Thrill Versus Routine

I think of myself as an interesting fellow. And since I am a little on the introverted side and not a champion of exploring the feelings of others, I am capable of living out this personally-held perception with a degree of confidence. I once considered myself adventurous, seeking thrill in doing the unusual or attempting the unlikely. Yet inwardly I long for the comfort of routine and the well-traveled paths.

Brian Wilson & Al Jardine. Austin, May 2017.

Of course, I have moments of revelation when I realize I’m more prone to the routine. I simply want others to see me with their thrill-spectacles on.

For example, I occasionally throw into a conversation that I am a drummer and once played with a touring group — even recorded with them. That, my friends, is pretty thrilling stuff. When pressed, though, I have to admit that the last time I performed was over three decades ago. The more truthful statement is that I was a drummer.

Last weekend, our son, Justin, hosted us at a Brian Wilson concert. The Beach Boys were the foundation of my popular music experience in grade school and junior high. Although only Brian and Al Jardine were on stage from the original group, the evening was a nostalgic and emotion-driven experience. All the words to the songs were on my lips. I could still anticipate each drum and percussion beat. And I remembered the time, prior to puberty, that I could sing the high parts, sans falsetto.

I felt the thrill and the desire to go back to music. But by the end of the concert, I knew that wasn’t a possibility. You see, I had abandoned my routine thirty years ago. The routine of listening to old music and new music, the routine of deconstructing rhythm patterns in my head, the routine of taking sticks in hand and building the new patterns and muscle memory that enable simply striking to be molded into music.

Routines can, of course, be reinstituted. But other routines must be pushed aside. At some point in life, we have to measure the thrill against the cost of routine. To experience the thrill on a regular basis — and to survive — demands routine to be a necessary element.

Too often, we look upon our routine as a burden. When in truth, the regularly pursued actions cannot only lead to a thrilling experience but can, in and of themselves, become a source of exhilaration. Simple things, even mundane things, can bring great pleasure and fulfillment.

And routines sometimes seem like luxuries. Several years ago, I was facing the challenge of rewriting a reference book. Out of the twelve chapters, nine were my responsibility. It was not a matter of updating, but one of reimagining and creating. I made a deal with my editor and publisher, to rewrite three chapters a year for three years. In earlier days, I would have taken a week or two of vacation annually and accomplished the task through binge-writing. Instead, I established a routine of researching and writing an hour a day, five to six days a week. My routine was a blessing as I sat at my computer from 7:30 to 8:30 each morning and the book took form. Not only did I complete that writing assignment, I found time to write other things regularly. The routine of writing was not only a discipline, it was a thrill. By honing my writing and thinking skills, I was able to accomplish my goal.

Writing, like drumming, has fallen out of my routine. It happens sporadically. Like drumming, my skills have diminished. Yet, the thrill remains and inspires because I now recognize that it is born from and lives inside the routine.

Perhaps I’ll write more. And, in private moments, perhaps I’ll drum to old tunes.

Sometimes “I’m Better Off” Isn’t the Best Measure of Good Government

Privilege and Position Shouldn't Determine What's Right

I’ve stepped back from public comment about our current leadership in order to inwardly address the anger and frustration I feel towards our U.S. political environment. We are realizing the obvious. The current direction will not make America great again. This is not good government. And, honestly, it might not have been any better had the election results been different. We have some deep and difficult work to undertake before we get to good government.

photo credit: Madi Robson | unsplash.com

I freely admit that the Trump Administration and some of their actions have shown a momentary improvement to the economy. My net worth has gone up along with everyone else’s. At least those of us fortunate enough to have a net worth that can be impacted by policy.

But good government is not determined solely by the benefits for those who already enjoy privilege and position. Good government is about helping all so that we can move forward together. The policies of this administration, despite claims made during the election, will not accomplish that.

I understand that we have a problem with government largesse and bureaucracy. I am hopeful that some of the shrapnel from the budget policy bombs being dropped will positively change that. But efficiency won’t make America great. It will be too little and an investment in things and not people.

Politicians always claim that they will be able to unify people. That’s the only way that any organized group can move forward — whether it’s a nation, a sports team, or a business.

The proposed funding recommended by the current administration is not a unity budget. Ironically, the results it brings will further divide the American people. Despite an effort to paint the “enemy them” as immigrants and terrorists, we are pitting ourselves against each other.

It’s easy to be complacent. I’m white and middle-classed. There’s a good chance I’ll be better off economically in four years. But I won’t see the unity that makes us great. I’d rather have less and walk shamelessly with every single person.

