Monday, November 30, 2015

Monday Motivation 11-30-15

Today is my birthday. Forty-four of merriment and mayhem being celebrated today. How's that for motivation? In lieu of cards, please send smiles and goodwill to everyone you meet. Thank you.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I Am Thankful

What are you thankful for? It’s that time of year, and I hope you’re putting it to good use. Of course, it is best to be mindful of such things all year long, but having a single day to highlight thankfulness is also beneficial. It is like a shot in the arm, a rejuvenation of ideas that helps to bring everything into bright focus. In order to live a truly mindful life, we should always be aware of and thankful for the blessings in our lives, but it isn’t feasible to catalogue those blessings every day. So we have one day set aside for that purpose. What are you thankful for?

I am thankful for my health. That may seem like a cliche, but I can assure you it is not. Just two years ago, I was diagnosed with diabetes, with blood sugar numbers so high that, when I told my brother about them, he joked that if you plugged those numbers into Web MD it wouldn’t even give you advice but instead it would just tell you to see your doctor right away. At the same time, I was given a heart attack risk assessment of 7 on a 10-point scale. All of this was less than a year after we lost my dad, who was diabetic, to a massive heart attack. Life sometimes has a rather direct way of reminding you of your priorities.

Today, my A1C is routinely at healthy levels and my heart attack risk assessment, last time I checked, was down to a 2. We put a great deal of hard work into it and I am certainly grateful that it has paid off. When I say “we”, by the way, I mean it in the plural. I’m not just being a writer. Heather has put in at least as much work as I have (and sometimes far more), and deserves the lionshare of the credit for my successful results. She remembers things of this sort far better than I do, and, to be perfectly honest, takes care of me far better than I do as well.

I am thankful for my wife, and not just because she may have saved my life. You who read these pages get only a small window into what living with me might be like. She gets the whole house, and sometimes that house seems like it was designed by M.C. Escher. These pages are put together after careful thought and consideration. She gets all of the turmoil that surrounds that careful thought and consideration. I have no illusions about how much “fun” living with me can sometimes be, and she loves me at my worst just as much as at my best. If you have found someone like that, you know how much it means and why I am so thankful. If not, I wish you the best. You really can’t understand it otherwise.

I am thankful for my children. Sometimes I don’t think they realize it, but they are the reason why I do so much of what I do. They bring out the best in me, because I want to show that best to them. I want to present them a world that is worth having, and I want to present them to the world as people worth having it. It goes hand-in-hand, and it’s great how often they meet me in the middle.

They have also been known to make me laugh when laughing was the last thing on my mind. Having children is sometimes like controlled madness (and sometimes with very little control involved), but usually in a good way. There have been many times when I was deep in one of my valleys when one of the kids would do or say something so out of left field that there was no way to not laugh. It’s almost like magic. They seem to know how to do it without knowing what they are doing. Perhaps I am just lucky and, if so, I am doubly blessed, so I will be doubly thankful just in case.

I am thankful for my family, and I am thankful to have a family who have always believed in family. We’ve been there for each other, stood by each other, thick or thin, rain or shine, and none of us would have it either way. I believe that’s what family means.

I spent many years believing that other people were unusual. I would see other families who did not have the same kind of commitment to each other, and I thought they were missing something. I still think they are missing something, but I have figured out that they are not as unusual as I had believed. Though it took me well into adulthood, I have learned that it is my own family that is unusual. The less committed are, sadly, more common. I am thankful for my unusual family, though. If I could make any change, I would make others more like us, and certainly not the other way around. I wouldn’t change the connection we have for anything. If that makes us unusual, I can live with that. Just add it to the list.

My family taught me the importance of family, and how much we can do when we help each other. I try to pass this on to my children, and I believe this is a great time of year for that lesson. I am thankful, but not for things. Things are incidental. I am thankful for my health, and for my family, and for all of the good people around me. I am thankful for the love my family has always held for each other, and the lessons that love has taught me. There are many things that I am thankful for, but one of the biggest is I am thankful that I had a mom and dad who raised me to be the kind of person who notices and is thankful for all of the rest. Thank you Mom. Thank you Dad.

We’re adding a child to the mix through the foster process this year, and that has certainly been a learning experience. She keeps us on our toes, and we are working to bring in some new traditions for her. I am thankful for being able to help her be in a better place and, I hope, live a better life. We’ve learned a lot about children in the foster system over the last several months, and I am glad that we can make a difference. I am thankful that we can do this, and I am thankful that it helps.

Events around the world lately have reminded us that some people don’t have as many reasons to be thankful. There are lessons we can learn even from this, if we make the effort to do so. I hope that we learn the right lessons. Be thankful for the people you have and the good things in your life. Be thankful enough to never take them for granted, and be thankful enough that you want other people to have the same. Be generous where you can be. Things like love and kindness don’t diminish by being shared. That is actually how they grow, so help them grow. Share love and kindness, and we can all be thankful for more love and kindness.

