Archive | November 2014

Cynicism is my only refuge

The Alex From Target hoax hoax and Syrian Hero Boy hoax join a towering pile of examples of times I’ve been duped.

I’ve always been gullible. Kids would make up stuff or one-up my stories. I didn’t know enough to know they were lying. There I’d sit, defeated and sullen, having been out-foxed in the churning social proofing of childhood.

As I got older, my inept attempts at trickery continued.

In college, I helped form the company Flannel and intended on joining it full time when I graduated the following year. All was good, even up until I moved up to Grand Rapids–whoops! Just kidding. No job. Things changed. Sorry.

When I looked into joining the military, my recruiters spun quite a story of how I needed to ship within 10 days to take a job as a print journalist. Only general’s sons or diplomat’s nephews got great jobs like this, they said while I stood at MEPS, going through my physicals to potentially become an officer. If I didn’t say yes in the next 15 minutes to enlist and ship within 10 days, I would never see the same opportunity again, they said. I had to act right then for an adventure of a lifetime, they said. Of course I know now it was a pile of lies. They were enlisted recruiters who just lost a delayed-entry program recruit. They needed my high test scores to fill the empty slot and save their monthly quotas. “Duh!” you might say. Well why would I think uniformed dudes lied to recruits? They were heroes, right?

When I posted an ad to sell my laptop right before basic training, a scammer created a very good forged cashier’s check (the FBI was impressed, at least) and got me for $3,000. Tough luck. Too trusting.

I’ve had my identity stolen four times–most recently a couple of months ago by thieves from the UK who cleaned out my bank accounts.

It extends to the Internet. I believe all sorts of stuff.

I believed Y2K was going to shut down the power grid. I saw Blair Witch Project in the first week of its release and was fooled with others in thinking it was real. My first Nigerian Email scammer had my attention (thankfully I didn’t go through with anything). I believed a lot of those forwarded emails about HIV needles or anti-war liberals spitting on veterans. I clicked on one of those “you have a virus” windows that looked like a system message that turned out to be a virus itself. I thought the $250 Neiman Markus cookie recipe was legit.

I believed Lonelygirl15. I thought a kid got picked up by an eagle. I thought the twerking girl on fire was real. I thought Elen Gale and his Diane in 7A thing was real.

And don’t get me started on the media.

I can’t believe anything anymore.

I’m for seriouses. Every story that causes an emotional connection, I have to stop and think “Wait…is this total BS?” Kid with cancer, Girl Scout cookies, guy saves kitten…”Is this made up? Who profits from this? Who gets attention?” Trolls have had their way with me too many times.

Which is the point of trolling, I realize. Any time they can get you to think of them getting one over on you, they earn troll karma toward their mansion in troll heaven or something. I don’t let myself get drawn into arguments by trolls–that’s easy–but subtle fabrications are much harder to spot because we want to believe in the goodness of others or interesting and unique stories.

The over-the-top stuff is pretty easy to find and discount. Well, it’s usually easy. Well, I’ll say it’s usually easy for me. Unfortunately I see many of my friends and family posting and re-posting fabrications and lies–sometimes from years ago.

And in the past I rushed to point out how a story is fake or lying or misrepresented. I’ll keep any snark out of it and will gently include a link so they can read how the information is false, outright racist or colored with exaggerations.

But I would see people react. They would take umbrage and even defend the obviously faulty info. They had taken my response as me correcting them. They had taken it personally.

Look, I’ve been trolled all my life! I am passionate about helping others avoid the embarrassment and violation that comes from being trolled. When I point out something is false or someone is mistaken, it honestly isn’t because I get some sort of pleasure from being right or the know-it-all. Who want’s to be that jackass? No, I truly want my friends and loved ones to elevate above the misinformation and live their days more informed.

But it doesn’t stop–it never can. So long as some people know they can scream “fire” and get reactions out of people, they will. And enough times people who go along with trolls will say “I don’t care” and post the misleading stuff anyway.

