Connected, Really?

“Communication is merely an exchange of information, but connection is an exchange of our humanity.” -Sean Stephenson

Should cell phones be banned from American classrooms? | TheHill

I’m not convinced that our technology has done much for our deeper needs for human connection. Maybe it’s even done some damage. Technology has brought us more convenience, broadened our reach, enabled deeper dives into information swimming holes, and created serious addictions to our devices. How has all of this marvelous “wirelessness” made our lives more wonderful and terrible all at once? As I thought more about this during the week, I think college students, despite the perpetual presence of technology in their lives, are not necessarily experiencing useful connectivity.

What if you spent four years at college and never really met anyone?

Since the widespread use of the cell phone (I’m told using that term places me in a very old fashioned category) as I walk into my class, I am always surprised that the silent room is full of people. In the old days (why am I using that phrase so often?), students would be talking, laughing,  sharing information at each class session. Today, every student is silently hunched over a phone or laptop never speaking  a word or looking at anyone else. It’s not a problem related to getting “warmed up” after the first week or two. This doesn’t change for the entire semester. I have to deliberately instigate social interactions. And these still typically do not have lasting results.

“Human connection is based on trust, and it is trust that is continually violated when people do not practice setting aside their narrow self-interests in consideration of the needs and interests of others, such as their coworkers, family, neighbors, and community.” ― Diane Kalen-Sukra

Time to get intentional. I’m going to have to think about deliberate, non-threatening practices that will enable and encourage college students to develop trust in their situation, fellow students and in me. 

Is there another world passing you by?

I’m at the old man stage where I talk out loud to strangers. This is especially prone to happen at school where everyone gets asked, “Did you learn anything today?” These days I can’t always talk to people passing by. Every other person is plugged into their phone while the real world passes by, day by day. I’ve stopped assuming people are talking aloud to me as they pass. It’s more than likely someone is on their hidden phone. I learned that lesson the hard way years ago with a few loud talkers at the grocery store. No one really needed my help finding the beef consommé.

Does staying plugged in while walking or bent over your phone in a crowded room keep people safe from the uncomfortable small talk with strangers?

“I care about strangers when they’re abstractions, but I feel almost nothing when they’re literally in front of me.” ― Chuck Klosterman

As an introvert myself, yes it is much more comfortable to sit in a crowd and look busy/distracted and not in need of anyone’s company. But I’m old enough to realize that’s not very healthy.

Is there really anything better going on in that little phone than the real people’s lives all around us?

Audio audacity: Students use concealed earbuds to avoid authority – U-High Midway

“I’m an introvert.
If your party isn’t better
than the one in my head,
I’m not interested.”
― John Mark Green

Time to get intentional. I can’t invade the personal space of strangers. What I can do is keep smiling. I can continue to extend all the social grace that’s so valuable. It never goes out of fashion or plunges in worth like bitcoin. I can continue to believe that someone real will always win out over everything artificial, in the end. 

What’s the weather like today?

All that time and attention spent plugged in and what always surprises me is how little enlightenment occurs. Very rarely do I run across a student who’s prepared for the rain or cold weather. It snuck up almost out of the blue. How is this possible? You’ve been connected almost every waking hour. Don’t you know about the weather, the Russians, or clogged up I-59?

If being constantly connected to the world around doesn’t help us to live a better life – then what does it matter? What else is going on?

Maybe being online all the time is something that’s out of control. Seems harmless to be on your phone constantly. What does an addiction look like? It’s not really about learning, growing and getting a step ahead.

The Six Most Common Types of Technology Addiction

“When you can stop you don’t want to, and when you want to stop, you can’t…” ― Luke Davies

As a sociologist I realize that there are powerful market forces that want nothing more than to trap young people in a perpetual surf on the web. Selling consumer products isn’t the only commodity being peddled. Ideas, calls to action and group affiliation are a few of the categories enticing us to roam endlessly through the web. Actually, there is no age boundary to who can become ensnared in this digital trap. Right?

I just feel at times as if I’m in a zombie film when I walk across campus and there’s so few to return a greeting, much less eye contact.

Back view of Handsome Teen Boy in gray suit stretching his right hand up for greeting. Portrait of caucasian Teenager waving hand isolated on white background. Stock Photo | Adobe Stock

If I’m going to be more intentional about this, maybe I need a big name tag or sign that just reads, “Hello!” or “Happy Thursday!” Something I could wave and people as they march past while all plugged in. What do you think? I’m already sort of a character at school as it is…

“Beware the man of a single book.” ― St. Thomas Aquinas

 

 

Some Big Lessons

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” ― Plato

I got to have lunch with a friend last week. We caught up on family and our work, as friends are supposed to do. But we also did some remembering and reminding. I think that’s another important role that friends ought to play in our lives. There’s probably too much distance being kept for fear of hurt feelings. In the end, we all end up living wounded lives because no one had the guts to help us steer clear of mishaps.

Afterwards, I came away realizing three big lessons in my own life that I lived through and am even now still trying to think about more clearly.

