The Times, they are a’changin’!

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglas

To begin, I must caution you that I’ve always been a bit odd, but probably my oddness most exhibited itself during my childhood. To say I thought outside the box would be a wild understatement. I say that to preface what I’m about to share with you; yes, I really did have these thinks when I was a teenager!

I was about 14, and I grew up in a household that was severely abusive. I don’t know that a day went by that my siblings and I didn’t undergo some form of abuse at our parents’ hands; whether it was physical, emotional, sexual, or some combination of the three, it was a daily facet of our lives. What this meant to me, among all the detritus that is an outcome of these types of experiences, was that I constantly thought about what could be done differently to avoid producing parents like mine were. So, I came up with this idea that I later realized was a social experiment I’d love to conduct. Simply put, at about 14ish years old, I thought that it’d be a great idea to find about 1,000 couples and house them all in a common community. These couples would have to be carefully screened to exhibit the following traits:

  • A highly developed sense of personal accountability
  • A passion for teaching and encouraging children
  • A determination to raise children to be mentally stable; as fully self-reliant and self-accountable as possible

My idea then progressed to finding about 2,000 babies — those given up for adoption, or those abandoned, or those who generally fell through the cracks and were being raised by people like my parents. I wanted to find these babies, all about the same age, and give them to these adults who’d been so carefully pre-screened to be raised in loving homes, as cherished children who were taught that they had all they needed within themselves to accomplish whatever they wanted to accomplish. These children would be raised with loving discipline, and with parents who knew which battles were worth fighting, and which weren’t. The goal of this was to produce a “generation” (yes, I know, 2,000 kids isn’t near representative of an entire generation!) of adults who entered adulthood with heads firmly on their shoulders. They would rise to challenges without being consumed by them. They would be adaptive and open to change, but only when the change was beneficial to them as individuals as well as to the community of which they were a part. I wondered just how our society as it existed then would handle the release of people who weren’t open to being swayed by rhetoric into their midst.

I realize my numbers were way too low, and my idea way too simplistic, to be viable, but I will admit that when I became a parent myself at the tender age of 18, I had many of these concepts and ideas brewing in the back of my mind. I certainly was not the perfect example of parenthood; I made my mistakes, some of them ones that my daughters are still working to overcome in their own lives. But, with that realization, I also must admit that I didn’t do completely terribly. I strove to teach the girls discernment. I desired to give them the confidence to make decisions, accept undesirable outcomes, and keep pushing forward despite obstacles. As I see them, now, as adults, I am gratified that they seemed to actually learn the best of what I had to offer without being subsumed by the mistakes I made.

Why am I writing this, you may ask? Well, it’s simple. In keeping with my desire to be an SJW Extroidinnaire, I think it’s important to discuss the things that have shaped and continue to shape our society, especially as our society seems so bent on dividing itself. Bear with me, hopefully this’ll all come full-circle and actually make sense when I’m done!

Here’s what I’ve observed, in the nearly 36 years between the development of these ideas and now. Keep in mind, these are my observations and opinions — not scientific ones. I can quote scientific stuff if you’d like! However, for now, I’ll keep it entirely anecdotal with the stipulation that if you disagree with me, you comment about it so we can converse and possibly enlighten one another. I am always open to other interpretations of data, and realize that it’s not necessary to agree with everything I say ūüôā I am not, in fact, always correct in my assessments … just don’t tell the husband I admitted that!

As our nation has embraced the technological advances of the last 50 or so years, we’ve lost and gained. Some of the losses include direct face-to-face contact with people in favor of texting and video-chats; loss of jobs in favor of automation. Our gains can include things like instant information at our fingertips; the ability to converse with anyone, instantly, nearly anywhere in the world; video conferencing while walking down the streets. In short, as with anything else, there’s going to be good and bad with what we’re living through now.

In essence, in just the last 50 years or so (that’s just about 2.5 generations), we’ve gone from being a society that had a good solid reliance on job stability to a society where job surety is a concept from a bygone era; a society where neighbors knew each other, knew each other’s needs, to a society where many of us are closer to someone we’ve never met, half the world away, than we are to the people who live next door; a society where the primary form of interaction was face-to-face, to a society that prefers texting to talking. Properly managed, technology can absolutely be an asset. Adaptation is one of the hallmarks of humanity, and we’ve survived technological upheavals and renaissances before (Effects of Industrial Revolution on Society). Note, however, that the key words in this paragraph are “properly managed.”

Let me paint a picture for you. The year is 1918. A grandfather stands on the docks of the family property with his grandson, teaching him to fish. The grandson grows up and by 1938, he’s begun his own family. His father, now a grandfather, a few years later stands on the same dock and teaches his new grandson to fish. In this picture, the first grandfather, the father, and the last grandson all share much the same life experiences. However, when we look at a person who was born in, say, 1950 and compare that person’s life experiences to someone born in 1980, we’ll see a huge divide in experiences. Take that person born in 1980, and compare them to someone born in 2010, and we may not even speak quite the same language! Linguistic shift has begun to occur more speedily than it ever has thanks to the proliferation of instant communication. Jobs and family expectations are radically different, and continuing to change.

Simply put, following the Industrial Revolution, society changed considerably. Some of the key changes were:

  • Urban populations began to grow as people moved in toward cities in search of employment
  • Rural populations, and self-sustaining agrarian societies began to diminish
  • Class divides began to become more pronounced
  • Capitalism became the new normal as factories and industrial complexes began mass-production of commodities
  • Wage labor became the new “normal” — a norm that exists even today, largely stamping out the barter system
  • Education became more systematized and began the cycle that has resulted in “teaching to the slowest student”
  • Politically the environment changed drastically as new special-interest groups arose, including among them child laborers, female laborers and, with the increase in these populations and new rights attached to them, minority workers and people

For the people who lived through this, they watched an entire way of life be uprooted, overturned, and rewritten. The rules they’d lived their entire lives by were now defunct, and many couldn’t cope, withdrawing from society at large.

Today, we’re living in some of the same circumstances. The things I grew up with as “norms” — including a household where only one parent worked, news only arrived at noon, six o’clock, and sometimes 11 o’clock at night; channels went off the air sometime between 10-midnight; phone calls were monitored since there was usually only one phone in the house; guns were regular items in the household both for hunting and protection — all of these things have radically altered, and on a pretty brief timescale.

So now I’d like to look at some of what we’re seeing as our society strives to integrate ever-expanding technology into our daily repertoire.

  • With cell- and smart-phones, we can instantly voice, text, or video chat with anyone, anywhere — as long as we have their number
  • Our “news” arrives constantly, from many sources (most independent and highly opinionated or inflammatory), but most “reports” are liberally biased toward one political party or the other
  • Medical care has made great strides at improving and prolonging life, but it has also taken a significant hit due to charting (CYA and insurance) requirements that supersede patient care
  • Special-interest groups have arisen and can dominate the information we receive
  • Education has become, at the primary level, divided among classes in terms of quality, and at the secondary level it has divided among both political and class lines
  • The necessity of quality education is much touted, while the reality remains that we are continuing to lag further behind other industrial nations in practical outcome

These are just some of the small things, but they can have enormous effects on our society at large. For instance, while it’s great that we can chat with someone across the world, it’s perhaps not so great if we decide to do that while we’re out having dinner with our family … unless the person we’re chatting with is part of that family! While it’s also great that we can receive a constant deluge of information, we’re also seeing instances of information-overload; in short, there’s too much to make heads or tails of, and so many of us just tune out to anything not happening immediately around us. Further, there’s a growing gulf of people who’re fed up with what they’re fed by the big news channels — Fox News, CNN, so on and so forth. These people have begun to seek out news that appeals directly to them, which means that we’re seeing people shying away from inundation by “packaged” newsbites and surrounding themselves with news, reports, and information that appeals to them.

Medical care and education are the two biggest ticket items in my brief list above, and I’ll touch on them individually. To begin, medical care. Just prior the Industrial Revolution, the quality of medical care itself was lacking; diseases and disease-causing organisms were unexplored and largely unknown. Hygeine? What’s that? We should wash before we operate? Contaminated water? It’s water, for Pete’s sake, how can it be contaminated! Few diagnostic tools existed, so medicine was largely a matter of “Let’s hope I get this right!” However, the doctor was a well-respected member of the community, often traveling to his patients’ homes.

Today, we understand pathology and physiology with more detail than we could have imagined just 100 years ago. We have devices that are dedicated to everything from measuring our basal temperature to being able to perform delicate surgeries with human supervision. But we also have requirements fed to us by insurance companies and administrative wings of hospitals that demand docs spend their appointment time charting; knowing or looking up obscure codes so insurance companies will actually (maybe!) pay. In short, they spend so much time clicking boxes to state that they did everything they were “supposed” to do during their patient’s visit that they often can’t spend the necessary time hearing and supporting their patients. Trust me, docs are not happy about this at all (See ZDoggMD’s thoughts on this topic). While our abilities have expanded, our care has not kept pace and, in fact, could be said to have lost some ground.

Education? Wow, where does one even begin? Before I go into this a whole lot more, I invite you to review some of the writings from the Civil War, sent home by soldiers in the field. Some of these soldiers were young, very young; yet their writing and communication skills surpass those of most people having received their 12 years of mandatory schooling.

Education is a commodity, like anything else. From the days of apprenticeships to our current bloated secondary education system, something of value has always been traded for knowledge gained. However, in the apprenticeship model, that something traded was the student’s time and effort. Let’s assume an apprenticeship for woodworking, for instance. The apprentice would generally begin their apprenticeship at an early age, and with basic duties such as cleaning, stocking, etc. As they proved their mettle they were given greater responsibilities and more opportunities to show what they could do. Over time, their service translated itself into the ability to have “mastered” their craft. Today, that something of value is money … which a large proportion of our population does not have (40.8% of American households earned less than $50,000 during 2017). Just think of how far $50,000 a year will carry one person, much less an entire family, today. Approximately 94% of teachers buy school supplies for their students and classrooms out of their own pockets, many after having exhausted donation sites to raise the money.

The last “big” item on my list that has been impacted by technology, and the rapid rate of advances being made, is politics. Oh, yeah, politics has absolutely changed in the last 50 years! Simply put, JFK began a cycle that’s had an absolutely deleterious effect on our society, and that was utilizing technology fully to bring himself into our homes, to make a more direct connection with his constituents. He was successful in utilizing technology to vault himself into the presidency, and the nation mourned with his family when he was assassinated. This began the cycle that has culminated in today’s hate-filled, divisive, vitriolic posturing so endemic any time elections roll around.

Many of these things are issues that not only stunt our children from birth, but if one views our country as the youngling it is (we are only 240 years old, as a nation), we’ll realize that we’re still stumbling along, figuring things out. If you apply the relative youth of our country to the mental capacity and abilities of a pre-teen, then you can accept that mistakes happen, people stumble, and it’s important to allow that to happen. Just as it’s important to offer a hand, help them back up, let them dust themselves off, and try again. It is easy, and I’m as guilty as the next person, to claim “Things were better before!” But the saying goes “It’s like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.” That horse can be tracked down and even eventually brought back home, but it has still escaped, and that escape must be dealt with — for the horse’s safety, for the owner’s income and/or peace of mind; for the value of the horse itself. Technology is here, and barring a world-wide cataclysm, it’s here to stay. We can adapt with it, and learn how to use it as a tool, or we can let it overwhelm us and eventually tear us apart. Remember that post about Choices? You know, the one where we talked about the fact that even if the options are all ugly, we still have choices?

Guess what, folk? We still have choices. We are not at the brink of no return; the barn door’s still closed enough to keep the horse semi-contained, so this is the time to really work toward correcting the things that need correction — without, hopefully, creating too many legacy issues from those corrections.

I’m going to look in to some things we, as individuals, can do to improve matters in forthcoming posts. Doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll reap the benefits ourselves — change is often terribly slow in coming, and then occurs with frightening rapidity — but it does mean we can shape the outcome of the legacy we leave for our children. I’ll examine standards of living for the average American, then begin some exploration into our educational system as it currently exists. From there I’ll explore workplace issues, then I’ll delve into the big bad one — politics. I’m already shuddering.

Change isn’t just coming, people, it’s already here. We can rebel against it, or we can learn to steward it in a manner that benefits everyone. Naturally, I’m hoping for the latter option! I challenge each of you reading to think about the direction you want your life to go, and what you can do to help bring that reality about. We all have that ability, lol, but it’s often disguised by hard work, lack of sleep, and immense frustration. I challenge each of us to accept that, and strive to improve our society … one person, one topic, one ideology at a time. We can do this, folk. We just have to choose to do it. Our young nation has great potential; our young people have that same potential. Shall we begin working to build strong children, or will we accept continuing to try to repair broken men?

The Cost of Patriotism

I’m going to go ahead and let you know — this is a¬†very¬†difficult topic for me to write about. It’s been dancing in me head for a while now, but given that yesterday was Veteran’s Day and today is its observance, it seemed appropriate.¬†So, time to dive down in! To begin, I’m a military brat; specifically, my father was career Army. He served in the Vietnam “conflict” — twice, earning two Purple Hearts — and then moved into Recruitment, followed by Logistics, which is when he retired. He was enlisted his entire career and retired as an E-8.

He was also one of the biggest bastards I’ve ever met, and I swore to myself that I would never, ever¬†ever join the military, if it meant being shaped into what he was. Oh, little did I know or understand then; however, I was one of the costs of his patriotism. Our family was a cost. You see, my father suffered with (decades-old undiagnosed) PTSD. PTSD has become a catch-phrase for us, today; it’s nothing new, and the VA has definitely led the way on learning about it, understanding it, and attempting to treat it. However, the military’s stance on PTSD has been less-than-stellar. In fact, my best friend, a Lt. Colonel now and set to retire in about a year-and-a-half, suffers PTSD. She refuses to get seen for it, however, because any whiff of it in her evals and she’ll lose her position, be forced into retirement before she’s served the time required for her rank; all her¬†achievements and everything she’s worked so very hard for will count for nothing. And she wasn’t a combatant, she was what’s called C-CAT (Critical Care Air Transport). This means that she kept “her boys” alive while they were being flown from combat arenas to surgical facilities equipped to deal with their wounds. In many cases, she told me, she considered it her job just to keep them alive so they could say ‘bye to Mama. Yeah, she has PTSD; each deployment she served took her about six months to begin to recover from. From there, she’d have another six or so months before she deployed again. Just stop and think about that a moment, ok? This means that for over 12 years, she willingly put herself into a position to struggle to keep soldiers (kids!) alive, knowing she’d lose most of them.

How can you not honor that commitment?

My dad? He definitely struggled with PTSD. I don’t know a great deal about his combat experiences; he really didn’t talk about them. I do know that he was a “Jungle Warfare Trainer.” This means he taught others how to fight in the jungle, in one of the more confusing combat initiatives our country has engaged in. I also know that his peers considered him extremely deadly, and extremely good at what he did. I know he received two Purple Hearts, which are awarded for receiving injuries in the line of combat or, posthumously, to those who died in the line of combat. I know that he has horrible scars across his chest, his back, and the tops of his buttocks from shrapnel wounds; I know he still has pieces of shrapnel in his body, as they were deemed too difficult to remove. I know that, growing up, we learned to never¬†go near him to wake him, rather to stand across the room and holler to get his attention. Why? Because he slept with a big ol’knife under his pillow, for many years, and even after he gave that up, we did¬†not¬†want to startle him awake, and be in reach. His startle response was usually to debilitate first, then figure out where he was next.

I also know that he, to this day, carries anger and grief — in equal parts — that go back to that time in Vietnam. You see, he engaged in direct combat with the VC regularly; he lost fellow troops; but even more? When he came back to America after the “war” was over, he was reviled, treated as a pariah by the very society he believed he was protecting from communists. Furthermore? He was angry. Actually, angry doesn’t even begin to cover what he lived with. To understand his anger, though, you’d have to understand some things about military training … so hold this thought while I go into my brief explanation of how the military trains soldiers.