I suppose cynicism is the only option, then? I’d rather it not be, but it’s a lesson I learned in journalism. Don’t trust anybody. Don’t trust anything. Confirm it with a few sources, then maybe…just maybe, it might be true.

But even then, who knows? What does this person have to gain from posting this?

A video of cute kittens, eh? You sure they’re not Photoshopped? What’s your angle?


But seriously, we need to take control of our misery

Life will regularly piss all over your breakfast. It is a fickle jerk. Bad things will regularly happen. That is the constant. But I choose to be Sam Jackson about it all and pull out my wallet (you know which one).

How so? I try to stay unshaken. I’m ready for what’s next. I’m willing to shape my responses to sources of stress and anger. Diffusing those sources is key. I don’t always do it, but trying is a big deal for me.

A friend recently asked his people on Facebook whether or not they were happy with their jobs. I did some thinking on that. Happy, huh? I asked myself what that meant. I tried to measure out what might make someone happy. I read through the comments.

People self-reported happiness for different reasons. Some kept work and life different and said they were or were not happy. Some saw work and life as united and said they were or were not happy.

It reminded me of a story I read some years ago that asked: “Are parents happier than non-parents?” There are dozens of these stories out there.

For a long time, the theory has been that no, parents are not happier (though new data challenges some of that). They say they are happier–they self-report higher levels of happiness. But when it comes to documenting how many times per month parents feel overwhelmed, angry, stressed and “trapped”, non-parents are much less likely to exhibit these signs. Yet non-parents self report lower levels of happiness. Strange.

Are parents deluding themselves? Are non-parents unappreciative of their lack of life stress?

Probably a little of both (though saying ‘deluding’ is a bit cynical).

I would say they, having experienced parenthood, are better at choosing their dispositions. Feeling stressed is a choice. How we respond to life is our choosing. Non-parents really do lack perspective in that respect.

I’ve been all over the world. For vacation, for work, for war–all over. I’ve met models, diplomats, movie stars, ambassadors, janitors, surf instructors, soldiers, Olympians and bartenders. I’ve been on the dating scene for half my life and have seen dynamics play out in that realm as well.

You know what I’ve noticed? Living in Fiji, being paid to take people scuba diving, there are miserable people…and there are happy people. At VIP parties in Vegas, the same. At ski resorts in Colorado, the same. Sipping beer in Brussels, the same. Riding in the back of a Bradley in Iraq, the same. Picking up trash around headquarters, the same.

People in New York City “There’s no one here to date.” People in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, “There is no one here to date.” People in San Antonio, “I’m over this place, there’s nothing to do here.” People in Chicago, “I’m over this place, there’s nothing to do here.”

Everywhere, people are happy or sad, stressed or relaxed, regardless of circumstances. I’ve met dirt-poor people in Nicaragua who were beaming with such pride and happiness, they had far more than I did. I’ve met millionaires who were so lonely that they said the random conversation with me at a party was a highlight of their day.

Yeah yeah. We’ve heard this sort of platitudinous tripe before right? Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems, right?

Well, it’s worth saying yet again, because we forget. We have enormous power to be happier people right now. In our moment-to-moment decisions.

We can choose to be happy or sad (or at least get help when our bodies lead us into fits of depression).

When thieves recently compromised my bank accounts and stole all of my money, I had a choice. I could stress out or stay calm.

Action is separate. Action is unmoved by disposition. Me acting–freezing my accounts, filing the right claims and going through the laborious process of rebuilding my compromised identity–all of that would happen or not happen regardless of how I felt about it.

Being stressed had no influence on the course of action I had to take. So I chose not to be stressed. My friends were angrier about it than I was.

In war it was the same thing. There were a couple of moments where I wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out. I chose not to be stressed. Collapsing into a sobbing heap of tears wasn’t going to stop the IED from detonating, or the guy with the AK from lifting it to fire. I chose not to be stressed.

