50 Shades of A-hole

Took a recent departure from writing, as is often the case, to think more about things. As ideas for different topics swirled around my head I kept returning to the theme of reality-setting. What I mean specifically is identifying the true nature of ourselves and relating that to the society in which all of us operate. The one, unequivocal truth I keep arriving at is we are all assholes to some degree or another. If at the reading of this you find yourself taken aback, in disbelief or ideally even offended that’s a good thing. Collectively put together it means you are quite sane and that the garbage programming you received growing up is open to being re-written.

As I’m once again on the road I’ll make an analogy to something relatable. Think of our need to be dicks as a light switch. Most of the time just enough to illuminate our view will do the trick, say getting up to take a leak during the middle of the night. Whereas there are other times where we are required to turn it to batman signal magnitude. The key is assessing the situation and starting at an intensity under where we initially might suppose. By doing this it alerts second parties of our intention to convey something they were likely blissfully unaware of – or possibly didn’t give a shit about. Once the light is on we can begin to adjust accordingly.

One key drawback about this is that your internal light will always need to be running – like the alternating & direct currents of electricity. This can be exhausting and an exercise in futility. Take heart though, I once attempted to be a world of smiles, rainbows and metaphysical sunshine. It didn’t work and it won’t for most people because we are most people. The odds are not in our favor and chances our they never will be…and that’s okay. Embrace the dark side of the force. Contrary to what religious tards and other do-gooders may want you to think the world isn’t a good place – it’s not a bad one necessarily either…it’s just a place.

Unfortunately, the dispelling of dishonesty in life isn’t going to come about by being honest, which would appear to be the natural progression of the process. No, honesty is only going to come about by first us being a-holes with one another then after a decade or two this will give way to the self-correcting measure of honesty. It’s a strange paradox but what about being human isn’t strange…or paradoxical? So, in signing off I encourage you to do your part now to get our species on track toward a brighter future for all. A future in which more people are prepared for the reality of existence – one that unreturningly states life isn’t fair, all things are not equal, that silver spoons are in short supply and that Santa isn’t real. Who would’ve thought we could accomplish all this simply by embracing our inner asshole?

The Space Between

The greatest distance a person will ever travel is the space between perception and truth. While there’s a myriad of reasons for this the only one I’d like to bring up is the foundational principle of honesty. Honesty is part and parcel a core concept in child rearing and (in theory) a fundamental element in establishing trust. Herein lies the problem, from the very beginning of our existence we are lied to – be it about a big, all powerful, all loving (yet sometimes vengeful) creator, or mythical characters that leave presents if we’re well-behaved individuals, the stories presented to us when we are most vulnerable have the greatest effect distorting the later eventualities of life.

As these systems work their dastardly worst we become further separated from any approximation or semblance of truth. This perversion continues until our lives become an uncontrollable array of paradoxes. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ becomes a living mantra. I write today on this topic in light of a recent series of personal events but will highlight only one. A close family member of mine is struggling with the dynamics of a parental relationship. Her father is in advanced age and like those who have suffered loss and heartache (and will continue to do so) she struggles to connect to those who have gone before her through this relationship.

The problem is this relationship has some very unhealthy components to it – the most unfortunate of which is the controlling, manipulative nature of her father. For every brief flicker of good that emanates from this man comes an endless barrage of posturing, verbal judgment and ridiculously off-putting demands. The youngest of seven he is a byproduct of clear favoritism from his father and this special treatment likely re-enforced his behavioral pattern from an early age. His modus operandi appears to have always been about gaining leverage with those closest to him and exploiting it.

I’m confident many of us have relationships in our lives similar to this, with the majority yielding to this type of calculating individual until the day they (or we) die. Is there an answer to breaking this cycle? Of course there is…and it involves taking on the challenge of what was presented in the opening paragraph – bridging the gap between perception and reality. One single true thing, that’s all it takes and let it come completely out of the blue. There’s no need to notify this person of what’s about to hit them; in fact it’s better you don’t. Strike first, strike hard, no mercy – it’s of no consequence whether the individual is a so-called love one; if respect isn’t given it must be taken.

