Archive for February, 2013

Just Because You Change Your Mind Doesn’t Mean You Were Wrong

February 28, 2013

Previously, I posted a piece entitled The Imbalance of Rigidity which started to explore the topic of holding onto fixed ideas despite changing circumstances. As an extension of this concept, I’d like to delve into the world of redefinition.

 

As Re-booters, something about our lives has been nagging at us that feels not quite right. We are compelled towards change, but we’re not necessarily clear on what to do. Most often, this need for change presents itself at a most inconvenient time—plus, it can feel terrifying!  Feeling as though we’re running as fast as our little legs can carry us, time for envisioning another way around the racetrack is in short supply. Life unfolds at such a fast pace, we’re just lucky if we can keep up.

 

But, not only does life evolve, but we do, as well. Our understanding of how the world works adjusts as we gain experience. Our bodies change. Our needs change. Our connections to people change. You don’t have the same relationship with your fifteen year old as you did when he was five, do you? Of course not! As your child has grown and matured, you’ve modified the way you think about them, talk with them, relate to them.

 

Now, take that experience and apply it to yourself: how might you re-assess your life in the context of your current needs and strengths? How might you allow your mature insight to shift your perspective and guide your overall growth? Let’s start with an easy example: remember some thing you fervently coveted as a teenager, but now the having it or not having it makes no difference to you? We all can think of something. For me, I wanted a red, Chrysler Le Baron convertible. Did I ever get it? No. And, as eye popping and glamorous as a red convertible can be, now all I think about is what a mess my hair would look after tooling around in one.

 

Let’s segue into more difficult terrain related to reconsidering our opinions and stances on an issue: how might you re-define and manage your relationship to challenging relatives if you study them from the wisdom and perspective of who you are today, as opposed to the powerless child you were back then? Might you now have more patience and be able to let a lot more provocation roll off your back if you didn’t haul around all that baggage? What about redefining your relationship to your past? Do you still need to nurse that old disappointment? Is it possible that, maybe, you somehow benefitted from this let down? Does it still have to mean “so much?”

 

Allowing ourselves to perceive things differently can feel terrifying because we fear it signals that we were “wrong” to feel the way we did; but that’s not what I’m suggesting. What I’m suggesting is that you are a different person now, so it can be reasonable to shift how you think about things to match the person you are today. I’m not talking about historical revisionism; I’m saying that there may be other, valid interpretations. You are not stuck with your childish perspective! This extends to how we think about our mistakes and our successes. Was what you failed to achieve  really so devastating in light of what you know now? Even if everyone around you holds tight to the definitions and standards from their past, that shouldn’t discourage you from reconsidering these things. Most people do not ask themselves these questions because they’re either too afraid to do so or it simply never occurs to them that their lives could be lived otherwise—you’re reading this post because you’re not afraid of the hard work that accompanies such questions.

 

Re-defining our role to others, to our past, to our mistakes and successes is part of the flex needed to keep balance in our life and a benefit of our overall growth.

The Imbalance of Rigidity

February 26, 2013

I’ve noticed that as most people progress through life, they tend to develop fixed ideas about their identity and their place in the world. They tell themselves a story of who they are and what their life experience means. I am a martyr. I am a leader. I am misunderstood. Families look like this. People ignore me. People must approve of me. Loyalty is everything. I refuse to be cheated. Stories like that, paradigms through which they view their lives and their relationship to the world.

Does any of this ring a bell for you? Who are you thinking of? What story do you secretly believe about yourself?

Fixed ideas such as these makes it easier to digest what is happening around us because we have clear-cut definitions—most of which we decided upon when we were much younger, or simply adopted the terms handed down to us by our family. But, we change; so do our circumstances and our capabilities. To apply definitions or primitive understandings that may have been appropriate when we were children, may not serve us so well as mature adults. I contend that using such outmoded approaches often produces results that no longer serve our best interests. The idea of examining such longstanding presumptions rarely occurs to folks, even when things aren’t going so well. I’ve done it this way forever; why would I reconsider?

The natural resistance to change is easy to understand. Change involves a large amount of unpredictability, an unsure outcome. Things could get worse if I were to change it up, we mutter to ourselves. In a world filled with a sense of ever increasing chaos, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to grasp onto the known—even if it isn’t delivering the results we would hope—simply because we can predict with fair accuracy what the result will be. But this insistence of keeping things “the way they’ve always been” is the equivalent of a rigidity that can throw our lives off balance.

Now, think about that sentence; it’s funny, isn’t it? How can something that’s fixed be off balance?

