April 29, 2011

Five lies I used to (and sometimes still do) tell myself (and others)… v 1.5

Filed under: Just life,Observations — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 5:08 pm

I have a clue – “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know” So, so, true… Lets get right to it.

I thought the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock… oops.

I thought Rosa Parks was the first person to refuse to give up her seat and subsequently spark a political and legal battle reaching the Supreme Court, forever changing the landscape of civil rights… oops.

I thought our tax rates were high… oops.

I thought I’d recognize a drowning person and be able to save them… oops.

I thought Ben Franklin was pretty clever with that whole kite/key thing… oops

I thought, as a teen, that my parents had lost touch with the “modern” world; and that I knew more than they did about life in the 80′s… big, big, big oops. (25 years later… I’m really glad I started listening to them again along the way, and still do to this day.)

You get the idea… this is just a random sampling of some of the “shocks” I have experienced over the years as my knowledge base has grown. Over the past week, as I’ve been writing about these “lies” I have changed my mind regarding what I was going to write about – and from what angle I was going to write it – more times than I’d like to admit to, in fact… perhaps more times than I’m even aware of.

It fascinates me, as I expand my knowledge base and uncertainty asserts itself as the only logical result, that I am simultaneously expected to carry myself as more confident, assured, and informed. I am certainly more practiced, and it is probably also true that I am better able to anticipate probable outcomes/solutions to situations based on that experience.


I have far more curiosities and unanswered questions now than at any other point in my life, and yet, I package myself (as society seems to demand) as an informed, au currant, decision making machine. My family expects it, my job expects it, my friends expect it… everyone expects it; and, not wanting to disappoint, I deliver results; confident, self-assured, actionable results.

What I wonder – and at times worry – about is how many babies are getting thrown out with the bath water of “common knowledge” or educated assumptions bordering on braggadocio. How many learning or growing opportunities are being passed over in favor of demonstrating my intellectual cachet.

That is part of what this week has been about. Questioning things I am uncertain (or even things I am certain) about… poking the soft underbelly of confidence.

When you work out you break down muscles, and then they rebuild themselves, stronger than they were. You build a more solid foundation and are able to do more – expand yourself further – based upon that. I believe that any exercise in self-reflection and self-assessment works the same way.

Whether it’s the knowledge that I really need to prepare to be the best I can be or that even if I do that prep work, things still may not go my way… and that’s okay too; that at any given moment I can be the worst parent on the block, but it doesn’t mean I am bad, and it doesn’t mean I don’t love my kids beyond belief and wouldn’t move heaven and earth for them; or the realization that there isn’t much point criticizing others when my life is such a work in progress itself… the bottom line is I am stronger when acknowledging my weaknesses. I am (and will become) more capable, knowing what I cannot (currently) accomplish.

So… perhaps the next time I’m lecturing my kids on morals and conduct, and they think I am out of touch and don’t have a clue; I’ll throw them a curve ball and let them know they are right, I don’t. Then together, we – the clueless – can go out in search of answers. It kinda sounds fun… put that way… way cooler than walking to and from school in the snow… barefoot… uphill… both ways… who does that?!!?!??!?

April 28, 2011

Five lies I used to (and sometimes still do) tell myself (and others)… v 1.4

Filed under: Just life,Observations — Tags: , , , , , , — sbj @ 3:14 pm

I am the good guy – As I mentioned earlier this week in another version of “lies,” last weekend I toured Cornelius Vanderbilt’s summer “cottage,” The Breakers. While marveling at the beauty and fantasizing about living in such splendor, the majority of my focus was on the excess. The houses 4 floors have around 130,000 square feet of living space, the primary living space (the first two floors) exceeds 65,000. Fifty-four (54) full sized replicas of my current house fit inside the primary living space (108 if you elect to fill the entire residence).

To be fair, they had three more children living with them than I do… so they needed the extra space, and all of the servants living on the third and fourth floors. But… this is not about them… its about me.

