Archive for November, 2016

Why We Need Show Business

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Some time ago I had an occasion to visit a practice session with the Indiana University basketball team. It had a very unusual element I had never seen or heard about before. They were working on the usual things: mostly executing their designed plays. The defensive team had twice as many players on the court, all of whom had on boxing gloves and were punching the offensive players in their bodies and arms. Not roundabout punches, but hard enough to knock them off balance.

In life most of the war is in our own minds. The chasm between what we know we can and can’t do is occupied by a battle with perception of ourselves. Everyone who makes it to the other side looks back and tells us it’s mostly mental. If you believe, and really try as if you’ve burned your ships, you can do it.

So what does this boxing-ball match really do? It doesn’t teach a basketball skill we would normally associate with the game. Basketball is supposedly a non-contact sport. Ha, ha, the joke is on you if you believe that! There is lots of contact in basketball, but any kind of punching is out of the question, or is at least called a foul. Some teams do play a very physical brand of ball, with a lot of various kinds of contact. Invariably, if your team is not ready for this, it will throw your game off. You won’t be able to get to spots on the court you want, you won’t be able to be in balance like you are used to, etc. It gets in your head, and soon nothing is working. You lose, even though your team may be better. It’s almost all mental.

So you practice with boxing gloves to learn to handle these physical teams. Totally makes sense. But here is the non-obvious part. This is a sales job. The boxing gloves game isn’t that much like a real game. Conventional wisdom would tell you to line up a physical team to play in the way it will actually happen on the court? First, it’s not that easy to make such a team. The opponents you will face already have the best players who can do this. Second…you need to practice under worse conditions, so that actual game conditions are more tolerable. But do you need boxing gloves to do this? What is the point of big, red, boxing gloves? Here is the kicker, the third and big reason for it: by having played under these worse conditions in a very demonstrative, show business way that’s visually memorable, you have actually become sold yourself that you can work through it and handle it. The purpose is not so much to give you the skill and toughness, but to help you believe you have it. You have the visual mnemonic of all of those guys in red gloves punching you, and you learning to deal with it. You have become sold.

What have you sold yourself on in life? That’s the key to unlocking doors.What are you drifting towards as a result of accepting the sales job that has been done to you, whether by yourself or others?

Reminds me of a great line from an interesting movie about sales.

“There is no such thing as a no-sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way, a sale is made; the only question is who is gonna close? You or him?” – Jim Young (Ben Affleck), Boiler Room

The real “him” is your alter ego. That quiet voice of doubt that comes from your lizard brain wanting to keep risk low, and keep things comfortable. Sounds good enough, but as I have written before, comfort in the now belies the bigger discomfort of the future if you don’t act.

There aren’t many more ways I can think of to say it. Take the shot. You can probably get somewhere good, and you have rebounders around you in case you miss.

 

 

 

 

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Cloudy

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Our moods cloud thinking and judgement. It’s usually somewhat nuanced, but without a doubt we know that certain decisions and reactions are impacted by emotions, which are partially triggered by moods, which are impacted in a variety of ways.

Cloudy days…just don’t feel the same as the bright, sunny days. Our bodies, and ultimately our psyches react to these conditions in ways we don’t fully understand or have control over. Further, moods affect our perception of the relative cloudiness.

It’s possible the tipping point of perception driving an important decision would differ depending on whether it’s cloudy or sunny outside. It has implications into the element of chaos or seeming randomness in everything that happens.

Fascinating how we are cognitively (emotionally…spiritually?) connected to the earth and environment in these ways, and in how much dissonance we produce by ignoring or resisting it.

The Marketing Drug

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Every time I see my dentist he tries to sell me stuff. Various services they provide that will in some way (they claim) improve my life by addressing some shortcoming or concern taking place in my mouth. I never knew my mouth had so many problems!

I’m all for selling people on things that can help them take care, even if they are merely for pleasure or aesthetics (vanity), but like everything else, there can be a tipping point where we sometimes take it too far, or are too manipulative.

It reminds me of how food is marketed. The marketing has become so powerful that some of the people being hurt actually are eager for it to continue. This creates a cultural feedback loop, where some aspire to have these respected marketing jobs, to do more marketing of similar items. It creates a society where the owners and leaders of these companies are celebrated as risk-taking, brave businesspeople, not as the modern robber barons that they’ve become.

The cultural feedback loop can’t be denied. The NAACP, which represents a population that is disproportionately impacted by the health costs these products create is actually allied with marketers in the fight to sell ever more and bigger portions to its constituents.

The crime continues because the money taken by corporations that change our culture is used to fund campaigns that conflate the essential concept of ‘freedom’ with the not-clearly-articulated ‘right’ to respond to marketing and consume stuff in quantities that would have been considered literally insane just three generations ago. And we like it.

