Showing posts with label dialogue. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dialogue. Show all posts

Compassion and Fatigue in a Social Media World

Of late, I'm feeling a bit wiped.  I know this has a bit to do with the good ole work-life balance, but I'm also struggling with how I continue to engage with the world and the things that I fundamentally know and believe about the world and I would be curious to hear how others grapple meaningfully with these challenges.

Horrific Event Cycle

Breaking News!

Much of this happens as a result of the hyper-narrative of events.  What I mean by this is that for several years I've noticed there is a series of cycles around any major news story--especially those which are controversial or horrific that goes something like this:
  1. Horrible event happens.
  2. Immediately responses to horrific response that mix empathy, anger, and shock.
  3. Quickly followed by responses criticizing those people and how they responded, which often invoke shame, hypocrisy, and ignorance coupled with bigotry (knowing and caring about this group, but being ignorant of other groups--especially marginalized groups).
  4. Shortly followed by responses criticizing the critics and damning their insensitivity to the "real tragedy."
  5. A response by the critics about the insincere responses of the previous responders.  
  6. All of this then gets rolled into critics who provide a meta-commentary, which allows them to comment on larger issues.
  7. The meta-commentary then is reacted to by all the other critics as twisting words, reductive thinking or some other problem.
  8. These continue to spiral until another horrible thing happens at which point said commentaries, meta-commentaries, etc are folded into, evoked, or mocked because of the seriousness of the new thing.
Meanwhile, there is a never-ending round of "gotcha" and "told you so" memes that are generated and circulating are meant to purposely incite or offend various people, all in the name of freedom of expression and minimalizing complex and nuanced issues that require substantial thought and consideration.  All of this unfolds sometimes within hours, though usually days of the original event.

It's hard for me not to engage in various levels of commentary because they are often infused with ideologies or are clearly evoking similar past events.  Whether it's another terrorist attack, a mass-shooting in a public space, or even a manufactured story purposely meant to rile the dominant culture about a supposed threat to their power and prestige, they all come at us in series of articles, news clips, and memes that beg a response; that beg a need to identify inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and misinformation.  

Just Ignore It


This cycle is exhausting to witness and partake in.  The media only enhances it with the outrage cycle to produce stories that aren't stories but still suck us in to discussing it (e.g. the Starbucks cup).    And it is hard to avoid engaging in it to some degree.  To remove one's self from social media doesn't work because it is still likely to be present in news stories, on the television news, and on one's news feeds.  To attempt any level of awareness in the world and to not be blasted by it, seems all but impossible.

I often hear people say, "Just ignore it."  In fact, I've lost several "Facebook friends" due to my failure to ignore the nature of their posts.  But I generally can't ignore it.  If I see something wrong--something that alienates or marginalizes already vulnerable populations, then I am compelled to say something.  I have trouble letting it slide as to me that seems to be a sign of my own bigotry.  That is, if I fundamentally believe in the humanity of all people, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, sex, sexuality, religion, etc, then to chose to only speak up for groups that I more closely identify with seems to reject that idea outright.  I can't pick and choose; I'm either vigilant in supporting all groups to the best that I can, or I'm just playing favorites and that means reinforcing or refusing to confront my own innate bigotry.

There's also something about ignoring that I find disconcerting and impossible for me.  I know some of the nicest people can happily and purposely ignore something.  They will even say, "don't tell me about that" so that they can avoid cognitive dissonance around something in their lives (e.g. the horrific and unsanitary conditions of the animals we eat, the environmental and human degradation of the coffee we drink, the human abuse and exploitation of children and adults for other commodity items like clothes, diamonds, and chocolate).  It's very hard to turn off that switch for me and I don't want to turn of the switch per se.  I don't want to numb myself or allow myself to ignore it because so much harm is done in the world by our ability to ignore those things which we are not directly affected by.  

Ignoring Is a Privilege

Racism: The Elephant in the room

If I'm not African American, then I don't have to think about what it means to be black, the inherent inequalities at every step of the criminal justice system for African Americans, the numerous other social and cultural inequalities, and how that will impact me.  Therefore, when people on Facebook, especially police officers, openly mock, blame, or disregard often with inherent racist posts about #BlackLivesMatter, I get the privilege to ignore it, on the assumption that it is not my problem or it doesn't directly effect me.

If I'm not transgender, then I can ignore the various memes posted by typically hereotsexual men and women that mock Caitlyn Jenner or any transperson of any variety for that matter.  I can enjoy the mockery taking place.  I don't have to think about what it means to be trans in a culture that regularly kills people because they don't fit into a simplistic gender, sex, or sexuality system.  I get to laugh at the post; it doesn't increase my internalized fear for my safety every time I use a public bathroom.

