Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I Believe In Heroes

I believe in Heroes.

I’m not talking about your favorite Second Grade teacher or that person who quietly changed your life. Those people and many like them are all heroes, each in their own ways, but that’s not what I mean.

I’m talking about Heroes. Capital H.

There’s nothing quiet about Heroes and you know when you’ve met one. You may not define it as such at the time – you may not put the word to it – but you know when a Hero is present.

It’s possible – maybe even probable – that you’ve never met one. Heroes are an endangered species these days. They’ve been relegated to Fairy Tales and yarns from the Good Old Days. But I believe in Heroes.

I have to believe in Heroes because I cannot contemplate a world without them. It’s just too horrifying. A world without Heroes is quiet and dull. It lacks motivation and it lacks champions. A world without Heroes has surrendered itself to the Darkness.

Those other heroes, they’re great people and the world needs them. They deserve the recognition they get, on those rare occasions when they get it at all, but they’re not enough. A little bit of hero-ing can do amazing things, but the world is a big and mighty place. It needs big and mighty Heroes.

I believe in Heroes. I believe that Heroes are an example that things can be better than they are, that people can be better than they are. I believe that we need Heroes almost as much as we need water and air.

The world is moving in a dark direction. Things, in many ways, are more dangerous than they ever have been before. I believe that one reason for this is that we have lost our faith in Heroes. Heroes can survive without faith, but they require faith to thrive. We have lost our faith in Heroes and, because of this, Heroes are a dying breed.

We have placed a greater premium on peace and stability than on doing the right thing. We have forgotten that sometimes doing the right thing requires shaking up peace and stability. It is almost physically painful for a Hero to not do the right thing, even for such reasons as peace and stability. This means that the world we are creating is quite uncomfortable for Heroes. The shortage of Heroes that is resulting from this will create a world that is quite uncomfortable for everyone else.

I believe in Heroes. I believe that Heroes are critical for the well-being of this world. I believe that we have lost faith in Heroes and, because of this, we are losing Heroes. I believe that we need Heroes and so we need faith in Heroes. I believe that if we can reclaim our faith in Heroes, we can reclaim our Heroes. I believe that we must do everything we possibly can to restore the idea of the Hero to prominence in the modern mind. I believe that we can again see an Age of Heroes if we only believe in Heroes.

I believe in Heroes.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

A Quick Note

I was sick last week, and spent most of the week with my head in a fog. Not exactly conducive to good creative writing. So, rather than subject you to whatever the results of that might have been, I have decided, instead, to share some older material for your review. These are the foundational documents of my other blog Heroes Are Real and, while I have not been as active over there, I still believe in its ideas and believe those ideas to be important. I hope you'll give them some consideration, and we'll be back to our normal interruptions next week.

Memorial Day 2016

Please enjoy Memorial Day this year. Spend some quality time with family and friends, be where you are, and love who you're with. Don't ever take anything away from that, and do take every opportunity you have. At the same time, though, please do also take some time to remember why it's called "Memorial Day". Give thanks for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for hearth and home, and give a thought to their families as well.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

It Stands For Hope

I have never been quiet about being a huge comic book and science fiction/fantasy fan, and I don’t expect I ever will be. One of the reasons I have always been so dismissive of the elitist elements within our own community - and we do, unfortunately, have them - is because those same kinds of elitists have spent most of my life telling me that the literature I love doesn’t count as literature because it doesn’t meet some kind of arbitrary standards. It seems to me that, if you can introduce an idea into the public conscious by means of entertainment and have that idea still be shaping public perception generations later, That must be meeting some pretty worthwhile standards. If it doesn’t meet “the right standards,” I’m not entirely certain why anyone would care about those “right standards” in the first place.

The entire point of an idea is to spread. I can shout “Eureka!” In my bathtub all day long, but if my idea isn’t going anywhere, if it isn’t changing anything, it isn’t actually doing anything. Granted, there are times when an idea that changes the thinker alone is more than enough but, unless you are writing a diary, that’s not generally the purpose with anything remotely classified as literature. The written word revolutionized the world because of its ability to spread ideas. By that understanding, any idea that continues to propagate through its written medium across multiple generations must be doing something right.

