The Ins and Outs

First, let me start by saying that this is a blog, not a doctoral dissertation on the psychological concept of the personality. Despite the prevalence of alleged personality surveys and quizzes available on the internet, it is not so easy to define the different personality factors, nor is it easy to define the profile of any given individual. While it is fun to find out which Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Disney Princess character you may arbitrarily match via the bubble gum magic of the various Cosmo-quizzes available… These do not constitute an accurate measure of personality and certainly do not enable the responder to suddenly understand with brilliant insight the complex workings of the human brain and personality. As this is far too brief a venue for the purposes of elucidating readers to the complexity of psychological development, and I’m certainly not claiming to explain it all either; I will attempt to steer clear of the more in depth discussion of human development and neurochemistry. However, I will address some misimpressions about one of the personality factors and what it actually means.

Probably the most familiar form of personality assessment is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It has been probably one of the most abused tests in the history of personality assessment. Having the dubious privilege of being one of the most user-friendly assessments, it is the one usually latched onto by human resources, professional trainers, online dating sites, and sadly, the makers of magazine and internet quizzes flooding the popular media. So, you access the point and click online survey, and after answering a bunch of forced-choice (yes or no) questions, you are assigned a “personality type” that defines your character in four easy letters… or descriptive types and characters reflecting said factor combinations. Would that it were just that easy.

The thing is, it’s not that easy. While the original Myer-Briggs was a great boon to the counseling (and especially the career counseling) field, this was not really meant for the lay person to grab up and start attributing characteristics to their friends and family. The profiles that come from taking this particular personality instrument allow you to identify parts of your own personality that clarify why you interact in certain ways and what situations and scenarios might be more your style. The point is that personality factors and profiles are not restricted to this particular theoretical perspective. There are a metric @#$%-ton (yep, clinical term) of personality theories and instruments that assess and develop unique personality profiles. I could actually write a dissertation on that (and have done), but this is not the place or time (and probably not the audience, unless you are suffering from insomnia and looking for a non-pharmaceutical cure) for that discussion. So, for now, I will restrain myself to the popular MBTI.

And now with all of that out of the way, you will find that the MBTI addresses personality from the perspective that there are four main factors that contribute to a personality type. This was founded on the concept of psychological preferences extrapolated from Jung’s theory of personality. Jung focused on the dichotomy of the personality as it addressed the rational and irrational functions. The original authors of the MBTI initially studied personality factors during the second world war. The first of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator survey was published in the early 1960’s. The MBTI addresses preferences. This is the most likely way that an individual will respond to particular situations. Truth is, it is not what we in the psychology field like to call a predictive or projective measure. It mainly indicates a preference on the continuum of the factors. It also does not tell the person interpreting the test whether someone is more or less of one factor or another than any other individual on the same scale. It just  indicates the tested individual’s presence within the aspects of their own preferences and personality. The four factor continuums are as follows:

  • Introversion vs. Extraversion (I vs E)
  • Intuition vs. Sensory (N vs S)
  • Thinking vs. Feeling (T vs F)
  • Judging vs. Perceiving (J vs P)

While all these spectrums are interesting in their own right, and the combination of traits are what give the reader the actual personality profiles; the spectrum that is the focus of this particular post is the Introversion-Extraversion scale. Perhaps, at a later date, I may actually address the whole bloody mess; but for this moment, the I vs. E will be the focus.

Introversion vs. Extroversion addresses the aspects of personality that impact how the individual deals with their environment, including socialization… on an energy level. This is what people primarily misunderstand. The immediate response when someone hears “I’m and introvert” or “I’m and extrovert” is the amount of time and energy that any individual spends interacting with their fellow humans, often in a noisy and raucous manner, or determined by the size of the crowd in which the individual could be found at any given time. A lot of people assume that introversion means something to the tune of say… Howard Hughes, and conversely attributes to the extrovert the personality of Charlie Sheen on a binge. WRONG!

The scale is a spectrum, not a switch with an “on” and “off” position. Introversion and extraversion are descriptive analyses of the energy the individual acquires from interacting with the world. Introverts are energized by thought and contemplation. The typical introvert primarily obtains their energy from being alone. They expend energy by action and need down time to recharge from the day to day brush and bump with the world at large. Extroverts, on the other hand, are energized from their contact with the rest of the human race and need the constant interaction of society to power their processes. Extraverts obtain and draw their energy from action. They act first, then evaluate the outcomes, and act again. At their extremes, these two very different types seek alternate means of maintaining their processes by arranging their circumstances to suit their preferences. This has fueled the assumption that individuals on the introversion end of the scale are reclusive types that avoid all social interaction and the extroverts of the world cannot exist in a vacuum, removed from the atmosphere of constant society.