If I'm not Muslim, I don't have to think about what it means to belong to a world religion that like so many other religions, have people who are practicing some bastardized form of it and committing horrific acts in its name.  I don't have to constantly walk a line between faith but also communicating that "I'm not 'them', I swear" because people and news media's reductive thinking can't or chooses not to distinguish between terrorist organization and world religion.   I don't have to tattoo the American flag on my forehead to avoid questions being raised about whether I should be here, what kind of threat I represent, or what am I doing personally to prevent other Muslims from becoming terrorists, like I'm personally responsible and representative of all Muslims.   Instead, I can talk about deporting "them," torturing "them," or even nuking "them" like they are an infestation because I belong to a culture and government that has committed genocide on other peoples, so what's one more. 

Ignoring is a privilege afforded to those whose lives are not directly effected by whatever is being ignored (In truth, it does effect all of us as bigotry, injustice, and violence perpetrated upon one group opens up the opportunity for it to happen to all of us).  I don't sit well with knowing I have privilege based upon factors that society has deemed more valuable despite such privileges being entirely a matter of birth (e.g. race, ethnicity, class, gender, sex, sexuality, etc) and therefore, when there are ways I can address my own innate privilege, I do my best to do so.

But How to Engage?

That is the question I grapple with.  I don't want to dissent into a Bug's Bunny "Rabbit Season/Duck Season" debate but of course, it so often does happen.  I see a post or comment that is troubling, inaccurate, or misrepresents peoples or beliefs and I find it important to respond.  In truth, I'm trying to respond to the person, but often the nature of the post makes it clear, they are being purposefully incendiary; it's their American right, of course (insert commentary about who and when "Americans" get to assert such a right).  

I often respond often knowing the person who posted it will not listen, respond, or hear what I have to say and if they do, it's from a position of snark or just disregard.  I often try to be respectful in my tone (though I do fail at this).  Sometimes, I am met with the same respect or the person can identify with the concerns I raise.  However, even if this never happened, I'm still compelled to do it because others need to see it. 

I provide whatever response I do because I see the need for others who see that post to know that there is a different way; that there are alternatives.  I know it's important to voice a counter-view because, it has helped others seeing the same post better understand their own issues with the post or just to know there is an ally out there.  I regularly hear from people that appreciate me speaking up to something they were afraid to or unable to comment upon.  That this happens by being networked to the person posting the offensive content makes it all the more important because it means that post, regardless of its problematic content has actually helped others become more understanding and aware.  

There's Always Housekeeping

Friend Options on Facebook
The desire to delete "friends" or unfollow people who post such content is strong and I know many will do this or simply unfollow or block posts.  I am often tempted with these options, but I feel it is just another form of ignoring.  I don't have to see the bad stuff--I can block the content and not the person so I don't have to engage with it.  Inevitably, I will know it's still there, but I can continue with my blissful feed of posts filled with health advice, pop culture interests, and cute cat pics.  That just doesn't sit well with me.  It seems to me that if I don't have the tolerance to hear what they have to say at all, then I need to consider why be friends with them at all and why do I expect tolerance but do not give tolerance.

Deleting friends doesn't seem like an option either and it's not because I don't want to offend those people or fear that I will eventually end up with no friends.  Rather it's that I make conscious decisions to be "friends" with people and I recognize that they will definitely not like everything I post, I should not expect any less from them.  More important, these are good people.  Yes, they may post things that are problematic, but on the whole they are good people with family and friends, often doing many good things in the world (caring for loved ones, donating to charity, volunteering, etc).  That is, the issue I have with them is singular but they are multi-faceted.  Deleting them seems to be another form of reductive thinking that I don't want to participate in.  

Butttt....How Do YOU Deal?  

suggestion box

I've shared the above to give people a sense of what I'm doing and why, because I'm hoping there are others out there who have similar views and approaches.  I'm curious to hear about your tactics, ideas, and ways of negotiating being a compassionate human in all its forms while being challenged by the problematic and often vitriolic rhetoric in the form of posts, memes, and articles on your social networks. 

I certainly will continue to engage in the ways I find are best to do so.  I will also find a means of reconciling the need for breaks for mental care with the concern of my privilege to be able to break away from it.  But I am curious to know how others negotiate these challenges.  What tactics do you employ?  How do you often do you engage with content that you find problematic?  How do you engage with it?  How do you avoid burnout?  How do you survive burnout?  

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

How To Be a Good Friend on Social Media Part 2 (or 2)

So if the first part of this series was about things you can do, these recommendations can best be understood as caveats and considerations about how you use social media with friends.

Assume Everything You Say Is or Can Be Public

Public Domain Image - Source:
There are a variety of safety settings on many social media platforms.  But just assume that it can all somehow, planned or unplanned, become made public.  Assume what you post to your wall, to other people's walls, and even in "private messages" is as likely to remain private as it is to end up on the cover of Time.  Just plan for that and post accordingly.  That means you probably don't want to bash your work, your friends, your enemies, your in-laws or any other person or persons that you're at odds with unless you're prepared for potential exposure and confrontation.  

Think Before Posting

This is of course connected with the previous post but it's worth repeating.  The average person that is one social media has between 100 and 200 connections on their network.  That's a lot of individuals to keep in mind when you are posting.  However, that means you should take a moment to think before posting.  It's easy to take a shot at a particular group of people, business, political viewpoint, etc.  We do it all the time, but it's worth taking a moment and asking yourself if there is a better way of presenting it or expressing your frustrations without targeting, generalizing, or misrepresenting a group of people.  

