It’s been one of those weeks where it seems like every question is a hard one, and unfortunately I’ve been designated as the “go to” person for those thorny questions that just don’t have a clear answer. I’m not sure how I got this honor. People say I’m smart, but I think it might have more to do with the fact that I’m not afraid to make up an answer if “I don’t know” won’t do. And of course, it often won’t. Hence, my inventive instincts kick in and alas, the unanswerable continues to come to me for an answer. I don’t know why others aren’t comfortable taking what they know and extrapolating an answer. Maybe it’s my personality. Or maybe it’s because I’m not afraid to do it.
Still, despite my creative instincts, there are still some things that I just don’t get. Don’t call me a “know it all” yet people, because I don’t understand:
1. Why charisma wins popularity but integrity isolates. I know people swarming with friends that don’t do anything for anybody but the almighty “I” and others that give and give, and people tell them it’s never good enough. Real story: I can tell you of instances when I took off work to go to funerals or to visit people when they were sick. “Thanks!” they said, but once they recovered I was relegated back to my place on the Christmas card list while they ran right back to their buddies that were too busy and couldn’t be bothered with “using their leave like that” or dropping a card in the mail. Why was my time out not good enough but their casual “oh, sorry for your loss” when you went back to work okay?
2. Why is it fine for some people to “be like that” but others need to get their act together. This harkens to my last entry about how it seems people like some people and their problems more than other people and their problems. An undependable person that you can’t trust to show up when they say they will is thought of as a “swell guy” because he has that charisma and can light up a room with cheerful banter. “Yea he’s not dependable, but that’s just him!” People say. But his shy neighbor that always shows up when he’s needed is “shady” because “I just don’t know if I can trust him. He really needs to be more open and honest with people.” I tell you; it seems that character doesn’t matter anymore. Why doesn't "swell guy" need to clean up his act and keep his word? And better yet, why do people get angry and defensive if you even hint at such a thing? It seems to me like people pick their friends arbitrarily and they won’t get facts get in the way of what they want to believe.
3. What's up with cliques? Why, people? They’re useless. You don’t have to be in one to have friends. I know because I’m not a group or clique person and I get along with people just fine. In fact, if I ask people questions then they usually tell me things because they know I’m not going to gossip or use it to create drama. Which brings me to my next item …
4. Gossip and drama. OMG. Why even bother? I have enough to deal with without having drama stirred up by people being sensitive and/no nosy. As the saying goes, nobody’s got time for that. At least I don’t.
5. Why are we quick to assume the worst of those we know and the best of strangers? Some people do. Here’s a recent conversation I had:
Them: “There was a bag in my yard this morning! Why would my neighbor throw their trash in my yard?”
Me: “You saw them do it? Why didn’t you ask them about it?”
Them: “No! I mean, it was between our houses. Do you think they pushed it on my side?”
Me: “So you’ve counted out that a stranger driving by might have thrown it out of their car and it blew into your yard?”
Them: “Oh. I didn’t think about that.” Pause. “Could that happen?”
Me: “I’ve seen bags blow in my yard a lot and its windy out today. But hey, you know your neighbor. If you think they did it …”
Them: “No! They probably wouldn't ... I mean, it probably blew in my yard.”
Why were they quick to blame the neighbor and count out a stranger being an igit? I don’t know. And yet, this is a small example of what I see often. People are harsh with those they claim to love and will grant eternity’s grace to strangers. It seems to me it should be the other way around: suspect the stranger, assume the best of the inner circles. But who am I to say? It seems human nature is drifting toward assuming the worst in a lot of cases. We see nefarious intentions everywhere.
6. The weatherman can be wrong 50% of the time (or more) and keep a job. Could you keep your job with a record like that?
7. Why does everybody want Friday off? Friday is my easy, catch up day because of staff shortages and slower calls/emails/mail. I want Monday off. That’s the day everybody comes back and it hits the fan.