I am thankful that I have enough to give. I think that might be my new definition of Thanksgiving. The more we give, sometimes, the more we have. If you grew up in my family, you knew that. We always gave each other all we had to give, and we always had more to give. We didn’t always get it all right, but we sure had fun trying. The world could use more fun, don’t you think?

From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for being a part of the Frequently Interrupted Family.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

TGIF 11-20-15

Is it just me, or is the latter part of this year just flying by? Here we are already looking at the end of November, with just one more month of 2015 to go. That might have something to do with how full the calendar has been, and now we have the holiday schedule coming up, to keep things fun and eventful.

Speaking of which, next week is Thanksgiving in the U.S., so that will be our first official holiday schedule since starting Frequently Interrupted. As such, next week will be a short one for us here at FI. We will have our normal posting schedule for Monday thru Wednesday, but won’t be posting anything on Thursday or Friday unless I just happen to see something to pass on. I won’t be preparing anything, at any rate. I’ll be spending the time with the family, and we hope that you will do the same. You know me, though. I’ll still be checking in from time to time, and other groups that I follow will probably have some interesting posts to share. They often do. If you have anything to share with us, by all means, please do so. Sharing is a big part of this holiday season, and I am all for anything that enhances that aspect.

The following Monday, the 30th, will be my birthday. Forty four years of spreading my special brand of merriment, with no plans for slowing down yet. I’ve taken that day off too, though I do expect to still have the normal Monday post. I just expect it to be late. I’ll be sleeping in, I hope.

I’ll also be getting a new tattoo. We have scheduled that day to get my FI logo tattoo, and I am looking forward to it. I’ve been looking forward to it since I got the finalized design, but Heather wanted it to be part of my birthday celebration. In such things, she is usually correct. Anticipation is part of the enjoyment. I’ll be certain to share pictures after it is complete.

It has been a busy week in the world, as you already know, and I will not belabor that point here. I believe, and so I hope. I hope, and so I believe. Some things do not change, no matter how much changes around them. I will say that I think we could use a bit less binary thinking in the world these days, a little less This Or That and a little more This And That. A little thought to leave you with on Friday, and something I will probably write more on in the near future. In the meantime, be thankful for what you have, and consider giving some of what you have in surplus to some who have less. We can all rise by helping each other up.

Say a prayer for the world, in whatever way you may pray, and don’t forget to take care of you and yours in the process. Namaste.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

I Am The Fire

I have never been shy about my love of music. I freely admit that it is what some might consider obsessive. I live in a soundtrack and I think in lyrics. I have always had an easier time expressing myself through music than any other way, including this way (blogging is hard work - try it some time). Back in school, when we had book covers that were made from paper grocery bags (children, as your parents, or maybe your grandparents), I was the kid whose book cover was adorned with song lyrics and band logos. I even had clothes that were all marked up with song lyrics and band logos. Some songs get into my soul, make themselves comfortable, and take up permanent residence. When a song speaks to me, I tend to drive the people around me crazy with that song.

This has probably been the case recently with Halestorm’s “I am the fire”. It’s a great song from a great modern band, with a driving beat, lots of energy, and powerfully self-affirming lyrics. I already enjoyed the song just from the surface feel of it, but the first time I truly heard the line, “I am the one I’ve been waiting for,” I was hooked. Hearing that at around the same time that I was starting this blog was fortuitous, to say the least.

It’s not a new idea, but it is a new presentation, and it needs to be presented. It needs to be thought about and remembered. I am the one I’ve been waiting for. We spend so much time looking outside that we forget to look inside. We forget that what we need first is what is within ourselves.

It is easy to forget. There are so many distractions in the world, and we are so accustomed to looking outside. We look to others to make us happy, to lift us up, and to make us complete. We even let others make us unhappy, tear us down, and make us incomplete. We are social individuals, without a doubt, but we often get so caught up in the social part that we forget to take care of the individual. Human beings don’t exist without individuals, though. Being individuals is a huge part of what makes us human.

I am the architect of my own happiness. That has been a difficult lesson to learn, and one that I am still learning, to tell the truth, but it has probably made more of a difference in my life than any of the other lessons I have learned along the way. I spent so much of my young life basing my value - my happiness and self-worth - around other people, and that is a recipe for disaster. It’s not that other people won’t lift you up - many people will, and will do so often - but other people are outside, and you can’t control outside. You can’t define what other people will do, so defining yourself by what other people do is no definition at all. It will change faster than you can keep up with, and often without warning. Other people, especially specific other people, can’t always be with you. Even the ones who mean the best and do the best for you will come and go and, as a result, will often not be there at some critical moment. Without even considering any malignant causes, other people cannot be dependable foundations for your value.

