More Messy

I’ve written before about life getting messy.

Yesterday was a day of deep and profound sadness; a turning-point brought on by someone I love very much. They are not themselves, but refuse to get help and it’s hurting everyone who loves them.

It rips my heart out but I am not mad. They are confused.

And I have a choice; I get to choose if I let things  beyond my control put a cloud over my perspective and disposition (all pain comes from a lack of control).

But rather than feel like a victim and reach for explanations that may never come, or fix what I cannot heal, I make the conscious decision to focus instead on the positive in my life.

Instead of dwelling on what appears to be the painful loss of what was a steadfast constant, or on the obvious and traumatic pain the situation is causing others I love, I choose instead to be grateful for the many blessing in my life, past, present and future.

I have a great life with a wonderful career and even more potential; I have fantastic friends and family; I live in an exceptional nation with plenty of food, water, shelter, and clothing; and within the past eleven months I have achieved the greatest level of happiness I’ve ever had … even before I became paralyzed.

There is plenty to be sad about, but there is even more to be happy about.

I choose to live in the happy.

 

 

Exceptional

America is exceptional.

She is not perfect and her citizens are not better people than citizens of other nations. But American Exceptionalism is real.

It’s not bragging because I had nothing to do with creating it; it’s expressing gratitude by acknowledging the exceptionally blessed circumstances in which we live.

People from all around the globe are clamoring to get into the USA, while very few are seeking to get out (though they may still whine about it and are free to leave, which is not the case in many other nations). It’s always surprising to me when people argue that it’s wrong on humanitarian grounds to deny people from other countries entrance into America, but also argue that we should be more like those countries from which people trying to escape.

Our Founders devised a system whereby people have the freedom to elect their own representatives in controlling their own governance – a radical departure from the tyranny of royal monarchies, believed to be chosen by God to rule the people. Our system also provides freedom of enterprise that takes a potential negative (human greed and self-interest) and turns it into a positive (unsurpassed innovation, efficiency, and bounty through competition for resources that people freely choose to spend on the goods and services they truly want).

The American system has produced the greatest nation in history, not the American people’s inherent superiority or relative greatness. Nevertheless, people obsessed with fairness or unfairness (as they see it), are fixated on the unequal results produced by natural human differences within that exceptional system. So they demonstrate by blocking traffic or looting and they protest by burning the flag  or not standing during the National Anthem. But what they’re actually protesting is our freedom! They offer no solutions, just complaints; they do not suggest a better form of government than our system, they just disrespect it. What they’re really complaining about is human nature and the fact that we’re all born with different attributes and abilities so we end up with different results.

The Founders realized the imperfections of the human condition and designed a system to maximize freedom and opportunity despite the imperfect nature of human beings.

It doesn’t mean that government intervenes to make an imperfect world perfect, or to make everyone the same by giving people born with fewer skills or talents more ability. It means that our system capitalizes on the inherent differences in human beings to manifest in the greatest good for the greatest number.

When people can’t handle the fact that we will never all be the same, they want government to fix that “unfair” condition. Because that can never be accomplished, they feel they are “victims” and they demonstrate or protest by throwing little (or big) tantrums without offering any way to improve the system.

This is classic victimism – comparing the present situation with perceived perfection; obsessing over unfairness; blaming the American system; and taking comfort in woundedness by appearing to be “sympathetic” or “brave” when all they’re really doing is complaining that the world is not fair.

But it is entirely possible to live in a grossly unfair world and be exceedingly grateful for the freedom afforded by an exceptional system because it offers the most fairness. In fact, it’s not only possible, it’s recommended.

9-11

We should pause to reflect on the solemn day fifteen years ago in 2001 when al-Qaeda terrorists attacked on US soil, killing 2,996 innocent people and injuring over 6,000 more.

The 9-11 attacks created nearly 9,000 real victims because no one deserved, or could have reasonably expected, such a hateful and diabolical act. We know that Osama bin Laden blamed the attacks on all of America, vilifying “all those who participate in, or help the Jewish occupiers in killing Muslims.” No matter what your position may be on the Middle East, there is no reasonable justification for al-Qaeda killing and injuring American civilians in a sneak-attack without provocation by US forces.

