February 19, 2017

A short story about empathy and understanding…

(The story at the beginning of this is altered to protect people who might be offended by the actual topic…
I’m not this sensitive about golf, but I needed to make a point)

I am a golfer. I love the sport and play it as often as I am able (I’m even going on a 50 day golf odyssey to every state this year). But often (as I’m a big fan of basketball as well) I’m in the gym with guys who don’t play golf. Periodically, the conversation will turn to what is and isn’t a sport; and, almost invariably someone will go on a “golf isn’t a sport” rant. If the majority of the group feels that way, it can often turn into a full-on offensive against golf, golfers, and anyone who might defend the game as a sport.

This (didn’t really, see note above) happened to me the other day and I came away with a perspective I feel might be important to share. When talking to a “golfing” friend later in the day I pointed out that probably, at this stage in my life, dealing with people constantly attacking “golf” was the closest I would ever come to feeling racism or bigotry (I’m a tall while male… I have literally every advantage our society offers). I noted how tough it can be to be surrounded by people who disrespect and even hate “golf.” Especially because they felt so emboldened by their majority standing that they were perfectly comfortable saying these things right to my face, without any regard for my feelings.

I did acknowledge that, while there is a clear majority of “non-golfers” around me I still had the ability to leave the situation and easily escape my tormentors, but still, it did offer me a hint of what it might be like. It was right about here in the conversation that I realized how broad a spectrum “empathy” can really have. In some ways, I certainly was more able to empathize with people who have been oppressed (based on race, gender, or whatever). However, if you think about it there is a big difference between the understanding you get from a car full of people driving by and yelling “cracker” and having almost every single person around you saying it. There is even another level when you consider that a person can get in their car and drive as far as they want… and still be looked on as that “cracker.”

(note: this image ^^^ links to a great article on empathy and dealing with it in interpersonal situations… it’s valuable all by itself)

What I believe is that getting to that point mentally, imagining that hopelessness or at least futility… that is where real empathy begins. I think it is very easy to be called a name, or have some core tenant of your beliefs attacked and think you “get it.” You don’t. And, while you may get closer to a functional (and, dare I say, useful) understanding if you take the full mental journey, you still won’t know the true experience (just as I never will).

However, maybe you don’t have to. When you take the step from “they called me a name and that sucks, so I get racism” or “all those guys were so much bigger than me, so I get what it’s like to be a woman and constantly feel like prey” to “what must be like to never be able to escape this… to have no safe harbor, have my only real options be to deal with it or hide… I just can’t imagine” you are probably getting as close as you can get (and as close as you need to be to know you don’t want anyone to experience that… ever). When it stops being a co-opted phrase to describe your personal discomfort (i.e. about you), and becomes a heartfelt caring for someone else (i.e. about someone else)… you’re probably where you need to be. You are feeling actual empathy… and probably personal growth as well.

July 1, 2015

I Love it When I’m Wrong

I love it when I’m wrong, it’s one of my favorite phrases… and today… I was wrong. In being so, I also learned something about myself, reflection, and that (sometimes lost) art my parents taught me of thinking before you speak.

A few days ago EL James (author of 50 Shades of Grey) decided to hold a Twitter Q&A… this was a disaster. As a non-fan of the movie (I admit I didn’t read much the book (I didn’t get far before the writing turned me off)… but have read lots about it if that counts for anything), I thought the Twitter roast was hilarious and started sharing the “good times” with some friends (read: sharing the best Twitter slams for us to mutually titter and cackle about). That’s what I was doing when I came across this one:

It was (and if I’m being honest *is*) hilarious, and I was soon zipping it around to friends. But then, I read a bit more of @avestal’s Twitter feed (which you should check out… he’s funny and has his head on right) and came upon this (it’s a feed so you have to read it from the bottom up… I’m too lazy to have reshuffled it for you… sorry):

And that’s when I had my personal “oh shit” moment. You see, Andrew (sorry if that is too personal, Andrew, we don’t really know each other after all) is dead on with his assessment of “But–maybe don’t punch.” I constantly preach about positivity and treating others with respect… and here I was glorifying the very public flogging of someone who had put herself out there, taken a chance and written her book. I’m not saying for a second my opinion of the movie (or book, what few words of it I read) has changed… but there is no need for me to be personally bashing the woman who wrote it (or glorifying anyone else for doing it).

Mr. Vestal acquitted himself far better than I did in this whole thing and I can’t undo the sharing I’ve already done; however, I can say I learned from (and hopefully will be better because of) it and for that I’m thankful.

May 21, 2015

With all Due Respect to Maya Angelou (and Mark Twain)

I love Maya Angelou, I don’t know if I’ve ever had an office that didn’t contain at least one book or collection of hers… this one is on my office bookshelf right now:

However, multiple times a week (sometimes a day, depending on how much free time I am wasting) I’ll see the following on Facebook or Pinterest or somewhere else:

Now, I get where she (and he, before her) is/was going with this. And, on an individual basis – complete with a healthy dose of proper context – I guess I wouldn’t even put up much of a fight about it. However, taken against a more general canvas I think I struggle with the potential message.