First of all there are the tests. Why tests? Because it’s in the military’s best interests to put people where they can function at their best — whether that’s in direct combat or behind-the-scenes in medical, communication, logistics, intelligence, or other capacities. So, tests and tests and tests … followed by training. This training is designed to do many things, but one thing¬†very¬†well. That is to tear down the individual and rebuild them into a person who’s a cohesive part of a unit. In short, when you enter the military and go into Boot Camp, or Basic, you are carefully conditioned to function, not for your own interests, but for the interests of your unit. If your unit fails, everyone in the unit shares accountability; if your unit succeeds, everyone in your unit is also accountable. Trust me, if you’ve never lived it — or lived¬†with it as a part of your daily life — you can’t understand what it means. In short, it means that a group of individual men and/or women who enter the military at the same time learn to function as a part of a cohesive whole where the benefit to the whole outweighs the individual benefits.

Then Boot Camp, or Basic Training, teaches military personnel to accept orders. They are carefully taught the difference between legal and illegal orders, though the distinctions can be fuzzy at times; and they are taught that following these orders will (hopefully) bring about the desired outcome and (hopefully also) protect their unit(s).

Military experience also teaches hierarchy, and a respect for the chain of command. It’s not unrealistic to expect people to question orders, but hierarchical command teaches these people¬†when¬†it’s appropriate to question orders. If you’re in an office brainstorming with your superior, questions may well be invited; if you’re in combat, you obey and question later, if at all.

You see, our military has one ostensible purpose — to defend. Our defenders are highly-trained, highly-skilled individuals who put their rights as American citizens on hold, long enough to achieve a purpose; whether that purpose is to do their time and get a GI Bill for education or it’s just a desire to serve their country during their time in uniform, they know from the time they sign that dotted line til they either retire or accept discharge that they may be called upon to serve in a combat arena; and usually, not just once. These people are to be respected and honored as heroes, even if they never actually¬†serve¬†in combat. They are willing to, and even if they don’t engage in combat, they do what’s necessary to support those who do. But when you accept as part of your society an institution which has only one ostensible purpose — to defend — you must also accept that that institution will have to teach its members to kill. If you’ve never read it, I¬†strongly¬†recommend reading “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society“, by Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman (click here). Colonel Grossman fully explores how very alien it is for any species to easily kill within their own species, and he discusses what’s involved in teaching us to overcome that, so that soldiers can kill efficiently, in the name of defense.

In short, my father was taken in by the United States Army when he was 17 (at this time, it was a legal age for enlistment) and taught a few key lessons: First, that he was not an individual, but a part of a unit; second, that he had an obligation, in order for his branch of the military to protect those he loved at home, to be willing to follow orders as delivered without question; third, that he must operate within his lawful chain of command.

This brings us back to the point I left earlier — my father’s expansive anger. Why was he angry? Because he survived. Survivor’s guilt is simple in explanation and complex in understanding, but the essence of it is “I lived while my buddy(ies) died, and they were better than I was.” It is often also accompanied by a sense that if the person had been smarter, faster, stronger — any -er, actually — then their buddy may not have been in that predicament, or the survivor may have been able to “help”. In my father’s case, he was severely wounded following an action, and one of his buddies — a combat medic — was pumping all the wounded full of morphine following the action. Why? Because the VC made a habit of stabbing any bodies they found with their bayonets, in order to elicit a response. If a soldier responded after being stabbed, they were killed. Battlefield efficiency. My father’s drugged-up body was collected, finally, with the bodies of other combatants at that battle site and flown off by helicopter; the only reason they figured out he was alive was because the chopper hit turbulence in the air and he grunted as he was rolled.

My father believed for most of my life that his buddy was killed while pumping him full of morphine — while saving his life. He believed that this man gave his own life so my father could live, and my father didn’t feel he was worth that sacrifice. He didn’t find out until about 2010, when he went to the Vietnam Memorial (The Wall) that his buddy actually lived past injecting my father, and had done the same for several other soldiers before he was killed. He learned this by corresponding with that buddy’s family; for the first time in over 30 years, he learned he wasn’t the cause of this man’s — this¬†friend’s — death. Now, he had to learn how to let go of that anger, that grief, that guilt, and move on.

I believe that Vietnam was the first war Americans engaged in where the realities of war were brought regularly into viewers’ homes. In war, atrocities occur. In the case of Vietnam, we weren’t even actually¬†at¬†war; rather, Vietnam was considered a “police action,” meaning soldiers were sent into a combat arena to fight and kill without a formal declaration of war. To say the American public was outraged is simplistic, at best. But then the images being beamed into homes displayed the atrocities “our” soldiers were committing as well, without any sense of context about what they faced as they attempted to follow legal orders in the combat arena.

Or, sadly, the atrocities committed by soldiers whose minds had already been broken.

Further, prior to the Vietnam conflict, soldiers returning from other combat arenas were greeted with parades, with people lined up to treat them as heroes, with people thanking them for their service. The combatants returning from Vietnam received a much chillier response as they came home — from both civilians, and from other military personnel who’d fought in previous wars. Part of the reason for the chilly reception by military personnel was because the returning soldiers were seen as having “lost the war” in Vietnam; a war that was in fact never declared. In short, public and military support for these soldiers was non-existent; they were a blight, best to be ignored and forgotten as we strove to push past this unfortunate time in history.

For me, this meant that I grew up in a household with a very angry father who, along with a very mentally ill mother, made life a living hell for me and my siblings.

But I also grew up in a military family; all enlisted, but military nonetheless. I saw my uncle, my cousins, my grandfather — none of whom exhibited the levels of anger and animosity I saw, daily, in my father. None of the rest of the men in my family, that I knew of, regularly beat the hell out of their children. None of the other men regularly smashed us into walls. None of the rest were able to use words to so thoroughly destroy someone else, as he used on us, as we grew up. My father’s belief in his country, and his role in protecting his country, combined with his belief in what it meant to be a man at that time, combined with his PTSD and survivor’s guilt, meant that he had little positive which he was able to share with his family.

The other side of that coin, though, is displayed by isolated incidents with my father, as I grew. We’d try, so very hard, to function as a family; it never lasted long. But I remember one incident that perfectly summarized his response to his treatment, post-war: He and I were out shopping for some clothes for my birthday, and he went to pay for the clothes with a check. His name on his checks read “John R. Doe, III, SFC, U.S.A.” The clerk at the counter questioned what “SFC” meant when combined with “United States of America.” My father’s face quickly turned to disgust, while I explained that SFC was Sergeant First-Class, his rank at retirement, in the United States Army (U.S.A.). I then had to explain that “United States of America” was usually represented (at this time) as either “USA” or “US of A.” After we left the store, he shook his head, lamenting what “kids these days” were (or better yet, were not) being taught, that they didn’t even know what standard military designations meant.

He was genuinely puzzled by this lack of knowledge; he was hurt, that our society had gone so far as to remove from public knowledge the realities of service — the bad parts, but also the good parts. He couldn’t understand why people couldn’t see that for him, as for so many men and women, joining the military was a way of being a part of something bigger than they were, a way of serving their country with pride and distinction. In the civilian world, he was lost because he was career military; he had spent the majority of his adult life in an insular world where everyone was working toward the same goals, and entered a world where no one knew the things that he considered important. He couldn’t understand how our society had so quickly lost track of what these things meant, and how heroic so many of the military truly were. He also didn’t understand why anti-military feelings were getting so strong and, in his opinion, so out of hand; after all, these were the very people he fought to defend! But as he was saying this, shaking his head, he also said to me, “Well, I guess that’s what I put my life on the line for; so they can live with their ignorance if that’s what they want to do.”

In short, my father is and was, and will die, a Patriot. He absolutely believes that, whether what he was doing in that arena was war or not, he was doing his job. He was following orders, he was protecting his country, and he was looking out for his buddies. While I loathe this man, I also honor and respect him. I understand him, which isn’t the same as being able to live with him in my life; I understand how he became what he was, and I miss having had a father. Sometimes, even more because the very few moments when he¬†was just my “dad” were so powerful, I allow myself to wonder what our lives would have been like, had he had the help he needed after his service ended.

So what’s the cost of patriotism? Oh, let me count the ways. There’s the cost to the soldier, the psychological cost of learning to kill, then of killing. The psychological cost of losing buddies — brothers and sisters — closer to them, often, than their “real” families. The guilt that goes with the loss of each of these members of their units. The cost of coming back from an unpopular (or, these days,¬†any) war and being reviled by the very people they thought they were protecting. And the cost to the families of these people.

Society let my father down. The military institution, by rejecting the notion of PTSD, of survivor’s guilt, of the myriad different psychological impacts of war, let him down. Our entire country let him down, and put the burden for moving past or dealing with — or not dealing with — his experiences entirely on him, and on the family that lived with him. So it could also be said that our family and families just like ours, this nation over, were let down by the people who ordered him and his fellow soldiers into combat, then refused to care for him/them on their return; also by the very people our soldiers, past and present, strive their entire careers to protect, to defend.

Since Vietnam, our country has engaged in wars or military actions at least 32 other times. This is 32 other opportunities for soldiers to go to a foreign country, put their life on the line, and potentially lose that life. Or lose someone close to them. Or lose a limb. Or be exposed to chemicals and other agents which will remain with them the rest of their lives.

What is the cost of patriotism? It is PTSD, and survivor’s guilt. It is the loss of life, and the loss of limb, and the loss of loved ones. It is memory, etched brilliantly in the minds of combatants for all time, of what humans are willing to do to each other. It is families torn apart, and families devastated, by lack of appropriate care for their returning soldiers. It is a populace that has made it a mark of distinction to spit on and name-call returning soldiers — and if you think it doesn’t still happen, I’m here to tell you, it does.

Bringing this back to me, I’ll tell you what Patriotism means to me. It means having a father I alternately respect and hero-worship, and can’t stand. Hate is sometimes applicable; we don’t speak, because it’s easier for us both. I wait to hear that he’s dying, wondering if I’ll even have the ability to go to his bedside during that time.

Patriotism means a man, or a woman, willing to subject themselves to hardship, deprivation, and animosity in order to do their¬†job, to protect the very same people who call them names. Patriotism means a love of country, even when you disagree with that country’s policies. It means a willingness to fight, and to die, for ideals that don’t even cross the minds of most of your average civilians. It means a dedication to promoting the ideals that contribute to cohesiveness and unity, even when our society firmly rejects those ideals. It means being willing to be seen as the bad guy, in order to be what you believe is the good guy. It means, for so many, broken lives, broken dreams, and shattered families.

Is there any other emotion I can feel on Veteran’s Day, than respect, and honor, and a sense of awe for these people? Yes, actually, I suppose there is.

There’s also utter disgust for the way these heroes are relegated to second-class citizens, the way they’re forgotten, and overlooked, and swept under the rug, rather than being appreciated for what they’ve given, or been willing to give.

This all came about because of the following cartoon, which is all-too-current, and all-too-real:

Known Soldier

I don’t care what your stance is on our country’s “leaders,” or on their policies. I don’t care whether you “believe in war” or you think we can solve every crisis without it. I don’t care, at all, how you feel about violence, guns, or conflict. What I care very much about is how you see and treat our patriots, our veterans. I care that they not be overlooked. I am angered, every single time I drive by or walk by someone with a sign saying “Veteran, need food” or whatever they need. Do you have¬†any idea how many of our veterans end up homeless, simply because they can’t integrate into civilian society? The burden of integration is put on them — take these classes. Go to this therapy. So on and so forth.

When will we, as citizens, step forth and assume the burden for treating these people as those worthy of our respect, our honor, and our thanks? When will we say that it is absolutely intolerable that these people are willing to risk life, limb, and sanity for our defense, but they don’t deserve to be cared for?

At the¬†very¬†least, we should approach those we see in uniform and thank them. Thank them for their service; thank them for their very willingness to go into combat on our behalf. They deserve that much from us if we’re unwilling to give more. But beyond that? We owe it to them to stand up for them, to return to them some of that same willingness to go to bat, but on their behalf, not ours. We owe it to them to demand the military recognize the many afflictions that impact them, and their families, when they serve in combat. We further owe it to them to demand that they not be penalized for admitting, and seeking help for, mental issues arising from their experiences¬†while wearing our country’s uniform and engaged in activity promoted as being in our country’s best interests. Regardless of whether you believe in the military, or in the rightness of individual conflicts.

These people are heroes. Perhaps, one day, I’ll share with you the heroism of my best friend, who has kept alive so many … and while shopping in her uniform, was spit on, called names, and put in fear for her safety, because she was wearing her uniform.

Let’s treat them as the heroes they are, and stop allowing them to be kicked under the rug, k? Thanks.

Freedom of Speech

Had an interesting thing happen yesterday. As I may’ve mentioned, I’m a gamer, mainly MMORPGs. I was in one of my standby games … you know, the one that’s entertaining without really be overwhelmingly engrossing, that gets you through while you’re waiting for “the” game to release …

Anyway. For those of you who don’t know, most online games, especially MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online), have ways for people to hang out together, relating to their interests. Sometimes, these groupings of people are called clans, and sometimes they’re called guilds. There are many reasons people play online games; some, for socialization in a “fun” environment. Some, for role-play purposes. Some, for the e-sports aspect, some for some good-old fashioned PvP (Player vs Player) interaction. Generally speaking, guilds or clans form as a way for like-minded players to hang out and pursue goals together.

During most of my MMO gaming career I have tended to look for more social guilds; places where people can hang out together, chat, discuss, argue (respectfully!), and pursue common goals. For most of the guilds I’ve been a part of, those goals may include running group content together, or questing/exploring together. Guild chat, which is the main “chat room” in most games, is generally an arena where we can all hang out with each other, ask and answer questions, and generally just have a good time while we’re doing our own thing, socializing with and making friends all over the world.

Yesterday. Yesterday, there were a couple of people in the guild I’m in talking about Net Neutrality, among other things, in guild chat. Their discussion was polite, courteous, respectful. There was no name-calling; rather, opposing viewpoints were bandied about, with questions asked, answers offered, and generally, it was a very stimulating and interesting conversation. As is my usual practice, I pretty much stayed out of it … until one of our guildies screamed out “STOP THE POLITICAL DISCUSSION, I CAME HERE TO GET AWAY FROM REALITY!” Now, for those of you who don’t know, typing in all caps online is generally an indication of yelling. In effect, this was the same as someone stomping their feet, pitching a fit, and demanding that their needs be acquiesced to, and not tomorrow, now!

I asked the person doing the screaming why they couldn’t just change their chat tab to one that didn’t have guild chat in it. Now, this is what you need to understand; in most MMOs, chat tabs are very customizable. You can create new tabs that show only the chat options you want, or you can do what I do frequently — you can create a chat tab that has NO conversation available. Pure, wonderful, complete silence. So I couldn’t understand why this person, who was¬†not involved in guild chat at all that I could see, prior to this conversation, would not just change a tab so they didn’t have to see what they found offensive.

The culmination of this is that the members of the guild online at that time became quite polarized over this topic. On one hand, most of the people online felt that since the guild is a social guild, and guild chat is where we socialize, asking people to refrain from “certain” topics in guild chat was akin to censorship. For others, they adamantly believed that others should stop talking about the things they found personally offensive, rather than them have to change their behavior, or anything about their environment, so they would no longer have to be exposed to this “political” conversation. I still struggle to see where it was political, actually, when I consider the conversation. No party lines were drawn, no one was pushing one way of being over the other … in other words, no toes that I could see were being stepped on … except for those of the people having this conversation.

Later, after I’d had supper and had gone back in game to finish up some tasks I’d set for myself, the guild leader came into the game and enquired why seven people had left the guild over this. A guild officer was also online. Both seemed to listen to the responses we made, but both also said many times “political discussions do not belong in guild chat.” The response to that was actually less than happy; most of the people online at the time felt that the seven people who left the guild were being big babies, and that organic discussions that can be respectful, courteous, and informative shouldn’t be “banned” due to the sensibilities of “some” people, especially not when most of us were really enjoying the conversation.

Ok, to sum up where we are so far, the situation is that, in an online forum in a game, several people were having a discussion. One player, then followed by six more, began demanding — in all caps — that the conversation desist this moment. When alternatives were offered up regarding how these people could avoid seeing the conversation, those alternatives were not even responded to; in fact, all they did was continue screaming their demands for instant acquiescence in guild chat. The guild leader and an officer, in essence, supported these people, rather than supporting the ones who stayed and asked, “Why should Group A have to comply with Group B, when Group B can silence the offending chat?”

