I See Human Beings

My apologies.  I know I’m taking a risk here, but I posted this the other day and then I took it down.  I’m torn.  I want to leave the past in the past and so I thought I’d put it out there and let it go, but then I thought, by putting it out there, it regains energy.  I had a great conversation with a wise person, who told me its okay to put it out there, let it go, and be done with it.  So, here it is again.  I will not take it down. Namaste.  

Charles Bukowski once said, “I walked around the block twice, passed 200 people and failed to see a human being.”

The block I grew up on was pretty bad.  I walked around it countless times.  I witnessed and experienced things I shouldn’t have at an early age.  At any age, really.  I greeted the prostitutes on the corner as I walked by, witnessed horrible violence and incredible kindness.  A bloody lifeless body on my sidewalk and a two-year old boy innocently playing with a toy truck.  I went to sleep to the cacophony of gun shots, sirens, the elevated train, people yelling and screaming, and … a dog barking.  You get used it.

I learned street diplomacy in my single digits, got into and out of violent confrontations and maintained a delicate relationship between decent people and the criminal element.

Mentally, physically, and psychologically processing that stuff has its effects.  For so many, the atmosphere becomes them and I completely understand.  The pressure to align with this group or that group, because standing alone is dangerous.  So is aligning with a group.  Catch 22.  What does it mean to be a man?  As a young teenager, successfully navigating that atmosphere was next to impossible.

Due to the surrounding violence, my dad enrolled me in martial arts when I was twelve.  Real martial arts.  Not kiddie karate.  Blood, pain, injury, and a bit of Zen.  I could have gotten three of those on the streets at no cost.  Actually, I did.  Something I asked my dad was … “Can’t we just move, instead?”  But that wasn’t in the cards.

That neighborhood heightened my sense of awareness and information processing speed.  My decision making skills are quick and quite decisive.  I learned to read situations, verbal exchanges, tone, demeanor, mood, movement, and things that just don’t feel right. I don’t recommend it.

And the martial arts?  That militaristic dojo taught me how to embrace the suck, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and focus.  It helped me to see myself.  And because of that, it helped me to see the human beings.

Back to the Bukowski quote.  I saw the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful on that block.  I saw the humans.  All of them.  A person.  A life.  I think that’s what helped me navigate those streets.  I genuinely saw the person and they saw that I saw them and so … they saw me.  Some didn’t, no matter what.  That’s just the way it goes and that relationship got handled differently.

Whatever, whenever, and wherever the block; literal or metaphorical, seeing the human beings helps a lot.  It can hurt sometimes too.  But, the alternative is just going through the motions.  No feeling to it.  No soul.

I know what Bukowski was trying to say and I get it.  Life, atmosphere, circumstances, and shitty people can cause us to lose our faith in fellow humans; jaded, frustrated, guarded, and disheartened.  It happens and we all have our days, but we can’t live there.  That would be a miserable existence.  No joy.  No peace.

I see human beings, but I first had to truly see myself.

Photo by Fredy Martinez on Unsplash 

Threshold of Happiness

There I was, seat 21D, flying home from my annual performance review.  I got a nice bonus and was feeling pretty good.  I was surrounded by a group of people who worked for a large corporation and apparently they had a damn good year, considering this conversation: “I got a Porsche.  What am I going to do with a Porsche?  I don’t even like Porsches.”  “I got a Harley and I’m not a motorcycle guy.  Not sure what to do with it.”

Those two guys seemed to work it out; agreeing to trade the Porsche for the Harley.  Seemed a bit uneven to me, but whatever.

I got to thinking about my “nice” bonus.  A minute ago, I was feeling pretty good, but now, the whole Porsche/Harley thing.  There was a cacophony of conversations among this group throughout the flight, comparing bonuses, goals, expense budgets, and quotas.  Then about stress, pressure, bad management, and a negative culture.  I just listened and observed without intention or thought.

