Archive for October, 2015

What is it you truly want in your life?

October 29, 2015

A few days ago, I was minding my own beeswax at the gym when a man looked at me and after a few mild comments about stretching and flexibility asked, “What do you want?” It is probably one of the most extraordinary questions I’ve ever been asked by a stranger and launched a conversation that lasted nearly forty minutes. There we sat, side by side, exploring the conundrum of what it means to “want” something and how our wants change and the things we do to impede achieving our stated goals. This was followed by an exploration of when people say they want something but really don’t, or those who say they don’t want something but really do. Note to self: dirty hair and spandex do not appear to deter fantastic philosophical discussions.

What DO I want? How does one answer such a question? Did this fellow being a stranger give me greater license to be honest or less because I’ll probably run into him again? Do I tell him about my needs, my aspirations, or my most personal private wishes? Do I give him the equivalent of a shrug, mumbling something about: love, acceptance, contentment, purpose, and meaning? Have you had an honest conversation with yourself about what it is you truly want? This is the heart of the re-booting.

 

What do you want? Do you understand why you want it? When you do a gut-check, does wanting this make you afraid, excited, or both?

Long ago as a student, I was taught that when writing a research paper I needed to ask who, what, when, where, why, and what of it? Although mining the depths of our innermost psyches is far less straightforward, the five Ws present a framework that may be useful when figuring out what the hell it is we truly want and why, of all the various things we could choose, we want “this.”

Because it’s easy to wind up talking in circles when it comes to such a confusing and complicated topic, I’ll provide an example of the deductive reasoning involved:

  1. Why do/did you want to get married?
  2. Why do you want to marry X?
  3. What does being married to X represent to you? Is it an indicator of social status? Is it a vehicle for having children? Is it a financial decision? Is it a guarantee against loneliness? Or is your reason something else entirely?
  4. Why do you stay married?

Or the obverse of this line of inquiry:

  1. Why do you want to stay single? What makes it sufficiently preferable that you’re willing to forgo all the pleasurable aspects of steady companionship?

Any answer is fine. The point of this exercise is to gain clarity about why you’ve chosen these particular priorities. Take this line of inquiry and apply it to whatever is important to you–whether that’s your profession or your living situation or your outside activities. Why did you make these choices? Do these choices reflect what you truly wanted at the time or what you believed was important to achieve? Why was it so important to achieve this? And do these same goals continue to reflect what you want today? What we want changes as we evolve, mature, and grow—what you coveted in seventh grade is not the same as what you hanker for today (at least I hope not). (Truth be told, I look askance at anybody who claims they’ve retained the same priorities for decades. Life has changed all around them—haven’t they?)

Here’s an example from my life: I went to law school because I knew it was 1) a respected degree, 2) my favorite uncle was a lawyer, 3) I could always work for myself if need be, and 4) I was terrified of trying to find a job right out of college. I didn’t go to law school because I had some passionate interest in the law or thrilled at the idea of a future spent arguing about some arcane legal principle. What happened? In less than three years after graduating, I walked away from the practice of law, and in the subsequent twenty odd years have drifted further and further away from any semblance of a white collar, office-based career. While this choice feels deeply right, it has been a confusing struggle to get here. I continue to wrestle with my feelings about abandoning a prestigious-seeming career. However, I’ve set aside these more outer-oriented concerns in order to have the time and opportunity to do things more important to me: like repair my relationship with my dad and pursue my writing. Nobody else is going to care about what I do, but I care. And that’s enough.

Having laid out this example from my life, I want you to go back and ask yourself why you made the choices you did? Is studying to become a concert pianist a goal you pursued because you loved the piano so much or because someone thought it up for you? Are you a workaholic because you love your work so much or is it a way to avoid other obligations? What in your life is more about prestige or security versus arising out of a genuine and heartfelt interest? (Btw, it can be both, but it’s useful to get clear on your various personal agendas.)

That conversation with a stranger at the gym was invigorating. I love the fact that there are other people floating around asking themselves these sorts of questions and that they’re so interested that, every now and then, they’ll risk asking somebody else such a deeply personal and universal question. Which is what I’m doing here right now with you:

What do you want?