As I stated above, I walked through the building with an air of put-upon commoner. I talked (read: complained) to friends and co-workers(upon my return to Boise) about the extravagance, indulgence and excess. I judged the Vanderbilts for what they had beyond their needs, and the decadent lifestyle they chose to live while so many others toiled in poverty (even under their very roof). I was offended that they could “blow” so much money while people like me live pay check to paycheck, just hoping the car doesn’t break down or no one requires a trip to the ER

Then I looked at my About page

I then reflected on the fact that I decided Wednesday night to tote the family down to Taco Bell for fast food rather than making dinner with the food I had at home because I was tired and didn’t want to cook. I considered that I have money in savings (not a lot, in fact… very little, but, some). I sit, at work, in an office with its own climate control… consuming energy so that I can be comfortable while I work my 8 hour shift before I drive my own car home and decide what to have for dinner (my third full meal of the day… probably augmented with a snack or two along the way and all the cold, fresh, filtered water I could ever want).

How must my lifestyle look to this guy… (and please note… I intentionally didn’t go with the worst case scenario for effect… if you want to see that picture… scroll to the bottom)

Neither he, nor his anyone else in his family, will ever consider savings. His entire (probably rather short) life will be spent in emergency mode. If he ever handles money, it will go as fast as it came on food, water, or some other necessity that is not currently a part of his daily routine… let alone taken for granted.

He will never know what a taco bell is, let alone decide to eat there because he feels wiped from a day spent working in his air conditioned office (in fact, he might never know what air conditioning feels like).

And on and on and on…

To him, I am the Vanderbilt family. I am the excess, the opulence, the conspicuous consumption… I am the bad guy in his life’s story (whether he knows it or not).

Its not just money, perspective exists in every facet of my life. I judge people who’s perspectives are different than mine as being bad; however, from theirs, or someone else’s I have failed to even consider, I am the problem.

I am not the good guy, nor the bad guy either for that matter, and every time I start to think I am it should send up a great big bright red flag. No, Soren, you’re not the good guy (no one is)… you are just… a guy. Perhaps more fortunate than some (and less so than others)… but, at the end of the day, certainly not better.


The guy I didn’t choose…

April 27, 2011

Five lies I used to (and sometimes still do) tell myself (and others)… v 1.3

Filed under: Just life,Observations — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 1:15 pm

I am a good parent – Don’t worry, this is not going to be a self-deprecating voyage of fishing for compliments on my parenting. I know that, at times, I have been (and will be) an exceptional parent to my children. However, what I have realized over time is that parenting is a series of glorious successes and fabulous fails; mountainous highs and cavernous lows, and the line that separates me from any other parent out there is very fine, and – much like my accomplishments in last minute (sometimes self-created) emergencies – often as dependent on luck as anything else.

batter up

Baseball has often been called a game of inches. Two batted balls hit equally hard, on the same, trajectory in the same direction can yield two completely different results. One will wind up in a short stops mitt and end an inning, the other will scoot past him (just eluding his grasp) and end the game by knocking in the winning run.

Many parenting decisions and outcomes seem to fit into this same general mold. I know other parents with the same attitudes, morals, rules, etc. in their houses; however, because of ~whatever little thing~ they did differently in raising their children, they have gone on completely different paths. I know parents who have done much more for their kids than I have, who have nothing but headaches; and parents who have done virtually nothing for their progeny and have “perfect children.”

What if one of my stern lectures had gone horribly wrong and I had lost one of my son’s attention forever? What if I had said something different when they were younger and inspired them to Nobel Laureate status (heck, maybe I did, and I just don’t know it yet).

I have come to believe that parenting, good or bad, is more like a batting average. A collection of strikeouts, bases loaded hits, double plays, home runs and perhaps – if you are crafty – the occasional bunt single. At the end of “the season” you can generalize and judge your parenting by reviewing your stats. However, day to day, as you parent, you are no better or worse than your current “at bat.” You dig in, anticipate what is likely to be thrown to you in this situation, try to pick up the rotation on the ball and put the best swing on the ball you can. You then hope for solid contact; and once you are done with that, you start the process all over again on the next pitch… yep, that’s parenting.