Walking in forgiveness

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” ― Mark Twain

Growing Violets: Wild Violets Flowers In The Garden

There’s a way to live your life where you’re always trying to prove yourself. I really am worth loving, I really am worth being your friend, I really am worth having this job. Most of us walk around with this terrible guilt and shame hung around us – it weighs us down so that we always walk our steps with a hunch and limp.

What I’m trying to learn is that when I became a Christian and believed – that meant I was forgiven. I would forever live in a state of forgiveness. Not because I had been a good little boy. Not because I would work really hard the rest of my life to earn it. Not because I do all the outward acts and hold to all the inward beliefs that my group thinks are correct.

I walk in forgiveness because God has made it so and offered it to me. To be  honest, this is next to impossible for me to live out day to day. I’m clinging to my guilty conscious like an addict. So, each day I need to be reminded that I’m walking in forgiveness. What helps me more than anything is to just forgive others. As simple as that. You’d be surprised at how many people you’re mad at at any given moment.

Here’s a great lesson to remind us what can mean (click the link)

Living in a broken world

What always helps me to deal with the tribulations and tragedies of living here and now is that this world is a broken place. This not heaven yet. There are all kinds of catastrophes, cancers, killers and crooks around every corner. To think that God is manipulating my every move and therefore everything that happens to me must have a divine purpose seems silly.

May Your will be accomplished on earth as it is in heaven.  – Jesus (Luke 11)

Didn’t Jesus teach his followers to pray and ask God to bring about his will on earth as it is in heaven? I know it’s not always happening in my own life. Why would I think it’s happening all around me? We’re supposed to daily pray for it because it’s not always happening.

Rear-end Collision Lawsuit - 10 Key Things To Know About Fault

This changes my expectations when things don’t work out. Even when I’m doing everything I’m supposed to be doing and I still get rear-ended on the freeway, I don’t have to throw away my faith.

In this world, you will be plagued with times of trouble…  – Jesus (John 16:33)

We like to think that God is an American too. Managing and controlling life, fixing every problem after reading the latest self-help book, staying on top of each situation by consulting the right expert (or google). We don’t like having to endure, we want to quick fix it now. Instant faith is our method (just add some water and put it in the microwave).

“Trouble makes us one with every human being in the world – and unless we touch others, we’re out of touch with life.” ― Oliver Wendell Holmes

During lunch we both shared our stories of grief, failures and heartaches. Realizing we weren’t alone, everyone has had their own dark days. Doesn’t sound very encouraging does it? I promise I’m great at lunch.

Being reminded of this truth can keep you from being mad at God. That’s a life wreck waiting to happen if ever there was one.

The cart before the horse

College students no longer understand idioms like this. I once asked every member of my class to get up and go write on the board what they thought “If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem you see is a nail” meant. You wouldn’t believe what ended up on the board. No correct answer either!

Do You Have Your Cart Before the Horse? - Client Insight

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ― Dwight D. Eisenhower

I often wake up in my spiritual journey and wonder why God hasn’t delivered my special order. I told him all the details, following what I understood to be his guidelines, and my expectations are that he will hand me just what I want. As a product of my society deep down, god has been changed into a vending machine, drive-up window or a happiness charm hanging around my neck.

No one in their right mind would ever admit that – but just watch the way you act, talk and pray with God.

When I really think about it, this makes me sick to my stomach. It doesn’t surprise me. I think I’m very smart and know just what needs to be done. I’ve got a great plan all figured out, all God needs to do is follow the steps I’ve laid out. As I type this is, it sounds silly. I can’t believe I still operate like this so often!

My friend and I were sharing disappointments in our lives – there were times when we both thought we knew exactly what should happen next, but it didn’t. This can leave not only terrible disappointment, but also deeper (unasked) questions for the captain of the ship.

I’ve got nothing against planning. What I’m writing about is my own Messiah Complex – I know how to save the day, just follow these three easy steps and all will be fine in the end. My own need to be needed gets in the way. I’m talking too much, aren’t I? Who’s doing the listening around here?

I shudder when I look back at all of the TODAY’S that I missed as I had my head stuck in the fog of tomorrow. What a colossal waste. Years!

God always takes care of me, always delivers from disaster, always gets me out of the tangle I’ve wandered into. He can be trusted to come up with a great big plan. By the way, I think he has and I think it’s actually going to occur when all is said and done…

“Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control, and perhaps even depends on it. I mean that mirage of dominion over our own life that allows us to feel like adults, for we associate maturity with autonomy, the sovereign right to determine what is going to happen to us next. Disillusion comes sooner or later, but it always comes, it doesn’t miss an appointment, it never has.” ― Juan Gabriel Vasquez

As I get older (and older), what I’m repeating to myself and others is to look for the task at hand TODAY – don’t miss it. All I’ve got is now, I need to forgive, plan and expect as if today really, really matters. It’s hard to do when you’re tired, fighting a cold, have bitten off too much at work, or just not talking to people. Start your today being more conscious, think about specific people in your life, put some forgiveness in your pocket, lower expectations, and open your eyes.

