Archive for March, 2010

fight the good fight

03/23/2010

Ever have a moral dilemma where you know you can’t win?

I haven’t had one in a while, so a situation I encountered a while back brought this to the forefront of my cognitive process. Can’t really elaborate too much on the situation – as too much detail tends to get me in trouble 🙂 – but a few weeks back, someone made a decision that grated on my moral sensibilities to the enth degree. I wanted to bring my argument to this person but sought advice first.

I was told I wouldn’t win the argument. I was told to pick my battles. But I knew I was right.

I’m reminded of a scene from the movie Braveheart. It’s a nondescript scene when William Wallace is still a child. In a meeting of Scottish village leaders, they decide to attack the English in retaliation for the murders of hundreds of their kinsmen. They understand that they cannot beat the English, and when one man raises this protest, Wallace’s father says, “We don’t have to beat them. We just have to fight them.”

He died in that battle. I lost in my argument.

But it’s OK. Because sometimes it’s not about winning. Sometimes it’s just about fighting the good fight.

plan for rain on your wedding day

03/11/2010

I had lunch with a good friend the other day. She’s getting married in May and the wedding came up in conversation – I’d be kind of an asshole if it didn’t. As we were walking back to the car she said something that stuck with me. She said, “I’m planning for rain on my wedding day.” She already has a personalized umbrella company on standby.

Love it.

As you could probably guess, she’s not an optimist. As I hope you already know, neither am I (cynical realist people, cynical realist). A tenet of my way of life is to go through it with zero expectation. That way you’re always pleasantly surprised. To some this sounds like a safe way out, but it’s exactly the opposite. By not having expectations, I’m able to live a fuller, richer life, not hampered by my emotional response to the results of events about which I expected something more or something less.

happy chuck norris, 70th birthday! (albeit a day late)

Case in point: I was on the ol’ Facebook chat with a friend a few weeks ago. Asked her how she was and she alluded to the certitude that not all in her realm of existence was cheese and crumpets. I inquired as to a more thorough explanation. Her response to my query was as such (do I sound fancy yet?): her boyfriend didn’t live up to her expectations with what he did for her birthday. She had just gotten back from a long trip and she expected him to be so excited to see her. Basically she was just a bit underwhelmed by his emotional response.

Now granted, one would expect one’s significant other to be excited when one returns home from one’s long trip…and there we have our problem. Disappointment caused by expectations. “Our lives are measured not as much by our experience, as by our expectations.” Love, George Bernard Shaw.

step by step

Don’t expect the whole kit and caboodle. If she would have come home with no expectations, she would have been delighted when her boyfriend merely kissed her. But we were taught not to settle. We were taught to shoot for the stars, hope for the best and all your dreams will come true. Now I’m not saying don’t try your hardest at whatever it is you’re doing. You work your friggin ass off and endure the grueling process that is realizing your dreams. But don’t expect them to be fulfilled. This causes you to keep looking into the future and forget about the present moment. And dear lord, that is anathema on this blog!!

As I write my book, it is hard for me to stop envisioning the final product with a bad-ass guy on the cover looking all tough and bad-ass-ish, with 400 pages of adventure and excitement, drama and broken hearts within. I have to keep that scene in mind that’s flowing from my hand onto the paper. I have to keep in front of me the conversation that a supporting character and a nondescript one are having. I have to progress the storyline with each sentence, with each coordinating conjunction, with each punctuation mark, with each subordinate clause. Focus on the moment, and don’t expect the end-result. As John Lennon would say, life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

When that first friend has her wedding and it downpours, that’s going to be one hell of a wedding day, running make-up and all.

unattainable selflessness

03/05/2010

What was your last truly selfless deed?

Really think about that question before moving on.

Did you volunteer at a soup kitchen? Did you help an old lady cross the street? Did you help a friend study for a test? All of these may seem all well and good – you’re sacrificing your most precious resource, your time, to help someone you don’t really need to help. There’s no direct benefit for you. Or is there?

