Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

My desire to stay informed is directly challenged by my desire to stay sane.

Variations of the quote above have been floating around for quite some time, but in recent times (mainly driven by our political cycle for me), it has been ringing around in my head more and more.

For well over a decade I have gotten out of the habit of watching the nightly news that my parents had ingrained in me throughout my childhood.  When I left home and went out on my own, for a few years, I kept up this habit, but over time determined that the negativity and that outright spin and omission that drove every reporter to have you see things their way was a problem.  Somewhere in here I read “the Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker (a book I highly recommend) and he had an epilogue in the book that really resonated with me, basically centered around the fact that the news industry is successful because they create artificial fear, worry and anxiety.  Removing this negativity from your life was something he preached to learn to actually know what to be fearful of.

Lately, as we have moved to the land of cord cutters and had less to watch, for some reason I started up on one nightly new program again.  After trying this for several weeks (and coupled with the fact that I am driving my wife nuts by not watching these news reports when they appear on our streaming service, already a day or two late, but binge watch them every couple weeks, so we are seeing very old news) it has started to bring back all those irrational concerns and skepticism and therefore I am going to remove this from our repertoire and go back to looking things up that I need to know about on the internet but staying away from all the sensationalism and junk.

A new temptation in this space are these new “reality crime dramas”.  The one we got sucked in to was “Making a Murderer”.  I was reluctant to delve into this as I thought it would be something similar; just a prolonged news story edited in such a way to cause fear, trepidation and panic in the viewing public about just how messed up the system is.  I found myself four episodes in to the ten episode series knowing where things were headed and really asking myself do I want to burn another six hours of my life to keep watching a highly edited train wreck.  After talking it over with my wife we decided we had already invested four hours of our life, so we might as well get the full payoff, a sentiment I’m sure was heavily discussed in the board room of Netflix when they were pitched the series.  “Most viewers will feel like they are getting the same information over and over by the mid point of the series and will see that we are painting a picture of Steven Avery as a tragically wronged soul, but we promise the series is just compelling enough to drag viewers into finishing it”.  My challenge with this logic is that had this been network TV, there would be ad dollars at stake to suck viewers in and make them stay.  I can see this with the FX American Crime Story that just started yesterday, I believe, and will have commercials to sell.  Netflix, however, does not make money by ads, but they already have it by subscriptions.  I suppose if they get me to keep burning hours watching things I should walk away from because I feel invested, that gets me further down the road to the next payment, when I can find something else to watch, so I suppose it works.  Thing is there are other shows on Netflix, like House of Cards or Orange Is The New Black that I KNOW are more entertaining than Making a Murderer, but that desire to stay informed won out over the desire to stay sane.  Maybe, I told myself, since this is a documentary, they will give me some great insight into how reforms are coming in the justice system to change it for the better.  Nope.

This all comes at an interesting time in my life.  I am having to find a new job, and in the last few days have been blessed with a lot of solid activity that now has me in the middle of four, marginally five, solid opportunities.  One of these is the typical, good job at a good company that could turn into a good career, and another is a really interesting company that really pulls at my soul as a thing I would love to be a part of but it is smaller, lots of remote staff and for all intents and purposes a start-up, at least for my department that I would be leading even though the company has been around for decades.  As I really step back and pray for guidance it slowly came to me that this impact of regenerating this fear and worry from getting back into edited and canned news is having an impact on things like deciding what truly is the best choice for a job.  Since the one opportunity is in a travel space I started taking the news of the Zika virus and all the hype around it and asking if it would impact this company and should I therefore stay away from it, but calmer, prayerful reflection showed me that that was not a sane response because the issues that are caused by Zika are really not ones that the target customers would be upset about.  If I had instead used a method of just learning about the real threats of Zika from a solid article versus the overhyped reporting showing the same three infants born with microcephaly over and over, my reaction would have certainly been less visceral.

It is this challenge that we need to guard against to keep our sanity, exactly as the lead quote indicates.  We need to find way to stay informed, but to do so in a way that is not effecting our ability to be rational.  We are constantly drawn to feel like if we are not informed we are somehow less, but I feel that is a societal pressure and not an actual reality.  We are made to feel like “what you did not hear what happened yesterday?” and that makes us feel inferior to the individual that is asking.  Are we really inferior?  No.  We can get informed in a few minutes from sources that we choose that are less entertainment and marketing driven.  It is this inferiority that led my wife to add a CNN notifier app to her phone, and me to think that watching news again, even if it is late, was somehow worthwhile.  It is not.  I can go out, as I had for over a decade and check a few sites to see what I might need to know about.  I can listen to conversations I have with others and if something peeks my interest, only then will I take time to go learn about it rather than have some news cycle determine for me what I should be informed about because they can make a sensational story about it.  I pray that in general my fellow countrymen will do the same thing as we move into a formal election cycle for an individual that can be our national guidepost for the next eight years as the world gets more and more complex, and when spun by the proper producer and director like in “Making a Murderer” or any nightly or weekly news show we can find, can cause us to lose our humanity and devolve into the fear and irrational behavior of frightened animals.

