Okay folks, I want to open this by saying that this is not a “shame on you” entry. I know I’m going up against things that have existed since the dawn of time, and I don’t pretend that this entry will open eyes and magically change the world. I’m merely trying to raise awareness of unrecognized perils to something that we all do, and hope it will lead to some wisdom in actions. Likely not, but you can’t plead ignorance after reading this entry.
I’ll cut to the chase. We all play favorites. It’s not a “thing” limited to certain places or relationships. We do it all the time and we do it everywhere. It happens in families (you know it does). It happens at work. It happens at church. It happens in clubs, societies, sororities, classrooms, emergency rooms, waiting rooms – hell, I’ve even seen it happen at the county dump when the cute blonde in the sporty car was waved ahead of me to empty trash. Call it “favoritism.” Call it “the good old boy system.” Call it “cliques” or “popularity contests.” Call it whatever you want. It happens.
I know everybody reading this is shouting and saying “oh hell no.” Oh hell yes. Let’s drop the pretense and b.s. for just a few minutes. I promise not to go on too long and you can resume the “formalities” momentarily. Besides, I’m trying to help you here. At least in my own, strip-off-the-nonsense-and-call-it-like-it-is way. And remember, I said we’re all guilty. Me too. You too. Everybody too. Even my birds have their “favorite humans.” This could well precede not only time and space, but all of creation. Partiality happens. There’s no stopping it.
It’s a simple fact that yes, we are predisposed to react more favorably to some people and situations than others. It’s personality – some just go together better than others. It’s also life experience – we relate better to those that have faced similar experiences or have a similar lifestyle. There are complex nature/nurture forces at play that make us more receptive and gracious toward some people than others. Likewise, there are some types we throw up our guard against. I mentioned in the last entry that it miffs me that charisma wins over character so much – that’s because I’ve been the victim of people using charisma to hide serious character flaws several times. Their “God bless us every one” demeanor was hiding a nasty temper bent on utter annihilation. So naturally, I don’t trust “popular” people because I see the red lightsaber just waiting to stab me.
That being said, it happens. Despite modern science, I doubt we ever unlock the secrets of the human personality. It’s too complex and this is one of those things that you can’t account for. We naturally like some people better than others. And conversely, we naturally dislike those that strike us unfavorably. There’s no cure for it. You can’t fix it and people are going to play favorites. It’s going to happen. Now here’s where we run into the problem:
Nobody likes being a “not favorite.” Anytime you complement somebody, anytime you recognize somebody, anytime you put someone on a pedestal or offer public praise or thanks, then other people will feel left out and perceive it as a slight. Because no man is an island and no matter how wonderful Mr. or Miss Wonderful is, it’s unlikely they did it on their own. And, sad to say, some people are very good at getting other people to do everything and having the credit funneled directly to their feet. But that’s another entry for another day. Recognition – and especially public recognition – can open a nasty can of worms that you don’t even know until they’re crawling up your leg. At best, the people you failed to recognize will quit on you, and you’re setting your favorite to the test of picking up the load. At worst, they’ll turn on you. And God help you if it’s a former favorite that you’ve changed your mind about and they know stuff. Ouch.
So does that mean public recognition of good service should be banned? Not at all. I’m just saying that if you want the dog to stay in the yard, then you need to throw them a bone. And not just the head of the pack – everyone in the yard needs a bone. So if you’re going to thank people, be sure that you take off what I call the “swell guy” blinders and open your eyes to everybody. Don’t hold one person up unless you have darn strong justification to do it. And going the extra mile to find out what speaks to a person can also help. Some people don’t want public recognition. My colleagues are smart enough to know an occasional “thank you,” showing interest in my writing, and a bar-b-que luncheon once or twice a year will keep me from squawking like a pissed off parakeet. Which is hilarious, because it didn’t take them long to figure that out and my former colleagues never did get it. Some things are a mystery because you choose not to put forth the two seconds to notice, eh?