Ten Tips for Dealing With Difficult Relatives

October 27, 2015

With the holidays approaching, I thought I’d use this post to examine another aspect of love: familial, with all its wonders and complications. For anyone fortunate enough to have lived with family, we know that doing so enables us to feel a sense of identity and home that no other type of relationship can quite replicate. This is where we learn our first emotional vocabulary. It is within the bosom of family that we discover things such as our favorite foods, the joys of playing, or the nurturing reassurance of a warm hug. But it is also where we first get laughed at or misunderstood or punished. We learn that, too.

No other relationship strikes the same chord of emotional rawness simply because we don’t let anyone else see so much. Those moments when we’ve let ourselves go–furious or devastated about something we care about–are rarely witnessed by anyone outside the family. They know our weak spots. They know our history. If you have anything in common with me, you will know what it’s like to feel outright loathing or consuming rage at a relative. The kind of hurt and rejection they can inflict is light years beyond what anybody else can do. The problem with family is that we can’t truly divorce ourselves from them. Whether in person or as a memory, like a bad penny they keep turning up, reminding us of parts of ourselves or our lives we’d rather forget.

How can we love and loathe somebody at the same time? What’s a re-booter to do when forced to interact with those from whom there is no escape?

Not too long ago, I read an article about forgiveness where the person leading the meeting asked who in the room was not speaking to at least one close relative within their circle. Nearly every single audience member raised their hand. When asked what the feud was about, most of them couldn’t remember; what lingered, however, was the ill will, intransigence, and distrust the experience engendered. Can love for a relative exist under such searing conditions? What does this sort of love look like? What does it obligate us to do (that’s different than what we’re obligated to do for anyone else)? What do you think?

It’s hard to know what to do when you find yourself confronting such a searing breach. Forgive and forget is one adage. Trust and verify another. When grappling with ongoing, low level but chronic unkindness, someone close to me says, “It doesn’t matter,” which always drives me crazy because it does matter! It matters very much and pretending it doesn’t is, to me, the equivalent of rolling onto your back and saying, “Stab me. It’s ok, I won’t bleed much.” Nuh huh, not me. I’m way more martial than that. The way I see it, there’s a clear line between putting things behind us versus allowing bad behavior to go unchallenged. Not all may agree with me on this, but I have extensive personal knowledge which informs my opinion. (Of course, learning how to make this challenge without blowing everything up has been a critically important lesson I’ve had to learn…)

So, how does a determined and dedicated re-booter tiptoe their way through the minefield of family grudges and insecurities to extract the very best of those same relatives?

One: approach the relationship anew. Try thinking of these people as strangers. You’re likely to think and speak with greater care, making far fewer assumptions about what they’ll say or do next.

Two: control your facial expressions. Neutrality in appearance is key!

Three: don’t leap to assumptions. Rather than leaping to the hostile shorthand of intimates, start off by giving them the benefit of the doubt before deciding you’ve been dissed.

Four: Initiate an obvious and sincere gesture of goodwill. Be courteous. Be flexible. Be cooperative. Try to find something you can both laugh about.

Five: Don’t expect to be thanked or that your gesture will be reciprocated. Do it for yourself, for your tranquility, and for the satisfaction of knowing you’re trying.

Six: Try to see beyond their insulting behavior. So often, what they’re doing has way more to do with them than it has to do with you (or whatever bullshit attitude you’re dishing out–yes you do it, too). They probably treat everyone this way.

Seven: Don’t rely on old data. Making the assumption that you know them as well as you once did may not be correct. Give yourself a chance to observe them now before jumping to conclusions.

Eight: The less said the better. You’re older, wiser, and far more independent now, so is it really so important that you stake your ground? You’re leaving in a few hours, so why not just hold your tongue. (Bonus points for this one.)

Nine: Take pity on them. You don’t know everything they’re dealing with. If they refuse to budge, if they remain as horrible as before, there will be nothing you can do except feel sorry for them.

Ten: Learn to embrace the new, downscaled normal between you. It may not be the warm fuzzy relationship you had before, but if it’s civil with at least a modicum of cooperation, you’re doing well. Find a way to be content with that.

This isn’t easy and it isn’t fun, but it is worthwhile, if you can manage it. You’ve got a few weeks before the holidays hit. On your mark, get set, go!