We all need to stay sane, and the first step in that is to understand the things that make it hard to do so. I’ll be removing these news programs from our cycle again, and we can dig into what we need.  This has been a blessing moving to streaming services has produced in that I can’t always get what I “want”.  American Crime Story is not appearing on Hulu.  I have been saved from my weaker self.  I’m pretty sure when I am looking for something good to watch later, this will not rise to the top of my list.

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Over the last few weeks the United States has been going through some interesting discussions.  We have home some really terrible incidents in the last few months and many have gone through the justice system and the results have caused major unrest result in protests, some peaceful, but many not and riots, which by their very nature are not meant to be peaceful.  For those unfamiliar with the situation (I know I have many followers from outside the US) these incidents involve how police handled situations with people like Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others.

I have often talked about our God-given expectations in our role as parents.  One of the most important is guiding our children to interpret and understand the world through the proper lenses.  Certainly my greatest hope is the first lens that my children will see through is God’s, however they may choose to discard that lens, so the next lens I can provide is that of basic decency and morality.  While I certainly have a Christian lens, for this discussion I am going to move from that to something I hope more people can accept, which is that second level, because I believe the topic at hand is important enough that I do not want to lose people who just do not want to read another discussion of what Scripture says.

As parents I believe it is a common wish to have our offspring be successful as they move through life and we try to equip them with this.  As a parent how I discuss incidents like these with my kids will determine how they frame their judgments the rest of their lives.  It will train them which lenses to use.

In the incidents at hand, there is a crucial question, certainly, but I think that too many in America have made it the wrong question because they have labeled these problems as having primarily a racial element, and I firmly disagree with that.  I believe to frame them that way clouds the discussion to the point of not addressing the real question, which is what must be done to hold authority figures (police officers) accountable for their actions when those actions exceed what would be considered reasonable and customary?  Saying that Michael Brown or Eric Garner were killed because the officers were white and they were black is not right.  They were killed, at least in Garner’s case, because the officers in question used poor restraint and judgment.

The officers involved in Garner’s case used a banned method of restraint.  To me this is the fundamental problem.  Garner died because an officer choked him to death.  He did not die because the officer was white.  I am not going to discuss what the consequences of this action should be for that officer.  That is for the authorities to decide, but what I have a problem with is that there should be some consequences when someone, regardless of position does something wrong.  This is my problem with diplomatic immunity extending to possibly allowing a homicide to occur because of someone’s status and no consequences being applied.  The situation is similar to a police officer being “immune” as well.  This is what I do feel was broken in this case.  I think using the race lens and protesting and rioting because of black and white relations is so disrespectful to people that it makes my heart ache.  Were there race issues in this country?  Unquestionably.  Are there still some today?  Certainly.  However, they are much improved over where they were 150 years ago, 50 years ago and even 25 years ago.  When I was in college my parents would still openly use the N word.  Today, while they may still think that in their heart, they do not utter it and they get upset when others do.  I do think we have a generation or two until this nearly vanishes from a daily concern, but the point is it gets less and less every day and prominent people like Chris Rock and others in that community have publically stated that as well.  By turning these incidents into black versus white, or anyone versus anyone we are creating natural defensiveness of entire groups.  When my black friends discuss this in those terms it makes it hard for me to truly talk about it and vice versa.  It is not a color issue, it is a people and relationship issue.  Is it ever right for a police officer to choke someone?  If the answer is no, then we need to focus on that problem and not cloud it with race.  This is what I hope everyone, including my kids, understands.

Now let’s look at another problem in these cases, using the Brown incident as our back drop.  Was what Brown did worthy of his death?  Again, that is not for me to opine on.  I was not there, I do not have all the facts.  What I have heard is that he was acting is a belligerent way at some point and the officer felt threatened.  This is the root of the situation as well.  Garner was doing something illegal.  Again, if people want to argue about if selling the type of cigarettes he was selling should be illegal or not, there are forums for that, but it will not be changed by yelling and screaming and rioting.  That just shows that proper, peaceful discourse is not a method of dialogue used by those making that choice and so their opinions are discounted because of the violence used.  Does anyone seriously want to make the argument that the right way to get someone to change is to violently force them to do so?  Should we wrestle or co-workers to the ground in a meeting or pull a weapon on them in the hallway because they want to do a project task in a manner different than we would?  If that example is obviously stupid, then why do we feel this is the right way to change a community?  Sadly, I think the lens these people were given by their parents or others was that violence is the way to get heard.  You do get heard; in the same way that Eric Garner and Michael Brown were heard.  Once you start yelling, screaming and threatening all the person or people you are attacking focus on are your behavior, not your goal.  No matter how much Garner or Brown thought they were in the right, arguing with a police officer who legally has the right to detain you and arrest you is not the answer.  Sadly, these men lost their lives doing that and investigations of these incidents were done, but I believe the fact that the focus of the public was diverted to race made it impossible to really address the problem.