It’s tremendously liberating, actually. I’ve been scammed, physically threatened, screamed at, been called a coward, had my God insulted, had my political dispositions vilified…experienced all manner of hate and wrath directed toward me.

And I choose to not be stressed.

Just like that.


The veteran’s burden of thanks

Light. It’s a light burden, really–letting someone thank you. Any objection starts and stops at the fact that a ‘thank you’ is meant with good intentions. You shut up and thank them right back.

But for many, it’s often still there–that lingering unease at being celebrated.

There have been dozens of articles written, songs penned and YouTube videos produced on the “Don’t call me a hero” vibe from veterans.

Some veterans want others included like firemen and police officers, teachers and other public servants.

Some veterans perhaps are refusing out of a sense of false modesty. “No no, I could never accept this honor…Well, okay, if you insist!”

Some veterans realize that, while a noble act, uniformed service shouldn’t bring an expectation of being worshiped.

Some veterans try and educate the public on the difference between–say, me (a POG-ass leg print journalist in Iraq)–and a Medal of Honor recipient, in regards to the ‘hero’ label.

Some veterans take advantage of the celebrations. They flash their status and expect free first class plane tickets. The worst (or their spouses or well-meaning patriots) inadvertently push for societal changes toward a warrior-caste system, where veterans get most things for free. To them, life for vets should be rent free, with free cars and health care and free college education because they “fought for your freedoms.”

Some veterans don’t talk about their service much. For them, it’s like being someone who really isn’t in to birthdays. Sure enough, someone will find out and make a big deal about it, and they have to go along with it or look like an ungrateful jerk.

And just like birthday people who can’t fathom how people might not be into birthdays, some wonder why vets might not want to talk about their service. It could be a bunch of reasons.

For all but the most psychotic, war isn’t fun. There are surges of excitement that we cling to and talk about–those “What a rush!” moments that are romanticized in every action movie ever made. But war is hell. War destroys. War is brutal. War is destruction.

Some veterans feel guilty. The richest nation bombs poor nations and calls it ‘defense.’ They are torn between their spiritual or moral convictions, seeing the day-to-day anguish of the brutalized civilians and the giddiness of the American public for having done it.

Some veterans are angry. They have lost friends–best friends, loved ones–and every “thank you for your service” immediately takes them back to that ambush or long tension of despair.

And at the same time, veterans don’t want to be handled with kid gloves. No, we’re not all about to collapse from depression. No, we’re not all on the ragged edge of violence because of PTSD.

And again at the same time, there is indeed a veteran homelessness problem. There is a veteran unemployment problem. There are the normal maladjustment periods when returning home. There are tons of divorces. There are too many suicides. There are issues that are overlooked.

There is also the comparison to the WWII and Vietnam generation. WWII vets grew up in the Depression, fought a war, came home and built America. Vietnam vets were shunned and left to suffer alone. But they didn’t cry about it, right? Not like these mewing, whining Facebook attention-seeking sycophants these days who have the GI Bill, parades and Budweiser Super-Bowl commercials dedicated to them, right? There’s an idea that any public discussion of any burdens is a sign of weakness. “Others before you did just fine. What’s your problem?”

For me, keeping all of these facets in mind is what is draining. There is a pride that goes along with the repercussions of service, but veterans are people–not demigods. Veterans’ reactions to complicated situations are varied and complicated.

There is no question that we should honor people who fight for ideals of justice and freedom. The majority of those who join up do so for noble reasons, and fight alongside their brothers and sisters in arms with valor. It is above and beyond what most do.

So, again, it’s a light burden, really–the cacophony of thank yous, the free meals, the discounts and the handshakes. All of the swirling behind-the-scene drama can be put away, because the co-worker or the parent or the teacher who says “thank you” just means it as that.


I was bullied; I was a bully; I was something worse

We are all familiar with bullies and those who are bullied. There’s this mantra of ‘you gotta be a sheep or a wolf’ that gets applied to life. Either you get out there and take what you want, or you’re beholden to those who do.