Recently, I learned about a performance artist, Janine Antoni, who explores an aspect of this concept in a video called “Touch.” http://www.art21.org/texts/janine-antoni/interview-janine-antoni-touch-and-moor As part of her efforts to learn to tightrope, she discovered that a large part of her success lay in growing comfortable with being out of balance. Flexing to shift her bodyweight while on the rope actually provided the stability she needed to achieve her goal of getting from Point A to Point B. Her confidence and capabilities increased as she grew accustomed to the ever shifting conditions. Had she frozen up, she would’ve fallen off the rope.

This is a much larger topic than one blog post might reasonably address and I will return to it periodically, but I suggest that you reflect upon examples in your life of people who have insisted on definitions that have worked against them, throwing their current lives off balance. Must a family really operate only one way? Do you need to continue to agree with another’s philosophy? How vital is it that you be recognized for your efforts? Were your mistakes truly unforgiveable? Were theirs?

What I hope you’ll take away from this post is the seed idea that, maybe, some of your core, operating assumptions may require re-evaluation. It’s possible that they are just fine, as is; but, there may be one or two lurking beneath that might benefit from a little re-tweaking. After all, the big idea for Re-booters is to live a well-adjusted life, so you wouldn’t want a little rigidity to knock you off balance. Now would you?

Dental Dramas and Medieval Medicine

February 21, 2013

“Your jaw is in the way,” my dentist complained.

Unable to speak due to the wide variety of sharp implements in my mouth, I frowned in consternation, making a puzzled gurgling sound.

“Your jaw is in the way!” she repeated. “It keeps pushing the crown off and now I have to dry off the tooth in order to seat it properly.”

“Here, bite this stick and don’t move.”

Re-booters know never to argue with irate taxi drivers or with people who can inflict extreme pain with a flick of a dental tool. So, I bit onto the stick and willed myself not to panic.

“Hush now,” soothed the sympathetic Hungarian nurse after the dentist stormed out. “It’ll be ok,” she reassured me. “You don’t have to bite the stick that hard.”

Welcome to the world of Dental Dramas. Nine hours of unmitigated torture, bleeding gums, inconveniently placed jaws, and a captive audience.

Day 1 (less than 12 hours after I arrive from across the country)

The scheduled visit segues from a replacement of a 12 year old crown into a possible need for a second crown, seven composites, and relentless lobbying to visit a colleague endodontist “just to be sure,” I don’t need a root canal on a tooth that has given me no problems. Five hours and two full viewings of “Crazy Heart” using some bizarre headset glasses, I am informed that, “Oh, your insurance doesn’t cover any of this. That’ll be five grand, but you can pay us next week.”

Day 2 (the afternoon before I am scheduled to return to Washington)

This “routine” appointment stretched from two hours to four in order to deal with unexpected inconveniences such as my ill-placed jaw; I forewent watching any more films and sat there as my dentist complained about my anatomy. Then, they knock my glasses onto the floor and I am left nearly blind. So, it’s understandable that I am very much wanting to vamoose from the chair in which I have found myself, biting a stick. As the sun makes it’s way across the late afternoon sky, my dentist decides to share with me her plans for the remainder of the evening.

“I have a very successful patient,” she confides. “He’s an Industry heavyweight.” She pauses. “Well, he’s done a lot of work in Canada. He’s written a play about dentists, and I am the star!” After I make the expected approving gurgling sounds, she continues to share with me what a superb singer and dancer she is. This Industry heavyweight (well, in Canada)/patient suggested/pleaded with her to try out for his dentist play. When she sang I Dreamed a Dream for him, he exclaimed, “You must be my Leading Lady!”

Explaining that the dental office where they’d be rehearsing is, “the size of a sound stage,” my dentist then regaled me with other tales of theatrical glory which starred her and her husband in some dinner theater thing. Leaning in, she explained that when you are in a play, “you must remain in character.” In this murder mystery play, her husband had the role of, “the most handsome and successful star Hollywood has ever seen” and she was, “his beautiful, beautiful girlfriend.” God’s truth. No exaggeration. Verbatim. Apparently, the husband protested being made to serve in this capacity, but my dentist would have none of it. She decided he needed headshots and instructed him to mingle with the audience, handing out headshots and autographs to every pretty lady he saw. “The problem was, “ she grumbled, “my idea was too brilliant! All the women loved it and nobody paid attention to me!”

Now, I know what you’re thinking: she’s making this up. No, my friends, I don’t have the imagination to make something like this up. This is the truth.

