Thursday, December 30, 2010

Resolution Time

Tis that time of year. Time for reflecting on the year gone by. Time for looking ahead to the next. The holiday malaise is lifting and we are becoming acutely aware of the consequences of all our merriment. A prick of conscience is perfectly natural in our retrospection; as is a renewed desire to better ourselves with the dawn of a new year approaching.

It’s become customary, and unfortunately cliché, to make resolutions. Things we’d like to change or areas we’d like to improve upon in the coming year. Resolution by definition is a formal expression of intention or the act of resolving upon an action. In this case the medical definition of resolution may be more apt, the subsidence of a pathological state. That is the halting of any unhealthy, abnormal or ineffective condition.

According to several polls some of the most common resolutions are: lose weight, quit smoking, get out of debt, get in better shape, drink less alcohol, save money, get a better education, manage stress, travel more, find a better job and help others. Those seem to fit the bill, most stemming from self-reproach with an eye toward self-improvement.

Why is it then that so many resolutions tumble for you like Boy George and the Culture Club?

Cavett Robert said “Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed.”

My point is not to attack anyone’s character (I’ll let you do that to yourself) but to illustrate that we often make resolutions in a moment of excitement or reflection and that moment fades. We are still however, left with the original condition that prompted the resolution. So what then?

For those who truly wish to change they make public their resolutions. Basically it’s not a real resolution until you write it down and tell someone. Keeping your resolutions private indicates a lack of sincere desire to change. Oh and facebook doesn’t count. Most are only “friends” in the academic sense. I mean real people you actually see and talk to. Also I don’t want to read 300 “Time to get back in the gym” status updates nor do I wish to follow your weight fluctuation all year long. After a month of horking fistfuls of fudge and watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ I know it’s time you got back in the gym; and 97% of your facebook “friends” don’t care about the 2 lbs. you lost last week. Posts of that nature don’t impact you no matter how many “Super job!” comments you get.

Involving your friends and family is a good first step towards keeping your commitment after the initial feelings dissipate. Sadly though this is not enough because of a growing culture of political correctness that has mutated and spread into every aspect of our lives.

I recently had lunch with a good friend of mine; he told me his wife had said that he was “losing his filter”. To which I replied “Good, more people should.”

We’ve all become so conscious of how we’ll be perceived and so frightened to possibly offend someone that we’ve filtered ourselves to what borders on dishonesty. Sure, as my wife constantly reminds me, you don’t have to say everything you think; but when did speaking plainly become such a sin?

Years ago serving a mission in Jamaica, when I first arrived, children would refer to me as “the fat one” when trying to differentiate me from my companion. They meant no offense; they were just trying to establish that out of the two white American young men in white shirts and ties they were talking about the pudgy guy. Later, having shed a few lbs. and while serving with a pale-faced Idahoan, I was referred to as “the brown one”. They were simply calling it as they saw it. I’ll admit that it took some getting used to but ultimately I prefer that type of communication to the hypersensitive over-analytical cowplop we deal with in the U.S. of A.

Furthermore it is this type of self-censorship that is hampering our ability to foster a support system that would enable us to take steps toward self-mastery. If we could be open and honest with each other we could affect real change.

For instance, my weight has fluctuated for as long as I can remember. I’ll lose weight and then inevitably regain it. I’ll have to resolve once more to step up my exercise and watch what I eat. Each time I lose weight I’m nearly overwhelmed with “Hey, have you lost weight?” or “Wow, you’ve lost weight. You look great.” Of course this feels good and was earned through hard work and sacrifice. But where were these people when I was all porked out?

In my lifetime I’ve had just one person come up to me and say, “Boy, you look like you’ve put on a few. You’ve been hitting it pretty hard haven’t ya big fella?” I consider him to be a good friend and a really funny guy but most people that know him just consider him to be a loud mouth insensitive jerk.

Who’s more of a real friend though? The person who says “You’ve lost weight, you look fantastic!” or the person who tells you that fifth apple fritter might be a bad idea considering you need help to tie your shoes.