You May Know Your Friend, But You Don't Know Your Friend's Friends

People Network - Image Source:
This follows along the lines of the previous two but it's worth more directly thinking about.  You have a sense of who you are connected with but not necessarily who your friends are connected with.  When interacting with your friends via social media, remember that there is a chance their friends are likely to see the conversation (particularly if it occurs on your friend's wall instead of yours).  Recognize that they have a variety of different views that are as likely to be similar as they are different.  Be respectful as you engage with them as you don't fully know where they are coming from.  Have dialogue but avoid getting nasty with them no matter what happens.  Be civil and don't assume that whatever happens between the two of you will be considered "OK" by your mutual friend.  

Write Longer Posts in Outside of the Post Box

I can often get into debates with people online.  I rather enjoy this in terms of the different ideas and thoughts that are presented.  However, if I'm typing longer posts--ones that are more than 1-2 sentences, then I'm likely to move to a different platform than the textbox provided.  This helps with a few things.  It helps me see everything that I am writing, rather than having to scroll up and down the tiny box.  It also helps me spell and grammar check--after all, if I'm trying to make an important point and my spelling and grammar are all over the place, my thoughts will be taken less seriously by some.  Also, depending on the textbox's protocols, I don't want to hit "Enter" (which i'm trained to do automatically) to start a new paragraph and all of a sudden, find that it has been submitted.  Last, but not least, is that by writing it in another environment gives me pause.  There's one extra step I have to do before posting it and this is important.  It helps me think about if I really want to post it.  This has led me on a number of occasions to delete it instead and choose not to engage in the debate.  Altogether, it allows me to better and more respectfully engage in discussion with people on my social networks.  

Strategically Correct/Critique

So this one is one of the trickiest in the lot.  I'm going to recommend what is probably the most civil thing to do, but then I'm also going to talk about what I do and why.  The most civil thing to when you find something that someone has posted is wrong, has mistakes in it, or is personally offensive for some reason is to contact that person privately and respectfully explain your concerns.  You will need to recognize and accept that sharing your opinion won't necessarily change the post but you will have clearly acknowledged your concerns.  The goal is to inform and explain your position if you find it offensive or to clarify how or why the post might be inaccurate if there is misinformation on it.  

However, that's where I deviate from my advice.  My approach (and I have lost Facebook connections because of this mind you and am ok with that) is that I'm likely to speak up on a person's wall when I find something offensive or factually inaccurate.  I do this because I'm personally a firm believer of dialogue.  When I find something that is offensive or disagreeable, I move into the conversation, not by attacking the other person (usually) but by critically considering what has been posted and commenting as such.  It's something I do regularly.  

If You Have to Block, Then You Should Boot

Muting image - Source
This more firmly applies to connection-based (where both people agree to be connected) than follow-based social media (where agreement to follow is singularly made and not mutual).  I'm a firm believer that if you have to block someone's posts, then you should not be connected to them on social media.  My reasoning for this is that if you are connected to someone on a social network, you're making a public endorsement and that is a mutually beneficial statement.  Each person says, "I publicly recognize this person as friend-worthy."  In such instances, if you are choosing to block the person's posts while still being connected them, then you are still benefiting from the connection while silencing the person.  That feels problematic to me and disingenuous.  If you cannot tolerate what someone is saying or doing on their social media, then maybe, you shouldn't be connected to them.  At this point, someone will usually say, "yeah but I see this person regularly and it would be awkward if I de-friended the person."  Absolutely.  But that means it's time to have adult conversations about your friendship or their questionable social media posts.  

What is some advice you would offer for better social media exchanges with friends, families, and colleagues?

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

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How To Be a Good Friend on Social Media Part 1 (or 2)

Social media has changed some of the ways we interact with friends and family for good or for bad.  This new space of engagement changes much of how we interact and to what degree we see our friends' larger picture.  We no longer see friends in as limited lens as we might have before but have a larger context of other friends, acquaintances, and family.  Because of the nature of these environments, it's as likely for one person to having meaningful dialogue with their friend on social media as it is one of their friends' friend whom the person has never met.  It means many of us are trying to navigate unclear waters and I thought post might help people better understand how to renegotiate friendship online.  

They are a mixture of Do's and Don'ts to help navigate this tricky new space that many of us find ourselves in.  We're often good at figuring out what to do in the face-to-face environment, but online isn't always as clear as it would seem.  

Identify What Your Social Media Approach Is

This sounds weird, but it's a useful personal exercise and one that can help you decide what it is that you are using these platforms for.  I have my take on social media and place it here on my blog.  It identifies why I use social media and what I want to get out of it.  I hear a lot of people who get frustrated or unclear about the purpose of social media or don't really think about using social media.  Giving yourself some time to clearly identify what it is that you want to get out of social media can help you better decide how you want to interact on social media.  Are you using it solely for finding different information via your social networks or are you looking to use it as a way of interacting with friends when unable to meet face-to-face?  Do you want to engage in debate or just relax in this space?  Determining what you want to do helps you determine where to focus your attention.    