Why?  Because of the fear of what strong discipline in these cases would mean.  It now became clouded with white and black instead of just being about right and wrong.  I do not care what color Eric Garner was.  What the police officer chose to do was wrong and there need to be consequences for that.  I do not care what color Michael Brown was, I care that he was aggressive to a police officer.  I do not feel he should have lost his life for it but I was not the officer faced with the situation.  We need to fix the abuse of authority in these cases.  I hope we can see our way clear to do that, and I hope all our children can get past the clouds of the race issues of the past and see what is really broken.  When we see injustice because of race we should certainly speak up, but we need to stop coloring what should not be colored.

In the end I do feel that the officers should have to respond for their actions.  In the Brown case, I believe that was done to some degree especially since the officer resigned.  In my mind, not knowing that situation, I’m not sure if he made the right choice.  Trust is shaken and in a profession where we need to trust that man, he realized he could no succeed and so will now choose another career.  In the NYPD case with Garner, I have not seen any consequences so this needs to be fixed.   The LAPD wrestled a woman to the ground a few months ago because she was on her cell phone while driving.  It is being investigated.  This is good.  People need to be responsible as so clearly stated in the video by Charles Patrick.  Let’s all try to be more responsible for ourselves today.

For the last several months I’ve been navigating through a new era in our household.  Marcia turned 16 earlier this year and we have been trying to get her into the workforce.  After getting immersed in this for the last five months it has been very eye-opening to me how much has truly changed, and sadly not for the better, since I was at that same age about three decades ago.  When I as a parent with a lot more understanding of what America is supposed to represent and allow have a hard time finding the silver lining, how is a sixteen year old kid who is learning to navigate the rocky road ahead supposed to feel upbeat?  The promise of anything is possible is no longer engaged in our schools, our workplaces or our country.  We have become a nation of robots, to use a term one of my colleagues mentioned at work today, this place has lost any soul.

I had been reading for the last few years the unemployment numbers in the 16-24 demographic and thinking it was typical media hype trying to raise the bogey man where things might not be so bad.  Just as if you watch the news and just take it at face value you might be afraid to leave your house assuming you’d be murdered while getting your identity stolen and being injected with heroin, I thought what can be so hard about getting an entry-level job at minimum wage when you come of age?

Well, what I’ve seen in the last few months has been interesting.  A lot of my information comes from just paying more attention to the actual situation; using my skills honed with three decades in the workplace to trying to figure out how to get a job by trying to place myself in a sixteen year old skin but with my experience baked in.  When I was working the only person over 25 on the McDonald’s crew was the manager.  Now the only person under 25 might be the customer on the other side of the counter.  It is staggering.  In a typical 10 person crew you used to have 9 teens or college students and 1 “adult”.  That ratio regularly appears to be about 8 adults to 2 work force newbies and as I said sometimes I walk in and see a whole crew of elderly folks.  So strike fast food off as an easy place to score a job for Marcia.

I cut my teeth in retail and grocery.  Surely that will be better.  Baggers no longer exist (that was my first job at the local grocery store) and even though my local stores still boast about 75% checkout lanes that need a human worker to 25% that only need the customer to do the self checkout, what is actually open on any given day you go into the store?  All the self checkout lanes (usually 4-8) and 1-2 humans required.  I went to the 24 hour grocery store around 11:30 earlier this week.  If I was afraid of computers I’d be going home with no food because my only option was the 7 self checkout lanes.  There was one person monitoring them, but not a single cashier.  I had a week’s worth of grocery shopping, not something I’d normally go through the self check for, but I had no choice, and also meant less job opportunities.  In my days at K-Mart through high school, every department was staffed by one full timer and then 3-8 part timers, 85% of which were high schoolers.  Today, try to even find someone working in the store to ask a question.  And just as at McDonald’s the demographic of those workers are adults as jobs have become scarce.  Retail looks pretty sad as a prospect for Marcia as well.

The next segment was restaurants.  The only option open to my daughter is hostess/busser or dishwasher.  Servers no longer can be younger because the bar is not staffed to allow drinks to be delivered by someone there which would make the age requirement go away for a server to be of drinking age or close to it.  (Where we live, I found out through my daughter that if you are 19 you can serve liquor though our drinking age is 21.  Where I grew up it was all 21).  You have one hostess a shift in most places and perhaps 2-3 bussers and maybe a couple dishwashers.  Again, the pool of available jobs continue to experience a giant sucking sound.

The process itself has shifted even in the last 5-10 years.  You used to be able to walk into an establishment, fill out an app, and usually be interviewed on the spot and at times offered a job.  Now most places simply say, fill it out online.  I sat with my daughter for these applications.  It takes a good hour to fill out one app due to all the personality questions and situational scenarios they have.  The Buffalo Wild Wings test was so complex I had to re-read the 80 or so questions multiple times to make sure they were not tricking me, which in fact at times they were, making the “right” answer on the scale actually be strongly disagree than strongly agree.  It’s hard enough for a kid with no job experience to find a job, do we need to make it so excruciatingly difficult to even apply that most of the hope is removed?  She also does not have the opportunity to talk to a human being, to make a connection, to show that she can speak without “umming” herself to death, can look you in the eye and all the other aspects of human interaction that have landed me jobs over my career.