Managing Our Reactions to the Excesses of Others

October 22, 2015

Excess is one of the pleasures and pains of the human experience—it’s why in the midst of the severely moralistic Victorian era, men would visit prostitutes 2-3 times per week. In a manner reminiscent of the fishes and the loaves, my father feels compelled to purchase endless amounts of fish and rice. We now have so much that we’ve run out of freezer space (farm raised in China, so no way am I eating that). I can assert with utter confidence that, if needed, I have on hand sufficient quantities of rice to feed five hundred people this very instant. No problem. Right now. Bring it.

This domestic debacle reminds me, as well, of Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice which alluded to the idea of tapping into a power without the ability to fully control it—it’s how I feel about the unknown quantities of fish and rice that continue to flow through my kitchen. Unstoppable and terrifying. Repeatedly, I have tried impressing upon my dad to halt this assault, but he ignores my pleas. The truth is he forgets—it’s a reflection of the dementia, but it’s also how he’s always been. I am confounded by his ability to recall with precise detail the names and dates of players involved in Tennessee politics leading up to the Civil War, but unable to remember that we already have six industrial sized packages of tilapia waiting to be consumed. So, our Long March continues as his fish purchases remain unaBAITed (ha ha)…

As this is a situation utterly out of my control, I have struggled with how to manage my reactions to it. It serves no purpose to get mad and almost none to point out (again) how well stocked we are. A friend suggested I start throwing the stuff out, but the idea of wasting food feels like an anathema, so I resist. What this example highlights is the situation we all can find ourselves, in which someone close to us insists on repeating behaviors that don’t serve themselves or the greater good—be that any of the garden variety of addictions, bad relationships, credit card debt, hoarding, or getting themselves overextended in some other manner. Whatever it is, their excess impacts us.

The sense of resulting helplessness played out over time is universal. Until the other person learns to control their own impulses, the situation will not improve. Fortunately, for me, no innocent bystander is harmed in my Wagnerian fish opera, but that may not be the case for you. Like the apprentice whose spell results in endlessly multiplying pails of water, the spillover effect/unintended consequences can directly impact others. What do we do when we see the locomotive bearing down?

According to Murray Bowen’s systems theory of psychology, the core unit of interpersonal dynamics begins with the family as the emotional unit, not the individual. Within our families we operate as part of a system, adjusting our behaviors to counterbalance those of others. If I were to stretch this theory out to its maximum, I’d liken it to quantum mechanics (where previously entangled objects can instantaneously affect each other’s behavior, even from a great distance). This can easily be seen in families of alcoholics where the various players adapt certain roles to compensate for the chronic underperformance of the addicted member. An integral part of breaking away from such chronic dynamics is for the individual to step out of these carefully choreographed family ballets by no longer engaging in the expected steps.

Growing up with my dad, yelling was his modus operandi. He is a big man with a fierce temper from which the rest of us could not escape. To be fair, he grew up in a family where this excruciating behavior occurred regularly, so he was simply repeating the pattern. Fortunately, my mom didn’t do this, but it’s taken me a long, long time to recognize that there are better alternatives to yelling or inflicting the silent treatment on those with whom I am displeased or frustrated. Not easy stuff.

So, as re-booters, how do we do it? How do we learn to create sufficient distance from those we care about that we don’t upset ourselves when we see them being destructive–especially when those pails of water start washing around our ankles? How do we remain constructively engaged without getting washed away?

Here are my recommendations. The first and most important thing we can do is to remember that most of what happens to them is out of our control. We can’t do it for them. Second, we need to recognize and respect that this is their journey, not ours; it’s not about us, even when we become collateral damage. Such recognition can be terribly painful. Third, we need to leave enough room and compassion in our hearts that we are able to step in and help pick up the pieces should they ever reach a point where doing so would be productive. This third one is particularly tricky since so often it is less painful for us to cut them off rather than continue to witness their dissolution. And fourth, if we can find something funny about it–do so. Humor goes a long, long way in terms of preserving our sanity.

As re-booters, it is our challenge and responsibility to seek out a better way to manage our reaction to such scenarios. What comes up for you when you think about this? What new approach might release some of the pressure? How might you manage it better?

An endless abundance

An endless abundance

Island Hopping: The Search for Community

October 20, 2015

Ok, so last time I wrote about the struggles we experience when confronted by foundering love; today, I wish to redirect your attention to a very different aspect of love–our need to feel bonded with others. I believe that most people go through life feeling somewhat adrift, dreaming of the day when they’ll find a collective of kindred spirits who live nearby, readily available to happily do stuff together—sort of like a fantasy college dorm but without the smelly hallways or unappetizing cafeteria. We all know that reality is different. Like any school reunion, when thrown together for much more than a day or two, our collective warm fuzzies fade. So, where does that leave us in terms of finding a group of people with whom we feel we “belong”?