If anything was worth fighting for, worth waging battle to win, it would be in establishing ones self-worth. Protect the integrity of yourself. When others treat you like a number act in a way that turns the answer of the equation to 0. For that is what they ultimately see you as, nothing, and so to them they become nothing. The law of reciprocity exists everywhere in the universe. Newton’s third law states this – ‘for every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. Yet for some reason humans in their behavior attempt to circumvent this. Likely inspired by guilt, they seek to take the high road – as if there was something wrong with the ‘low road’ – often at their own peril. Understand this – when it comes to managing relationships – if you capitulate, you lose.

Slow and steady wins the race

As someone on the outside looking in at the success of other’s I’ve noticed an interesting commonality. Lasting achievement doesn’t resemble a hurricane, it’s more a steady rain that provides the fields of life with just the right amount of sustenance to keep everything green. This is something visible to both the well-known and common person alike. The strange and interesting thing to me is how often this is overlooked. In our desire to have all the necessary items of existence ‘out the box’ ready we fail to recognize where the true success of the average lies – in the process of growth. The concept of steady improvement, adjustment and learning along with calculated planning has taken a back seat to dominance.

From the business world to sports a person can see this everywhere. A company and its board bring in a new CEO to replace an outgoing one who was not given enough time to execute their vision. A team drafts a player that was a high achiever at the collegian level with the blind belief that the level of success will automatically translate in the pro’s. The trouble with this thinking is that it puts little premium on tomorrow while placing nearly all the eggs into ‘today’s’ basket. We trade in impact for stability and in the end often get neither. Is there a solution to this conundrum? You bet there is and it involves a radical process…exercising patient.

To breakdown the pitfall of not allowing natural growth to take hold I’m going to turn to a place where it’s most obvious – the world of sports. Of all the positions in a sport one that has possibly the greatest premium is the quarterback in American football. Let’s take what many analysts consider to be the top five players as of 2018: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers. Of these guys only two of the five (40%) were drafted in the first round and neither (Roethlisberger or Rodgers) was selected in the top 10. Also, of note is that the teams Aaron and Ben played were a complete non-factor in the race for a college championship title – Miami of Ohio unranked the entire season and the University of California finishing the season 7-4 in the 25th spot.

The point of this divesture is that reaching a certain level of success, on whatever stratosphere it exists, relies perhaps more in the foundation than the completed project. Time changes things and the ability to adapt is often time as critical as skill level. Peaking, while a naturally occurring phenomenon, should not be where the greatest concentration is placed, albeit sport or life. Rather I purpose a two-prong approach. The first, operate within a healthy framework of output. Whether that is athletically, academically or even professionally – too much, too soon, ultimately equals something that doesn’t last. The second is prepare for the transition. This one is a little tricky because it requires a lot of self-reflection and/or unbiased 3rd party opinion. An ounce of honest, intelligent, reflection is worth a pound of long term future achievement.

Judge not yet ye…never mind go ahead and judge

The opening part of the above title is likely as well known in the United States (and perhaps most of western or Christian-leaning culture) as any other maxim. Taken from the new testament text of Matthew the passage loosely states to ‘judge not, that you not be judged…for with what judgement you use, you shall be judged and with what measure you use it shall be measured to you again’. How lovely and idealistic a recommendation…actually more like how misguided and baseless a concept. Judgment is the very foundation on which the decision-making process was built. It involves on some level the use of our otherwise expansive brains to see the necessary potential for action and to move accordingly based on various information (or even the lack there of).

Judgement exists in two forms: judgement before an action and judgement based on the interpretation of (ideally) relevant facts. The first part of this involves the use of prejudice. Prejudice as it’s viewed in today’s world is a very loaded and dangerous word. In the modern liberal wing of political thought, it is an enemy of the people that needs to be snuffed out from existence in order to bring balance to the world. But, let’s think about it for a second, what is prejudice at its core other than a preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience; essentially it is a thought lacking perspective. Developing perspective on a matter is an act that requires involving oneself in something an individual may otherwise, and most likely doesn’t, have experience in. The problem is that we are hard wired to judge, especially in situations of duress…which are from an evolutionary standpoint brought on by uncertainty…things we don’t have experience with (particularly as it relates to our well-being – this is called the ‘fight or flight’ response).

