Archive by Author | salemonz

You’re predictable when you’re angry

Don’t you find it interesting how incensed we were about Ebola, but now…nothing? How, a few weeks ago, we were in hysterics about the border situation, but now there’s no mention? No crowds of people cursing at refugee children to go home? Or are they still there (the children or the protesters)? Do we care?

Remember other topics that caused consternation? The government shutdown (which one, right?)? The latte salute? The Congressional Science and Technology Committee member’s view about ‘legitimate rape’ and birth control? Remember how school shootings are happening all the time? Remember how SARS was going to kill us all? Remember the Darfur crisis? How Rolling Stone put the Boston Bomber on the cover? Hell–remember Elián González? Remember Bush’s faked National Guard records? Remember all the outrage? Aren’t you still outraged? Aren’t you still angry angry angry?

If I had time, I would start a project.

This project would be a website.

This website would catalog what my friends (and friends of friends) talked about on social media channels. Maybe I’d finally get to make a useful tag cloud. There would be summaries of both sides of the debates.

It would rank the most heated and debated topics in an effort to capture what was on the minds of my friends at any given time.

It would be like http://knowyourmeme.com/, the site that maps out when and where Internet memes became popular. (Actually a pretty handy site. When did Keyboard Cat start? How did Ermahgerd become a thing?)

Over time, I would map out the rise and fall of fears and worries, marking when and where certain topics peaked and how often hysteria invaded our modicum of day-to-day normalcy.

I would start this project, see it through and display the results–not because I was trying to be nostalgic, but because I’m curious about something:

Is the modern news cycle reactive (reports on what happens) or proactive (shapes our emotions, manipulates our opinions)?

I wrote a blog post about how I was Tired of being Facebook mad at all the things, which touched on this a bit. But if this project happened, I would go further. I would map out the actual rise and fall of these topics. Was there a pattern? Was there a standard length of time?

I would target friends and friends of friends because I would want people to have a personal connection to the data. I would include what the world was chatting about at large, as a point of reference, but the crux of the site would focus on actual people I knew, versus abstracted sample bodies. It could also show preferred media channels so we could see if Fox or CBS or MSNBC was doing the string pulling.

This site wouldn’t be to embarrass or belittle how often we were taken for an emotional ride due to these currents of current happenings. The very thing I’m personally battling right now is how often I too am whisked away along a merry ride of angst and rage at each introduction of these topics. I’m right there, emotionally caught up and assertively commenting in the debates along with everybody else. I’m not above it at all. It would be fun, however, to have a sort of flashback feature (one month ago you were angry at X, one year ago you were angry at Y…).

But I’m curious–aren’t you? What if there are these stark patterns? Like if the Ebola freak-out was exactly the same as the Benghazi freak-out? Or if the Sandi Hook outpouring of concern lasted the exact same as interest in the Rancher Bundy standoff? Wouldn’t that be fascinating?

Facebook did its odd psychological experiment where they literally altered people’s moods and dispositions by selectively showing them positive or negative posts. You can’t tell me the media doesn’t do the same sort of stuff? Hell, when I was a newspaper man, we’d slap a kid or puppy on the cover during slow weeks to sell more issues. Worked every time. Y’all are predictable as gravity.

Then again, maybe we shouldn’t mine that data? Maybe it would be disheartening to see just how often we switch allegiances to causes or crises? ALS nees donations again? Darfur still going on? Kony still at large? Ugh, seriously? That ‘people suffering and dying’ stuff? BORING! Selfie sticks are the rage, now!

I wouldn’t do it to be cynical, but to help make us all more resistant to being emotionally manipulated.

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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.

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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!

###

Oh great, I’m a ‘creative’ now

“I need help.”

“With what?”

“A flyer thing I’m making.”

“Yikes. What did you make this in?”

“I was just messing in Word for a couple of minutes.”

“Well that’s why it looks terrible. You can’t do design very well in–“

“Yeah I know, but you need to make it pretty.”

“How so?”

“I don’t know. That’s your thing. You know…do that you thing you do.”