My point is this – we all play favorites, but it helps to check yourself every now and then. Showing favoritism is generally considered impolite,; and I know we don’t care for etiquette in the 21st century, but this is a formality that perhaps needs to be reinstated. Did you notice in the paragraph above that I was open to what types I’m not partial to, but I didn’t mention what types I am partial to? No way I’m telling that. But at least you know what raises my defenses, so there’s my attempt at leveling the playing field. Now you know a trigger to avoid with me.
That being said, it might behoove you to quietly put your favorites in your inner circle and exercise discretion in your dealings. Don’t let it show. Throw the non-favorites something every now and then. And for goodness sake, if you do a public acknowledgement and get wind that somebody feels slighted, please take Dale Carnige’s advice to humbly apologize and rectify the situation. Digging in your heels and fighting to justify yourself won’t win friends or influence people. Just say “sorry, I am grateful for you and will be glad to acknowledge it with an apology for leaving you out,” do it, and let it go. That’s character and will close out the situation much faster that “well I did it because they did la de dah de dah and where were you then?”
And as for the rest of us, give us a bar-b-que luncheon. Yea, that’ll shut us up. For a minute.
That’s all today. You may now resume the formalities of pretending like we modern folks don’t do this crap.
Okay folks, this is my blog and today, I feel compelled to share something that has been on my mind for about a month or so. I held back because I wanted to make sure I wasn't being overly-sensitive or taking things out of context, but in reflection and talking with some others, I realize that it's completely within the bounds or normal, how shall I put it - pondering. Yea, that's a diplomatic way to say it.
I've known a number of people that have recently faced trials and life changes similar to the ones I faced a few years ago. Of course, I can relate to their struggles quite well, having been through something similar not too long ago. But one thing that rubs me kind of wrong is that a few years ago, people were quite bold to tell me to get my crap together and move on. I heard a lot of "if I were you" and "you need to get things under control" and "that's just life, you have to be strong and work your way through." I realize this is all true, of course - life throws you curveballs and the only way around is through. I knew that at the time and the truth of that still rings loud and clear. It seems, though, that when the situation goes from "it sucks to be you" to being the one it sucks for, well, that's different.
I asked Rick recently if this realization seemed harsh or hypocritical and he said (exact words): "No. People weren't afraid to get in your face and tell you to get it together. They made it clear that you were to make it stop immediately."
Okay, so it's not just me. There is a level of hypocricy going on.
I could get angry. I could get very frustrated and call people on it. But the truth is, I haven't had to. While nobody's come to me and said "oops, well I guess you aren't the only one reality can kick in the a**" their contrite attitude has clearly indicated that they finally understand what I was trying to communicate before: That it's not so easy when you're in the middle of it. Oops, you can't make things go back to what they are because you aren't God. Oops, you can't force other people to change. Oops, you can't just say "stop" and the universe will heed your call. That big, bad boldness is fine when you're on the mountaintop, but not so practical when you're in the valley and a flood is threatening.
I see that they get it, and I don't think their circumstances are the result of a lack of sympathy at my plight, or anybody elses'. Rather, I think it's the universal truth that reality is an equal opportunity smacker. It will knock us all down and bring us to a humility that we never imagined we'd have to face. I know I've had to become a new person from my own experiences. I had to completely change the way I thought about EVERYTHING and that's the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Sometimes, I still have to remind myself to case off those old thoughts and embrace the new. It isn't easy, but to refuse would have been to sentence myself to a life of misery and depression, something that I simply won't have or allow in my life. If it's change my thinking to stay happy or hold to my old thoughts in a life that doesn't fit any more and resign myself to depression and misery, I'll change.
We all have to make that decision at some point. It's going to happen. C.S. Lewis called it The Law of Undulation in The Screwtape Letters, and I believe this is one of the most often ignored truths of life in this world just because it makes us uncomfortable and we don't like it. Life is a series of peaks and valleys. We will have times when we're on top of the world, but eventually the pendulum swings and we find outselves with the world on top of us. Sure, sometimes it's the result of bad decision making, but just as often it's the result of things beyond our control: things change. People change. Circumstances change. As The Bible says, "time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11). And all you can do is deal with it, for however long it goes on, until you work your way through to the other side.