Take one of the largest and most enduring ideas in comics: Superman. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and first published in 1938, Superman is arguably the single most recognized comic book character anywhere in the world. Many people who have never read a single comic or watched a single show will see that S and know right away what it stands for. Even better - to my way of thinking, at least - is that so many of those people will know what it has evolved into standing for. Of course, if you know your comic book history, you know that it was originally an S, just as it appears to be. There was no big thought put into alien alphabets or anything of that sort at the time. The character’s name was Superman, so his creators put an S for Superman on his chest. It was really that simple. Over time, though, the stories and ideas grew more complex, and later readers and creators both wanted something more than the simple and obvious. The shape of the S and its surrounding shield was stylized and given a specific appearance, and that appearance was declared to be an alien character, which happened to resemble an S in the Latin alphabet but was actually the Kryptonian character for the word “El,” Superman’s family name. Then even that was taken a step further. Just as the family names of most people you know have a meaning behind them, it was decided that there was a meaning behind El as well, and that meaning would be inseparably associated with the character of Superman, himself. “On my world, it means ‘hope’.”

While it is a relatively recent enhancement that his symbol means hope, I don’t think there is anything new about the idea that Superman, himself, stands for hope. I believe that has been a central element of the character since the very beginning. This is a man who, in modern interpretations, is among the most powerful heroes - or just beings, whether hero or not - on the planet, a man who could easily take matters into his own hands and compel actions to his liking in so many ways, but is far more known as an inspiration. He leads by example, and by example shows people that they can be great.

I think Grant Morrison distilled the essence of the character perfectly in a small speech given in the miniseries All-Star Superman (with Frank Quitely), and lifted almost verbatim for the movie Man of Steel:

“You have given them an ideal to aspire to, embodied their highest aspirations.
They will race, and stumble, and fall and crawl....and curse....and finally....
They will join you in the sun, Kal-El.
They will stumble, they will fall.
But in time, they will join you in the sun.
In time you will help them accomplish wonders.”

In the hands of a lazy writer, Superman could do it all, but no one would read his stories because they would be boring. No conflict and no drama. In the hands of a skilled writer, though, Superman is Superman, whether he has his powers or not, whether he uses his powers or not. He is not Superman because of what he can do, but rather because of what he shows us that we can do.

Superman is about hope, and, if you ask me, there couldn’t be a better idea to spread. Maybe that doesn’t reach the status of literature, but it works for me. I’m for almost anything that helps to spread hope, and if I can have fun with it, even better. How’s that for an idea worth spreading? Having fun with hope! Imagine the possibilities. I think I’ll go read a comic book now and enjoy some good literature, and I hope you have enjoyed this little diversion.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Love Is Not Detrimental

I recently kicked off a bit of controversy by publicly disagreeing with a meme which was ostensibly about loving unconditionally. The meme actually went beyond that concept - dangerously so, in my opinion, which is why I disagreed - but memes are not exactly known for handling complex ideas in a complex fashion. That is certainly one of the shortcomings of this particular form of internet communication. In this case, while I suspect that the original writer was intending to make a fairly straightforward comment about unconditional love, the method of doing so missed the mark, and could potentially cause harm in doing so. The number of popular Facebook groups I’ve seen sharing the same meme just adds to that possibility. I’ll include the meme below, just so you can make your own determination, but I want to explain my thinking first.

That there is a need to explain the thinking is, to me, the first problem with this entire discussion. I believe that people who are making large public statements have a responsibility to be careful and clear about the statements being made. This meme was anything but careful and clear. It took what began as a simple statement - Don’t do a certain activity for the wrong people - and expanded in directions that didn’t really line up. Much of the controversy stemmed from the fact that the new version didn’t actually answer the original. It tried to make a simple statement complex and, in doing so, failed at both. The new version lost the clear punch of a simple statement without actually explaining the more complicated idea and how it related to the original statement.

Here is the meme being addressed:

Here is my answer:

“As someone who writes about living and loving on a regular basis, no. This is a recipe for failure. You literally can't cross oceans unconditionally. It's not possible, and you are destroying lives by telling people it's what they should be doing. Live and love without seeking reward, yes, but you have to set boundaries or you are not loving yourself.”

I was told, “You’re missing the point. You should love without expecting anything in return.” Aside from the fact that I made that same point myself, so really couldn’t have missed it, that’s not what the meme is saying. More specifically, that is not all that the meme is saying. Had that been it, there would have been no controversy. There likely wouldn’t have been many answers either. Quite a few people would have clicked the Like button, and quite a few more would have shared the image, but it wouldn’t have generated much discussion because most of the intended audience would have just agreed. That’s part of the problem, of course. You don’t get much Internet traffic by saying things everyone agrees with. You have to stir things up or you don’t get noticed.

