Archive for April, 2013

A Toast to the Sweet Wine of Confusion

April 30, 2013

The Central Coast of California is rife with vineyards. Undulating hillsides, covered with row upon row of grape vines that take advantage of the glorious California sunshine and moderate clime. Late in the summer, the abundance is harvested, crushed, and fermented, producing some amazing wines enjoyed ‘round the world. But an important part of this process occurs in the fog—if it were sunny everyday, the fruit wouldn’t ripen properly—so vineyards are sited where its growers know the sun won’t always shine.

This is a useful analogy for me as I go about re-booting my life. I’m one of those people whose temperament orients way too strongly towards black and white thinking—for me, life’s so much easier if I know where I stand. So I find it particularly upsetting to be confused about who I am, what I want, or my place in the world. I hate the free-fall sensation of not knowing. However, more often than not, re-booting one’s life involves a lot of foggy hollows—places where the destination, let alone the path to it, isn’t so clear. This sort of nebulous confusion or, at least, ill-defined end game exists in stark contrast to what our culture tells us is the key to success and contentment. “Know what you want!” the advice books preach. “Be clear about who you are!”Have a plan and stick to it.” Media outlets highlight “inspiring” stories of 10 year olds who saw a need and led some community effort to achieve their goal. National newspapers hire snotty, recent college grads to write weekly editorial pieces. Titans of industry or renown artists tell us that they’ve been passionate about their occupation since before they could walk.

Really? Wow.

Now, I suppose it’s self-evident that we know about these folks because they are successful and their success comes as a result of their extraordinary commitment and talent to their cause, but, personally, I get a lot more inspiration from the folks who confess to doubts, to having reverse course, to being unsure what they even want to accomplish. In fact, I am inclined to suspect as close-minded anyone who so definitively marks out their position. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I disdain strongly held views (as a Taurus, I hold many of them), but it puzzles me that so many accolades are given to single-minded knowingness.

While it’s true that those of us who are more scattered in interest or dedication are less likely to get things done, does such diffusion equate with inactivity or lack of success? If your focus is solely on one, clearly delimited set of parameters, aren’t you missing out on a whole host of factors that could impact your end result? Why is being unsure a bad thing? What I am trying to get at is my puzzlement about our cultural bias towards the superiority of strongly held views.

Black and white thinking makes it easy to line up our arguments. This is most clear when we look at our broken political system that rewards the swaggering cowboy zealots on either end. We poor moderates, who can see pluses and minuses on both sides of an issue, are ridiculed and sidelined for our waffling or the acknowledgement that maybe we don’t have all the facts and that this “solution” might be premature or merely address symptoms instead of underlying causes.

So, what does this have to do with re-booting your life and the foggy hollows we can stumble into along the way? It’s important to remind yourself not to panic–you won’t be stuck in the fog forever. Fog forces us to figure out a new way to get around which can lead to discoveries and innovations. And, sometimes, it’s only because of the fog that we learn enough about ourselves to notice factors that we would’ve previously ignored. Grapes ripen in the fog; too much hot, burning sun and all that delicious juice will disappear.

So next time you’re getting down on yourself for bring unsure about where you’re going or what in God’s name you’re even doing—especially in comparison to that mouthy 22 year old with a newspaper column—imagine those fog bound grapes, hugging the vines of the Central Coast of California, ripening into something magical.

Friends & Allies

April 25, 2013

A full appreciation of the re-booting process goes hand in hand with the activities of re-framing, re-imagining, taking stock and asking ourselves, “Is this what I want? Is this how I want to behave? Is this what I mean to say?” And then, we proceed accordingly.

Asking ourselves such searching and pointed questions generally leads us to examine the meaning of words—and by extension, the behavioral expectations that accompany them. However, it is all too easy to get lost in this process, forgetting that we’re continually interacting with others who have their own definitions and expectations. Common language, different understandings.