8. Yield signs. I saw somebody stop at one a week ago for the first time in I can’t remember when. People ignore them. We need to replace them with Stop signs.
9. Wearing a watch on an airplane when you’re crossing time zones. I learned the futility of this when I went to Arizona. I think I was the only one on the plane wearing one. And yet, I was pestered to death. “What time is it in Charlotte? How long have we been in the air? How much longer till we land?” Why ask me these questions? The watch doesn’t control time and its ability to tell it was compromised. Next time, I don’t wear it or hide it in my carry on. Geeze.
10. Why do thermostats even have settings below 70 degrees or over 75 degrees? You know people get uncomfortable at temperatures outside that range. Choices, schmoices. Build HVAC systems for reality, folks!
11. Why is everybody wearing yellow today? I’ll wear my new yellow shirt, I thought this morning. Then I got here and saw about 10 people coming in wearing yellow. What’s up with that?
I don’t know. These are some of life’s questions that I can’t even hazard a guess. So I suppose my inventive instincts aren’t that sharp after all. But maybe they do still work to a degree, because the beauty of being a writer is that I can pass the questions I can’t answer on to you, the reader, and let you be the judge. Heh heh heh.
That’s all today. Happy Friday to you. Have a great weekend.
As we head into a new year, I ponder my resolution to have better balance in my life on a number of levels. One of those (very important) levels is in the area of stress reduction and reducing worry in my life. I think these are things we all struggle with, and recently I've come to realize there's a great deal that we impose on ourselves, especially when it comes to our relationships.
This realization came after having several people tell me things that other people said and/or did over the past few weeks and asked what I thought of it. I remembered that when I was under a therapist while going through my life changes a few years ago, one of the things she told me was that the secret to finding balance was realizing what was and wasn't my business. "You concern yourself with your responsibilities and what you control and let go of the things in the hands of others," she said. That's certainly true, and in fact remembering this advice upon being asked my opinion on these various situations and issues made me realize that people, in general, bring on a lot of their own stress by worrying about or fretting over things that other people think, say or do - things they have absolutely no control over.
Why do we do this? My first reaction was that it's arrogance. Frankly, we all have a tendency to beleive that everything is all about us - and that's wrong. The truth is that everything people think, say and do is all about THEM. It's a reflection of how they see the world. Even if they say that "others made me do it," the truth is that they made the decision on how to perceive things and on how to proceed. Nobody "makes" anybody do anything. Plus, by nature, people are going to do what's best for them and the ones closest to them. Why should they do something that benefits you 100% and them none at all when you aren't the center of THEIR world?
So there's one reason, but I don't think that's all of it, nor the major portion. In fact, I think if that were the whole reason, then it would mean that people in general are extremely selfish and short sighted, and I don't believe that such a narrow view applies to most people most of the time. Some maybe, but absolutely not all. Maybe not most. And remember, I said there's some truth to this. Maybe it's a small part, but I don't think that's a "once size fits all" explanation for it. Most people learn, grow, and gain a wider perspective on the world and as such, they aren't so shallow.
I believe another reason is that we want everybody to like us. The problem is, I recently read that there was actually some scientific study that at least 10% of people aren't going to like you. Frankly, I was surprised the percentage was that low. I thought it would be closer to 30%, but the latest study I read said 10% so we'll run with that. Why is this? Plain and simple, personality differences. Some types just don't play well together. If you don't believe it, ask any extremely emotional person I've come in contact with and they'll tell you I'm mean and don't give a crap about their feelings. I am, by nature, a person that leans more toward logic and reason in making decisions than emotion. I usually don't get along well with extremely emotional types that "just want peace" and "want everybody happy right now" because I beleive happiness comes from investing the time and hard work to do things right no matter how you feel about it "right now." If you do what's right, then it will work out in the end, and that's a happiness that last; not a vapor of high emotion that wears off when the party is over and the consequences have to be paid. In fact, since I've been working in professional licensing, I'd say my tendency to make decisions based on logic and reason have become a stronger because by nature of my profession, I'm obligated to do what's right no matter how people feel about it. I don't think that's a bad thing (of course), but I've caught some flack about it because I'm female, and by stereotype I'm supposed to be all about feelings. While I'm ok to say "alright, forget the 10% and thank God for and enjoy the other 90%, well, some people get awfully fixated on that 10% and believe that if they work harder then they can get a 100% approval rating. It seems their effort would be better spent nurturing relationships with the other 90% but in fact, sometimes they turn on the ones on their side to gain approval they'll never have, counting on forgiveness from that 90% that might come, but not realizing that it will have a higher price than they bargained for because broken trust is a very hard thing to rebuild. But it happens, all the time. I've experienced it; I've seen it; I've written about it. Hey, I'm a writer. The ugly underside of humanity is a playground of inspiration. Expose it to me at your own risk.
