Archive | December 2013

Everybody has a plan…until they get hit

People often think they’ll keep it together in a disaster. Power fantasies typically revolve around that. People go through all the ways where they can be the heroes or rational ones. In my experience, though, that’s not how things usually go. You never know who’s going to cry on you or hold steady. You might think it’s the cocky ones who will be okay, or maybe the ’strong, silent’ ones. But you don’t really know until you’re in the situation, which, as you might surmise, often is too late.

There was a recent article called “5 Beliefs About Surviving a Disaster (That Can Kill You)” (link). I loved Cracked, as most know. Normally I just share the link and move on, but this one I actually had some personal experience with, so I wanted to indirectly flout how awesome I am by giving some commentary to the whole mess. Because, blog.

So, *ahem*, away we go.

The article breaks down some good examples of how movies, our egos and actual biology tend to royally mess with our abilities to rationally react and survive extreme situations. From higher brain functions shutting down in the face of the ‘fight or flight’ reflex (link), to movies giving us the idea that things will go a certain way (link), we are generally screwed in regards to our fantasies of averting or thriving in disastrous circumstances. It’s why when disasters actually happen (or even when encountering a jarring situation like running into a celebrity), most of us are reduced to quivering, whimpering mutes.

Two points from the article in particular: “Our brains won’t work the way we think they will” and “When our brains are working, they can make things worse” are particularly telling for people who have been through mildly to severely life-threatening situations.

Namely, people aren’t rational in extreme situations. They do crazy things and have crazy ideas. The body goes through intense and bizarre chemical and physiological changes in efforts to survive. In the article, they cite instances where hypothermic people try and take their clothes off because they feel hot, or how panicking scuba divers might take their regulators out of their mouths in order to try and breathe more easily.

I can attest to that last one.

I was diving down in the Galapagos Islands a couple of years ago. I was having trouble sinking (exhaling every ounce of air in my lungs and kicking to get below the water). I kept bobbing up to the surface with each breath from my tank. Well, I did finally make it down to the sea floor, but at that point I was hyperventilating. The constant inhaling and exhaling overtaxed my regulator. That meant it wasn’t giving me enough air, which compounded the problem. It felt like I had just sprinted 400 meters and I was breathing through a towel. Panic began to set in. I couldn’t breathe. Everything in me screamed to rip out my mouthpiece and gasp for air…while 50 feet under water. That wouldn’t have been optimal.

Spoiler alert, I survived. I was able to calm myself down and push through the overwhelming fear.

Now I’m a billion miles from being some Matrix Neo or Jason Bourne type. However, I have been in fights. I have had some good beat downs. I know the exhaustion, the clumsiness, the pain, the adrenaline rush, the heightening of the senses. I also trained for and went to war–even had a couple of moments while on mission where I wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out.

I did well in those times. I was steady as a stone.

For the fun that the Cracked article pokes at people in dire circumstances, there is hope to keep one’s head. Even when faced with overwhelming and terrifying circumstances, the human spirit is pretty resilient. It takes a quiet ego and some exercises to keep from panicking, but people can overcome quite a lot.

Also helped that I was cool with the baby Jesus.


You’re unique…like everybody else

I get a chuckle out of hearing people complain about certain things.

Take the weather. People everywhere complain about the weather. At the very least, it gives us something to talk about (especially if we’re not sports people). So thanks for that, weather. However, I’ve noticed some patterns about people’s complaints.

People tend to think their weather is the craziest. Sure, sure, weather elsewhere might be colder or warmer, but the weather HERE is variable and crazy! I mean it was just X degrees X days ago! I’ve heard the same joke in nearly every region I’ve lived in or visited.

“Don’t like the weather in Boulder? Wait five minutes.” *Laugh laugh laugh*

“Don’t like the weather in Portland? Wait five minutes.” *Laugh laugh laugh*

“Don’t like the weather in Raleigh? Wait five minutes.” *Laugh laugh laugh*

Well, it turns out weather is crazy most places. God doesn’t have it out against your zip code. Some days it’s going to be sunny/rainy and warm/cold…then this thing called a weather front comes in and stuff changes. Nuts, right?