The question this raised in me little pea-brain was simple: Whose rights are being trampled on here? I mean, let’s take it by the numbers:

  1. Both groups of players have paid for the game; thus, both groups of players have a right and expectation to play the game in a way that is enjoyable to them
  2. Nowhere in the guild’s guidelines did I see an admonition to keep “political” topics out of guild chat; that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but it’s not anywhere I can easily find it
  3. Group A, the ones having the “political” conversation, were not introducing any drama to the guild chat, but rather were engaged in a lively, thoughtful conversation about the history and pros/cons of Net Neutrality — a topic which actually does affect gamers quite a bit!
  4. Group B didn’t politely ask that the conversation stop, they demanded it and, when their demands weren’t met, left the guild as a protest
  5. Guild leadership appeared to choose the path of least resistance, putting the onus of responsibility on the people having the conversation, rather than on the people offended

This, sadly, is very emblematic of where we stand, in the United States, today. Because our society has become apologists; because our society has learned the necessity of bending over backwards in order to not appear offensive; because it’s easier to ask the polite, respectful people to be even more polite and respectful, than it is to ask the whiners and disrespectful complainers to moderate themselves; for all these reasons, we’ve become a nation that only protects ones’ right to speak freely¬†when that right doesn’t impose on someone’s squishy sense of offense.

The question I want to explore today is who loses, when we live this way. It’s not about arguing the applicability of amendments, or any of that — it’s simply to talk about who loses out when we become a nation of people afraid to share ideas.

In the case of yesterday’s example, I honestly felt like I was one of the ones losing out. I mean, let’s assume these people having the conversation about NN decided to take it into a private chat. I’d then have had to ask “Hey, can I be part of this too?” Being relatively new in the guild, I don’t know any of these people that well, so that’s a bit much for my shy self to do, but I can accept that that’s a choice I had. However, what if that conversation had begun and ended in a private chat? I’d never have even known about it, much less been able to glean new information from the discussion.

Further, I feel that the people having that conversation also lost; they were told, essentially, that any similar conversations they would like to have must be held in private, outside the main guild chat. This kind of eliminates spontaneous conversations like this. I mean, you’re chatting in gchat and someone makes a point that causes you to think of something else, and you guys engage in conversation. Then another person gets involved, and you’re having this rousing discourse … when all of a sudden you have to stop and ask yourself, “Oh, wait, could this be in¬†any¬†way construed as political?” or “Could this be offensive to anyone currently online?” All of a sudden an innocent conversation becomes something stressful; should we take it private? If we don’t, is someone going to protest over some offense we haven’t even thought of? It creates an atmosphere where people are afraid to speak openly, to share and trade and debate ideas.

But it also hurts the people who were complaining. By this, I mean that the determination to keep any potentially offensive conversation private can hurt the ones who’re most likely to take offense.

Why do I feel this way? Simple. We are catering to their belief that their happiness is dependent on the actions and behavior of¬†other people, not on their own actions and behavior. If we automatically comply each time someone says “Hey, really, that sucks, don’t talk about it!” then we’re saying “Oh, wow, sorry man, I didn’t think about the fact that you can [pick an option] block the chat/walk away/myriad other options. I’ll modify my behavior so that you don’t get offended.”

We all know that our schools are more interested in teaching us what to think than how to think (interesting perspective on this). We also know that, for many of the current generation, popular opinion and actions are based on a manipulative media machine (clicky!). Lastly, there’s the fact that, for most people, it is far easier to surround ourselves with those¬†like¬†us in thinking, attitudes, and actions — which means that we’re unaccustomed to hearing, debating, or listening to dissenting opinions (echo chambers). Any dissenting opinions, especially those posed online, are soundly debated with media-provided soundbites, and usually in a vitriolic and offensive manner.

By living this way — by allowing ourselves to limit the input we receive — we are limiting our ability to operate in a society. See, society demands compromise; compromise is the beginning of cooperation. When I was a Realtor, we had a saying: “The best sale is the one where both people walk away feeling like they gained something great and gave up something they didn’t want to give up.” This means that both parties won and lost equally and is the goal we worked for. In society, however, that seems to be skewed — one party must give everything up in order to satisfy the other party. In yesterday’s example,¬†everyone else in the guild chat was expected to give up their free and spontaneous conversation in the main chat room in order to satisfy those who were unwilling to simply block the speakers, or turn off (temporarily!) the chat window.

This ain’t reality, and it reminds me of raising my kids. How many times did I have to explain to them that what they thought¬†should be often wasn’t representative of reality and that, in order to operate successfully in reality, they really needed to realign their thinking? I taught them that it was important to listen more than they speak but, also, when they felt it was important, they needed to understand they had both the right and the responsibility to speak up for what they felt strongly about. I won’t lie, it’s a delicate balance to maintain, but it is necessary, unless you wish to become a hermit and never interact with people again.

If we, as a society, have become afraid to speak up and out for what we believe in because other people can’t manage and mitigate their own responses, what does that mean for the future of our society? Have you read 1984?

What I got a strong sense of yesterday was loss; loss of an interesting conversation, loss of the ability to spontaneously¬†hold interesting conversations without fear, loss on the part of the people who refused to countenance changing¬†their behaviors in order to create the environment they wanted. And a larger loss; this, this game environment? It was a microcosm. A small sampling of what’s happening in our society. If this is common in this microcosm, what must it be on the larger scale? Oh, wait, I can see that easily on social media — how many friendships have been destroyed because people would rather scream for someone to shut up than actually responsibly debate them? I really feel this is a loss at the societal level; how many great ideas are lost because people are now afraid to speak?

But it was the overall message of “Don’t expect to be able to speak freely” and “We’ll protect and coddle the whiners, but you who’re obviously able to think for yourselves? You get no help, no protection — we don’t want to encourage you!” that I found most disappointing. I actually halfway hoped I’d log in today and have been removed, based on my support for the original conversationalists.¬†I still have issues with this, because I do still recognize that we’re all paying the same amount for an enjoyable game session. But I can’t help but feel more strongly that we should be protecting the rights of people to speak — in clear, respectful, compassionate, courteous language — rather than protecting the rights of people who don’t want to “be offended,” but who also refuse to take simple steps to protect their own happiness.

Labels

Greetings, well met, all that rot. Hope all are well today! I’ve decided to touch on a subject that’s¬†way¬†up there in importance to me — Labels, and specifically, how they can create and/or enhance divisiveness. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m referring to “Labels” with the following description (thanks, MW!):

Label: A descriptive or identifying word or phrase

Labels are important; they help us understand the world around us, and they help us communicate. In fact, without labels and their application, we’d probably be completely unable to communicate. I mean, let’s say I want to tell you about my trip to the ocean. How would I describe it without labeling aspects of it? I could label the water as smooth and calm, or rough and choppy; blue, or green, or red with plankton. If I were to talk about a tree, and its lovely drooping branches, would you know what kind of tree I was talking about without me saying it’s a Live Oak, as opposed to say a Weeping Willow? So, labels can and are used as descriptions, adjectives if you will. In this form of their usage, they’re not the least bit divisive!

But then we have to start looking at the labels we apply, to ourselves, and to others. For instance, I see myself as largely conservative, simply because I believe that the government needs to stay the heck outta my home, my bedroom, my wallet (except for infrastructure, thanks!), and my morality. But because I’m also friends with many people who identify themselves as gay, or queer, or male, or female, or trans, or gender-neutral; in other words, if you didn’t know the parts about my preference for small government, you’d think I was incredibly liberal.

Then, let’s talk about those people I mentioned above. You know, the ones who’re labeled as “deviant” because their sexual preferences and/or gender identification are “abnormal.” So already, in just my second paragraph, I’ve touched on the labeling of people due to sexual preference and gender identification. This is a really key important part of this entire writing, right here, folk; when we seek to identify people on these issues, rather than as a facet of who and what they are, we dehumanize them.

Read that last sentence over again.

All of a sudden these¬†human beings have been devalued and are placed in a position of “less than” or “worse than” I am. Wanna chat politics? Look at the increasing furor in our country over the last decade or so. No subject is undivided, and hate-speech, nasty names, and those horrid epithets “Filthy liberal” and “Bible-thumping conservative” are flung about willy-nilly. So a woman who is pro-life is derided¬†for a belief she holds dear and a woman who chooses abortion is derided¬†for making a choice she felt was necessary but others morally object to. Wanna chat class-separation? Anyone in a suit is “The Man” while anyone¬†not in a suit is a lazy bum who’s not willing to do the work to get a “real job.” Wanna chat racism? Anyone who’s not my skin color is automagically less human than I am. Wanna chat sexism? Anyone not sharing my gender is¬†obviously unable to compete — all men are pigs and all women whores, right?

Are you seeing the point I’m making here? There are literally¬†thousands of ways we can apply labels to people that will allow us to feel a sense of superiority, and allow us to treat those around us as “lesser.” Now, why on earth would anyone want to do that? Weeelllll … let’s do a bit of ‘sploring, shall we? Let’s assume I’m insecure, and I don’t want anyone else to know it. I can either A) pretend to be secure and confident until I feel secure or confident,¬†or B) bring you down a notch or two so I can feel less insecure about my own place in the world.

Now, let’s explore our society a little bit. It can’t be overlooked or forgotten that we began our societal urges when we were hunter-gatherers; someone, somewhere, figured out that people went hungry less if people worked together to actually build communities centered around mutual support and, of course, farming! So we went from straight-up competition; being a better hunter/gatherer/food producer, etc, to cooperation; working together to meet more peoples’ needs than just our own, or our immediate family group.

But we never lost that competitive spirit, now did we? Rather than having to out-produce that other hunter, though, our competition now took on the form of city-states aligned against other city-states, or communities, or whatever you want to call it. Yes, I’m glossing over vast amounts of history here, but there’s one common theme I think needs to be made here, and that common theme seems, to me, to be competition. If we can’t compete individually, then we compete as groups. And in order to compete as groups, we must dehumanize the other group. Those other people on the far side of the valley? They have apples growing over there, and we don’t have apples! Forget the fact that we never initiated direct trade with them — we want their apples! So, what kind of labels can we apply to¬†them that will make attacking them and taking their apples more palatable? They’re vicious apple-hoarding jerks who won’t just give over their bounty to us! We must take it, and to take it, we need as many of our people riled up about the apple-hoarding; the easiest way to sway popular opinion is to provide information, or misinformation, that supports your policies and goals.

So, how does that apply to today? Well, let’s look at some of the labels people use to divide themselves from others:

I regularly hear men — and women! — referring to other women as bitches, hos, psycho-bitches, bimbos, twats, and more. So my question to this is if this is now common usage, what do we expect our daughters to think¬†of themselves if they grow up hearing their gender referred to this way? Further, when it’s common to refer to oneself in this manner, how do we not think it’s going to impact the way we, and everyone around us, sees us?

I regularly hear alternative lifestylers referred to as confused, queer, deviant, perverted, and other such epithets. Again, question: How are these labels not intended to strip away commonalities and instead parade forth differences? Further, to parade forth these differences as though they make the person less, somehow?

I regularly hear the label “entitled” bandied about to refer to men or, more specifically, white men. That, again, sets them apart from “us,” because we’ve never been entitled in our lives, now have we? Obviously Mr. Entitled-White-Dude should be made to feel guilty for things he’s never even taken part of, just because he’s¬†different than I am.

It goes on … and on, and on, and on. I could probably come up with a veritable plethora of labels and appellations that different groups have for each other — or I can ask you, what’s your favorite one to use? Stop and really think about that. I mean, even me, who’s super¬†aware of the ways in which labels can be used to cause harm — even I’m known to call people “idiots” when I’m driving and having to endure them! Bottom line is that those instances are, in fact, ways to separate myself from the “sheep” around me and thus indicate I’m better than them. Smarter, more open-minded, a better thinker, a better¬†driver … you get the idea, right?

So what’s the answer? How about something really simple. How about, when we meet anyone, we reserve judgement on them beyond “Human.” Oh, wait, we can’t help but notice that they’re male or female, right? Ummmm … sometimes, actually. Sometimes that dude you’re chatting with may in fact be a chick, or vice verse. So why not just start with “Human.” Oh, then? How about how they’re presenting themselves? If someone’s presenting as a woman? Treat her as a woman! If someone presents as a man? Same thing, treat him as a guy! It really is that easy. You see, the judgement of who or what a person is comes from our end, not usually theirs. If a male identifies strongly as a female and dresses that way, why should I treat her any differently than a biologically-born female? Is it because it defies¬†my sense of what’s right and correct? Probably. And that’s where the judgement first enters the scene: “I wouldn’t tolerate that in my children!” or “What, you’re so confused you can’t figure out what gender you are?” or “Oh, you dress like a woman, so you must be a fag.”

In short, the ability to label things, and then relegate them to lesser status due to those labels is what allows hate-speech. It is what allows us to willfully cause harm to others; if they were more like us, we wouldn’t want to, but since they march to a different tune, they’re¬†less than me. So it’s perfectly acceptable to perpetrate outrage against them.

It begins with that first drive to make ourselves better, or feel better, folk. It goes from there to being a tool used to divide our society, and it ends in a sense of dissociation from anyone who’s not “like me” or “like my people”. And if we allow it to continue, it will absolutely rip our society apart.

Start looking at your peers as humans, first. Explore them from that perspective. What’s their favorite color? Their hopes, their dreams? What are the things that are important to them? Can we find commonality, or do we desire to be superior to this person? Why or why not?

Each individual interaction can be its own individual interaction; me talking with Joe can be a different conversation than me talking with Bryan, simply because while Joe & Bryan are both men, they’re radically different men, and they have very different lifestyles and lives and histories. If I just label them both as “men” or “scumbuckets” or “dogs” because they both have danglies between their legs, then I’ve chosen to absolutely disregard all the wonderful things each one brings to the table. I’ve chosen to assume that they’re going to act and react the same to issues, just because of those danglies.

For me? Even though I do slip, and yes, I admit, driving’s the worst time for that for me; but even though I do slip, I still prefer the joy of getting to know each and every human I meet and interact with as that person, not as some label I feel safe applying to them.

That actually does take more effort … but it’s also immensely more rewarding! Further? It’s less destructive to this community we live within. Our current society, you know? It’s broke, but it’s not¬†irreparably¬†broken. It can be fixed … if enough of us care enough to step up and start doing the work to fix it. In my mind, one of the very first habits we must break is seeing others as less-than. And that means changing how we allow ourselves to see, and name, others.

“I’m Only One Person”

This has been on my mind for a while, but recently it seems to have come to the forefront. Yep, you guessed it; another week when what I thought I was going to write was completely blown away by what decided it wanted to be written. I think I may just have to throw my plan out the window, ya know?

Anyway, on to the topic. This came up largely due to my determination to recycle as much as I possibly can. Our garbage only needs to be pulled to the curb about once every two weeks, but we’re seriously considering getting another recycle bin, as what we have doesn’t seem to keep up with what we’re committing to be reused.

I do not, and will not, purchase water bottles, or a water delivery service. Brita pitcher and Camelbak and Healthy Human are your friends, people! Yes, you gotta wash’em, but seriously, is that¬†that¬†big a deal?¬†I even went a step further, though. No, not getting rid of toilet paper — just eww — but I did get rid of paper towels and disposable napkins in our household. I additionally tossed out or gave away any of the wipes that’re used to clean surfaces. I don’t use disposable make-up remover pads, or any of that. I bought cloth napkins (can be washed and reused — yay!), and I use washcloths in the bathroom for my face cleaning. For overall cleaning, I use what I grew up using — old rags that are fallin’ apart but dang, they surely do work well, and again, they can be washed. You don’t want to know the turmoil that erupted in our house when I told the hubs that we weren’t going to be using paper towels for most stuff anymore. To say he was displeased by this loss of convenience is an understatement. However, he’s a good guy; I’ve learned to expect his displeasure when I spring changes on him, and he learns that it ain’t so bad as he thought it was.

Anyway. Back to the topic at hand. So, I’m a recycle queen … sorta. Localized recycle queen, perhaps. I have friends over so I can feed them (I’m also a from-scratch cook and I absolutely love feeding loved ones!). One friend, we’ll call her A, commented about not knowing if she should use the cloth napkins as she didn’t want to mess them up. I shrugged, said “They can be washed,” and didn’t think anything of it. A little later someone else said something, and I responded that I was doing as much as I could to keep trash out of landfills and out of the ocean. A responded with “You know, I’ve thought about that, but I’m just one person, and I don’t think my contribution is gonna make that much difference.”