“The beginning is always today.” ― Mary Shelley

 

 

Another Visit to the Grocery Store

“There are two types of people in this world. People who hate clowns…and clowns.” – D. J. MacHale

Going to the grocery store was always something I enjoyed doing. For many years, I did all the cooking. Trips to the store made sense as I tried to figure out what to fix that week. Our meals were mostly determined by inspiration as I wandered up and down each aisle .

These days I don’t do any cooking but I still go to the store, a lot. Maybe I’m going so often now because it’s the best place to see the everyday world of people. Maybe that’s the real reason I’ve always gone so often. I’m curious and those trips satisfy almost as much as a visit to Buc-ees.

Thousands Line Up For Opening Of New Patel Brothers Store In Niles - Journal & Topics Media Group

Try out these links:

  1. The most popular items at the grocery store
  2. Six things you should never buy at the grocery store
  3. How to shop for groceries
  4. Seven ways the pandemic has changed the way we shop for food
  5. Surviving the sneaky psychology of supermarkets

Social scientist like me are trained to categorize. If you visit the store often enough you will start to organize people – maybe not. You’re probably just going to pick up some bread and bananas.

“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.” ― Erma Bombeck

  • At my store there are people who are on a mission. These folks move in straight lines. They know what they want and seldom stand around to ponder. Many are driven by a well organized list. Other categories of people need to stay back and not clutter the aisles – it can produce very frustrated looks.
  • As time has gone by, I’ve noticed more people at the store who don’t really know what they’re doing. Mostly older males. He’s backtracking a lot. Not watching where he’s going because he’s looking up at the aisle signs to figure out where chicken bullion and muttering to himself why someone has put this on his list.
  • I used to notice a rare character talking to herself, usually in frustration. These days there’s much more out loud by yourself conversing going on. Everyone’s got a phone, ear buds and a list. Some people are filming their adventure, sending photos back to Central Command. It’s like a secret raid on an foreign military installation.
  • As I’ve moved into a more diverse city, I notice that personal space rules are different. Some people have no hesitancy in getting right up there with me as I stack my purchases on the check out conveyor. In such a hurry as if the prices were going to increase any minute. Sometimes I can’t even get everything out of my own cart before the person behind me has started to fill up the belt. One time I asked the lady if she expected me to pay for her stuff. That got an unamused looked. 
  • Personal space rules also come into play when my cart gets rammed sometimes by overanxious shoppers – maybe they’re in that mission driven category or too distracted looking up at the aisle markers? I like to use the small carts, I don’t buy very much and it helps me keep my distance, while I’m watching.
  • Sometimes I see someone who has their giant cart packed to the gills with supplies. I wonder if they’re getting ready for the end of the world. Probably a house full of hungry boys! Where will they store all those packages of meat? Who has room these days for those bales of toilet paper now being sold? Why do you think we use so much more toilet paper now than we did twenty years ago? Eating more kale?
  • Have you ever seen the way people put items in their carts? Males often organize their items, trying to keep them aligned and arranged in some sort of order. The “professional” has her cart packed efficiently with the most – probably two carts worth of groceries jammed into one (and sometimes a toddler riding shotgun).
  • Having to work through each aisle and get the necessary supplies for the week while also managing children (some on the loose) is a major accomplishment that never gets the recognition it deserves. I took my toddler grandson in one time and within five minutes had to bribe him with a giant bag of Cheetos and get out to save my life. He was not going to sit or leave anything unopened that I put in the cart. Only three items, by the way. It quickly became an Amazing Race to the checkout.
  • The new challenge at the grocery store these days are the giant trolleys being pushed up and down each aisle by teenagers with phones (when have you seen a teen without a phone glued to their hand?). These are online orders being filled. The teen employee has the orders on their phone and is shopping with a parade float sized “cart” – never in anyone’s way, ha! The temptation is always present for me to start “shopping” off those carts as they roll past – when I see something I’ve been looking for, or looks like I might need it.
  • Who is lining up to use the Self-Checkout at your store? Are these the people in a hurry? Mostly males? People with just a few items? How did the store convince us to work as unpaid labor for them? At some places they’ve even got us weighing our own apples and gluing on the price tag. I’m still amazed at the number of checkout lanes at Target that are actually props – never opened, even at Christmas. It fools us into believing getting out will be quick and easy.

“Where one leaves a shopping cart in a parking lot says a lot about their character…or lack thereof.” ― Bobby Darnell

Meijer Makes Checkout Even Easier | Progressive Grocer

There are some absolutes that I have figured out while spending too much time at the grocery store. People at the store very seldom make eye contact. Not many conversations take place, unless you run across a friend, then you want to be careful and not poke your nose into what’s filling up their cart. Generally speaking, everyone is kind to others at the store. We see civility in practice here. The grandfather who doesn’t know the difference between baking soda and powder gets a quick lesson from that lady with a baby strapped to the front of her cart.