So, someday, I might be able to look back and say I was a good parent. But for today (and for the foreseeable future) I’m just looking to put the ball in play as often as possible and with a little bit of luck help the team find a way to win…

April 26, 2011

Five lies I used to (and sometimes still do) tell myself (and others)… v 1.2

Filed under: Just life,Observations — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 2:41 pm

Life isn’t fair – I used to be pretty passionate about this one. I remember hearing the lecture from so many of my elders over the years (usually after stomping my feet and exclaiming some situation to be unfair); and it certainly left its mark. Not all that long ago I was giving the same lecture to one of my boys… “life isn’t fair, get used to that and learn to accept it or you are going to have a disappointing run on this planet” (or something like that).


The thing is, as much as we don’t want to admit it… life is fair. The playing field is even the opportunities for success or failure are there for you, and the guy next to you, and the gal next to him. As people or as societies, we may set up cultures that favor one group or another (I currently enjoy all sorts of advantages as a tall while male in the United States of America); however, “life” doesn’t have anything to do with that. Plus, lots of short black (Asian, Hispanic, etc.) woman have been far more successful than I have.

I live in the wealthiest nation in the world, surrounded by affluence and opportunity; yet, the wealthiest person in the world hails from Mexico… a country in may ways the opposite of all of that, from an environmental standpoint. I spent the weekend touring Cornelius Vanderbilt’s summer “cottage”, all 130,000 sq ft of it. He started his life poorer than I. I listened to stories of his servants, beginning with their hard and impoverished lives in service to the Vanderbilt’s and ending in their stories of social and financial success.

Typically people get what they deserve, in one form or another. Our “rewards” and “successes” may not be what we want them to be, and others may be able to inflict us with circumstances we did not earn for ourselves; but these things are not unfair, they are just a part of the grand randomness of life.

An that’s just the thing. Life is completely random. You might be born a Vanderbilt, you might be born to me, and you might be born – with AIDS – in the heart of Ethiopia. You might go your entire life without being in a traffic accident or your life might be cut short by a drunken driver at the age of 5. the Earth has no agenda, no vested interest in you, it just goes about existing… randomly.

Lets say we are starting a new school and more people want in that can attend. What do we do? We hold a lottery… a random selection of who gets in and who doesn’t. Why? Because it is the only fair way to do it. How do we select the winner of the Powerball jackpot or who will sacrifice themselves for the greater good (i.e. “draw the short straw”)? Randomly… so as to be fair. We, as a society embrace randomness as fairness. Yet, when life acts randomly (and – more specifically – when it acts against our best interests) we admonish it for being unfair.

Life does not promise success, affluence, or comfort; those are constructs of modern man. Life promises a struggle for survival and the opportunity to revel or revile in the journey.

Success or failure in life used to be (literally) defined by life and death; and success was defined by living to a ripe old age of 30 or 40 years. In most of the world today, the worst case scenario is better than a successful life was then. There are some exceptions, of course, where ones life is still defined by their ability to survive to middle age. However, in my opinion, this has less to do with life being unfair than it does with the people living life (in more fortunate areas of the world) being selfish.

If you ask me, people are (can be) unfair, unjust and unscrupulous… but life… is random, unpredictable, and unquestionably fair.

April 25, 2011

Five lies I used to (and sometimes still do) tell myself (and others)…

I work best under pressure – Making the best of a given situation should not be confused with making the best of an opportunity. My seemingly fantastic accomplishments under pressure seldom, if ever, hold up as anything above average when compared to similar tasks that were undertaken in a steady conscientious manner.

Under Pressure

I recently read an article about a young man who had gotten himself into trouble with the law in his youth. He subsequently has rebounded and holds a well regarded position on the Governors staff. It was a great story of someone turning his life around, overcoming the mistakes of his youth, and making something of himself. However, what resonated with me the most was his self-assessment at the end of the article; “I don’t think I should be celebrated for overcoming obstacles I put in my own way.”

I view any of my “under fire” achievements (that were born of procrastination) in roughly the same light. Other than luck, the only things to which I attribute my successes in these situations are the previous life experiences that essentially served as practice; and thus prepared me as if I had actually committed the time and attention demanded by the task at hand.