To say I was blown away by this is an understatement; you see, A is extremely leftist, and I’d have thought she’d be riding the recycle bandwagon, too. But even more than that was the sense that, if most of our society views things this way about recycling, what else do they view that way?

So let’s play a game, shall we? Let’s imagine that each one of us produces 4.4 pounds of waste per day (for the source,¬†clicky here). Now to put that in perspective, an average-sized bag of sugar weighs five pounds. So, each human, each day, is producing and throwing away just under that amount of waste. That adds up to about 132 pounds of garbage per month, or 1,606 pounds of garbage, every single year. Now, to take this game a bit further, let’s assume a conservative average lifespan of 50 years. That adds up to 80,300 pounds of garbage, per person, per 50-year lifespan. That is just over 40 tons; to give you a visual, that means that one 18-wheeler, fully loaded and including the cab, is going to be the size of the garbage produced by each American, each and every single day.

Conversely, of that 4.4 pounds of garbage, only 1.51 pounds, per day, gets recycled. So, back to the mathing:

  • 1.51 pounds recycled per month = 45.3 pounds recycled per month
  • 1.51 pounds recycled per year = 551.15 pounds recycled per year
  • 1.51 pounds recycled over 50 years = 27,557.5 pounds recycled per lifespan
  • 80,300 – 27,557.5 = 52,442.5 pounds of garbage still getting thrown in landfills and wherever else someone thinks it’s¬†convenient to throw it, per person, per lifetime

So the lifetime current average for recycling is 27.5k pounds, while throw-away garbage is around 52,742.5 pounds, or just over 1/3 of that 18-wheeler I mentioned. The current population in the United States, as of 15 October 2018 (click me!) is 327,426,301 people. This adds up to 1,440,675,724.4 pounds (yes, that first number is in the BILLIONS place) of garbage produced, every single day. Seriously, I can’t even fathom anything that big. To put that in perspective, an Airbus A380, currently the world’s largest passenger jet, weighs in at just over 1.1 million pounds. To really get a good visual, it would take 1,000 of these airplanes to equal the amount of waste produced in America per day.

Now, in light of that? A was absolutely correct. I, as one person, can’t even begin to make a dent in that amount. Really, what’s my paltry little amount gonna do? However, I also realized when I began this recycling venture that it didn’t matter to me what everyone else did; I could and would limit the amount of garbage I provided to greedy landfills and dumping grounds in the oceans. I would choose to be responsible for limiting my addition to that amount.

You know, I just gotta stop here a moment and ask people — where the heck do you really think it all goes? Seriously. Furthermore, for all of you who don’t want the landfills in your precious neighborhoods — how much do you recycle to eliminate this necessity?

Anyway. The point of all the above is to open eyes to reality, not to talk about recycling. You see, we do all think “I’m only one person,” and we do all find it futile to enact a lasting lifestyle change because it’s inconvenient, and it doesn’t matter anyway because no one else is doing it. But just think a moment, seriously. If we just got our recycling up to 50% per day, not around 34%, we’d be making an impact. If we got it up even higher, it would be more of an impact. Duh, obvious, right?

So let’s turn that thinking around a bit to some other issues. I mean, let’s look at the current political turmoil. Our country is under the thumb of a two-party system that has a lot of noisy people yelling and carrying on about the rightness of their party, and the absolute stupidity and lack of morals of the other party. But I did some more research, and here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • Current U.S. population is around 327,426,301 people
  • Of those 327 million or so people, approximately 2,711,000 people work for the Federal Government; these are separate from members of the Executive Branch
  • The Executive Branch of our government employs a little over 4 million people, including Active Duty Military Personnel
  • Combined, our Federal Government is comprised of about 6,711,000 people; this is 2.04% of our current population

All of this information can be found on Google; there are variations in data, and sometimes trying to get good information from multiple sources is hair-raising at best. I invite you to do your own research.

Anyway. Why did I make this point?

Because I’m so tired of all of us feeling helpless. I’m so tired of all the noisy people, of either side, screaming and shouting and calling names and carrying on as though the end of the world would arrive without their input. I’m further sick unto death of the division that’s eating up our country. I’m old enough to remember when our political parties actually still pretended they were counter-balancing each other, rather than showing that politics has become nothing more now than favor-mongering. Each politician gives something up to gain something, and all the while they each continue to use words and commit to actions that enhance, rather than soothe, the divisiveness that’s ripping our country apart. Disagree with me? Honestly, I’d dearly¬†love¬†to hear something to convince me that this isn’t true!

So, what are the answers? I don’t know, actually. I do know that our two-party system is failing. I do know that people are screaming for congressional limits. I do know that people are tired of watching our educational systems get trammeled in the name of pinching pennies. I do know that we’re tired of working harder for less money; of having to downsize because the house payment we used to be able to make, we can’t anymore. I know that our entire governmental system has become bloated, and with that bloat, it has become nearly ineffective at doing anything other than keeping itself in business.

I do also know that the majority of the United States public are quiet; they’re not the ones who have screaming matches on Facebook with their peers. They’re not the ones who march in protest. They’re not the ones who look at others and think “I’m better than you because I belong to the ‘correct’ party.” Rather, they’re the ones who march back and forth to and from work, every day, so they can have a home and food on the table for themselves and their families. They are the ones who quietly go about doing good as they can, helping out friends, neighbors, their community. They’re the ones who duck under the radar, making sure their kids are fed, reasonably well-behaved and educated, and reasonably well-focused on their communities.

These aren’t the people we all hear about, we all read about. These are, if you will, the salt-of-the-earth people, the ones who make our country great, because they keep working, they keep purchasing what they need, boosting our economy. They keep paying their taxes. Are they happy? They’re people, lol! Some are, some aren’t. Some would love to see change, some are happy with their little worlds. But each of them, if tasked with figuring out how to “fix our country,” to bring back the values that it was built on — you know, a government of¬†the people, by¬†the people,¬†for¬†the people — would probably do the same thing I do; shake their heads, roll their eyes, and exclaim “Holy cow, I don’t even know where to start!”

Or, they might say what A said: “I’m only one person. What difference will my efforts make?”

And¬†this is the crux of the entire ramble you’ve just (hopefully) waded through.

We, individually, are only one person. Individually, we cannot effect change on a societal level, only a local (very local) level. Individually we cannot stand against any form of governmental corruption. Individually, we cannot produce the common-sense state of government that is required in order to keep us from imploding.

Collectively, however? Collectively, to begin with, we outnumber those who’re currently sitting in those positions of power; and we have the power of our vote. We can, at the community level, come together and start asking for common-sense approaches to the issues that currently are so very divisive. As communities, we can hold our elected representatives accountable for their actions. As communities, we can enact change on a societal level that can improve the lives of¬†every single American. We can stop hunger, we can stop rampant spending, we can bring jobs and job satisfaction back to our shores. We can, in fact, do anything we want to — if we act collectively. If each and every one of us “quiet ones” steps up and assumes responsibility for our own futures and, more importantly, for the futures of our children.

Honestly, people. Reread the history of our country. We were founded not as a democracy, but as a republic. Why? Because our founding fathers knew that “popular votes” could be swayed by rhetoric, and so they put systems in place to keep that from happening. In fact, as it was originally envisioned, our country was not intended to be “ruled” by parties at all; the founding fathers did not want party systems, as they knew where that could ultimately lead. Where it has led, and where we are now; parties who exist solely to keep themselves in existence, and in power, and wreck the systems that were put in place for our benefit, not theirs.

This isn’t a call for revolution, per se. It is rather a call to wake up. Stand up, shake the sleep outta your body, and start looking around. Ask yourself; whether it’s about recycling, or about our current state of living — is this what you really want your children to grow up with? Is this the legacy we believe we should leave our children, just because it’s inconvenient to get involved?

Being a Woman in America, Today

So … take 5. Honestly, I have had an arc in my mind for this blog. I was going to start out with personal “tips & tricks” that everyone can employ in your own lives, so you’re less-at-risk of being taken advantage of, and more at risk of finding your own personal happiness; then I was going to move toward addressing social issues that we might be able to work together to change. I have about four or five blogs pre-written in my head at any one time. Yesterday, I went through four before I threw in the towel; no matter what I wanted (or thought I wanted) to write about, the words just wouldn’t show up. These lovely blogs I’ve had dancing in my head forever just —¬†poof!¬†— vanished. I pushed back from the desk, decided to walk away and wait for this morning so I could figure out what was wanting to be written.

Last night, sitting on the deck with the hubs, the above title popped in my head. I groaned, then decided to just do it and so … here we are. This is going to break the arc; don’t worry, I plan on resuming it shortly. But seriously, what kind of SJW would I be if I let the events of this past week go unremarked?

To begin, I want it understood that I don’t much care which side of the political divide you feel you need to defend or represent. However, I work with, and correspond with, and personally know many many women for whom this past week has been traumatic and painful, bringing back all the horror and fear and pain of past issues which have been dragged back out into the light. I actually have a very strong opinion about all of this, which I’ll get to toward the end of the blog.

So, to begin! What I’ve (had) decided (for me) to do today is write about the women I know. The women who share their lives with me; the women whose hopes, dreams, and fears I’ve been privileged enough to learn, to encourage, and to help put to rest.

For this particular blog I’m going to give some demographic information so that you can fully understood the perspective I’m writing from. First of all, I was raised as pure white trash. I currently (with my husband) live at a low-to-middle middle class level — or maybe we’re considered working class? — we have enough money to have a comfortable home, pay bills, eat well; not enough to really travel or buy fancy cars or anything like that. We sometimes find ourselves living paycheck to paycheck; we need cars that won’t fall apart if the bubblegum disintegrates, and honestly, I’d really love a vacay. Just sayin’.

I am a natural-born woman. I say this because my experiences¬†only include the female perspective. I can commiserate and sympathize with men, but I can’t understand the world through your eyes cuz, like, ya know … I ain’t got the right equipment, and never have had. So the views you will see are the views of a woman who’s been female all her life, and identifies very strongly as a female.

History – Me & My family

I’m going to start with my mother, since she was the first woman I knew. My mother, who was horribly abused (translate, raped regularly) by brothers, uncles, grandfather, step-father … you name it. She met and seduced my father when she was 15, getting pregnant with me at 16 and delivering me at 17.

Next, naturally, I must speak of myself. Myself who was beaten and severely abused by both parents. Interestingly enough, in my life, it wasn’t my father who was my primary abuser, it was my mother. Sexual as well as physical and emotional; her love language only knew one means of expression, sadly. At 14, I was raped by a friends’ uncle. When I became pregnant, my father flew home from S. Korea, where he was stationed, and informed me that his whore daughter would not be delivering a bastard child in his household. I could have an abortion or I could go live in a home for unwed mothers. I had an abortion. I won’t talk about that, or the aftermath.

Later I married a man who told me “Hey, I know you have issues, but I’m a man, and I have needs. You’re my wife, so it’s your job to take care of those needs.” This, when I was trying to work my way through a lifetime of heinous abuse.¬†The last therapist I worked with, around 2010/2011, was shocked as I was relating some of what I grew up with. Her jaw dropped, her face became pained, and she asked me, “You do realize that what you’re talking about would, by most countries, be considered torture, right?” But thats ok, hubby dear; I’ll put my issues to the side and spread my legs for ya. I mean, you’re “The Man” in the house, right?

From Husband #1 I went to the single life for a couple of years, then met someone and got involved with him. Throughout our relationship, I was constantly chided for being too fat. Now, he wasn’t all that attractive himself, but the burden of a happy relationship obviously fell on me, because I was female and too fat.

From¬†there I got myself involved with a man who took pride (not when we met, not for two years) in being a sadist. Specifically a sexual sadist, and if you don’t know exactly what that means, you can¬†read this; in short, it’s not about deviant sexual practices but rather, deriving sexual pleasure from mental, physical and/or sexual torture of another person. I survived 10 years with that man; I didn’t escape unscathed. It’s taken me about eight years, now, to move past the damage he inflicted, but every day is further away from that time, and it just gets better.

In between all this, I found myself attacked, physically, by men on three occasions. Once, when I was seeking to protect a friend who was being targeted by two guys who were bound and determined to have fun with her in the parking lot, after she left the bar we were hanging out in (I was driving her home). Once, by someone who thought he was God’s gift to me, and all I had to do was lay there and let him prove it. Never mind the fact that I kept trying to walk away, and walk away, and walk away … the third time by a guy I was dating. We’d been out that night, then came back to my place and sang songs together while he strummed his guitar. Lovely, wonderful evening; until he tried to pick me up and carry me to the bedroom, and I protested. My house took a beating; we won’t talk about him, or me.

None of the above incidents got reported to the police. My familial abuse I actually did report when I was hospitalized as a teen; from there, we had family group meetings before we met with counselors, where I was coached very carefully on what I could and could not discuss. The rape by my friends’ uncle wasn’t reported because my parents didn’t want to believe it was rape; my father was out of the country at that time, and my mother was out bar-hopping with her bestie the night it happened. So, believing it was rape might be a tad inconvenient. The first husband? What’s to report; he was just “being a man,” right? He didn’t actually¬†force¬†himself on me … and my second husband? Did I mention he’s also really really smart, and a classic narcissist? In short, everything that I did during our marriage (except of course for the date-rape drugs he fed me, which I cannot prove) could be said to have been my own choice. The three other occasions? I can hear it now: “If you (or your friend) hadn’t been giving off the wrong signals this wouldn’t have happened” or “If you had been at home where you belonged …”

My sister was beaten regularly by her first real boyfriend, the father of her two children. Beyond that I don’t know; she was eight years my junior and we operated in separate spheres. Further she was killed when she was 30; at that time, she’d been in prison, back out, fought a custody battle for her kids across the nation, then worked 2-3 jobs at a time as well as putting herself through school. There were things we discussed … and things we didn’t.

My cousin was raped by her father; when she talked about it, she was told she was making it up. He later married another woman, and was reported for rape/molestation of her daughters. He was cleared of the charges because the daughters were afraid to testify.

My youngest daughter was date-raped when she was 15. A male friend picked her up, took her for a ride (many many miles away from the house), then told her “If you want me to drive you back home, have sex with me.” She was too far away from home to even know where she was, and this was before cell phones were prevalent. She was utterly at his mercy. She never reported it because she believed that she “consented.”

My oldest daughter? I think, and I hope, she made it through without all of this. But so far, just in my family, we’re talking about five of six women who’ve lived through physical and/or emotional and/or sexual abuse, all within one family unit. We’re talking three generations, but a common thread exists that crosses the generations to wreak havoc on our lives.

My friends

Alrighty, on to other women in my friend circle. We have P, beaten and raped throughout her childhood; when she spoke to her parents about it she was ordered to keep it hush-hush. Her abusers were family and non-family; she was essentially “passed around.”

We have D, whose second husband tried to cut her daughter out of her womb when she was eight months pregnant with her. Her daughter, now 12, will carry forever the scar on her back, which she received from that event. D was seen in the hospital, obviously; when she told the medical staff and later the police what happened, it became her word against his. He was never charged for assault with a deadly weapon, with attempted murder of mother and child.

We have D2, who was out with a girlfriend a couple years ago. Girlfriend went to get the car and pull it around while D2 paid the bill; by the time D2 got outside, she found her girlfriend bent over the car, her panties down around her ankles, with a man about to rape her. D2 clubbed him, got him off her friend, and got them both in the car and to safety. This was never reported because D2 didn’t know if she caused serious harm to the rapist; he wasn’t moving when she left. She was afraid she’d be charged with assault or, possibly, murder.

We have V who, at 14, was in a foster home with her sister, after her father “sold” them to a couple who then abandoned them. V ended up making a deal with the father; you see, he was being inappropriate with her then-12-year-old sister, who had MD. She would do anything he wanted, as long as he left her sister alone. This was never reported because he was, in her mind, someone that the government “gave” her and her sister to, and obviously if the government approved of him, then reporting him wouldn’t do any good.

