Stories are an integral part of our society and have been for thousands of years. Whether the Odyssey, the Bible, Star Wars or Romeo & Juliet, the stories of the present and past have almost all been intended to tell us something. Not particularly something about the past although many are historical in nature. More often than not, stories are trying to tell us something about the human condition. Although a form of entertainment, they can also be instructive.
Characters are not just imaginary people to play make believe for us real humans. They represent a myriad of possible traits, life courses and mindsets. Whether Han Solo, Jesus, the Lorax or Hector, each one offers the gift of possibility. The idea of a life slightly different from our own. They offer themselves up in front of us on the screen or the page in order for us to judge them and their value. At that point their power or lack there of is left up to us.
What’s missing from the story is you. If you only admire the heroism of Han Solo or the kindness of Jesus but never transfer it into your own life, then these characters truly are lifeless. However, if you’re willing to take up their plight from the page, then they truly do live. It is not enough for heroism, kindness and love to exist in movies and books because evil and hatred are alive in the real world. So if you truly love a movie or book, then show it by becoming an actor. A person who acts in the stead of those imaginary people. The world is waiting for your story to be told and you’re the only thing that’s missing.
Despite being a 41 year old man, I really like the Harry Potter movies and watch them regularly. My wife would say that it’s because of Emma Watson but that’s not quite the truth. The story itself is what draws me in. It’s a pretty classic story of good vs. evil with enough twists and turns to make it unique. I’m also very interested in young people and how they learn to find their way through the world. Obviously completely fictitious but in parallel to the real world, one major failing of Hogwarts is to maintain a consistent Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. In that world, the imminent danger of Voldemort made that post important. In our much less magical world, the danger does not come from a completely evil dark lord but rather other young people trying to find their way in the world.
Just prior to sitting down to write, I was watching the Today Show and their guests were the parents of the twelve year old girl who killed herself in Rockaway, NJ. With an eleven year old son and many young people in my life, I truly feel for these parents as they’ve gone through the worst pain that a parent can bear. That story is not fiction and no matter the result of the lawsuit, it will not end completely happily.
I do not believe that social media is inherently bad or evil. It does create a loosely guarded gateway for evils to be perpetrated. While most of the focus is on stopping cyber-bulling and the perpetrators, I’d suggest that young (and older) people need to learn how to defend themselves against the dark arts of bullying. Let me say here, I am not condoning bullying in any way shape or form. Schools and organizations need to respond to these types of actions. Unfortunately the adults in a child’s life can only protect them so much. At a certain point, a child (or adult) is going to need to know how to protect themselves; not just from bullies but from friends, strangers, rejection, failure and loss. Knowing how to cope with and defeat these “dark arts” is crucial but rarely taught or even discussed. The two best Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers were Remus Lupin and Harry himself. Both were effective because they were practical in their approach. They did not deny that their students might face dark times like Dolores Umbridge. The beauty of the Order of the Phoenix is that students organize in order to protect themselves because they know that danger is out there.
In the real world, young people are increasingly living their lives in a virtual world where the perceived becomes as important or more important than the real. So they are fighting in a world of perception when they are still learning how to perceive themselves. If you know of someone who is struggling to manage the world, here are some starting points:
- Keep your phone/iPad/etc. in another room while you sleep.
- Do not log onto your device of choice for the first 30 minutes of your day.
- During that 30 minutes, take about 15 to do the following:
- Write down or think of people, things, experiences that you’re grateful for.
- Write down or think of the positive things that you’d like to have happen today (things that depend more on you than other people)
- Write down or think of the person you want to be in the future. Don’t get caught up in the space between where you are and where you want to be. Allow yourself to be in the future.
- After you’ve made these first 3 a habit, add in some form of body movement. Enough to get your blood pumping above a resting rate.
The point behind all of these items is to focus your mind on the things that matter most to you before it gets distracted by the desires of others. Decide what it is that you want out of your life/day before anyone else gets to add their input. If you need a helping hand, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great day people!
