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Jan 25, 2012


The other day I was driving and came to an intersection where I had to make a left turn. There was an oncoming vehicle who had slowed at the intersection as well. That car didn't have his turn signal on, like I did - yet he/she/they seemed to be yielding to me. I'm thinking, I'm turning left. You have the right-of-way. Can't you see my turn signal?
That's when it hit me - maybe he can't. What if my bulb is burned out and I don't know it. I found myself frustrated because someone else didn't behave how I thought that person should....but it was all based on my perspective.
If that person saw or knew what I did, then I believe he or she would have likey agreed with me about who should clear the intersection first. Maybe not, but odds would be better. However, I assumed that driver saw and understood all the signals and conditions as I did. I failed to consider that I might be the one who was bringing confusion to the situation. After all, if my bulb were burned out, then I bet I did send a confusing message from their view.
This all fits in with some character development that I've focused on over the past few months - really since the break-up. Interestingly enough, for those who don't know, the "perspectives" gained through my therapy and close friends allowed me to recognize areas where "my bulb was burned out" but I blamed my bride-to-be, not that all her bulbs were working either. However, through some self-awareness, honest communication, grace and a good couples counselor, we were able to resolve the serious issues - which turned out to be far-less serious than originally perceived.
It's all the same thing. I assumed the problems were ALL HER FAULT! I refused to consider my own culpability or even the messages I sent to encourage these things that bothered me. I fled from any sort of healthy conflict...because then I could be justified being upset with her (or the other driver) as all the facts before me were clear cut (but only the ones I brought to the intersection).
However, when I seek first to assume the other person doesn't understand what I mean and to be sure I'm not failing in my responsibility or communication - then I am not initially angry about the conflict or disagreement. If I assume from the beginning that I have done a poor job of conveying my perspective and give the other side a better picture, then in a non-personal way I can re-summarize my view to help them see what I see. Then the other side can have that moment of "Oh, I'm sorry" or "But what you can't see is..." I then can gain their perspective and together we can decide how best to proceed.
Strategies of my past were to launch facts or stats, under the assumption they understood my premise perspective and agreed with it. Often I would pull in the "strength of numbers" argument, which is when I would explain, "All my friends agree with me and think you're wrong too." But none of these methods are healthy or safe ways to resolve a conflict, although they often are emotionally satisfying (...but sometimes not).
Now, in all fairness, there isn't always time to have a fully introspective analysis and open dialog. I couldn't very easily have gotten out of my car to check the bulb while I was at the intersection. However, the turn signal is the allegory and the reality is our relationships with one another. I didn't know the driver, but I do know most of the people with whom I have conflict - and I can take the time, even if it is after the fact.
More importantly, I believe, is the habit of assuming unintended self-failure before blaming the other side. Even in short-span disputes such as the intersection, if I check myself first, being certain that I'm not contributing to the problem, then it saves me from a lot of stress and anger - even if it turns out I'm wholly right and justified, as it reminds me that I sometimes make mistakes and the other side might have just made an honest one too.
Are there others who make chronic and deliberate failings? Do some people not care to correct themselves or improve relationships? The answer is yes; however, those are more rare than we initially choose to believe. Most people don't strive to be the bad-guy; although a few are very good at it. But I now choose to deal with that after the pattern is proven rather than personalize a single incident. I try to assume I haven't done something I should...or at least verify that before I assign blame.
Oh, and as for that intersection incident...I could have sworn I had my turn signal on, but guess what?