When a disaster is on the way, we run to the grocery store. Can’t get enough toilet paper or bread. Maybe it’s not just panic or the fear of running out of essentials. At a subconscious level, the grocery store in your neighborhood is the one place where you experience the most physical contact with others. You see people, hear their voices and know that you all share the same set of basic needs. Let me help you hoist that giant pack of waters into your cart ma’am. 

At the grocery store, we are reminded that we’re not alone.

 

“Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

What’s Making You Cry These Days?

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.” ― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

I think we all need to cry more often.

We too often become cynical, too big for our britches, or just emotionally worn out (numb). You don’t feel like feeling. Then, one day, out in the parking lot, hauling your bags out of Target you see a young mom struggling to put her child and giant purse into the minivan. A memory hits you right between the eyes and all the way down to your soul. Bam!

Over the past few years I’ve noticed that I’m crying without warning over things that aren’t necessarily that moving. I just am overwhelmed for some reason and whatever it is – it floods out. It’s not a sadness or unhappy feeling. What I’ve been experiencing is just a flood of emotion that spills out. I was describing a documentary about public education in America today among friends and I got all choked up.

What’s on your list these days?

  • A modern day despot invading a weak and helpless neighbor country?
  • That Christmas commercial of the grandpa lifting weights? Oh my goodness! Who cares if it is Dutch.
  • A senior class of underprivileged high school students hearing from a generous donor that he’s going to pay all their college expenses and launch them into a different future?
  • A little boy who runs out to watch the garbage truck drive by every week, and each time receives a “hello” honk from the driver? That expression of joy on his face every single time.
  • A helpless family suffering a sudden tragedy and strangers from their community swoop in to rescue?
  • A pet who finds his way home, years later?

Recently I saw a 2019 video of the Kentucky All State Choir singing the National Anthem in the atrium of their hotel (click the link). It makes me cry every time.

“Memory is the diary we all carry about with us.” ― Oscar Wilde

I’m sitting here looking past my lap at one of my books, “Poems That Make Grown Men Cry.” Well, have you read any poetry lately? Might that not be a dose of good medicine for you? How about digging out that old college literature book off the shelf and go back and look at something vaguely familiar.

Years ago I had marked out this poem,

REMEMBER – Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
         Gone far away into the silent land;
         When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
         You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
         Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
         And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
         For if the darkness and corruption leave
         A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
         Than that you should remember and be sad.
My prescription isn’t to feel bad, but to just plain feel more often. Maybe to not feel the need to keep emotions all boxed up. What are you passionate about in life? What really bothers you – and makes you want to do something? What unresolved emotions or issues are you juggling and need to think (and pray) about? What kinds of words do you need to say to others more frequently?
Who are you? Maybe the real you is trying to get out?
Having an emotional reaction to the National Anthem isn’t anything to worry about. Reading a poem or hearing a song that takes you back to a magic moment in time is a blessing. Memory is a lifeline for us, it keeps us connected to others, it’s essential for healthy grounding. Sometimes it brings tears to our eyes – and we all probably need more of that.
“Your tears come easy, when you’re young, and beginning the world. Your tears come easy, when you’re old, and leaving it. I burst out crying.” ― Wilkie Collins

Never Alone

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” ― Mark Twain

This last week started out with Valentine’s Day, our big romantic reminder of how much we need someone else in our life.  American values teach us to be rugged individualists. Remember those heroic images from the popular media? The cowboy riding off into the sunset? A man of few words. Even in space, Han Solo seemed to push others away. There’s all that detective fiction, the dark hero rescuing the damsel in distress while at the same time unable to save himself.

John Wayne in the Searchers | John wayne movies, John wayne, Western movies

Have you someone in your life?

“What you are to do without me I cannot imagine.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Mostly, I think we take the people in our life for granted. We complain about all the back seat driving until one day when we’re alone and keep making the wrong turns. When you’re alone you soon realize that one else is ever going to pick that up off the floor if you don’t. Now you remember all the picking up that someone in your life used to do – even the symbolic kind.

People in your life sit and listen, even when they seem to be bored silly with hearing that same speech, again and again. That’s what people do when they come into our lives, they sit and listen. When they’re gone you don’t realize the value of listening until you find yourself talking to strangers at Walmart – way too often.

Walmart sales surge on coronavirus-led demand | NHH

Work is becoming a harder place. That person in your life probably could use some encouraging words from nowhere with no motive whatsoever – even if it makes him suspicious. Your insight is the most valuable, your words are the most trustworthy. What you say, and say often, can end up counting the most.

It really is the little things that end up making things different.

How about doing some new math? How about subtracting the frequency of critical feedback and increasing the amount of positive words? Tip the balance in favor of that most significant person in your life. Treat her as if she were leaving tomorrow and you weren’t going to see her for months. Make today count for something extra.

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.” ― John Joseph Powell

When people are disconnected from others for whatever reason there are a number of adverse effects that can pop up in other areas of life. Humans have a need for affiliation – we are socially wired, not designed to live as loners. Research tells us that when these needs are not met.

