Holiday Emotions

holiday-emotions

I love this time of year. The holiday season brings out a lot of feelings and emotions. For some, it’s an enchanting time of year, but for others it’s a struggle. The joys of life seem amplified during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and ringing in the New Year, but the challenges in life can also seem overwhelming in this season. For those who are struggling, the Holidays can sometimes bring about the ultimate feeling of distress.

When people reach bottom and consider taking their own lives, they feel an inescapable desperation. I know because I was there when I broke my neck and the doctors told me I’d be paralyzed for the rest of my life. I don’t like to admit it, but I felt so desperate that I didn’t want to go on living. Though I’m ashamed to divulge that I was ready to end it all, I’m willing to share some thoughts here in case someone might share this post and provide a glimmer of hope to anyone battling thoughts of calling it quits, or just feeling incredibly downhearted while everyone else seems so happy.

First of all, things are not as bad as they seem. The eventual results are almost never as bad as we expect they will be. Somehow, we humans tend to make things out to be worse than they really are, and worse than they are likely to be. It’s fear of the unknown that builds the expectations of future happenings to be more daunting than reality. But when we’re overcome with sadness, anxiety, disappointment, or despair, we can’t see that our minds are playing tricks on us by making things out to be worse. We feel like there’s no way out or it will never get better.

Second, we are social animals so we tend to compare our lives with others.’ But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Most people put their best foot forward and won’t “air their dirty laundry” or share their sadness and struggles. While that’s a good thing for interpersonal relationships (no one likes to be around negativity), we need to remember that people’s lives are not as perfect as what we see shared in public, on social media, or in Christmas cards and the accompanying photos or letters. Everyone struggles, everyone has some adversity. Most of us just don’t broadcast our troubles, so it’s easy to get the false impression that “everyone” else’s life is better (especially when we give into envy and compare only with those who have more instead of seeking out those who have far less for our comparisons).

Third, we have to be aware that many around us benefit from making things seem a whole lot worse than they really are – and that the path of least resistance is to believe the excuses that they provide. Media, politicians, and special-interest advocates are very good at spin, to make others believe that those doing the spinning are needed.

Media hype is created with the intent of making viewers, listeners, and readers believe that they need to be vigilant audience members in order to stay apprised of “important” matters (it’s especially effective when they can create division and the perception that the “other side” is evil). Politicians pander to different constituencies by making people believe that the other candidate or party represents hatred or unfairness that will bring about all kinds of ruin unless the panderer is elected. And advocates for special-interest groups instill fear that other groups are out to get them and intent upon oppressing or exploiting their members, so they need to stand in “solidarity” opposing the forces hell-bent on their demise (this not only feeds divisive identity politics but also provides incentive for the advocates to ensure that little progress is made so that their “community” continues to rely on them).

With all of the skewed representations that life is “unfair” if it’s not perfect or our lives are devastatingly impacted by the “evil,” it’s no wonder people can begin to feel helpless and desperate. But if we stop and think about things from a slightly different perspective, things begin to look a whole lot brighter.

If we realize that our outlook is the product of choosing which thoughts we entertain – a choice that’s entirely up to us and no one else – we take the initial step in overcoming despondence or desperation. Then if we resist the destructive feelings of envy or jealousy and take a moment to count and be grateful for our many blessings that literally millions or billions of people could only dream of, we realize that life is not as unfair or as bad as it seems when our emotions run high. And when we acknowledge that the number one cause of disappointment is expectations, and accept that life will never be that perfect picture we have in our heads, we can focus on the abundance of wonderful things this imperfect world has to offer. Finally, if we reject the hype, the doomsday narratives, and the divisive rhetoric spewed from others who want us to believe things are a lot worse than they really are, we see that despite its inevitable sadness and loss, life offers so much more happiness and fulfillment if we choose to approach it with love and gratitude in our hearts.

Yeah, that sounds sappy, but it’s 100 percent true. I know because I was on the other side. Happy Holidays!

 

Thanks

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Many people are enduring the loss of loved ones – give thanks for the people who’ve enriched your life, both past and present.

Many people are suffering ailments or diseases with little hope – give thanks for all the healthy years and the ability to still enjoy what matters.

Many people are experiencing a high level of political angst or tension – give thanks for the power to vote and the freedom to make changes or leave if things get unbearable.