So no, I'm not mad at people. Rather, I hate to see them go through such times because I know the pain they fell. It's not fun and I pray it passes for them. That being said, I would like to share some things I noticed going through my own trials that I hope will give others facing hard times some comfort or guidance in navigating their way through the valley:
1. Be honest, first with yourself and then with others. The sooner you face that life is crap for you right now, the quicker you'll find your way through. But also realize the truth that this too shall pass and you won't be here forever. There's always hope. Likewise, don't be ashamed to admit that life isn't roses, unicorns and rainbows. Don't be afraid to tell people, when you must, that things are rough, but you're doing your best to work through. Now that being said;
2. Use discernment in who and what you share. You need to be honest with people, but they also don't need to know every single thing going on in your life. This is especially true when dealing with sensitive family matters. I'm sorry to say it, but there are some people that won't get it and others that will use it against you to embarass you later. I think we've all had those instances where you shared something personal with a friend because you needed to vent, and they brought it up VERY publically later to get a laugh or gain what I call "cool points" with others that they've decided they like better since you shared your woes with them. Keep your inner circle limited to a very few people and even then, use discernment. You don't have to tell everything, nor should you. It's fine to say "yea, I'm dealing with some issues with myself/ job/health/at home right now, but I'm working through and it will be okay. I just need an extra dose of grace and patience right now," and leave it at that. You aren't on reality tv, so you don't need to act like it.
3. Don't be afraid to seek outside advice. The problem with keeping it in your inner circle is that they are biased. They aren't going to be able to fully see the situation and sometimes their advice, although well meaning, will be off base because of the tendency to see what they want/like best (for whatever reasons). It's perfectly reasonable to go to a pastor, therapist, or vocational rehab service, even if just once, to get a clear perspective on the situation as a whole so you can understand how to best proceed. Just be forewarned that those closest to you may take a level of offence. I did this a few years ago and was told by a few "well, I'm sorry we all let you down so much that you had to go to a stranger for help." That's not the case at all. I was realistic enough to know I was too beat and broken to see it logically on my own and that those close to me couldn't see past my own pain (and their pain) to see it clearly either. I was that serious about dealing with things right the first time so we could all move on. A good barometer of knowing when to seek outside counsel is this: if you feel absolutely stuck and paralyzed with no way out, you need a third party intervention. It doesn't mean you're weak. It means you're strong enough to face all the ugliness of reality and have the determination to work it out correctly, no matter what.
4. Realize that some people "just won't get it" and decide right now if you are able to forgive them. General rule: if somebody prefaces a statement with "if I were you..." cut them off right away. They aren't you and that statement means "I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, but I want to say something so here it is." Likewise, and this isn't flattering but it's absolutely true: Sometimes people are more sympathetic to others because they like them and their situations better than they like you and your situations. Okay, maybe that's harsh, but people are biased based on their own experiences, and what this means is that they'll come down harder on you because there's something in your situation they really hate but they'll be more sympathetic to another facing something similar because they like or relate to something in their situation more. We're all hypocrites, folks,and we all judge. It's not right, but it's true. You have to make the decision to forgive it and move on or you'll stay stuck in the mire of your own problems a lot longer than necessary.
5. There is one, universal solution to all problems. This is the good news, but it isn't easy news. That universal solution is do the right thing. All the time. No matter how hard it is, how much it hurts, who gets angry, or how tired you get. No matter what. And don't stop doing the right thing ever. It might hurt like hell, piss people off, and seem to destroy your life but trust me, it's temporary. Because "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28). Doing right always leads to right in the end. Some battles may be lost, but the war will be won. But taking shortcuts, doing things the easy way, or ignoring things and hoping they will go away will prolong the war indefinitely. It literally took two and a half years for me to get my life settled into something that could be called "normal," but I'm convinced the struggled would still be ongoing if I didn't dig in my heels and determine that I would do things right, no matter how hard I had to work, how tired I got, who got mad at me, or how much it hurt. Let me tell you, it doesn't hurt anymore.