Last night I saw Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 with my son. (No spoilers, don’t worry!) One of the central characters in the Guardians series is Groot. He is a slightly simple-minded creature who can only say one thing “I am Groot”. Luckily his partner, Rocket, is extremely adept at understanding and deciphering his message. While Groot is often the star of the show, Rocket makes him accessible to everyone.
Although we are speaking the same language, the words that are said and the way that they are interpreted are two different things. Relationships depend heavily on language (both spoken and unspoken). If you want to be understood in any relationship, seek first to understand. Most of us are trying so hard to get our message out, that we forget to put the receivers up. Better listening (and reading of body language) can make you a more effective communicator.
It’s fine to say “I am Groot” if you’re talking to Rocket. The problem comes when someone else needs to understand. Then it’s on you to be clear. No one will be as invested in your message as you are. So put the effort into becoming a better messenger, rather than turning up the volume on your message.
In 1925 President Calvin Coolidge famously said that “The business of America is business.” Almost a full century later, those words are still quoted often enough for it to be recognized. Since the proliferation of the internet to most households, the pace of information exchange and communication has continued to increase almost exponentially. The problem is that with so much information flying around, very few people are taking the time to communicate or do anything to the best of their ability. It seems that with technology as our guide “The business of America is BUSYness.” There is no soap box under my feet. I am not chastising, judging or pointing a ridiculing finger. This post is as much for me as it is for anyone who reads it.
Distraction is a way of life in the country at the moment. Not only is completing tasks without getting distracted difficult but the fear of missing out (FOMO) seems to be an almost pervasive issue. People have divided their focus between too many activities and are simultaneously getting distracted from them. It’s a recipe for disaster no matter how you slice it. No one can be everywhere for everyone every time. Distraction always comes with a price tag and it is not you who is profiting. The losses are felt by you, your family, your friends, your colleagues and classmates. The people who are actually in your life are the ones who are missing out on a key component of their experience and that is you. All of you, not the partial you that has a technological device in hand “JUST IN CASE!” The cyborg version of you that cannot let go of the phone, tablet or computer has a distinct weakness, it is never fully present.
So many of our systems are built largely upon attendance but that model is at best flawed and at worst catastrophically broken. Absence, attendance, presence, engagement and immersion are very different levels of an inverted pyramid of human involvement. While attendance is a nice start, it is just barely above absence and meets only minimum requirements. Showing up is just not enough. To really take full advantage of this life that you have been gifted, you must strategically move up the pyramid with the things that you have decided really matter. And there lies the problem we must DECIDE. Decide comes from the Latin meaning to cut off. We must cut off the things that don’t matter in order to preserve the things that do. Our focus needs to be cut down to that which we value most.
The only person who can win this focus battle for you is you. Anyone can suggest, plead or punish you to do it but you do not have to comply until you choose. In the end there are so many companies and individuals who want your focus. It is your job to divvy it out as you see fit or scatter it without a care. Where you put your focus determines your life. If you decide to immerse yourself in Facebook, that is your choice and far be it from me to judge. As long as it is a decision and not a resignation to the world of distraction. Choose what you want for yourself before others choose for you.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. -Theodore Roosevelt
In these hot summer days of New Jersey, an air conditioned house, store or office is a sanctuary. Relief from the pounding heat and humidity seems as if it is a necessity. I often think about our “pre-AC” ancestors and how they reacted to days like this. Most likely, they had to be slightly more intelligent about breaks, shade and water. The prospect of artificial cool was long off in the future. Like so many of our modern conveniences, the advancement of technology seems to come attached to a double result: the desired effect and it’s opposite.