Unwarranted prejudice, something very much alive and well, makes no sense and can even be categorized as reprehensible if for no other reason than the individual has made zero attempt at trying to understand that with which they are casting judgement. This doesn’t mean that the act in and of itself should be abandoned. It’s because of the blanket manner in which judging is itself judged that we as a species (which is far, far more important than the characteristics of race and certainly ethnicity) find ourselves still in a rut. It goes back in large part to the earlier piece in which I spoke about the dangers of being nice – by forgoing this natural, built-in mechanism, we find a large number of us taken advantage of by life’s inequalities (the majority of which are unfortunately predicated on race, gender and socio-economic status).

What we need, perhaps now more than ever, is to judge; judge whether or not a particular company is a good fit for us before we pack up our bags to discover it otherwise isn’t (my case), judge whether college is a good fit as the debt we are likely to be straddled with will take decades to pay off, judge to what degree an elected official is full of shit (as they all are to varying degrees)…the list goes on and on for the unforeseeable future. When we judge it has to be understood that the system of weights and measures is so out of whack it’s like comparing the American standard of measurements to the Metric System. There’s ‘rich justice’ and ‘poor justice’. There’s the judgement of the rights of victims versus the rights of the accused. There’s even the judgement of majority versus minority opinion. No where does it state that life is fair, at best it’s a sliding scale and to see and act as though everything is peaches when most things are broccoli is like cutting a brake line before driving downhill – not a good idea.

The Cost of Commitment

According to a 2014 report by Bloomberg since 1978 the cost of college tuition and fees have increased by roughly 1,120%. This period increase is more than food and medicine combined. A bit concerning when one takes into account the fact that according to a publication released around the same time as the aforementioned Bloomberg report (2014) by the National Student Clearinghouse that the combined percent average of students completing a so-called four-year degree within six years or less was approximately 46.5%. Is there any wonder that as of this writing there is over 1 trillion dollars’ worth of student loan debt (I personally have over 36k of it)? While this topic could be expanded into multiple articles touching on an enormous number of sub-topics I’ve only referenced it for illustrative purposes. What I prefer to highlight is the underlying concept behind this phenomenon – commitment.

What is commitment and why does it mean so much to humankind? Regardless the source one uses in searching for the definition (almost) anyone with the ability to read this will define it as essentially the dedication to a cause. For the second part of the question I believe the answer could be simply stated as it is an act that helps foster trust. If you’ve read any of my other posts, read a copy of my manifesto, or like me tend to see things not as they appear but search for a deeper interpretation, I offer to you the following. Commitment, as it’s most commonly practiced in todays world, is the engagement in cyclical obligation. It’s the nature of this last defined part that deprives humans of true freedom – removing any inkling of choice.

While it may read as though I’m not a fan of the concept of commitment (which is not true) I see and understand its overall value and contribution to the upward movement of society. What makes me quasi-skeptical of the practice as a whole is the blind adherence we have as people to the principle. It’s this almost drug-like dependence to the construct that prevents us from an equally as valuable idea – reconsideration. I’m not sure exactly what drives this (if I did I wouldn’t likely be in the position I’m in both personally & financially today) but for the sake of speculating I would say fear in the form of perception. Western society places a high premium on confidence, so much so that people that exude it despite their other personal shortfalls are often held in high regard.

The question then begs, ‘how can one escape the grips of toxic commitments’? For someone like myself that has a tremendously difficult time of navigating through the big-ticket items of life the only success I have had (which isn’t much) is in re-framing the action. I don’t make commitments any more, rather I make a collection of decisions. By reverse engineering the process I’m able to catch more of the mistakes I make before they cumulate into the ‘c’ word. Simply by turning the auto-pilot off and taking control of the wheel we become more engaged. It is during this period of engagement, which exists consciously or unconsciously before every action, that we are afforded an opportunity to see what direction our decisions are trending in.