For instance, I was speaking with someone who bemoaned the behavior and attitude of his coworkers in a high stress office. Multiple, tight deadlines compounded by demanding and mercurial personalities have resulted in a workplace just this side of utter chaos. I commiserated, knowing all too well the sorts of stresses an atmosphere like that can generate.  What does “good work” or “responsiveness” mean? Whose timetable or workload satisfies such criteria? When do we make trouble for ourselves by insisting on the superiority of our definition over that of others?

This morning, my father wanted to sit me down and have a long talk about “what is bothering me.” Surprised by this early morning request to assess the “true” condition of our relationship, but not wanting to re-buff a well-intentioned effort to connect, I set a mental limit on just how long I was willing to explore this particular venue and made myself a cup of coffee.

“Why do you ask?” I replied, willing my voice into a neutral stance, reminding myself that hostility is never a good strategy. Well, as it turns out, my quiet demeanor during last night’s dinner was interpreted as anger or resentment directed towards him. (For purposes of this discussion, we’ll ignore the generational echoes such parental assumptions have had on his progeny in terms of an accurate or dramatic understanding of others’ behavior.) I countered that I was neither angry nor resentful but hadn’t had anything I wished to say, knowing that he knew full well what most of my days are like. “I want us to be companionable. I want us to be friends and allies,” he stated. “Friends and allies,” he emphasized.

I’m not sure what the difference between these two terms is for my dad, but I have spent a lifetime of listening to him wax on about love and loyalty in terms of war. Choosing not to probe his particular angle of semantics, I answered, explaining  that I believed I was being companionable—after all, what is more companionable than living together? What about preparing meals, remembering special treats he likes, engaging in a shared delight over the corruption of local officials as detailed in the Post? Does that not speak to my valuing of our relationship despite the fact that dinner conversation was limited? Although he acknowledged appreciating these things once they were highlighted, I’m unsure whether my actions satisfy his definition of the term “friends and allies.”

My point in using these two examples is this: ingrained, ardently held ideas and expectations for Right Living and Right Behavior—as admirable as they may be—are not a universal standard. And when we, as re-booters, examine and settle upon new, improved definitions or expectations in our own lives, it’s all too tempting and easy to fall into the trap of believing our understandings are superior to those held by less reflective folk. Don’t go there.

Maintaining an attitude of openness about the acceptability of others’ approaches is critical to living a larger (and more serene) life.

My dad may be seeking out friends and allies while I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. My friend has clear, organized ideas of what is required to “get the job done and stay sane;” his coworker doesn’t approach projects in an efficient or superior way. And so it will ever be thus.

So, I ask you: what are your special definitions, and expectations? What loaded terms trigger responses and presumptions in you? Terms such as loyalty, dedication, a “true friend,” generous, family, brilliant, a “good marriage,” “service to another,” independent, strong, brave, responsive, successful, compassionate, or, maybe even, companionable. If you think you are free of such burdens, I tell you you’re not. Think about something that’s happened between you and a coworker or family member in the past few months that has irritated you—see if you can’t dig up that “reasonable and superior” expectation you hold which is contributing to your annoyance. It’s there, waiting to be called out. A re-booter knows these things…

The Limits of Helping Others

April 23, 2013

Re-booters do not live in a vacuum. We co-exist with others, many of whom have no interest or awareness of the personal re-booting process, caught in a web of problems of their own making. I don’t say this unsympathetically; after all, much of the time we’re our own worst enemy, aren’t we? More often than not, we are active participants in our misery making.

 

But as re-booters, we are keenly aware that we have the power to rescue ourselves from such pits whether it be through a process of re-framing the issue, taking steps to escape the triggers of such annoyances, or any number of other remedies available to us if we’re willing to do things differently. Knowing this is incredibly empowering—even if our execution of such efforts falls short of the mark—because we know we are our own rescuers.

 

But what can a re-booter do when someone close to them invites, creates, and re-creates sure-fire patterns of unhappiness? It’s difficult to watch someone we care about suffer. After the typical initial expressions of support and sympathy, I find myself (internally) getting impatient with the sufferer. I wrestle with how often I can express sympathy when my stockpile has run dry. What does it mean to be kind and concerned when a loved one makes a mess of their lives yet refuses to examine their own responsibility for this mini-drama?