Now I do not want to say the only problems with my daughter finding a job are the system.  She does not apply herself to the process as much as I think  she should, taking on the millennial generation view of work taking much less importance in her life (on that same BWW test she would only answer agree to questions that were clearly designed to see if she would put work over personal time demands).  I’ve talked with her about this and I do think it will cause her to have some problems, but I do see a lot of her peers exhibiting the same attitude.  On the other hand, I did not have to deal with my job hunting experience being sitting at a desk and using Google.  I got to drive from one place to another, ask for the manager and actually get an interview or two on the spot from two out of five attempts.  I ended up finding her a couple sites that seemed to have some aides for teen job hunters like teens4hire and snagajob.  Those appeared more promising but that’s where she still entered into the Buffalo Wild Wings nightmare of an hour long application with a lot of questions that do not pertain to someone with no job experience.  You ask the persons birthdate and/or age right up front on most of these.  Is it so hard to not demand information someone who has not worked would not have, like the last five years of employment?  I especially likes the Subway application that asked if she was over or under 40, and proceeded to not allow her to actually complete the application if under 40 due to a bug that would not allow her to submit her final application saying that her birthday in 1998 indicated she was over 40 and could not proceed beyond this point.  I tried for 20 minutes to find a way she could apply with no success.  The store had flat-out told us they accept no in person applications.  They still have the same help wanted sign out that they did three months ago.  Is it a wonder why?

Another source of jobs, helping your neighbors has all but vanished as people become less community oriented.  Ever notice that I when you move into a new neighborhood the only way to meet your new neighbors is to camp out on their driveway and intercept them on the way into their garage?  Once they pull in and close the door most neighborhoods are like a ghost town.  You’d be hard pressed to know any people actually existed.  Our daughters tried for many months to hire out as babysitters.  They received a call or two in a year.  Lawn mowing is done by a million landscaping services instead of allowing the kid with an old mower to walk around the neighborhood and charge $10 a lawn, thereby usually making a modest $10/hour.  This culture of fearing our neighbor and becoming most closed off and suspicious of everyone has made it virtually impossible for jobs to be available on a door to door basis.  Think about how often you see a little kid out on the street with a lemonade stand anymore.  I can’t remember the last time I saw one.  No one’s out to buy the lemonade.

So my daughter is faced with a world that still needs her to have money, but that has made it very, very difficult for her to get it.  I had a job in three days six weeks before I was 16, and have been lucky enough to only be unemployed for one stint of 10 weeks in nearly 30 years.  Looking at people’s resumes and seeing the challenges my daughter faces now being 16 ¼ and still not even having been called in for an interview makes me understand her reality will be very different.  As we as a country have created this dynamic we push back wage earning, which pushes back consuming, which pushes back home ownership or home renting and car ownership which drags down the economy which pushes all these things back further.  I love this country and it saddens me to see this decline in the fortunes of our young people because I am educated enough about economics to know that is means very bad things for all of us.  How will these people be prepared to take over the higher jobs in a career path, when they can’t even get on the path to begin with?  What will be the impact on the tax base when higher costs of services are paid for by fewer workers?  I was able to go to a great private college for $6,500 per year.  That same college for the class entering 2013 is $33,390 per year.  I left college and got a job for $30,000/year.  Those students who leave college in 2017 will not be getting a job offer for $154,107 to keep pace with their tuition increase, they will have jobs open to them averaging around…… wait for it….   $30,000 per year!   And that’s assuming they can find a job.  The barriers my daughter and the rest of our kids and all the kids in America face are staggering.  The only mention I hear of the American dream anymore is in stories about how it is lost.  I honestly would not be surprised if I asked my kids and they said they had never heard the term.  In my household and my family growing up I know it well.  We were a family of immigrants and the opportunities that had afforded us the ability to sit around at the Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter table and talk about the American dream, were a direct result of it.  My father who had barely finished high school and could barely speak English would not even get a call for an interview for the same machine shop job he started at today.  It’s not because the job has any different skills.  The job in the manufacturing company I work at is nearly identical to the job he had at 18.  We’ve added complexity to the job market that does not need to be there and we’ve removed hope from an entire middle class in this country that our kids may never reach because they can’t even get a job at 16.  All I can do is encourage my daughter to keep applying but I know her frustration as the calls do not come and the process gets more tedious.  We’ve all lived it applying for jobs but we at least have had jobs for years before.  Our state does not allow her to not carry car insurance even though she does not own a car and could certainly not drive anywhere.  So she has adult bills, but she can’t get an adult job.  I have to foot those bills right now because she has no income and no choice to have the bill or not.  This isn’t a cell phone or a video game, it’s a government mandated service from a government that is doing very little to improve her prospects of becoming a wage earning citizen.  She’s not looking to be on the government dole.  She understands work is many times boring and you stick with it.  Does she have quirks and traits that might not make her the perfect employee?  Sure, but we all do.  Would I as a hiring manager label her unemployable?  Definitely not.  She is bright, articulate and healthy.  She wants a job for the same reasons we did at her age, to gain some independence and have some money to spend with her friends.   However, the adults that ran the world before her someone screwed it up in such a way that all the “easy” ways open to us to go out and start making $3.50/hour are gone and those that are left are taken up by people who can’t retire or find good jobs outside the traditional teen workplaces once again because of adults who screwed up and can’t find a way to make the economy work again.  We spend more time and energy looking for a plane that will never be found than on trying to fix problems that actually have some possibility of being solved.  I try to maintain a positive outlook for my kids on their future but I have to do it knowing full well that I feel I am feeding them a line of crap.  When my parents told me what a great future I would have it was easy to believe because they believed it and because the world around it was delivering it.  We need to figure out how to right the ship or we are all going to go down with it.  It’s like the ferry that sunk recently.  All the adults worried about themselves and let a ferry full of kids drown.  As I watch my daughter struggle to get going in life I feel that’s what we’ve done with the American economy.