Many people are troubled by the inequities of life – give thanks for the quality of American life that is the envy of millions or billions from other nations.

Many people are distraught over imperfections in this world that bring sadness and despair – give thanks for so much more good than bad, and the promise of the afterlife.

Life on Earth is not fair, perfect, or without adversity; it never will be. But we have an amazing gift: the ability to choose how we respond. We can wallow in the bad or celebrate the good. The happiest people are those who choose to be thankful.

I thank God for the multitude of blessings in my life as well as the struggles and the strength to overcome.

 

 

Is Hate Ever Justified?

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Have you noticed a lot more hate lately?

Over the past decade or so we’ve at least heard plenty more accusations of “hate.” But let’s unpack this seemingly ubiquitous phenomenon that is one of the newly identified ways to claim the mantle of “victim.”

Hatred and evil will always exist among us imperfect beings in this imperfect earthly world, right? But any recently observed uptick in the existence of hate can be tied to two identified factors. One, the increase in the willingness to label someone “hateful” or a “hater” that comes from the realization that hate-labeling can result in power or control. And, two, the narratives that say hate in response to hate is “justified.”

In our so-called politically correct society, “haters” are now more despised than people who commit actual crimes, and according to the “Social Justice Warriors,” hating someone who is portrayed as a hater is acceptable. Why? If someone supposedly hates you, how does that harm you if there is no acting out on the hatred? It’s my contention that “hating back” or “hating someone who hates” is far more self-destructive than being hated.

Clearly, crimes against humanity such as the Holocaust were horrific actions motivated by a level of hatred that’s difficult to fathom or even acknowledge. We deplore such actions and the hatred that motivates them. It’s unsettling to recognize the existence of such intense hate in fellow-humans, so we prefer not to think about it. And, as a way of coping by thinking we can control or eliminate it, we want to punish hate when we do see it, or when we see something close. We even assign enhanced sentences for so-called hate-crimes, though the victims of the crimes are no more dead or harmed than the victims of the same crimes that are not motivated by hate.

The castigation of hate is an easy bandwagon to jump on. It’s not reasonable to defend hate, and trying to justify hatred is unsupportable (though, ironically, we’ve seen more of it). More enticing though is that condemning hate also gives people a feeling of moral superiority – or the appearance of it. This is especially true when entire populations of adults can be infantilized and portrayed as less able to handle the imperfect human condition, and as victims of hate or verbal “bullying.”

Naturally, then, regular folks who want to feel better about themselves, or the media, politicians, celebrities, special interest advocates, lawyers, and others who benefit from publicly looking better to others, find incentive to turn more and more people into victims of hate and bullying in order to champion their “cause.” Unfortunately, many who have the most incentive to divide people and profit from that division are opinion leaders and trendsetters because of their fame or positions of influence.

The corresponding negative result of the inducements to create victims of hate so that they can be protected or championed is threefold. First, using the “hate” label as a weapon has dramatically increased in popularity as the threshold for hate-labeling has steadily dropped. Second, many in the populations who are supposedly protected from hate by their “champions” feel distraught or desperate and make bad life-decisions due to the belief that the world is out to get them or the deck is stacked against them. And, third, identity politics has divisiveness on the rise.

At this point in our history, if someone doesn’t agree with a particular cause, they are readily branded as a “hater,” sometimes with dire consequences. For example, the gay marriage issue has (at least) two reasonable sides. One side says gay couples should be treated the same as heterosexual couples, the other side says the age-old institution of marriage should not be redefined to validate gay unions but some laws should be changed to allow for the same treatment as married couples in terms of taxes, survival benefits, visitation privileges, and other ways. In fact, the vast majority of Americans believed that the latter position was right and good. But then the hate-label weapon was utilized to say that anyone who didn’t think marriage should be redefined must hate gays and therefore is an awful person. It worked. One widely-publicized repercussion came when the CEO of Mozilla (the maker of the Firefox internet browser) made a small donation in support of California’s Proposition 8, the ballot issue that passed with broad support in California defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. When a dating website painted the CEO a “hater” and wished for Mozilla’s failure, there were many blistering, hateful responses directed at him and he eventually was forced to resign. You may also recall the vitriolic backlash against Chik-fil-A because its owner held a similar position about marriage that people were saying was a “victimization” of gays and lesbians. Other recently claimed victim statuses, such as victims of “privilege,” “man ’splaining,” “triggering,” “micro-aggressions,” being “offended,” and more are also used by people to position groups as victims of hate, in order to get what they want.