We have O, who lived as straight-and-narrow a life as you could possibly imagine, who was raped by an acquaintance’s boyfriend during a wedding rehearsal/reception. They were in a hotel when the lights went off and stayed off; he took advantage of the situation. She never reported it because she was too ashamed, and because she knew the reputation this male enjoyed. She did not feel that she would be believed.

We have P2, who lived in an abusive marriage for 24 years. He terrorized her, threatened to kill her and her children, and was an all-around bad dude. When she talked to family and friends about what she was living with, they scoffed at her. “He’s a good man,” they told her. “You just need to work on being a better wife.”

We have D3, a professional bartender¬†as well as¬†the director of a county government HR department. A year ago she was out with friends; she knows all the tricks. Somehow, she still ended up roofied, her phone and wallet taken while she was left behind a bar miles away from the last place she recalled being. So far as she knows, the phone and wallet being taken was all that happened to her; but she doesn’t¬†know for sure that she wasn’t assaulted. She believes she wasn’t — I mean, no physical aches and pains indicating she was — but she doesn’t¬†know what they did or did not do to her.

What’s It All Mean?

The point I wanted to make with the above information is two-fold. First of all, of the women I know, most of us have suffered some form of abuse,¬†at least once in our lives,¬†at the hands of a man. Secondly, the ones who actually did report (or have it reported due to circumstances) were not believed, were not given the ability to see their transgressors punished. Not one of the cases above,¬†including the woman who nearly had a baby cut out of her womb was believable enough for the police or law enforcement officials to charge, much less prosecute. So next time you wanna ask “Why wait,” re-read what I’ve written out here for you above. Seriously — why report? Until our country adopts a stance that doesn’t put the blame for rape and physical assault on the woman’s shoulders, what good does it do for us to report? If we’re young, we’re already terrified; who’s going to believe us? Most of our perpetrators actually play off of that. “I’m a nurse/doctor/police officer/high-level manager/blah blah blah. No one’s gonna believe you over me!” So, is it inconceivable that women will refuse to report, when we know women who¬†have¬†reported, and have seen nothing come of it?

But that’s not really the point I want to make, either. All the above? It’s been laying ground work so that I can make the point I want to make. That point is simple:

If women keep on tearing apart other women for political reasons then we will never be able to achieve any parity in justice for the crimes committed against us.

Divided We Fall

Our country currently has two major sources of news: So-called “legitimate” news brokers, and Social Media. I say so-called “legitimate” because it’s nearly impossible to watch the news, nowadays, without seeing information related to “What’s trending?” in Social Media. Seems there’s a huge crossover, but that’s a blog for another time.

What I’ve seen this past week is partisanship that has created a gulf, a chasm, between women. On one hand, we have “The Conservatives” falling in line with the party rhetoric because, well, they’re “The Conservatives.” Anything that indicates harm to anyone in their party must be met and challenged, regardless of whether we have suffered through it ourselves. On this line of the divide, we have women proudly denouncing Dr. Ford, because “I lived through terrible stuff, but I didn’t come crying about it 36 years later!”

On the other side, we have those nasty, stinking “Liberals” who’re just hell-bent on doing¬†anything to keep another yucky Conservative outta the Judge’s seat. They’ll lie, they’ll obfuscate, and they’ll make up stories just to keep a nominee from getting nominated.

Seriously. These are pretty much the views we carry about other women, based¬†solely¬†on what we believe their political affiliations are. Now, I don’t really consider myself as belonging to either party; I absolutely consider myself standing outside of the rhetoric. Further, neither party currently in power is willing to do what’s¬†right,¬†rather seeking to do what’s convenient; for themselves, for the power they’re building, for their party’s ability to help them grow that power. Until this changes, I cannot back either party. Elections are fun; I have to actually be¬†more¬†educated about where people stand, so I can¬†try to make the best choice possible for the outcome I wish to see.¬†I consider myself conservative, but mainly because my views are simple: The government needs to keep itself out of my home. Out of my bedroom, out of my pocket-book (for anything beyond infrastructure). Out of my business,¬†unless I do something that brings harm to another person.¬†This means I don’t think the government should be legislating morality. I further don’t believe the government should be constantly delving into my pocketbook to pay for programs that are useless — and prove themselves useless and open to manipulation regularly. I am seen, however, as being liberal, because I absolutely refuse to think of people as anything more than people. I don’t care if they’re black, white, foreign, national, gay, straight, transgendered … whatever. I don’t care. The things I care about are their actions toward me, and toward other people. There really isn’t a party for people like me … yet.

The point that I¬†really want to make here is that, almost across the board, the women I’ve listed above (friends, not my immediate family) are like me. It’s not that we’re apolitical; it’s that we have lives to live, and current politics just don’t really do anything for us.¬†We are, largely, lower- and middle-middle-class people. We are more interested in the fact that prices for services and products keep going up, while we keep getting so-called “Merit Raises” of 2.5% or less. We generally have 1-2 children per household, until families blend and remarry and then who knows what you end up with? We want schools that teach our children, not try to reeducate them. We want to eat food that doesn’t poison us. We want to be able to afford to put our kids in extracurricular activities, without breaking the bank to do so. We want to stop seeing ourselves having to work more and more, just to afford less and less, every year. We are enraged that corporations and government are keeping in place a system where the rich keep getting richer, and the not-rich keep getting poorer … regardless of how bloody hard we work.

We also,¬†desperately, want to see our home, our country, change direction. We want to live without fearing that opening our mouths will cause us to be reviled. We want equity in treatment; that doesn’t mean we want¬†more or¬†better¬†treatment than our male counterparts have. It just means we don’t want to live in fear. We don’t want to raise our daughters to be afraid. We don’t want to have to continue going to work, knowing our male counterpart who is¬†doing the exact same job and¬†has¬†the exact same time in service is¬†making more money than we make. We want to not be harassed professionally or personally by our male counterparts. We want to be seen as exactly what we are — human beings worthy of being treated with grace, dignity, respect, and courtesy. You know, the opposite of harassment.

Why we have allowed ourselves to be further divided along political lines is confusing to me. I mean, we can agree to disagree, right? We can agree to say “I don’t agree with you, but I’ll still be your friend.” What I’ve seen, in this last week, is people across the board refusing to remain friends with anyone who disagrees with them. A woman I respect and admire who’s a faithful Christian and, largely, a Conservative, offered up a neutral post about this past week’s debacle. The responders were all women; of those women, at least two I can think of were ugly, rude, discourteous, and even inflammatory and outright combative with people who disagreed with them. Name-calling was rife. If you disagreed with these people you were thus open for any amount of name-calling and abuse they wanted to heap upon you.

This. This is the point I don’t understand, so I’ll spell it out for you.

Ladies? We’re fighting an uphill battle, already. We’re the wives, the mothers, and in many cases professional leaders, and we are¬†still¬†struggling to be seen as viable, equal.

Where does it make sense for us to allow our country’s current political structure to continue to divide us? Especially over something that each and¬†every single one of us knows is something that we will all have to face. How many of you¬†don’t carry pepper spray with you? How many of you don’t walk out to your car with your keys securely gripped, pointing out from your fist? How many of you¬†don’t¬†check the back seat & back of your car, before you get in it? How many of you¬†don’t¬†make sure you’ve always got a buddy nearby when you’re out past dark?

Stop and think, ladies. Now is the time for us to relearn that we are all sisters, and when we roar together, we can change the world around us. As long as our country continues to embrace a policy that divides its population as clearly as our country’s current structure is dividing us, as a people,¬†someone¬†needs to maintain a clear head! Why not unite, find our common ground, then work¬†as a team¬†to implement what we want to see changed? If change must happen from within, great! Let’s work on it from within. But let’s work on it¬†together¬†instead of falling into the trap that we have to prove our party’s better than their party. Really. Haven’t we left high school yet?

 

 

 

Act vs React

Action, reaction … schmreaction. Pft. Who cares?

Actually, I do. Why? Not because I think there’s a thing you *ahem*¬†should¬†or¬†should not¬†be doing, but because I actually care about your personal happiness. I know, sounds weird, right? I mean, wouldn’t the logical assumption be that I’m blogging all this because I like reading myself think? Actually, no, not at all. Believe me, I wouldn’t pay a site to host a blog just for that purpose! So why do I care about your personal happiness? Simple! The happier you are, the happier the people around you will be. The happier they are, the happier the people around¬†them will be … and so on and so forth, until one day this big ol’ world is full of happy people! Ok, yeah, it’s a long-term goal, but it means the same thing — I do care about your personal happiness. As always, if something I can offer up can help you achieve your own personal happiness? Yay!

Per our quote above, we’re given the opinion that sometimes, actual action is more difficult than reaction. That’s one of the first things I want to point out; yes, action usually¬†is¬†more difficult: less satisfying; more complex: less sure; than simple reaction. Why is that? Hopefully, that’s what we’ll discover in this next bit of blatherings!

So, to begin — hey! No definitions today! Instead, you’re going to get Isende-speak for what I mean by “Action” and “Reaction.”

Reaction: Allowing a person, situation, event, or other external stimulus to dictate how you behave

Action: Owning responsibility for our behavior, regardless of a person, situation, event, or other external stimulus

Right there, I think you’ll see what I consider the primary difference between the two; in action, we assume responsibility for what we do. We don’t fob it off on someone else — “See what you made me do?” We don’t try to tell ourselves, or others, that we “had no choice.” We step up to the plate, consider our options, then choose one that seems to have the best ability to meet the needs on-hand. That’s it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Someone who’s stuck in “react” mode, however, will blame others. They will refuse to accept culpability for their responses. They will, also, repeat the behavior over and over and over … because until you decide to own your behavior, you are stuck in a bad cycle, and bad cycles repeat until we overcome them. Period.

To give this personal meaning, I’m going to fall back on what I did with the Choices¬†posts; I’m going to offer up some scenarios, then deconstruct them. Here goes!

Scenarios: Action vs. Reaction

I thought about using fake scenarios again, but you know what they say — sometimes life is stranger than fiction! So today, we use my life experiences.

First one: I was 17 and living with a friend, just before I married my first husband. My friend had her sister living with us; Sister was about five months pregnant at the time. We were all young, all smoked. Sister also drank nothing but coffee all day, and she especially chain-smoked. One day, my friend decided that Sister needed exercise, and the only way she could convince Sister to get exercise was to refuse to go buy her cigarettes. The store was in walking distance, and my friend thought that if Sister had to go to the store at least once a day, she’d get some exercise, and be less likely to lose her baby. I mean, this girl literally sat in the middle of the couch, chain-smoking and drinking coffee all day. Not good.

Sister ran out of smokes. Asked my friend to run to the store. My friend refused. An argument ensued, and quickly escalated to physical violence. In short, Sister was attempting to beat the crap outta my friend, and my friend was afraid to fight back. I mean, pregnant lady, right? I looked, observed, thought, then decided. I also didn’t want to hurt her or the baby, but I needed this to deescalate. So, I stuck my arm between them, grabbed Sister by her hair and backed her against a wall. The intention was to hold her there until she calmed down; however. Arm in front of face = something to bite. Yep, to this day, I have a lovely circular bite mark on my forearm.

Right then and there, what do you think I wanted to do? I actually had visions of slamming her head back into the wall a couple of times. I mean, it HURT! But … pregnant lady. Baby. So I kept her teeth in my arm and slowly pushed her down until she was kneeling on the floor, where I held her. She eventually let go of my arm, then calmed down. Discussion ensued, blah blah blah, and I had to go into the hospital to get the bite seen about.

Why is this a good scenario to share? Because Sister lost the baby a couple of weeks later. I know, now, absolutely, that I did nothing to contribute to the loss. I know that for a fact. I can live with that. If I’d reacted; if I’d slammed her head back into the wall; if I’d done any of the seemingly-satisfying things I wanted to do, I’d have had to live with wondering, for the rest of my life, if I’d caused the miscarriage.

Second scenario: My now-husband, we’ll call him Beloved, used to be notoriously bad about managing money. When we met, he was in the habit of regularly taking cash advances, through his bank, against future paychecks. This allowed him to live as though he had more money than he had, but it didn’t really accommodate emergencies, savings, or any of the other little things I find very important. After he got us completely upside-down one month — not enough money in the paycheck to cover the advances; advance-fees piling up; bills due; electricity cut off — I had a choice to act or react. Reaction with me would have had me demanding that he never do this again, or berating him for being so poor with money management, or anything along those lines. But rather than deal with it immediately (once he got the electricity turned back on) I chose to think about it. To begin, what was my gut-level, visceral response to this?

Anger. Pure and simple, I was angry. He wanted me to commit to a life with him, but he wasn’t able to manage money, and having been homeless twice, money-management was very important to me. Then, I had to think about the anger. Was the anger justified? I felt it was, yes. Was¬†expression of my anger¬†justified? Within reason, I felt. What, then, actions should I take to express my anger, but not completely destroy the relationship? I mean, eight years later, I’m exceedingly glad I didn’t just react, but back then, I had no idea how wonderful our life together would become. Honestly, throwing in the towel and removing myself from the situation was high up on my priority list. But! I persevered! I thought it through, and decided to have a talk with him. I explained to him that money management was a verybigdeal to me, and that I needed to be able to rely on him. I asked him to promise me he would never again take an advance without discussing it with me. He gave me his word.

Which he then broke, three times, to be exact. We were even worse upside-down than we had been previously. I’d just had surgery to replace my ankle, and I was sitting down figuring out how we’d pay off our doctor’s bills … when he dropped the bombshell that we had no money to pay the bills, because he’d … um … taken advances again and um … well, we didn’t have money.

I was livid. Heck, livid doesn’t even begin to explain it. I remember distinctly popping up off the couch (one foot still in the cast, lol!), grabbing my bag & the car keys and leaving the house. I was terrified if I didn’t words would roll off my tongue and across my lips that I’d regret. I left the house for a while, and got things sorted out in my mind. Interestingly, this time, I was¬†more¬†angry about the broken promise than I was about the money!

Once I got myself under control, I came back, we sat down again, and talked again. I had decided there was only one course of action available to me, and that was to offer him some options. I could create a spreadsheet/budget, and teach him to use it so this wouldn’t happen again. I could even do the budget with him. Or I could manage all the money myself (which I didn’t want to do, considering the debacle brought about in my second marriage). Or, and this was the painful one, I could leave, and he could live his life however he wanted. The one condition I made absolutely clear was that, under no circumstances, would I tolerate his ever again breaking his word to me.

That situation ended up (obviously!) working out; he worked with me to learn the budget, then he began using it every Saturday morning to balance monies, so we both always know exactly where we stand (still broke, but at least not upside down!). Now, it’s just a routine part of his Saturday mornings, and I have learned to be able to rely on him to know where our money is, when we can spend, when we can’t, and how we’re looking months in advance. But think of how it could have ended up! If I’d simply reacted, the first time, to what he’d done, I’d have chewed him out, undermined his sense of self, and probably left the relationship. If I’d simply reacted the second time this happened, same results. We, as we exist now, wouldn’t exist.

Now, I’ll admit this. At the time,¬†all I really wanted to do was tear him a new arse-hole. It would have been gloriously satisfying to give vent to my anger, fear, frustration. It would have been brilliant, for all of about two minutes, to lay into him with everything I had and completely demolish him. I won’t ever deny that. You see, that’s the lure of¬†reacting. It allows us, momentarily, to disregard the fear, the frustration, the angst of actually dealing with the situation. It allows us to blame the other person, wholly and completely, for anything that happens from this point forward. You didn’t want to manage the money, so we’re broke? Fine. I’m going to gripe and nag and berate you for all the things I can’t do because you suck. Additionally, it allows us to feel powerful, for that moment. We’re the wronged party, they’re the jerk who wronged us! Now, they have to¬†listen¬†to us rant and rave because¬†they’re the one(s) who screwed up! Yes, for that brief time, we can feel very powerful.

The experience of looking back, eight or so years later, and understanding all that I would have lost if I’d taken that route gives me a strong belief that,¬†regardless of what we’re feeling at the moment, it is almost always better to think before we act.

Caveat here — cuz ya know, we can’t have a discussion without that! There are absolutely times when it is best to react, rather than stop and think about it. First responders know this. Emergency personnel know this. Soldiers know this. Trauma survivors know this. The times I’ve been physically attacked, I’ve had to respond immediately without the benefit of sitting back, weighing options, and choosing the best course of action. Please understand that I fully separate these types of situations from the normal, day-to-day interaction that is currently rife with reaction as opposed to action.