It’s a blessing and a curse to work as a quasi-creative. I get to make new stuff, but I’m also seen as a miracle-worker. I say I’m a quasi-creative because that’s not my official job description. There are other people in my building who are graphic artists, but they’re either too busy or don’t make things as pretty as my bosses like. So, I’m the guy.

Which is cool. I get to break out of the normal routine and make ads, make brochures, make flyers…

But when a person gets labeled as a “creative,” people get weird.

I’ll be introduced to people at work like “This is Joshua, he’s our *blah blah blah* guy. He’s very creative.”

The other person’s eyes will widen a tad. “Ooooh, nice. I’ve got some great ideas I’ll need your help with.”

Another person will say, “Oh wow, I love working with creatives. You make things professional.”

Well it’s not like everybody else is smearing paint on the walls, but I appreciated the intent.

But after a few dozen extra projects from several of these new ‘friends,’ I’ll realize a chunk of my time is being spent pretty-ifying up stuff. So, I’ll try and coach people on how to do the simpler things themselves. They’re usually not having it, though.

“Nope! Nope nope nope! I’m not creative. You have to do it. I’m not good at making things look good. That’s what you creative people do.”

Being a “creative” is kind of like be labeled a “math person”—check that—it’s exactly like being labeled a math person. I hear that all the time, don’t you? “I’m just not a math person.”

There’s no such thing. Scientific study after scientific study after scientific study shows there’s no such thing as a predisposition for or against math. Hell, they’ve even debunked the whole left-brained/right-brained thing.

Math (just like driving or sports or music or art or writing) takes practice. We are all “math people” like it or not. Some of us just don’t want to be (or have the resources to pay people to do that sort of thing). But be that as it may, we are all equally predisposed to comprehend mathematics.

Creativity is like that. It just takes practice. But back to reality, at work I realize who has time to cultivate that sort of thing? I don’t push the issue too much. I can be the go-to “he makes stuff look more good-er-est” dude. That’s cool by me.

But I do have to push back on the time thing. Making something look good takes time. The reason a flyer made in Word looks like crap isn’t so much Word, but is because a whopping four minutes was spent on it. And more fonts aren’t automatically better!

That’s where I have been getting better at establishing some boundaries.

“Oh that’s going to take the better part of the day.”

“What do you mean? You just have to move this thingy over here and change these few other parts.”

“Yes, for the printed version. Now that you want it sent out via email too, I have to code it in our HTML template, scrub the contact list with the changes from the folks downstairs, test it and send. It has to work in various browsers and whatnot.”

“I still don’t think it will take all day. Well, remember there might be some other changes when the others give their input too.”

And there are changes. And it takes more time. But that’s fine. They can make all the changes they want. I’ll just edit and save, edit and save.

And I also have to push back on the ‘creatives are prima donnas’ thing. Google “working with creatives” and you’ll quickly find that many people connote creative personalities with temperamental, egotistical and enigmatic dispositions. Especially managers. ‘Managing creatives’ very quickly involves similar reactions.

‘They’ are hard to work with. Working with ‘them’ is like herding cats.

C’mon, I’m not that bad, am I?

Then again, I do get annoyed when people expect constant good work in seconds. So in that respect I can be difficult to work with, because I will tell you “no.”

But otherwise I’m the bee’s knees. Ask around!

###

Flirting with darkness: When knowing hurts

The other day a friend and I were talking. Something came up on a television show that shocked this friend. Though it was fictional, he was pretty taken aback at how such a thing could be allowed to happen. He said how it was the “most depraved thing” he had ever heard.

It wasn’t THAT bad. I knew of a dozen things far worse than that in real life. I wanted to say “Really? Because that’s nothing!” and give a few examples of things far, far darker.

From time to time, I want to nuke a conversation like these with some one-up example of depravity and darkness. Pride can make me want to one-up situations. Usually it is actually out of respect (or perhaps my pride justifies it). I respected this friend and wanted his perceptions to expand beyond the sheltered and naive mindset he’d just expressed. But look at me, trying to “fix” someone. Like many instances, I kept my thoughts to myself.