Having a spouse or children or living somewhere for decades doesn’t guarantee a sense of understanding or fulfilling connection. I know many people who lay claim to all three and, yet, still feel disconnected. As heart warming as Norman Rockwell’s imagery is, we know there’s a shadow side. “What am I doing here?” is a common refrain. Is it the human condition to remain ever seeking? Perhaps. At least for those of us who are more inquisitive about our true place in this world…

Although Washington is where I was born and reared, the city and I have changed so much that in many deep seated ways, I feel like a stranger. Driving past the National Cathedral, attending a performance at the Kennedy Center, or walking along the canal in Georgetown are bittersweet experiences because I’m not sure how I feel about any of it. I’m not sure I merit frequenting such wonderful places, as ridiculous a notion as this is. Sometimes, I wonder if I’d be more at home starting out somewhere entirely different, like a small town in West Texas. As if that would be any better…

Is a secure sense of connection a mythical construct? Are our expectations for collective relationship unreasonable?

Recently, I was chatting with someone who has lived in DC for thirty years but continues to feel unmoored. “Maybe it’s because Washington is so transient or because we live on a busy street, but people don’t interact much. We don’t want to live here when we get old or sick because who would be there for us?” Who indeed? I don’t think this worry is so unusual. And yet, and yet, community does rise up to support its own when they’re sick or hurting. I’ve seen this, too.

The poet John Donne tapped into the longing for communal relationship asserting, “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main…” So what do we do? How do we create community for ourselves? Can there ever be a true cleaving together or is it much more sensible to accept the possibility that we’re mostly on our own?

I believe we can create community—as long as we don’t hope for too much and are willing to keep watering those seeds.

This is how I look at it: #1) it’s enormously important to be as self-sufficient as possible. Having the confidence and presence of self to enjoy your own company enables you to be happy independent of others and makes it that much more likely that others will want to spend time with you. Nothing drives people away faster than the giant sucking sound of some emotionally needy attention hog.

We must be judicious in how much we can expect from sympathetic others. What I mean by this is that shared interests are a perfect place to start, but beware of letting the conversation drift too far off into unchartered waters. The fact that you both enjoy raising bees does not mean you’ll share similar views on the Keystone Pipeline or the immigrant crisis confronting Europe today.

#2) Politics and friendship is worth addressing in particular because it’s such a hot button issue. Maybe it’s more prevalent here in Washington than elsewhere, but I have watched longtime friendships splinter as a result of differences in politics—no matter that none of the policies in question had any direct impact on their interactions. The fact that these people shared so many other things in common was simply not enough to sustain the relationship—and so, a slow freezing out process began. It’s happened to me.

How we differ on our views of abortion or the Congressional debt ceiling or whether or not the Redskins should change their name really shouldn’t make a difference to our friendship, but so often it does. It’s hard to feel happy around someone who (silently) disapproves of our opinions, disdainfully consigning us into that abhorrent group of “them.” Politics didn’t use to use to be so dispositive, but over the last twenty years, its troubling shadow has chilled many an otherwise happy friendship. The political litmus tests we use to assess whether another person is “worthy” of our time and affection are so often the wrong measure.

So, does this mean we need to high tail it to our local central committee to find people we genuinely want in our lives? No, it does not! I know someone back in Santa Barbara who shares very similar views to mine who I can’t stand. I go to great lengths to avoid being anywhere near them, find them odious, obnoxious, and wonder how in the world they ever found a decent seeming spouse—which makes me seriously question the wisdom of my own views if we share so many in common. Gag. So much for politics making good bedfellows. Now what? Now where do I turn?

#3) The third recommendation I have is a combination of determined effort and a bit of kismet. Building community requires time and initiative. It’s a question of priorities: you either make the effort or you don’t. “Chrisanna, nobody’s going to come knocking on your door,” as a friend recently lectured following a venting session on my part. Sigh. How much did I loathe hearing that? Where are you? Why don’t you come knock on my door? Maybe we could be friends! Eh, whatever… I suspect that finding this sort of connection is harder for men than it is for women who are far more socialized to forage together rather than hunt the forests alone, but for any adult, but it’s never easy. Sifting for those rare gems whose particular sparkle and energy meshes well with our own takes dedication and luck—but the good news is they do exist! “I want to get to know you; you’re fun to hang with.” When was the last time you thought that about another person?