Soooooo … what’s it all mean?

Simple. If we react, we are giving power of ourselves,¬†over¬†ourselves, to someone else. When Sister bit me, if I’d reacted as I had wanted to, I’d have been behaving¬†as she expected me to. I don’t honestly know what was going through her mind, but I don’t think you start throwing swings at someone unless you expect them to swing back. I could be wrong.

If I’d reacted, if I’d bashed her head into the wall behind her, I would have been dancing to¬†her¬†tune, not to my own. Regardless of the consequences, at that moment, I’d have been living by a script she was writing, not one that I was writing.

Sit back and think about this, folk. This is actually a huge deal. Every time someone glares at us, cusses us, hurts us — whatever it is — and we respond as they expect, we’ve given them the ability to control us. I personally find that absolutely abhorrent.

Someone tells me I’m fat: I can laugh at them, thank them, ignore them, or get hurt about it.

Someone fires me from a job I love because I disagreed with them: I can find a gun and kill everyone on the site, or I can go find a different, better job with a different better boss; I can go back to school, change careers; I can choose to farm; I can decide to travel.

Someone wrecks my car, severely injuring me: I can sink down into depression, possibly even commit suicide; I can give in to the pain and discomfort; I can work my arse off to overcome the injuries; I can relearn what life is like post-severe-injury.

We can’t stop the initial gut-level, emotional response. At all; nor do I believe we¬†should¬†attempt to stop it. I think, rather, we should give ourselves time, and do some self-talk.

“Ok, this happened. How do you feel?”

“How do you¬†think I feel? I’m bloody pissed!”

“Right, that’s good, you’re pissed. What else?”

“I’m terrified! How’m I gonna pay bills now?”

“Right, right, on the right track now! So, we need to find a new way to pay bills …”

See where I’m going with this? Yes, it falls back on the Choices thing, but with a little twist; that twist being the part about giving over control of yourself to someone else. With the Choices blogs, I mainly wanted you to become familiar with the concept that we have way more choices than we’re taught to believe we have. With this one, I want to emphasize that letting others dictate what you do, how you respond, diminishes you. I know this, I remember being this person. Yep, I had to learn & muddle my way through it, same as you!

One sidenote here. It’s always so amusing to me when I don’t respond how people expect me to. “You’re a bitch.” “Ok.” “No, seriously, you’re a total bitch.” “Ok, and? What’s your point?” Brooks Gibbs, a motivational speaker, gave the following speech at a Ted Talks, and I found it applicable here. Ostensibly, the speech is about bullying, and how to deal with it. But watch him, watch¬†this, and hopefully you’ll see what I mean about giving power to others, and what it looks like when you keep it for yourself.

Be courageous, and choose how you will act. Step outside the mold. Give yourself permission to see what good can come from being abnormal, especially in a society that prides itself on its caustic behavior toward others.

There are actually benefits to living this way; in my case? I have the most amazing marriage to the most amazing man on the face of the earth because I accepted that I could affect a positive change in both our lives by simply offering solutions, rather than beating him about the head with a blunt object. I can live without fearing that I caused a miscarriage. So very many things I can do, without regret, because I learned to act instead of react.

 

“Should”

Let me begin by apologizing for not having written sooner! Between business and health issues, I’ve been slow, but now it’s time to rectify that. Additionally, this is a difficult concept for me to express, and I’ve struggled with how to get it across and make sense. So, if the following fails, blame me wholly. It just means I didn’t quite find the right way of putting words together to get my views across.

As usual, I’m beginning by delving in to the literal meaning of the word “Should,” which follows:

Definition of Should 

past tense of SHALL

1‚ÄĒused in auxiliary function to express condition
if he should leave his father, his father would die

2‚ÄĒused in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency
’tis commanded I¬†should¬†do so
this is as it should be
you should brush your teeth after each meal

3‚ÄĒused in auxiliary function to express futurity from a point of view in the past
realized that she should have to do most of her farm work before sunrise

4‚ÄĒused in auxiliary function to express what is probable or expected
with an early start, they should be here by noon

5‚ÄĒused in auxiliary function to express a request in a polite manner or to soften direct statement
I should suggest that a guide … is the first essential

Ok, that’s all a lot of hoopla that shows the technical manner in which “should” should be used … see what I did there?

What I focus on however is more of how it actually¬†is¬†used. In our vernacular, today, the word “should” is used to convey an expectation that at times is outside of reality. Examples are things like “You really should stop eating so much” or “I should have been stronger/faster/smarter” or “What should happen is blah blah blah …”

In other words, we’re applying a measurable expectation to a situation that defies measurement. Saying “You really should stop eating so much” is as much a judgement as it is a piece of advice. In other words, your problem (whatever it is) would be alleviated if you just didn’t eat so much. “I should have been stronger/faster/smarter” is a way that we flog ourselves, after the fact, for failure. Theoretically it can be seen as an attempt to improve a future scenario where the same situation would apply; realistically it is all-too-often a measurement of our inadequacy that can hold us back from moving past a mistake. And “What should happen is blah blah blah …”? Please. Tell me how often stating our government “should” be working for the common welfare actually brings that in to being? Or how often stating doctors should be more compassionate actually brings out the compassion in docs … you get the picture, right?

In my pea-brain, many decades ago, I pondered guilt. Was guilt imposed externally, or internally? What was the difference? Why did that difference matter? I decided that guilt can be imposed externally, say from a mother telling you your actions have caused her hurt. “I can’t believe you did that. What will the neighbors think? How will I ever hold my head up again?” That kind of guilt, believe it or not, we can choose to accept, or not accept. We can turn that statement around and respond with something along the lines of “Maybe you can tell everyone to mind their own business?” or it can simply be ignored. This comes under the issue of choices, in our two previous posts.

Guilt can also be imposed internally. “Oh, wow, I stepped all over your toes, I’m so sorry!” would be an example of this. We did something, we recognize that our something directly harmed someone else (little or lot, doesn’t matter, harm was caused), and we apologize for it. In theory, once we’ve apologized¬†and the other person has accepted the apology¬†our guilt will be assuaged. However, we can — as mentioned above — then fall into the trap of castigating ourselves for whatever it was we did.

This pondering led to the concept of doing things out of a sense of guilt, duty, or obligation. For my purposes here, today, I’m going to exclude the sense of duty that is internally motivated, and focus on the externally-driven sense of duty; my father taught me that it’s my duty to do this. My country demands this duty from me. Anyway, the outcome of all these maunderings was that I decided I would not do anything, anymore, out of a misdirected sense of guilt, duty, or obligation. In other words, I would do things because it’s what I wanted to do, or what I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do. And all of this eventually wound its way down to this simple word …

Should

Should can be a good motivator. “Hrm. I really should get my arse outta bed now, and get to work, so I have money to continue paying for a roof over said bed.” It can be a way of focusing our intentions. From this perspective, I have no problem with this little six-letter word. It’s when it becomes a statement of judgement or an indicator of personal failing that I begin to have issues with it.

I spent literally years thinking I¬†should be Superwoman. You know, full-time employee. Wife. Mother. Church member. Sunday-school teacher. I¬†should be able to handle this entire load, just like every other woman I knew, without breaking down. I¬†should be able to raise my daughters to be happy, sane adults when I was myself anything but happy or sane. I should be able to secure a decent job, without school or training, to supplement our household income.¬†My inability to actually pull any of these off became goads to drive further my sense of inadequacy. Because there was this idealization that¬†was not realistic I held myself to a higher standard than I held others to. In short, I could accept deficiencies and failure in everyone around me … except myself.

Then let’s enter the ex-husbands. Ex-husband #1 I married when I was 17 and he was 21. In some senses, we kinda grew up as adults together; he got the short end of the stick, though, because I was severely broken, and he’d had a relatively normal upbringing. He didn’t know how to deal with me, so he attempted to impose his own sense of what I¬†should¬†be on me. For instance, in dealing with my bulimia, he told me multiple times he couldn’t understand why I sought therapy for it. “I mean, if you don’t want to eat, just don’t eat! Don’t you realize how much money you’re wasting? If you don’t want to do something, you should be able to just make yourself not do it!” There were more examples of this type, but I think this is strong enough on its own to illustrate my point. Ex #2? Whoof. He is a Narcissist, and proud of it. Further, he’s also a self-described “Sexual Sadist” and proud of that as well. His list of “shoulds” was more underhanded, less direct. The first two years of our 10-year marriage were great, but then things began to deteriorate, as they will. Things that were once praise-worthy (“Wow, you’re really good at keeping a budget, will you manage mine, too?”) became things worthy of contempt (“Ok, you’re too controlling with the money. It’s my money, you should just let me decide how to spend it”).

In the case of #1, his view didn’t jive with my reality. If you have never fought with a compulsion, then you absolutely cannot understand it. It’s not called a desire, but a compulsion, for a reason, and that reason is that you cannot resist it. For instance, I’m OCD. I’ve learned to¬†redirect my OCD so it’s not as onerous as it could be, but I’m still OCD and when it’s bad, I must wash my hands. They start feeling covered with gunk, gringy, icky, and while I can put off the hand-washing, there comes a point where I have to give myself permission to do so. For someone who’s struggling with a compulsive behavior (in the above case, the compulsive eating), saying “You should be able to …” implies “Hey, I can choose not to, so if I can, then anyone can.” It is simply setting aside reality (I couldn’t not eat, when the compulsion hit) and imposing your own sense of what’s right or wrong on another person. Further, there’s no way the person hearing the comment can believe anything other than they’re found lacking, in your opinion; they’re not as strong as you. They’re not as determined, disciplined, whatever, as you are. Judgement, in other words. And that is hurtful.

In the case of #2, he took something that he once praised as valorous, and destroyed it, applying a condition that at that time was unmeetable. You see, to manage our household budget I’d created a spreadsheet which I reproduced yearly. Once a year I’d sit down, plot out incomes, plot out expenses, set aside savings, and I ran the household by that budget. Yes, it had to be modified on occasion, but the setup and the modifications were done with both of us present. Giving him the ability to manage his own money, himself, would have meant his/our accounts being overdrawn regularly, as they ended up being when, in frustration, I asked him to just manage everything for us. In a couple of short months we lost my car, our home, and any savings I’d built up. His statement was again a disregard of reality (he couldn’t manage money) and a statement of failure on my part (I wasn’t letting him spend what he wanted, so I was a Femi-nazi).

By the end of the second marriage I was thoroughly fed up with this whole imposed concept of “Should.” So what’s the alternative, then? I mean, we also use “Should” to denote things we’re focused on achieving, right? When is it ok for me to use that word, and when not? I’ll spare you the long years of debate and internal debate, and just let you hear what I came to that works for me.

“Today I am going to …” instead of “I should do …”

“I am going to focus my efforts on …” instead of “I should focus on …”

“When do you want to get together?” instead of “We should get together sometime”

These are simple examples but they’re really good ones. The gist of it is this: Rather than use language that imposes, I’m using language that is more direct, more to the point. I’m avoiding something that’s open-ended, and which implies I can choose¬†not to do it. I think that’s another part of this whole “Should” thing — using that word gives us an out, but that out is such that we regret it later, abuse ourselves later for the failure to have done it.

This language works as well with others as it does with ourselves, and honestly, it’s really our selves that I want to focus on next. You see, one of the other downfalls of “Should” is the opportunity for self-castigation.

“I should have been a better mother”

“I should have been a better wife”

“I should have been a better employee”

“I should have been smarter”

“I should have known better”

How many times have these words, or words very like them, run through your mind? How many times have you beaten yourself up over your perceived failure in a situation that, sometimes, occurred¬†years or more ago? How many more times do you want to do this to yourself? This is where I fall back on the belief that “Should” is an imposition of an idea on reality. You see, the reality is that I wasn’t a better mother, or a better wife. I was, in fact, the absolute¬†best¬†mother and wife I could be, but I wasn’t better. I was the best employee I could be, but I wasn’t, in fact, better. And by the way — better than what? Better than another employee? Another wife, mother, whatever? Pft.

By continuing to use these “failures” against ourselves, we keep ourselves trapped in that moment, in that failure. Let’s completely disregard the fact that failure ain’t actually bad, but rather that it’s a learning process. Let’s just look at our mindset when we use “Should” against ourselves.

First of all, you cannot go forward if you remain facing backward. Simple physics will tell you that! Ok, yes, you could step “backwards,” but do you really wanna move toward something without being able to see it? So let’s just go with the simple analogy … you¬†cannot move forward if you remain facing backward. This then begs the question — is the past somewhere you wish to be? Is it a good place for you to be? In my ever-so-humble opinion, not if it keeps you believing in your own inadequacy.

Second, you cannot learn how to accept, and move on from, failure if you won’t learn from it. And I’m sorry, but this idea of “Should” absolutely gets in the way of learning from failure. Example: I want to run a 1k. I begin training. I push my training to the point I believe I may actually have an opportunity to cross the finish line … and then I don’t. So my choices now are to castigate myself for failing, or to set my eyes on the next 1k, and ask myself “What do I need to do so next time, I’ll cross the line?” If I keep my mind set on my failure, without regard to what I’ve learned from it, I may never even try to run another 1k. However, if I immediately begin a plan and a program for increasing my physical stamina and ability, then I may very well cross that line next time; and if not? Then I’ve got a new baseline to work from, and I can try yet again.

Further. When we tell others what they should or should not be doing, we’re actually trying to convince the other person to do what we¬†think¬†we would do. Example: Let’s say my friend Isabella comes over, and she’s complaining about her boyfriend treating her like crap. If I say “You should just dump him,” I’m giving her the insight of what I think I would do,¬†without regard to all the nuances of which she is aware, and I am not. For instance, is this a one-time crap-like treatment? Did he just have a bad day? Is there other information I’m missing, like, did Isabella have a bad day and antagonize him? There are so many variables, and I don’t have all the information, even if I listen to everything Isabella says. So for me to blithely comment “You should just dump him,” I’m not really¬†listening¬†to my friend, rather I’m¬†listening-to-rebut. I’ll get into that on another blog, but it’s important here. Sometimes, maybe, Isabella just wants to come hang out, vent, and have someone who cares about her listen. When I butt in with my big mouth and my imposition of what I think I would do, I’m not really giving her that; rather, I’m imposing a judgement, and that judgement says “I’m smart enough to realize he’s a jerk, but you’re not.”

Some other possible responses in the above case would be:

“Hm. I’m sorry, sounds like you’re having a bad day. What can I do?”

“Oh, wow, he said¬†that? That doesn’t sound like him, is he having a bad day or what?”

“How can I help?”

In other words, there’s nothing about “I” in those statements, it’s all about Isabella, and there’s absolutely no judgement. Now, if she asks me what I think she “should” do? I might respond by pointing out that I’m not her, living her life, but if I understand the situation right, I might do such-and-such. Again, no “You should,” but rather “I might.” It leaves Isabella with the understanding that I’m trying to answer her question without imposing my own self on her, or her actions.

Did I mention that this is a very hard topic for me to write about? I know what I want to say, but it sounds so distracted and scattered to me! It’s a completely different way of thinking than what we’re accustomed to. I have to wonder how much of that is because we’ve become so accustomed to being told what we should do. I mean, how about “Eat a low-fat diet,” ya’ll? Or “Go to college and get a great job!” or “Get into computers, it’s the next big thing, you’ll make tons of money!” … until the outscourcing starts. Or until we realize that the low-fat diet is actually making us fat. Or until we learn that our over-blown, super-costly college education is good for making student loan companies money … and not much else.

But we keep listening to what we “Should” do. “Should” want to be. “Should” model ourselves after. People (all 15 of you now?), if you get nothing else I say, please get this.

Let go of “Should.” Let go of the concept altogether. Learn how to speak and think in a manner that is not judgmental — of yourself, or of others. Learn how to function within the reality that¬†is, not the reality you wish existed. I mean, that I know of, we haven’t yet learned how to switch realities, so this is all we got right now. Disregarding it, while comfortable for a brief time, is not the answer to surviving reality, and “Should” is about the biggest lie that disregards reality I know, personally.