The cycle of life

Posted: September 24, 2013 in Controversial, Kids, Parenting, Random

In relation to my last post, a friend and I engaged in a discussion that ties directly to my concerns of what kids learn from situations.  He shared with me an ongoing discussion he has had over the years about how is it that some people, more specifically families, tend to get locked into this cycle of success or failure.

Let me share some examples.  He knows two doctors and they had three children.  All of them also became doctors.  All five of them are wildly successful in their field and in life.  There is no reason to assume that the children of this generation of that family will not have similar success stories.  Many of us, him included, know many families who seem no matter what they do stay mired in poverty or near poverty and their children do the same and the cycle continues.

The question was talked around was what seems to be the root cause of this, and over the course of several conversations the best answer we could seem to arrive at with any evidence is that it all stems from the choices made at critical junctures and this drove to the general character of the individuals making the choices and how those traits were passed down from parents to children because they were modeled.

So for the doctors, they placed an emphasis on education, on bettering themselves and their community, on thinking of other than self, and it appears that their children learned those same values.  On the other hand, when people are focused on self, on living for the here and now, on not caring what happens to others, those values can be passed down to the kids as well.  The latest discussion about this was related to the recent incident with Nan that I talked about last time, and how her focus on self-centered decisions appears to have locked her into a very sad state of reality.  She has no degree, she now has four kids, and she is in a relationship with someone who has a serious inability to make good decisions, which will only hurt her further.  He has not paid taxes in over ten years as she found out when the IRS went after him and he’s had drunk driving issues and other problems that show where his focus is.

It is difficult in these discussions, both my friend and I agreed, to not immediately sound elitist.  To fit into that mold that the 99%ers scream about (we are not in the 1% by the way, so we would fall into that 99% yet seem to not think with the herd) of the rich who just focus on getting richer.  However, is that the case or is it more that we just focus on what are rewarded as less than poor choices.  Those families that succeed do so through a lot of hard work contrary to what the lower income wage earners believe.  I do well enough and it is hard.  I do not sit around and eat caviar and have women give me massages all day while I sip cocktails by the pool and through some miracle money keeps pouring in.  I go to work every day just like everyone else and struggle with problems that need solving, I simply solve those problems with what appears to be a different mindset.

I had plenty of those friends who went to work and then came home and complained about the “man” and how unfair it was.  I chose not to get sucked into that philosophy in large part because my parents did not share it, so it seems to go with the theory of my friend that success breeds success and failure breeds failure.  I do not know the answer, but it makes for an interesting discussion especially when you look around at those you know and see how often it seems to correlate.  One of my uncles fell into the “woe is me” mold and married a woman who was similar.  She had two children from a prior marriage to what seemed like a similar negative man, and those kids have done not much of anything with their lives.  So the single biggest decision for the success of your kids seems to be in whom you select to raise them with.

So this led to an interesting digression on a situation such as mine where they have what appears to be a mix of both households, ours leaning towards success, and both others leaning towards significant failure.  Poor choices have led to no degrees at an advanced age and therefore limited career prospects.  Further choices of not wanting to actually work for a living but instead wanting to grumble about how unfair life is pervade both Bert’s and Nan’s household.  While only one point of reference my friend feels that just having the example available in our household will be enough because we’ve never met anyone who says I want to be poor and never try or amount to anything when they have a choice.  It just sadly appears that the reality of if you have a choice seems itself to be a choice.  When all that is modeled is that the weight of the world is too great and that there is nothing you can do about it, kids seem to learn that is accurate and do not even try.  I’m not sure if this is all true, as I still see examples in our kids of them picking up on the easy lifestyle on the other side and not just gravitating to the promise of success through hard work and dedication.