Some everyday examples of this include items both big and small. From whether or not a person asks someone out, to buying a home, to having kids, hell even the shoes they buy these are all really just decisions at one point in time or another. After beginning to make the transition away from commitment and toward decision (it’s not necessary to master this skill but rather only start implementing it) the next step is critical; I would even argue this is more important than the transformation itself. This next step is to realize that decisions (or commitments) don’t EVER have to be made. While it can be detrimental to put things off perpetually it’s worth stating that many, if not most, of the fatal errors in judgement we make DON’T have to be made at all. Having second thoughts on marrying that other person, then don’t. Not sure you can afford that 4-bedroom home…okay then don’t buy it. Can’t figure out if college is the right fit…yep, you guessed it, don’t enroll.

Very little of what we think we have to do, do we really have to do. This is the point many people that fail, fail to realize. I’ve performed a personal jihad during most of the decision-making process. Where this differs from actual self-destruction is that in a greater percentage of the incidences the individual will go on to repeat the same course of action numerous times. The cycle will not be broken until we can free ourselves of the burden of fear; fear of not meeting one of the many idiotic pressures of society. In the end I’m not saying don’t get married, or don’t go to college…I’m not even saying don’t get those pair of insanely priced sneakers. You’re free to do whatever you like, it’s your decision and the best part of it being yours is you can say ‘yes’…you can say ‘no’ or you can say nothing at all.

The Truth about Lying

How many times you were told as a child to be honest? Whether it was by your parents, family, friends, a teacher or a mentor, for most people this was a top three personal commandment. Regardless of your background – racial, religious or ethnic – the concept of telling the truth is a hallmark of human civilization. The funny thing about embracing this behavioral novelty is that after the age of innocence (childhood & adolescents) comes the age of bullshit (adulthood). Why is this such a shocking thing to most people? We see it everywhere around us; priests diddling little kids, politicians saying anything to get elected, CEO’s telling employees one thing and stockholders something altogether different. Lying on a grand scale has become an art form. We have moved from despising dishonesty to the literal celebration of it.

The only problem I see in the whole equation revolves around two things: preparation and participation. As it relates to the former I’m speaking in regards to childhood. During this time, we are like wet clay being molded into the form of our future selves. The lack of disclosure through mindlessly brain washing kids into the belief that the world is this wonderful, Disneyland like place, where people are always kind and honest to one another is a tremendous disservice. The greatest gift a parent can give a child, beyond bringing them into this world of course, is a true understanding of the playing field of life. Kids are brought up around games many of which help to foster a sense of identity along with teaching them to socialize with others.

The problem is that somewhere along the line children become adults and during that time they’re invited to a new game, with a new set of rules but unlike football, track or tennis this one isn’t optional. Participation is mandatory and where you’re picked or traded to means everything. Coaching is important but at this level what you’re born with (physically and/or financially) means just as much as, or maybe more than, what you learned. Fairness, or even the idea as an abstract construct, no longer exists (not that it ever did). Win’s and losses are no longer merely a blemish to one’s record, at this juncture of life they are the difference between the promotion, the million-dollar grant, affording the mortgage or even putting food on the table for the next generation.

Now to tie all this in. The truth…the truth about lying is that it’s everywhere. It’s as pervasive to the experience of life as sunshine. Little or big it’s a nearly daily endeavor. The key to it, similar to a day spent at the beach, is to apply “sunscreen” as often and liberally as possible. We owe it to ourselves, to our children (if you should happen to have any), to understand that as often as we’re sold an honest bill-of-goods there’s an equally likely chance that what we’re hearing, what we’re seeing, is a total load of shit. At the end of the day the best that can be hoped for is a home environment built on the principles of trust and honesty while simultaneously trying to foster that in the world outside the one we spend with those around us. Keep in mind that not everyone is hip to or a fan of this idea and as the saying goes, learn to take things “with a grain of salt.”