So take it from one that actually did all of these things - it works. You have to be stronger than you imagined possible, but it works.
Am I mad at my realizations? No. People aren't perfect and I made the decision long ago that I wasn't going to get angry or hold grudges. There's no point in it. My mission was to recreate my life and move on in the abundance and blessing I could find in it, and I am. Now I pray that others going through hard times will find the strength to move through and to find their own blessings and abundance on the other side of their trials.
And there is the other side, folks. God promises that there's always hope. I'm living proof. So keep fighting on to do what's right, and it will be fine. That's a promise you can count on.
That's all today. Take care and have a good weekend.
A blog series on balance wouldn't be complete without addressing the one overriding issue of how our attitude affects everything else in life.
I'm going to be very honest here: I've seen and dealt with a lot of people with sassy, snippy attitudes that seem to believe they can force the world to conform to their expectations and bow to their wishes. Then they wonder why good things don't happen to them and why they keep getting "bum luck." Their ignorance absolutely amazes me. I simply don't understand how people can go through life with a two ton chip on their shoulder and expect good things to come to them when all they send out is negative energy. And yet, it seems to be a huge problem. It's a problem everywhere. It's a problem all the time. I'd dare to say, it's been a problem since the dawn of human history.
I know I talk about reaping and sowing a lot, and I certainly don't mean to beat you with a Bible. So I'll put it in worldly terms that should make sense to everybody.
What would you think if you planted tomatoes and cucumbers grew? You'd probably be surprised and angry. Those were tomato seeds, so how the heck did cucumbers come out of the ground? That's not right. You'd say okay, somebody sold me the wrong seeds, or something went wrong. Fortunately, that doesn't happen. If you plant tomatoes, you get tomatoes. It's how nature operates. It's how the world works.
Well, that sense or order and balance extends through all of nature and folks, I know you don't like to believe it but you are part of nature. No, you aren't the center of the universe. You aren't the center of the world. You aren't even the center of the little blip you occupy in the space/time continum. You're part of a whole, and that whole has a sense of balance to it that simply can't - or won't - be violated.
There's only so much energy in the universe and much like those seeds, you can only get back what you put out. So if you're rude and confrontational, you aren't going to make friends because people aren't going to trust you. They will, in fact, go to great pains to not only avoid you, but they won't be inclined to help you either. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. You can't get a blessing if you send out curses. That's just the way it is. Sorry folks, I don't make the rules. I'm just as insignificant a blip on the horizon as you are and I'm just reporting the facts. As Mark Twain once said, "the world doesn't care what you want. It was here first."
I'm saying this not only because it's true, but because I really hate to see people make their life harder than it has to be. I certainly don't mean for this to be a reprimand or a dressing down, but if you feel chastised, well, maybe it's not altogether a bad thing. Life is unpredictable and difficult enough. There's no need to make it harder by being a jerk. And if you're a jerk, it will be harder because you set up unnecessary struggles and create problems that you don't need to have. I shake my head at people going around with their bad selves because their attitude is screaming "come and get me! I dare you!" to the universe - and that's a challenge that's always answered. There are more than a few people I'd hate to be. They might have whipped things into shape for a time, but I wouldn't want to be them when they pay the price for their attitude. That's going to be a mighty painful one to pay up when it comes due.
I'll be frank. We all tend to get out of line from time to time. Every woman in the world can be a witch with a capital "B." Every man in the world can be a jerk. It's our human nature to show our ugly when the going gets tough, or when we feel challenged. We must remember, though, that human nature is imperfect. If we want the riches of grace and blessing to come our way, we have to overcome those base instincts and strive for the higher calling of decency, integrity, stability, and kindness. Yes, that is a challenge sometimes, but if we want a better tomorrow, then we have to be a better person today.