Yet some plagued with victim mentality have attempted to blame 9-11 on the unfairness of America’s position in the world. A purple-haired history professor teaching Women’s & Gender Studies classes at Saddleback College in California is one such blamer. In 2001, she supported a statement blaming 9-11 on American “imperialism” — which is code for feelings of jealousy over America’s “unfair” wealth and strength as compared to other countries — and she recently tore down “Never Forget” 9-11 memorial posters because she said they were not “approved” (I guess she doesn’t believe in the First Amendment right to Freedom of Expression).

She is obviously a kook, but the lesson to be learned is this: With freedom comes purveyors of kooky ideas. If we’re too “polite” or “politically correct,” to call them out and say they are not valid, they can seep into college campuses and potentially be accepted by young, impressionable minds – especially at our institutions of higher learning, where students are rewarded with good grades the regurgitation of whatever the professor professes, not critical thinking.

The victim mentality is strong and we need to be aware of it. At least today — in honor of those lost in 9-11 and those who loved them — let’s utilize critical thinking and call out the kooks who find any way they can to say that Islamic terrorists are somehow the “victims.”

 

 

Sympathy or Pity

The other day I met another lawyer at a restaurant for a drink after work to talk business. While making my way through the bar in my chair, I saw several people I knew. As I stopped to say hello to one — yet another damned lawyer — her friend remarked after meeting me, “It’s nice to see you getting out.” That always cracks me up. So I said, “Yeah, the work-release program at the prison is great.” The confused and then worried look on his face was priceless, but after letting him squirm a few seconds I let him off.

I get that kind of comment fairly often, but it makes me wonder about not only the perception of paralyzed folks but also the motivation for saying something like “it’s nice to see you getting out.”

First of all, I understand that there are probably lots of paralyzed folks who don’t have the motivation, the means, or the business and social life to cause them to undertake the bit of extra effort it takes to get out. But I made the choice long ago to live life as fully as I would if I hadn’t broken my neck, and to never feel sorry for myself for the fact that I’m just a little inconvenienced because I can’t walk or use my hands on my way to accomplishing everything I want to.

I’m pretty sure I “get out” more often than that guy, but he somehow felt sorry for me. He wanted to know why I’m in the chair, and when he asked, I told him, “I’m just lazy.” Again a momentary bewildered look. But by then he had figured out that I was teasing him. So after I told him the real reason was breaking my neck in a diving accident, he asked, “How long have you been in the wheelchair?” And I told him, “Since about 7:00 a.m.” After I toyed with him, he may have started to figure out that he needn’t feel sorry for me.

He was a nice guy and he likely just had empathy or sympathy for what he thought must be a difficult or unhappy life for me. But little did he know my life rocks — probably in ways he hasn’t yet experienced — even though it’s a little more difficult than before I broke my neck.

I always wondered why people feel compelled to share with someone they’ve just met their empathy or sympathy for them. It’s like they are unwittingly playing the “victim-card” for the target of their empathy or sympathy.

I’ve come to believe that if we let people feel sorry for us, we start to feel sorry for ourselves. And though I sometimes feel sorry for others because their lives seem to be plagued with “suckitude,” I choose not to let them know I feel sorry for them (beyond simple condolences for the loss of a loved one, etc.). That’s because I don’t want to enable any victim mentality by providing any reason to think their situation or life is “unfair.” But it’s also because I try not to pity anyone. When we “pity” others we don’t really respect them because we don’t think they can handle their own particular adversity and live happy, rewarding lives. We don’t seek out people we pity, to ask their advice or include them at parties (except maybe as a token). We don’t want to be like the people we pity.

I’ve lived the past 31 years in a way that says “don’t ever feel sorry for me” and that has paid off big-time in numerous ways. Though my life might be a little harder, and though people might have a hard time believing it, my life is awesome!

True

It’s tempting to tell people what they want to hear.

Whether it’s that their goofy new haircut looks “nice,” or that they are “right” when they clearly are wrong, it seems compassionate and kind to make people feel better.

Somehow, it’s become so commonplace to agree with people and tell them what they want to hear, that to tell people the truth is considered “offensive” or “politically incorrect.” There is social pressure to affirm or validate ridiculous thinking and people feel like they are “victims” when they are corrected because there is this widely accepted notion that “every opinion is valid.”

Besides being an absolutely inane concept, the “every opinion is valid” narrative is also destructive. When people are not subject to the normal socialization of being called out when they are goofy or unreasonable, they are not subject to the normal boundaries of society. This can lead to false perceptions of the world and to bad decision-making.