My friend also felt that having a traditional household versus a single parent also played a large part in setting those beliefs.  He cited some study he had read that indicated the Nan’s daughter has about a 5% chance to not live in the same situation Nan finds herself in.  No idea if that’s accurate but just food for thought.  His point was that in analyzing the study it came down to what I talked about in the beginning, it’s not so much the physical family situation for are in that determines your future prospects it is more the mental situation.  Being positive, willing to try and not give up and not make selfish short sighted decisions sets you up for success over time.

My friend and I continued to talk about if this perspective was more a result of our success or of our age and seeing things more clearly, and we both felt it was the latter.  You just have more examples of dozens or hundreds of people we have known that we can directly understand versus a much more limited pool when we were in high school or college.  We’ve got experience with people from other countries and not just our own families.  Older people are not just wiser because they are older, it is because of the accumulated experience they have lived through that is not able to be replaced by theory.  Life is hard and it is hard for all of us.   The proverbial silver spoon is a myth except for a very small handful like the royal family of England.  Even the kids of rich people in this country struggle if they do not develop a work ethic.  What I don’t have a lot of are children of divorce and which household they pull their success or failure from.  That’s what concerns me most and where my focus is now.

How well do you know me?

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Communication, Fun, Random

Last week I came across a Facebook posting on a friend’s page that talked about the changes in the world, specifically around communication, more specifically the cell phone and what the world was like for those of us over the age of 40.  It referred to things like not knowing who was calling until you picked up the phone, about actually having to be home to get an important phone call and about how we had to actually write on letter with paper and pen, then package it up in an envelope, walk to a mailbox and wait several days for the recipient to get it versus the nearly instantaneous possibilities of e-mail.

In addition, I read a daily devotional that had to do with things people send you in e-mail and those two things together formulated into some of the thoughts that led to this post.

When I was a kid, the way I learned about my friends was really focused on the spoken word.  If I wanted to know their favorite color, I’d ask them.  If I wanted to know what sports they liked or what they thought of that TV show last night, I’d ask them.  Sometimes I’d get information through others, commonly known as gossip, but I would not know the validity of it, though truth be told I guess even if they told me directly they could be lying.

Move to today and think about how people learn about each other.  If you are looking for someone to develop a romantic relationship with, chances are pretty high that you will use a dating site like eHarmony or Christian Mingle.  Fewer and fewer people are meeting at bars, or at school or just outside in the world.  Why is that?  I think a big part of it has to do with learning about someone before you meet them.  The dating sites give you pictures, words, sometimes audio and video.  Sure just as when I was a kid, this can be fabricated, but you then have the deeper side of the equation, that fueled by Google.

In seconds, you can Google someone and learn a lot about them.  There may be public records of course, but many times you find articles, lists, files and who knows what else.  We once were tipped off by an anonymous call to Google a candidate and found an article indicating he was just that past weekend arrested for drunk driving.  Water cooler talk used to be the lightning fast way for rumors or gossip to circulate, now things are available in the blink of an eye, sometimes even placed on the internet by the individual themselves.  This creates a dilemma of sorts.  Shakespeare I believe said “All the world’s a stage”, and at no time in human history has that been so literal as today.  We are all the actors in our life and unlike just a few decades past when I would choose what I would tell my friends or others, that control is being taken away a piece at a time.  What implications will this have for us as a species?  We could write an entire book about it, but if you are just bored one afternoon ponder that thought and see what a fascinating and possibly scary journey you go on.

So people can find out about me, you, or anyone else with a few clicks of a keyboard and a few minutes of time.  Employers are more and more doing this before they even interview a candidate.  Some professions require and some would just rather not deal with any controversy.  In my case I have an innocuous story I wrote about my honeymoon with my ex back in the early 90s that still floats around on the internet and is one of the first things you see when you Google me.  For me it’s just an interesting bit of trivia, but what if it has been an article I wrote about a controversial topic or a post on someone’s wall that placed me in a bad light like Paula Deen’s recent comments?  This article is still there for all to see over 20 years later and I have no reason to assume it will not still be there 100 years from now long after I’m gone.  That embarrassing or poor thought out moment is now not just a point in time, but something with an infinite life to follow you around forever.

Turning away from the general interest in strangers, what can these new technologies help us learn about those we are close to?  In my line of work I worry a lot about computer viruses.  For years, when family and friends would send me links or those e-mails to pass along to 10 people and change the course of history I would delete them.  Too much risk, but then I read that daily devotional that changed my perspective by showing me a new way to look at these annoyances.

You see, those links and forwarded notes and pictures have a different purpose.  They provide me a priceless glimpse into what those who know me and who I want to know and love better think is important.  It’s just another version of the premise that Facebook claims is its formula for success.  If a movie that a critic loved carries some weight, a movie a friend who shares our same sense of humor carries even more.  That link my dad sends me or that joke my brother send me or that cute video my friend shot over give me that same thing I got from the lunch room or playground talk decades ago; a window into what that person finds interesting and makes them tick, but the benefit this process has is that I do not have to know the right question to ask, or think of that topic today.  They already broached the subject and told me they find dancing ferrets or the president’s latest decision or my cousin’s newest tattoo fascinating or disturbing or worrisome.  These missives I was deleting for fear of getting infected are really gems that help me get more connected (yes, I know that rhymed).