Alrighty folks, that's my soapbox speech for the night. I hope you have a Happy Friday tomorrow and a great weekend. Take care if you're in the path of that winter weather.
I was home sick with a sinus infection today and decided to watch the midday news. On it, they had a report on a state where sending children to school at age 5 is optional - they can do it, but aren't required to do it until the child is six years old. They touted this story as "does it give children an academic edge to wait a year?" but in reality, it was all parents saying "my child is too immature and I just think they need another year at home before starting school."
This reminded me of what happened at my church recently when we lost our pastor and associate pastor last spring. When we asked about forming a committee to find a new pastor, the Synod told us to wait a few months because "the congregation needs time to grieve, heal and deal with the loss of their pastors."
Really? Time to adjust and heal? Time to get ready? Folks, I'm going to be bluntly honest with you - I call bullcrap on that. I'd use the alternate phrase, but I strive to keep this blog PG-13 rated. But you get the point. I think this is all nonsense. And I will be glad to tell you why.
Reality rarely gives us time to ease into adjustments. Sure, sometimes we choose to make changes, but sometimes things happen with no warning and we're left with no choice but to accept it. There is no adjustment period. There is no "time out" for emotional healing. Reality takes an anvil to your life and you have no choice but to get up and start putting the pieces back together before it beats you further and turns those pieces into confetti that you can't do anything with. The illness often strikes without warning. Jobs change. People move on or worse
yet, die. Life can turn around with one phone call. I've seen it happen in the blink of an eye and can tell you from experience that we should take nothing for granted and look for the possibilities in every situation.
Do you know how much time I was given to "adjust and deal" with my job move two years ago? Absolutely none! It was welcome, now get to work. You have regulations to draft. You have things to integrate into the database. You have forms to reformat and 42 boxes of files to scan into our database and 2 websites to help our IT staff set up for your programs because you're the one that knows this stuff and we can't help you because we need YOU to help US get it integrated into our system and tell us what it is so we can tell you how it will be from now on. The move was about a third of the work. There was plenty of heavy lifting after that, so to speak, and they made it clear that they expected me to not only rise to that, but to everything else set before me. And you know what? I did it. Sure, there were times when I broke down and came home saying "I can't DO all of this!" But I went back the next day and with enough "next days" and more hard work than I ever thought I was capable of, it got done and continues to get done every day.
And you know, a funny thing happened. I found the courage to submit my writing to epublishers again and by golly, two books got accepted. What the hell, I thought. I moved two programs. Why can't I publish two books? Why can't I be an independent author? I've always wanted to be a writer and this is my chance to be one. And I did it. I keep writing because I learned to step out and be bold and proactive in pursuing my writing goals from being pulled up by my hair at my day job. Reality punched me in the gut in one area, and by rising to that challenge I found the courage to take on the challenge of pursuing a personal dream in another area. Life's funny like that if you learn how to accept your situation and take advantage of every opportunity you find, no matter how big or small.
My point here is not to say nah nah, look at me and how I made it work. I hesitate to say it "worked" even at this point. Rather, I see the situation as "I continue to work hard and grow" because I am still learning and growing. It's a lifelong process. I still learn at work, and I'm still working on new writing projects and to build an audience for my published work. It's still a lot of hard work on both fronts. My point is that reality doesn't hit the pause button to pat you on the back and say "there there, take some time to eat ice cream and watch reruns of Supernatural (or whatever show you like) until you feel strong enough to deal with this." Reality is a witch (another PG-13 term for what I really think it is). It just happens and it doesn't care what you like or feel about anything.