Because so many people quickly scramble to publicly condemn alleged hate (often without substantiation or critical analysis), the tactic of hate-labeling has worked for many “causes” to silence others, and to gain power and control. The manipulators even say things like, “we have an obligation to speak up.” Oh really, you’re obligated to publicly judge without all the facts? Isn’t that supposed to be what the Social Justice movement opposes?

So, yes, we’re seeing more allegations of hatred and more hatred of people because they allegedly hate (let that sink in a while). But the “victim card” is starting to be seen as overplayed. How are Social Justice Warriors able to magically see into people’s hearts and minds in order to judge them as “haters?” And how is equating folks with “Hitler,” because they disagree, a consistent or reasonable approach? Does sanctimony justify vilifying people and attacking their livelihoods? Is it consistent with their pious proclamation that “love trumps hate?”

It’s not easy to find the positive in the divisive trend of hate-labeling. But the hopefully waning effectiveness is one potential bright spot. Because, as we’ve seen, it can not only be harmful to the hate-label targets, but also the people who believe that hate is the motivating factor for any views that are contrary to their own. The “cry-ins,” canceling classes, and canceling exams, following our national election are Exhibits A, B, & C for hate eating people up internally.

While many people – college students especially – have demanded “safe spaces” in which they believe they have a “right” to be shielded from ideas they don’t like or anything they find “offensive,” that kind of protectionist coddling does them no favors. When anyone comes to believe that something not turning out the way they want is reason for extended protests, riots,  flag-burning, and emotional meltdowns, these are Exhibits D, E, F & G for the proposition that “Political Correctness” and “Social Justice Warriors” have created a dangerous, victim mindset that is defined by fear (which is often unsupported). That kind of perspective helps no one (except those who rise to power, and/or profit from, cultivating the victim mentality and promising to advocate for the “marginalized”).

While I think the apoplectic crying and demonstrations attempting to change the result after a presidential election are ridiculous and devoid of maturity, I want only to help them see the light. A great many of these protestors and rioters, as well as social-media commenters, are motivated by their admitted hatred/loathing of Donald Trump. Hate is never justified, never the answer. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve read that, “Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

Overcome Election Day Angst

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It’s frustrating, I know.

This election cycle has been especially contentious and bitter. The frustration is palpable and it too often manifests in nasty words and actions. Fellow-Americans shouting over one another, name-calling, defriending, and worse. Physical personal attacks and destruction of property.

It’s because we have to justify in our own heads the choice we make, whether to vote for one of the two less-than-stellar candidates, or to waste our vote, either by not participating or voting for someone with zero chance of winning.

None of the options feels good, so the normal human response is to vilify the other options. Unfortunately, that can include vilifying or deriding the people who choose the other options. And that causes not only divisiveness but also internal angst because we know our own choice is not great either.

It sucks when there are no great choices. It has the effect of making us feel helpless. When we feel helpless, we can begin to feel like victims. We start to blame others for “this mess” and we find comfort in sharing the woundedness we feel with people who blame the same “others.”

But we don’t have to feel like victims. Even though we don’t like our choices and could feel disappointed either way after the election, we can still take heart in some positives that seem to have been forgotten.

(1) We live in a country where we get to choose those who govern us. Hundreds of millions live in countries where they have no say in who rules them; who can take their property, their liberty, and even their body parts or their lives. We are blessed, not only at this point in time but also as compared to the billions who’ve inhabited the planet throughout history.

(2) Though it’s easy to consider the result (and the process) as evincing “moral decay,” the world as we know it assuredly will not end in the next four years.

(3) If we don’t like how the media report or influence politics, we can choose not to watch, listen to, or read the worst offenders and eventually they’ll get the message or go out of business.

(4) We can choose to wallow in the frustration of the helplessness we feel or we can make up our minds to change how we vote and change who we support. If we focus our politics not on getting what we want but on moving the country to where we are not so reliant on the government and government does not affect us so much, then when we have to make a choice between three bad options (you know it will happen again) the choice is not such a big deal.