The Right Path

Changing the culture through counter culture

My social media feeds explode with political themes even now — after the election and just days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. The eruptions I’m seeing are not only from those who opposed Mr. Trump and oppose him still. The majority of outbursts I am seeing are from the side of the victor. Should any one venture to express concern over anything remotely connected to the incoming administration or the legislation it supports, immediate taunts ring out along with veiled and, sometimes, open threats. With such attempts to demean and devalue, the true nature of the person bubbles closer to the surface. This should be a time of finding the right path, the one that leads to common ground and reconciliation.

These angry and irrational voices from both sides are not those of patriots. Patriots are those who have searched their souls and, after serious contemplation, taken a stand for what is just and right. Justice and righteousness moves well beyond what is good for just one individual. The refusal of these angered individuals to seek understanding and their insistence on following blindly is frightening and bear no resemblance to patriotism.

On this day, January 16, 2017, we pause as a nation to honor the memory of a man who, above all else, pursued the right path. Not a perfect man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood as a blessed and blemished child of God to speak out with dignity against sin and social wrong.

Through the years, Dr. King’s detractors have attempted to distract the world from his message by parading his human failings. He had some. However, for those of us who are truly honest, we recognize that we are no different. Our challenges may or may not be a little different from his. The power of the message from Dr. King comes from the fact that he was broken like all of us. And from the lips of those who have been with us on the journey comes the most helpful of all advice.

In this time of heightened emotion and political activism, we stand at the brink of disturbing thought and behavior. With that as a backdrop, please consider these words from Dr. King, delivered in a sermon in Montgomery, Alabama on November 6, 1956, one week before the Supreme Court of the United States would declare Alabama’s bus segregation laws unconstitutional.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

Although Dr. King delivered those words to his congregation, the importance and implication are apparent regardless of the political posturing you exhibit. We must learn to talk together without the violence of words and action. What will your chief legacy be? We must choose the right path.

Happy New Your Resolutions

my recommendations for what you can do to make my 2017 better

I’m a big believer that the only significant changes I can make in this world are the things under my control. Thus, the only change I can guarantee is the change I bring to my own life. I have dutifully reflected on this past year and selected a number of areas where I can bring about change . . . with me. Thus, I have new year’s resolutions.

However, during a moment of irritation, I also began working on my list of things that  others could do. Please note, it was during a time of irritation. So this isn’t a path to world peace or anything so noble. These are simply things that would make my life better.

New Your Resolutions

10. Use your turn signals.

I’m doing a lot of big city driving these days. I will go out of my way to make a space for another driver who politely asks to come into my lane by moving his or her hand ever so slightly to activate the turn signal. I’ve noticed that many, many others react the same way.

But a good number of drivers out there ignore this courtesy — and legal requirement. I’ve also noticed that the more expensive the vehicle is the more likely that the signals will not be used. I checked with a friend who sells fine cars. He has assured me that all vehicles, regardless of price, are equipped with turn signals. And I personally checked the window stickers on a number of cars and SUVs — there is no special surtax leveed that would excuse you from signaling.

Please, signal. It’s just one of those forms of communication that makes life better — and safer.

9. Stop using crude and foul language.

I’m fully aware of the First Amendment. I know it’s your right to say things that are vile and distasteful to me. But stop it. Regardless of how much sophistication you believe the f-bomb brings to your cell phone conversation, just know, it doesn’t. What those words say to others, regardless of their context, is that you: (a) are stupid, (b) received your entire training in linguistics watching R movies that target the basest desires and cravings of our society, (c) are rebelling against society and you say these things to show your disrespect, (d) are rebelling against your upbringing,  and/or (e) were brought up in an environment where others were influenced by (a) through (d), above.

The number one excuse for using profanity is that it allows us to communicate our emotional well-being at any given moment.  Let me suggest here that there are other words you could use:

  • I’m angry.
  • I’m frustrated.
  • I’m sad.
  • I’m happy.

That’s just a starter list. Saying those kinds of things allows your listener to understand where you are coming from instantly and is far more likely to lead to bringing their empathy to the surface. Hearing one of those expressions doesn’t cause us to think, “Hmmm, I wonder if he just hit his thumb with a hammer?” We have a pretty good clue about what you are experiencing.

Please, clean up your language.

8. Carry poop bags and use them.

If you walk your dog — and there are millions of you out there who do — pick up those packages, large and small, created on your adventures. Yes, it’s a natural occurrence. But you can’t blame your dog.

Please, pick it up and dispose of it.

7. Recycle.

We all use disposable containers. Many of them are recyclable and some, if not appropriately disposed of, are safety hazards for humans, animals, and plant life. And no, you can’t blame your local municipality if they have no recycling program. They should, but that will be on my mid-year list of “responsible things society should do.”

Please, recycle.