In truth, few people can guess who is an introvert and who is an extrovert by pure observation. Training gives some insight, but most people exist not on the extreme ends but instead fall somewhere along the spectrum with varying degrees of intensity and magnitude. Contrary to the belief that they are antisocial or pathologically shy, introverts can often be found socializing with friends and having a decent time doing so. And similarly, even the most extroverted individual will occasionally seek out the solace of some alone time. However, primarily these two different types generally seek to recharge in their own very different ways, true to their natures. There is nothing maladaptive or wrong about either method.

Where the fly gets into the ointment and one of the main conflicts that I have observed (and experienced) is when an introvert and extrovert have close interaction or enter into a relationship of some intimacy (not necessarily physical intimacy). The introvert will need to retreat into their cave of solitude and the extrovert, not understanding why anyone would ever seek to have so much time in silence or loneliness, will assume an emotional content to that lack of interaction, conversation, or response. Negative emotional content at that. Much confusion and conflict can result from such assumptions, and unfortunately, a lot of frustration and eventual explosive discharge from the introvert who, like a cornered animal, may lash out to make everyone leave them hell alone. The introverts come across to their counterparts as cold, distant, or moody. Conversely, the poor extrovert may be perceived as a needy, clingy, self-centered, spotlight whore who cannot be still. It is an inaccurate description, a very poor profile for either to carry around with them, and is unworthy of their true natures.

As odd as it may seem to the extroverts out there, it is entirely possible to be content and live well without human contact or conversation, including communication via non-face-to-face media. When an introvert has retreated to the cave for recharge, this does not mean it is time to repeatedly ask what is wrong, if there is something that they need, or to send supportive texts to bolster their spirits. What they need is peace and quiet. When do they want it? NOW! Leave them alone. They will eventually come out of their caves, or off the top of their mountain, or whatever metaphor works best. They will reenter the world of social interaction after their recharge and be better for their time away to collect themselves.

Similarly baffling to the introvert is the seeming inability of an extroverted individual to be at peace. To be still and silent for any amount of time appears an alien concept to the extrovert worthy of Close Encounters. They may spend some time without human companionship, but they will fill the social void with phone, text, social media, or any other form of communication that will give an outlet of to their need for human contact in any form available. Lack of interaction and enforced solitude frequently results in bouts of depression exacerbating the extrovert’s attempts to resolve the situation by reaching out to any and every person they know by whatever media available. It is often helpful for the healthy, happy extrovert to have a large pool of natural supports from which to draw their energizing social contact so as not to overtax the introverts among their friends.

The upshot of all this rambling discussion is that people are different (Really Columbo? What was your first clue?). Not everyone participates in this game we call life in the same way or with the same strategy, and there are no prizes, not even for first place. What matters is that we understand that all individuals tick in their own way and at their own pace, and no one is a piece with another (even identical twins can present remarkably different personality profiles). How we interact with each other is the important part. Additionally, while the concept of personality is that there is a constellation of consistent traits that make up the identity of the person, and that these traits are reliable and unchanging over time; research has found that personality factors do change, subtly, but they change. Traits moderate and shift with age, with events, and sometimes even week to week due to chemical and hormonal changes experienced by the individual. Generally, these changes are not drastic enough to completely change one person from an introvert to an extrovert or vice versa. Changes on the spectrum usually are within the same side of the scale but with greater or less intensity to make someone more introverted as they get older or just maybe less extroverted.

I suppose the actual point that I was trying to make is that your choice to take one of the personality profiling tests should be to understand more about yourself  and is entirely a matter for fun or self-exploration. That is admirable. If you take one of the full surveys and find your type, read up on it and think about how that works for you or might present obstacles in your path. Use it to your best advantage by doing what you need to recharge and enhance your daily interactions. Avoid making assumptions about how in applies to others, because, in truth, it probably doesn’t. Personality profiles are not absolute. People are unique. If you want to use personality profiles or even any projective measure, use it to understand yourself and what you need from your own interaction with this world and the other inhabitants of it instead of trying to profile those around you. Our first and most difficult battle always begins within our own mind and body, and the only personal actions we can truly control with any amount of accuracy is our own.

The author is an INTJ.