 

How do we manage to offer compassion and provide the sort of support we aspire to when we’re sick and tired of hearing the same complaints ad nauseum?

 

Of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about the limits of individual responsibility to those we love. When people are in our personal space on a daily basis and driving us crazy with their particular issues, it’s a challenge to maintain that feeling of compassion and patience that is characteristic of a mature adult. As much as I may strive to reach that point myself, I fall short of the mark, followed by feelings of guilt for my impatience and desire to run away. But, one of the reminders that keeps me on a more even keel when I feel fed up is the knowledge that there is little I can do to alter another’s behavior. It’s Not Up To Me.

 

I may have strongly held opinions about what’s occurring. I may have handled their situation differently. I may never have gotten myself involved in such a mess with such a cadre of dysfunctional characters, but as clearly as I may see the “solution,” it’s not for me to mend. All too often, well intentioned people want to “fix” other people’s problems—they listen and nod, bring meals and hold hands, they give advice and then listen some more—all the while experiencing increasing frustration as the complainer does nothing concrete to remedy the situation. Powerlessness is an awful feeling but recognizing that we all are incapable of changing another’s behavior or choices is necessary knowledge to being able to support those we care about without losing it ourselves.

 

I want you to think about a person you love who gets themselves into the same mess over and over. Now I want you to think about your experience supporting them—it changed over the course of the problem, didn’t it? Did you start out believing you could make it better for them? What happened when they didn’t act on your advice but came to you about the same issue again? What was going through your mind?

 

People are imperfect—we make mistakes. Part of the evolution of a re-booter is recognizing just how much and when we can be there to help and respecting the limits of our power to do so.

Architecture, knowledge, and the misnomer of Junk DNA

April 18, 2013

I’ve been thinking, of late, a lot about architecture and the creation of new knowledge. Knowledge is a funny thing, isn’t it? We all have it, just in limited amounts and in different arenas. We either trust this knowledge or we don’t. All too often, we can feel intimidated by the expression others give to their claimed knowledge and then tell ourselves that we lack what they have, whether or not this is true.

 

A few weeks ago, there was a piece in the Wall Street Journal by E.O. Wilson, a retired biology professor, who expressed the belief that too many aspiring scientists turn away from their profession because they believe they lack the advanced mathematical skills necessary to be successful. Wilson posits that there are many disciplines of science where less than advanced math is required and that should such math become necessary you can get help by collaborating with experts in those numerical fields. He mourns the fact that people can cut themselves off too early due to fears that they lack the talents they need to be successful.

 

As for architecture, well, of course you need math and engineering skills if you want your buildings to stand in a 3D world. But the art of design and construction extends far beyond mere buildings. One of my favorite films of late is It Might Get Loud, a documentary about three extraordinary electric guitar players. In this film, one of the players, The Edge from U2, is described as a “sonic architect,” a term which riveted me. I started thinking about architecture in an entirely new way.

 

So, what does architecture and varying levels of knowledge have to do with re-booting? When you think about it, we’re all architects of our own lives, aren’t we? In order to construct the existence we desire, we need to assemble the foundational materials—this depends, mostly, on what our parents provide us in those formative years—and then go about building the world in which we inhabit. Which is where something like “sonic architecture” comes in:  #1, it may never have occurred to us that we could do something entirely different with the form we’ve been working with and #2, even if the possibility does occur to us, we may fear we lack the “math” skills to make this new form sturdy and strong.

 

I take courage from the words of someone like Dr. Wilson who assures us that there are manifold opportunities for success in fields we may previously have considered far beyond our ken, as well as support from theoretical experts who only have too many equations and no place to test them out. Further, look at what The Edge is doing with sound! The term “sonic architect” completely up-ends the traditional definition of what architecture is about, and yet, it remains faithful to the concept of design and construction.