Worse, though, is the reality that we cannot dismiss the possibility of malignant causes. There are some great people in this world, and you probably know some of them; people who will help others to rise at every opportunity. There are also people, though, who are not so great. There are people who will go out of their way to break people down and generally make the world around them a worse place to be. Some of those people don’t do it on purpose, but they do it just the same. Some of them are sneaky too. Some of them act like they have your best interest at heart, and may even believe that they do, but end up with results that are anything but the best.

Whether for good or ill, other people cannot be the cause of your happiness without also being the cause of your unhappiness. What you receive from others can be taken away by others, and the power to bring happiness must also include the power to bring unhappiness. There is no other way it can work. Don’t wait for someone else to do what is within your own power to do. If you’re waiting for happiness, you’re waiting for you.

That’s the secret. We spend so much time waiting - for someone to make us happy, for someone to make us better, for someone to lift us up, for someone to complete us - when the one person best equipped to do all of this is the one person who is there every moment of every day. You never leave yourself, and you are never without yourself. You never really have to wait for yourself, but we wait anyway because we don’t understand. We think we are waiting for someone else. I thought I was waiting for someone else, but the one person I needed was the one in the mirror. I spent all that time waiting because I didn’t understand that I already had what I needed. I was waiting for me.

Being in control of my own happiness has a cumulative effect. If I am unhappy with myself, I am more likely to notice and focus on the unhappiness around me, and am more likely to spread unhappiness. If I am happy with myself, I am more likely to notice and focus on the happiness around me, and am more likely to spread happiness. I can become more happy or unhappy as a result of external sources, but it has to start with me. External sources can add to my happiness, but cannot create it from scratch. By the same token, my happiness can add to the happiness around me. I can spread what I have. I am the fire, and so are you. We each carry the flame within ourselves. It is up to each of us to decide what we will do with it.

They say that no man is an island, and that is true. We spend our lives immersed in social interactions, and everything we do impacts and is impacted by the actions of other people. What we do, each and every one of us, however, begins with each and every one of us, individually. The starting point of every action is the individual. I must act to change my life for better or worse and, ultimately, my actions are the only ones I can control. What I do will impact others, but it will impact me first, so it behooves me to take control of my actions and make them the best that I can.

There comes a time when you have to look in the mirror, face yourself eye to eye, and admit that everything holding you back is you, and everything pushing you forward is you. It all begins with what you do and what you allow. You have to be the change you want to be in your own life before you can work on changing anything else. Don’t wait, because the person you’re waiting for is you. The person you’re waiting for is always you. Everything else is incidental. Once you get started, the rest will follow. It won’t be easy, it’s never easy, but it will go where you go. If we each are all always and honestly our best, a better world would be no work at all. You are the one you’ve been waiting for. You just have to believe.

“I promise to myself, me and no one else
I am more than this
I am the fire …”

Music and video copyright belong to Halestorm, of course. Check it out below.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Anger And Heartache

Like so many people, I spent most of Friday evening watching the news reports coming in from Paris. At least 130 dead, and so many more left broken, in body or spirit or both, among the wounded and the loved ones. It is heartbreaking to even think about, and my immediate reaction was to not think about it, to set it aside, to focus on what can be more readily grasped: Hug your loved one, and don’t take anyone for granted. Love the people you love, and try to spare some for the people around you. We need more of that.

Afterward, though, such a tragedy requires thinking about. If we do not think about these things, they get worse. They continue to happen, and pile up on each other until there is nothing else to think about. Or, as is too often the case, we react without thinking and add our own tragedy to the growing list. Action without thought under such circumstances cannot lead to good results, not in the long term at least. We need careful consideration if we are ever going to solve this dilemma.

The first thing I want to do is express my heartfelt sympathies to the victims of these terrible attacks, not just in Paris, but in Beirut and across the entire world where such horrible things continue to happen. After 9/11, a Frenchman was quoted as saying, “Today we are all American.” After the events of Friday evening, now we are all French. We are all human, and it is imperative that we all stand together, once and for all, against any and all who would destroy humanity, through violence and terror in the name of fundamentalism and oppression. We must learn finally that we are all one people, and as one people, we mourn for the loss of any of our own.

Do not discount expressions of goodwill because they are expressed differently than your own. I have seen two different thoughts along these lines: “Don’t pray for me because I don’t believe in prayer,” and “People posting public support are just attention seekers and should stop doing that.”