As I drove home from the airport, I didn’t even put music on.  I usually sing.  Feels good.  Hey, I’m not bad.  I kill it on Rockband.  It was dark and I had that thousand-yard stare. Quiet.  In bed, I wondered what their lives were like and replayed that scene on the plane in my head.  I woke up in a nice house with an awesome family; coffee brewing.  Home.  Feels good.

Is it a step down to take a position in another field, another company, or another career path that pays less?  Many would say, “yes”.  But what if this new path meant a better culture, a better atmosphere, less hours, or just made us happier through fulfillment, purpose, or passion?  What if it gave us more time to spend with our family or to pursue other endeavors that fed our soul?

“Ha!  Culture doesn’t butter the biscuit.  Atmosphere doesn’t pay the mortgage.  Less hours?!  Do you know what kind of responsibilities I have?  What pressure I’m under?”

Yep; social pressure.  A responsibility to the perception of our portrayal of self and status.  A job that pays less, a smaller house, and forgoing that Porsche for a Durango in this social construct seems outwardly, like a step down; a step backward.  What will people say?  Worse yet; what will they think?

Well … that’s on them, isn’t it?  Ah, if it were only that simple.

Mmm, but it is.  It’s not about work/life “balance”, as we like to say.  It’s about quality of life itself, deep and wide.  Hey, I like nice shit as much as the next guy, but there’s a threshold.  A threshold that maybe we trip over or never notice.  A threshold where we sacrifice spaghetti and meatballs with family in the living room for filet mignon with “important” clients at 7:30pm on a Tuesday.

Sure, there are exceptions to what I’m saying: entrepreneur trying to get a foothold; a family trying to get a leg up; a student trying to pay their way through school.  Done all three of those examples and there are many others, but I’m talking about that threshold.

How about this from The Fixx:

“So, give me your attention, I know it’s getting late.

While we were dreaming, something slipped away.

We’re drowning in possessions, playing tricks with our minds.

Lost from one another, baby put your hand in mine.

Time is slipping away, but it’s not too late.

How much is enough?”

The pursuit of happiness?  What about being happy in our pursuit?  Maybe stepping back across that threshold is not a step back or down, but really a step up for the right things.

I don’t know.  Just asking.  For a friend.

Photo by Robert J. Soper on Unsplash

I AM

“I am not what I think I am.

I am not what you think I am.

I am what I think you think I am.” – Thomas Cooley.

For our reality to exist, it has to be perceived from the self, through another’s perception of the self. So, for me to be as I am, I am as I think you see me.

There can be no concept of a “Me” or “I”, without others. There’d be no point. The definition of an individual wouldn’t exist if there was only one.  And the perception of others as we perceive them to be, makes us real.

What I think you think I am, influences my way of being to some extent.

“But, I don’t care what they think.”  The fact that we’ve acknowledged that there’s a “they” means they’ve experience us in some way and have formed some kind of opinion or judgement or mentally put us into some category.  And, whether we’d like to admit it or not, it does affect us.

We are social animals and our brains are wired as such.  Our thoughts, actions, reactions, attitude, confidence or lack thereof, happiness, anger, sadness, and even our health can be affected by society’s perception of us, whether it’s conscious or subconscious.

Our parents, relatives, siblings, friends, teachers, strangers, significant other, boss, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances have all influenced our persona and character.  It continues throughout life.  Even what we think they think of us, which could be totally wrong, influences us.

We’re so weird.

As Sadhguru said, “The first and foremost success is to not be a slave to anyone’s idea.”  Shed the insecurities and be comfortable with whom we are.  The world wants our true self, not some version of what we think it wants.  What do YOU want?  Be that.  However, this is not a license to be an asshole.

Not every song is a hit and not everyone likes the hit song.  It’s okay.  We don’t coerce people into buying tickets and force them to attend the concert that is us.  No; we play our music for those who want to experience it.  And we’re accepting and comfortable with those who don’t.

At the end of the “day”, we sleep with our own soul.  It’s comforting to know that it is truly ours and not someone’s altered version of whom they think we are or should be.  It’s not absolute and never 100% and that’s a good thing; you know … if we want to interact and relate with other humans, that is.