Old Bill Shakespeare said, “It’s not enough to speak, but to speak true.” If you are serious about change then you’ve got confide in those who care about you and license them to speak true. It might hurt a little in the short term but there is no growth without pain. In the long term it will be for your good.

No doubt my wife is reading this and thinking of the last time I told her to speak up when I was overdoing it. She is now recalling the subsequent scolded puppy dog look I gave her when she suggested that I return the handful of cookies to the pantry from whence I’d thieved them. Trust me it’s not as easy as I’m making it sound. You’ve got to see it as help and not a hindrance.

While we’re licensing friends and loved ones we might as well license everyone to share what they think and not consider it a personal affront. Just view it as their opinion and who knows, maybe upon further consideration, you might even find out that they are right. (That paragraph could be a blog unto itself)

Now I fully realize that ‘lose weight’ and ‘get in shape’ will once again top my list of resolutions and that writing this is opening myself up to cynics and smart alecs alike taking pot shots at my pot belly. To them I say bring it on, let’s see who cares about me the most. At the very least my facebook wall should be full of some pretty good fat jokes.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cover It Up Gramps!

Like most things I write I question what real impact (if any) it will have, but I write nonetheless because it’s cathartic and hopefully entertaining. With that said I will cling to the small hope that throwing my words out into cyberspace may one day positively affect someone or more importantly stop somebody from annoying me.

My disinclination towards exercise, or any physical exertion that doesn’t result in a trophy, is well documented. I gain little to no personal satisfaction from soreness and sweat, the result of endless minutes of punishing myself on modern machines whose derivation is most certainly from medieval torturing devices. If I had my way, outside of sport, people would only run when escaping a masked assailant wielding a stabbing implement or when pursuing a delicious sugary treat, rolling ever-so-slowly away in a vehicle playing jovial instrumental music. That’s pretty much it.

Keeping that in mind, for some foolish reason, I decided to participate in a triathlon held earlier this fall. Almost immediately I made this decision public as to decrease my chances of not following through. So now trapped by an idiotic web of my own making and driven by a desire not to embarrass myself I began to run.

I took to the streets dripping sweat around my neighborhood and gasping for the sweet breath of life. Eventually I got a bicycle and endured the sore tokus that accompanies the early stages of pedal driven travel. Finally, being that a triathlon requires a third leg that also involves gasping for the sweet breath of life due to high levels of physical exertion while simultaneously submerging your head in water, I began to swim. That brings me to the crux of this post.

The cooler fall temperatures required that I find a place indoors to swim; as luck would have it my gym had such a place. It was a small lap pool in the back that I had never before used. Entrance to the pool was naturally through the locker room which was equipped with showers. In my previous gym-going experience I had seldom ventured into the locker room as I preferred to go home and clean up after my futile attempts to stave off obesity. Now however, with my daily swim it became necessary to shower and change at the gym.

Immediately following my first swim and subsequent shower I encountered an older gentleman nonchalantly standing in the middle of the locker room wearing nothing but his birthday suit. I smiled to myself as I passed by. Those of you who know me know that the maturity to not be amused by brief male nudity still eludes me. I laugh when somebody gets mooned, I laugh at streakers, Terry Bradshaw’s backside in Failure to Launch was hands down the most memorable scene in that movie, I even giggle at the word naked.

Still when I found an even older man on Tuesday watching ESPN in the buff it was no laughing matter. Wednesday a grandfatherly type disrobed mere feet from where I was changing and was in no hurry to put on his underpants. This epidemic continued Thursday when two naked old men passed like ships in the night right in front of me as I exited the showers. I began to wonder if I was a victim of a prank. I half expected Ashton Kutcher to emerge laughing with his trucker hat slightly eschew but then I remembered that I wasn’t famous and you couldn’t show these naked old men on TV anyway.