I was raised with the "if the Lord brings you to it, then He brings you through it" truth, but this is a truth that we have to learn. It's not something ingraned in our psyche. Fear and helplessness are ingraned in our psyche. We have to learn that faith that we can face it. We have to learn to find that strength within ourselves to rise to what life brings. We have to learn to do the hard work, and to face the pain and struggles with the courage of a lion even if we feel like jelly inside. We learn by standing up to it and working through it. And folks, that doesn't come from taking an ice-cream and Supernatural rerun festival break to sob and wipe our tears while complaining of the injustice of it all. Life isn't fair. We have to learn to stand in the face of that. We have to work with the situation and figure out how to pluck out the opportunities in this "not fair" situation to work it out for our good and put ourselves on a journey to something better in the end.
We can heal. We can adjust. But more often than not, we have to do it on our feet. We have to heal while we move forward becauser stagnation brings further consequences and suffering that are completely unnecessary and can be avoided by acceptance and hard work.
So no, I call bullcrap on the "wait until your ready" mentality. Reality doesn't care if you're ready. It just happens. We do ourselves a greater favor by standing up to it sooner rather than later.
That's all today. Take care.
Two years ago, our Sunday School class did an in-depth study of The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. One of the interesting concepts he presented is “The Law of Undulation,” which basically means that life is a series of peaks and valleys, and we are always in some phase of this ebb and flow.
It’s absolutely true. My life over the past eighteen months is a testament to it.
This Thursday will be exactly one year since my last day of work at my old department. I don’t know why this feels like a reason to celebrate. Perhaps because it seems to signal progress to me: that I’m in a better place than I was a year ago, and that I’ve managed to take the pieces of my life and put them together into something new and better than what I had before.
Last year, it seemed too much when my in-laws went from 100 miles away to right next door, and my job transferred me to a new department a few months later. There were times when I felt I had no peace anywhere. But I learned that the Lord never gives you more than you can handle, and with His help, I not only survived but have thrived in these new conditions.
I know my full strength in Him, and that nothing is impossible (sometimes people aren’t willing to allow Him to make all things possible – but let’s save that for another entry!). I know my purpose and myself better, and I’m not afraid of who I am; not even the little inconsistencies that sometimes puzzled me about myself. I am a whole human being and that’s how it’s supposed to be. I know that I not only have a right, but a duty to be my authentic self and that to be anything else is offensive to the Lord and what He created me to be. I know that anything worth having is a lot of work – more than I imagined possible – but the rewards are usually bigger than you imagined.
Most importantly, I learned that if God brings me to it, He’ll bring me through it. And because of that, I’m not afraid anymore. I don’t fear what might be, or what’s around the next corner. I have learned the true meaning of Romans 8:28; that “all things work together for good for those who love Him, those who are called according to His purpose.” I am called by Him for a purpose. I know I may not understand many things, and I’m okay with that because I have seen His power move mountains in my life that I thought could never budge. They did, and I’m a better person because of increased faith because of it.
I’m not so arrogant as to believe that doubt will never come again. I made that mistake once, and boy did I get a double dose of humility. I know now that if you try to do what’s right, it’s really going to piss the devil off and he will attack you with all his might. But the Lord is on our side, so the devil can’t win. It won’t stop him from trying, so the challenge during times of trial and testing is to remember this: that Satan is already defeated and he cannot win in our life if we call on Christ to defend and protect us.
There are two morals to this entry. First, my secret to making it through such a chaotic transition was prayer. I learned the true meaning of “praying without ceasing.” Second, nothing last forever. So take heart. If you’re in a rut, don’t worry because something will eventually move and get you out. If life is chaos, don’t worry because it will eventually settle. If you’re down, don’t worry because you will rise. If you’re up, don’t get arrogant because you will come off that mountaintop eventually (so enjoy it while you can, but stay humble and give thanks always). The nature of the universe is change and the nature of life is undulation. Up and down, always in motion. Even when it looks like nothing’s happening, it is. Sometimes that motion is barely perceptible. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. But it’s always there.
Don’t ever ask “is it over yet?” because it won’t be until you die. So buckle up and enjoy the ride.
That’s all today.