Ok, so the point of these musings has been to articulate the sense of disconnection and desire for community most of us have—this is a form of love. You’re not alone in feeling disconnected. You’re not alone in wanting something more. As re-booters, we’re old enough, experienced enough, and wise enough to recognize that we may have to adjust our ideas of how much we can hope for, while simultaneously leaping at those opportunities when we do meet someone who makes us sit up and take notice. It doesn’t happen everyday, which is why it’s so critical to act when it does. It’s worth fighting for. Otherwise, we sit by ourselves, staring out the window and wonder.

old men talking

Love and Friendship Change: Struggling with Faltering Flames

October 15, 2015

I’ve had a couple of people ask me to write about the topic of love. Of course, as we all know, there are many different types of love and more energy has been devoted to this subject than just about any other, but that doesn’t mean I can’t weigh in, too. Today, I think I’ll examine the way love can change over the course of a relationship and how we can love someone and yet reach a point where we can no longer remain with them in the same way.

Two people meet, become fascinated with one another to one degree or another, and decide to merge lives. (For purposes of this post, I am working from the presumption that they both believe they are in love or at least deep like.) There’s something enormously reassuring to know that you have someone to come home to, someone who will tend the hearth fires, provide warmth in the middle of the night, and provide nourishing companionship. The comfort of knowing one has a welcoming home base cannot be underestimated. With the world as crazy as it is these days, we all want a soft place to land and a purpose for working as hard as we do. Finding our way to this person and relationship status sometimes means we override our early system warnings, telling ourselves that we’re being nitpicky or unnecessarily severe in our reactions.

But, what happens when the other person’s personality quirks or decisions start to bug us, again? What happens when they are simply being themselves but we grow ever more easily irritated by this splinter?

Are they doing something wrong? Are we being unfair?

No and no.

So what does this mean for the health of the relationship going forward?

 

All I can do is answer based on my own experience, but what I have seen (drawing upon romantic, professional, and platonic relationships) is that those “minor” annoyances that we discover early on rarely disappear, despite all the years, experience, and goodwill that we enjoy in between. Usually, such chronic, low grade vexations point to fundamental, irreconcilable differences between the parties—they just happen to manifest in ways which leave us (the irritated) feeling petty.

For instance years ago, 1) a fellow I knew came to visit me in Boston and dedicated forty-five minutes talking about a suit he bought from Neiman Marcus (I timed it)! 2) In Santa Barbara, I watched another engage in behavior I considered deeply wrong but shunted my concerns aside because there was so much that was good about what we had (with the promise of more). And then, 3) there was the instance where the relationship, physically, simply was unfulfilling/non-existent and I kept telling myself that intellectual stimulation was enough. It wasn’t. In each of these cases, I chastised myself for feeling the way I did, telling myself I was being overly critical or sensitive or needy—but in a desperate effort to frame the relationship in an acceptable light, I wound up being unfair to myself and unfair to them because I wanted them to be someone other than who they were.

When looked at objectively, there is nothing terrible with what any of these individuals did—they were well within their rights to discuss their wardrobes enthusiastically or play hardball with other assholes or choose to live a physically passionless life. And I can promise you that each of them was enormous fun to be around. In fact, I continue to remember them in an affectionate light, but our relationship could not last.

So, what does this mean? Am I an unreasonable prima donna who must have every exchange “just so,” unable to tolerate any flaws in others?

No, it does not. There is another side to this relationship coin. The truth is that there is a great likelihood that the other person senses the dissonance just as much. These shifts are rarely one sided. They may more easily pretend the problem isn’t there or perhaps they are fearful enough about a “you-less” future that they are willing to grit their teeth, but in the vast majority of occasions, irritations exist for both parties.

Love changes. Love has its limits. And, most importantly, you can love someone without being able to stay with them. Even if what appears as minor differences between the two of you, over time those differences may become untenable…Trying to course correct against your natural path in order to remain parallel with your partner is a recipe for great unhappiness. I have watched people do this time and time and time again, losing a little bit more of themselves each time they do so. The only time I have seen such efforts work to any degree is when both parties flex sufficiently to accommodate the changes occurring in their partner, but behaviors or attitudes which rub you the wrong way early on in your relationship are not likely to ebb as you become more invested.