  • People can feel like other parts of their life are out of control (even when nothing has really changed).
  • Fuses become shorter and blow-ups happen more often – maybe it’s displacement – under the radar anger about loneliness without realizing it.
  • Sometimes when people are feeling disconnected, they become overly sensitive about other relationships – these feelings may or may not be expressed.
  • When alone too much, people experience a decrease in mental ability – it’s harder to think straight when you don’t have others in your life to talk it out with or to get feedback from.

Do you realize what you’re getting/giving when in the company of others?

We all need connections so that we can experience plain old companionship – even if it’s a silent drive together each Sunday morning to church. Just having a presence near is probably the most taken-for-granted dimension of our relationships. Physical nearness is an important expression of care and love. Going to the hospital and sitting with family in the waiting room really is a big deal. Don’t let anyone or even your own awkward feeling stop you from just going and sitting.

People need to get regular feedback from trusted people in their lives – we need to know what we are thinking by speaking it aloud and watching it get worked out through interaction with a trusted other. There’s also the feedback about the tie you’ve chosen or if you look fat in that sweater. Trust is an essential tie that binds us all.

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” ― George MacDonald

There are all kinds of adventures and experiences of life that need to be shared in order to be fully realized. Touring the museum is fun, but only half as much without someone to share your thoughts, questions, and small talk. You won’t remember that view from the mountain as breathtaking as it was unless you were there holding another hand. Our brains need a social connection to be fully operational.

Don’t take for granted the plain old information that you gain from other people in your life. Mundane, trivial, answers to Jeopardy  – this type of information buzzes between people all the time. Then, there’s the important knowledge that gets shared between friends. Where did you find that deal on a new car? When we are with others we can’t help but be learning, albeit informally.

3,956 Two Friends Talking Serious Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them” ― Thomas Merton

Do something about it tomorrow…

Just Surviving Today

“I want to suffer so that I may love.” ― Fyodor Dostoevsky

The past few days I have sat with people and heard some really terrible stories about loss, fear, death, grief, long-term suffering and loneliness. All at once. I would turn the corner and someone else would be there sitting across from me, sending me a text, sharing bad news over the phone or just opening up during a walk.

My colleagues and I have our students back this year. They seem so relieved to be back in person. But there are many who carry extra burdens. Families still hurt and struggle together. You can see it in the eyes peering over the masks. While I’m so happy to be in the classroom, there’s a shadow looming. It hasn’t been chased away yet.

When the pandemic struck and we were locked away at home, I started putting up post-it notes with names on them. I wanted to remind myself about other people who I frequently thought about – I didn’t want the current raging storm to distract me from thinking about other people who were bearing burdens in life. I’m reminded to pray, to send a note, to think past my own circumstances.

I’ve had this prayer by Thomas Merton posted for a long time. After the past couple of days, it seems like a helpful and healthy prayer and meditation. I’m reading it slowly and letting it soak in as I think about each person who’s crossed my path lately. I’d like to find a way to help. Sometimes, just listening and suffering together is enough.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton

Mythologies

What’s the mood music that’s playing in the background of your life?

“A myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence.” ― Rollo May

We conjure and accept stories over time to help us explain situations and people that have made our lives what they are. As I pass through stages in my life I think about the various stories I have been told and that I have constructed myself. These stories help to explain and sustain the reality I’m living through. They keep me floating down the river.

Everyone has this kind of experience. Think about the kinds of experiences that you and others you know have to figure out:

Why did your mother leave you when you were a child?

How am I going to find a new job?

Why does it cost so much to get ahead in the world?

I don’t understand why bad things happen to good people?

Our myths take shape over time and as we grow with experiences.

I’ve got to clear out the stuff in my house that I’ve collected over so many years. I found an app the other day that will allow me to post and “market” all the books shelved in EVERY room. That would be one great gift to leave my children, less books to have to deal with!

Everything You Need to Know About This Weekend's BIG Book Sale – Altadena Libraries

Sometimes, maybe more times, these days I find myself tripping over the clutter in my head and heart. Just today I stumbled over a foul box that I thought I’d thrown out, but as I read about and was reminded of other people and my own place in this world, I fell right over it. It was actually an ancient myth that had been told to me since childhood. I had buried it away like a treasure. But it wasn’t something to save and live on in days to come. This myth was a slow-acting poison that just kept me limping along in life.

Do you think you have any of those buried away in your own sandy beaches?

The myths we have built to help us survive sometimes get in the way of real progress, of healthy transition. We discover, the hard way, that our definitions about other people, relationships and even ourselves aren’t really accurate – maybe even downright false. We’ve been walking around in the dark too long. Worse still, we may have spent too long chained up in our heart and mind to ideas and feelings that kept us trapped and alone.