And, by the way; I am what I think you think I am.  I am no yogi.

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

This is Us

The chance of you, me, or anyone ever being born and existing as we are, is one in four-quadrillion.  In simple mathematical terms, that means zero.  A zero chance, so the fact that we’re here means we won the biggest and most impossible lottery ever and we didn’t even buy a ticket.

However, … our importance is greatly over-imagined.  Wait … what?!

Our home; this earth is but a speck of dust in a universe so vast, it’s unimaginable.  Carl Sagan’s observation about this “Pale Blue Dot” we live on, provides some perspective.

He says, “Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

We’re so intelligent and advanced with our technology, but we’re not very smart, when it comes to what really matters.

We commit gross atrocities against each other in the name of politics, religious beliefs, race, national origin and so on.  Some individuals and groups are affected so much that they’ll kill other humans and feel righteous about it as if they’re on the “good side”.  So much misery and darkness inside an improbable being on a speck of dust.

Hate, division, and racism is big business and the purveyors of this poison have a wider and deeper reach than ever.  It’s sick, twisted, and quite evil.  All forms of media selling us on how we should feel, why we should be angry, and what side to be on and whom to be against.  Telling us that we should be offended, ashamed, mad, repressed, or whatever else rows the oars of their massive ship.

My favorite sitcom used to be a place I could go for a healthy laugh.  Not anymore.  Now there’s a message and an agenda.  I thought this was a comedy?  I really liked that show.  I used to enjoy your talent, your music, your jokes, and/or your writing, but now its tainted with preachy manipulation.  And for that reason, I’m out.

Politicians, news media outlets of all genres, network television programs, movies and the actors who play in them, stand-up comedians, leaders, musical groups and individual singers, churches of all kinds on one side or another, newspapers, Universities and their staff, authors, social media, and … well, almost everywhere.

What ever happened to entertainment?  What happened to the “news”?  What happened to … us?

This planet is roughly 4.5 billion years old.  Us humans; a tiny, tiny fraction of that.  Somewhere around 200,000 years with civilization of any form having only been around for about 6,000.  That’s nothing.  When we’re gone; when this pale blue dot is gone, the universe will still be.

Our significance is minuscule in the grand scheme of things, yet our ego is immense.  Such an advanced species and yet, so greatly flawed.  There’s so much that we can’t truly know, yet we pretend we do.  “We believe that what we know is true and if you don’t agree, you’re wrong!”  Our party against yours, this religion against that one, and that “race” against another.

By the way, there’s only one race of humans, so we need to get our head out of our asses on that one.  Different colors, shapes, sizes, and sexes, but we are all the same animal.  Some are smart and some are quite stupid.  Some are good and some are bad.  Some have class, while others are classless.  Some are assholes while others are just very cool peeps.  Some cling to excuses, while others find solutions.  Some are lazy and some work hard to improve life on this speck of dust.  Some are selfish, while others do their best to help humanity as a whole.  Most of us are a mix of all of those things along a sliding grayscale.  And … we come in all colors.  Same race though.

We will never be perfect.  The mathematics make that an impossibility.  There will always be war, hate, division, atrocities, tragedies, and evil.  And there will always be peace, love, union, kindness, miracles, and good.  We will never have world peace, but there is peace on earth.  At this time however, the balance seems to be way off.  We are giving the negative all our energy and of course it’s spreading and perpetuating.  We need to quit feeding it.

We’re all on this dot together; 7.5 billion of us, yet alone in the cold, vast darkness of space.  It’s an incredible existence and I am grateful to be a part of it, however small.

Cheers.

Photo by Voyager 1.  Earth, from 3.7 Billion Miles.

 

 

Conversational Cannonball

Conversational Cannonball

Walt Whitman once said, “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.”

True.  But …

I was at a party recently and someone asked how my kids were doing.  I’ll only say this; their journey, how they’re navigating it, and all their accomplishments are pretty impressive.  I’ll leave it at that.