For the former, whether or not you believe in prayer is irrelevant. The person praying does, and believes it to be of highest consideration. They are telling you they care, and they are doing so in a way that cannot hurt you. Accept in good faith what is offered in good faith. Do not spurn goodwill. In order to make this world better, we must learn to accept all acts of goodwill and weave them together into one immense tapestry that expresses the goodwill of all, and is greater than the sum of its parts.

For the latter, I will not dignify the comedian who first expressed this idea by naming him. Let it suffice that this was part of a comedy routine in which this person was making this claim to explain why it was acceptable for him to insult these people, and then people even less funny started running with it as though it were a serious idea. Let that sink in for a minute. A person who is gaining attention by insulting people is deriding people who he claims are getting attention by offering messages of goodwill. I don’t know about you, but I have no great difficulty discerning on which side of that equation I would rather stand.

People attend funerals as a show of support. People attend rallies as a show of support. People send cards, make telephone calls, wave banners, and do all sorts of other things to show support. It’s what we do. It is what we have always done. Social media gives more means of showing support. There is nothing wrong with using them. Some people who show support in such a way will do nothing else. That is up to them. Others will show support, raise awareness, and then go on to volunteer, donate, act. You, who are on the other end of the support, have no way of knowing which direction the person will go. Again, accept in good faith what is offered in good faith, and just do your best to be a good person. We have enough blatantly wrong with the world that we don’t need to nitpick to find more.

Along with the sadness, though, comes anger, and that anger is justified. When people demonstrate over and over again that they are intent on destroying everything that is good and hopeful in the world, we cannot just remonstrate. We cannot just tell them how unhappy we are because of this. People of this sort will not stop without being stopped. The victim has every right to say, “No more! Today I am no longer a victim. Today I fight back.” Those who are good and kind and peaceful are also angry, and becoming more so.

If violence is the way to stop violent people from destroying the world then violence is necessary. If violence is necessary then it is right. Even the Dalai Lama, famous for his compassion and dedication to nonviolence has stated that, if someone is shooting at you, it is reasonable to shoot back. All those who would have peace can be converted to peace, but we know that not all will have peace. Just as we stand with the victims, we must also stand with those who refuse to be victims, and those who are determined to defend the victims. We “Pray for Paris,” in whatever way seems right to each individual, but we do not stop there. We “Pray for peace,” but we know that peace might lay on the other side of a war-torn valley, and we are ready to do what needs be done to get there.

We cannot coexist with people who wish to destroy us. That is true, but it is also true that it is far too easy to lump in people who have no such desire because we are too lazy, too ignorant, or just too angry to tell the difference. We are better, if we are better, because we make distinctions. If we fail to make distinctions, we are no better than the destroyers. We cannot properly address injustice by creating more injustice, and it is foolish to create enemies where they do not already exist. We have enemies. The destroyers are enemies of all life, and there is, unfortunately, no shortage of them already. Swelling their ranks by driving people to them who were not already with them helps no one. Fight the destroyers, but don’t become one in the process.

It breaks my heart that things like this happen, but also that things like this happen and then so many people climb out of the weeds intent on making them worse. There has never been a situation bad enough that someone didn’t latch on trying to make it worse. On the other hand, there has also never been a situation where people didn’t come forward with all best intentions to make things better. I would like to believe that this second category is more common, that it is more of who we are as a whole. I hope, and because I hope I will keep pushing to make that hope a reality. We can make a better world, though it will not be an easy road. There will be heartache and anger along the way.

Today we are all French, and we stand in solidarity with the victims of this horrible attack. We are not afraid, and we will have our better world. We will have a world where we are not all American or all French, but all human. We believe, and it will be. Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

TGIF - Mission 22

Every day 22 American veterans take their own lives due to PTSD. These men and women are living with a pain that most of us, even most other veterans, can’t imagine. It’s a different world, and it’s a world that cannot be fully understood from the outside. Many of us can identify related issues, and this can help us to understand, to empathize with these impossible feelings, but some things can’t be known without being experienced. The isolation this causes can lead down some horrifying roads leading, ultimately, to that horrifying statistic. Twenty two American veterans take their own lives every day because of PTSD.

Mission 22 was established by Delta Force and Special Forces operators Tom Spooner, Magnus Johnson, and Mike Kissel to raise awareness of this issue and, by raising awareness, to help the people who believe themselves unable to be helped. The insidious nature of PTSD is that it often convinces the sufferer that he or she is completely alone, that no one else can know this horror and no one else can understand. The idea behind Mission 22 is twofold: make sure that veterans suffering from PTSD know that they are not alone, and reminding the rest of us that these people need to know they are not alone. The people most at risk are often the very people least likely to ask for help. Through Mission 22, it is hopped that everyone becomes more aware, and more ready to ask for, give, and receive help.