Should it really ever be my place to rain on someone’s rosy outlook on the world—as a Christian or even as a friend? Is there a time to force someone to recognize how bad things can be, but maybe in a positive way? Can such things be positive?

And furthermore, how healthy is it to dwell so long in books and in the news about the sufferings and pain visited on people by others? Sometimes I feel like I’m being drawn in to this morass of melancholy. My waking hours are filled with sobering statistics of the painful human condition.

As a Christian, I have an innate desire to do good. I am exhorted to thirst after righteousness. I am asked to defend the defenseless, be a voice for the voiceless, and do things in such a way that I don’t seek glory or recognition for this work. I am given the Holy Spirit who acts as my counselor and teacher, who cultivates (if I’m not a stubborn idiot) the attitudes and lessons that let me strive after these things.

There are times when I feel I should shake awake those who think first world problems are the highest form of human suffering. I feel people sometimes should have their perceptions re-aligned. Perhaps they should know more about actual persecution and suffering versus put-on tantrums.

So I absorb information. I read about children forced into prostitution. I learn about human trafficking even here in the U.S. I hear about rape prisons run by ISIS. I see the 10 year old murderer here and there. I read about the kid who killed his mom and had sex with her corpse. There are the slavery rings of our migrant workers. There are the unfair trade practices that keep entire nations in poverty. Diseases rage across all borders. There are famines. There are wars.

I combine this with my own experiences in Iraq. I remember faces. I remember some gruesome scenes. I remember the desperation in the people. The smells of war…

It all enrages and breaks my heart. In its remembering, it brings me low. Really low. To the point where it’s damaging. Ecclesiastes 1:8 talks about how all things are wearisome, and that the eyes and ears will consume more and more if you don’t rein them in. Their appetites are such that they are never filled.

The same chapter in verse 18 also says an increase in wisdom is an increase in sorrow (we’re more familiar with the sentiment’s opposite: ignorance is bliss). The more I learn about reality, the more brokenness I see.

Professionals like police officers, soldiers, healthcare workers and journalists especially know these struggles. Humanity can be absolutely evil. And for those of us in these professions (and others), if we don’t guard against this darkness, it can turn on us. We’ll become tainted or, at best, cynical and detached.

I first became depressed and suicidal when I was a teen. I got help, but it is something that has always stuck with me, throughout college, the Army and after…I’ll go through good periods and bad periods. My mood will shift.

It doesn’t matter how good or bad life’s situations are—or how many people are around who love me, I’ll go through cycles every few weeks where I’ll reach a real low point. I have people who are there to catch me. But the brooding darkness always creeps in. It’s like the pull of the tides, powerful but subtle.

My inner struggles started before learning as much about the world. It seemed to happen in tandem, not caused from one to the other.

However both my emotional dispositions and what I’ve learned about the world (however relatively small) do serve a purpose.

Others want to talk about their struggles too. And in some of these types of situations, it takes one to know one. I am no professional counselor, but I can listen. That can be enough.

So there’s a redeeming aspect to all of this. It keeps me restless and keeps me quiet, hoping to hear why someone feels a certain way versus attempting to conquer the world through a perspective of ideology.

It can also be dangerous, though. Flirting with darkness cultivates empathy, but it can also give way to despair and corrupt appetites.

But when I learn that my identity isn’t in my circumstance, I gain the strength to transcend it. That’s the idea, at least, even when I fail.

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‘Dropping the ball’ is actually pretty normal (NOT an Ebola rant)

Recently, a man walked in to a hospital complaining he was sick. He had recently traveled to a part of the world where a certain virus was raging. The hospital sent him home for days.

Wait, what? How could they—? Unbelievable.

Later he was re-admitted, but soon died. Two of the healthcare workers tending to him are now sick. Turns out protocols might have been improperly followed.

Wait, what? They still messed it up?

Turns out one of the healthcare workers traveled to Cleveland to plan a wedding, knowingly flying when she wasn’t supposed to. Now, it turns out the CDC might have dropped the ball too.

(Update: Dallas nurse: ‘I can no longer defend my hospital’…a blow by blow accounting of all the ways things didn’t happen.)

Wait, what? Why would she—? Why would they—? Ugh.