For example, telling someone that their hideous shirt looks nice on them, just to make them feel good, could distort their perceptions and may cause them to make more decisions that do not present them in the best light. Similarly (but with more impact), telling someone that they are right when they are not can distort their perception of reality and may cause them to make bad business or life decisions.

We don’t have to be nasty jerks to be honest. When someone asks our opinion about their shirt we don’t say, “You look ridiculous! You have terrible taste!” We say something like, “It’s not your best look, I’d go with something else.” Similarly, when someone asks if they are right when they are wrong, we can tactfully explain the error in their thinking rather than tell them they are being “absurd!”

It may be easier to tell people what they want to hear, but it isn’t kind. And it’s actually selfish. We tell people what they want to hear because we want them to like us.

But, while it’s harder to tell people what they need to hear, it is more valuable and is the stuff of true friendships. I would much rather have true friends who are honest with me than fake friends who tell me what I want to hear.

And that’s the kind of friend I try to be. If you feel the same way, feel free to share this.

 

Excuse Machines

In addition to my work in mergers & acquisitions, my law practice allows me a unique opportunity to solve problems for people. I am the “fixer” and I am good at what I do. Although not involved in any criminal activity, I am kind of like “the Wolf” from the movie Pulp Fiction.

Before doing what I do now, many years ago I started and built an employment litigation practice for a small law firm and then built my own employment and business litigation practice for more than 20 years. As part of that practice, I had the opportunity to help people whose employers had acted unlawfully. It felt good to help people who had really been screwed.

But I also saw a troubling tendency. The ability to sue one’s employer gave people a readily available excuse to blame (“discrimination”), and play the “victim” for their own unacceptable job performance.

I received lots and lots of calls from people saying they were “discriminated against” when they were fired. When I would ask what actions of the employer led them to believe the motivation for termination was discrimination, more often than not, the answers were things like:

“Because I am black,” or

“Because I am old,” or

“Because I am a woman,” etc.

It was amazing how many people assumed anything they felt was “unfair” must be because of “discrimination” (often from the same person who hired them). Yet they could not relate even the slightest indication that the employer was motivated by the person’s race, age, sex … or any other illegitimate reason for their firing. And for those who could convey some basis for their belief that there was some discriminatory motivation, their stories would often fall apart upon further inquiry. Too often, it became readily apparent that their biggest problem was their substandard work or their caustic personality that made them not worth keeping around. But they couldn’t see their problem because they felt like victims as a result of a convenient scapegoat to blame. Eventually, I decided not to take any more employment cases because I didn’t want to enable that kind of victim mentality.

Where there is ready-made blaming for results we don’t like, it is tempting to take advantage of an excuse so that we don’t have to blame ourselves. It is even more tempting to blame others when playing the victim is rewarded through comfort in woundedness – whether that comfort comes in the form of attention, sympathy, control, or “vindication” by way of money from a lawsuit.

Though there are definitely some genuine cases of discrimination and other situations in which people are taken advantage of, most situations I saw were employers who just wanted to run a business with good people and they didn’t care what color, age, sex, or whatever their employees were. Too often I saw people blaming the loss of their job on something other than the fact that they were not a valuable employee, and I refused to enable that kind of self-destructive behavior.

Now I get to help people solve real problems … like negotiating tough deals.

Stereotypes

Key and Peele are a couple of funny guys who happen to be black.

In their comedy sketches, they utilize black stereotypes to bring laughter to the world.

In this hilarious little video they poke fun at the names black people give their kids

(NSFW because of some language).

The sketch is funny because it’s based on a cultural difference that’s not hateful or degrading.

What’s sad is that some have come to believe that the stereotype is “racist” because it deals with race. But it neither promotes hatred nor suggests that any race is superior or inferior, so it’s not racist.

Somehow we’ve come to believe that all stereotypes are “hurtful.” It’s a mindset we’ve been force-fed for decades.

Social scientists tell us that stereotypes are based on “empirical generalizations.” There is a generalization about paralyzed people that does not hurt me one bit. If I don’t live in a way so as to distinguish myself from the generalization, then (by definition) it is accurate in the mind of whomever holds the stereotype about me.

What do I care if someone has a generalization they apply to me inaccurately (or accurately)? I am not a child or incompetent. I do not need to be protected from inaccurate perceptions. To see me as something else — as needing protection — would be to treat me as a lesser.

No one is a “victim” of stereotypes unless you believe the generalization that people are incapable of seeing someone as distinct from, or an exception to, a generalization (let that sink in a while).