Just kidding - maybe. And a sidenote on the emotion thing: I'm interested to see if the stereotype of "hysterical emotion" in women downplays as more generations of women have careers.Working women don't have time to fret over every little wayward comment, rolled eye, questionable social media post, tear or tirade that comes their way. Or at least, me and my colleagues don't. But we'll see as time tells this particular tale.
So there's that. But not all people are emotional and out for approval ratings that would make politicians jealous, so reason #2 can't apply to everybody. But it does apply to enough that I believe it should be considered.
There is one more reason, and I think it applies to most of us. I believe the reason people get tied up in what others think, say and do is because they don't want to be alone in how they think or feel. They want to know that others agree with them. They want others to have an opinion with them, or to get mad with them, or to be sad with them, or to take up the cause with them because they don't want to be the only freak swimming against the tide. They want to know they're like everybody else and what the other person is doing is wild/selfish/stupid/crazy/nonsense/whatever. They don't want to be alone in their opinion or feelings because they don't want to look in the mirror and ask "is it them, or is it me?" We all want to be right. We all want the world to understand that our opinion is just as important as everybody elses'. We all want respect. Nobody wants to be a nobody. They want people to know that they're here, that they have value, and that they are just as important as the other 7+ billion people in the world.
Here's the thing, though: Going about it by getting tangled up in other peoples' business is a sign of insecurity. If you truly walk in faith and you're confident in yourself as the authentic human being you were created to be, then you don't need to beg or scream for attention. You humbly go about your own business, believing that the life God set before and the purposes you serve speak for themselves.
That's the cure. That's how you break free from this stress. You get busy living your own life and tending to your own businss and have the grace to accept others and the decisions they make without intruding into their lives with your opinions.
Does this mean you ignore others and don't care what they do? Of course not. You should always do your best to help people in need and if there's something you can do to help others on their life path, you certainly should. The key is to use common sense and discernment. Yes, we all have opinions on things, but we don't need to share them all the time. Everything that flies through your head doesn't need to fly out of your mouth. If you aren't asked for your opinion or advice, assume it's not wanted or needed and keep it to yourself. I'd even go so far as to say that you should still use caution in giving advice even if you ARE asked for it. As one of the elves said in The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring, "elves don't give advice because all paths may run ill." Think before you speak. If in doubt, don't. And realize that advice is a take it or leave it thing - and in many cases, people leave it, so be prepared to have your advice or opinion rejected just in case and be prepared to not get offended. And please, for the love of God, if it won't make any difference and you have a thought - don't. Stop right there and go no further. If it's done and/or there's no way it's changing no matter what anybody says and you really need to get it out, set up a private blog or buy a journal to work it out, but don't go off on tirades and complain to everybody in the world about things you can't control involving people close to you. And don't ask or expect people to take sides with you unless you want to do the equivalent of renting a billboard that says I'M THE ONE WITH THE PROBLEM. It makes you look bad and it makes other people run like hell from you when they see you coming. If it's something so big that you can't live with it, find a way to either deal with it or distance yourself from the situation. Just because a war's going on doesn't mean you have to be a soldier in it. Other people might want you to have their problems, but they can't draft you. You don't have to accept them and if you choose not to accept their problems, well then, it's over.