[I’ll write the previous paragraph’s point again here to be clear: we’ve decided that consumers ought to have the right be manipulated by marketers. So manipulated that we sacrifice our long-term health in the face of its power.]

We ban accounting that misleads, and we don’t let engineers build bridges that endanger travelers. We monitor effluent for chemicals that can kill us as well. There’s no reason in the world that market-share-fueled marketing ought to be celebrated merely because we enjoy the short-term effects it creates in the moment. Every profession we respect has limits created and enforced by society. These rules make it more likely we don’t race to the bottom as we cut those corners or maximize our profits.

The question is this: are you responsible for the power in your hands? If so, then we need to own the results of our work. If not, someone else needs to step in before it’s too late. No sustainable system can grant power without responsibility.

Just because marketing works doesn’t mean we have an obligation to do it. And if we’re too greedy to stop on our own, then yes, we should be stopped.

And don’t even get me started on the marketing of drugs. The pharmaceutical complex is as out of control as anything humanity has ever witnessed. It’s capitalism, and the battle is to win. At all costs.

 

Reasons or Excuses

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When something goes wrong we quickly build ourselves a narrative about it. The story we tell ourselves isn’t objective, and often doesn’t even mesh with reality in more than a cursory way. Let a little time pass and that story becomes the totality of the event. It includes our interpretation of the circumstances, rationalizations for what we did, how we perceive others behaved or reacted, etc. We develop for ourselves a reason that satisfies our need to make sense of it.

Reasons or excuses? What are they, and what differentiates these emotionally loaded terms? Culturally, reasons feel to us like valid explanations, whereas excuses feel invalid and lacking in accountability.

Let me give you some examples. Common excuses for why restaurants, or other businesses, fail include:

  • Our purveyors were cheating us
  • Our concept was too progressive for the market
  • The market didn’t appreciate good food
  • Our landlord was unreasonable

The list is much longer than these few highlights. There are as many excuses for failure as there are failed businesses. If a person were to take accountability for their decisions and their actions, those excuses could be seen as the real reasons for failure, and they would look more like this:

  • We didn’t know anything about negotiating purchasing, and ended up paying prices we couldn’t afford to pay
  • We didn’t research our market well enough to find out what the market wanted, so we ended up giving them what OUR idea of good food was, not theirs
  • We failed to communicate what made us special compared to the competion, and the market didn’t respond  – or – We didn’t realize that our market doesn’t have the same ability to notice quality that we have, and we were really banking on them realizing our food was better
  • We didn’t negotiate a good lease – or –  we didn’t learn enough about leases going in to be able to effectively negotiate a favorable one

Recognizing the lack of accountability in the first set relative to the second is the easy part. Culturally, we seem to lump excuses into a morally questionable realm, almost as if they are lies. Excuse, by definition, connotes an attempt or request to not be held accountable.

“I was late for class because I was held up by a train.” Assuming the statement is truthful, is it an excuse or a reason? As a statement of fact, it fits with being a reason. If there is an implied request to not be penalized in some way, then it starts to feel like an excuse. The moral attitude (with its limitations) starts to surface here: you should leave in time to allow for being held up by a train. Of course, what if the person did, but the train was unusually long? We don’t have to go far down these technical rabbit holes to see that the language and implied meaning can be broken. Suffice to say that they are contextual and judged in the perception of the speaker and hearer, who are not always on the same page because communicating the nuances thoroughly can be difficult and time consuming, not to mention emotionally taxing under some circumstances. Sometimes one party just doesn’t care enough to worry about it.

“I can’t.”  As I have written before, this is often code for, “I don’t want to enough.” Again, the easy ones are statements such as, “I can’t seem to lose weight,” or “I can’t make it to your important event.” The former feels like an excuse, even though we know there can be very valid reasons. The latter feels like it probably has a reason behind it. Thus is how culture and context drives meaning. The trickiness of the second example is often in the desire not to hurt people’s feelings. We dance around and make excuses, when the cold, hard truth probably is, “I don’t care enough about your event to miss out on the other thing I have to do.” Now it sounds even more like a reason (though not very tactful).

There are some things we simply can’t do in life, but most are choices we make.

“I can’t go out with you because I am already dating someone.” Most would be satisfied that this sounds like a reason, but is its really? The word “can’t” adds a weird layer of a lack of accountability, and therefor moves the statement toward feeling like an excuse, even if it’s deemed to be a valid one.

“I do not want to go out with you because I am already dating someone.” That’s closer to owning the accountability of it.

“I don’t want to go out with you because I believe that the risk of hurting the relationship I am in outweighs what I assess to be a very small chance I would be happier with you.” Or, “I don’t want to go out with you because I don’t feel attracted enough to break a date with this other person I like.”