Questions abound. Who’s running that operation? What the hell is going on at that hospital? Don’t they realize what they’re doing?

I’m going to share something with you and it may surprise you: people, organizations and entire governments ‘drop the ball’ all the time. People who should know what they are doing often don’t.

Oh there’s often well-intended reasoning and hard-working people behind every bad situation. I’m not trying to say that we’re all losers who can’t do our jobs. On the contrary, everywhere I go and in every place that I’ve worked (from retail to high government, small start-ups to large corporations) the only thing keeping things working at all was the work of the dedicated few who get things done right.

However, when we sit back and say things like “They should have known better” and “How could this have ever happened?” and “THESE people of all people should have been on their game” I would still assert that people are people.

We have this childlike faith in so many systems of our society. We might think that our company or our family life is out of whack. But we think that things run smoothly in all other parts of government and life. We feel venerated positions like doctors, nurses, political leaders, police or the military all have some sort of godlike superpowers. Perhaps we think that there’s this orchestrated plan and everybody follows it because…well…because!

But—surprise!—people are imperfect. They get tired. They get frisky. They think about PlayStation. They want a drink. They want a raise. They don’t magically become infallible because of a college degree or a high paycheck.

If you were to have access to all workplaces and echelons of society—if you could take a listen to the conversations in break rooms everywhere—I think you would be surprised—perhaps horrified—at how often systems break down. We just happen to dodge the bullet most times.

Think about your boss. Think about the times he/she got things wrong. Think about your office politics. Think about how so-n-so doesn’t do his/her part. Think about how backward some of your processes are and how things often don’t get done because of some weird procedure. How slow does your organization react to something? How many levels of approval does it take to get something changed? How often do people skirt the rules?

Well everybody has work experiences like that—from the corner Subway to the Pentagon. And the same sorts of people work everywhere. Some people might operate at higher levels of responsibility—they might have shiny stars on their shoulder, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t above sleeping with their subordinates, or tweeting pictures of their genitals.

I tell you, the petty squabbles and oversights I saw working at Blockbuster video as a kid were the same petty squabbles and oversights I saw in units while fighting a war in Iraq—and even during my time at the Pentagon. Person A thinks Person B is hot. Person C wants more money. Person D is unhappy. Person E feels unappreciated.

So, when you’re at a concert, or waiting in line at the airport terminal, or trying to return at item at a store, or hearing about some misstep in your kids school…and you think “What is going on here? Who’s in charge?” remember, it’s probably someone like an old boss, leading a group of people like your old boss did.

And when you look at the news and are baffled that someone could be so stupid—or how some leader could be so shortsighted. Yup. They’re people. We aren’t ruled by robots.

YET!

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Political shifts, left and right (pt 3): The End State

So at last we come to it. Through part 1, where I talked about my background…through part 2, where I pitched a fairly cynical view of what’s going on…and now on to part 3: the end state.

I have met a lot of people in my years. I’ve tried to absorb as much wisdom and insight as possible through our times together. Sometimes, through, I’ve struggled to find value in certain friends’ perspectives.

For example, one of my old mentors and I have grown apart. He retired from his job and now sends out large amounts of politically-themed emails. You know the sort: Comrade Obama is taking your guns, Obama is about to let the UN take control of the country, the illegals are at our gates and must be beaten back, the Arabs want to kill us all, Obamacare has death panels, climate change is a farce, Obama is a Muslim….

The hate radiates from my screen. I’m urged to rise up (sometimes in outright sedition and treason). I’m urged to fight the good fight. Pundits, right and left, give heartfelt but ultimately melodramatic pleas. Chuck Norris thought Obama and his ilk will now lead us to a thousand years of darkness. While it is the most ridiculous articulated example I’ve seen, the same sentiment is far more common.

With evil, the enemy, ‘them’ at the cusp of world domination, I’m left with little choice but to align my heart toward war. If I was a decent, God-fearing man, I will need to mobilize and undo my emotional peacetime mindset. Stand up for something! Fight! Now!

But are things really so threadbare, especially in the U.S.? What is the right response?