The reality is that, while I may work better than (some) others under pressure, no one, including me, does their best work under pressure.

April 15, 2011

Kids these days… (spoonful of sugar not included)

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , — sbj @ 11:39 pm

I have written several times before about what I view to be an eroding society.  I have commonly placed that compromise in quality of character squarely at the feet of the media, and the general public, who so blindly gobble up what they serve.

What I do not intend to do today is contradict that; however, I do want to take a look at some (one, perhaps) of the other sources of this condition.  I recently found myself in the unusual, dare I say unique, position of being a parent feeling completely unable to impart a moral lesson to my child… can you imagine?!??!

As I tried to impress upon my son the importance of 1. thinking before he acted and 2. acting on the results of that thinking (you’d be surprised – or maybe you wouldn’t – at how many people stop at the first step) we continually hit a impasse.  He would state that he did think before acting, and his actions would indicate very clearly that he hadn’t.  Clearly he was lying… right???

Not really.

Further conversation revealed what, to me, was a rather terrifying discovery.  He had considered his actions and alternative options; he had sorted out, based on his priority system the best options from the worst; and he has acted accordingly.

The problem is, his logic tree took him down a different path than mine did.  For him, the value of making other people laugh was greater than the value of maintaining his own personal quality of character (my summary of the conversation, not his).  Based on his evaluation of the situation, he hadn’t done anything wrong, and the fact that I disagreed didn’t matter.  He had his opinion and I had mine, and that’s all it was, a matter of different opinions based on different priorities (his summary of the conversation).

Dose of reality: it’s not that he’s incapable of making solid moral decisions, it’s that they are not important enough to make.  There are more pressing matters at hand, like making people laugh.

How did this happen???

Two sources, I believe; the first one, in short… is me.  My way of dealing with stress is to joke.  The tougher the situation, the more I assault it with humor.  It works for me; however, part of why it works is that I am aware of the context dictating how and why I am using this particular mechanism to deal with the stress surrounding me.  Others observing me are not privy to this knowledge, and to whatever degree, may well perceive that I am not taking the situation seriously.

I have been known to pop a joke (or 12) in the middle of a serious conversation with the kids when the environment seemed to be getting a little too heavy and productivity (meaning the kids attention) was starting to plummet.  I don’t view this as a bad thing, it helps… and often extends conversations that would otherwise die a horrible conflict addled death to the point where something constructive comes from them.  However, it also implies that serious conversations (and situations) are ripe for comedy and- at least the appearance of – a lack of respect for what is going on… not so good.

The other problem (and this is the good part… for me) is my old nemesis, the media and its adoring followers.  When I think of the type of programming my son enjoys, really think about it… it’s a bit scary.

He loves house (more so in the past, but still now as well), and, honestly, I often have enjoyed turning off my brain and watching the drama/mystery unfold before me.  But, let’s be honest (and blunt), the guy is a jackass.  His moral compass is not just broken, I think it’s actually missing a couple directions and has had its magnet switched and replaced by stale toothpaste.

Speaking of jackasses (apparently my word for the day) he loves that show (and the movies) as well.  I wouldn’t even give these guys a compass… they’d likely use it as part of some sick torture device or as a piece of drug paraph…wait… that might not be such a bad idea… never mind that part…

(see what I mean about me and jokes)

Anyway, the point is, these shows – and so many more like them – generate their ratings and popularity by creating victims for others to laugh at.  The guiding principle is that, if you can get a big enough laugh… well then being a bit of a douche is “acceptable loss.”  In fact, I’m not sure it really registers as a loss at all, I’m pretty sure you have gained some sort of hipster equity in the process.

They establish a culturally acceptable vetting system whereby poor moral choices can receive a favorable assessment and a green light because morality is a secondary criterion in the evaluation process.

Between my relaxed standards for serious moments, and the decaying character representations on tv etc. my son is simply growing in the fertile soil my generation has provided.

So, I guess at the end of the day, the problem with kids these days is, largely, adults these days.

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