This week, we celebrated Veterans Day in the U.S., but we need to remember that many of our veterans are not celebrating. They’re hurting and they’re dying. No one who has risked life and limb for the rest of us should ever be left to feel alone, and too many of these men and women are dying alone. Reach out, volunteer, and help. Check your six. If you know a veteran, be a friend. If you don’t know a veteran, maybe you should.

At risk veterans, you have a part to play as well. Talk to your friends. Let them help you. There is no stigma to needing help. Accepting help is not weakness. Asking for help might be the toughest thing you ever do, and that takes strength like nothing else.

If you can get involved with Mission 22, please do. If all you can do is spread the word, that helps too. It’s all about raising awareness, and we will keep raising awareness until that 22 becomes 0. We need to make sure our veterans know that they are not alone. Never alone!

I joined the mission. Will you?

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Getting Uncomfortable

We are getting settled into the new office, which has been quite an experience. If you ever have questions about how deep you are into a particular comfort zone, leaving the entire zone behind completely will resolve those questions in a hurry. I’ve been sitting in the same desk in the same building with every arranged in the same way for five years. The pattern grooves of habit run deep after five years, and I am definitely a creature of habit. I knew this move would present challenges, but I was blissfully unaware of just how challenging it would turn out to be. By the time Monday came to a close, I was ready to move into a padded isolation chamber and wish the world away.

Heather often tells me, “Your OCD is showing,” whenever I do one of those little quirky things I’m known to do. We laugh, and I honestly don’t think much about it. It’s a running joke, but I’ve never really considered my compulsions to be too big a deal. In the grand scheme of things, they’re not, and there are certainly many people with far more severe compulsions, but five years of habit has an amplification effect. Being in an unfamiliar location with unfamiliar - and far too many - noises, with more people in my immediate surroundings than I’ve been used to having, and a completely new desk that was installed exactly backward from what mine had been … I am adamantly opposed to the whole idea of “Woe is me,” but I was feeling some woe. It was more than a little frustrating, and I am fairly certain that was my most unproductive day in ages.

In the spirit of turning a negative into a positive, though, this experience did help me to reaffirm some thoughts and practices for making the best of a bad situation.

The first thing to remember is that it’s almost never as bad as you think it is. We developed the knack for imagining the negatives around us as a means of planning ahead and preparing for dangers not yet in plain sight, but sometimes it seems that we have gotten too good at this skill. Our ability to mentally look around the next corner and guess what carnivorous horror might be lurking there has evolved into an assumption that every corner hides a carnivorous horror, and the horror has friends, and the friends are hungry, and the menu is Me. We see the worst in everything, and then imagine that to be the worst it can possibly be.

As a direct result, unless you are currently fighting for your life against seemingly impossible odds, you can usually take the Worry Scale and crank it down several notches to get to a more realistic level. If you are not in a life or death situation, it’s safe to assume that things are not as bad as they seem. We assume things are worse than they are, and then we make them worse to match the assumption. Not only is this a waste of energy, it interferes with our ability to deal with the real issues. If you’re swinging at shadows, you’re less likely to hit solid targets. Take a deep breath, take it down a notch, and focus your attention where you can do some good.

Don’t forget that breathing part. Deep breaths can be hugely helpful. Much of the stress that comes from this type of situation is caused by stimulation overload. There is too much data coming into the brain at one time, and the brain is having fits trying to process it all in a useful manner. It may not seem like an increase in data - you had all of the same people and desks and phone calls and assorted bits of fun and excitement before the change as well - but it really is. Under normal circumstances, our brains use a very efficient filing system. The familiar daily background chatter gets filed away as white noise, and the brain achieves a setting where most of this is not actively monitored unless something unusual happens. No processing is needed unless something changes. When something changes, though, or when everything changes, the background chatter can become foreground noise again, and has to be re-processed as new information. So what might seem on the surface to be the Same Old Same Old can easily become a surplus of new information, which can lead to a mental overload and Freakout.

Don’t freak out. Instead, try to understand what is happening, and help it to happen naturally. Pause, close your eyes, and take a deep breath, then do that again. Slow yourself down by taking a moment to focus on your breathing, and then let the information come in in a more guided fashion. Look at one piece at a time, assimilate that piece, and then move on to the next piece. Rinse and repeat as needed. You won’t always be able to do this perfectly - the world keeps spinning, and the events around you may not wait for you to take as much time as you might prefer - but every little bit helps. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to regain some control. Even a little bit of control can restore confidence and help to drive away the feeling of being overwhelmed, which can make the whole situation better.