Five thousand dollars poorer than I started, I exited the dental office in order to run off to Lenscrafters with my broken specs. Let’s just say that I now love Lenscrafters! I love them! They got me in a new pair of cute frames in an hour, 90 day guarantee. If you need glasses, this is my shout out to them. Nonetheless, due to my poor mouth’s condition (blame that stupid, inconveniently placed jaw), I had to delay my return so I could bite on more sticks. But, there are worse things. A Re-booter remembers to be grateful and always counts her blessings.

None of this has anything to do with re-booting your life, but I had to share because, well, sometimes you just need a chuckle. If popular request so demands, I may pepper this blog with other posts from the front because this sort of thing happens to me all the time!

Exit Stage Left, Scene 2

February 19, 2013

Now, where were we? Ah, yes, my meditation on the importance our emotional comfort should play in driving our decisions.

 

Have you noticed how often we are told that emotional sensitivities are so central to our considerations that they dictate everything from individual lives to world events? To wit, reports on how certain groups become enraged if they feel that their national pride or deity of choice has been insulted. Honor killings. The likeability factor of presidential candidates. Higher tv ratings for a story of a rescued puppy than coverage of the debt ceiling or the dwindling levels of reading comprehension amongst third graders. Weeks long, national coverage of a story involving the abduction of some comely, white child—as sad as this is for the people immediately involved, why does this merit national attention? The answer to all of these questions comes right back to plucking our heart strings.

 

I am not a champion of some emotionless, Spock-like world where people go through life making all their choices based on cold logic. After all, emotions are what make life meaningful—our connections to the world around us—we have attachments and they enrich our lives immeasurably. But to allow our transitory and ever shifting feelings to dictate our choices and decisions is selfish and immature. Think of the person I wrote about last post who put the kibosh on their spouse’s family retreat due to their vague sense of discomfort. What examples, in your life, can you think of where you or someone you know made choices because their feelings overrode their common sense and discipline? Looking back, how successful do you consider that strategy? Would you do things differently now?

 

So, back to you and wanting to exit stage left when confronted by a situation that makes you ill at ease. What if you didn’t leave? What if you forced yourself to override your discomfort and rode this one out? Might there by a higher purpose served by such a choice? What if it weren’t as bad as you feared? And even if it turns out to be excruciatingly awkward or unpleasant, that’s all it will be. It won’t kill you. You might even discover that you’re stronger than you believe. 

 

By withstanding this test, allowing yourself this experience, you may even build up some endurance and it’ll be easier on you the next time something unpleasant or awkward arises. If you do decide to absent yourself, at least you’ll be doing so more calmly, knowing why you are doing it. Not acting like a chicken with its head cut off. 

 

The experience of serenely standing your ground opens up far more doors over the course of your life than running away. It may not involve the emotional fireworks of reality tv, but you don’t want to be like that anyway. A successful re-booter has intimate familiarity with discomfort and awkwardness, but can see beyond this storm of emotion to a higher and more substantive existence. It’s not that there aren’t circumstances when it’s better to leave, but do so thoughtfully without the emotion we’re all “supposed” to be expressing. At least try it on for size. Stage left is always there.

Exit Stage Left, Scene 1

February 14, 2013

When confronted with an emotionally awkward or uncomfortable situation, most people choose to cut and run as soon as possible rather than endure the inevitable discomfort of sharing space with someone they’d rather not see. I get it. I’m right up there, front and center, with the masses fleeing whatever it is.

 

But, recently, I’ve been playing with the idea of staying put and standing still. At this point, it remains an academic exercise for me, but as an active re-booter, I believe there’s some solid theory behind this new approach. First of all, withstanding the awkwardness may not be as bad as I fear. Such encounters rarely result in self-annihilation. Secondly, exiting stage left immediately cedes the territory to whomever it is I am fleeing; they now control the playing field and I’m left seeking shelter elsewhere. Do I really want to surrender that much power to them? And thirdly, which constitutes the core of my reasoning, why would I allow my emotional reactions to drive and control my behavior?

 

Contrary to the drama-driven messages broadcast by Hollywood and most media outlets (CSPAN not included), there’s a lot more to being a mature adult than our emotions. Allowing our feelings to assume the driver’s seat of our reactions and perspective is a lot like putting an eleven year old in charge. Let’s face it, as much as we may strive to attain emotional maturity, that puerile person lives and lurks within us, but we can’t allow him to be making our decisions!