Yes, I’m aware I’m an odd one. That’s ok, though. I can’t say I’m completely free of the tyranny of should, but I can say that every time that dirty word pops in my head, I redirect it so that it both honors reality, and honors me and the person/people I’m dealing with. I can’t say it’s made my life perfect, but I will absolutely state that it’s made my life, and hopefully the lives of my friends, much more bearable.

 

Fear

Know who Will Smith is? Honestly, if you don’t, then you’re either super young, super old, or you’ve avoided television and media for the last … 20? 25? 30 years?

The above quote came from George W. Addair, Founder of Omega Vector. It relates to Will Smith because he speaks about his experiences with sky-diving in¬†this video. He paraphrases it somewhat by saying “God placed the best things in life on the other side of terror.”

Now, we’re not all super-masters who’ve established something intended to help other people develop themselves as completely as possible. Nor are we well well-known American celebrities and philanthropists like Will Smith. That does not, however, negate our ability to learn how to move past fear. Hopefully, something I say in the oncoming blatherings can help you firmly set your feet on the path to finding the best things in life!

Our good friends at Merriam-Webster define fear in the following way:

Fear
1  a : an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger
    b (1) : an instance of this emotion (2) : a state marked by this emotion
2 anxious concern : solicitude
3 profound reverence and awe especially toward God
4 reason for alarm : danger

So; fear is an emotion, or it is an event (#4).

I’ve given a great deal of consideration to fear over the years. I mean, there’s the common everyday fears — does my butt look big in these jeans? Will Joe Cool think I’m pretty or ugly? Will my boss decide he doesn’t like me today, or that I’m his buddy? Will my spouse/partner/etc still love me if they know this about me …

By saying “common, everyday fears,” I do not mean to make light of them. But when you contemplate them alongside paradoxical fear? Well, they just don’t seem that big and bad. Paradoxical fear, if you’re not familiar with the term, is fear big enough or bad enough to trigger an enhanced sympathetic response — fight or flight. This one’s beyond our ability to control. Arguably emotions are beyond our ability to control, but we can usually find a way to reason our way through them. Paradoxical fear, however, is the fear that causes your bowels to let go, urine to creep down your leg. Let’s see if I can give a succinct example.

I’m driving in my car, and someone cuts over in front of me, nearly hitting me. My adrenaline kicks in, enhancing my reflexes so I can slam on the brakes after checking my rearview mirror to make sure no one behind me can plow in to me. Once I know I’m safe, I have to wait for the adrenaline to work itself through my system so I can get my heartrate back down, stop shaking, and stop cursing the other driver in my head.

That’s a sympathetic response, but it’s not quite paradoxical fear. Paradoxical fear occurs when the sympathic response has prepared our bodies for fight or flight; the adrenaline’s been released, our digestion process has taken a break, our breathing quickens, our heart rate increases … in other words, our bodies are physically readjusting themselves to assist in our need to either flee, or fight. But what happens when fleeing, or fighting, aren’t options; are, in fact, impossible? This is when you see paradoxical fear. Essentially, the body does all the above, but it also voids the bowels and/or bladder — and theories abound about why this happens. Google it, if you’re interested!

I make the distinction between “common” and “paradoxical” fear because many of us live with constant fear, and it comes to rule our lives. It can also be called anxiety. For those who live with this constant fear, with anxiety, hearing someone refer to them as “common” or “everyday” may seem insulting, and that is absolutely not my intent. I have lived with anxiety for many years, and to this date there are still nights I wake up and have to walk through my house, checking every closet, every shower, every little cubbyhole to make sure someone hasn’t snuck in my house and is waiting to cause harm to me or mine. Ridiculous, I know, but it’s difficult to argue with fear when it arises.

So what’s the point of this post, then?

I’d have to say that objective #1 is to point out how very debilitating living with fear can be, and objective #2 is to attempt to offer ways to overcome these fears. Most of these will be references, as obviously I’m still fighting with mine.

The American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) lists out some of the physiological effects of living with chronic fear. They include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Endocrine system dysfunction
  • Autonomic nervous system alterations
  • Sleep/wake cycle disruption
  • Eating disorders
  • Alterations in hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis

What’s all that mean? Let’s take it from the top:

  • You get sick easier, and stay sick longer
  • Your body becomes unable to create and feed your system with the hormones needed for daily life, which can create cascading issues with your health
  • The autonomic nervous system is (roughly) the brain, spinal cord, and nerves; this system regulates the parasympathetic and sympathetic responses, meaning that disorders in this system can enhance the fight-or-flight response, or negatively curtail it
  • Can’t sleep well, can’t function well mentally or physically
  • Comfort eating? Starving ourselves? Anything in between? How can our bodies successfully function without adequate nutrition?
  • Since the HPA axis drives our central response system, if it ain’t workin’ right? We can over- or under-react to stimuli

In short, living in a constant state of fear/anxiety absolutely negatively impacts our physical bodies. However, it also creates a self-perpetuating cycle, as the systems in place to help us manage situations and appropriate responses have become degraded. Being constantly afraid helps perpetuate the state of fear, and it becomes a cycle that builds and becomes amazingly difficult to tame, suppress … change.

What none of the above addresses is the mental effects of living with constant fear. Social fear — what if I make a fool of myself? What if people don’t like me? What if they make fun of me? Fear of environment — what if I’m hit by lightning when I walk out the door? Or what if someone tries to kidnap me while I’m taking a walk? These examples I’ve offered up seem minor to those who don’t live with these fears; laughable even.

Don’t laugh, though. Seriously. For someone who lives with fear or anxiety as their constant, boon companion, these are some of the things that become overwhelming and cut us off from contact with those around us. These are the things that make us socially awkward, with improper responses. These are the things that keep us running for cover, for a hiding place. Honestly, anyone who lives with these seemingly irrational fears racing through their minds lives under a cloud that is damned near impossible to imagine will ever dissipate. In short, not only do sufferers live with their fears; they live with the belief that there can be no relief from these fears. Just really sink your teeth in to that concept for a moment. Can you even begin to imagine being this afraid, this terrified,¬†every single day, and yet still trying to function in society? The ones who force themselves to go to the store, to go to school; wherever they force themselves to go, they do it constantly believing the worst thing that can happen to them will and, further, they believe they’re powerless to make it end.

I know this. I’ve lived it. Until you have, try to have a little patience, care, and compassion for those struggling with fear/anxiety — you might be the one person who gives them a reason to try to change their life.¬†Gonna take a second here and point out that if you know someone who lives with anxiety, or constant fear, telling them to “Just get over it,” or “Just face it” isn’t helpful and in fact can be harmful. Fear/anxiety, much like depression, takes over and absolutely rules your life, until you find within yourself the ability to overcome it — even if only a little bit.

The first step to overcoming fear and anxiety is, actually, the most difficult. It requires you to step out on faith, trusting and hoping desperately that this won’t be one more screw-up in a long list of screw-ups. You see, there’s another factor here that’s ugly, but needs to be addressed, and that is simply “Change is frightening.” Any change. Why? Because change means the unknown, and the unknown is this big, scary¬†thing¬†waiting to happen, even though we don’t know what that thing will be. If you’re someone who’s already living under a constant cloud of fear, why on earth would you want to add to it? So, it may be intellectually “simple” for me to say “I’m tired of being afraid all the time,” and that’s an important recognition to make. But going from that admission of the problem to finding a solution is an ongoing process that can take years.

So let’s assume you’ve made that decision. You say, first, quietly and only to yourself, “I’m tired of being afraid all the time.” Eventually, that thought moves from inside your mind to escape out of your mouth, and you say out loud (still to yourself) “I’m tired of being afraid all the time.”

Whoa. You admitted it! Ok, so look around, and realize the world didn’t crash around your ears when you said this aloud. No one broke down your door to punish you for having the temerity to utter these words. Eventually, you find the courage to say this to someone else, but you have to be careful whom you say it to. Say it to the wrong person, and they respond with something like “Ok, so get over it then.” And then you feel like you’ve just been judged, and you tuck your tail between your legs and go curl up somewhere. However, if you say it to the right person, they listen. They may say “Ok, that’s important. How can I help?” Or they may say “Ok, good. How do you achieve this?”

It might not seem like much, but there’s a world of difference between the first response and the second & third. The first one belittles the courage it took to say those words to someone else, the other two offer support, and/or a sounding board.

Now, let’s talk about some of the options for overcoming fear/anxiety. I’m going to make a list that runs the gamut from currently-advocated Western Medical responses to anxiety, to not-so-advocated other options. The choice of which of these you wish to pursue must be your choice. I can tell you what’s helping me, but that doesn’t mean the same thing will help you.

  1. Therapy
    • Individual
    • Group
    • In-person
    • Texting/phone
      • For more on the therapeutic options available, and to try to find which might best help you, please¬†click here
  2. Medications
    • Antidepressants
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Buspirone (Buspar)
    • Hydroxyzine
    • Beta-blockers
      • To pursue medication options, please find a psychiatrist¬†or a therapist you can trust who works with a psychiatrist
      • Medications are intended to be temporary; they’re meant as a stop-gap to reduce your symptoms so that you can pursue the task of overcoming your fears
  3. Massage
    • Because massage can trigger a parasympathetic response (the opposite of fight or flight [click here¬†for a brief explanation]) massage can be amazingly beneficial to people experiencing anxiety; not only the work itself is important, but knowing that someone else is willing to touch you in a caring manner can help bolster your sense of self-worth
  4. Reflexology
    • Reflexology is a system usually involving a degree of pressure in certain areas of the body that is used to relieve tension, stress, anxiety, and other ailments; similar to massage, another person is involved, and the knowledge that this other person wishes to work¬†with you to help¬†you overcome your fear/anxiety is an amazing boost to one’s self-worth
  5. Meditation
    • The practice of meditation allows one to learn how to listen to what’s going on in the mind, and then begin to redirect or change how we respond to “the voices” inside our heads
    • There are multiple forms of meditation; I recommend you do some research (Google is your friend!) and find a method that is compliant to¬†your¬†needs. And yes, there’s also moving meditation, which is the only kind I seem to be able to participate in!
  6. Reiki
    • Reiki is what’s considered energy work; in short, the “primary” chakras in our trunk (seven of them) are checked to see if they’re open & working correctly; then opened if necessary so that your body’s energy can flow without interruption to assist in achieving physical as well as mental healing and clarity
    • This is a therapy that also involves someone else (unless you’re a Reiki practitioner!), and again, having someone on your side throughout the process who genuinely cares about you is important!
  7. Float Therapy
    • This therapy is kinda the “new kid on the block” and can be enormously beneficial for helping relieve stress, anxiety, depression … so many things. For more information on float therapy for anxiety,¬†read this. One caution, however! You don’t want to touch your face as the salts in the water are very irritating; for that reason, I have learned to take a rag into the pool with me, and lay it over my face (excluding my nose, another anxiety trigger for me), and press itchies and tickles on my face through the rag

There are several more alternative methods for assisting with anxiety; I strongly urge you to Google both “medical treatment for anxiety” and “non-medical treatment for anxiety.”

So, what’s worked for me? Keep in mind, again, that this whole “overcoming-anxiety” thing is still a newish process for me, so I’m not fully there yet. However! I’ve been having a lot of success with a couple of tricks & techniques. The first thing to understand is that I’ve spent pretty much most of my adulthood in and out of therapy, so I’ve been picking up tips & tricks all along the way. Further, it’s hella easier to write these things out than it has been to put them into practice. Again — large segments of my adult life have been spent in therapy! At 49 years old, you’re talking about close to 30 years of on-again/off-again therapy, so don’t expect that you’re gonna read this, then master it immediately. Maybe, though; maybe just commit to finding one thing on this list you think you¬†might¬†be able to commit to working toward, and go from there.

Before I begin this list, I’m going to make a point that is more important than just about anything else I can say.

Learn to give yourself small successes

I went through a major depressive episode that lasted about six years. Six years is a vast amount of time; during that time, I kept on trying to find a reason to get up, get out of bed, take a shower, take care of my kids … all the things that a good mom is supposed to do. But if you’ve experienced depression — the real thing, not a brief episode, but cold, hard depression — then you know that breaking out of it is nearly impossible.

I learned, though, to be proud of small things. I woke up in the morning, got outta bed? Yay, success! I got a shower? Hey, man, good job! I cooked dinner? Fantastic! Ok, so my response wasn’t that profound, but it was important to me that I gave myself credit for doing something I had absolutely no motivation to do. Over time, those small successes built up, so that I could dare strive for bigger ones … and then those built up, and here we are today. Once again, this isn’t something I’m saying is¬†easy. It’s something you really have to decide for yourself you’re going to¬†give¬†to yourself. Or, another way of looking at it is that it’s something you’re willing to take for yourself.

On to the list. The biggest things that have helped me begin breaking the horrible cycle of fear and anxiety are:

  • Learning gratitude
    • Possibly the most important method for arming yourself against anxiety, fear, depression … so on and so forth. In short, I began seeking out those things I could be grateful for. Things like — it’s not raining today? Sweet! Thanks for the sunshine! My car started? Alright! I can go to work and not be afraid of getting fired today! Someone opened the door for me? Woohoo! Thanks, man!
    • The key behind this is the belief that you find what you seek, and when you begin to seek out things to be grateful for, your perspective of the world around you shifts. I actually started this journey by keeping a diary of things I’d ask for throughout the day — of the world, of people, of the universe … whatever it was. About once a week, I’d go back and check off the things that had been granted, and mindfully say a “Thank you” for each one. Eventually, it just became reality that I can find a bajillion things each day to be grateful for.
  • Learning to give myself space
    • Because I felt I constantly had to fight to prove I wasn’t crazy; I wasn’t lazy; I wasn’t stupid; I wasn’t incapable of managing myself … because of all these things, I was one of those people constantly going, doing, proving. Frankly, I was exhausted! On top of that, while most people didn’t see it, I was struggling constantly to overcome the fear that ate me alive. One day, I woke up and learned that I need to allow myself space to be alone, or to be afraid, or to be quiet, or whatever. Sometimes that space is in my bed propped on pillows and heating pads, sometimes it’s beside a stream. But it’s ok, and you have the right and the responsibility to take care of yourself! If you close your eyes and imagine yourself in the most calm, soothing place on earth (or off of it!), where would that be? Is it someplace you can get yourself to? Or is it someplace you can recreate in your home? Wherever it is, learn to allow yourself to enjoy Sanctuary.
  • Learning to trust myself
    • Most of my lifetime of fear and anxiety was the result of a horrible childhood, followed by two horrible marriages; both of which taught me that I’m crazy, and I need to do what others say because I can’t be trusted to do things my way, and be successful. I will say that learning to trust myself has meant absolutely rejecting all those hurtful things I believed, when other people said them; but to be able to absolutely reject these things, we first have to learn that we have the¬†right¬†to reject them. That’s the tricksy part!
  • Learning to argue with the negative voices
    • Simple as a statement, immeasurably more difficult in practice. I’ve basically had to teach myself to argue back when I have that voice in my head asking “Why are you doing this? You’re just going to fail,” or the one that says “Hey, you know, it’d be a lot easier to stay curled up in a ball than go out and face people.” Whatever it is those voices are whispering to you about your inability to deal with life? Start telling them to shut up. Honestly. It seems silly, but eventually you learn to do it without thinking about it. Another tactic is to list out why you can, or need to, do what it is you want to; list out the reasons in your head, or out loud, or on paper … whatever you have to do,¬†learn to argue with those voices telling you you’re safer being afraid.¬†Start small; but start, and keep doing it. Like the gratitude thing, it does get easier, and eventually you’ll find yourself able to do it without having to think about it.
    • Note: I still have those voices, telling me why I’ll fail. Why I should give up, why I should do any number of things that’ll keep me¬†safe. I barely notice them, but am still aware of them. Probably why I still occasionally have to do my night-time house walkabout.
    • One of the key items in this topic, for me, has also been “Don’t tell me what you can’t do; show me what you can.” This was my personal challenge to myself to look beyond all the reasons that I allowed to limit me. What phrase, for you, might be your key?
  • Learning to see the world around me in a new way
    • Once upon a time, I knew that every man out there only wanted one thing from me, and every woman out there either wanted to be me, or wanted to claw my eyes out. I didn’t think this, I¬†knew¬†it, because it’s what I was taught. One day, I decided it was time to find out whether that was always true, so I started setting “traps” for people to fall in to. Not necessarily the best method, but for me, it allowed men to prove to me that they could be my friend, instead of my lover; they could be big brothers, little brothers, surrogate fathers, beloved uncles … and I also began to learn that there’s a sisterhood among women that is stronger than the petty jealousies we think are so prevalent. In short, I found that people are just people; some good, some bad, some in-between … and each one needed to be judged on their own merit, not on some pre-conceived notion that was the result of ill teaching. I can’t tell you what your method will, or should, be, but I can urge you to find it. Find some way to begin to prove to yourself that not all people you meet are inimical to you and that, in fact, there are some real gems out there.
  • Learning to be patient
    • Always the hardest, but I believe most important item on this list. Put bluntly, it absolutely amazed me when I sat down and realized that I could be unendingly patient — with anyone who wasn’t me. Now, again, putting this into practice requires constant dedication to putting it into practice! But I’m learning that, every time I get frustrated with myself, I can step back, take a nice deep breath or two or ten, and then talk to myself calmly. “Ok, that didn’t go so well, now did it? Hm. Where do I need to change something I’m doing … or better yet, should I just abandon this project?”
    • It seems counter-intuitive to abandon something we’ve been working toward, but sometimes the better part of life seems to be accepting when we’re not putting our energies into appropriate places. A quote I recently saw sums this up, quite well:

mistake

Now to close this beastly blog! Obviously, I had a lot to say on the topic of fear.¬†If you watch the above video again, watch it to the end. I want you to see, again, the part where Will says “Forget security, live for experience.”