But even worse, if you believe that certain groups are more “harmed” by stereotypes, wouldn’t that also be a generalization? And because the world operates on, and is full of, generalizations, wouldn’t the belief that certain groups are more harmed by generalizations — thereby needing protection from stereotypes — be treating them as lesser?

In my mind, everyone with their wits about them is fair game for poking fun. To say otherwise is to treat as lesser those who are excepted.

I prefer to make fun of everyone equally – including myself.

Messes

Life can get messy.

Just when things seem to be going along great, we sometimes have issues arise that upset our worlds. Things that make us feel overwhelmed make us feel that way because they remind us that we are not in control. And that’s unsettling because it makes us feel like we are victims of circumstance (whether of our own doing or someone else’s).

Although the unsettling and overwhelming things are often surprises, I’ve found it helps to plan that life is just going to be messy at times. I am a fixer so I get busy cleaning up the messes, but it’s less overwhelming when I expect that there will be unforeseen bumps along the way – things I cannot control.

Even more helpful is to focus on the one thing that I can always control 100% – and that thing is my attitude. No matter how messy or how bumpy life gets, I can choose how to handle it.

When I consciously choose to compare my messes with those who have far worse troubles, when I choose to stop worrying about unfairness because my messes are no less fair than anyone else’s, and when I choose to find ways to take responsibility for my messes, I stop thinking like a victim.

And then—even amidst the messiness—I find all kinds of reasons to be grateful and to be happy.

 

 

What We Want

What makes us want what others have?

Competition plays a part. Feelings of “fairness” and envy have roles too.

I’ve noticed that lots of people get bothered by the “unfairness” when someone drives past where everyone else is trying to merge onto the highway and gets several cars ahead in line. That doesn’t bother me one bit. The guy might reach his destination a few seconds faster than me. So what? Even if it’s a full minute or two faster, it’s not worth getting frustrated or perturbed about (and it’s actually better for traffic-flow when not everyone is trying to jam in at the same place).

I rarely let anyone else affect my attitude. It’s the one thing over which I have absolute control. And it’s all about choices.

Do you wish you had someone else’s house, vacations, or income? I see clients and have friends with a lot of money. Having more doesn’t make them any happier than me. In fact, great wealth often brings its own problems. And I don’t know many people, richer or poorer, who are happier. I have learned how to be happy with whatever I have.

Again, it’s all about choices (and it involves choosing gratitude).

Even though I’m very competitive, I choose not to compare or to care about others getting or having more (even when it’s “undeserved”). When I want something more, I try to work harder or smarter. A very wise man (my father) gave me great advice when I was a young boy that stuck with me. He said,

“There will always be people with more than you and there will always be people with less. It doesn’t do you any good to compare yourself with others – compare yourself with your potential.”

When we do compare to others and feel like it’s “unfair,” we are choosing envy because we are choosing to “compare up” – that is, only comparing with those who have more, because if you’re reading this online there are literally hundreds of millions of people who have less. How “fair” is that?

Helen Keller (who I think was in the same graduating class with my father) once said,

“Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.”

And I’m pretty sure I’ve read somewhere that covetousness and envy are not necessarily “best practices.”

Maybe, just maybe, the “shalt nots” are not as much about limiting us but more about directing our choices for our own good … perhaps to find a peace that surpasses all understanding.

New Perspectives

This attempting to share different perspectives thing is tricky.

While I try to impart things I’ve garnered through a situation that I thought would leave me miserable, it’s not easy to convince people to consider new ways of seeing the world.

The counterintuitive nature of the new perspectives can disrupt worldviews that are influenced by popular narratives we all hear. I know that, for me, modifying my own worldview does not come easy.

Thursday’s, Friday’s, and Saturday’s posts are good examples of different perspectives on popular mindsets that took me a while to reach. But though I take issue with some common beliefs, I do not mean to be critical of those who’ve accepted them. It occurred to me that in laying out the reasons for rejecting those mindsets, some may take umbrage with my assertions.

It is not at all my intent to deride anyone who has not yet considered the different perspectives I advocate. My goal is only to get people to think about things in a slightly different way, and that requires challenging current narratives. I’m attempting to do that in a positive manner.

It is my sincere hope (and prayer) that, by sharing the things I’ve discovered over a difficult (but wonderful) journey which have led me to startling happiness, my posts can help enrich others’ lives.

That would make me even happier.