Monthly Archives: January 2017

Listen without prejudice–our future depends on it

It’s been a really crappy day. More than three hours on the phone with my Internet provider trying to get the router to work. A litany of work problems ninety-nine of them and the bitch ain’t one (it’s a song lyric). And I feel, as a friend of mine says, like ass.

Not like a nice ass, either–you know, in jeans or yoga pants or–if you’re so inclined–football pants or a firefighter’s outfit. No, I’m talking a big, nasty ass, like Charles Barkley’s maybe. That’s how I feel–like Charles Barkley’s ass.

I felt turrrble. (Charles turned sideways because you might be eating dinner.)

I felt turrrble. (Charles turned sideways because you might be eating dinner.)

So when I finally got on the Internet and saw the latest in the sewage pipe of cutesy, insipid memes from Occupy Democrats–this one basically implying that Republicans are down with the KKK, my response was a little snippier than normal.

Or, as I put it in a Facebook post when I finally got back online–I’m had a really crappy day. If you want to convince me you’re right politically, don’t talk down to me or at me or through me–as if I’m the problem but I’m not in the room.

If you want me to listen to you, don’t lead with condemnation or condescension. Lead by pretending you care.

Lead by listening.

Periodically, I manage to actually, really listen. And I think we need more of that.

St. Francis prayed that he might seek to not so much to be understood, as to understand.

A lot of people want to be understood these days. They demand it. They get angry when they aren’t understood. And there’s value in that.

But we also need more people who understand.

As a baseball fan, it got old, watching the sport shut down every few years. When things broke down, there were a lot of leaders loudly proclaiming their side. From their point of view, they were unalterably right. Their side needed to be proclaimed.

And trust vanished.

Over the past 15 years or so, things have changed. The two sides started to listen to each other. They didn’t give in. They didn’t became shills for the other side. But they realized there were places where interests aligned. It didn’t happen overnight. It felt uncomfortable–and it caused friction with in the ranks. But it did change.

And now baseball is more successful than ever.

Listening isn’t giving in. It’s not violating your conscience. It’s not becoming one of them. It’s listening. And it’s becoming less and less a luxury.

Oh master grant that I may never seek so much to be understood as to understand.

Great wisdom lies that way.

Politically homeless

Thirty years ago, I was conservative.

I became a conservative because from my point of view, that helped the most people in the best possible way. I worked for a conservative member of the New York State Legislature. He was a horrible boss, but were he alive today, I’d vote for him because he cared about people.

I think most people can reason most things through for themselves. In most cases, they’ll make reasonable and generally good decisions. They don’t need someone sitting in a huge stone office build in Washington, DC or <insert your state capitol here> making decisions for them from afar. When the government steps in to solve a problem, the problem should already exist and attempts to solve it outside the government should have failed.

I believe in freedom…liberty. If you want to wear a Washington Redskins jersey or an Indians t-shirt with Chief Wahoo, go for it. But other people get to give you crap about it. If you want to enter into a legally binding contract with a member of the same sex to form a family, you get to do that in a free society. You get to worship who you want, as you want, where you want, and when you want. In short, you get to swing your arm until it hits someone else’s nose–or reasonably looks like it will.

Gratuitous Beachbody workout reference

Gratuitous Beachbody workout reference

Thirty years ago, that’s what conservatism stood for.

Now it stands for things I don’t recognize.

My government doesn’t need to protect my God. I believe in a mighty, awesome God. If someone chooses to not verbally celebrate His son’s birthday, he’ll get over it. If two men or two women enter into a legal agreement and love each other, he can sort out whether that’s wrong. The fact that we don’t base law solely on the book of Leviticus means we don’t run around killing people because they worship differently (or not at all) and I think he’s good with that.

Gratuitous Bruce Almighty reference

Gratuitous Bruce Almighty reference

I believe that if you work hard and apply yourself–if you show value–you should get ahead. But the movement I was once part of has created a tax code that rewards employers for taking jobs from people who work hard and moving them overseas to other people who don’t pay US taxes. Think about that–you’re paying taxes and some of that money could be given to your employer for giving your job to someone who doesn’t even live here, let alone pay taxes.