Do you feel how these are getting uncomfortable? Excuses are often an (empty) attempt to keep comfort in tact by avoiding accountability. Reasons cut to the real truth of the matter.

It could also simply be, “I do not want to go out with you.” Sometimes what gets us into trouble is trying to provide a reason, and usually the reason is where it starts to feel like, and often is, an excuse.

Oh, but there is more.

Truth and trust become important currency when you’re in some type of valued relationship with someone. It’s easy to find ourselves caught between two valid concerns:

  1. I want and need to be honest with this person because…
    •  It seems like the ‘right’ thing to do
    • I want to maintain an assessment of trust;
      • It makes me feel good
      • I hope they will respond in kind
    • I believe it is in their best interest to know the truth
  2. I want to be dishonest with this person because…
    • I want them to feel validated, or not be hurt
    • I want to maintain the good feelings we have between us
    • I want to avoid conflict
    • I don’t want them to negatively assess me (as being rude or insensitive, a jerk, an idiot, etc.)
    • I believe it is in their best interest not to know the truth

You’ll decide to lean more toward one than the other, as conflicted of a choice as it may be. We can weigh it all out and try to do the least worst thing, but so much of what we often choose to do really boils down to our own comfort and desire to be liked.

An additional complexity of either of them is that sometimes the hearer just doesn’t buy it, and will believe you are operating in #2 whether you are or not. Now the speaker has lost the assessment of trust, the hearer is hurt, there are bad feelings, and potentially bad characterizations. Thus is the risk of the dishonest route, or is one of the nasty consequences of a weakness in trust and/or a weakness in the hearer’s self-esteem. It could also just be a misunderstanding or faulty assumption on the part of the hearer. In either case, now the tables are turned (insert dramatic music here). Now it is the hearer who must decide between #1 and #2. He can call out his concern to the speaker, or he can move along quietly with the bad feelings. Let it go, or ferret the truth out of it? Tough choice with the same pitfalls.

So this just turned into a post about how vital communication is between people who care about each other. It’s about how we have to accept the flaws in communication, the mistakes we make, and to a degree even the flaws in each other that lead to these mistakes. We need to give the other person grace, to empathize with how difficult it can be to parse through it all to find the right balance on the continuum between brutal honesty and smarmy validation, or between letting the other person save face versus the value of holding them accountable, all in the unavoidable context of our own comfort.

Is Truth Relative?

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It depends on what you mean by “truth.”

There are only about three possible scenarios for how the universe works.

  1. There is an objective reality that exists, but not one human in all of history has ever witnessed it. Everything, EVERYTHING, is processed through the human system of perception. Our perception is our reality. It has been proven time and time again that our perceptions, and therefore the beliefs that stem from them, are faulty. We are easily fooled or tricked into believing things are real or accurate, when they can be shown not to be. We also have tons of evidence that shows similar individuals in similar circumstances perceive things differently. They may resemble reality to some extent, but there are many – perhaps an unknowable number of – flaws or discrepancies between what we see and believe is going on and the way the world “is,” versus the objective reality that may actually exist.
  2. There is no objective reality at all. There is merely the sum of our thoughts and beliefs, and all that we invent therein, which add up to something that seems objectively real to us. Taken to the extreme, this theory goes toward painting us as ‘only’ a consciousness. Seems far-fetched to me, but we have to admit it is possible.
  3. There are many objective realities. Each one existing in its own universe, with its own history and distinctiveness. There is evidence to support that these different universes occupy the same space, but are simply out of phase with each other in a way that allows them to overlap without interacting. In any case, the embodied consciousnesses that occupy each one of those may or may not be able to process their relative realities the way they actually are. Certainly, in the universe where we exist, there is ample evidence to show that we at best perceive a facsimile of our surrounding reality.  See #1.

So, truth? Yeah, my truth and your truth can be a bit different. Or a lot different. The answer to this is almost certainly not knowable by man, at least until maybe we might possibly someday transcend into some other, much more enlightened state.

What do we do about it? Nothing. As far as my perception can tell, we can’t do a bloody thing, and the exercise itself is nearly pointless. We have the lives we have and the perceptions we own that go along with them. That is the reality we must work within. We simply have to do the best we can there, because anything else would appear to defeat any possible purpose or joy in life for us. And it wouldn’t do any good anyway.

But, be mindful of what this normally concrete term really implies. Your truth, no matter how iron-clad it may seem to you, is absolutely faulty (i.e. wrong) in some ways. May we all learn to operate within the humility of that reality. Minimally that means being cautious about what you think, feel, believe, and remember. More profoundly it means questioning it down to the core of who you think you are, and why you are that way. These are extremely tough questions to genuinely grapple with, in part because it’s all tied up in perception and our programming. Any conclusions you may come to are suspect.