The point of this mile long blog is that I'm coming to understand that balance is something that we have to strive for in every area of life, and personal relationships are certainly a big element there. We do live in the world, with people, so having good, balanced relationships is an extremely important thing. And one way we can achieve balance in our relationships is by not being a busybody, minding our own business, and having the grace to let it be.
Thanks for hanging in there with me on this one. I hope you had a Happy Friday and that you have a great weekend.
I’m often asked if the things that happened to Jana Lanning in my recent novel, Anywhere But Here, actually happened to me. For those of you that haven’t read this novel, Jana Lanning, the protagonist, is denied admission to graduate school, finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, helps her best friend get married and move out of town, and has to settle for a job that she’s overqualified for – and all of this happens within two weeks of getting her undergraduate degree. Then to make things worse, the office where she works starts a merger with another firm and Jana finds herself on the wrong end of office politics that are the final straw in her battle with depression. The thing people seem the most interested in are the office politics. People want to know if the happenings at Dixon Financial are reflective of my job before it was transferred to a new agency a couple of years ago.
In response to that I’d say not entirely, but I can’t deny that some things that happened to me early in my career are reflected in people and events that take place in the book. I know that’s cryptic, but bear in mind two things: The people and events are fictionalized and that was accomplished through a mixture of my personal experiences, experiences I’ve seen and heard of from other people, and instances I’ve read about in books, magazines, news and other media. It came from a vast pool and I’ll admit that I had experience with being on the wrong end of office politics – heck, how could you write about it even from a fictionalized perspective unless you lived it in some way – but it’s also a universal issue that anybody working in an office environment is going to be on one end or the other of. And sorry folks, but there are probably going to be times when you find yourself on the wrong side, at least from the perspective of the majority.
My purpose in both writing Anywhere But Here and this entry isn’t to bash my former workplace. These things happened a decade ago, and I must admit that I said and did things that weren’t wise and didn’t lead to the best resolution in the situations I faced. I certainly learned from those experiences and in retrospect, I’m glad I learned those lessons early in life or I certainlywouldn’t be where I am now. The purpose is to share lessons learned, because this is something that I believe everybody in the workforce faces at some time. It makes you feel isolated and lonely when it happens, but the truth is that you aren’t alone. Lots of people face it but few talk about it because frankly, it’s embarrassing.
I used to think that people playing office politics were selfish jerks that like to hurt people, but experience has shown me that it actually grows from a root of fear. People that play with power are insecure and doubt their own ability, so they create an elaborate game of turning people and things to their advantage. I’ve found that there are 2 good ways to identify a person that is likely to use power to their advantage:
1.They cling tightly to cliques that are made up of people that are higher on the chain of command than they are; and
2.They don’t associate with anybody on the chain of command below them unless it’s absolutely necessary - and those people better give them what they want immediately or it’s insubordination.
It’s the people in category #2 that usually find themselves on the losing end of office politics because any wrong word or deed will be met with fierce retaliation. I won’t say that I never see office politics anymore, but I have found that I find myself in these situations a lot less since I’ve been reclassified to a mid-level position. I’d like to think this is because I’ve proven that my knowledge and abilities are valuable, but it’s more likely that I learned valuable lessons on how to deal with these types from previous experience – and people know it.
So what’s the secret to dealing when you’re the victim of office politics? If you’re right, stand by that. Don’t ever cave in and take the quick and easy way out because that’s a temporary end. If they’d turn on you once, they’ll turn on you again. Caving in only shows that you can be taken advantage of, and they will milk that dry, plus the consequences of doing wrong will follow you a lot longer than standing up for what’s right. They might not like you, but they’ll respect you and at least know not to let you catch them with their hand in the cookie jar again. If you aren’t right, correct yourself immediately and stick to your guns in walking down the right road. And whichever situation you’re in, it’s imperative that you have patience. Truth will show itself in time and it will be end game then. It might take months or even years for things to come around, but they will and you’ll be better off for it. The reward will come in patient endurance, and it will be something that nobody can deny. Sure, there are people that are so stubborn that they’ll refuse to change their mind no matter what happens, but don’t worry about them. Leave them in their ignorance and move on because it’s highly probably that they’ll be gone in time themselves.