In an era when people we do not even know can find out more about us in ten seconds than my friends might know about me three decades ago in a year, we should focus on the positive value of these new occurrences.  Sure the dangers still exist and we should not just start clicking on everything we are sent, but it is just as bad to do the polar opposite and just delete everything without a glance.  Even that link you choose to avoid because you are pretty sure it leads to an infected file can give you that all important glimpse into the heart of a loved one by the explanation they sent along saying, “This made me laugh”.   Take the opportunity to connect and learn that these messages provide.

Old soul

Posted: February 22, 2013 in Random, Reflection

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I’m feeling a little bit nostalgic.  And I was looking for something that I can spark some comments on.  So what I want to hear is what things do you miss from your childhood or earlier in your life and why?  What will your kids never get to experience and why will their lives be emptier because of it?  Here’s my list.

Candy store – I’m not talking about the Jelly Belly store at the mall.  I mean the good old candy store like in the original Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory where you had to actually speak with the man behind the counter to get something.  And he could make recommendations to you to introduce you to a wonderful new treat you would have never heard of.  It’s like Amazon ratings of candy, but not from some impersonal not on a screen but from a real live human, who could emote and excite you into understanding what the new candy had to offer.  More important, as the store I used to visit with my grandfather every time we visited, the human would get to know your preferences without clicking Like buttons and running through an algorithm, so they could really recommend the right things.

Kids playing outside – Again, I’m not talking about walking in a group to the mall, or just your own kids going outside and playing for a few minutes.  I’m talking about the days of my youth when the entire neighborhood was outside for hours, together.  Where you had enough kids for a pickup baseball game, or a really cool game of Capture The Flag with two dozen kids on a side.  Our kids met the other kids in the neighborhood once and then they see each other on the bus, or waving at each other through the window of their cars as they get carted to another preplanned activity.  We also actually went to the park…. By ourselves….. when we were 7.  No idea if we just did not have creepy people in the same numbers as today, if the current ones are more bold, or we have all just scared ourselves into believing there is a menace out there that is not real, but I understand the inability to do that now.  I can still miss it though.

3 channels on TV and no VCR – Remember when things on TV were an event?  And EVERYONE you knew was in on it?  I remember when “V” was on TV and all my friends and I would gather every week and talk about the latest episode, or when the Olympics we on, especially with things like the Miracle on Ice or Nadia with her great gymnastics routines.  I remember my parents all nuts with anticipation about who shot JR.  Those of you old enough to understand those references can understand.  Now I could ask you what happened on Fringe last week and most people would be like, “What is that?” but back then many of these things were a national dialogue.  Listening to my favorite baseball team on the radio or watching the games on Sunday afternoons with my Dad until he fell asleep on the couch after the 2nd inning.  There was no ESPN to summarize the scores or website to see what happened.  If you missed the game you heard about it from your friends or looked up the box score in the paper.  I remember you had the Love Boat followed by Fantasy Island, or the A-Team, or Three’s Company or the Cosby Show.  The conversation on the playground or around the water cooler was about a shared experience because you had the networks or nothing.  The only Real Housewives I knew were my friend’s mom’s and the drama was pretty tame.  When cable came around it was all the rage, but then became the error of “100 channels and nothing on”.  It’s only gotten worse.  I still only watch maybe 7 channels.  Is that because I grew up with only 3?  Not sure.

There are a lot of other items, but those are the ones I really think about most often.  For me it comes down to the loss of community.  We are all a nation of home bodies now.  We interact with our screens instead of each other.  I find it strange that we used to read books about these faceless, unemotional, connectionless futures thinking they looked pretty scary, and sure enough we evolved right into that.  Dinner parties were a big thing with the neighbors when I was first married.  Now I suggest them to people and they look at me like I suggested they slaughter their first born child.  I can’t help but wonder what has been lost and what we will continue to lose in the future with these shifts.  I just interviewed a candidate for a job this week.  I could tell he was not comfortable around people.  I had to ask him if he felt he could interact with co-workers and get business requirements.  His response is that he could certainly talk with them on the phone.  I said, tongue-in-cheek, that he might even have to talk with them in person.  He stared blankly and had no response for me.   My HR manager and I just looked at each other and exchanged a glance.  He is not getting the job.

So let me hear what you have got to say.

One of my ideas of fun

Posted: March 1, 2012 in Random

I think to some degree in honest periods of self reflection, we all probably consider ourselves a little strange, perhaps eccentric in our unique perspectives and enjoyments.  I know in my case, every once in a while as life slows down enough to just daydream and think about what stirs my soul and gets my juices flowing the resulting outcome is uniquely my own. 