Snow Day

There is something different in the air when you expect a snow. Living in the south, we do not get the opportunity to enjoy the experience of a covering of white very often. The memories are still with me, though. When I was a child…

Mom was a school teacher. It worked well for all of us as a family, because her schedule matched mine. I went to school in the same county, though not the same school (that would have been too much for my independent ego to have my mother in the same building). That meant that our daily schedules during the school year were pretty close to the same, and during the summers, she was home while I was out of school. The benefits of the arrangement extended to snow days.

Snow days were magic. From sometime towards the end of November through March, there was the expectation that there might be some of the glorious precipitation we call snow. People would start counting the fogs in August and watching the wooly bear caterpillars to engage in the age-old art of weather witchery and predictions determining whether we would have a gray and brown season of cold or a winter wonderland. During the cold months, each evening would bring the prognostications and questions of whether someone’s elbow ached or the “snow headache” were present to give the hope of something wondrous in the morning. Sometimes, it wasn’t necessary to rely upon the divinatory infirmities to provide the weather watch. You could smell it in the air and feel in on your skin, that cold with the moisture that said “Snow!”

Nothing compared to waking before dawn and turning on the radio to listen for the school closings. Crossing fingers in anticipation that the radio meteorologist would proclaim that Washington County schools would be closed (not on a two hour delay). The joy of hearing those words buzzed through the house, and unable to return to bed, I would gaze out of the window observing the familiar landscape brilliantly covered with a dense white icing that soften the familiar features of the neighborhood and even seemed to muffle any sounds to make the world silent and mysterious.

Snow days were not like any other day. Sick days, while allowing absence from daily activities, required bed rest and ginger ale. There was no fun in that. Planned days off involved an agenda and a “to do” list of chores that filled every moment, and then some, often resulting in the feeling that there were not enough hours in the day and going back to work or school was a relief. But snow days… those were different. By definition, they were unplanned, a gift of nature to slow down the frantic pace of our everyday lives. Snow stopped time and the world stood still for a day. The beautiful, white icing made driving treacherous. So, no errands, no fieldtrips, no rushing about was possible. We were effectively captive in our forced day of inactivity. Let the fun begin!

Without fail, there would be bundling up in layers upon layers of socks, thermal underwear, clothing, and overcoats so that for all intents and purposes, I frequently appeared a more colorful version of the Michelin tire mascot. The old wooden sled with metal runners would be dragged out to act as a magic carpet as I flew down the driveway and the circle, carving thin lines in the unblemished surface of the snow. Snow angels and sculptures of all kinds decorated the yard and soaked me to the bones with the damp cold. Eventually, I had to return inside, despite my protests, cheeks and nose brilliant red from the cold and extremities numb. We stomped off the packed snow from boots and attempted to dust of the worst of the frozen encrustation from our gloves and outer clothing. Without fail, some of it would cling tenaciously to come with us into the house. There by the wall register, we would remove the soaked coats, scarves, hats, gloves, boots, socks, and even pants to drape by the heat to dry and warm, filling the air with a damp steam as the clothing dried.

Invariably, lunch would be grilled cheese and cream of tomato soup. It warmed all the way down to get rid of the last of the chill clinging from expeditions out of doors. The afternoon might include more play in the snow, but there were also books to read, sometimes together aloud, and sometimes alone by the heat registers. At some point, it would become necessary to bake cookies, as well. Piling into the kitchen, I would do my part measuring and stirring with the oven providing additional warmth to the house. Before sunset, I always went back out in the snow. The afternoon light shining off the surface made me squint painfully with the brightness, but I wanted to drag those moments out for as long as I could, because the next day might mean the roads were once again clear and the magic would be gone. Life would resume its normal pace, and there would be no more time to spend together away from the rest of the world. I could feel the spell breaking with the melting snow, and time started again.

Today, the modern technological conveniences have made this scenario of a snow day haven from the world less possible. Telecommuting and access to online classrooms and emailed assignments don’t give the opportunity for time to stop. The pace of life has changed, making all the more poignant the memory of our snow days of the past.

Hello Boy, Why Are You Crying?