I believe that in general, government does best when it stays out of the way of business. But when a business ruins a lot of other businesses, it should be required to pay every dime required to make those businesses right. (Gibbs rule #45 — Clean up your messes.)

Gratuitous NCIS reference

Thirty years later, my beliefs disqualify me as a conservative. Somewhere along the line, conservatives stopped standing for less government and started standing for more government pointed at different people.

When did freedom go out of vogue?

To be clear, I’ll never be a liberal. I don’t believe in open borders, free abortion on demand, or “free” college for everyone. I don’t believe in collectivism.

But somewhere along the line, what I believe in made me “other” to the people I used to agree with. And somewhere along the line, purity became more important than freedom of thought.

Seriously, if you talk about conservatism and reigning in government, if you claim to be about freedom and then make it unacceptable to disagree with your orthodoxy, you aren’t a conservative.

You’re a hypocrite.

And I’m politically homeless.

I stand with the protesters

I stand with the protesters.

Last week’s protesters took to the streets all over the country to cast a light on a guy they think is evil and stupid who happened to become President. I know some of the people who protested or wanted to. They are kind, caring, and thoughtful people who are genuinely afraid for the future of this country and the world. They are people who have mattered to me in my life–who have shown breathtaking kindness to me and others. They aren’t monsters. They don’t want to force you to stop wearing Redskins and Indians gear, convert you to Islam or atheism, and give your job to the first Mexican who crosses their path. I don’t agree with some–maybe many–of their stances. But they are good people.

This week’s protesters aren’t going to get quite as much press, but they’re taking to the streets for a cause they care for, too. They aren’t the criminals in a Margaret Atwood dystopia. They don’t want to force women into a sexual indentured servitude where they get pregnant and the guy gets to walk away. They aren’t apologists for Brock Turner. They don’t want to grab women by their privates and take away their jobs so they can be barefoot, pregnant, and docile. I know some of the people who would like to be at the March for Life. I don’t agree with them in that making abortion illegal won’t end it; it’ll drive it back underground. But they are good people.

Most important, last week’s Women’s Marches and this week’s March For Life, aren’t signs that this country is going to hell. They aren’t signs of imminent doom. They aren’t signs that the world has become the Paul Lynde song from Bye Bye Birdie.

On the contrary, they are signs of a vibrant and relatively free society in which you can take to the streets, not be a schmuck, make your point, and go on with life. No tanks rolled onto the mall last week to mow down protesters. Mass groups weren’t rounded up and disappeared. Yeah, some people said crappy things, but they are schmucks. The world will always have schmucks.

Under President Obama, no tanks rolled onto the mall to mow down Walkers for Life. Mass groups weren’t rounded up and disappeared. Yeah, people said crappy things, but they are schmucks and you know the rest.

Not here...

Not here…

You may disagree with last week’s and this week’s protesters and that’s your right. You may think they symbolize everything that’s wrong with America and the world.

But what they’re doing is vital to our national conversation. Even when Madonna opens her mouth and breath-taking stupidity comes out. Even when someone at the March for Life goes overboard and shows that he–and it probably will be a guy–is what Margaret Atwood is afraid of.

They get to do that.

It’s a sign that we’re not as bad off as we think.

Because sometimes you need a video of a washing machine, a brick, and a trampoline.

Contentment tip #6. Walk through shit with other people

Of all the crap I went through in 2015, I dodged one bullet. No one looked at me with a profound nod that can only come with saucer-deep understanding of my situation and said, “But you have to realize–God has a plan.”

When you tell someone, even a believer, going through hell that this is part of God’s wonderful plan, in my perfect world, you forfeit all right to physical safety. If the person going through hell isn’t a believer, that one statement will cement that status. It’s a horrible, thoughtless, vapid thing to say.