As a supposed man of faith, what sorts of attitudes should I spend time cultivating? I’ve been awash in propaganda from both sides of the political aisle. It has led me to be pretty vocal at times—more than I should. I default to being an action guy, rather than just a blabber of words. Hell, it’s why I joined the Army post-9/11. If not me, who? That sort of thing.

But after dealing with war, dealing with my own demons and dealing with the general state of things, I’m not feeling it. I’m not buying into all the “good vs. evil” rhetoric with our local political squabbles. I’m not going to sew seeds of hate over this stuff.

There is plenty of darkness to fight against in the world, surely. Human trafficking, slavery, unfair trade practices, the rape of the natural world, the violent repression and persecution of people concerning their religious beliefs, disease, the marginalization of groups of people, and rampant exploitation…all are causes to fight for.

But this supposed war on Christmas? You can’t fall over without knocking down a stack of Christian symbols during the season. The supposed removal of prayer from schools? I tried to make a scene about praying as a young man in several states, several times, and nobody cared that I was praying. The strange idol worship of 10 of the 613 Jewish commandments? If you’re going to play the “Keeping the Law” game, you gotta keep ‘em all, remember?

A lot of it seems pretty forced.

“Well if we let ‘them’ win on this one, it’ll just be a matter of time before…”

God is bigger than one nation’s political theater, believe it or not. Think God’s plan was knocked off course when this president took office? What about the last one? What about when that jerk-off Andrew Johnson took over for Lincoln? He never even went to school! THOUSAND YEARS OF DARKNESS! What about when the Populares edged out the Optimates in ancient Rome? Whew, that one almost kept Jesus from being born, right? Those sneaky Populares!

In another 1,000 years (of darkness?), do you think the Kingdom of God is going to be swayed one way or the other because North Carolina let someone list their same-sex spouse on their insurance? Will heaven suddenly cease to exist?

I’m tired of the hate. I’m tired of the dehumanizing, veiled bigotry. It comes across as whining fat children who didn’t get their flavor of ice cream, while the kid next door sleeps in the streets.

But screw my opinion. What does the Christian Bible say about spending our lives smoldering in anger against ‘the man,’ plotting for the overthrow of an administration?

Paul, writing to the believers in Rome. Chapter 12. Even if a group of us is being persecuted (as in beaten and killed, not told our Christmas lights are too bright), we’re supposed to bless those who come after us—not curse. Gandhi even got that one right.

Romans 13. We’re to calm down, honor our government and pay our taxes. This was written to the believers in Rome—not exactly the most pious of regimes—nor the most fair in tax rates. And yet, there it is. Chill out.

Christ also kinda maybe exactly says this in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. Give to God what is God’s, and give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. This was said in the midst of a violent, brutal occupation of God’s people by a pagan government.

Paul, writing to Titus. Chapter 3. Calm down, do what is good. Live in peace. Don’t spend your energy on foolish controversies and quarrels about the law. Because it is unprofitable and useless (not necessarily incorrect…you can be right and still waste everybody’s time).

Peter’s first recorded letter, writing to the scattered believing Jews of the Near East. Chapter 2. Submit to the authorities. Focus on doing right—on doing good. And you’ll silence foolish people.

For the sake of keeping this blog post under 30,000 words, yes I cherry picked verses, but tear into me in the comments if I’ve missed the gist of it.

The world’s powers come and go, but movements of the Spirit remain. Christianity didn’t start out as a religion, it started out as a way of life—where people were known for the hope they had and their love for each other and strangers. It overthrew regimes not by the sword, but by love. Sort of like how Christ did it. Pretty trippy.

Now is it all going to be roses and candy canes? No, of course not. Ephesians 6:12 is pretty clear on that.

But cool it on the hate. When we’re on the other side, at the Bema Seat, it won’t be a tally of how many Facebook arguments we won, or how many dirty poor people we kept from getting more money. Nope. Any kudos for our lives will be attributed to how many children we fed, how many prisoners we visited, and how many strangers we comforted in the hospitals, in Christ’s name.

It takes a lot more courage to love people than it does to hate them. Takes more restraint to listen than to shout someone down.

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