 

So, how might you be doing this in your life? What glimmers of creativity are showing themselves to you, but you currently lack the expanded vocabulary (and confidence) to try them out? I know they’re there for you. I’m confident you can tap into them to build your life as you can envision it. It’s a bit like the whole topic of Junk DNA: not for a second, do I believe that anything in our genome is a “waste,” or there simply to fill space—we simply haven’t reached the point in our scientific explorations to see and understand why the stuff is there. Junk DNA is a complete misnomer given to it by people who didn’t understand and couldn’t envision a reason beyond what they already knew.

 

I recognize that I am rambling, somewhat, in this post but these concepts are hard for me to articulate! I guess what I’m trying to suggest is that when wrestling with where you want to go from here in terms of your life, remind yourself of these new definitions and assurances by experts that you needn’t have mastery in all these fields in order to succeed. Help is available to those who seek it. You have the power and ability to expand and redefine commonly used approaches to fit the parameters of your life. And, none of the time you’ve spent up until now has been a waste—your experiences are not junk—you just need the eyes to see.

Do What’s In Front of You

April 16, 2013

Recently, a friend was sharing with me her efforts at organizing her neighborhood’s response to a proposed housing development. I had seen her on tv discussing this matter and praised her for her leadership and involvement. Smiling shyly, she diminished her efforts by saying that they paled in comparison to “real” problems like starving children in Africa. I’ve thought a lot about her response since then.

While much has been said about “first world problems” versus “third world problems,” I believe that the matter of where we invest our efforts has a lot to do with where we can be most effective. Individuals, groups, or societies have problems in context, and it’s important to remember that when evaluating our efforts to give back. For instance, are my efforts to get a speed camera installed along the road on which I live less important than higher profile, global challenges? Perhaps, but perhaps not. If traffic isn’t slowed, somebody is going to get in a horrific accident on my street—there’s simply too much traffic these days and DC drivers are always in a hurry. The likelihood of my success on this small scale is a lot higher than if I threw all my waking hours into assisting with fighting breast cancer or polio immunization.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that one person can’t make a difference in some of these “bigger” challenges, but my point is not to diminish the efforts in a more localized radius. Just because something is a neighborhood problem does not mean it’s less worthy of advocacy than the child slave trade or ground water contamination or whathaveyou. I believe that starting at home makes the most sense in terms of contributing to our communities because we have the first hand knowledge of the problem and smarter theories as to how to abate it. I find myself perplexed when I hear of Save the Whale campaigns being conducted in the mid-West. How effective can one be lobbying for clean oceans from Kansas?

I use this example only to get you thinking. I admire the fact that nearly every person I meet wants to contribute positively and give back over the course of their life. How we each choose to do this varies according to the person and their capabilities. What the Gates Foundation can do is radically different from what a single person can manage, but that does not diminish the efforts of the individual. To me, it makes most sense to start with the challenges staring at us on a daily basis. These are the problems we will understand best and have the greatest likelihood of making positive change. It’s too easy to tell ourselves that our efforts don’t “count” because they aren’t part of a national dialogue. Besides, there are many, many, many ways people contribute that address needs not seen as “problems,” take, for instance, community enrichment activities. Does leading a scout troop or teaching an art class count for nothing compared to distributing anti-malaria netting? Again, this is all about context and where we can be effective.

Re-booters recognize that, like the Little Drummer Boy, small gifts of ourselves, our time, and our efforts can play an equally important role in the lives of those around us. Don’t sell yourself short. Do what you can and be proud of that.

The Geshtalt for “Get Over It”

April 11, 2013

This being Washington DC, a leading generator of acronyms and aphorisms, many of its most infamous citizens are irresistibly drawn to language—too much language, ponderous, heavy language, the origin of much verbal dehydration. And, for this predilection, the city is a deserved recipient of much ridicule. Washington is also the city of Big Concepts—and rightly, so, if a nation’s capital is worth its salt—however, such grand visions for society rarely lend themselves to credible condensations.