6. Adopt and embrace the Oxford Comma.

Miscommunication abounds. Do your part to contain it by appropriately using the comma — and other forms of punctuation. If I have to read what you’ve written more than once to decipher it, 8 times out of 10 it’s because you didn’t punctuate properly. And if you’re one of my students and I’m grading your paper, I really don’t care that your writing and grammar teacher told you it was okay to drop off commas. If you’re unclear and a comma would have helped, I’m subtracting points on technical writing.

Please, punctuate safely.

5. Don’t make up facts.

For example, in #6 above, I have no idea if punctuation is the culprit in 8 out of 10 written communications errors. It would have helped if I had prefaced it with, “In my opinion . . .” or IMHO (although my personal experience is that my opinions are rarely offered humbly).

Making stuff up to strengthen your position is a pretty good indicator that your position is lacking.

Please, don’t add to all the falsity that is circulating out there.

4. Don’t use the word “actually” unless it is actually necessary.

Sadly, when I find  myself listening to a speech or a sermon or a lecture or I’m eavesdropping on someone at the next table in a restaurant, I often count the number of times the word “actually” is used.

Using “actually” as a seasoning for your conversation is like telling your companions that most of what you say is suspect. It ranks right up there with such phrases like “to be honest” or “if the truth be known.” Those are simply signals that you are a person who might not be delivering credible information. For some of you who use this word with reckless abandon, I am learning that I must wait to hear a morsel of relative and factual information until you introduce it with “actually.”

Please, use the word “actually” sparingly.

3. Accept that you don’t know everything and that you are not always right.

I have personal experience with this one. I don’t know everything and I should not be seen as someone with impeccable judgment. (I know that’s ironic, given the fact I’m posting about the stuff that others should do to improve.) I do accept this. And I balance my impulse to push my beliefs and opinions on others with some temperance. I often wait. Before I speak. Before I act. Before I vote. Before I judge — at least publicly.

Please, wait. (I’ve actually waited a long time before publishing this post. [See what I did there? I reinforced this resolution by violating #4.])

2. Give others the benefit of the doubt — but don’t abandon accountability.

A good number of you immediately began thinking of our current political situation when you read this. I have to admit that it was foremost in my mind when I added it to the list. This is a hard one, especially when it comes to enforcing accountability. How much margin can we give others?

My leading response in my law practice was, “It depends.” And so it is appropriate that it be prominent in this conversation. Some things matter more than others. For you to locate and enforce the line of accountability, you must reflect on your values, on accurate information, and on what is at stake. Don’t let others make this decision for you.

Please, listen for understanding, be curious, and stand up for your values.

1. Finally, once and for all, accept the fact that it’s not just about you.

When you are making decisions or investing your time and resources, pause a few seconds to ask whether you are simply acting out of selfishness and personal ambition. In the book of James, we are told that the root of all conflict in the world is our focus on self above others.

Don’t hear me say that you shouldn’t act wisely and responsibly in regard to your own earthly affairs. In an essay on charity, John Wesley once penned that we should address our finances to take care of ourselves, our families, and, only then, on addressing the needs of others. His prioritization was not based on selfishness, however. His point was that we should be good stewards in regard to our own needs so we don’t become a burden to those around us.

Perhaps our problem has more to do with our perception of what our true needs are.

We are all faced with decisions that will impact our own well-being over others. Sometimes those decisions will bring us a small gain while costing others greatly. Our most appropriate consideration should be that which benefits the most people.

Please, do your best for all.

 

That’s my list for you. And each one of them, from the most silly to the most profound, is on my personal list of new year’s resolutions, too — along with an assortment of alterations to exercise, diet, and general demeanor.

Happy New Year!

Too Attached to the Election

but it doesn't mean that everything will 'be all right'

This is a political post. It was written after a lot of thought. There are a lot of words here and I already know that it might not be the best written work I’ve ever done. It might not ‘flow.’ And it may not seem logical to you. Or you just might disagree. But it’s the only way I can move on. I became too attached to the election.

I’m a conflict resolution guy. It’s what I do. Conflict resolution comes in many forms. When I was a full-time lawyer, we practiced conflict resolution through the courtroom. Most people I know practice conflict resolution by simply avoiding it. Once, while I was speaking to the command group at an air force base about conflict management, the base commander reminded me that his supersonic bomber crews and maintenance personnel were all in conflict resolution. My line of conflict resolution, while direct, has an ultimate goal of restoring relationships and building a better future. And that’s why I became too attached to the presidential election.

Everyone had their reasons for voting for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton.

Some were substantive. You really studied and were in favor of one political platform over another.

Others were relational reasons. You come from a long line of Republicans or Democrats and you find comfort in supporting that continuity of direction and honoring your heritage or your close group of friends — even though we know that neither party has been overwhelmingly consistent through history AND that the collective judgment of most social groups is suspect.

Some of you voted one way or the other because of religious motivations. Many of you told me how one candidate was the devil while the other one was the instrument of God. I think that those of you who voted out of religious conscience, for the most part, did so because of your genuine desire to build a society on godly values. That is a good thing.