I am not here to champion flying solo or here to tell you that all relationships carry a time date stamp on them. What I am here to say to those of you who struggle with what to think when you no longer can live with someone you’ve loved, you are not a bad person for feeling this way. It happens to so many of us—most, if we’re being honest. Having a comrade in arms, having a friend, having a lover to come home to is a wonderful thing and makes life worth living, but not if you have to crowbar yourself into it. Deep down, they may be looking to you for the courage which will set them free, too.

What relationship are you struggling with? What makes it hard to let go? What are you afraid ending it would say about you? If the tables were reversed, if the other person felt the way you do, what do you hope they would do?

Tapping into Our Stores of Potential

October 13, 2015

So, for the past few months, I have been absolutely obsessed with the Poldark series which is about this non-conformist who returns to Cornwall from the Revolutionary War and discovers his father has died, the family mine is kaput, and his great love is now engaged to his feckless cousin Francis. First published in 1945, there are twelve Poldark novels in this multi-generational saga and I am happily closing in on number nine. If you’re intrigued by late eighteenth century British history and enjoy reading about star crossed lovers, you might want to check it out.

At one point, Ross Poldark purchases an engine to pump out excess water from the mine as part of his attempt to tap into richer veins of ore. As he examines the engine’s potential, he observes that, “the engine was capable of a good deal more than was at present demanded.”

Where in your life might this sentence have similar applicability? What sources of strength or talent are you underutilizing?

None of us likes to think that we’re underperforming; in fact, much of the time, many of us feel pushed to the max, struggling simply to bear up under the various burdens and demands placed on our shoulders. But as true as this may be, what is also true is that we each have rich veins of ability that are lying fallow. Why is that? Why is it that when we know we are good at something, when we know we can do more or do better we allow such aptitudes to languish? These can easily be talents that matter to nobody but ourselves. As I was thinking about my writing, I thought how nobody else in the entire world would care if I wrote a single word—but it matters to me. It makes my life more fulfilling. That’s what I’m wanting for you, too.

For instance, if we are skilled in the kitchen, why would we be content merely to prepare a mediocre dinner? If we have an affinity for numbers would we be sloppy with our checkbook? I’m not talking about perfectionism here—there will be many days when we’re exhausted and only have a few moments to throw a meal together or summon the energy to take the kids to a movie but not to something more interactive. Rather, what I am examining is the mental or emotional process which occurs when we, as individuals, privately acknowledge our special gifts and still walk away from them.

Who or what situation in your life do you think of as an engine “capable of a good deal more than was at present demanded”?

Maybe because it’s autumn and the leaves are beginning to change and the nights to cool or maybe it’s because I am watching more of my parents’ generation get progressively more fragile and die, but particularly as a re-booter, I am ever more aware of the fleeting passage of time. It saddens me greatly to watch people walk away from their talents or content themselves with operating at half speed when they could achieve so much more. And by this, I don’t mean “achieve” in a showy publicity sense, but rather in an effort to test themselves and make new discoveries that would bring them joy.

A year ago, I attended my college reunion where I saw someone who I hold in great awe and esteem. All these years later, this person of prodigious capabilities appeared to have chosen to live his life, at best, in neutral. I couldn’t believe it. He was (and is) so talented. It pained me greatly to see him languish and be unhappily indifferent to participating in the world around him. Of course, I could be 100% wrong in my assessment, but what I do know is that the spark was gone.

In fact, I have known more than one or two individuals very well who have followed similar courses. One could surmise they were depressed or struck by some loss from which they never recovered or what have you, but the end result was the same each time. They ignored their talents and faded away.

Does this strike you as much of a tragedy as it does to me? It makes my heart weep.

But, back to Poldark. Our hero believed, despite multiple setbacks, that there were additional rich veins buried within the bowels of the mine—he just needed to find a way to utilize the tools he had available in a better way. Hence, his thoughts about the engine. He wasn’t crazy and he wasn’t obsessed, he just knew there was more there and was willing to dig a little deeper to get to it.

How might you dig a little deeper yourself? What additional, small effort might you make to tap further into your own God given gifts? What might you uncover?