“People say you’re born innocent, but it’s not true. You inherit all kinds of things that you can do nothing about. You inherit your identity, your history, like a birthmark that you can’t wash off. … We are born with our heads turned back, but my mother says we have to face into the future now. You have to earn your own innocence, she says. You have to grow up and become innocent.” ― Hugo Hamilton

Sometimes our myths stop working or we ourselves move into new territory and we must construct a different kind of explanation to carry us across that deeper river. When you want to be more intentional with your life, pulling up anchor is an essential first step. That often means confronting a myth or two about yourself, other people or the world around you. To move in a new direction, we all need to be able to sing a different tune.

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I was standing there doing one thing and thinking deep thoughts the other day. Really just rolling through the Rolodex in my brain while engaged in a mindless activity, you know, like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, loading the dishwasher, folding clothes, etc. I was replaying the old “eight-track” tape of why things were the way they were in my life – related to a few specific situations. Then the light came on. Those lyrics weren’t really true. Actually, here’s the rest of the story, I told myself. I had known it all along but I guess I didn’t want to take full ownership of my own rotten consequences. Isn’t it always easier to blame others or mysterious fate? Or how about feeling like a real martyr and casting your life on the pyre of God’s will? That one’s really healthy for the pity party!

“Self pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” ― John Gardner

I write a lot in my journal. Some of it is classic dialogue, sounds so much like a broken record. But each time I run it through the mechanisms of feeling and thought, I take another swing at getting to the truth. Ranting on paper also feels better than bottling it up and feeling soul sick.

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Finding someone who will really listen is a good habit. That sounds funny but getting into the practice of sitting together on the front porch of life is an ancient form of healthcare. Be careful and make sure this person is willing to not be a weird circus mirror – reflecting back to you the distorted myths that you might be chewing on. Find someone who is genuine, that loves you and is faithful to the truth. Clearing out the clutter needs an accurate picture.

 

My challenge these days is to confront some of the myths rattling around in my soul and make sure they are true. I’m ready to jump off the side of the pool and swim out into life. That takes courage, mostly about myself, and a willingness to go under a time or two. But sitting on the side is never as much fun as getting into the middle of it all and participating in what’s really happening.

“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.” ― William Golding

Recently I read a great strategy about overcoming the negative and discouraging self-talk that can weigh down progress. These are like those lethal myths that lodge in the DNA of our souls. Instead of hearing only the story of defeats, pay attention instead at the successes. When I listen to the story about how I’ve outlived my usefulness, I look across the room at a photo of someone in my life who really does need me. That changes the story.

The stories I tell myself are as important as food, water and air. They keep me alive in one way or another. I need to grow wise and pay attention to these stories because they are what make me who I am and how I am with everyone else.

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” ― Virginia Woolf

What’s Been Bubbling Up?

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

One of the social thinkers who helped to invent the field of sociology, Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) used the term “collective effervescence” to describe what happens when people act in social ways to create something bigger than themselves. I try to bring an Alka-Seltzer tablet to class and drop it in a glass of water to demonstrate what this looks like. As societies evolve and become more complex, the bubbling up only gets bigger.

We’ve all been in large gatherings where it seemed everyone was moved to collective action by a speaker or new ideas.  People volunteer after hearing about a neighborhood need. Members of a society pay taxes and in so doing support all kinds of activities for the common good, like public transportation, community healthcare and police. Social good bubbles up because together we make things happen that we could never get done by ourselves.

These past few years of social crises have me wondering about why people view clear-cut situations very differently. Why do people who share so much in common divide up on issues and seem unwilling to agree on what look like reasonable solutions? Does this sound familiar to you?

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“The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism. The narcissistic orientation is one in which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one. The opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see other people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one’s desires and fears.” ― Erich Fromm

Something else is bubbling up in our society and it’s not getting resolved. What’s causing this kind of thinking and acting when it comes to politics, race/ethnicity, medical care, education and policing? I’m not sure there’s a quick answer. But there is a very interesting explanation for how extreme ideas and attitudes spread, like an infection, throughout groups and even whole societies.

When it was originally getting organized, medical science was beginning to learn about how infection occurred through germs, viruses and contact. Social Contagion Theory was created over time to help explain how certain ideas and then actions get passed around, evolve, mutate and spread throughout groups. Similar to the ways that germs spread.

Where did this normal guy I’m related to come up with these wild ideas all of a sudden? Maybe it didn’t happen “all of a sudden” and maybe he didn’t invent this thinking – maybe he caught it somewhere/somehow? What if I’m the one that’s got the strange ideas?

So your aunt has been in the car too long getting an overdose of NPR. Maybe that guy at work has lost his remote and his TV is stuck on the Fox channel? Well, of course people who only hear one side of the story tend to fall into opposing opinion camps. But this sort of activity is going on all the time. What’s happening lately seems out of the ordinary, doesn’t it?

“I learn from my own daughter that you don’t have to be awake to cry.” ― Jodi Picoult

Maybe the global pandemic, being quarantined, large and sudden economic shifts, and violent political turmoil have all created a unique series of toxic germs that have spread throughout society?