Yeah, this election is not our best. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be.

 

Share this if you think it will help someone.

Inspirations

scooter-robin

Let me share some great news and an inspiring story about a man and a woman who refused to be victims.

Scooter is a man who “everyone” loves. He’s got an easy way about him that just plain makes people feel good. He’s engaging, friendly, funny, and genuinely caring. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of sitting next to him at our beloved Jayhawks Men’s Basketball games for the majority of the more than 25 consecutive years I’ve had season tickets (I’ve lost track of the actual numbers). I’m honored to call Scooter a friend and equally honored to call his lovely and charming wife Robin a friend too.

30 years ago, Scooter was going to play college basketball and hoped to get into coaching. But then he broke his neck and was paralyzed in a freak accident. It’s not easy for him to use his hands to dress himself and push his wheelchair around, but that hasn’t stopped him.

Dr. Scooter Ward (his real name is Scott but no one calls him that – except maybe his mom and himself) has his Ph.D in Sports Psychology and Counseling. Scooter is an Associate Athletic Director at the University of Kansas, serving as the academics advisor to the Men’s Basketball and Women’s Volleyball teams. He’s won awards for his work and his teams have crazy-high graduation rates. He also teaches. His former students and student-athletes line up to see Scooter every game.

I’m glad I sit next to Scooter and it’s not just because we have sweet tickets. He’s one of the few people I know in a wheelchair who isn’t bitter or pitiful (the wheelchair sections at most venues can be depressing, with a lot of victim mentality). Scooter isn’t a victim, he embraces life, adds value to the world, and he loves and enjoys people. He doesn’t dwell on what his life could have been or on the things he can’t do that other folks can. He’s got a very positive outlook and he’s a pleasure to be around. Scoot and his cute wife Robin seem very happy.

Recently, we almost lost Scooter. He had a Grade A tear in his ascending Aorta. Grade A, in this case, was not a good thing. It was a sizeable hole in humans’ largest artery supplying blood to Scooter’s brain and rest of his body. Blood was pumping from his heart but not all of it was getting to his head; he was bleeding into his chest and soon lost consciousness.

Fortunately, Robin acted quickly. She called 911 and managed to get Scooter from his chair to the floor to do CPR chest compressions until the paramedics arrived and tapped her on the shoulder to let her know they had it from there. Even with the medical professionals on site, though, it was a miracle Scooter survived. After they got him to the hospital and hours of tests and scans, hospital staff didn’t know what it was. But they knew it was bad. And at least one doctor had pretty much given up hope that Scooter would make it – or if he did pull through that he would be able to talk or even think.

Luckily, Robin made the decision to have Scooter taken right away by helicopter to KU Med in Kansas City. By then, word of Scooter’s condition was spreading like wildfire among the Wards’ vast network of friends and people who care very much for them. The prayers began to fly. When they rushed him into surgery and opened Scooter’s chest, his surgeon found that his aorta was badly torn and he had to squeeze Scooter’s heart with his hand to pump the blood. Days after the surgery, the surgeon told Scooter that if they had waited just 15 minutes longer, the aorta would have been “shredded” and it would have been all over. He also said that almost no one survives an aortic tear as bad as Scooter’s – certainly not with full cognitive and mental capacity.

But I’m exceedingly happy to report that he is back to his old self, cracking wise and flashing his trademark contagious grin. Neither Robin nor Scooter quit. They didn’t play the victim and give up, so they will likely enjoy many more happy years together. He just needs to stay in a power wheelchair for a couple of weeks of “sternal precautions” and not push his own chair or transfer himself so the wires holding his sternum together while it heals don’t pull through his breastbone. Ouch.

Robin said recently about the ordeal, “There were a lot of people praying, and that made all the difference.” That made me think about the It’s A Wonderful Life scene where heaven was getting a lot of prayers for a man named George Bailey and decided to send his guardian angel. As their dentist buddy Justin put it, “You don’t get the same result without all the prayers and without the toughness Scooter has developed by overcoming his unusual situation. His best days are way harder than my worst days.”

Scooter and Robin are both modest, but there’s no question in my mind that their choosing to face adversity without adopting the victim mentality, in this situation and life in general, are key to both Scooter’s amazing recovery and their happiness. A happiness that is reflected in their faces and in the many people who love them … and who pray for them.