Here’s the thing, my entire bio on Twitter (and other places as well) consists of this “what you think of me is none of my business.” Now while that may seem a bit egotistical or something, I assure that is not where it is coming from. The point, simply is that my character, my self-confidence, and (most importantly for this discussion) my actions are not guided by someone else and their opinions… especially of me.

If I’m going to give (whether it is money, time, advice or something else) to someone in need what I’m not going to to is pre-screen that gift against what that person thinks of me… that is completely irrelevant to their need, which is what I’m (at least theoretically) addressing by my actions.

This thought process goes beyond giving. In my everyday life I don’t make decisions about what I think about people based on my perceived notion of how they view me. For starters, how fleeting would my opinions of people be in that instance; reevaluating them each time they had an emotional reaction to something I did?

There are people in my life that I view as priorities who I know for a fact do not view me as such. Some view me as options… some probably view me far worse than that. I don’t care, it has nothing to do with my feelings, respect, or prioritization of them. And frankly, if it did – and I was honest with myself – I’m pretty sure I’d find that petty and small of me. I’m pretty sure most parents have experienced the priority/option paradox with their children, and I doubt any of them are willing to throw out the (mostly grown) baby with the metaphorical bathwater.

So, as much as I revere and respect Maya (and perhaps even Mark.. although I certainly don’t have as “close” a relationship with him as I do her), I have to part ways on this notion. I get the “don’t be trampled upon” idea, but when taken generally I think the bad outweighs the good on this one. You can avoid being trampled on because of a slogan, or you can avoid it because of an inner strength and confidence garnered by setting your own compass, cutting your own jib, and being true to yourself and your feelings. If I were in the business of giving advice, I’d point people toward the latter option…

July 10, 2013

This is why we can’t (or shouldn’t) have nice things…

Filed under: Environment,Observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 10:26 pm

A few weeks ago I took (public) umbrage with the faux-fact based facebook post:

My issue with it was (and remains) the distorted use of facts taken out of context (not to mention the poor methodology and small sample size of the actual study cited). Rearing it’s face again, the over simplification and reduction to a few choice, targeted words of a complex topic so that is is digestible and easy to repeat for the ignorant masses.

Note: I am not saying everyone who read or repeated this post is ignorant… I am simply talking about the objectives of its creators

If that notions offends you, I’m sorry… but unless you read the entire study (I did, for the record) you really shouldn’t be quoting it… let alone passing on someone else’s quote from it. Bottom line, you don’t understand it and shouldn’t be passing it off as fact (or anything else for that matter).

But this is just background for what I want to talk about today. More of the same to be sure, but on this one I can actually chime in with my opinion. You see, on most issues, like abortion, because I work for a non-partisan office, I cannot share my views (which has made for some interesting reading of some of the comments I have received… as people have assumed quite incorrectly what side of the fence I am on regarding some issues and railed against “people like me” when in fact “people like me” are “people like them” since we share the same view).

Alas, once again, I digress…

Today I saw this juicy tidbit on Facebook (take note of the highlighted text and the circled link in the image):

As I am prone to do before commenting, sharing, or even liking something on Facebook, I clicked on the available link (the one circled in the image above) to read the background and detailed information about the post. So, imagine my surprise when I read, less than half way through the article, the following:

It is a very natural process and scientists say it should not be tied directly to the very real climate changes that are also affecting this part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

You read that right… in the article referenced by the post stating “the time for half measures is over — we need climate action now” we are told in no uncertain terms that what we are reading about is “very natural” and that it shouldn’t be linked to climate changes.

Seriously, people???!?!??!?!??!?!?

This is particularly galling to me because I happen to believe in “Global Warming” and happen to agree with the folks that think we are creating our own extinction event on carbon emission at a time. And I don’t even care (…gasp…) how it effect profits (profits are of little concern to a uninhabited world, IMO). In other words… I completely agree with the message, and want to be able to re-post this. But I can’t, because it is rubbish (with regard to global warming… it’s still interesting from a purely scientific standpoint).

Simple minds are easily swayed, and I realize the path to political success is paved with mass ideological conscription. However, I can’t help feeling that with every Facebook post and Pinterest pin (of this ilk), we are chipping away our national intelligence quotient. And I’m not sure that’s a price worth paying to acquire a vote, or even an election, here and there. Democracy (representative or not) is based on an informed electorate casting informed responsible votes. When was the last time we could say that was the case for the majority of our voters? When was the last time we were even trending in that direction?