 

For instance, I know someone who before they got married, pretended to enjoy their fiancée’s family vacation spot. It was a place that their betrothed had enjoyed immensely and eagerly shared with them. A few years into the marriage, the spouse made it clear that they didn’t want to visit that place because they felt “uncomfortable”—no reason given. Thus, the ban was issued on any future visits. The end. So, what is the end result? Because this person decreed their emotional discomfort as holding primary importance—above and beyond any regard for their spouse’s attachment to the place or any interest in exposing the children to a place their parent loved—the decision was made to eliminate it from their lives entirely.

 

Of course there are a variety of alternatives that might have been implemented, but in the name of “family solidarity,” the decision was made to eradicate a family tradition. Really? How bad could it be? Why did this person choose to exercise such veto power due to an ambiguous sense of discomfort when there was plenty of evidence that their spouse loved this place? Why wouldn’t they just choose to override any discomfort they felt, suck it up for a week, and go for the sake of a more important value of respecting another’s enjoyment? Sure, it might not be their first choice, but so what? How important is it that we are emotionally comfortable all the time? 

To be continued

The Current Value of an Old Tub

February 12, 2013

One of the challenges of massive, structural change—whether societal or personal—is the temptation to sweep away everything from the old order: the baby, the bathwater, and the tub itself. Caught up in the adrenalin necessary to push forward such upheaval, we sometimes minimize the value of everything and anything that came before in order to summon the nerve.

 

At times, the spectre of change is so scary that those engaged in it must work themselves into a lather rejecting everything about their prior lives.

Down with bathtubs! Who needs hygiene? If I smell that’s your problem—you’re trying to repress my natural expression of Who I Am. No more baths.

 

Free To Be You And Me.

 

I understand the impulse to start with a clean slate; it’s a lot easier to begin anew rather than find a way to incorporate valuable prior ways into a not-quite-formulated approach. Things that are known have track records that are easily criticized. But flaws, failures, and long running imperfections don’t make things automatically worth abandoning. You have flaws and failures, are you worth abandoning? No, of course not!

 

So, how do we summon the courage to alter our lives in order to create the existence we desire while retaining traditional elements that have nourished us, added value to our lives, and evoked our strengths? This is no small question, my friends. Oftentimes, it’s easier and less painful to draw a hard psychological or emotional line and pledge that, “everything will be different.” This utopian vision of what our future promises is simplistic and false. Simplistic, because no matter what direction we steer towards, there will always be complications and difficulties. False because utopia assumes no residual history—the presumption that the past won’t taint the present. When have you ever known this to be the case?

 

Now, back to that baby and the bathwater. As a Re-booter, I know all too well what it’s like to hate the life you’re leading and to feel absolutely desperate for change. This is an extreme position to find yourself in, and while I hope it never gets that bad for you, we all experience something on this continuum. The impulse is to run away, hide, and never look back—but this is a fantasy and one that really doesn’t serve our interests because our current existence has current value! There are elements that will serve us well should we carry them forward. And, if we were to admit it, gadding about smelling up the joint probably isn’t what we really want.

 

My point is this: while it’s all very exciting and necessary to see oneself as a revolutionary when contemplating big change, the utopian vision that generally accompanies such effort ignores the positives of what currently exists. The tub, the water, the social contract not to offend others—these all serve constructive purposes. It’s far less fun to deconstruct the bathroom so that you might soberly  re-use the lumber and plumbing than it is to set the whole thing on fire and dance wildly about, but what’s going to serve your long term interests better?

 

As you go about considering change in your own life, I suggest that you reflect upon those bits that most bother you and see if you might parse out some useful elements that might serve you well post-change. They are there; you can see them. Acknowledging their positive qualities may feel somewhat irksome to you right about now, but your feelings shouldn’t take precedence over good sense.

Giving Others What They Need

February 7, 2013

As Re-booters, we’ve seen a lot. In fact, we’ve gathered a lifetime of data and our analysis shows us that the results Method A generates could probably be improved upon were we to implement Method B. We’re not getting what we want out of life, so we experiment with ways to upgrade our outcome.

Excellent plan.

Much of re-booting is a self-centered process, and I mean this in a good way. But, there’s another element that should influence our calculations because we’re not lone wolves—we do, in fact, interact with the outside world on a daily basis—so our new methodology needs to include consideration for others. One of the goals of successful Re-booters is to be of service in as best a way as we know how. Generally speaking, we use as a lodestar the questions, “Well, what would I want if I were in X’s position?” This is as empathetic an approach as anyone could hope for, but I contend that, in many cases, it falls short of the mark.