Wondering if this was an isolated phenomenon I mentioned it to several friends who reported similar sightings. My brother-in-law told of an incident from the previous day where an elderly locker mate chose to hang up a perfectly good towel and air dry while casually sorting through his things and organizing his clothes. One friend suggested that it may be a generational thing as social nudity was common practice in saunas and bathhouses in days gone by. Whatever the case something has got to be done as this visual affront to decency cannot go on.

I have no firsthand knowledge of this but I’m told that old people au naturel isn’t confined solely to the men’s locker room either. So this goes for you too granny.

I am not a prude and I fully appreciate the human body in all its glory (or in this case past glory). I accept that a locker room is a place to change clothes and that a good deal of nakedness can be expected. However, that nudity can be minimized and should be brief in duration.

It is not okay to watch Monday Night Countdown with your boxers resting a few feet from you. While you are well within your right to remove your towel before putting your pants on, you should confine yourself to that area until the task is complete. Relaxing in the locker room after your work out is completely permissible but for the love of all creatures great and small you can do that with your shorts on. Oh and under no circumstances are you to ever, and I mean EVER, sit your naked behind on the bench.

It doesn’t matter if you are comfortable with it or proud of that fact that you are still working out at your age. I don’t care if you are too old to be bothered with such things as pants or too tired to retrieve your underwear in a timely manner. I get that your loved ones don’t want you parading around the house naked and this is your last refuge but don’t take it out on us.

On the off chance that I will one day grow to a ripe old age and lose the will to cover my flabby fanny in a quasi-public area I will stop short of condemning you for this practice. I will simply plea for whatever sense of humanity you have left and ask that you please please cover your wrinkly old rump just as quickly as your tired limbs allow. Thank you.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Way You Lie

Each person who purposefully embarks on the journey of parenthood has a basic understanding of what will be expected once the new life they’ve spawned enters the world. That is they will be responsible for the necessities of life; food, clothing, shelter and protection. In addition they have the obligation to care for the emotional and mental well being of the child.

Naturally young children look to their parents to provide these fundamentals. They look to their parents as they form the foundation of morals and principles that they’ll carry with them throughout their lives.

As parents we want our children to be healthy and happy; we want them to understand basic principles of right and wrong. We use stories and fables to illustrate the importance of honesty like “The boy who cried wolf” and “Pinocchio”. No child wants to be eaten by a wolf or sport an unusually long nose while their bloomers are a blazing. Why is it then that we parents have given old Jiminy Cricket a collective flip from off our shoulders?

I’m not a psychologist but my understanding of cognitive dissonance is basically when our idea of who were are, or who we are supposed to be, doesn’t match up with our actions. If I may get biblical it’s like trying to serve two masters. There are immediate and acute feelings that accompany this gap between what we say and what we do. When faced with this chasm we can either change our attitudes, beliefs or actions; or take the much easier road of justifying, blaming or denying.

Its Christmas time, as the song says ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. This is the season where Christians celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ whose life exemplified the manner in which we should live ours. However, our modern celebration of this event is built on the biggest worldwide conspiracy to deceive and bamboozle the most innocent amongst us.

***SPOILER ALERT*** For those of you reading this who truly believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, leprechauns, and all other magical beings please stop reading now. It’s about to get real, kids.

Now I know there are those of you out there saying ho-ho-hold on a minute you’re not going to tell us that you have told your children the truth about Santa and the tooth fairy? No, of course not, I too am complicit in this monumental betrayal of trust. I too live by ingesting a healthy dose of justification and denial (note: a spoon full of sugar really helps it go down). My purpose is simply to point out inconsistent behavior in others and pretend that I am, in every way, above it all.

So why do we do it? Sure, our parents did it to us. Sure, everybody’s doing it. Sure, we’re not hurting anybody. But aren’t those just the excuses that we would never accept from our children? What could possibly compel us to halt the practicing of what we are preaching?

Let's examine the word "Santa", shall we? S-A-N-T-A, Santa. Let's see, what have we got here? We've got an S and an A, an N, a T, and another A. Hmm… Who would help grown men and women peel the focus from the baby Jesus on his birthday? Who could it be, I just don't know. Could it be… Satan!!

Seriously though, the origins of these traditions and stories came about far before our arrival here on earth. They’ve changed and grown throughout time. They are harmless enough. Most are used to provide gifts and a sense of wonder and magic in the world. Each of us have our own cherished memories and feelings as it relates to these mythical creatures and want the same for our children.

Imagine with me, if you will, the alternative.

A young impressionable child approaches you and looks up with those big innocent eyes and asks, “Is there really a Santa Claus?”

You bend down, place your hand gently on his shoulder and say, “Listen Bobby,”

“My name is Billy.”

“It doesn’t matter what your name is. The only thing that matters is that you know the truth. You’ve been duped. The media and the entire adult community have conspired against you and those naïve little toddlers you run around with. Your parents buy toys weeks in advance and hide them in the closet, in the garage, at a neighbor’s house, it’s all right under your nose. They wait until you are asleep and then sneak around like cat burglars assembling and wrapping presents only to later tell you that they were built and delivered by magical elves that choose to live in a frozen wasteland that you can never find. To top it off they commit a Class A misdemeanor by forging the name of the head magic elf on your packages. Oh and the tooth fairy is your mother, your dad hides all those eggs and the leprechaun thing, well, I’m still not sure how you bought that one. I’m not going to lie to you kid. I wouldn’t do that to you. This is honesty. You’re welcome. Now clean up this mess; just use those tears to wipe up your hopes and dreams off the floor.”

Nobody wants that. So we lie. We tell ourselves that it’s a good thing we are doing and then we lie. Oh and for those of you saying to yourself ‘I don’t lie to my children, I just let them believe’. You are the worst kind. You feel more deeply than most that something in your behavior is amiss and you can’t even bring yourself to say it out loud. You say things like “Well what do you believe?” or “It’s real if you believe it is.” Remember honesty is not only truth telling but truth living. So don’t think you can separate yourself from the rest of us just because you don’t tell your children stories of a jolly fat man who can fit down a chimney barely big enough for a squirrel, or spin wild tales of a giant storm in fairyland that delayed the tooth fairy when you forgot to replace that tooth with a quarter the previous night. You’re no better than we.

That brings me to the final tangle in this web we weave. Eventually they get wise to this game. They grow older and smarter. We too get old and sloppy. Gifts are found prematurely. Inconsistencies develop in our stories. The questions become more penetrating and poignant. So what do we do? We ramp up the lies of course.

We tell ourselves we’re doing it for them. They are too young to let go of the magic. It’s too soon for them to handle it. The truth is though that we are terrified at how they’ll handle our betrayal and will do whatever it takes to cover it up for as long as we can.

So pull it together. Get your stories straight. If you have to invent new magical creatures to cover for the old ones who’ve failed or slide down that chimney yourself; you do it. Use props, costumes, elaborate stories, skits, magic tricks, whatever it takes. You lie until you’ve painted yourself so tight in the corner that only your little piggy is touching. You keep up the deception until they are old enough to learn the truth from their friends, older siblings or strangers on the street because that kind of thing should never come from their parents whom they trust. Remember it’s all for the children.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Saying What We Mean

Once again I am here to help men/women communications. But first, a story.

I recently took a course on ethnic relations and multiculturalism (don’t stop reading I promise I’m going somewhere). It was an interesting class where we discussed societal issues and prejudices (if you feel yourself falling asleep just bite down hard on your tongue, that’s a trick I learned in this class). During one discussion we were asked how the subordinate position of women is similar to that of oppressed racial and ethnic minorities and also how they differ (I nearly fell asleep typing that but it’s about to get good, hang in there). After outlining some similarities I mentioned that one way I could see their positions being different is that, in some cases, women share an intimate relationship with a member of the majority group and therefore have influence and consideration that would not be given to an oppressed racial or ethnic minority. And then it happened…

A woman in the class launched into a full blown attack/tirade about what a stereotypical viewpoint this was. How men think that women are always trying to be subversive to “the system” by using their feminine wiles and that this attitude dated back to Adam and Eve. How a man can use persuasive argument to get what he wants but how a woman is never given the benefit of the doubt by what means she garnered such influence.

In the moment I sought to subdue her outburst by explaining that I meant “intimate” as in close personal relationship and that there is a difference between intimacy and sex. I simply stated that I meant that a woman might receive consideration from the majority group (like her feelings and general well being) that was not afforded to racial or ethnic minorities and that consideration is influence. Initially I chalked this up to semantics and went on with my life.

The more I thought about it, however, the more it bothered me that her reaction had been so severe to what I thought was a fairly benign comment. And then it happened…

An epiphany. It had little to do with what I said and more to do with what she applied to what I said. Everybody, man or woman, takes their experience and applies it to whatever they may be presented with. That’s human nature it’s how we form our perspective. Therein lies the rub.

Let me explain. Men are very simple creatures. Scientists say that humans are 96% similar to chimpanzees, in my experience that 4% difference is entirely you, ladies. Men are an uncomplicated thoughtless lot. We give little consideration to things other than food and intimate relations, by that I of course mean close personal relations (get your mind out of the gutter). If asked for an opinion we’ll say what we think. And by “what we think” I mean the answer that comes to our mind first, seems most logical and requires the least amount of effort to articulate, while getting us in the least amount of trouble. Really that’s what our communication boils down to.

Women on the other hand, of course I’m speaking as an expert here, you are incredibly complex. Before expressing your opinion in an instant you’ve considered your past and present experiences on the matter, who you are speaking to and their feelings on the topic, the thoughts and feelings of those who may or may not ever possibly hear what you are about to say, potential reactions based on those feeling and how to best state your answer in terms that will be broadly accepted. The synapses in your brain light up like the Fourth of July while we may barely generate enough sparks to light kindling. It’s a credit to your gender that with all the going on you are able to select a single response.

That being your experience, naturally, you don’t express all that you are thinking. Therefore when processing information you believe that there is more being left unsaid by others leaving more work to be done to get to the meaning of what was said. The expectation is not the same for us.

What you’ve got to understand is that we mean what we say and not a lot more. You are searching for meaning behind the words. You drill to depths that we shallow beings simply don’t have and when you find nothing you apply meaning of your own. All of that would be fine except that on occasion you apply meaning that gets us into trouble. We can do that on our own; we don’t need your help.

For those still unconvinced let me use this illustration; the word “fine”. As in “I’m fine”, “it’s fine”, “that looks fine”, etc. For a man the word fine has, tops, three or four meanings and that’s only because of the fairly recent edition of “Dang, girl! You look fine!” Otherwise “fine” would range somewhere between satisfactory and of superior quality. For a woman the word “fine” has like seventy meanings and depending on voice inflexion can actually mean ‘If I’m questioned again I’ll stab you in your sleep’.

If we tell you we like something it is because we actually like it or because not liking it will lead to unpleasantness from you. If you say you like something it can mean that you truly like it, you think we want you to like it, someone you know likes it and you don’t want them to hear that you said you didn’t like it, you think we think you thought you should like it because someone you know likes it and…AHHHHH! My brain hurts. It’s exhausting in there.

Here’s the bottom line. For women, you need to understand that what we say is what we mean. Sure there are underlying motives behind what we say or sometimes what we say is born out of our natural thoughtlessness but there isn’t a deep, penetrating meaning underneath. So stop looking because you won’t find it and please don’t feel the need to fill that void with meaning of your own that is going to make you angry at us. For men, understand that she didn’t believe a word of the previous three sentences and has completely disregarded them as the inane ramblings of a fool so like it or not you are going to have to start thinking about how you say what you mean. You are going to have to consider your audience and how your words will be perceived. That’s just the way it is.

Now let the communication begin.

***disclaimer*** This is in no way a reflection on my experience with my wife. She had foreknowledge of me writing on this topic and granted permission. Our communication and relationship are sound as is her knowledge of my love for her. Love ya boo.

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