Same with drivers.

“Oh well you know how San Antonio drivers are!”

“D.C. drivers are the absolute worst!”

“We have the craziest drivers in L.A., bar none!”

First, I’ve been in Tokyo and Baghdad traffic, American driving is actually pretty tepid. Second, I’m coming to realize people are just terrible drivers all around.

Whether I’m at a restaurant, airport, DMV line, grocery store line or even church…I often hear someone recounting their day.

“You don’t even know how bad it is.”

“I can’t believe this is happening to me.”

“Surely this is the worst day ever.”

Well, you might be surprised. Statistically, several thousand people probably are having the exact same sort of day you are having, from spilled coffee, to recent breakup, to traffic, to baby-mama drama or whatever (and avoiding any of the normal #firstworldproblems snark). I always got a kick out of the saying “You’re one in a million. That means in China there are 1,000 people just like you.”

Sometimes I think we become enamored with our circumstance and think we’re all alone, with no one who can relate. And sometimes I think we let our perspectives reinforce that isolation and perceived lack of commonalities.

It’s crap. For all the times I’ve clung to being miserable and alone, when I do finally break down and let people in, not only do I find many have gone through similar things, but that even people who haven’t often give wise advice anyway. I find that my own mindset has been limiting how I’ve seen things. My own mindset even affects how much I can learn from the wisdom of other people.

Take dating, even.

I visit with single friends in New York City, and you know what I’ve been told? “It’s hard to find decent people to date in New York.” Geez, really? NYC? Hard to find ‘good’ people to date? That place is supposedly filled with the stuff of legends, from a single’s perspective. I lived in D.C. for a while and even I said, “It’s hard to find decent people to date in D.C.” With all the embassies, government goings on, plays, music venues and professionals…no good ones around, huh? Same when I visited L.A., “It’s hard to find decent people to date in L.A.”

On and on, even in Belgium, even as a surfing instructor, while deployed, on dating sites, wherever…apparently everyplace sucks and if only we could live in someplace else that wasn’t anywhere, then we’d have a better shot at being happy…or having better weather…or being around better drivers.

Again, all crap. Got to attend to your mindset.

In the case of drivers, we just need to calm down. In the case of weather, we just need to own a coat.

In the case of dating and relationships, we need to reexamine our patterns. Where do we go to meet people? Do we go out to meet people? Is our body language closed or open? Do we stare at the floor or do we meet others’ gazes? Would we strike up a conversation with someone in a grocery store line? How about at the movies? If we want more culture, do we seek out culture? If we want more intellectually-stimulating people, do we go to stuff like lectures? (I didn’t fully intend on this becoming a dating-advice article, but I’ll stick with it.)

The point is our mindset is the key to most of our contentment. Better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable, you know?

Those morning people, who bound out in the early hours with the enthusiasm that makes you want to choke someone? Mindset. The person who stays patient and considerate, and then you find their wife just left, their car broke down and their job evaporated? Mindset.

Don’t be a lobotomized drone. It’s good to share pain, vent and be genuine with others. But don’t count out the power of rising above the normal craziness to try and get a larger perspective on stuff, either.

My friend shared a quote from a friend of his who passed away recently: “That’s the thing about sitting in your own shit: It’s warm and it’s yours, but you gotta get out of it sometime.”


Sometimes, let people be wrong

We poke fun at people with OCD tendencies—people who can’t let desk items lie crooked, who must break to an even dollar amount at the gas pump—that sort of thing. But I think most of us suffer from OCD tendencies when letting people be mistaken or incorrect, in our opinion.

I’m talking about seeing things on the Internet, Facebook or whatever. It could be a story, a meme, a shared post, whatever. It might be a forwarded email, or a story from a friend, even a their/they’re/there or your/you’re mixup…who knows? If it’s wrong and we know it, there’s something in us the springs to life, pushing us to go out of our way to correct the bad information.

Even if we don’t know the person, most of us, at some point or another, have inserted ourselves into a conversation or situation and have offered a corrective bit of information.