I believe Jana Lanning in Anywhere But Here is a good personification of office politics gone wrong, because she’s the one in the weakest position. She didn’t do anything wrong and in fact suffered for doing right, but recent personal losses kept her from taking a stand in the right way and the right timing. The people that create these situations are masters at turning things against you even if you didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s exhausting to constantly defend your own character. Unfortunately, she found this out too late and suffered the consequences of crossing the wrong people simply by being who she was and not deferring to people doing things wrong. She was right and had proof of it, but she didn’t know how to present that truth in a combative work environment. That happens sometimes, and it’s awful. I think the worst offence in the world is to have to suffer for other peoples’ mistakes, and office politics are the ultimate example of that.
I think this is why eople tell me that they find Jana Lanning so likeable. She’s a good person that doesn’t deserve the hard knocks that come her way from people taking advantage of her shy nature, youth, and inexperience. She makes the same mistakes that all of us made in our early adulthood and we understand her confusion at why life is kicking her around. Reality is a hard teacher, and it’s the only one that can do the job once school leaves off. Remember the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire” from the 80’s? That strange, new world opening up is the exact thing that Jana faces, and we understand exactly where she’s coming from. She, like the rest of us, has to learn to find those gems of opportunity in the rubble of defeat to rebuild a new life from shattered dreams. In some ways, we may even relate to her right where we’re at, because life is always teaching us lessons.
So no, I didn’t start out in life exactly like Jana did. I actually did marry my college sweetheart, but I never made it to graduate school because I found other things that I believed were worth more in my life than higher education. I never struggled with depression, but I knew (and still know) many who do battle that demon, and I hope Jana’s struggle helps people with depression understand that this is a battle they can win if they stay in the fight. But yes, I did go through an office merger in my early years in the workforce, and I found myself prey to the power plays, albeit in much different circumstances. All I can say is that wisdom comes from experience, and I gained plenty in those few years.
And lest you think it’s impossible for poor Jana to face so much at one time, I call your bluff. Too much smashing my life to bits was the catalyst for my next novel, Splinter – but that’s one for a future blog entry. I’ll address it closer to the release date in mid 2013. Until then, enjoy Anywhere But Here and my other books - information on them and links to buy are on the other tabs of this website. I hope you find entertainment and inspiration in them.
That’s all today.
That's a good question, because villians are usually very good at hiding themselves. Indeed, people have become very proficient at hiding their flaws and blaming their mistakes on others through a variety of what psychologists call "defense mechanisms." They started in the Garden of Eden when Adam said "this woman you gave me made me do it" and it's been downhill ever since that first shifting of blame. The problem is, there are only a limited number of ways to make this work and while you can mix it up, it all boils down to a few basic things.
First is shifting the blame, as we saw above. People refuse responsibility for their actions and claim "it's not my fault! It's somebody elses fault!" I've heard this is a common reason why, as the joke goes, there are no guilty people in jail. All victims of unfortunate circumstances caused by others - or so their lawyers claim. That's a drastic example, of course, as it doesn't take a criminal that winds out being interviewed on Dateline to use this one. I've heard countless variations from "so and so said they'd take care of it and I trusted them!" to "oh, they're trying to help. I'm sure there's a reason they took my ten thousand dollars and disappeared. They must be looking so hard and too busy to keep in touch!" to "well, I trusted YOU to make the decision and you made a bad one!" Sadly, I have known some people that live their entire lives in a state of refusing responsibility and shifting blame. They don't want to deal with the consequences of their actions and decisions, so they do nothing unless someone else tells them to. It's "oh, I had such a great idea!" if it succeeds and (more likely) "woe is me, I never get a break" if it doesn't or worse, if they get taken advantage of. Which happens often because predators can sniff out emotionally weak people that don't want to take control of their lives and usually prey on that until they suck them dry. It's really a very dangerous defense mechanism.