All of that said, if you believe, and you trust in God, what if He really does have a plan?

Hear me out before you drive to my house and righteously kick my ass.

I’m not saying that God wants you to suffer and he’s God and you’re not, so just shut up and deal with it. If I said  that I’d kick my own ass and save you the trouble.

What I am saying is that when I was going through 2015, I wasn’t suicidal. But honestly, if death came to get me, I wouldn’t have run away or given him a Melvin.

Gratuitous Bill and Ted reference.

Gratuitous Bill and Ted reference.

Having gone through that all that, I can tell you these things:

  • I’m a better writer than I would otherwise have been because I understand more things.
  • I’m more empathetic.
  • I’m more willing to go out of my way to help other people.
  • I’m more likely to write things like “The Gift of Depression.”
  • I’m in a far better place to help people close to me who are wading through their own steaming piles right now.

This isn’t to say that you should be thankful for depression, illness, job stress, or whatever other steaming piles you’re dealing with.

But you’re unique. What you draw from your own steaming pile is something that no one else can see. Maybe you can make someone else’s steaming pile a little less horrible, either now or in the future. Or maybe you can walk through someone else’s steaming pile with them.

When I went through the shitpile of 2015, I had people who wound up with manure on them, mostly because they were either helping me through or they were in similar shit piles and we got through it together. Because of that, I’m more likely to reach into someone else’s steaming shitpile to help them out than I would’ve been otherwise. And under the right circumstance, if it seems appropriate, I’ll jump in and walk with them.

I have to be clear here, though: your steaming shit pile is a steaming shit pile. You aren’t exaggerating it’s height or stench or awfulness. Hell is hell. But hell can be a little less hellish if there are other people there. My previous hell helped me (I hope) mitigate other peoples’ hells, if just a little.

Maybe God didn’t plan that, but I don’t think it disappoints him.

Contentment tip #5. Don’t comparison shop

So I’m doing the ab workout this morning in Corps De Force. Abs is my weakest point. Like if you were to cook spaghetti in boiling water for sixty hours, the mush that’s left would be stronger than my abs.

Harder than my abs

Harder than my abs

And unlike the other Beachbody workouts I’ve seen, the person doing the modifications looks like someone who would need to do the modifications. She’s not super buff like everyone else, but she’s working just as hard. (I’m not body shaming even a little bit here. You start where you are and work hard and that’s all there is.)

Anyway, she’s rocking this one move and I look like Stevie Wonder, drunk, trying to stand up in a canoe. And I’m thinking, “Dude, the modifier is kicking your butt.”

And then I checked myself. What counts for me is that the end of the workout, I did the best job I could. Judging by my sixteen-pound t-shirt and the fact that my butt (which someone mistook for Montana once) and my stomach are on fire, I did the job. I kept my form. I did my best. And I didn’t do as well as everyone else.

All you can do is all you can do. There’s actually a stretch in yesterday’s workout that I can do better than the lead guy. No one (except possibly Neil Patrick Harris) is good at everything.

That guy’s awesome. Or was. In 2012.

The point is, you gain nothing by comparing yourself to other people. No matter who you are, someone’s better at it than you are. If you spend your life comparing yourself to those people, you’ll always lose.

Instead of that comparison, maybe consider how you’re doing compared to the best you can do. My left foot hurts so I’m taking it easy on some of the moves. I want to bust ass. I want sweat to be flying around like popcorn. But it’s not happening just now and that’s okay. I’m doing my best.

Yesterday at my men’s small group, people got into the discussion about how we feel the need to do better and how it sticks with us and loads us with guilt from time to time. There’s a passage in one of the Gospels in which Jesus says that if your son asks for a fish, would you give him a snake. Or if he asks for an egg, would you give him a scorpion? If your son (or daughter) is working hard and doing their best–or if they’re weighed down by baggage so their best is diminished, would you pile on and say figure out a way to do better because that guy is?

Unless your Jennifer Capriati’s dad (evil sports parent reference), your answer is probably no.