Congratulate in Public

Paper Note with "Good Job" on It:  Image Source:
Give friends credit!  Thank them for doing things for you or with you, on their achievements, and just for being awesome people.  You'd be surprised how a simple comment can light up a person's day and doing so on social media means it's public.  That can be a great way to provide a bit of cheer and excitement for someone since by thanking them, you're also bringing attention to them in both of your social networks.  Remember that this also extends to businesses, organizations, public figures, etc.  

Promote and Share Statuses and Links (Give Credit)

As you come across great content that you find through your networks be sure to give credit.  You may find a link on Twitter but repost it on Facebook.  If that is the case, be sure to tag or acknowledge who helped you find the source. Being acknowledged for contributions to our friends and connections experiences is in part a major piece of what drives social media--knowing that what we share, has an impact.  

Help Promote Social Media Efforts and Campaigns by Friends

"Always pay it forward and never forget to pay it back.  It's how you got here and it defines where you're going... @briansolis" Image Source:
I think this is an important and underused element of being a good friend on social media.  Many of us want to support and help people in our networks.  If we are taking the time to post some cause that a friend is pushing for, the hope is that our friends will if not directly contribute to it, then help out by sharing it onward.  When we advocate or promote on their behalf, we help them in ways that are still useful.  Many of us have hundreds (if not more) of people in our social network.  When we share someone else's post for support, aid, etc, we're leveraging our network to help spread their message and potentially expanding the reach exponentially..  That's valuable and powerful for helping out friends.  

Tag With Relevance

Whether tagging in these environments be sure to tag people that are relevant to content of the post.  To follow up on the previous recommendation (Congratulate in Public), when talking about companies, organizations, etc., be sure to tag them as well.  I do my best to include tags when trying to say something good or even critical (more about that below) of a public entity.  Regardless, don't tag unless there's clear reason for it.  Also, be aware as best as possible of your friends and family members' preferences for tagging.  Don't tag people who don't want to be tagged.

Like Statuses That Are Meant to Be Liked 

Dislike Button - Image Source:
Or as I like to put it, "Don't like RIP statuses."  It's clear that some statuses are meant to indicate positive messages.  "I got a great new job!!!".  Perfect--like that a bajillion times.  But more vague messages, you'll want to stay clear from liking.  "I lost my job, today."  Use your words for these types of status.  "I'm sorry to here."  "Can I help?".  Liking such statuses can be confusing for the person who posted and it's even unclear to the people doing the liking.  Because usually the words used for positive credit are words or icons representing liking, hearting, or favoriting, to like questionable updates sends a mix message even though you are sometimes just trying to show support.  

This is the first half.  The second half will be posted next week.  What is some of the advice you offer for better social media exchanges with friends?

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

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Literature As Reformation: The Changing Lives Through Literature Program

I just finished my first time running a Changing Lives Through Literature program this past week.  The program is consists of 8 weekly meetings with individuals on parole wherein we talk about assigned short stories or novels read.  Essentially, it's a reading club for people on parole.  It's purpose to help people on parole engage with ideas through reading and have the opportunity to accomplish something as part of their progress to full rehabilitation in society.  Depending on the elements of their parole, participants often volunteer to be in the program and in doing some, some may have time taken off their parole sentence.  

Prison Halls - Image Source:
It is a program that I found out about through a colleague and expressed interest in last year.  However, it was not my first encounter with the program.  In fact, I wrote this blog post for one CLTL group a few years ago on my love for the writings of Kate Chopin.  Earlier this year, I was contacted by an officer interested in starting up a new group in Salem and so I jumped at the chance.  I met with the officer and we planted to run this first group in March through April.  The logistics went according to plan and though, there is much to tweak, it certainly was appreciated by those who consistently attended and those who facilitated it.  

For the first few weeks, I was excited and a bit nervous about running this group.  I certainly brought plenty of experience to the group as a facilitator, having taught literature at colleges for the last six years, but I wasn't sure exactly how to approach facilitating the group.  I was less certain about how the group dynamics would be and less familiar with this informal setting.  Yet as the weeks progressed, I seemed to have found my foothold and determined how best to engage with the participants and guide the conversation.  

So what did we cover in this 8 week journey?  It was composed of short stories and one novel.  Some of the stories I was familiar with and others, I read for the first time.  

Session 1: “Greasy Lake” by T.C. Boyle

A pair of glasses on a book.  Image source:
This proved a strong opener.  Boyle's tale about kids returned from college thinking they are tough stuff and making a series of increasingly bad decisions clearly hit home for many of the participants and got them reasonably interested in the program when they might not have been otherwise.  

Session 2:  “To Build a Fire” by Jack London

Akin to "Greasy Lake," I like this story because it's about a series of bad decisions and the protagonist's decision to buck conventional wisdom and focus only on the outcome (potential riches by getting to the camp sooner).  It also had a good dialogue around understanding nature and humans and how we lose touch with the natural order of things.  It also was quite ironic that the night we discussed this story was the coldest day in March.  