But, sometimes we get caught up in the moment and splash their achievements all over the other person.  And, that’s what I did.  Ever notice when one person splashes, the other person tends to one-up you with their splashing?  It’s a reflex and both of us end up with our eyes stinging.  When she began to respond with how well her kids were doing, I realized I’ve gotten us both all wet.

In fact, I probably misinterpreted the depth of her question to begin with.  I overestimated her interest.  Maybe, I overlooked it completely.  Maybe pride pushed me in.  Maybe I wasn’t ready to swim quite yet and it all took me by surprise.  Her too, for that matter.  It happens to all of us on occasion.

Ego and pride play their parts, but a little goes a long way.  It’s why we take showers, wear nice clothes, accomplish things, and care how we’re perceived and received by the world.  But, there’s a threshold.  Cross it and we’ve gone from interesting to “Get me the hell out of this pool”.

When someone asks us, “Hey, how’s it going?”  The most widely accepted social reply is, “Pretty good; thanks.  How are you doing?”  They respond and we go about our day.  It’s a greeting, not an interrogation.

I should have said, “Oh, they’re doing great; thanks.  And yours?”  If she responded with, “Really good; thanks”, that would also be the end of the encounter.  Perfectly acceptable and understandable.  Or, the conversation gracefully makes its way to deeper waters.

Shallow, surface level conversation in perpetuity makes me want to get out and towel off.  I swim much better below the surface than on it.  I thrive there, but a cannonball is too much, too soon, and way too splashy.

Anyways, before we splash our achievements, adventures, and awesome exploits on someone who isn’t ready to get all wet, we should probably test the waters first.  Just because they asked, “How’s the water”, doesn’t mean they want to be violently thrown in.

By the way; how are you doing?

Photo by Eleanor Carter on Unsplash

 

What Do You Do?

In a recent BBC News piece, India Rakusen goes to Montana to interview local residents to find out why their male suicide rates are double the national average.  Missoula mayor, John Engen said the town used to manufacture and depend on the timber industry and that has gone away.  “What’s the first thing you ask a stranger in a social situation?  What do you do?”, Engen says.  “Much of your identity is wrapped up in what you do.”

When what we do goes away, who are we?  That shouldn’t even be a question, but it is and that’s the problem.  Pride and ego play their parts.  We define ourselves through our occupation and “What do you do” doesn’t help.  Mostly, we answer that question with our job title: “I’m a logger”, “I’m a yoga teacher”, “I’m a sales manager” or “I’m a nurse”.  It is the easy answer; the easy way out.

As a social ice-breaker, “What do you do” works, but it’s a bit intrusive and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.  So, now the burden is on the receiver to respond, “I’m the VP of Nobody Really Cares” or “I’m the GM for Blah, Blah, Vomit” or “I design quick exit strategies for pretentious busy-bodies I can’t seem to avoid at parties; but, let’s talk about you, which is really why we’re here, right?”

“Rob, that’s not very Yogi like.”  I told you … I am not a yogi.

In an article by Joshua Fields Millburn entitled “Life’s Most Dangerous Question”, he says the asker of “What do you do” is saying, “How do you earn a paycheck? How much money do you make? What is your socioeconomic status? And based on that status, where do I fall on the socioeconomic ladder compared to you? Am I a rung above you? Below you? How should I judge you? Are you worth my time?” 

Tongue in cheek, but kind of true.

In a Chevy Silverado commercial, two guys meet for the first time at a neighborhood block party and one guy asks the other, “So … what do you do?”  That’s when the other guy runs through his head, everything he does: a romantic dinner with his wife, barbecues for the family, catches fish, works on a construction site, rides motocross cycles in the desert on weekends, sings to his kids in the car, plays chess with his father-in-law, etc.  He’s doing the whole man-worker-husband-dad thing.  So, at the end, he can’t really answer in words and says, “I, eh …”.  And the narrator cuts in, “For those that live life for a living”

Yes!  Maybe we adopt that line verbatim: “I live life for a living”.

Done.  Now grab a beer and play some corn-hole.

Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash