willing to hurt, or being selfish? And what if you care about that person’s opinion? You put yourself in a prison to free someone else, and the world believes you deserve to be there, or even got off easy.

Man, these issues get complicated. And thus we need to be very careful about our assessments of people’s motives and underlying character. There can be more to it than meets the eye. As a person who has been on both sides of this one I recognize we have to apply judgement to protect ourselves, but I suggest doing it with the humility that we could be dead wrong on occasion. Always remember, you are not that person. You are not in that person’s head, and you don’t know everything. It may be necessary for you not to know everything. Sometimes the effectiveness of the act depends on it being interpreted differently.

The Right Answer…

…is a moving target.

SymeRockPaperScissors

As soon as you think you have it figured out, things change. The earth orbits the sun, people change their minds, or forget. Every day brings with it the unknown. You lay your cards on the table and see how they play.

We think we know what to do today because of what happened yesterday. It usually works out, but eventually tectonic shifts add up and yesterday’s answer ‘suddenly’ no longer applies. We feel so blindsided when that happens, but it is we who are blind; often not seeing the subtle clues, or not reacting fast enough to them.

There is no ‘right’ answer. There is only what you do, what others do, how you respond, and what (eventually) happens. Try as you might to assess where your fellow humans will go, there will always be surprises. Morals try to simplify this through providing what we treat as ‘right’ answers that are immutable. It is somewhat helpful, but we still decide for ourselves which ones of those we really live by and pay attention to on a case by case basis. It’s still a decision for us and the outcomes aren’t insured, even though some may be promised. “Never tell a lie?” Yeah, right…except for all the exceptions. Oh! It’s the spirit of it we must pay attention to? That introduces a degree of subjectivity and context into it and soon we’re right back where we started.

You may find a home in what you think is ‘right,’ or you may find comfort in trying to do what works. Maybe it’s a mix of both. It’s all subjective.

The only safe way is not to play, which isn’t really an option. Good luck. That’s probably as helpful as anything.

 

“The Pretty Girl Gets Kissed”

jacksonJordanThat’s a quote by Phil Jackson from the book, The Jordan Rules. The book discusses, among other things, what fairness is in the context of Jordan’s career. Many believe he benefitted from preferential treatment in the league, and from referees specifically. Phil’s quote was his way of acknowledging these things do happen, and probably happened with Jordan. Michael was a great icon for the league. Everyone involved made a lot more money from his popularity.

Any day now Kobe Bryant will pass Jordan for third place all time scoring in the NBA. Kobe modeled much of his game after Michael, but in many ways has seemed more vulnerable and, dare I say, real, throughout his career. Are there Kobe rules? Nobody talks about it if there are. No one questions his grit and determination.

The debate rages. On the one hand people get frustrated that kids are rewarded too much just for being in the game. They say they need to learn that just doing something may not be good enough. Every kid can’t win the prize, etc.

The pendulum seems to be swinging that way for now, but let’t not lose sight of how we got there. It’s important that people – especially kids – ARE rewarded for trying. That’s what keeps them trying and encourages them to persevere. It’s important they learn at a young age that sometimes sticking it out is enough to give one an opportunity to rise up and achieve something, even if it isn’t always the originally intended outcome. It’s also important that we don’t squash the creativity out of them trying to get them to conform to everything we think is important.

Surely we don’t want to wake up and find ourselves in a world where it’s only winning, success and being right that counts, no? One where it’s only the pretty girls who get a guy? On the other hand, we aren’t going to be able to make a world worth living in if everyone feels entitled to get the prize just for showing up.

The challenge is that there are people who get something just for showing up, and then there are the people that learn to scratch and claw for every inch. Michael Jordan battled to attain a position where he was then given so much benefit of the doubt that other players felt he was playing by a different rulebook (leading Phil to the memorable quote). It’s a fancy way of saying, “life isn’t fair.”

It isn’t fair, but…have you ever noticed how unfair things seem to people who fail, and how relatively fair and balanced they often seem to people who succeed? It permeates everything. White people don’t notice the daily little injustices black people do (another post for another time). Men don’t notice how women are still objectified in the workplace. It’s everywhere, and we all know, even if we aren’t specifically noticing.

Likewise, we all know that guy or gal who seems unflappable. The one who just keeps coming and keeps trying, never seeming to get too discouraged, even when things happen that might derail others. Eventually the parts fall into place and one appears to be an overnight success at something, as if she has a special gift at whatever it is. Maybe it is a gift. Or maybe she is just pretty. Or maybe she really worked hard and became competent. Maybe she simply persevered.

Michael and Kobe are gifted, but they also worked their asses off, and had a lot of help.

Kids absolutely should get a prize just for showing up. They don’t always have to get THE prize. At the least the prize should be some joy, or that they get to learn and experience something, and then apply those lessons the next time. It’s up to us to give that to them. The important thing is that we do all we can to help ensure there is a next time for them. There are many things that lead to or contribute to success. Perseverance is the most common theme of all.

Persevere.

Remember, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. And even the mighty Jordan couldn’t do it through his own will alone. He needed Phil Jackson.

Ask for and accept help. But mostly, persevere. It’s not easy, but it’s just when it’s hardest that it’s most important to fight the fight. Do it for yourself. Encourage it in others. That’s the most beautiful thing of all.

 

 

Dust to Dust

headinsand

What’s your purpose?

What does one really accomplish during the time on earth. It all turns to back into dust eventually.

Look at rain. All the water eventually ends up right back where it started. Obviously it passes through and does a lot along the way. That, it could be argued, is its purpose. Our bodies may become plant food, or just dust.

If the water never got back to the starting point the world would eventually end up being very different.

You can’t take any of it with you, but you can do things with it while you are here. At the end most of us don’t really matter much anymore, yet the echoes of what we do might remain for a while.

We’re here. The rest, whatever it is, is up to us.

Humans — Good or Evil?

There’s a lot of evidence to support either answer. But…fundamentally what is our human nature? I don’t think we can really know, though there are sometimes clues.

Take a look at the photograph below and pay attention to your thoughts as you do.

 

 

blackwhitechild

 

 

 

What popped into your brain as you looked at this? What was your knee-jerk reaction?

 

 

 

That will tell you a lot about how you’re wired. I showed it to my friend and she said that it’s a lovely picture – a cute black child is playing with another cute white child. Many adults in our society have a similar reaction, even if they don’t quite verbalize it as such.

For the babies in the picture, there is no race, no judgement, no intolerance, no division and no barrier. For each of them the other is a curiosity. A fellow human being they are happy to greet with open arms. This is what a human is born into, this is inherit in our nature. What do you think, is it good or evil?

Once we divide up: resources, allegiances, teams, territories, etc. it all starts to change. Competition is the root of all that evil. I love competition. It’s thrilling and often validating. It hones us, making us able to achieve more. But ‘more’ is relative. It invites comparison. Without competition there would be a lot more harmony in the world. Imagine what that would be like. By the time we are old enough to consider it we’re already programmed.


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