When wanting to help another, I propose that it is better to approach such matters with the frame of reference of what is it that they need, rather than what is it I’d like to offer. The best way to do so is to ask them, directly. “What would be helpful to you?” There will be times when X won’t know what they need or want in terms of assistance—perhaps they are still reeling from whatever blow they’ve just absorbed, but often they will have an answer. And it may be an answer that surprises you since you’d never want that particular brand of help or support.

Re-booters go to enormous effort to clarify who they are and what is important to them; they are also the same folks who wish to provide succor to those around them in a way that is truly valuable to the intended recipients. This may seem like an obvious statement, but I bet you can think of instances in your life where a well-intentioned soul tried to help and missed the mark, entirely. By means of explanation, “He means well,” just doesn’t cut it—you can do better than this.

Taking the time and careful thought to ask someone who’s hurting what they need is a vulnerable thing to do because we’re admitting we don’t know. And in times of stress, we wish to prove ourselves well equipped to shore up the faltering, so we spring into action, bypassing that quiet moment where we look the grieving in the eye and experience their sense of confusion and loss. “How may I help you? What do you need?”

The humility that accompanies such questions can feel excruciating; it is painful to watch someone we care about suffer and have no idea what to do about it. If you’re anything like me, doing something provides a reassuring yet false sense of control over a situation that has nothing to do with me. I have come to the conclusion that while I might know what I would want in terms of support, it’s far more effective to ask. And if X doesn’t have an answer, then I can register their bewildered silence before offering up ideas of my own. I encourage you to make yourself vulnerable enough to ask, to acknowledge their hurt, to comfort them in the gentlest of ways.

My point in this post is to remind us that, as well intentioned as we may be, what we think is best may not be what our friend most needs. Give them what they request rather than imposing a solution of your own.

A Moderate Manifesto

February 5, 2013

Compromise is a maligned word. These days, whenever I hear it used, I think about the way this term has eroded in meaning to an association with a downgrading of results. The Righteously Indignant decry compromise as an insult to their ideological virtue. And then, there are those feckless politicians who have no intention of doing anything other than serving themselves, but let the words dribble out of their mouths, hoping they sound statesman-like.

 

In a media-hyped culture that prides itself on strongly held philosophies and definitive answers, compromise is ridiculed. The fact that stridency is declared to be an expression of one’s level of personal and professional pride is the warped result of such hype. To compromise now portrays a defeat, an indicator of grave weakness. The most troubling example of how this is manifesting is the destruction of political moderates and any discussion of a middle ground.

 

When I used to work in politics back in California, my boss was sometimes referred to as a “liberal squish.” He paid no attention, which is good, but the phrase was intended as an insult. To me, this sort of insistence on political purity is akin to playground name calling and bullying. Besides, I’d like to know who it is that gets to set out the definition of a “real” Republican or “true” Democrat? Who are they to set these standards and then decree whether or not everyone else measures up? Our social contract exists because we’re all better off together than in a go-it-alone world, and as such, we have to compromise.

 

Personally, I see no justifiable reason in modern society (not warfare) to market gun clips that carry dozens or hundreds of bullets, ready to fire at a single trigger. But, I also don’t believe that any law can stop a determined crazy person. A country founded on the premise of personal opportunity does not owe its citizens endless taxpayer-supported anything or pull-out-the-stops accommodations for certain groups. And I find it immoral that six out of ten third graders in DC public schools today read at below-grade level and that the DC Board of Education is considering no longer ensuring students take a course in American Government as part of a social studies requirement.

 

I contend that many of today’s most common vocabulary terms have been hijacked by bloviating, political interests which are clever enough to know that if they re-define commonly used words, the dialogue gets messy and confused. Combine sneaky, new definitions with a sympathetic image that elicits an emotional response in the audience and then vilify the opposition or anyone who suggests some sort of middle ground and you successfully squeeze out the moderate. The very nature of democracy is compromise. Utopias are unattainable and exist only in the minds of those who decree themselves “intellectual” enough and “compassionate” enough to know for the rest of us, poor cows, mooing in the fields.

 

Moderates of the world, rise up! We are being squished out of the dialogue by strident know-it-alls encroaching from every angle. It may be against type to push back, but I don’t see how letting them righteously shout us down, arguing that compromise is for the weak is a preferable option—we have a moral imperative to redefine the dialogue. Bullies don’t improve the safety or happiness or ensure a greater success rate for anyone else. 


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