Your experience is your own; no one else resides in your mind, and no one else knows what you’re struggling with. You can change your experience. I know this, I’ve lived it. Changing this experience will put fear back to its proper place — as a protector, and a warning system. Find some way to take the power of fear away; it was never intended to rule our lives, but rather to assist us. As my husband has said when we’ve had this discussion:

“A life lived in fear is a life not lived.”

Wise man, that one. Maybe that’s why he married me? Anyway. Gonna close this mini-novella now and wish you well. Life ain’t always easy, but it is livable, and we can make it more livable.

Choices

In my most recent blog, I mentioned that this one would follow up on the thoughts I presented; specifically, I’d offer some insight on how we apply our choice-freedom in our daily lives.

To get your mind in the same general space mine’s operating in, I’ll highlight for you what I think are the most important factors in the last blog:

  1. Choices abound; there are always choices
  2. Often, we don’t like the choices presented to us
  3. Saying “You gave me no choice” or “I had no choice” is a fallacy and, further, an abdication of responsibility for our own lives

If you want to see more about my thoughts on those topics, please feel free to refer back to the previous post.

Going forward! I want to begin by pointing out the picture above; we’ve probably all seen it, or variations on it. If you don’t know who Zig Ziglar is, then¬†click here¬†for more information. Who knows, he may be something you need in your life right now! The point is that what’s written in this picture is the very essence of decision-making. Decisions can be driven by fear; we can give the fear control, or we can control our actions¬†despite the fear.

Before I dive in to this, I want to offer up two definitions.

Freedom (Merriam-Webster)
  1. the quality or state of being free: such as
    a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
    b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence
    c¬†:¬†the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous —¬†
    freedom from care
    d¬†:¬†unrestricted use — gave him the¬†freedom¬†of their home
    e¬†: ease; familiarity¬†—¬†¬†spoke the language with¬†freedom
    f¬†:¬†the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken —¬†answered with¬†freedom
    g : improper familiarity
    h : boldness of conception or execution

Responsibility (Merriam-Webster)

  1. the quality or state of being responsible: such as
    a : moral, legal, or mental accountability
    b : reliability; trustworthiness
  2. something for which one is responsible : burden —¬†has neglected his¬†responsibilities

For today’s discussion, only definition 1 under Freedom pertains, with descriptions a and b being our focus; however, both definitions 1 and 2 pertain under Responsibility.

Now, on to the fun stuff! The first thing I wish to point out is what I touched on lightly in our previous discussion — when you begin to understand that you¬†do, in fact, have choices or options, your horizons; your world; your entire¬†life¬†opens up, and you realize how much you’ve been limiting yourself. Under Freedom, if we look at the first two descriptions of “the quality or state of being free,” then you’ll start to see what I’m talking about.

Once you realize you have the power to make your own choices, you are removed from having to comply with an outside entity’s necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. You further become liberated from slavery or restraint or from the power of another. How’s that, you ask? Simple, answer I! Let’s imagine another scenario or two!

Scenario 1 has us at work. Now, back up a second, because this is something most people don’t realize, and don’t think about. When you accept a job, or are accepted as an employee — cuz yeah, both happen at the same time! — a contract is entered into, largely verbal but portions are also written. In short, this contract between you and your employer ensures that 1) you receive fair wages for fair work and 2) your employer receives work done for wages paid. Vacation pay, all that other stuff — that’s just icing on the cake. The most important part of employment is realizing that these objectives are the underlying purpose to the employment agreement. I wanna be paid, so I’m agreeing to work for you; you want a task performed, so you’re agreeing to pay me to do it.

One day, you’re blithely going about your work/tasks/etc, doing your thing, when your boss walks in and demands something from you that’s outside your responsibilities. In short, you’re getting paid to do¬†this, and your boss wants to add¬†that to your workload, without increasing your pay. To really explain this, I need to spell out that I’m not saying an accountant is asked to help another accountant with their work; more along the lines of an accountant also being asked to perform in a supervisory role without gaining the title (pay, recognition of authority), or is also being asked to assume administrative roles without the position you’re currently working in being revised.

What are your choices here, and what will protect your freedom? Again, let’s list’em out:

  • Comply without question
  • Question the nature of what your boss wants done (information is never bad!)
  • Explain to your boss that you’re overwhelmed as it is, and ask for what you need to comply with their wishes
  • Refuse

Naturally the first thing that goes through our heads is the cold, hard reality that we really need this job, and we’re terrified of doing anything to jeopardize it. That must be recognized; we have to support ourselves. And/or we have to support and provide for our loved ones. It’s that whole Responsibility thing being tied up with choices … the option we choose to pursue will impact our, and possibly others’, lives. Losing or potentially jeopardizing our jobs, for most of us, automatically inspires fear of not complying; however, making a decision this important from a position of fear is, perhaps, not the most healthy way of operating.

Recognizing that fear is important (and I’ll discuss fear in another post, it’s on the list), because until you acknowledge your fear, you’re liable to react, rather than to act. Reaction would look something like this:

Boss: “Hey, Isende! You’re doing such an awesome job, I want you to take over doing X, also!”

Me: Blank look
Me: *stammering* “Oh, um, sure, if you think I can handle it …”

Boss: “Great! The first thing I need is blah blah blah …”

Have you made a choice here, or have you blindly followed along what appears to be the path of least resistance? Sit back and think about that for a moment, cuz it’s important!

Action, on the other hand, is taken after one has obtained as much information as possible and then chosen an option, and it might look something like this:

Boss: “Hey, Isende! You’re doing such an awesome job, I want you to take over doing X, also!”

Me: “What would that entail?”
Me: “How do you see me being able to do that, as well as what I already do?”
Me: “Which task has priority, in your opinion?”
Me: “Will I have a new title, more pay? This isn’t what I was hired to do, and it’s going to mean I have to juggle my responsibilities, just to make it happen.”

Regardless of how our boss answers, we now have the information we need in order to make a decision. Further, we’ve put our boss on notice — we’re not a pushover, and we’re not just gonna jump for the sake of jumping. Understand that with that first question, and any subsequent question, we’re letting our boss know we’re not just going to blindly accept these new tasks. That, already, will be affecting our boss’s view of our value as an employee. A stupid boss would get pissed. A good boss, who values their company as well as their employees, would respond positively. Period. Now, let’s ponder our list of choices again. How we view these outcomes has shifted, because we’ve filled in the blanks with information. Maybe the supervisory role is only for a day? Maybe the administrative responsibilities only mean that we’re being asked to copy more people on a report? In other words, maybe these new tasks won’t be onerous, and will enhance our value as an employee.

Again, I submit to you, we wouldn’t have known that without asking questions first. Further, blind compliance locks us on to paths that can be destructive. If we just said “Sure, whatcha need?” then we’ve established a pattern of blind compliance — obedience, in short, but obedience which can cost us. The supervisory role may be permanent, and we may be given an employee who makes us grind our teeth, pull our hair out, and go home screaming. The administrative tasks may include attending meetings that take time away from our ability to perform our agreed-upon tasks without having to work overtime (paid or unpaid, but usually unpaid!), or it may include responsibilities for which we don’t actually have authority — which is, trust me, its own headache. In short, our work life has just become less ideal, and more frustrating. This directly impacts our lives; socialization, satisfaction, self-worth. Aren’t these things worth your taking the time to ask questions, so that you can make a responsible, rational decision?

With careful, reasoned questions; adequate information; a clear direction of where we want our own path to go, we can make calm, reasoned decisions that will positively or negatively affect¬†all other avenues of our lives. No longer¬†must¬†we do something because “It’s expected,” nor must we give over our own ordering of our lives to someone else. Seriously. You can be a good employee — an amazing employee! — and still choose what you will do in each situation.

Scenario 2 has us out with friends. Everyone’s hanging out, having a good time, when one of our friends pulls out a joint. Or K2. Or whatever floats your boat. Now, friendship has its own contract, its own expectations. To be succinct it could easily be said that I’ll respect you, you respect me, and we’ll do our best to support each other even if/when we disagree. So, we may well know our friend smokes weed. However, not only does said friend pull out a joint¬†in a public place cuz, don’t forget, we’re hanging out; no, the friend takes it a step further and passes it around.

Choices?

  • Point out that we’re in public and maybe that can wait til later
  • Take a hit
  • Pass it on
  • Chew out our friend for being an idiot and insensitive lout
  • Leave

Notice, I don’t have questions on this list. I mean, this is a friend, right? Someone whom you know, and who knows you? Someone you like, respect; and who likes & respects you? So no, no need to ask questions, unless you just want to point out the friend’s idiocy by asking “What in bloody blazes do you think you’re doing?¬†We’re out in public!

Again, however, each choice has a price/cost/consequence attached to it.

If we point out that we’re in public, we’re operating in a protective mode; protection first and foremost for ourselves, but also for our friends. This can be good or bad, depending on whether the friends you’re out with are really friends, or just acquaintances. Oh, did I forget to make that distinction? Well, it’s an important one, but we’ll talk about all that at another time, as well.

If we take a hit, have we complied in order to be cool, or to not make our friend uncomfortable?

If we pass it on, have we made ourselves complicit in getting busted if/when cops show up?

If we chew out our friend for being an idiot and insensitive lout, will we damage that friendship?

If we leave, will we damage our friendships with the entire group?

I want to take a moment to make another point. Any time we’re faced with a choice, we have to find for ourselves a path leading forward that will do two things: It’ll help bolster our sense of self-worth, and it’ll cause us the least amount of regret possible. Until our eyes are opened and we begin to see that we actually do have choices, options; that our lives truly are within our own ability to control and manage, we often find ourselves following the path of least resistance. Shit flows downhill, as the saying goes; every choice we make¬†including inaction will impact us in some future time. Blind compliance or inaction now can, and often does, lead to future regret; how many regrets can we pile up before we’re lost under the mountainous weight of self-loathing?

Now let’s jump to responsibility. It may not seem like that’s an important topic, but it is, and possibly most important when we’re discussing choices. You see, making a knowledgeable choice also requires that we consider all the possible outcomes of our decisions. Whoa! That’s a lot of work! However, it’s the absolute truth, as well. If we lost our job because we couldn’t — or wouldn’t — comply with our boss’s demand, then we’d have to find another job at the least. If we blindly complied with the demand, we would open ourselves to more demands being made and making ourselves miserable. So on and so forth. So, yeah, it’s a lot of work, and sometimes it’s all-important that we ask “Can I have a little while to think about this?”

You see, just because someone else is making a demand of you does not mean you have to react to their urgency. In fact, I’d say that it violates your responsibility to yourself and to the people who depend on you to allow someone else’s urgency to infect you. Robert Carter, an author and very interesting person, coined the quote “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” This quote has been a favorite of mine for decades, and it’s helped me when I’ve found myself in those situations that seem to require an immediate response. Taking the time, even just a second or two, to step back and engage our brains allows us to consider our choices and options from our own viewpoint, weighing the risks and benefits, and then to actively make a reasoned decision.

In my little pea-brain, our primary responsibility must be focused on ourselves. Why? That seems selfish, right? Well, more on that topic later too! But for now, I ask that you consider the following:

If you don’t consider your own benefit, then you’re also not considering the benefit of those whom you’re responsible for. For instance, when I accept my boss’s demand blindly, I’m not accepting that demand only on my behalf — I’m accepting it on the behalf of my husband, who’s going to have to listen to me gripe and whine about how unhappy I am with the new responsibilities. I’m also accepting it on behalf of my children — meaning I may leave them having to tiptoe around the house because “Mommy’s in a bad mood.” These are simplified examples, but they perfectly define the point I’m trying to make.

Further, we are the only ones who live inside our heads. Really, think about that. For the boss, his problem ends once he’s passed it on to someone else. He doesn’t have to stress while you stress about how you’re going to perform these additional tasks, keep your work up to par, and maintain your normally pleasant demeanor. His worries are over, but you’ve blindly accepted a commitment that is going to make you miserable. No, we are the only ones who have to live inside our heads, shoulder the day-to-day responsibilities that can make life meaningful or miserable, and¬†accept the outcome of a poor decision. In other words, when we make poor decisions we — and those near and dear to us — have to live with the consequences.

How can we possibly disregard the importance of responsibility when we’re faced with choices?

Also, there’s the fact that constant failure because we’ve acquiesced to someone else’s decisions will weigh us down, drag us into the mud, and seldom, if ever, let us raise our heads up. Back to the boss example: I’ve blindly complied, and now I have a ton of work that I can’t do to my best ability. In addition, my normal tasks are falling by the wayside because I can’t do everything at once, and eventually my poor job performance as well as my job dissatisfaction cause me to be fired. Now, by this time, I’m probably grateful to be fired as I’ve come to absolutely despise that job! However, now I have to go find another job, and in the meantime the stress in my household, among my friends, and in my mind are going to cause my head to explode.

That could get really ugly.

In my pea-brain there is no way that freedom can be disconnected from responsibility. Further, if we don’t accept our own ability to make and live with decisions, then we’re abdicating responsibility for our own lives. Our own happiness. We’re putting that responsibility in someone else’s hands; someone who is constitutionally incapable of living inside our heads, and understanding our needs.

In short, it ain’t gonna work.

Wrapping this up, I’d like to make a final point. Life happens while you’re busy making plans. Ask any gamer about “wife agro” or “kitty agro” and you’ll see what I’m talking about; we’re immersed in our happy little fantasy world, working with friends to slay that final boss … and the cat jumps in our laps, onto our keyboard, or the dog lands in our laps, pushing the controller onto the floor …

In short, yes. There will be circumstances that absolutely demand an immediate reaction. I do not negate that. But when you’ve developed the habit of thinking through your options and you’ve come to terms with the demands you place on yourself for your own happiness, your decision will most likely be along the lines of what you can live with rather than opposed to what you can live with. Life is what it is, and it’ll throw curve-balls our way without notice. We have no control, for instance, over our car being hit from behind. We do have absolute control over our actions, though. When our cat jumps in our laps during that huge boss fight, we can throw the cat into the wall, or we can gently disengage the cat, restore ownership of our keyboard, then tell our friends “Sorry, man, kitty agro!” Yeah, the entire group has wiped, and your friends are definitely less-than-happy; but the kitty’s been removed, and is not¬†too pissed, and you can after all refight the fight, right?

I wish you the best as you begin muddling your way through making your own choices, and I’m going to leave you with a video I hope you’ve seen before; if you haven’t? You’re welcome. This video portrays the subject of “Regret,” and each of the people who wrote on this chalkboard made a decision somewhere along the road that they’ve regretted. I found the nature of the predominance of these regrets to be fascinating.

What’s Your Biggest Regret?

Every day is, in fact, a clean slate. Hell, every moment, every decision, every single choice is a clean slate. Each that we can make from a position of consideration is an investment in a better next moment, or better tomorrow.

Peace out, friends.