But there’s another, more sinister mindset in life. It’s the lukewarm bully–the ‘almost bullied/almost bully’ opportunist. I find them to be the most destructive.

These people will happily avoid stress/danger themselves, but will grief others when they perceive a weakness. These people will tear down and be a critic before creating or being an author of anything. They will sit by and watch something burn, rather than do anything. Not their problem. There are professionals for that, right?

What makes the lukewarm bully worse is he can choose to not be that way. He’s almost a full-on bully, but you can avoid those–you can fight those. A lukewarm bully might be your friend at first, but then sell you out when the opportunity presents itself.

I’ve been that type of person.

I was bulled, teased and pushed around as a kid.

Partly it was because I was small. Partly it was because I moved every few years. It was hard to fit in.

There were also a couple of times when I became the bully. Once in 1st grade and once in 3rd, I saw a ‘weaker’ kid and took advantage of the situation.

In 1st grade, I picked on a kid who seemed a bit simple–wrote on his books and poked fun at him. There was this little blonde girl I sat with who pushed us to do more–write on his arm or take stuff from his lunch. I remember feeling empowered that I wasn’t the one being laughed at–not this time. It was fun until the teacher found out. I felt pretty bad after that, but more because I was caught than the harm I did the kid.

In 3rd grade, I remember taking cues from the denim-jacket-wearing, mullet-haired jerk that tormented me. I pushed another kid around. I got caught and sent to detention (or time out or whatever they did at my school). The mullet bully came by after class and was all thumbs up to me. We were in some sort of club, getting in trouble.

I felt shame for pushing around the kid. I think I finally empathized. I didn’t want to physically lash out after that.

Steering clear of my bullying ways was helped by the fact that I stayed pretty small, physically. Other kids beefed up and got some weight on them, making any physical confrontation a pretty quick loss for me.

Falling behind on that, I tried to keep pace with the latest put downs and friendships that could stave off the teasing, but I wasn’t doing myself any favors.

It didn’t help that I hung out with Cody at recess. He was weird and usually played off alone. But we started chatting. He was into some cool stuff. We reenacted Civil War battles with metal soldiers I had from a family trip to Gettysburg. He knew a lot of stuff about Antietam and Bull Run (I was more of a WWII kid) and could map out where I was supposed to put my gray guys (he was always Union).

It didn’t help that I would act out my daydreams, making pew-pew sounds at imaginary robots or bad guys as I pictured saving the day in one way or another. I would snap out of my daydreams to see some of the kids laughing at me–especially Kristin, the girl who went around and kicked boys in the groin, laughing because boys weren’t allowed to hit girls back.

It didn’t help that I was friends with Jason (was it Jason?). He was so friendly–his parents were so welcoming when I’d come over. He was happy to have a friend and so was I. He was a little different but we got along great. His little brother had leg braces. I noticed people made fun of him and his brother even more than me. In fact, I was getting teased more for being friends with guys like him and Cody a lot.

So while I didn’t physically bully any more kids, I shifted, but became a lukewarm bully.

I stopped being friends with them, bluntly and curtly as a 4th or 5th grader can be. Jason cried and cried. Cody just went back to playing by himself.

The teasing subsided for a little while. I had to watch what I did–how I dressed, how I acted. I learned to not talk about the movies I liked, or the fact I played computer games. Going into middle school and then high school, I navigated around the minefield of childhood popularity, shutting up and being whatever I needed to be.

Now through it all, being a lukewarm bully meant I was never really popular either. I knew to shun and avoid the real losers, but I wasn’t assertive or cut-throat enough to make it with the alpha types. I was a fringe kid–not the weakest who was incessantly beat up and shouted at, but not the favored one who was in the popular crowds.