Take control where you reasonably can. My little figures and my wedding photo were the first things I unpacked at the new office because they gave a touch of familiarity to balance out the unfamiliar. I then rearranged my desk three times trying to find a pattern that was comfortable, but that didn’t work. The desk was backward. Everything was reversed from where my brain expected it to be. Thankfully there was an available desk that was facing “the right direction” and I was able to move into that desk and get things set up the way I wanted them. That was a reasonable amount of control that I was able to exercise, and this helped immensely.

That is an important thing to remember: there is nothing wrong with taking a reasonable accommodation if it is available. Yes, I could have gotten used to the new facing direction, and would have done so if necessary, but it wasn’t necessary. I had an option and I used it. This freed me up to address things that I couldn’t change. As always, change what you can, accept what you can’t change, and pay attention to the difference. If a polite request will give you some control in the whirlwind, make the request. Don’t make your situation worse just because you don’t want to ask for something.

We can’t fix everything, and sometimes things are going to be uncomfortable. Sometimes the only option is to grin and bear it, and keep moving forward. Always keep moving forward. That is the biggest trick of all. As long as you keep moving forward, you should eventually get past whatever is causing the issue. At the very least, keep moving forward and you can develop new habits that will help you to deal with these issues. We do what we can and try to limit the stress over what we can’t.

We’re getting settled in here, and things are already less uncomfortable than they were on the first day. That’s usually how these things work, if we let them work. Don’t fight the process. Work with the process, use the tricks you have, and explore your options for finding new tricks. With the right effort, we can often do more than we think we can. Put your mind to it and you might be surprised.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

To Secure Peace

I may ruffle a few feathers with this one, but I’ve done that before. I’ll do it again. C’est la vie. Consider this your warning. Controversial thoughts lie ahead.

Conflict is the natural state of man. That isn’t a good thing; it’s just a thing. It is what’s real. Since the first man determined that a well-placed rock could end a dispute and fill a belly, we have been going above and beyond to improve upon that rock and to find new ways to inflict pain and misery on each other. It’s a talent; one I wish we didn’t find quite so useful, but one that is very real just the same.

I hate violence. It’s one of the few times I will use the word “hate,” and mean it, and not feel the least bit bashful about it. I hate violence. If I have two viable options, one violent and one not violent, and all else is equal, I will choose the not violent option by preference each and every time. You need to understand that before we go any further. If I could wave a magic wand and have a perfect world of my own design, there would be no violence, and no need of violence.

I don’t have a magic wand, though, and this world is far from perfect. In the real world, we have violence, and we sometimes need violence. Not liking that fact won’t make it unreal, and denying it won’t make it go away.

“Qui desiderat pacem, bellum praeparat.” (Whosoever desires peace prepares for war. Flavius Vegetius Renatus in De Re Militari, circa 390 B.C.E.) We’ve all heard the phrase, in one form or another, but how many have given it serious consideration. George Carlin once said that, “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity,” and Carlin hid many wise thoughts behind his particular brand of raw comedy. Unfortunately, though, as much as I would like to agree with him, Carlin was dead wrong on this one. It’s a classic case of apples and oranges, or, in this case, dynamic versus binary. Virginity is binary, on or off. You either have it or you don’t, and there is one specific act guaranteed to make sure you don’t. Peace, on the other hand, is nothing like binary. It is very dynamic, with nearly infinite degrees of variation across its spectrum. Contrary to how it might seem on the surface, there is not one way to have or not have peace.

I can hear some of you saying, “But peace is not fighting, and fighting is not peace. Simple.” Is it simple, though? No, because those who believe this are forgetting another common saying: “It takes two to tango.” Peace, just like violence, requires input from multiple people. While it is possible to be at peace in any situation, it is not possible to have peace in any situation. I can be at peace in the middle of conflict, but I cannot have peace in the middle of conflict. If you understand the difference, you begin to see the issue here.

There are violent people in this world, people who actively inflict violence, and people who will not refrain from violence simply because we ask nicely. These people will always stand in the way of peace. As long as they are only standing, let them stand. We can go around. They tend to march, though, and that may require a response. If violence in answer to violence can stop violence, that is exactly what “fighting for peace” means. Sometimes the only way to stop conflict is by wading in and physically putting a stop to it. In other words, it is sometimes necessary to fight today in order to have peace tomorrow.

As should be quite clear by now, I do not believe in the philosophy of peace at all costs. In fact, I believe that philosophy is detrimental to the idea of peace, itself. Peace at all costs is a great way to get slaves or corpses, but it’s a lousy way to get peace. Those who are inclined toward violence will not shy away from it just because people don’t fight back. If no one fights back, violent people will be violent unchecked. This may eventually lead to a sort of peace, when they run out of victims, but it won’t be a peace that peaceful people will enjoy. It probably won’t be a peace that violent people will enjoy either. It will be a miserable peace, made possible only by graves and chains. That doesn’t sound like a good thing to me.