The original statement was, in a nutshell, don’t do everything for people who won’t do anything. The follow-up statement was, again in paraphrase, love without expecting anything in return. Both of these statements are right and proper, true and correct. They only become wrong when you try to put them together. They don’t go together. They aren’t answering the same thing. Love unconditionally does not mean do everything unconditionally. Being a parent, when done correctly, is the epitome of loving unconditionally, but one of the most important lessons you learn when trying to correctly be a parent is that you can’t do everything for the ones you love. To keep with this particular meme, you can’t cross every ocean for your children. Sometimes the best way to love them is to not cross that ocean. It’s a difficult lesson to learn, and even more difficult to put into practice, but it is necessary for the wellbeing of both the lover and the loved.

Life is about crossing oceans, but you can’t cross every ocean for every person. In this life, you are a finite being with finite resources. As much as we might like to be able to give everything to everyone all of the time, it’s simply and literally not possible. Attempting to do so will only result in losing the ability to do anything for anyone anywhere. Worse, setting this up as the ideal is a recipe for failure. You are setting a goal that people cannot reach, and telling people right up front that they can never be good enough.

Love is not detrimental. Love is about building up, not tearing down. If you give out love and don’t end up with more, there’s a good chance that you’re doing it wrong. You won’t necessarily get back more from the direction you give it - that is not and should not be the point - but real love will not leave you wanting. One of the biggest problems we have in the world today is this fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of love. This problem is not made better by groups who have set themselves up as sources of motivation and inspiration but then turn around and perpetuate ideas that cause harm. Love is not easy, but love is not detrimental.

Love unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean that you have to act unconditionally. Sometimes the best way to love someone is to say no, to not cross that ocean. You have to set boundaries or you’re not really loving yourself. That is necessary too, in case you forgot. While you’re running around showering people with unconditional love, don’t forget to love yourself. You’re important too.

"Don't cross oceans for people who wouldn't cross a puddle for you," does not mean "don't love without thinking of reward." It means know your limits and understand that you can't do everything for everyone. Please stop setting people up for failure by telling them they should be doing something they literally cannot do. Cross every ocean that is right for you to cross, but don't believe that you are failing in any way if you can't cross them all. Cool words in a meme are just cool words in a meme if we don't take the time to think about what they mean.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Making Mindful Decisions

Most of us want the world to be a better place. We will not always agree on what that means - we will have different opinions on which parts need to improve and how to accomplish those improvements - but we will generally agree that better is better. There are not very many people, relatively speaking, who actually want things to be worse, and those people are usually pretty easy to identify as the kinds of people who make the rest of us uncomfortable, to say the least.

One difficulty we have is that people are used to reacting instead of deciding. Reacting is faster and easier. Reacting doesn’t require extended thought or action, and tends to come with instant gratification. We like instant gratification. Instant gratification doesn’t like us back though. It’s like eating too much candy or chocolate cake. It might seem great at the moment, but there will be consequences, and those consequences are often significantly out of balance with the initial pleasantries.

In order to take care of our physical health, we plan ahead, make careful decisions about our diet and physical activities, and then follow through to see that we are achieving the results we expected. The same should be true for our mental health and for the world around us. Plan ahead, make decisions, and follow through. Are you getting the results you actually want (ie. is the world actually improving as a result)? If so, do more of that. If not, why not, and what can you do differently to get better results?

If you want to make the world a better place, it isn’t as simple as doing what feels right or what someone else tells you is right. There may even be times when, on the surface, at least, the necessary actions seem to go against those more obvious points. Plan ahead, make decisions, and follow through. If you are actually doing those things, you should see the difference.