“All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.”  ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Everyone has heard of “Peter Pan Syndrome”. It is generally used in a derogatory way to describe a man (or woman) that is stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence or childhood, neglecting responsibilities and focused only on having a good time. We’ve all seen it. There is always the friend or associate from our earlier years who continue to party like they are still in high school or college, trying to recapture their glory days. They call, text, instant message to say they are going to the club, the bar, the party and may or may not ask you to come along. They seem genuinely baffled when you decline citing work, family, lack of funds, or just plain fatigue. They feel betrayed by your failure to hold onto the pleasures and good times of childhood. They go through their years planning spring break getaways and purchase games and toys, though the prices have increased with their chronological years in a way their maturity just did not. They seem to genuinely be able to shake off or ignore the cares and worries that plague the rest of the world. Fear for the future appears to be an alien concept, and instead, these blithe souls shift through their time on the planet expecting that all things will work out just fine, bills will miraculously get paid regardless, and relationships will work themselves out… or not, and it matters little as long as a good time is had by all (or at least them).

This is the alleged profile of the perpetual child who never grew up. I always wonder whether I am jealous of these perennial children with their life given solely to the pursuits of pleasure and play; or am I genuinely sorry for them as they distance themselves from their associates of childhood, their contemporaries, and potential colleagues, while continually seeking the companionship of strangers as their play groups grow in maturity yet they remain stuck in their eternal childhood with lack of understanding or desire for the adult world of distress and eustress?

That being said, I do not believe that everyone out there is susceptible to the Peter Pan Syndrome. In fact, there are some people that appear to be “born old men/women”. These are the people that always seemed to be thinking ahead, even as actual children. No risks taken in the passion of youth, because it just wouldn’t be prudent or contribute to the solid plan for their responsible life and future; always avoiding the idea of a good time if it might be unplanned and go against the blueprint of stability. However, for the rest of us, there is another category. I’ll call us Wendy, because Wendy grew up. It isn’t an actual desire for maturity or a regret that it happens. It just happens. At some point, like Wendy, we leave Neverland and stay in the real world to go on with our lives. We cannot go back, because when you live and grow up in the real world, you lose the innocence and lack of fear and worry that allows you to experience great adventures.

The truth is, being a grown up isn’t all bad. There are a good many physical and emotional experiences that just cannot be appreciated to the same degree as a child. Certain aspects of life and accomplishment seem to mean more as we have a greater understanding and closer communion with the eventuality that greets us all in the end. Additionally, the experience of parenting with the joys and not so joyful experiences are not something that the child should be required to experience (though some have, I know). It is still possible to have fun as an adult. It doesn’t have to be all work and no play, as evidenced by the number of people who manage to hold down careers, family interaction, and have a decent time in their recreational pursuits. Not to sound like the cliché, but with power of choice and responsibility for the choices made comes some not small satisfaction and joy when those choices result in success and happiness. There is still some envy towards those who have that childlike faith that all things will be just fine, even if the reins are dropped for a while just to enjoy the wild ride; and there is also some resentment that the Wendys of the world must carry the responsibility for all the Peter Pans who can’t be bothered to worry about the future.

Sadly, I think that somehow Peter has gotten a bad rap over the years. Everyone gets stuck on the whole perpetual childhood thing as a lack of maturity and responsibility, but they forget the more important part of what Barrie wrote into Peter Pan: The simplicity and innocence that allows the child enjoyment and play but that eludes adults and is lost with increasing years to never be captured again. Yet Peter needed Wendy to be the “mother” for all the lost boys. Without Wendy to tuck them in and sing the songs of comfort, perhaps even the perpetual childhood of Neverland might have been too harrowing an adventure to be truly enjoyed, and without Peter, Wendy would never have learned to fly.

Hello boy, my name is Wendy. No need to cry. I’ll sew your shadow back for you, and you can fly away to have many grand adventures.

Hollywood: I Have A Bone To Pick With You

I am going to rant for a bit. I was on a long hiatus from entertainment, specifically television and movies. I finally broke my movie fast and started on a somewhat extensive list of flicks that I had been recommended over the hiatus by friends and family with varying degrees of vehemence.

I will say that I have now caught up on plethora of various  entertainment offerings of many different television and movie production that have provided me with a good deal of validation for my self-imposed fast from the movie theater based entertainment. Not that everything I watched was bad. There were a good many movies that were actually entertaining and a pleasant way to enjoy an evening in from the cold. However, that being said, I have a bone to pick with the Hollywood soul-eating machine.

1. Why can no one seem to come up with an original concept?

Seriously. I saw several movies that were released within the same season. At least one of every two movies of the same genre had the exact same plot. Only the names were changed (of the actors) and occasionally minute details in the story (frequently fictionally dramatized details), but the gist of the stories and the overall plots were identical. Back in school, we got in trouble for cheating off each other’s tests, people.