Poldark

The Comeback Kid: Not Taking the Bait

October 7, 2015

Of course, everywhere and throughout the ages, humanity has been plagued with a particularly insufferable expression commonly identified as the know-it-all, but I believe that Washington DC has the market cornered on this particular phenotype. Nowhere is it likely to find the convergence of ambition, smarts, education, and insecurity that one stumbles across along Mass Ave, 17th or K Streets. Words such as pedantic, bloviating, and ridiculous spring easily to mind when dragooned into the Purgatory that can occur when attending a quasi-academic evening lecture in this town. The fact that know-it-alls are exasperating isn’t news to you or me, but my reaction points to just how much additional re-booting work I’ve left to do…

Case in point: last night, in an effort to diversify my social circles and possibly learn a thing or two, I trooped downtown to hear a lecture on US-China relations given by a former CIA guy. The crowd was not glittery but respectable—that usual Washington crowd consisting of slightly smelly reporters, earnest graduate students, and several elderly types who pretended they were there because they are so engaged with world events but who were really drawn by the promise of free food and wine. Overall, it seemed to me, it was a civilized affair that is until…

Somehow, I found myself talking to one of the free food guys who felt a need to impress upon me his lifelong passion and dedication to social and cultural justice. Perhaps it was the wine, perhaps it was hitting a saturation point of hearing too many similar speeches or running across too many people in love with their own moral superiority, but once this fellow (who wasn’t a day under sixty) explained to me, “When I was five, I asked my parents why China wasn’t sufficiently represented in the United Nations.” It was at this moment when I had HAD ENOUGH.

“Really?” I said. “You actually asked your parents this when you were five years old?”

“I did.”

“You were concerned about China’s place in the world?”

“Of course.”

“Hmm. I didn’t think about such things when I was five.”

The conversation went downhill from there. I expect he was sorely surprised and disappointed that I didn’t fall to my knees in admiration. Too bad allure didn’t work it’s magic—in this particular instance.

Now, here’s where the re-booting portion of today’s post comes in: I shouldn’t have taken the bait. I should’ve known enough and exercised sufficient discipline not to have allowed myself to get annoyed by this dingdong, let alone wasted the breath to challenge him on such matters. My doing so did not enhance our interaction and only resulted in both of us feeling significantly annoyed. In my defense, I will say that it is extremely hard to remain placid while tidal waves of bullshit crash onto my shores, but this is something a re-booter needs to master. The truth of the matter is, blowhards and annoying people will always surround us—whether at evening lectures or the workplace or even our own families. They are here to stay. It all comes back to being in charge of my reactions and not letting bullshit irritate me the way it did last night.

I ought to have known enough to keep my mouth shut. Speaking up accomplished nothing constructive. He wasn’t going to educate me and I wasn’t going to educate him, so there was really no point at all in having a comeback. What a dumb, dumb kid.

So why do we do this? Why do we feel the need to make a rebuttal in the face of such hopelessly irritating circumstances?

Growing up in a highly verbal and literary family, I fell in love with words (and advocacy) early. It was our currency; in fact, the adults used to call it “word salad.” What “word salad” means is you toss the words up into the (proverbial) air and see where they land, whether they hit their mark, that sort of thing. The faster and harder you could do it, the better. Looking back, I see now that such a philosophy may not be the best (although it trains one to make wonderful banter) because you’re not just exchanging words, you’re exchanging the energy behind the words. And that energy isn’t always helpful. Like last night, with Mr. Social Concern.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while not everyone feels compelled to talk or to meet point with counter point, it is the sign of an accomplished re-booter to recognize and respect when circumstances are better served to remain MUTE—even when the person opposite has been infected with a case of verbal diarrhea. But my point goes beyond this because it’s not simply a matter of discipline, even more importantly it’s getting to a place where their behavior doesn’t provoke me. That’s just them being them.

Know-it-alls are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this re-booting challenge. This principle applies for any quirk that raises your hackles. I face the same challenge in learning to manage my reaction to my father’s all to frequent tendency to talk as if he were a baby—HUGELY ANNOYING. Be grateful you don’t have that one on your plate…

When have you learned to ignore the behaviors of others to the point that they no longer irk you? Where do you continue to need some work in this department?

My pledge to you, my fellow re-booters, is that the next time I go to any sort of lecture event, I will be a model of beatific and passive politeness to all who wish to expound upon their prodigious brilliance and sensitivity. Peace be unto you.

Charlie Brown


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