Another one is projection. This is when you project what you think/feel/do on someone else because you don't want to admit that you or somebody close to you does it. I'm often prey to this one. Probably because if people try to shift the blame to me I'll outright say "it's not my fault if you made an active decision not to think for yourself." (Folks, I have done this.) This is usually a sneaky one because they aren't confrontational about it - they want to be sly because they don't want to tip you off. For example, one time I found out that someone I knew hadn't told me about something big that happened in their life. When I asked why she didn't tell me, she said "oh, I didn't want people to gossip." I replied "do you think I'm a gossip?" She set her face and said "I don't want people talking. Everybody doesn't need to know everything." I knew right away what happened. She hadn't been ready for her "secret" to be told and had only told a couple of people she had been friends with for a long time. The fact that I found out meant one of them had been gossiping, and she didn't want to admit it, so she tried to shift the blame to me. And let me tell you, she didn't speak to me for about two months when I pointed out that one of her confidants were the ones that spilled it to me. She just didn't want to believe a good friend would betray her trust, so she tried to pretend like it was someone else (anyone else!) by accusing the people that found out second hand of being gossips (I found out later that she'd had the same reaction to several other people). The trick may have protected her from feeling betrayed, but it didn't do much to win her more friends or influence people in a positive way.
A third way villians shift blame is dissociation. In a nutshell, this refers to what we commonly call "busybodies" and "troublemakers." These are people that are addicted to drama and work behind the scenes to stir up trouble and then disappear when it all blows up, playing the meek, weak person saying "oh my, all I want is peace!" That is an act, because people given to dissociation are usually dangerous. Remember that Satan is another one that only wants peace - as long as it's his kind, and these people fall in that same category. They will stop at nothing to get what they want and see other people as nothing but tools to torque the world to their will. Their purposes for stirring up trouble are varied - perhaps so they can come in and "save the day" so they can be hailed as a hero, or perhaps to turn people against one another to keep them out to keep lies from being exposed, or maybe because they just have a habit of making bad decisions and they lie and try to turn people against one another to hide their mistakes. Folks, if you haven't crossed paths with one of these then you're destined to someday because it's one we ALL struggle with at one time or another. The reason is because people prone to dissociation are no respecters of persons - remember, people are tools to them - so they will try to prey on anybody.
These types are extremely frustrating because they can wiggle out of situations and disappear from blame with the skill of a mage. There are only two ways to deal with these types: Avoidance, or catching them red handed. You literally have to stay the hell out of their way or catch them in the middle of a trap of their own making. Let me tell you, I have managed to do this once or twice (in 36 years, which tells you how difficult it is) and it's never pretty. When you catch them you win, but it's at a price because these take casualties. Like the devil, they aren't going down alone and they will take everybody they can get a claw in down with then. The problem is that there are some people you can't avoid or cut from your life, so if you have the misfortune of finding a dissociative type in your inner circle then catching them is the only solution. The good news is that deception doesn't last forever and truth does eventually show itself, so they will be exposed eventually and you better be alert and ready to act at just the right moment. The bad news, as I said, is that it's gonna hurt like hell because they'll make sure it does. But it's a price worth paying.
These are just a a few of the defense mechanisms that people use to shift blame, and one that we usually see in villians both in the real world and in fiction. In fact, knowing this can make reading very interesting, because you can look for these mechanisms at work in the books or stories you're reading and use it as a way to discern who the real bad guy is. And it works in real life too, of course.
In my next entry I'll discuss your own dark side. Because folks, we all have one whether we want to admit it or not. And knowing it can be interesting.
That's all for today. Take care and have a good week.