“Hello, I’m Josh, you don’t know me, but actually the thing is this.…”

And of course this normally changes people’s lives and everyone is a richer person for the experience. Yeah…

I remember as a college student there was a friend from the speech and debate team—maybe it was some other group, I don’t remember. Anyway, it was a group that focused on delivering speeches and/or arguments. His particular story was this 10 minute narration where recently (at the time), a liberal college professor and retinue came into a restaurant carrying a bunch of anti Iraq-war signs. They gave the wait staff a hard time about their rights or something. Then a veteran stood up, gave a speech of his own, and paid for the anti-war people’s dinner. The other restaurant patrons applauded. Cue curtain.

It was a moving account. I was impressed by the story. Later I found out it was a chain letter from the Vietnam-era, repurposed to fit in with the post-9/11 Iraq war. Found a page online, where the word-for-word narration existed, supposedly from the 70s. Even the old letter was shown to be a falsehood—an urban legend. I, of course, sprung to action, trying to let people know about it around campus.

They didn’t really want to know it wasn’t true. I was politely told to drop it through their apathy. Nobody likes a know-it-all after all, right?

Later as a journalism student, one of my professors told this story about her great aunt having a cactus that exploded from all of these hatching spider eggs inside, covering her apartment with baby spiders. Turns out that one was false too, and you can find version of it happening to bananas or cacti all over the web.

On and on, through the years I’ve noticed as we push out forwarded emails and memes and whatever scraps of interesting or emotional content we can. We gorge ourselves on it, passing it along through our social channels with all the strain and effort of a mouse click.

The bummer, though, is we often don’t care about facts. Sharing is so easy that looking something up to verify it is too much work. Remember your first smart phone? You’d look up anything, map anything, figure out anything. Now? Six smartphones on a dinner table and no one wants to see what other movie that person was in. Meh. We’ll live.

Moreover, we often don’t care if it’s true. We love it if it bashes our political enemies, or adds to our existing prejudices against our target skin tones, but we don’t ever seem to think we should take responsibility for the stuff we post, especially if it’s just being funny. That’s another blog post, though.

And of course, as in years past, when finding myself on the “I’m right” end of something, I would spring to action, listing the or Wikipedia article that stepped through the cited ways the suspect information was suspect. Can’t let that stand, can I? People like me have to maintain the standard, or whatever the hell I’m doing.

But as I see the same sorts of things posted year after year, and I wear myself out, I’ve noticed a few things.

One, who am I to think I’m always the right one? Geez.

Two, it’s not by job to get people to change. I can encourage them to think for themselves, but I can’t make them if they’re the type of person who constantly falls for bad info.

Three, some people don’t want to be correct, they just want to be heard (Proverbs 18:2, all day…)

With this third point, it took me a while to come to terms. My OCD tendencies of trying to be right—or at least trying to keep others from being wrong, tied me to a heavy burden of constant vigil.

Partly, I would like to think it’s a vigil of concern and empathy—I’ve been duped before into believing something sent to me—sent out into the world to try and get something done concerning an issue, only to find out I was the victim of some 40-year-old chain letter prank. This supposed vigil tried to stop that from happening to others.

However, more to the point, often it was a vigil of pride. Especially in the case where I don’t know the ‘offending parties,’ going out of my way on something like Facebook to start to argue with a stranger is egotistical and prideful.

If I know the person, if I have an actual relationship…great, maybe I can gracefully bring something up if it’s a problem. It is good to stand up for what is right, after all. And in the case of hateful, sexist, bigoted or racist stuff–yes I’m going to keep standing up and speaking out. But for most of this vapid stuff, what’s the fuss? So, I’ve tried not to be johnny-on-the-spot with debunking links.

And that’s where I’ve noticed the OCD ticks. I’ll see a gimmick, meme, or vitriolic rant on a blog or social media channel, and I’ll let it go. Well, I’ll TRY to let it go. At first it was impossible. Now, it’s easier. Soon, I hope to live a more peaceful life, not as outraged or put off by crazy people’s prattling.

And in so doing, I’ll be adding less crazy prattle to the world as well.


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