Session 3:  “The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich

Erdrich's tale about the effects of war on a pair of brothers also spoke well to the participants.  However, we were able to move the discussion deeper to talk about the ways in which the outside world of American culture clearly took its toll on the inside world of the reservation and how that manifested in Lyman's final decision to walk everywhere.  

Session 4:  “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

If the first three stories were safe to some degree in that while deep, meaning could be easily deduced, these next three weeks, I went in for something a little strong in terms of message and intellectual challenge.  They grappled with this but it was here that we often found some participants really pushing themselves to newer depths.  Bierce's tale of life between the drop a body and the snapping of a neck as the body reaches the full length of the rope, is a challenging one.  Told out of sequence, the story follows Farquahar, a plantation owner who does not serve in the Civil War but attempts to disrupt the Union army by blowing up a bridge.  In doing so, he has placed his family in direct danger and can do nothing about it because he is to be captured and sent to his death.  Our discussion around the perception of the noble act (blowing up the bridge) with the right and more important act (protecting one's family) also hit home for some of the participants.  

Session 5:  “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut

Though we had some good discussion around this story, it still felt a bit of a flop in that there was some confusion about what was going on.  I also think that the message of the story is not necessary useful either and need to find a replacement for this one.  

Session 6:  “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” by Flannery O’Connor

I warned the participants ahead of time that this would be the craziest story we read and many of them found that to be exciting.  However, they did get into the story and most interestingly, many of them expressed knowing exactly what was going to happen in the story within the first few paragraphs.  This was an interesting tell from the group in that it strongly indicated that their propensity for reading into stories had reasonably improved.  

Session 7 & 8:  Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

As one of my favorite short novels, I figured this could be a great book to end on.  It's short, it's fairly clear, but there's also lots of subtle elements about it.  We had a good conversation around the book and again, it was great to see them pick up on things that they might have missed entirely previous (e.g. the parallel between Candy's dog and Lennie).  

In the end, it was a valuable experience to me just as much as it was for the participants.  It's quite easy to disregard or devalue people have committed wrongs (and I don't negate that people should be accountable for their wrongdoings) and I see many ways in which we devalue and dehumanize imprisoned populations and create conditions that make it even more challenging for them to reintegrate back into society.  Programs such as this which help them build skills, find self-value, and engage in activities where they are valued as human beings and what they bring to a group is likely to go much farther in their success than the standard shaming and isolating manners that are out there. 

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

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Giving Thanks and Being Fabulous

I wouldn't say that I'm in the habit of giving thanks on this blog, but I do often try to acknowledge thanks where appropriate.  Last year, around Thanksgiving, I wrote a post on giving thanks and since then, I've written two other public thank you notes.  One was a letter to the editor and the  other was a dedication on this blog of people who have been so helpful in getting me to finish my first marathon.

Those who know me, know that I am generally a positive person with a very sunny disposition.  I am rarely in a bad mood and if I do find myself in a darker mood without an extremely good reason, I can pretty quickly transcend it.  But what does the sunny disposition have to do with being thankful?  The sunny disposition comes from being thankful on a very deep level.

Whenever people ask the obligatory question, "How are you?"  I often answer with a "Fantastic!" or "Fabulous!"  That isn't just the automatic response that we all have to the question that nearly everyone asks but no one actually thinks about or even considers before answering and asking in return.  (How many times have you witnessed this circulate conversation?  Person 1:  "Hi, how are you?"  Person 2: "I'm fine.  How are you?"  Person 1:  "I'm good.  How are you?").  When I say "fabulous," I genuinely feel it and I feel it because I am thankful.

Thankful For Everything

Image:  Thank you.  Image Source:
So what am I so thankful about that I can so easily and so often answer the question with such exuberance?  The basic answer is EVERYTHING.  But clearly, that needs some unpacking.  If we look at the world, it is an extremely random and chaotic place.  Never mind, that over 7 billion individual human agents are interacting among one another with exponential random results.  There are myriads more germs and other micro-organisms also travelling from human to human, animal to human, etc.  That is coupled with living on giant (and no so giant) land masses that float on plates that regularly knock into one another.  And I won't even mention weather and climate (except that I just did).  Then we throw into the mix all the ways in which modern society has created further hazards for humankind such as war, environmental degradation, and unexpected negative byproducts of "human progress" (e.g. the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and Great Pacific garbage patch).  None of this even touches upon the fact that we're essentially on a giant spaceship with a limited shield hurtling itself through space in a giant circle around a massive heating station always subject to whatever objects are hurtling through space in our direction.  All of this is to say, existence is extremely unstable.

Now, that seems to paint an awfully dark picture.  One would think amidst all this chaos, there is little to be so thankful for, but I would argue that this is a misapplication of the frame.  People view the myopic picture above and say, how can there be anything to be fabulous about?  I would flip that question and say, despite the reality of the things mentioned above, we are still a world full of people wherein the vast majority do the right thing more often than not. That is to say that things go right far more often than they go wrong.