Jan 14, 2012

Working-Class Hero

There was a day in America when there were so many jobs, employers couldn't keep employees. Workers would come in late, sometimes not even show up and quit without notice. The "man" just tolerated it because employees would just go get another one because they were so plentiful.
Anyone remember this? It wasn't that long ago. In the late 1990's the national unemployment rate was around 4%, and in my home state it was like skim milk, less than 2%.
I don't want to debate the cause or the differences in the economy, and I'm certainly going to avoid the political exposition. However, I have been considering the social lessons learned from this era, especially on teens and the young working class at the time.
Back then, I recall reading an article about the over-abundance of jobs. The journalist discussed how he worried about his teenage son because try as dad might, the concept of a good work ethic was simply not being grasped by the kid, who told "Pops" there was no reason to go to work for he wouldn't get fired for it and if somehow he did, he would just go get another one. The columnist feared what would become of his son in a day when jobs were not so plentiful.
Ok, fast-work fifteen years to today. I can't help but wonder about that writer's son. He'd be in his early thirties now. Did he learn the ethics of work? Or is he struggling to find a job today? Was the story just that of the typical father looking at his son with post-generation reflection, or did that spoiled time actually ruin that youth (and many others of his age)?
Is it possible many "Occupiers" could get work but (like this journalist's son) potentially never developed the proper respect for the job market and never developed good work habits to hold a job without realizing this importance? Is the unemployment rate a two-way street, created out of the coddling from a copious cycle?
Now, by no means am I implying there is no economic issue or that the high unemployment rate is some sort of publicity scheme. The problems are real. However, is it exacerbated by a generation who never learned how to work or respect the job market? I can't know, but I do know that we Americans are a spoiled lot who feel quite entitled.
Politics aside, this could explain the diametric opinions of the problem. There seem to be just two camps: the occupiers-camp who feel the jobless are blameless victims owed something by the rich and the ivory-tower camp who feel the bums should shut-up and fill out an application. Surely, the truth is found somewhere in between.

Jan 2, 2012


Day two of 2012 and I awoke realizing that I had not made any resolutions this year. That’s not really unusual for me; it’s not a tradition I honor often. I commonly laugh it off or resolve to not make any resolutions.
However, I thought about the character renovation I’ve attempted over the past five or six years, specifically after the divorce. I carried an immense amount of guilt around with me after the divorce, which translated to me not liking who I had become because of my marriage. The truth is we all change who we are in serious relationships, even if only a little – but we do change.
Not that I blame my ex-wife for the person I didn’t like that I had become. After all, I had made the changes and decisions that I did. Part of the post-divorce coping was to blame her, but the truth is I alone am responsible for those choices and decisions – which in turn means I alone carry the guilt of who I had become.
Now, the interesting thing that I’ve discovered over the past five years is “who I am” was not really that drastically changed, despite my dislike of myself. Yes, there were changed, but my core person had remained in tact. What had primarily changed is my attitude.
Growing up my mother would always tell me “People are as happy as the make their minds up to be.” Now while I struggled with this idea, I did put it in practice and was reasonably happy most of my childhood. However, what I didn’t know was that my brain chemistry did not regulate quite as it should and failed to produce enough serotonin, which resulted in serious depression in my late teens and early twenties. Through new pharmaceuticals at the time and some counseling, I trained my brain to cope for this deficiency. I literally made my mind to by happy.
And when I wed my now ex roughly a decade-and-a-half ago, I was fairly well-adjusted and happy person. However, as time went on, my attitude no longer remained in that determined-to-be-happy place, and I grew cynical. I alone am responsible for this change in attitude, but I alone was not the cause. As stated before, I won’t blame my ex, but the truth is being yoked to a bitter and angry person influenced me to avoid her pain, which ultimately resulted in me viewing most everything in a negative and fearful way. Even our fun times together were “escapes from chaos” or ways to “mask the pain.”
While it was not like being in a Nazi concentration camp, my environment for that decade wore on my attitude. When leaving that world after the divorce, I slowly learned to adopt my happier side again. Of course, I get drawn back to Misery-Land often because we share the responsibility of raising a child, even though living separate lives now.
Let me state carefully here. My ex-wife is not a bad person; however, in my opinion, she is a sad person. She seeks external conditions to determine her state of mind. She does not “make up her mind to be happy” but rather allows the conditions around her to define her mood. Again, this does not make her a bad person, but it is a method and philosophy, likely subconscious on her part, that differs diametrically with mine. She has many fine and wonderful qualities, but that difference alone became significant in my ability to live with her, work with her and eventually even like her – and even like myself.
So, in the past five years, I have worked to rebuild my character. As I stated above, the framework was still there; it was just that the paint had dulled and maintenance had been lacking. The maintenance of attitude – a positive attitude. Not a silly Pollyanna, rose-tinted fantasy-land attitude. But a positive one, nonetheless.
I was recently reminded by a question I heard in my therapy sessions in my twenties with learning to cope with my depression. The therapist asked me, “How many good things does it take to make up for one bad thing?” It was then I realized that I gave weight to very condition that happened in my life. But more importantly, I can to realize that I chose to label every condition as either positive or negative before I stored it in my memory.
This truth has not changed. The only thing that has changed is my choice in labels. So, if I have a resolution this year, it would be my choice of labels for the events in my life. I will make my mind up to be happy.