However, for some of you, it gave you license to act in ungodly, menacing ways. And it hurt me, it hurt others, and it hurt God’s cause when you decided that any means would justify the ends. Jesus’ consistent story line was that the means were the most important thing. In fact, his promise was that if we line up our lives to do good, to speak well, and to love all, the ends would be taken care of — by God’s mercy and love. At this intersection you can follow all sorts of side trails to topics like faith, hope, and love. I’m just leaving this here.

Some of you voted to satisfy symbolic interests. Mr. Trump is going to shake up the establishment. Mrs. Clinton is going to be the first woman President. Mr. Trump is going to show the rest of the world that the United States is a dominating force. Mrs. Clinton acts more presidential. Symbolic interests are important. However, they prove to be a destabilizing factor if there is no foundational support.

So, we all had our reasons for voting the way we did. And we voted. And our system allowed us to make a decision. The decision was made. Yes, Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote. More voters wanted her as President. But remember that’s happened before. Mr. Trump won the electoral votes needed to be President.

I’m not going to get into the arguments over the Electoral College. But go back and look at the history of that process. It highlights the voice of the people with the interests of the states in balancing power between high-population and low-population states. (We would be remiss in failing to recognize that one of the most prominent interests of the states at the time had to do with whether they were abolitionist or pro-slavery.) So if you want to move to direct election of a president by popular vote, there’s a process for that. Pursue it.

Some people know that I never supported Mr. Trump during the election. In fact, I never liked him as a celebrity. He is a bully who has made his fortune and set his reputation through meanness, deceit, and, in my opinion, illegal means. I fear that he will continue to act in the same manner, even as the “leader of the free world.”

On the other hand, I would never have thought that I would vote for Mrs. Clinton. While her list of qualifications for President is long and she has shown moments of greatness, her past is littered with the wreckage of scandal. I’m not talking here about the multitude of, often preposterous, conspiracy theories and email controversies. I’m talking about the way that she and former President Bill Clinton built a machine to trade influence for dollars. Their hands are dirty.

But I did vote for her, because I felt the need to keep Mr. Trump from soiling the White House and the reputation of our country. That didn’t work out. This portion of my post will most likely result in many people unsubscribing from my email list and unfriending me on social media. I really regret that. But therein lies my point. Please read to the end before you unsubscribe or unfriend me. And, if you have any sense of fairness, I listened to and read a lot of ill-conceived rhetoric that some of you wrote or passed on — and I didn’t unfriend you.

I accept that Mr. Trump is the President-Elect of the United States of America. I will continue to honor the office even when I disagree with the individual who holds that office. I’ve done that in the past and I will continue to do that.

However, the positions that Mr. Trump has taken in regard to women, minorities, immigrants, and anyone who differs with him are untenable and, in most cases, abhorrent. We should not simply say that ‘everything will be all right.’ When we demean people, rob them of their dignity, and make simplistic policy decisions that ignore the underlying interests — interests that are woven into the fabric of our Constitution and our society — it is not all right. We must speak up.

I have to confess that when past presidential elections have not reflected my vote, I have simply shrugged and said, “It will be all right. Four more years. We’ll survive.” I still believe that God has all of this. I still believe that we will survive.

I believe even more strongly that we cannot just shrug and remain silent. It’s not what peacemakers do. It’s not the appropriate way to resolve conflict and to build better relationships.

Washington is broken. The Democratic Party is broken. The Republican Party is broken. Let’s not mourn that. Let’s build something better. Mr. Trump’s rejection of the Washington machinery might play into that. But only if Mr. Trump sets his personal self-interest aside and truly desires to serve this country.

A Call to Personal Action

Something different has to start with some personal action. Here’s my list:

  1. I acknowledge that I could be wrong about some things.
  2. I will do my best to know the issues, to understand the issues, and to communicate my stance in a way that helps others understand where I stand.
  3. I will continue to listen and explore when others differ with me.
  4. I will never demean another person, even when I believe they are wrong, stubborn, and disrespectful to me.
  5. I will never stand by when others demean someone else. My voice will be heard.
  6. If I discover I’m wrong, I will change my position and make amends if necessary.
  7. I will pray for our leaders and for all people — both within and without the United States.
  8. I will pray specifically for Mr. Trump.
  9. I will not tolerate bullying by anyone. While I may have no other power or authority, I have a voice. I will firmly oppose those who seek to control others for their own gain.
  10. I will encourage and work for a system that seeks the common good of all people.

That’s what I’m going to do. It’s too little too late for this election. But it’s there for the future.

So, do whatever you will. I hope you will join me even if you don’t agree with my positions on all things. That’s the wonder of America. It was built to reflect the beauty of diversity. We are better together.