According to Contagion Theory:

  1. People can act differently when they are in a crowd. There is the anonymity that’s always possible. We might do or say things that we wouldn’t if all eyes were on us as an individual. There have been a number of crowds on the streets, in big cities and even the capital. Think about how this might apply to our online activity.
  2. During times of strain and disorder, emergent interactions occur. People don’t always know how to feel or respond during extraordinary situations. Both consciously and unconsciously, we look to our social groups to help us understand and appropriately communicate our feelings. The explosion of media sources and the internet itself has provided people with new sources of social connection, albeit impersonal and transitory. Without realizing it, many are being baited into emotional responses they normally would not be having at this level.
  3. What often happens is called a circular reaction. People can pay too much attention to isolated cases. They look at the outliers and not the average. All of us are prone to biases in thinking – we only see what reinforces our preconceptions. Seeing these examples (“see, I told you!”) causes emotional arousal – anger, fear and suspicion.  Then, what can occur, if we talk about it to our social circles, either in person or online, is contagion. Our normal inner resistance to these ideas are socially reinforced. During times when we are not living under extraordinary stress and anxiety, we might never pay attention to these isolated cases or to the voices of the crowds around us who are giving voice to our unnamed feelings.

That’s way too much theory! But that’s what people like me do during times like these when there is so much disorder all around – and even within myself. I’m searching for explanations also because, down deep, I’m a fixer. I want to know what’s wrong so we can accurately diagnose and then get back on track.

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“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” ― G. K. Chesterton

If Contagion Theory is a good way of analyzing why people all around you (yourself included) are responding in irrational and extreme ways to social situations, then here’s some suggestions to help:

  1. Get out of your familiar crowds and join some that don’t always think the way you do. Switch your media sources for a little while. Maybe get off the internet and spend time with people in person.
  2. Open your ears and mind to listening to ideas and reactions that don’t necessarily agree with your own (stop spending all your energy defending your own position).
  3. Find some ways to get more perspective on your thoughts and feelings. Writing it out helps. Read your Bible. Reflect on how you’ve responded to crises in the past. Talk with your parents and older relatives to get their longer view of life.
  4. Try and locate your jar of empathy in the back of the cupboard.

“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”  ― Frederick Buechner

Christmas and Memory

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“What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.” ― Julian Barnes

As you decorate for the holidays each year are you putting up all your lights and garland just to have something festive hanging from your windows and branches? Is this annual activity only aimed at putting your home in the festive mood? Maybe this is a traditional chore that just needs to be done? You’ve purchased all that stuff over the years, it would be crime to not drag it out and nail it to the wall, right?

My wife was the decorating dynamo to my grinch every Christmas season. Ask anyone that knows us. She was definitely over the top. As the years passed, our house started to look like a nutcracker flea market. Things are much more low key these days. In fact, I couldn’t find any of our collection of wreaths. Please don’t tell. I must of lost my senses and pitched them all one hot July afternoon. Let’s hope Santa wasn’t watching.

The question I want to ask is, do you think this is really all about just decorating? I think. whether we realize it or not, what we are doing is awakening our memory each holiday season.

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” ― Hamilton Wright Mabie

When we relive our memories that made us happy – it makes it more true.  The memory we have of being with our friends, loved ones, family becomes more firmly planted inside us as we remember, share it, and pass it on in the telling, retelling (and even elaborating). These memories become happiness for us years later, when at the time we never fully realized what they truly were. They were being planted inside us as we grew up and matured and then one day needed them so much.

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” ― Virginia Woolf

What we do with our memories is so important. They aren’t really something to just save for a rainy day. They become richer and vibrant as we share them with others. They need to be passed on so that they can live and continue to enliven with meaning. When you talk about that ornament on the tree that your grandmother made, you are sharing part of yourself with your granddaughter. She will remember it one day as she hangs it on her tree and will have saved a part of you and a piece of what mattered to you.

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” ― J.M. Barrie

Memory hold us all together. Those rich memories that are being created and shared during this time of year are like chains of gold that hold people together – especially when the going gets rough. Having common memories, even when we don’t all remember the details the same, is an essential form of social cohesion. It’s like super glue that keeps even the most independent free spirit connected to his home base. Somehow.

“There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.” ― Charles Dickens

When Christmas arrives each year, what do you remember?

I’m unpacking boxes in the garage and finding memories stashed away, some very carefully, others crammed in with what looked like a mostly hurried life. I honestly thought that maybe last year I had packed away my artificial tree with all the decorations still on it. It is the season of hope, no? Well, I found the box and no such luck.

My childhood Christmas was in the 60’s and 70’s. Very unique decor. I remember two very different kinds of holiday. One at home with a silver and gold tree in the olive green, dark wood living room. The tree had it’s own rotating multicolored spotlight shining on it as it stood proudly in the front window. We thought it was cool, but because it was in the front living room, where no one ever went, except the little dogs to periodically take a dump, it was an experience we didn’t really fully embrace.

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We had another tree in the den, the regular tree. This is the one where we stashed presents, hung lights and our homemade ornaments. It was the children’s tree. We did grow up doing craft projects with the neighbors. I remember making ornaments for the tree and even presents for our family. I don’t remember all the gifts purchased at the store – I do remember those that we made ourselves. Not sure all the recipients did??