The challenge is in recognizing all of the things that go right.

Here's a good example.  You are reading this post right now and if you've made it this far in the post, that probably means you're somewhat interested and are being provided with something that's engaging.  But can you name the millions of things that had to go right in order for this asynchronous exchange to happen?  Let's look at just 3 elements within this communication: me, you, and the blog.

In order for me to write this singular blog post, here is just a sample of the things that needed to go right:
  1. To be taught to read and write at a high school level or higher.
  2. To have access to enough food to keep me alive these past 34 years.
  3. To have access to enough shelter to not only keep me alive but to protect my body and mind.
  4. To have developed the self-awareness to be thankful in the ways that I am in order to write this post.
  5. To have access to electricity.
  6. To have access to a "computer" (in quotations because with mobile devices, the definition of this is changing).
  7. To have access to the Internet.
  8. To have access to a publishing web tool (Blogger).
  9. To have access to social media or other avenues for readers to find this blog.
In order for you to read this singular post, here is a just a sample of things that needed to go right for you:
  1. To be taught to read at a level of high school level or higher.
  2. To have access to enough food to keep you alive long enough to read this post.
  3. To have access to enough shelter to not only keep you alive but to keep your mind functioning well enough to read this.
  4. To have access to electricity.
  5. To have access to a "computer" (in quotations because with mobile devices, the definition of this is changing).
  6. To have access to the Internet.
  7. To have access to a publishing web tool (Blogger).
  8. To have access to social media or other avenues for readers to find this blog.
In order for both of us to be here on this blog (at different moments), here is just a sample of things that needed to go right:
  1. Written communication had to be created.
  2. Telecommunications had to be created.
  3. The internet had to be created.
  4. The Internet infrastructure had to be vastly developed which includes many many mainframes and connections.
  5. Computers had increase in productivity while decreasing significantly in cost.
  6. More interactive tools (Web 2.0) had to make interacting on the Internet more feasible (to the point of almost free).
  7. Blogger had to be created.
  8. Blogger had to be bought by Google.
  9. Google had to keep Blogger alive.
  10. Blogger had to maintain and hold onto all of the blog posts of all of its customers.  
That may not seem that much, but again, each item listed could be further broken down to highlight all of the things that had to go right.  For instance, consider all the things that could have interfered with either of us becoming literate?  That was rooted in millions of direct actions (our family, friends, and surrounding people affecting us from the womb to the present) and indirect actions (cultural decisions such as public education, what to do with children, etc).  When you try to tally it all up, you will come up with an almost infinite list of things that went right in order for just you and me to interact on this blog.

And that's the piece that many of us don't see.  We are more aware of bad things happening because of their rarity in our lives.  The fact is, that if you are waking up in a bed, are fairly certain where your next meals are coming from, and capable of reading this blog, you are far ahead of the game.  Your life in totality is good.  That's not to say that bad things won't happen and that real serious bad things shouldn't be acknowledged.  But to only acknowledge the bad and never take time to recognize all of the things that went right, is to wrongly stack the deck.

Something as simply as arriving to work carries with it a range of things to be thankful for.  First is that you arrived safely.  Consider all the things that could have gone wrong from slipping on ice on the walkway to your car malfunctioning to being hit by other drives to being mugged or suffering an illness on the way to work.  But no--you arrived safely and soundly.  There is the fact that you are employed and have a means of income.  That someone values you enough to pay you to do something.  (I recognize this is a harder nut to swallow but given competition for jobs and resources--there are after all amply people qualified to do any job that you are doing--regardless of whether you dislike your job or believe you are underpaid, you are being trusted and paid for services you are providing; not everyone is so lucky).

I do my best to stack the deck rightly so and acknowledge as much of the good in my life as possible but also recognizing that I'm probably only seeing a fraction of it all.  In that, I mean I recognize that for everyone 1 thing I can tangible recognize as going well for me, there are probably at least 5 things that went well that I didn't know about directly.  In truth, it is impossible for us to be fully aware of all the things that go right in a given moment, hour, day, etc.  There are just too many different things to account for.  Look at driving:  Each car is composed of hundreds of moving and interacting parts that allow you to drive.  Multiply this by the amount of cars on the road.  Throw in the road infrastructure (roads, signage, lights, guard rails, etc) and random pedestrians, cyclists, animals, etc.  It's nearly impossible to comprehend all the things going right and that's just driving.  What about when we sit in our homes or work-spaces?  But all of it goes well 99.999% of the time.  Yes, that's a statistic that I just made up but I wonder if it's not far off the mark when we consider all the factors surrounding us that could do us harm.

Which brings me back to why I feel fabulous so often.  There's much to be feel fabulous about.  So many things in our lives, goes extremely right and for me to be anything less than fabulous undervalues all those things that goes right and I don't want to do that.  Because in valuing all those things that go right--in being thankful to those myriad positives, it makes the negatives much less potent.