Since it’s not really knowable, does that mean that we’re just as well off with whatever makes us feel good? Probably. And that’s awesome for those who don’t get wrapped up in the doubts or can just feel good enough about whatever they believe. Some people are naturally able to hold their beliefs in a way that to them seems nearly iron clad. What is the answer for those who don’t? Modify our beliefs? Yeah, how exactly does one go about that without some satisfying justification (i.e. compelling evidence)?

How do you convince yourself? I asked a qualified friend once if hypnotism works. Her answer (paraphrased): “It can if you believe it.”

Damn.

 

 

 

More Perspective

 

Is perspective something you can have more of?

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The seventh post ever penned in this blog dates back to a time when it seemed the message could be powerful and clear enough when presented succinctly. It was about perspective. As with this one, and some others, it highlights that seeing things differently is at once something we understand, but don’t always really get. Thus the decisions others make sometimes seem like major head-scratchers to us.

One man’s junk is another’s statement. One man’s friend is another’s enemy, one’s debilitating frustration, another’s challenge, one’s psycho-bitch girlfriend another’s soul-mate, one’s insensitive asshole another’s hope for change and progress, and one man’s moral corruption another’s necessity.

There are very few bad people in the world. There are plenty of people who don’t see and process the world the way you do. How hard is it really to put yourself in another’s shoes and genuinely try to understand their perspective? When the distance between our sensibilities seems far enough apart, the effort wanes because we don’t perceive a compelling need to do it. We have enough people around us who are like us that we feel validated; it rarely even occurs to us that those other weirdos (assholes) are like us in some other, maybe not as easy to identify ways.

We can accept it academically. But add a feeling that they want something of mine, and now it’s a big problem.

Our perception is our reality, until we stop long enough to realize it’s all just perception.

 

Religion’s Social Reinforcement

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Once culture or set of behaviors becomes intertwined with our lives for a period of time its distinctiveness fades. In the United States, religion is a part of our way of life. While some have argued that Christianity is the national faith, and others that church and synagogue celebrate only the generalized religion of “the American Way of Life,” only recently have many realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America.

We celebrate some religiously based holidays in an official (governmental) capacity. Many of us share some fundamental beliefs and values in terms of how our society is organized and operated. They are based on, parallel to, but independent of the the theological tenets of each specific denomination or religious belief. This dates back to the early notions of the nation as religiously diverse by design (free from religious tyranny), but while not being too overtly biased in any one tradition, it clearly was based primarily on the Protestant ethos and set of values.

So here we are, a religious country that while presumably based on freedom of religion, doesn’t necessarily subscribe to freedom from religion, and certainly doesn’t appear to honor its own tenet of separation of church and state. (All of which varies somewhat according to your geographic location in the country.) This produces a bias worth briefly pointing out.

  1. Religious Bias – If your chosen set of beliefs happen to align well with the Protestant framework the country and society was built upon, you have it easy. Things invisibly make sense to you, and you probably don’t even see how biased and gamed it all is. Of course, if you happen to be of some other religion, lots of things stick out and seem to fall somewhere on the continuum from weird to downright unfair or discriminatory.
  2. Anti Religious Bias – In recent decades the pendulum has swung more towards an increasingly forceful resistance to all things in our culture that reek of being driven from a religious notion. The divide has widened. It has at times appeared to reach a point of near irrationality. Unfortunately, the baby sometimes gets thrown out with the bathwater here. There is a history of statesmen who happen to fit well within this parallel civil religious state, but who are great and effective leaders first and foremost. They can get tossed aside, which seems to leave even more room for the more dogmatic to get their voices heard and rise into a consciousness of a generation that otherwise would have recognized them as extreme.

Certainly the chasm between the different religious groups, not to mention those who do not believe in anything religious being part of our government, stands in stark relief these days, largely due to our ability to consume the media that paints these pictures. Often people on or near the fence are pushed away in the crossfire.

Perhaps we would be better off it it wasn’t so blatant. Things would be a little less cozy and comfortable for those who’s values align with the prevailing values of the society we have now, but if the overall populace were more validated and respected, the chasm could close. I argue that if we’re smart, in a rising tide lifting all boats way, the WASP’s would proactively give up the bias to help produce an environment of better dialog and growth. This is one where meeting half way may not be enough. Things have been too skewed for too long, and aside from arguably not being right, it’s obviously just not going to work effectively anymore.

Civil religion (“civility” being the operative concept) can be a great way to build a society, but in order to work it must walk a well thought-out line between being too biased towards one group versus being too watered down to be meaningful. That’s a big challenge for some capable leadership. Without it, things will continue to degrade.

Ominous.

 



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