When I volunteer for something or go out of my way to help someone out, it tends to make me feel a little bit better about myself. Call me crazy, but occasionally I enjoy helping people. This, however, does not make me selfless. Not in the least. In fact, if anything it makes me selfish. A direct correspondence lies in me helping people and my emotional well-being. We are, in part, defined by our social interactions. So if I never helped a friend from out of town look for housing in Lakewood on a Saturday afternoon, if I never visited my cousin at work to try and make his night a little bit better, I wouldn’t feel very good about myself.

I am not impressed by Toby Keith when he goes and performs for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. He wants to do that. It makes him feel good – not to mention the fact that it’s great press. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not glad he’s performing for soldiers. The greater good is much of the time served by acting out of self-interest. That’s one of the founding principles upon which a capitalistic economy is based.

my pipe dream

I spend much of my time writing a novel that will no doubt be an international best-seller…riiiiight. Anyway, if this novel does take off and I inspire someone to change their ways or make their life better, what do I say when they thank me? When that fan mail comes in and says, “Thank you Jeff for turning my life around with this book!”, do I acknowledge it by smiling generously and saying “You’re welcome!”?

Hell no!

I wanted to write that book. I didn’t spend hundreds of man hours for that person. I did it to satisfy my own personal needs. A result of my self-interest is that I changed a life, but I didn’t do it for them. I did it for me. If anything, I should be thanking them for upping the ante on my royalties, not to mention the inherent ego-stroking involved in their fan mail.

i am more impressed…

…by someone who volunteers once a week at a soup kitchen and hates it then by someone who volunteers every day and loves it. The former is someone who is truly selfless while the latter does it more out of self-interest. They may convince themselves that they’re so altruistic and benevolent, but they’re not. I’ve known some shit-bags in my years who volunteered a fair amount of their time for various non-profits and cause-related events. Their volunteerism should not make anyone think better of them – anybody who knows them, anyway. Self-interest lay at the heart of their outward “altruism.” But hey, that old-folks home got their leaves raked, didn’t they?

99.9% of the population is not naturally selfless. And I say that with a 100% degree of certainty. But this is why it’s such an important quality. Not because it’s rare. But because it must be forced. Anybody can naturally radiate a positive vibe and make others feel better about themselves. Anybody can be naturally humble and not brag about their good deeds, brushing off compliments with a wave of the hand. But incredibly few can be truly selfless.

Find something that makes you absolutely miserable. Something that would help out a complete stranger to a huge degree and not help you at all. In fact, it’d be better if this thing you did put you at some kind of a disadvantage. And do that thing. And don’t feel good about it…at least not for too long 🙂

so i ask you again:

What was your last truly selfless deed?

childlike vs. childish – a salute to the newborn

03/01/2010

There’s a big difference between a person who’s childish and a person who demonstrates childlike qualities, whether you’re quoting the AP Stylebook or not (I’m going to charge them for that plug). The former is strictly immature. No other way to look at it. The latter is how we should be, yet seemingly forget how to be.

We start off as a child where everything is new and exciting. Things we see are things we have never seen before. They haven’t become regular. They haven’t become ordinary. They’re brand new. Take that inedible object on the floor. A small child doesn’t know he or she can’t eat it. So they give it a little taste test. This is why children are so enraptured by vibrant colors, why their heads will swivel to the brightest object in the room that they want to touch, to feel, to experience.

As our minds evolve, we assign names and labels to objects both everyday and extraordinary. That big green thing in the yard is no longer that big green thing, it’s a tree. And around it are roots, grass, rocks, creepy critters, squirrels and plants. We classify it, categorize it and subdivide it, and in process we lose our inherent fascination with it. We don’t want to touch it anymore. We know what it feels like.

We can’t lose this childlike quality. We can never grow too old.

But what we must lose is the childish side of ourselves, better dubbed as immaturity. The two are not to be confused. The selfish, proud, greedy and self-interested side of the child must be left behind. Obviously, this happens at different times to different people and to vastly different degrees. But regardless, it must happen. Re-examine yourself and what you and your actions represent.

Quit being a damn baby (in the childish form of the word). [Wo]Man up! It’s not all about you anymore. You’re not 12 with your parents doting over you. Time to make your own way.

Live wild. Live free.

And stay childlike.