Are you promoting love or hate? That is the first and most obvious thing to consider when making your decisions. To take an innocuous example, let us say that I dislike crabapple pie and believe it is bad for the world, but I enjoy cactus pudding and believe that it makes the world a better place. I can spend my time telling people how bad crabapple pie is and trying to convince people who like it to stop eating it, or I can spend my time telling people how wonderful cactus pudding is and encouraging them to eat more of that. If I do the former, I am going to meet resistance, no doubt about it. The people who enjoy crabapple pie are going to fight me, there will be hurt feelings and bruised egos, and many of those people will refuse to try my cactus pudding just on principle. If, however, I go with the latter option, I am still getting across my preferred point - the fantastic wonderfulness of cactus pudding - but I am doing so without making enemies and without causing conflict. The people who enjoy crabapple pie can try my pudding as well, without feeling like it is a conflict, and, if I am correct, they will end up enjoying that more anyway, so they will make the change without my having had to lift a finger in hostility. We may not achieve 100% conversion, but we will still get more conversion than we would have gotten by fighting about it, and the conversion we get will be genuine, without hurt feelings or resentment. The world did not become perfect, but it got better, and it did more of the getting better than it would have going the other way around.

This is a thing that people often forget: there is almost always more than one way to do a thing, and there is also almost always a better way and a not so better way. The not so better way tends to feel better at the moment - instant gratification - but it does not usually achieve better long term results. Promoting what you love instead of bashing what you hate will often lead to more of what you love and less of what you hate, without there having to be a conflict with what you hate. There is only so much time in one human life, so don’t waste it on things you don’t like. If you can achieve the same or even better results through encouragement and positive reinforcement, isn’t it better to do that than to add more negative to the world and not even get the results you want?

It’s not even necessarily a matter of doing a different thing than you were going to do. Sometimes it’s just about doing that thing in a different way. I wanted people to eat less crabapple pie and more cactus pudding, so I did that by being more positive about cactus pudding instead of my being more negative about crabapple pie. The same action, but I chose to do the positive aspect of it rather than the negative.

This requires mindful decision making. We have to actually stop for a moment and think about what we’re doing, rather than simply let it happen. We have to be the acting force rather than the object acted upon. We have to be the doer instead of the done. Life is not a spectator sport, and you will not get the best results without jumping in and fully participating.

There are going to be times when conflict is unavoidable, but we don’t need to make those times happen more often than necessary. We don’t need to go looking for conflict when we have other perfectly good methods available to us. We don’t need to make things worse while we were hoping to make them better. Are you promoting love or hate, hope or fear, kindness or cruelty? It's rare that anyone does only one, all the time, but which do you do more, and is that matching what you want the world to be?

We may not always agree on what makes the world better, any more than we would always agree on pie or pudding, but we can agree on whether or not we are actively trying to make the world better. Be positive more often than negative. Don’t cause pain where it is unnecessary. Build up more than you tear down. Think about what you’re doing, and pay attention to what it is achieving, then adjust as needed. Ultimately, that is how we make the world a better place.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What You Put In

We hear a lot about how bad the world is today, but that’s not really an idea I can get behind. If you stop and think about it, the modern world is a pretty great place to be, over all. It’s not perfect, by any means, and there is no doubt that it’s not great for everyone but, if you’re in a part of the world where you have the time and ability to read these words, if you’re in a part of the world where social media has any significant impact, odds are good that you’re in a part of the world that is more great than not. There are exceptions to every rule, but the people who complain the most about the ills of the modern world are almost always the same people who can complain by smartphone in between song downloads and instant weather updates. Perspective. There may be things we don’t like about the world around us - and there probably always will be - but we shouldn’t let that blind us to all of the good that is available, not least of which being that we currently have more ability to change the world than any previous generation in any previous society has ever known. If you don’t like where the world is heading, don’t just check out. Do something about it.

Keep in mind, though, that it is not solely your world to change. We all live here, and we all have to share. If we spend all our time kicking over each other’s sandcastles because they’re not built how we would build them, we won’t have much time left over for building sandcastles of our own. I don’t like Will Ferrell movies, so I don’t watch Will Ferrell movies. Simple, right? I’m not going to run around trying to prevent Will Ferrell from making movies, because that would be a huge waste of my time. I have a limited amount of that time stuff, and there are no free refills when I use it all up. The time I’m going to use on movies? I would much rather use it on movies that I’m going to enjoy than use it against movies I don’t enjoy.

Are you making the world better, or are you just complaining because someone else likes things you don’t enjoy. Those really are not the same thing. They don’t even have as much overlap as some people seem to believe. Yes, I will usually dislike things I perceive as making the world worse, but the world is not made worse simply because I dislike something. The relationship is a bit more complex than that.