2. How many times will Hollywood like to piss on my childhood?

This actually ties in with #1. The new thing in the Hollywood, money-grubbing machine appears to be “take a popular television show, and make it into a full length feature.” While this is not all bad, I have been sorely disappointed by some of the efforts made while completely getting many important details so very, very wrong. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the directors who say “I’ve never actually seen the original. I have my own vision, and I do not want to be influenced…” Um, what?!? That being said, if one approaches some of these with the attitude of seeing the movie as a movie unconnected with anything you formerly loved, you might be ok. Otherwise, it really feels a bit like someone has taken your most beloved security person or item from your childhood and peed all over it. Again, I was actually pleased with some of the efforts. For instance, I actually liked the A-Team movie. I was a huge fan of the original series (at least the first few seasons). While the movie diverted from the original with some of the details, I thought it was great. I loved the casting choices, and I thought that the actors chosen did a magnificent job with the characters. I had great hopes for a second movie (unusual for me, as I typically dread sequels), but apparently my feelings were not echoed by critics or box office returns; although, I did hear that the box office was more impacted by the opening of the moving coinciding with the World Cup.

3. How come an author can write one book (and some people skip past parts in it) but it takes three @#$%ing movies to tell the same story?!?

This is one of my biggest peeves of recent movie production, direction, etc. While, I can appreciate the effort to be true to a story and the accompanying details, and I absolutely appreciate that the days of Gone With The Wind and the mid-movie intermission are over… THREE movies to tell one story?!? That is ridiculous. They are only doing this to get more of those $17 admission fees. Yes, I am a little bitter. Once upon a time, going to a movie was actually something that young people who were not particularly wealthy did on a date. Now, unless it is the dollar theater, I’m not independently wealthy… we’ll be going Dutch or renting from the Redbox! I would actually say that the increasing cost of tickets has as much to do with my avoidance of the theater as any of my time constraints. I don’t know how anyone affords going to the movies these days, unless they go to the dollar theater.

4. What ever happened to traditional animation?

It really isn’t that I do not appreciate CGI. I honestly am amazed and astounded by the new developments that have been brought to the big (and small) screen. I still have a soft spot in my heart for models and stop action animation, but I do appreciate the greater smoothness and realism of the new 3-D animation techniques and motion capture technology. That being said, some of the old school  2-D animation was true artwork that actually made efforts to capture features and characteristics of performers and integrate them with the respective items, animals, and characters for the stories presented. The artistry is somehow missing with the computerized versions. On the other hand, there are still cartoons out there being produced in the 2-D medium. My problem with these more recent offerings is that they still lack the depth and artistry of the old fashioned studio versions. I am just not entertained by the generic anime appearance that seems so prevalent with television and movie versions. Nothing against anime. Many people like it. I’m just not one of them.

5. Why can’t you geniuses make some of the movies I really want to see?

Sticking with the animation and technological advances available in the movie industry these days, I’m going to finally get to what prompted this particular rant. For years (YEARS! I tell you), I have been waiting for someone to make the Dragonriders of Pern into a series of movies. Not only are there multiple novels and side stories that are part of the Pern universe, they provide multiple era/genre interests (space travel, fantasy creatures, feudal society, psychic phenomena, love interests, spy intrigue, time travel). Anne McCaffrey was an author that captured my imagination and my heart. I wanted to ride a dragon! We have waited all these years for the technology to catch up to the imagination. We now have the ability to design and artistically present the dragons in a fluid and realistic (yes, I know they are not real) manner. Rumors abound on the internet that there are talks, screen plays being written, and production to start… two years ago?!? And yet, no movement. It saddens me that while we have this glorious ability to render extraordinarily realistic images through computer generation to the extent of full feature films, this is primarily wasted redoing the stories done before or pulling half-assed plots onto a shaky frame of a first person shooter video game. Really?!? With all the stories and imagination available in the world, the Hollywood machine once again focuses on the almighty dollar and seeks to draw in mouth-breathers to come experience (without interactive ability) the same basic imagery and minimal plot that they have already spent weeks without showering or eating real food to play for hours on end. At least with the gaming, they were actually contributing some movement or brain activity (albeit minimal) to the action on screen. When you take this onto the big screen, all they really have left is to stare and drool. Surely, there is something better to divert production dollars towards? But, wait, this doesn’t have the marketing options for gaming and cosplay and … um, hello, you sure about that? Maybe not first-person shooters, but I could imagine some significant story-based RPG options, and check out one of the Cons (Comic-, Dragon-, Gen-, etc.), the McCaffrey tracks still get an awful lot of interest.