But, sometimes, verbal shorthands for widespread problems or aggravations are entertainingly effective. I plead guilty to being one of a long line of wordy woodpeckers and take a certain amount of pride on cribbing off the efforts of others. Case in point: a well known political movement’s name can be employed handily when you want the conversation to end. An off hand muttering of, “MoveOn.org” and they’ll get the point. Ok, well, maybe being so blunt isn’t the best course, but at least you can think it to yourself and generate a certain amount of levity.

Or, if someone is whining about their favorite grievance, you might consider, “GrowUp.gov.” See how easy this is? In one fell url, you can encapsulate the entire geshtalt of “problem-diagnosis-solution.” Handy, ain’t it? This is Green Word Economy at its best. Recycle, reuse, repurpose. Re-boot, don’t forget about re-boot.

Our world has picked up the pace, so, unless you start your own blog with which to soapbox, most of us have less time to listen to someone’s issues, let alone blather on about our own. Imagine how much more efficient conversations can be if we employ one of these responses! Not only will you be honestly and accurately encapsulating an entire line of complex thought, but you will displease your audience enough that they will no longer burden you with their problems! Now that’s a win-win in my book.

This approach applies equally to whatever each of us is carping on about. All too often, people have particular issues that they just can’t see past, despite the fact that they are making a bad thing worse by focusing so much energy on it! The beauty of MoveOn.Org or GrowUp.gov as a response is that it gives a Washington-edged ring to a remedy for such ailments. Whatever you exercise grows stronger, so if you complain a lot, it just makes it worse. Re-booters know this.

While this post is written tongue in cheek, I do find that calling upon a humorous (silent) response to aggravations can be enormously effective when we get stressed. The definition of being a good spouse or friend or relative or colleague usually includes listening to repeated renditions of problems people fixate on. After a certain point, though, it dawns on us that maybe this person enjoys feeling aggrieved more than they wish to find a solution. Alas, there are far too many people out in the world who get an adrenalin rush from being angry or hurt or whatever on a prolonged basis. They tell themselves that this is what it means to be alive! To show I care! To radiate my power! Nonsense.  A simple acronym may be all they need.

Separating the wheat from the chaff

April 9, 2013

One of the truths about life that Re-booters recognize is that stuff happens. It just does. Everyday, all the time; not to the same person, of course, but Re-booters have seen enough to understand that despite the best of intentions or pre-planning things can go awry because people mess up.

 

It’s what you do afterwards that separates the wheat from the chaff.

 

Take me for instance: I was at the doctor’s office this afternoon to get a shot. The MD warned me that the shot would hurt and I thought I was prepared. Alas, the piercing of some particularly sensitive and exposed flesh hurt so much, my leg reflexively moved and the doctor stabbed herself with the needle. She was angry and made her anger clear to me and said that, “now blood will have to be taken.”

 

I felt horrible about what happened. I immediately apologized, but the doctor’s anger shocked me and made everything worse—to have an authority figure like a doctor be angry about something reflexive–I began to cry. It was horribly upsetting. To be fair, the doctor did apologize for “losing her cool,” and then suggested we make a second attempt at the shot (which was successful), but once she left the room, I never saw her again. I apologized to the nurse and the administrator who reassured me that it was one of the risks of the trade and that it did happen on occasion. Still, I continued to tear up and apologize for doing something I hadn’t meant to do.

 

It was a strange experience. While paperwork was completed for my blood to be drawn—to confirm I don’t have certain conditions—I felt like I was waiting outside of the principal’s office and struggled to ratchet down my own distress level. The fact that I never saw the MD again made me feel worse; I know that her reaction was totally human—I don’t blame her for being angry, but her response impacted me. After she left, the nurse kindly said, “It’s ok, we’re trained for this and you’re not. It happens.”