I wasn’t invited to any parties or elected to anything special, but I also wasn’t pushed around as much (still happened…kids are wonderful cherubs). I learned to mold myself into a somewhat funny, somewhat awkward, like-able guy. No dates, but no punches to the gut.

Middle of the road. Not making waves. Sometimes joining in on whatever others did. Adam was weird, nobody liked him. That girl did have wrinkly skin on her hands. Like a lizard! Haha!

I didn’t stand up for kids who were being tormented. Better them than me. Sure, Chris and I were both incessantly teased at gym–him for being a little off (probably Autistic) and me for being skinny and pasty white (“Why you so white, white boy?” the girls would ask and laugh). But the girls would just tease and tease and tease poor Chris. I would get by with a couple of shoves and jokes in the locker room about my underwear (“Haha, no boxers? What a fagot! Haha!”). Good enough.

Chris hanged himself. Suicide note said it was because of the mean people. But better him than me, right? I remember when they announced it in school. I had two of the same girls in my Social Studies class at the time. “Dumbass,” they joked of the dead.

I knew not to make a scene.

I had been disenfranchised, but had climbed up a few rungs. Things weren’t great, but things weren’t terrible. And I was damned if I was going to be friends with someone weaker and lose what little I had.

I went along with people. I went along with things. Jumped in now and then. I followed. Anything to keep the teasing and ridicule down.

It was better to let the wolves feast on someone else. I didn’t have to be the fastest, just not the slowest, right?

To Jason, Cody, Adam, Jackie, Chris, Mike and the others. I’m sorry.


Two ears yet stone deaf: When no one listens

Through my many thousands of years of life, I’ve discovered that people don’t read long emails. They used to, back in the Hasmonean dynasty. Had all day to read emails then…all day. But not so much anymore.

Through these same thousands of years of life, I’ve discovered that people don’t read short emails either.

Pretty much, I’ve found that most people don’t pay attention to most things.

I’m sometimes squarely in that camp too. I’ll push on pull doors and ask a cashier a question, to have him or her point to the big, bold sign right in front of me. Duh!

So I’m one of “these people” too.

I’m not always oblivious–and I think that’s the differentiating factor–that some people are regularly like this more often than not.

But we’re still clueless. We’ll still inadvertently cut someone off in traffic. We’ll still bump into someone in the aisle of the grocery store.

“Sorry!” (not sorry, I didn’t see you, but lol whatevs!) I wrote a previous blog post about going from the military, where you were trained to notice as much as possible, to civilian life, where its people lost in themselves, all the time.

It seems to be a normal thing to walk around in various states of daze.

Where it’s really frustrating is in business.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve crafted a great response to a problem, laid it out in careful bullet points, keeping things at an 8th grade reading level…and nothing. First question the audience will respond with is answered in the first three paragraphs.

And even with short responses–where I give a flat “no” or “yes” or whatever. Responses will come in that obviously didn’t notice I said anything.

“But what about…”

“We’ve covered that.”

“I didn’t see where…”

“It’s on page one.”

“I don’t think you considered this…”

“Umm…Are you in the right meeting?”

Reminds me of this Google video–the one where the group leader says they’re done, but everyone keeps trying to meet again because they think they should.

It’s maddening to feel like conversations and meetings are only a carousel of turns making noise.

In the most extreme circumstances of yesteryear, I’ve even taken to repeating the same sentence, but with different intonations, so it sounds like I’m making different points.

Eventually, someone will key in to what I’m saying and genuinely respond.

I feel like we all generally just suck at listening. We don’t know what it is to hear people. We have our way and we want it done that way, and we don’t hear thing else.

Ultimately it’s dehumanizing to others to feel like nothing they put forward is heard or taken in at least for tepid consideration.

So it can start with me. I’ll try and be a more attentive listener. I’ll try more often to know where I’m walking, where I’m directing my critiques or praises, what areas of discussion have already been covered…

I’ll still forget my keys and push on pull doors every few minutes, but we’re going for progress, not perfection, right?

Holla back!


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