Another series of books that I could see transformed to the big screen would be Robert Lynn Asprin’s Myth Adventures (or even Phule’s Company). In that case, costume and make-up design might play a bigger part than the CGI, but still… It would make a very nice option. There are several books in the series, and that would provide plenty of material for sequels, prequels, and the like without even breaking up each individual book into three parts. In fact, I could see Joss Whedon take on the characters of these series with a great deal of acumen. His style and ability to bring humor, witty dialogue, and dark twists would be brilliant to bring the members of M.Y.T.H. Inc. to life in Technicolor (or whoever we reference these days). So, I realize is an unrealistic dream, but a girl has to have some dreams that don’t have to end with a cold sweat and screaming.

I realize that I’m not really the viewer demographic that the producers and money-makers are trying to target. Middle-aged, professional, workaholic, female doesn’t really seem to be anyone’s desired market share. However, I just think it would be nice to see something previewed or advertised that I might get excited about seeing. Is that too much to ask? Anyhow, that ends my rant for today. My apologies. Verbal, written rants are not really my preferred method of communication, and it is a very different entry for my blog, but I needed to get that out. Very cathartic! Thank you for your patience. Smile

A Rose By Any Other name

Recently, I made a post to Facebook about family and what defines that term. A response to that post made me think about what being a family actually means. I am not alone in my contemplation. The question of who can claim the rights and privilege of relation has been considered not only by individuals seeking to enter into affairs of the heart, contracts defined by legal or religious terms, custody agreements, financial institutions, and even state and federal government.

In terms of history, the term family (from the Latin familia) designated a particular tie through genetic bloodlines that pertained to parentage and relatedness of birth. I suspect this came in handy in terms of evolution when humans pretty much existed in isolated clumps of social interaction and minimal population. The family group identified individuals that belonged to the same genetic line. When you think about the purpose of evolution, mutation and recombination of genetic material to encourage the improvement of the species would be significantly helped by knowing who might share too much DNA to make a blending beneficial to the resultant offspring. As we know from modern science, the mating of individuals who share too close a profile allows for recessive genetic traits to manifest more often. For some of the more maladaptive traits, this does not work out so well for the continued vigor of the species. The ancient Egyptians, for all their seemingly advanced knowledge, never quite got that point (as evidenced by the pharaonic practice of married siblings… if you can’t keep it in the pants, keep it in the family). Defining the family as those of the same bloodlines served its purpose by indicating appropriate people to reproduce with or not as the case may be. This also led to ideas of good and bad blood, or even pure and not so pure lines.

As populations expanded, travel increased, cultures spread across geography, and generations were fruitful and multiplied. Interaction and interbreeding brought humanity new genetic material, new practices, new traditions, and new knowledge. Family grew to be “extended” and associated constellation and extended family groups became clans or tribes. So the spread of humanity across the span of continents and the globe extended to bring various groups together into different municipal and societal organizations for safety, convenience, and commerce. Unfortunately, the closeness of interaction paired with some questionable hygiene practices made a playground for various diseases that at various points in time decimated populations to near extinction. In fact, whole communities and towns were erased from existence by such epidemics as the Black Death. Events led to distrust and fear which set back the intermingling a bit. People pulled back into the idea of loyalty to the blood. Trust only within your own genetic clan, tribe, or family.

But that time is past. The population continued to recover and expand. People eased up on the “stick with your own kind” crap. Well, sorta; if we ignore all the racism, sexism, and all the other ‘isms that divide people from each other. The nostalgic days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries when there were rife with images of family time around hearth or table, brought the warmth of affection and family connection to the standard that would lead the charge against the evils of materialism and other distractions of the secular world. All of these heartwarming sentiments easily whitewashing the poverty and hardship of the majority of working and lower classes and painting a much prettier picture of what was going on than the more harsh realities of the time.

With the first and second World Wars, the role of the family and the idealization of the family image became something to improve moral of the troops and give the boys “something worth fighting for.” Of course we had the Third Reich and their own take on purity of the species that put a whole different slant on the idea of family as a way to improve the overall genetic strain of the population. Ignoring the science of survival of the fittest and the improvement of genetics with wider combination of genetic profiles, the scientists of that philosophy focused on identifying the superior race and trying to achieve that through selective breeding, eugenics, and genocide. Not a high point in human evolution.