 

So, back to the wheat and the chaff. From my adult perspective, I know that my leg jerk was a reflex—despite being warned that the shot would hurt—I moved unintentionally. I recognize, too, that it makes sense I’d feel bad that the MD stabbed herself, but it is a known risk when you are a medical professional, no matter how much you’ve warned the patient to remain still. So, I am counseling myself against overreacting and to remain calm about something I didn’t mean to do and had little control over.

 

At the same time, I need to move past the shock I experienced when a doctor dropped her professional mask and reacted strongly to unanticipated pain. She recovered, apologized, and got on with the task at hand. It does no good for her to continue to be angry with me (and I don’t assume she is) nor for me to continue to be upset with myself or with her for expressing momentary anger. She did just call to follow up to make sure I was ok, so that was nice. I apologized again and she apologized for her reaction. We both must move on. This is what I mean by separating the wheat from the chaff.

 

Non-rebooters might hang onto their anger or their tears or what-have-you from this, despite the fact that it was clearly unintentional and impersonal. What I struggle with is what happens next? Do I return to this MD? Would she even want me as her patient anymore? What is the mature line with professionalism in a situation such as this? I suppose, given that she did make the effort to call me, I probably should return as a patient, but having been yelled at by an authority figure in such a power-disparity relationship is upsetting.

 

But similar pantomimes could be played out between parents and children, bosses and subordinates, first responders and the helpless, pet owners and pets, or even in situations of equal footing: spouses, friends, colleagues. People mess up, that’s what they do. We’re all human. It’s this recognition that helps us cultivate a greater patience and understanding when proceeding through our lives.

The Downside to Virtues

April 4, 2013

This week, I am exploring various aspects of how language can fail us.

 

Virtues are to be celebrated, right? Love, loyalty, cheerfulness, focus, determination, commitment—all qualities that are rightly hailed and pointed to as solid behaviors and attitudes we should practice in our daily lives. Except when they’re not.

 

The moderate approach Julia Child so famously championed is equally applicable to these qualities. Anything that has the power to help and to heal also holds the power to harm. Focus can get warped into unyielding determination. Love can morph from supportive and gentle to blind and fanatical. Generosity can mutate into a distorted form of currying favor or holding power over someone. Employed as a shield against reality, cheerfulness has its drawbacks. Loyalty, well, loyalty can lead to the sacrifice of good people at the altar of a belief system or relationship that no longer fulfills its original promise.

 

Virtues, like anything else, get defined by the person holding them. While, at first glance, you & I may agree on what loyalty means and how it is demonstrated, generally speaking if you examine specific dilemmas, we are likely to diverge on its definition and how it is shown. Some people (unconsciously) hold strictly narcissistic definitions of such terms–loyalty means you are loyal to me and not vice versa—whereas others may believe that loyalty means fealty to a larger, archetypal definition that may not always serve the immediate interests of one individual or group.

 

Ok, so we have different ideas of what things mean, that’s par for the course, right? Well, yes, but it also serves to demonstrate how we can box ourselves in. Say, for instance, a person believes that determination is what has served them well in the past, so they continue to rely on this quality in their home and professional lives. If they carry this too far, such resolve morphs into something poisonous that its proponent doesn’t anticipate or register. It can trigger a type of blind willfulness that is the source of far more harm than if the person had simply eased back on their reliance of this quality. What served us so well is one instance may harm us in another.

 

The reason this is so confusing is that, by nature, humans are pattern seekers. We learn by identifying precedents and then behave accordingly. So, it’s natural to deem an approach that served us well in the past will continue to do so. Figuring our way through this gets even trickier when the circumstances change only slightly. For instance, when I was at the office, my focus and obsessiveness helped me accomplish a mountain of work when we were particularly short staffed. But when we got some help, I continued this behavior despite the fact that there were more people I needed to communicate with—I was no longer a one man operation, so what helped me through a particular pinch was not useful as the dynamics changed.