You will have to fight against those things which you perceive as bringing down the world sometimes, but don’t lose yourself in that fight. If you aren’t spending more time enjoying the good than objecting to the bad then what’s the point? You can’t make the world more positive by embracing the negative. You can’t get more family time by spending longer hours at work. You can’t eat more ice cream by loading up on broccoli. You can’t read more good books by focusing all of your attention on books you dislike. You can’t be a light by spreading darkness. Make the world better, but don’t do so at the expense of what is already good.

You get out of it what you put into it. That’s a pretty standard rule for living, and it governs most of our social interactions. If you spend more of your time on the negative, you’ll usually get more negative. If you spend more of your time on the positive, you’ll usually get more positive. The flip side of that is, if other people are putting in something different than you, they will probably get back something different than you. You can’t just assume that you know what they’re getting out of an experience if you don’t also know what they’re putting in. You might not need to walk a mile in their shoes, but you will probably need more information than is provided by a simple status update.

There is an old story about two wolves that live inside each person, one light and one dark, one positive and one negative. These two wolves are constantly fighting for supremacy, and the one that wins is the one you feed the most. You need them both, and the fight will never truly end, but which one do you want to be more in control? I think most of us have the same answer to that question, but we often forget to act as though that is the answer.

If you want to make the world better, you have to be better. It starts with you. To be honest, it often ends with you. There is a huge chunk of reality over which you have no control. There is another not insignificant amount of reality over which you have only limited control, sometimes very limited. These two blocks make up the majority of life, by far. The amount of life that you really get to be in charge of, and that you can make a healthy difference in, is mostly confined to the space between your ears. Start there if you want to make a change.

If the world doesn’t seem to be what you believe it should be, make a change, but start where you will likely do the most good. You get out of life what you put into it, so make sure that what you are putting in will lead to what you want out. Don’t expect the world to change while you just sit still and watch, and don’t expect to pull out rainbows if all you’re putting in is rain. Be the change you want to see and you will see that change. If you want a better world, it starts with a better you. Be the best you that you can be.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

TGIF 5-13-16

There will be times when you just want to quit. Don't. Take a break if and as you need to, but you have to keep going to learn what's next.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Under A Cloud

There are days when I feel like I am walking around underneath my very own storm cloud. Sometimes there’s a trigger, sometimes there is not but, even when there is, the response is often disproportionate to the cause. That is one of the realities of living with depression. According to some estimates, it’s a reality that at least 7% of Americans have some familiarity with. That’s the percentage of people who had a reported “major depressive episode” in 2014 (the last year for which there is complete data). Not everyone who had an episode lives with depression, but not everyone who lives with depression reports their episodes, so we can figure it roughly balances out.

Those of who who live with depression - or, it might be more accurate to say, those of us who know that we live with depression do have one small advantage: We know that it happens, and that it is going to happen. It’s a very small advantage, and it often doesn’t feel like an advantage at all, but it can help. If you know something is going to happen, you can plan for it. If you know based on the experience of past occurrences, you also have some idea, based on those same past occurrences, that solutions are possible, and maybe even what solutions are possible. It’s not much, but we take what we can get.

The trouble is, what we can get very often doesn’t feel like it’s enough. When you’re under that cloud being beaten down by the driving rain, knowing that the last storm didn’t wash you away isn’t exactly a comfort. It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s miserable, and all of that is happening right now, not last time and not in some possible future. Any relief that isn’t also right now doesn’t feel like it’s very helpful. When you’re in the middle of a depressive episode, what something feels like tends to carry more weight than what something is (or even was or will be). That, too, is one of the realities of living with depression.

There is another, more basic reality that we sometimes overlook, though: umbrellas and coats are available. There are things you can do. There are tools you can use. You can’t always get in out of the rain, and sometimes a coat really isn’t enough. You can’t always make things good, but you can almost always make things better. Maybe you can make things not as bad, if that seems to be a more accurate perspective. You can do something about your situation, even if you can’t do as much as you might like to do.

It’s a fine distinction, I realize, but it’s a distinction that matters, just the same. Some storms are bigger than others and some tools are better than others, but if it helps, it helps. A raincoat may not offer much protection in a hurricane, but you won’t throw it away, will you? You certainly won’t strip down to your skivvies and stand out in the rain. That’s just not how we do things if we want to make anything better. A little bit better is still better. Use what you have until you have more.