The 1950’s brought a greater influence of the new-fangled technology of television. Shows like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver painted the ideal picture of the American family emphasizing the patriarchal pattern where the man is head of the house and all females and children submit to his greater wisdom and intellect. Personally, it makes me a bit nauseous, but I understand where the premise arose. All the men back from the great wars found that the women folk had done just fine without them. Amazing, right? The “weaker sex” had rolled up her sleeves and donned Rosie the Riveter scarves to take on the more traditional roles of the men. When Johnny came marching home, not all the Marys and Janes waiting were so ready to go back to their submissive roles. And… cue Hollywood and its influence upon the masses.

However, time and societal evolution threw another wrench in the mix. Suddenly, the idea of family wasn’t quite fitting into the tidy mold. We had single parents, blended families, children raised by someone other than parents (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, My Three Sons, Mayberry RFD, Family Affair, The Partridge Family, One Day at a Time, The Brady Bunch). Still, for the most part, the family image involved blood connections, but that didn’t quite fit everyone.

We’ve expanded again, but now technology allows us to defy the boundaries of geography to connect with people all around the world. It is a boon for families that have been separated and scattered as diaspora across the globe. Communication on an almost instantaneous media allows for people to remain close emotionally, even when they may not come within physical proximity for decades. So, what does that do to the meaning of “family”? Does that reinforce the concept of family as only that with genetic link? Certainly the number of advertisements and subsequent amateur genealogists point to the curiosity and desire to know and understand our own biological origins, but does that mean that we are bound only to those with whom we share the blood tie?

Definitions of “family” that I have found:

  • a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head  – doesn’t really say anything about genetic connections there
  • a group of persons of common ancestry  – how far back are we going?
  • a people or group of peoples regarded as deriving from a common stock – again, is there a time or quantifiable limitation on this? I’ve got common stock with 80% of the planet, and don’t get me started about shared DNA with our ape population
  • a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation – aha! no bloodlines discussed again
  • the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; also : any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family – and there it is… that TRADITIONAL definition

Now, in addition to all of these, there is a whole realm of other definitions that relate to chemical and biological science, and more interesting in the dramatic sense the term used to define branches of particular criminal syndicates.

For my own experience, I have been particularly lucky to have had a substantial number of biological family members when I came into this world. At one family reunion, I recall something along the lines of 200 people showing up, and that was just the local representation. This was when I was younger. As the years have passed, so have a good many members of the prior generations. As the various progenitors departed this mortal coil, their progeny moved away, spreading to far geographic provinces. The family gatherings dwindled in number and attendance. My own family moved far away from the proximity of blood relatives even before the dwindling started. Gallivanting about (not entirely at my own whims) I didn’t have the consistency of extended family or even of a particular long term consistent social group at all. This is the lot of military or contract “brat”. We move with the assignments, and while the benefits can be great, there is a tendency to be unstuck in the world and feeling a bit unanchored. The phrase “there’s no place like home” doesn’t always have as much meaning. What many of those in my situation found is that we needed the human contact and interaction to fulfill something in our hearts. Instead of holiday gatherings with blood kin, we gathered in groups of friends with shared interests and experiences, drawn together by circumstance, but over the years developing closer ties and emotional connections than the tenuous ones to biological family so geographically distant (many of whom had never been seen, much less engage with through interaction enough to develop affinity of shared experience). I developed from style of life the idea that family was not defined by what flows through the blood vessels and tissues of the body but something that was more greatly defined by the emotional ties of shared experiences and friendship.

Many years have passed since that first epiphany. I still have some close relationships with those who are related to me by genetic lineage. I dearly love many of my genetic family and have great affection and care for them no matter the years or miles that separate us. However, I have developed significant and truly meaningful relationships with those to whom I have no biological connection except as we share the same species. I have occasionally been ridiculed or even chastised for referring to this group as “the family” as they have no biological ties. To distinguish between those of blood and those of heart, many of us have referred to this second category as “chosen family” or “sworn family.” This is not a designation that indicates hierarchy or importance, but merely a nomenclature that lets people know that while there is no shared genetics, the affection and loyalty is there.

A friend commented on my post that his mother does not believe in the concept of “chosen family”. Apparently the lady believes only in the progeny of the loins as the connection to which any can have love or connection. So, here is my argument:

If family is only that which is connected by ties of blood, what is the status of the legally adopted or those fostered for long enough terms that they mature into adulthood as one of the household? Does this mean that the parents who find it within their hearts to provide and care for children who have been bereft of this affiliation or care cannot claim the privilege of family? And those children, are they unable to feel the affection and loyalty to those who have taken them in? Are they less important and less children of the family than those born biologically?