 

Mine is an obvious example compared to many that you may be facing. For instance, when dealing with a longstanding relationship which is now undergoing duress as you or your partner evolve, you may decide how to behave based on your definition of loyalty. But to what are you loyal? The person? The relationship? Yourself? Your assets? What exactly is it you’re loyal to? Does it make sense to be loyal to a person or relationship the nature of which has changed irrevocably? It’s not that we shouldn’t continue to champion our commitments, but I urge you to do so thoughtfully. You need to know what it is you’re doing! It’s way too tempting to behave in a rote manner, applauding ourselves for our stalwart virtue.

 

To pull the camera back in a slightly less threatening way, can you think of someone who is unfailingly cheery to the extent that they are checked out from real world consequences? “Oh, it’ll all work out,” they trill. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful, important quality to be cheerful—far better than the opposite—but everything in moderation. I say all this because virtues can be a slippery slope when we get too deeply committed into championing them. Think about a belief you hold dear and that you work at integrating into your daily life—is there an instance when, perhaps, it didn’t serve you as well as you hoped? The trap of black and white thinking lays in unexpected places.

Language has its Limits

April 2, 2013

Recently, I attended a lecture a given by the contemporary artist, Glenn Ligon. A repeated theme in much of Ligon’s work reflects his fascination with words, particularly the breakdown of language. Many of the images he creates utilize disappearing letters. As I am inclined to do, my mind wandered during the discussion between Ligon and the uber-sophisticated and urbane National Gallery curators; I began to extrapolate from Ligon’s artistic exploration of this concept to applications in how we live our daily lives. Effective communication goes so far beyond words, doesn’t it? Sometimes we forget this and return repeatedly to language to make our point despite evidence that our audience is not receptive.

 

Laughing at herself, a friend shared with me a saying which goes something along the lines of, “I’m not arguing; I’m explaining why I am right.” Sound familiar? [Awkward throat clearing sound here.] So, what do you do when your message isn’t getting across? By my bet, you try again. As Einstein famously opined, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get different results. How many times a day do you indulge in this pantomime of insanity? How often are you on the receiving end of somebody else telling you the same thing ad nauseum?

 

As Re-booters, we realize that just trying harder isn’t the ticket to success. We need to be savvy about how we go about making our point. But, cutting ourselves off or reversing course is contrary to the way most of us have been schooled; instead, what we see all around us is husbands and wives, parents and children, advocacy groups, and religious types engaged in a minuet where the steps remain identical but the feet merely stomp harder.

 

So, back to Glenn Ligon and his disappearing letters. When words fail us—and society is largely based on language—we need to be clever about finding a different communication venue. It’s not that a hug and a prayer can make everything better, but it reminds us that there are other ways of approaching an issue, ways which exist completely outside the paradigm of our old go-tos! The more closed we are to considering new methods, the more frustrated we get as our standard approaches don’t succeed. We all can think of examples of relationships where the parties could no longer hear one another anymore because there was so much detritus from previous exchanges that jammed their listening capabilities.

 

Additionally, there remains the always available option of simply not engaging in the discussion. While this may be the choice of last resort because it signals a stalemate, it bears serious consideration on a far more regular basis because not everything requires a response. Not everything is best served by an answer. This has been an enormously difficult lesson for me to learn—and I’m only half way there. Re-booters recognize that language as a persuasive force has its limits. I want you to think about an instance in your life where you engaged in this pantomime of insanity—how did you feel? Frustrated? Angry? Exhausted? Might you have been better served simply not responding to each and every volley served? At the end of the day, did it really even matter that much? Did all the effort you expended alter the outcome? Was it worth it? How much did you enjoy being on the receiving end of such a barrage? Did it truly change your mind or simply wear you out?

 

I chose this topic because it is important to remind yourself that part of being an empowered Re-booter is recognizing the limits of language, the limits of persuasion, or of making sure “they” agree with our point (good luck with that) or whatever it is we tell ourselves. The thing about Ligon and language is this: just because the letters may disappear off our personal page does not mean we don’t exist. You don’t need to prove you count—people tend to forget this, which accounts for much of the excess noise. Language has its limits.


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