It’s important to remember that making things better is not magic, and it’s not a binary situation. You are not going to go from bad to good with no inbetween. There are going to be days when the best you can do is make a bad situation just be not quite as bad. It may still be a bad situation and you may still be miserable in that situation, but you have to wrap that raincoat around you, hunch your shoulders against the wind, and just keep driving forward. Understanding that things could be worse may be a paltry comfort at the time, but it might also be the difference between getting through it or not. You may not realize it at the time, but you will look back from the comfort of later and be glad you had that raincoat instead of having nothing.

The flipside of that is to remember that still feeling bad doesn’t mean you aren’t accomplishing anything. It is hard to tell the difference when you’re in a depressive episode, just like it’s hard to tell the difference when you’re standing in the rain. It’s easy to believe that wet is wet while the rain is pouring down. Later on, though, when you’re sitting by the fire wrapped in a blanket and enjoying the recovery, you’ll look back and realize that things could have been worse. When you do have that realization, pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for what you did to make things better. You deserve the recognition, and getting it will make things just a little bit easier next time.

Ultimately, it’s up to you. It always is. I can pile all of the raincoats available at your feet, but you won’t benefit if you don’t put one one. You’ve been caught in the rain before. If you’re like most of us, you’ve been caught many times, and sometimes you’ve had a coat and sometimes you haven’t. You know the difference. Learn from that experience to plan for the future. Every little bit helps, but the first step is you.

There are days when I feel like I’m walking around under a cloud. To be frank, there are days when I feel like I’m walking around inside of a cloud. I don’t like those days, no matter what. They’re horrible, and I don’t blame anyone with similar experiences for hating the experience. There’s nothing good about it, and it is not necessary to pretend there is. Just don’t give up, and don’t let the rain beat you down. Just wrap that raincoat around you and appreciate the little things when the little things are all you have to appreciate. Get through the moment until you can get to a better moment. The thing about clouds is, they never last.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tools Are Just Tools

I spend a fairly considerable amount of time on social media. It’s how I keep up with family and friends, most of whom live too far away for any other kind of regular contact. It’s how I stay abreast of current affairs (most forms of social media are lousy sources of news, but they’re great places for headlines, giving me insight into which stories I do and don’t want to dig deeper into). It’s how I network and advertise my own works and activities. It’s how I share ideas and jokes and all of the other stuff that we share with each other on a regular basis. It’s how I stay in touch. To a greater or lesser extent, much of that is probably true for you as well. That is the modern reality, and it can be a very useful reality.

It can also, however, be a very frustrating reality. The same platforms that we use for communicating, sharing, and learning can also be used for shaming, intimidating, and harassing. If you spend as much time on social media as I do, you’re guaranteed to come across plenty of negative. You’ll probably see more negative than you want to deal with, and it’s not uncommon to decide that the whole experience is not worthwhile. Many people wash their hands of the whole thing and declare social media, as a whole, to be what’s wrong with the modern world. If only it were that simple.

It’s not, of course. It hardly ever is. There is not just one thing wrong with the modern world and, even if there was, that one thing would not be summed up within social media. Social media barely even registers as a symptom. It just isn’t that important. It’s a tool, sure, and a tool with great reach and application, but a tool is nothing without the hand that uses it. If you take the most dangerous tool ever designed and set it on a shelf in the back of a storage room, it will do nothing more sinister than collecting dust and settling into itself with inevitable entropy. Whether shaped stone or advanced computer code, tools are just tools, and rarely ever have any intrinsic value - whether positive or negative - within themselves. The value of a tool comes from its use, not from its existence.

Different people will use different tools in different ways. When it comes to the tools of social media, I have accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, all of which I use to promote my work with Frequently Interrupted. How I use each tool differs across the different platforms, and how I use the social media platforms as a whole will be different from how other people use them, even other people who are using them for roughly the same purposes. I have no doubt that other people are better at using these tools than I am, and I am probably better at using them than some other people, but none of us are actually wrong in how we use them. If they serve our purpose, we have used them correctly. That we might be able to use them better is an entirely different matter from whether or not we are using them correctly.

My kids post all kinds of videos and memes that make no sense to me. Quite a bit of what I post is boring to them. Neither of us is wrong. We’re using the same tools for different purposes. If our purpose is met, the tools were used correctly. The rest is just detail, and the details change from person to person.