If you love your kid and you wouldn’t do that to them, why do it to yourself?

Contentment tip #4 — Thank you thank you thank you

I’ve shared my own inner, self-inflicted mental turmoil recently. And for the past few weeks, it’s been a bit of a struggle. It ebbs and flows, this thing inside me. Sometimes it’s content to sit back and rest, and sometimes it wants an active role. This has been an active-role timeframe.

I’m not a victim in this; that’s just how it is. It means I have to work a little harder to come to terms with it and with the other challenges around. I am, after all, a bad-ass snowflake.

It’s just sometimes the depression inserts itself in my mind and it won’t go away. It’s sort of like the Urkel of the mental world–grating, annoying, and projecting a far bigger presence than his puny size would indicate he should.

And today, as I write this, freaking Urkel was really working me. I’ve been trying to do the belief in God thing more–because if I really believe that, then the rest of this stuff isn’t that big.

My mind lit on the passage (turns out it’s from Philippians–I’m not the strongest Bible scholar) that says you will have a peace that transcends all understanding.

If depression is noise–and in a very real way, it is–then you just need some quiet sometimes. You need to get away from the noise, noise, noise…

So I looked up the verse that talks about the peace that transcends all understanding, because I want that. I want it very much. And I thought the verse before would help me to find out how to get that peace.

Surprise! It does…”Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything you can understand.”

It felt like I should say thank you, and not just internally, but so people could see it. And the truth is, my life is far from perfect. But I’ve been blessed in a functionally infinite number of ways. I can’t count them. So I considered this–not just a specific thing, but the totality of all things. And that peace descended on me.

(Note: For me, this is a God thing. Maybe you aren’t there. But maybe extreme gratitude is the answer no matter what.)

To be clear, this is not something at which I excel. So while I struggle with what I struggle with–and there are some storm clouds out there–I get the opportunity to find the way to this peace. And maybe that’s the true blessing.

Contentment tip #3a. Believe in the long-term

Next week’s going to be one of those weeks that could profoundly change my life.

I could hit Powerball. I could have the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Prize Van pull up to my house. I could be discovered as the next great Internet blogger and land a contract worth one milllllllllion dollars.

But another far less appealing option is possible, because in this life you will have trouble.

One of the lines in Billy Joel’s song Pressure, says “Now here you are with your faith and your Peter Pan advice. You have no scars on your face and you cannot handle pressure.”

Yeah, I owned this 45. I was so cool in the early 80s.

When you’re staring a potentially horrible outcome in the face, stuff like “believe in the long-term” could qualify as Peter Pan advice. Except it’s not.

I have scars on my face. I was functionally unemployed for almost two years. I got a two-week severance, no placement help, and just as things were starting to turn around, some a-holes flew planes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center–you may remember that. Last I checked, I’m still here and doing pretty well.

Not as many scars as former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

Not as many scars as former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

I was diagnosed with a disease that some consider worse than death, when it’s experienced in its extreme form. Less than two years ago, I was looking at a lifetime of working to exhaustion or abject poverty (and probably no health insurance). If it had gotten worse, as it sometimes does, I’d have been bound to my bed and watching TV would’ve been way too much stimulation.

I lived through the New York Mets 1993 season.


And here I am.

The numbers are in your favor. For the vast, overwhelming majority of people in the world, the day will work out. And if it doesn’t, another day will. It will be worth the fear and pain and doubt and agony. Been there, done that, screw the t-shirt.

I can also address this in the context of God, if you’re aligned that way. Romans 8:28 says that “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

It’s a scary verse because of that last phrase “according to his purpose for them.” What if his purpose for me is to get booted out of work? What if I’m to get sick again and be stranded in bed, unable to function? Worst of all, what if someone kidnaps me and forces me to listen to Kenny G all day long? AAAAAAAAA!

Kenny G and Michael Bolton together. Now banned under the Geneva convention.

Kenny G and Michael Bolton together. Now banned under the Geneva convention.