When I’ve shared this with friends and family, the best explanation I can give is how I think my mindset would fit into a different time period.  Now that I’ve finished “Mockingjay”  I’ve started reading “Devil In The White City” by Erik Larson.  It is a true account of the late 1800s in Chicago as the World’s Columbian Exposition, or the World’s Fair of 1893 was called.  The book is certainly wonderful so far, and the content is not really the inspiration of sending me into my reflective mode as is the underlying flow or several entrepreneurial spirits that just got to do whatever struck them and succeed with their own power in a time of little regulation and constraint.  To me this is the draw when my mind wanders during these reflective times.

You see, I’m a voracious consumer of information.  I do not focus on one area, but rather look into many over time, trying to get a solid understanding of the basics.  I guess in Victorian times, or back in the early Colonial period of America I’d be what is called “well read”.  I just love learning something new, but not so much just stupid trivial junk, though I have described myself to people as being a fount of “useless facts, as learning something that has a significant and hopefully profound impact on how I see the world.  Learning about a unique culture, intriguing area of scientific specialization or some well communicated philosophy on a subject just get me going. 

I have said that I would have loved to have been around 100 to 250 years ago when this country really earned its name as “The Land of Opportunity”.  Back then, if you wanted to be a doctor, lawyer or anything else, you simply studied up, maybe also worked with someone as an apprentice, and hung out your shingle.  There was not this need to get specifically credentialed, jump through legal and other circles.  Someone with ambition and intellect could really become successful through their own willpower.  I certainly understand that these times also produced more than their share of people who used those same assets for ill gain and repute, and that’s to some extent why things have evolved to a doctor needing years of training and formal certification to protect against practitioners who did more harm than good.  The draw is being able to be successful on something more directly under your control and to do various things and be successful at them by the sweat of your brow and not needed to jump through hoops for their own sake.  I have an MBA because employer’s wanted the paper, but I had learned everything I “studied” before I stepped in a classroom through my own reading. 

My kindred spirit, if I was to identify with someone, would be Thomas Jefferson.  While I in no way want to imply that I am in any way his equal on any scale, if I enjoyed the same circumstances of wealth to pursue things I would continue to consume information and work hard at getting different ventures moving.  He was a lawyer, an architect, a botanist and a philosopher yet he was mostly self taught in many of these endeavors.  The ability to do that today is virtually impossible, but my mindset resembles that.  I love learning about neuroscience, computer security, organic farming, and dynamics of combustion engines.  Taking in how a human mind can develop psychopathic tendencies as well as how fracking works to extract more oil are both equally interesting to me.  How the universe works in detail alongside what we can learn from the Greeks and Romans and their civilizations and philosophies are really neat.  I read books and articles for work and for fun I’m currently reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Devil In The White City, And Thereby Hangs A Tale:  What I Really Know About the Devoted Life I Learned from My Dogs, and A History of the World in 6 Glasses along with a couple Bible studies through church.  I just learned about how the Taliban influence children to become suicide bombers from a documentary filmmaker, how 3-D printing with living tissue is on the brink of being able to change how human organs are created and how happy marriages are created according to research aggregated from several studies. 

I live for a good debate/discussion about a topic, any topic.  I’m working to get a circle of friends and I’ve got a model from a friend that I would LOVE to emulate.  In the past year I introduced my friend to a group called TED (www.ted.com) which hosts conferences all over the world and which I have been following for over half a decade now.  The organization’s tag line is “Ideas Worth Sharing” and they post new videos from their conferences each week.  The topics they cover are everything, and the best way to get a flavor if you’ve never heard of them is to just check out their website.  If you are at all like me and just love to learn about anything and everything, don’t go to the site unless you have a couple hours to invest.  You will not leave before then.

My friend had a group of guys who got together at least quarterly to just converse about things.  In the past they assigned a member to bring a topic, but after I introduced them to TED they still have a group member responsible for an upcoming meeting but they assign out a video to watch before the meeting and then when they get together they just debate/discuss the topic in detail.  Oh, if I only lived nearby and could participate.  Since I do not my only option is to strive to create a similar group here.  That would be so cool and that’s one of my ideas of fun. My fiancee says I go to “glass half empty” mode too often, but that is because I don’t have this type of outlet, so sometimes I go there with her.  It’s just not something she enjoys, this debate on all facets of a topic until it’s been examined from a thousand different angles and I can determine what I really think about it.  It’s a process of self discovery she does not enjoy.  She’s more of a “cut to the chase” type of girl.  Most of the time when I’m in “half empty” mode it is in the process of figuring out where I want to end up.  I’m too much of a hopey, changey kind of guy.  Sarah Palin needs to meet me so I can drive her nuts too.

I’m “lucky” enough to be able to function just fine on about 5-6 hours of sleep so I can squeeze in this stuff along with all the other things I do in my life like my job.  I’m blessed that I can cover all these things but sometimes I long for the chance to have lived in a time when I could take some of the things I find really inspiring and work at them.  It would be irresponsible to my family to suddenly decide I want to be a lawyer and then ten years later decide I want to be a doctor, and then decide I want to build something.  The cost of schooling alone required today for these things would bankrupt us.  The road of Jefferson of just being self taught and offering those talents up is not a reality in the 21st century.  Anyone have a time machine?  Now THAT would be FUN!