“The smells of Christmas are the smells of childhood” ― Richard Paul Evans

As I recall, my grandparents did hang up on the walls of their little house those homemade gifts. That was the other location for my childhood Christmas memories. There was a life-sized Santa and his sleigh with Rudolph, wooden cut-outs in the front yard. We knew Christmas was almost here when they went up each year. The tree was hung with all the familiar decorations, homemade, store bought, it was an archive of memories as we explored the branches every year to look for our favorites.

Those memories are recorded on polaroid photographs. Remember those? Your aunt with that funny hairdo. Those cousins who looked so innocent. Everyone was like a new jacket. Then you realize how many of those faces are gone now. I can’t really remember any of what was wrapped up in those packages, so colorful and carefully arranged. But I do remember those people that I didn’t pay enough attention to, taking it for granted as we all do. Now Christmas is just a few of us instead of a houseful. All that love is still bouncing off the walls but not as many to catch it.

“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.” ― William Golding

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to grieve a little for people no longer here when you come across a memory. We had a beloved aunt who crafted homemade cards with photos, she wrote on the back of each one, I saved many and run across them now and again. That’s what bittersweet tastes like, I thought, as I put one of her handmade ornaments on my tree last night.

Make it a point this year to take a few moments and remember someone or sometime in your life. Think about what they/it mean to you. As you’re sitting around with others, find something to share – especially with someone of the next generation. Maybe a backstory, a quality, something important that ought to be known. It doesn’t need to be in chapters or make everyone cry. But it will tell a lot about you. If you can be intentional about sharing, you will have helped hold your group together with a few more strands of meaning. And that kind of buried treasure won’t ever run out of batteries.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” ― Amy Carmichael

 

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Worth a Million Dollars

I don’t buy lottery tickets.

On the way to work each day there’s a big billboard that informs us all of the current state lottery jackpot numbers – increasing each week until someone wins. Like everyone else crawling through traffic to their hum-drum jobs, I imagine what life would be like if I just won a single million dollars.

“What is the likelihood, of winning the lottery, then lose it all the next day when you step out your front door and get struck by lightning? Probably, very slim, but then anything is possible.” ― Anthony Liccione

Trying to be a saint, the first items on my list are always benevolent in nature. I’d care for widows and orphans and set up some sort of organization to do good works. I’d pay off all my bills, quit my job and devote my time to my passion in life. Not sure what that really is anymore??

By the time I get to work, a few minutes later, I realize what a disaster having a winning lottery ticket would mean for me. I’d surely make a mess of things, my life included. Money is the root of all evil, right? I’d be a fool and end up in more trouble then than I am now. I’d be a tragic character in an O. Henry story.

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” ― Epictetus

No, I don’t need a lottery ticket. To be honest, God really is taking care of me day by day. You’d be surprised at all the details, until you start looking. Initially we tend to think that most if not all of our problems could be solved with a big fat check in the mail. Then something happens, you make too many wrong turns, someone goes missing, you’re not sure who’s looking back at you in the mirror anymore…and over time you realize that more dollars in the bank isn’t really going to fix most of what’s wrong. You can’t buy a new attitude on Amazon.

As children grow up they learn it all. Humans are emotionally equipped. But what to do with all those feelings? Our social worlds teach us how to manage and act out our emotions, when and how to display what we feel and how we should/should not feel:

  • Look people in the eye when speaking
  • Smile back
  • Hug people that you love
  • Don’t hug strangers
  • Cry with others when they are sad
  • Learn how to control your temper

Often we forget that they are just children with developing brains and everything else. They are brand new selves, trying to negotiate a strange world. Take a look at that extended family photo hanging on YOUR wall and just imagine trying to figure that out (while standing below everyone’s knees). The job of the adult is to make a safe place for kids to figure out who they are becoming – not put them into a pre-figured mold or turn them loose into the jungle of today’s self-absorbed society. Right?

Little children are never as happy to see us as we are to see them. Their feelings don’t last but a few magic moments. Goodbye can be a foreign concept. Attachment isn’t so much about feeling as it is about frequency. Children need to have the time and space to practice how they feel. Never expect a child to mean what he says or does (I’ve made that mistake too often!).

“Children see magic because they look for it.” ― Christopher Moore

It’s been an adventure watching my 3-year-old grandson as he grows and figures out how to express himself. His parents are very laid back personalities. He’s not at all. Runs everywhere and talks as loud as he can – even at 5am. During the week he attends a pre-school, so he gets to have a lot of interaction with other growing up kids his age. Fun and well-planned activity all day long. When do they teach how not slam doors?

The two of us were sitting on the couch, playing around as we usually do, and out of the blue, he leaned over and gave me a kiss on my cheek. Just the spontaneous expression of a child. He probably forgot all about it a moment later. Just a passing feeling quick as a wink flying past his soul.

It just took me a moment to realize that’s all I ever needed, all I would ever need in life.

Who needs a million dollars when you can get that?