There was a story last year about a photographer who took pictures of people with their devices (tablets, smartphones, etc.), and then digitally removed the devices from the resulting images. This was supposed to show how obsessed we have become with these modern gadgets, and how ridiculous we look in that obsession. I saw a ridiculous obsession in this art project, but it wasn’t the one the artist was driving at. Imagine for a moment that you are sitting at a table with a digital tablet in hand, reading whatever is on the screen. Now take that same image and replace the tablet with a book. What else changed? Nothing. You would be sitting in the same posture, performing the same apparent activity, whether it was with a book or a tablet. The only difference would be in the judgment coming from the observers. Now imagine yourself as the observer. Was their really a point to that judgment? Did your judgment say more about the person judged or about the person judging?

We certainly can be obsessed with our modern gadgets, and we certainly can be ridiculous in that obsession, but this isn’t new, and it isn’t really about the tools in question. One generation ignores people from behind a newspaper while another does the same from behind an iPad. One is viewed as acceptable behavior while the other signals a complete breakdown in modern society. They’re the same thing, really, but we love to make excuses because that’s easier than admitting that we usually have the same flaws just expressed in different ways.

There is another video making the rounds right now with a young lady apologizing for her generation. I tried to watch it, but I had to stop when the first several things she said all applied just as much to my own generation as to hers. We’re at least twenty years apart in age, and probably about three generations apart the way these things are usually measured, but the same failures that supposedly typify her generation were accused of mine when I was in school. The way we do things is right and good but the way the next group does things is wrong and bad. It’s never in history been that simple, but I doubt there has ever in history been a generation that didn’t think it was.

My tools are not better than your tools, and my use of those tools is not better than your use of them. Tools are just tools, and how you use them often matters more than which tool you’re using. If you use Facebook in an obsessive and unhealthy way then Facebook may be an unhealthy tool for you to use. That doesn’t make Facebook bad, and it doesn’t make social media the root of all evil. Be mindful of the tools that you are using so that your tools don’t use you, but don’t make the mistake of believing that your use is the representative use. We can use different tools for the same job, the same tools for different jobs, or various combinations of those ideas. What matters is that we keep doing our best, and hopefully help each other to do better along the way. Use whatever tools you can to get the job done.

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Please support our Out of the Darkness walk, coming this December. Join, donate, or share, it all helps. Click for more information.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Join Us For Out Of The Darkness

Suicide prevention is a big deal to me. It is one of the cornerstones of this blog, and something I work toward on a regular basis. As I have said before, I have fought that dragon personally, I have lost people I loved, and I have lost people I tried to help. It’s heartbreaking from every angle, and it impacts far more people than many people realize. According to the CDC, there were 41,149 deaths attributed to suicide in 2013, and a staggering 836,000 emergency department visits for self-inflicted injuries. Worse, these numbers are roughly consistent with annual averages. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and there are actually worse numbers in other parts of the world.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is one of the largest non profit organizations in the world dedicated to awareness, education, and advocacy on the subject of suicide prevention, and their Out of the Darkness walks are among the most successful sources of raising both donations and awareness anywhere. The Overnight is their flagship walk, sixteen miles from dusk until dawn, rotated through different cities every year, with the walks for this year being in San Francisco on May 21 and New York on June 4. State chapters also host Campus and Community walks throughout the year, that are usually shorter than The Overnight but are also more easily accessible to more people.

The Out of the Darkness Community walk in Phoenix this year is scheduled for December 11 at Indian School Park in Downtown Phoenix (map), from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, and I intend to be there. I hope you will join, in spirit, even if you can't join in body. The Frequently Interrupted team has been registered, and you are encouraged to participate however you can. Follow the link to register for the walk and join our team, or you can make a donation through anyone on the team if you cannot walk with us.

The way this works is, everyone on the team gets their own fundraising page to use and share as you see fit, and your contributions are tracked both individually and toward a team goal. There are no registration fees of any kind, and no donations required, but we’ll be working together to raise what we can, both in donations and awareness. You can get more details about how it all works here and here. What we need now is you. If you are local and want to participate in the Frequently Interrupted walking team, sign up and let me know you're joining us. You also don’t have to be local to help, so let me know either way. Either way, please help spread the word. Raising awareness is as important as anything else we're doing here.

The AFSP has set a goal of reducing suicide in the United States by 20% by 2025. That’s a pretty impressive goal, and these walks are a large part of how they intend to do it. Personally, I would love to be part of achieving that goal, and I hope you will join me. I look forward to your input, and thank you.

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