Peace is not an end, but a means to an end. We revere peace because of what it allows us to do and what it allows us to be. When it does not allow those things, it is not to be revered. An absolutely totalitarian dictatorship might be able to achieve a perfect peace, but would anyone want it? I doubt it. I suspect even the dictator would find that sort of peace lacking, once the results were examined in detail.

I do not seek conflict, but I will not embrace a false or destructive peace just to avoid conflict. I want a better world, and that requires active effort, not passive acceptance. If, on occasion, that effort requires conflict then so be it. That is not my preference, but I have no illusion that this universe operates in accordance with my preferences. If things were done my way, I would spend a lot more time on a beach and a lot less time in an office, but we work with what we have, not with what we want. What we have is a world that will sometimes require conflict in order to achieve positive results. It is what it is.

Knowing that conflict will sometimes be required, those who prefer peace must be prepared for war. We must have peaceful warriors because the alternative is unthinkable. If we who prefer peace will not defend it then who will? If only those who glory in violence take up the sword, what will happen to the rest of us? We need those who will take arms when it is necessary to do so, but who will lay them back down again when the need abates. Without those who will fight for peace, all we will have are those who fight for war.

Not everyone is equipped for conflict, it’s true, and it is even more so that not all who prefer peace are so equipped. Not everyone is equipped for farming or crafting or any of the other necessary functions of life, either. We each do what we can, and no one is expected to do everything. It makes sense, though, to be appreciative of those who do what we can’t. I don’t farm, but I am sure grateful for those who put in the work necessary to keep food on my table. Likewise even those who abhor violence would do well to appreciate those who take up sword and shield to keep the darkness at bay. We sleep in peace because someone else is willing to do otherwise.

November 11 is Veterans Day in the United States. What began as Armistice Day after World War I was expanded after World War II to recognize and celebrate all veterans. This is the day when we officially say thank you for doing the things that many cannot do. Whether or not they are ever called to do so, each and every veteran has volunteered to put his or her life between me and someone who would do me harm. That, alone, calls for a thank you, regardless of anything else. For that, thank you.

Because I love life, I will defend it. Because I prefer peace, I will fight for it. I believe that we need more people like that, because I know that we have far too many of the other sort. I hate violence, and will do everything I reasonably can to avoid it, but when it’s necessary, it’s necessary. I don’t shirk from what is necessary, and I am thankful for others who feel the same. Thank you, veterans, for your service and your sacrifice.

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Friday, November 6, 2015

TGIF 11-6-15

It’s already the first Friday in November. Is it just me, or has the time just been flying by lately? I suppose that’s a side effect of having so much going on.

The foster licensing grinds through its process. The training and background checks are complete. I think we have one or two more mandated inspections that we are waiting to have scheduled. Doctor’s appointments are fun. On the phone it’s, “Yes, we can schedule you for that and no, you don’t need anything special,” but when we get there, it’s, “Oh, you were supposed to bring this form and that form and we’ll need a signed statement from these people before we can do anything.” It’s so much fun, but I still recommend doing it. Just understand that not everyone involved in the process is as helpful as they could be. We’re in the Hurry Up and Wait part of the process now, so at least I have plenty of military and government experience with that.

Halloween was a great success. I have a few pictures here for your entertainment. Most of the kids were great. One or two could have used a bit more education in manners, but most were fantastic Some of them made my night, running around Oohng and Ahing at all of the decorations. That’s why we do what we do. It takes a lot of work to put it together, but the reactions make it worthwhile. Then we take it down and get ready for the next one. Always keep it moving forward. That sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Now we are getting ready for Thanksgiving. We don’t do as much for that one, since family is so far away. but we are still thankful for all that we have. It’s always good to be thankful.

I’ll keep it short today. Hope you have a great weekend, and don’t forget to tell your friends about us. We are still growing, and that is thanks to you, so Thank You. We appreciate it.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Proportion And Perspective

I used to be a news junkie. I turned the news on first thing in the morning, listened to news radio, and read multiple newspapers and news blogs on a daily basis. I then commented on all of that on my own news blogs, though mine were usually a bit more sarcastic and centered on certain specific pieces of the news. I slowly dropped following the news as closely because doing so wasn’t making me happy. Have you watched the news lately? How could that make anyone happy? It’s one obnoxious story after another, and either the journalists or the people discussed (or often both) seem to be in a competition to see who can do the best job at making a bad situation even worse. For someone who once studied journalism with an eye toward possibility making a career of it, the tendencies and trajectory of the modern news media is rather disheartening.