I don’t think the propaganda machines are going to stop any time soon (there is too much money and power to be accumulated), so it’s up to us, the “consumers” of this drivel to do our part. Read the underlying stories, research the so called facts, and most important… call people out on false or misleading statements (even, as is the case with the ice berg above) it runs contrary to your point of view.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson

July 1, 2011

I am (crest)fallen… and I can’t get up…

As I drove to work this morning, listening to the coverage of the eroding case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn (GSK), I could not help but think that nothing good can come of this.

Let me begin by saying that my concerns are not for GSK himself. He is a married man who, by his own admission – and this admission is supported by his highly structured legal defense, had consensual (at least on his part… her part remains somewhat in question) intimate relations with someone other than his wife. I do not offer, nor do I encourage, any sympathy for where that action leads him. I have wandered off the path of appropriateness in my past, I didn’t expect anyone to excuse my actions then and I don’t expect any greater grace for him now. He made his bed… now he gets to lie in it.

However, there are other sides to this coin and they are deeply lamentable.

If the alleged victim is telling the truth, then the events of today are yet another example of the purchasing power of influence, affluence and propaganda. In this case another powerful man will have skated off to innocence on a smear campaign… strategically excusing his horrendous actions by bringing the public perception of his victim down to his own heinous level and excusing himself in the process.

Villainizing a victim to excuse the actual perpetrator is not new, but at some point we, as a society, need to put an end to it. The continued process of excusing our own actions because someone else is just as bad or worse can only lead to a gradual – yet complete – degradation of our society. It is the fuel that allows the next rich powerful person to muck rake in an effort to excuse their actions… and the cycle continues, further empowered every time a GSK, or Kobe Bryant (et. al.) goes down this road.

If she is lying, and – increasingly – it is looking like this might be the case, the scenario is arguably just as bad. If she has, for example, colluded among others with the nefarious intent of bring down Mr. Straus-Kahn what she is really assailing is victim and women’s rights, protections, and credibility. Every victim in the world will have been metaphorically kicked in the shins by this woman. She herself will be empowering the same cycle discussed above, just from the other side of the proverbial “tracks.” Her actions will strike at the veracity of every sexual assault claim that comes after it; by fabricating an assault, she compromises the credibility of victims of real attacks, leaving them vulnerable to unwarranted assailing of their character.

Whether “the system” is being “supported” from upper (DSK) or lower (by the maid) end of the socio-ecomonic strata is of no consequence… the net result is the same.

At this point, no matter how this shakes out… the bottom line is that the only “thing” that benefits is the cycle of compromised integrity. The only tangible results that can be reasonably expected are more attorneys and detectives specializing in the deconstruction a person’s life, more wealthy/powerful people expecting to be able to get through situations of their own creation without any accountability and… most tragically… more victims having their rights, credibility, and even humanity stripped away in order to facilitate all of the above.

December 16, 2009

And now it gets interesting…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , — sbj @ 9:31 pm

Okay… it only gets interesting if the sources ar People magazine are correct.  But… as gossipy magazines go, People tends to be pretty reliable, so I’m going to give it enough credibility to begin speculating.  People is reporting (and this will be on newsstands Friday) that Elin Woods is leaving Tiger Woods.

And this, my friends is where the rubber meets the road.  It is easy to seclude yourself, mind your P’s and Q’s and do the right thing when you are fighting for something.  However, a better definition of a person might be gleaned from how they conduct themselves when the fight is over, and, in fact, lost.

Has or will Tiger change(ed)?  Is he going to be a better “father and human” (if not husband).  He was certainly motivated to become all of those things in the past few weeks.  He had a wife he did not want to lose (I do not know him well enough to say how deeply he loved or cared for her, if at all… but his actions do indicate that he at least wanted to maintain the relationship.).

I have seen it go both ways, after the divorce.  I have seen people say “that’s it, I tried, it didn’t work, so now I’m going back to doing my own thing;” and I’ve seen people actually re-double their efforts to be a “better father, human” and, yes, even husband.

I have seen people fall to pieces, personally, professionally… in every measurable way.  Similarly I have seen people become far better people than they ever were before… in other words, I’ve seen people keep their word, even when the objective and motivation for speaking them in the first place did not come to fruition.

Certainly this is not easy task and takes a significant amount of character and integrity (it is important to point out here that I am not saying Tiger or anyone in his position had that character or integrity prior to hitting rock bottom… I am speaking of qualities developed or enhanced as a function of their self-destruction).

What if Tiger stayed away from golf for a while, to work on being a better human and being a better father, and making things as right as possible with Elin, instead of running back to the comfort of the links and competition?

But wouldn’t it be nice if, after losing his primary motivation for his new focus, tiger maintained it anyway. Without a marriage to save and a relationship to repair, he worked on the same things that would have accomplished those things (in a co-operative environment) anyway.  If he worked on those things because of something internal – a desire to actually be a better man rather than just rebuild an image of him being one – Tiger Woods might not accomplish what he set out to do… but it would certainly be a (pardon the pun) “major” victory.

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