An air conditioner is thought of as a cooling mechanism, unless you visit the back end of the unit. There you will realize that the AC unit is producing almost as much heat as cold. So the cool factor is for a selected space and temporary. When the heat and cool reunite, the entire equation is most likely a wash. The effect for us as the recipients is not particularly a wash. The perception of cool and hot becomes skewed. While we have in theory “beaten the heat” by creating air conditioning, we’ve made ourselves less able to adapt to it when it is thrust upon us. This inverse relationship is evident in many areas. The internet has connected us all but we are losing our ability to communicate. Everyone has a phone in their pocket but people are talking less. We have more information than ever about the human body and how it works best but obesity and diabetes are rampant. It is as if we have forgotten something that could bring us back to the center. The thing that we have forgotten is that we are animals. Specifically we are mammals who were intended to find an equilibrium with our surroundings in order to survive.
The technological advances that we have created have brought us off of our center where we feel like we need to adapt. The world is supposed to adapt to us, right? Not quite, when we forget our heritage, not too subtle reminders will be visited upon us. So my message is pretty simple: Find out, without! Find out who you are without all of the gadgets that you use to cause comfort. Think, plan and execute some time in an outdoor environment that slightly tests who you are as a human animal. An overnight hike, a day without air conditioning, a period of time with no cell phone or any other exercise that allows you to come back to a natural center. (Yes! I realize that I’m asking you to unplug while writing an article over the internet. Hypocrisy? Only if I did this without doing what I prescribe.)
So find out, without! Find out whether or not you can have a face to face conversation with one of your Facebook friends. Find out if you really would shrivel up in this heat or do you just need to have a plan for hydration and find shade. The human animal has conquered this world and found now that his biggest adversary is himself. Don’t get crushed by your comfort!
See you along the path!
Nothing is infinite regarding human beings and our lives. Time, money, love, adoration, fame and respect are all commodities that run out at some point. Since we know that all of these are meant to deplete, why don’t we spend them more wisely? Shouldn’t we be asking regularly, who deserves it?
The world travels at such a fast pace that many of our daily interactions seem to be reactionary or on some form of auto-pilot. It may serve us in some ways by helping us to get things done but we need to make sure that important things are not left behind. Our Facebook timeline, Twitter feed and Snapchats may seem important at the moment. Perhaps they connect us to the people that we love most because they are far away. The technology is not inherently evil or disruptive. We make it that way by our choices. Do you have a better relationship with your cell phone than your: mother, father, brother, sister, best friend, boyfriend or girlfriend?
We are surrounded by devices that are “connection tools”. Are we using them to connect or to distract? Take a moment and use your phone or a piece of paper and a pen. Write a list of the five most important people in your life. Within the next five days, contact each one of them in the most human way that you have available to you.
1. Face to face
2. Facetime, Skype, Google Hangout
3. Phone Call (that thing actually makes calls still!)
It doesn’t have to be the most Earth shattering conversation. You just need to relay the message however subtly or bluntly that you can, “You’re important to me.” In a world of unlimited connection, shouldn’t we spend most of our time connecting with those we love rather than with strangers who are “Trending”? Make these five people trend for a few days and notice how you feel.
Languages are essentially agreements. At the moment, you and I are working under the English agreement. We both agree that you are using “eyes” to read this post and the thing that processes your thoughts about it is called a “brain”. As my day job, I try to get young people to accept the Spanish agreement. Over the years that I have explained this concept I was aware that there are many variations underneath each agreement. There is American English and Australian English but in essence they are close enough to allow communication to flow. Today I had a thought that I may have sold the idea of variations a little bit short.
The problem with the language agreement is the same as with most contracts: the fine print. As I was driving home, I began thinking. If language is an agreement, why do we disagree so often? One of the issues is that I am not exactly writing English here. I’m writing American 39 year old moderately educated Northwest New Jersey English. I could probably lump a few more descriptors on there but you get the point. Does this mean that we can’t understand each other? No, that’s not necessarily true. The key is to recognize what language you’re really speaking and the language of the other person.
This simple shift can make your communications better with the most important people in your life. For example, silence can mean something very different in the female language than the male. It can also change person to person. The key is to work to understand the other person’s language rather than assuming that your languages are compatible.