However, in the last few months, I been trying to take that thankfulness to a new level.  First, my partner and I introduced a new idea into our relationship.  Before bedtime each night, we share about what we're grateful about.   It's big and small things.  Sometimes, there are clearly important things to be grateful for.  Yet other things regularly make the nightly list (my kitties and partner being regularly acknowledgments). People who say their prayers at night are not new to this idea but one does not need to be religious to be thankful for the many good and great things that we have to be thankful.

But again, I find myself wanting to take this idea of thankfulness one step further.  In August, I had the pleasure of hearing Carrie Stack, from the Say Yes Institute speak at an event at North Shore Community College.  One thing she emphasized that has stuck with me is to reach out and to say thanks to people for the things they do and be willing to go the extra step to make that thanks public.  That is, make you publicly acknowledge when someone has done you a good service and especially, if it relates to someone else's work--be sure to not only let that person know but their employers.  As Stack emphasized in her presentation, giving such public thanks goes far for you, for the person you are thanking and equally important, for others who may be present.  We have plenty of examples of people griping and complaining, but maybe what we need is more examples of people saying thank you to people.

So what are you thankful for?


About 2 hours after finishing the post, this TED Talk showed up on my newsfeed and I feel in many ways, it sums up my experience.

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Tales of Running: "What's Your Time?": Both Sides of the Conversation

So I should be 4 runs into the season at this point and should be up to some 20 miles a week.  Sadly to say I'm not on either count.  However, I will may make it up on the other end and pick up some more runs (for instance, I did sign up for the 25K Around the Cape and I'll likely sign up for the Nahant 30K).  Regardless, the running is going well.  As I finished a 8.5 mile today, feeling good and relaxed; coming in around 1 hour 25 minutes (10 minute miles), my body felt it could have easily gone further.

Energize the Earth 10K Results
The two runs that I did complete, I was very happy about as they showed overall, an improvement in time over last year and just felt good to be out running with the herd again.  The Energize the Earth 10K in Beverly was a pretty nice route finishing up at Lynch Park.  I also ran into a friend who's been getting into running of late (I'll give ya a hint--he runs Arts After Hours in Lynn).  There was a 5K and a 10K option and the 10K was just a second loop.  Initially, I wasn't thrilled with this, but it actually helped push me better since I knew the route and the upcoming obstacles.  This is similar to how often my runs in Salem do better than entirely new places as I'm familiar with the upcoming route elements. So my time was actually really good (for me) for a 10K.  My low goal was 1 hour 2 minutes and high goal was 58 minutes.  But I blew past that can came in at just under 56 minutes.  It was definitely an epic win for me.  I have no intention or ability to become a speed demon, but progress in time indicates I'm doing something right (at least at this stage).   The HAWC 5 Mile Run was equally rewarding in that I was hoping to complete it under 45 minutes (and low goal of 49 minutes) and came in just under 43 minutes.

Both runs have gotten me excited about this running season in that I feel I have the confidence of nearly 2 years of running behind me.  Today's run (Friday, May 10) of 8.5 miles was comfortable with no moment feeling like it was overwhelming or daunting.  It was an enjoyable gallop!

HAWC 5 Mile Run Results
But beyond the update, what has me blogging today on running is two conversations I had back to back and the realization of several different things at once.  As some of my few dear reads now, I think a lot. In particular, I think a lot about how I come across to others.  This self-consciousness doesn't stem from a lack of self-confidence but rather a desire to assure that in my communicating, I don't come across too abraisive, insensitive, or thoughtless.  Which is not to say that I wholly succeed in avoiding such interpretations but I prefer to do them as less as possible.  There is a variety of circumstances contributing to who I am as an individual and where I fit within the culture that could generate a persona that acts as the proverbial bull in the china shop.  So I continually try to temper that and keep it in check.  One of the ways I do this is just by reflecting on my interactions and taking note of what I could do differently or being aware that my intention and results didn't quite sync.  

So what were these two conversations?  Let's start with the conversation that happened second.  I ran into a friend from high school who was doing the HAWC Run.  I hadn't seen this person in well over a decade and so we began chatting for a few and both of us were in the same boat of having just started running recently.  Her husband came over and introduced himself.  He has been running for years and was glad to meet another runner.  The first question he asked was, "What's your time?"

I runz good!
I tend to answer this question with a prefaced "just" or "only."  "I 'just' (or 'only') do about 9 to 9.5 minute miles."  I can't help it.  It just finds its way there.  It's a "just" I'm familiar with.  I often found it sticking in my throat when I describe my work as an "adjunct instructor" (many of my adjunct colleagues feel this experience too).  It reminds me of the move, Haiku Tunnel, by Josh Kornbluth wherein he talks about the incessant need to put "just" before his title, "I'm 'just' a secretary."  Maybe it's from the experience of always being the last kid running in every sports practice I have ever participated in (save maybe twice--and I wish that was an exaggeration).   I realized it's a bit of an intimidating question to answer or at least at times it can feel intimidating as I feel there is somewhere judgment and evaluation in answering the question.  