Don’t get me wrong. I still stay informed. I’m just more selective about it now. In our modern, connected world, I see headlines almost nonstop. I just choose to follow less of those headlines to the story. If I see something of interest or concern, I will look more closely, and try to find multiple sources to better distill the truth out of the hype and hysteria that often seems to pass as journalism these days. To be fair, this phenomenon isn’t new. We didn’t invent yellow journalism, by any means. We just appear to have increased its scope and output by about a thousandfold. We seem to have increased the number of people who actually fall for it too, which leads to its own set of problems.

The advent of the Comments section was, at first, a new form of entertainment. I enjoy a good exchange of ideas, and even a good debate, so I would go into these comments with verve and enthusiasm. Then, over time, it became clear that ideas were not being exchanged and no actual debate was happening. Debate requires that both parties speak the same language and use agreed-upon words to mean the same things. It needs very little time spent in most comments sections to know that, while most people give the appearance of speaking the same language, they are often not using the same words to mean the same things. People shout past each other, usually using the most extreme ideas they can envision, and nothing gets said. Nothing that has any possibility of being heard, at any rate. Today’s Comments section is the epitome of language being used to disguise meaning.

The two things most commonly lacking from these exchanges are proportion and perspective, seeing things as they are and as they compare to other things. We tend to make things bigger than they are, or more important than they are, or more difficult than they are - or all of that in reverse, depending on the point of view of the speaker. If it matters to me then it is of utmost importance. If it doesn’t matter to me then it doesn’t matter at all. If it matters to me and is not being done the way I believe it should be done then this is the greatest tragedy since absolutely ever, and any means of correcting this problem are acceptable means, or maybe even not enough. You don’t understand my struggle! If it doesn’t matter to me and I don’t care how it gets done then anything done to correct the situation is an overreaction, and maybe there isn’t even a problem to solve. Why are you making things so difficult all the time?

As you can see, it really boils down to “me, me, me,” and that is something that most of us are guilty of from time to time. It’s not even a problem, really, when it is only the natural from time to time. Looking out for yourself is part of being human, and sometimes that is going to at least begin from a selfish location. It’s when it stays in that location, or goes there more often than “from time to time,” or, as sometimes seems to be the case, takes up permanent residence in that location that things become a problem. It’s also a problem that can’t be solved without changing the point of view. We are a bunch of individuals surrounded by individuals. If we make no effort to live together, we are not going to succeed at living together. That effort is made by seeing things from a point of view other than your own.

The easiest way to see things from a point of view other than your own is to start from a zero point, that is seeing things as they are, or as close to as they are as you can get, with no embellishment and no interpretation. Sometimes you may not have all of the facts and will not be able to achieve a true zero point, but acknowledging that is part of the process. If you don’t have all of the facts, admit that you don’t have all of the facts, and don’t insist that your view is the Right View when you know that you do not have a complete picture. In this way you will be more ready and more inclined to adjust your view when new facts become available.

Don’t extrapolate. Extrapolation may be necessary down the road, and it usually is, but you can’t use it to reach a zero point. Extrapolation is, by definition, going beyond the present facts and interpreting past what is. Most of our decisions are based on extrapolation, since we often have to decide without having all of the facts, but know that and acknowledge that, and make a distinction between the facts you have the what you have extrapolated. Extrapolated knowledge should be the easiest to discard when you gain new facts, if you want an honest understanding of any situation.

Once you have a zero point, look at the difference between that and your own natural inclination. What bias led you away from the zero point? We’re all biased, and sometimes that’s even a good thing. Experience is one of the ways we get bias and that is typically what we call learning. Bias is a problem when it is falsely applied or used as a crutch, If you know what your bias is, and can see where it came from and how it is being applied, you can usually tell whether it is being useful or harmful.

Once you understand your own bias, it becomes easier to understand the bias of someone else. Like you, their bias may come from an honest or dishonest source, and may be used in an honest or dishonest manner, and that bias will steer them away from a zero point, just as yours did with you. Understanding all of this helps to facilitate communication, and communication is how we turn biases into solutions.

It is often difficult to tell the difference between what is true and what is merely own own impression of true, but that is usually because we don’t like admitting to our limitations and biases. We want to believe that we have the answers, even if that means we stop looking for the answers. We want things to be the way we want them to be, and we don’t want any delay between the wanting and the having. The trouble is, there usually is a delay, and ignoring that will only make the delay worse. If there is a problem, we won’t make it better by pretending that something is other than it is.

Proportion and perspective. Take the time to see things as they are and as they compare to other things, and try to understand how other people are doing the same. If more people start doing this, we’ll have less issues that require doing this in the first place. If we act like hype and hysteria are all we want then hype and hysteria are all we will get. Things can only get worse going down that road, and eventually they may even get as bad as the talking heads present them as on the nightly news. On the other hand, we could try a little proportion and perspective and see what that does. It can’t be worse than the alternative.

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