To that, I can only say all that stuff is possible. But I’ve been through some pretty shitty stuff already and through God’s grace, grit, love, stubbornness, and abject stupidity, here I am. I’ve got some scars on my face. But I also know that ultimately, regardless of what happens in the first potential life-changing week of 2017, I’ll be fine. There’s God. There’s my family and friends. And if all that fails, I have a long history of of being too stupid and stubborn to give up before I get back to fine again.

Contentment tip #3. Look back

This one may not seem like it make sense. After all, we should look forward, right? Don’t be a slave to your past. Today is where your book begins; the rest is still unwritten.

All of this is true, but not complete.

A friend of mine decided last year to write good things on slips of paper and put them in a jar. It seemed like a good idea, so I followed suit. Sunday I went through them and was surprised at how many good things happened during the year–even with me basically forgetting the jar sometimes for weeks at a time.

The most gripping for me was dated January 21–the day I return to work full time. In early 2015, I got sick. Some days it was so bad that I couldn’t walk across a parking lot without stopping to rest. There were a few days when I worked from bed because that’s all I could do. I was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

It was bad enough that I went on partial disability, starting on September 1. I couldn’t make it through the day any more. The disability would only last so long, and then I’d go on long-term disability. After two years, that would be that. The economic future beyond that was bleak.

Over time, through the fall, I started to feel better and gradually increased my work. January 21 was the day I was cleared to go back to work full time.

During that time, the insurance people rejected my claim, which had been provisionally allowed, and I was on the hook for a lot of money. Also, I couldn’t go back to work because I wasn’t cleared, but I couldn’t make the disability money because my claim was denied. There was literally no good outcome barring an appeal.

My appeal was among the best the appeals guy had ever seen. It was concise and complete and told him everything he needed to know. The day before Thanksgiving 2015, I won the appeal. And then on January 21, 2016, about three weeks less than a year after I got sick, I returned to work fulltime.

A lot of other horrid crap went on during that period. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it; I just did.

As things got progressively worse, I started to go to counseling, first to my pastor, then to a counselor. They also said they didn’t know how I did it. And both of them said I was resilient.

So whatever challenges 2017 brings, I have a track record of meeting challenges. The work project I was co-leading went into production on time. The product we put in place was awful and I was the face of it. We weathered that storm and got a better product in place.

My record speaks for itself. I can meet challenges. If you reading this, you probably have a similar track record.

And I don’t have to do it alone. You probably don’t, either.

That’s worth looking back to remember.

Contentment tip #2. It’s not the destination that counts

We spend the majority of our lives on the way to something. In school, you work hard so you can get into a good college. In college, you work to get a good job. At work, you work to get promoted and get ahead.

We’re always building toward something, particularly in corporate America in the 21st century. A step forward is a victory. A setback is a defeat–something to be analyzed and dealt with so future victory can occur.

And then you die.

It’s so easy for life to turn into a series of victories and defeats. A set of accomplishments or things you didn’t accomplish because <insert reason you suck here>.

What if it were about joy?

In some ways that’s easy. For me, I draw joy from working out. For instance, right now, I’m sore as hell, but I want to work out. It was a debate whether to write this post or do a workout. I’m not going to be happy during my workout, given my current state (see selfie below). But I draw joy from working out.



Even in working out, I’m focused on the goal. I want to be in shape again, the way I used to be.

No! No! No!

I want to work out. That’s what I want. And I want to find more stuff like that. (Maybe even get paid for stuff like that.)

I want to get ahead at work, for sure. But more than that, I want to be a meaningful contributor to the team. I want to build relationships with people. I want to be more than the tool who solves their problem. I want to care about them.

That’s where joy comes from. From the moment and the experience. Not from the relentless dovotion to goals.

I’m gonna make my numbers, whatever they are. That’s what I do. What’s more important is making the things that aren’t numbers.

To do that, it has to be about more than the goal, the destination.

Life’s a journey, not a set of goals on a spreadsheet.