This brings me to my first conversation (a conversation that happened about 5 minutes before this one).  The first conversation was with a woman who introduced herself to me as we share a mutual friend.  She knew I was running and had seen my pic on FB so she came up and introduced herself.  As soon as we got through introductions, I rushed into "So what's your time?"  Now, I did have good intentions in asking this.  I had wondered if we were close in time and could run together.  I certainly know when I have someone nearby that helps to push me to better results.  Also, given that I had just met her and wanted to chat with her some more as she seemed like a cool person from my friend's description, running together would be ideal.  And finally, the race was shortly about to begin so I figured it would be a good transition to head to the starting line.  Our times were in different ranges and when she answered, she did the same thing I did She downplayed her time.  I can't remember if she used "only" or "just" but she did frame it that way and somewhere I realized what I that the question may have set her up to that.  So I probably went a little bit into overdrive to encourage and compliment her efforts.  Authentic yes--but I felt like I was stumbling through it like a bad interview where you know you've made a faux passe and are afraid to call attention to it for fear you will make it more of a "thing" that it actually is.

But in congratulating her about her efforts and growing appreciation of running, I worried that I might have come across as a bit condescending.  Something I also equally loathe to do to anybody (intentionally or accidentally).  To me, it's still pretty amazing to show up and run.  I still sometimes have inner battles about going to a run (clearly--I skipped out on two out of four).  Thus, here was another foot soldier in the battle to run and wanted to make sure I gave respect to that.    

So in the span of 10 minutes, I was immersed in the same conversation on both sides having to do with running and timing.  Upon reflecting, I realized that the man who asked me mostly likely had good intentions and that my asking of the woman certainly wasn't mean or condescending.  In the future, maybe I should find a different way of asking that doesn't somehow solicit the "just" or "only."  I mean I get why I do it and why others do it, but hell, we're running and that to me is always pretty freaking awesome.

Beyond a doubt, I'm likely overthinking this, but I'd be curious to hear from other runners in your experience of asking and answering the question, "What's your time?"  What kind of thoughts and emotions does it generate?  Do you ever feel challenged to answer it  or respond when there is a discrepancy between your time and the other person's time?

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Consumed by or Consumation of Choices

Obviously, I like playful titles.  It's like the book's cover.  We're told not to judge by it, but ultimately, we do on some level; after all, it's what draws us in; otherwise, we would still be stuck in the "A's" section of any given library or music/book/video/comic store.  But as I do so well, I digress. 

One of the harder issues for me to resolve around composing and trying to continually update a blog is what to talk about.  What do I choose to talk about and what do I avoid.  How do I provide a subjective but not obnoxious point of view about things that are important.  While it's not hugely important that I don't come off as arrogant, obnoxious, or what have you, I would rather on the whole that I don't.  I want people to think about what I say, not dig in their heels in vehement opposition. That is, I want dialogue and discussion.  Too much of what I see in the blogosphere and beyond is yelling; either in chorus or in a cacophony against.  Too much of it feels like what seems to drive some elements of the Tea Party movement.

See, I made a choice right there to position myself.  First, just by using this particular article and what it implies about my positionality.  Initially, I wrote the above statement without the phrase “what seems to drive some elements of the Tea Party movement” instead of “what drives the Tea Party Movement” (though, I certainly also thought about referring to them as Tea-baggers, as I have trouble not associating the two). 

Back to my larger point, which I’ll sum up easily, though redundantly, everything’s political.  What I choose to talk about, what I choose to write about, what links I choose to put up, and who I choose to support or discourage.  And I won’t say “we live in an age of extreme bipartisanship” because given the history of the world, that’s pretty much every “age.”  I do believe our differences are heightened and dramatized increasingly by mass media which seems to inevitably have to draw upon narrative angles in order to draw in consumers in order to satisfy advertisers and the like.  This does make our buttons quicker to push and often makes us easier to corral; which many did in the wake of 9/11 as did so many others around Obama in the run up to the 2008 election. 

With that mass media comes more ways of gaining knowledge, but not more wisdom.  Much like Victor Frankenstein, we have the knowledge, but not the foresight or rather insight to understand what we’re doing, viewing, or choosing.  I make no claims to have such wisdom.  I’ve been smacked in the face with my own stupidity by a great deal of events in my life and people, sometimes caring-sometimes spiteful, willing to show me the error(s) of my ways.   But do I stand here on my virtual soapbox expounding lessons (as others may choose to do) or do I find some other way of engaging in “the dialogue” of life?

So there’s my dilemma.  In wanting to talk and start discussions, I feel a wee bit of performance anxiety in deciding what to talk about.  In talking about one thing, I’m not then talking about another thing.  What’s more relevant:  my interest in how audiobooks work with listeners; the value of comics in modern society; my (limited) view of world affairs and politics; my attempts and interest at being a better human on social, cultural, environmental, and spiritual levels; or whatever other ephemeral thoughts spring from my hands to the keyboard?    What do I talk about?  The wisest of bloggers will say; all of it.  And maybe that’s just what I’ll try to do, but my thoughts still linger. 

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