And what of the biological family that has abused, neglected, or disavowed a child, an elderly parent, the disabled (mentally or physically), or the individual who does not fit particularly into their ideology, philosophy, or social sphere? Is that family more worthy of loyalty and love from the victim of their cruelty or neglect than others who accept them and have affection for them regardless?

How about these strict biology adherents who have a Judeo-Christian (and any of the resulting sects or denominations) religious bent? I have heard their strictures that family is one man, one woman and the progeny of their mating, but in the very next breath they talk about their “church family”. Not that the Judeo-Christian faith has a corner on the market for this ideology, but they appear to be the loudest proponents. If we run some genetic testing, how many of them are going to share DNA? I have seen the cruelty (physical, mental, and psychological) inflicted on people by others who claim familial ties. No one can harm us like those who claim the nearest relation and are supposed to stand for us and with us against the world or at least in support of the trials we face. Is that betrayal and harm so deserving of the title of family over and above people who provide support (emotional or material), stand with us against those who wish to harm, and share emotional times across the breadth of affect spectrum?

I say it is not. I believe that there are people who, without their chosen or sworn family would be bereft of any ties. They could spend their time alone during the days when family is celebrated. Others who have been harshly treated by those of their own blood would be condemned to believe they deserve the ill treatment or at least submit to said treatment. Instead, would it not be preferable to have people interact and associate with people who would positively impact their life?

I am sure that there are many who would disagree, and there are many that have their own beliefs about family and who qualify for the “honor” of membership. However, my bottom line is that my chosen and sworn family is no less real in my heart than those who claim kinship by blood. I would and have been known to do as much for them as I would for those born to the same genetic line. I cannot honestly say that all of them would feel the same, but I do not believe that it is the right of anyone else to define for you who family is in your own understanding. To all the families out there, in all the different configurations, thank you for being there for each other.

Hi-jacked In to technology

Life Before Computers

This is the way the world ends and the machines take over.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I need a complete intervention and detoxification from the technology of our society. However, I fear the damage is already done and irreversible. Not that I have gone completely Borg or anything. I’m still pretty old school, enough to the point that I still have a wall calendar and a desk planner. It hurts me a little, tiny bit to kill trees for these small reminders of being mere mortal and human, but there it is. In many other ways, I have become so completely integrated with the electronics in my life that I fail to notice how dependent I have become.

This blatantly terrifies me, by the way. It isn’t that I believe we are destined to become jacked into a virtual reality meant to absorb our neural energy for the powering of our electronic overlords, society beholden to and at the mercy of Skynet, a collective of cyborg beings assimilating other species to enhance our own, helplessly clinical and isolated from normal human experience by extreme fear of contagion or violence, or a cowering mass of biological beings unable to be trusted with their own safety and must have robotic overlords adhering to the three laws (Extra points for any of you who caught all the references). I’m not quite sold on the apocalyptic futures painted in science fiction (though I have to admit that Phillip K. Dicks actually spooks me a bit). I’m just completely appalled that my brain has gone soft and squishy in my dependence on the tools we have been provided to make life easier and more efficient, resulting in my brain’s inability to remember or think for itself, it seems.

Once upon a time (in truth, it doesn’t seem all that long ago), I think I had a pretty phenomenal recall ability, especially when it came to numbers; but in general, I could remember almost anything I saw, and definitely anything I heard. I have been known to freak people out, be called a “walking phone book”, encouraged to apply for a spot on Jeopardy, be considered an encyclopedia of worthless facts, and to never forget special days (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). I never had to write something down. I never forgot appointments. It came in pretty handy. I always knew any phone digits I needed to call, and I was a whiz at games like Simon where long patterns had to be recalled. It was useful in school, too, but the older I got, the less rote memorization was required and critical thinking was allegedly encouraged (I have my doubts on that, but THAT would be a topic for another day). The point is, I never developed the skills or mnemonic techniques to serve as backup or trigger recall.

Now, I haven’t a clue what day of the week, time of the day, what I’ve eaten, IF I’ve eaten, or what my name is on any given day. It is a pathetic travesty of the once impressive memory that resided somewhere (so neurobiologists suspect) within my temporal lobes and hippocampus. If I do not have my collection of electronic babysitters around me to tell me what time it is, when I have an appointment, and social media to remind me it is someone’s birthday, I’m libel to just run around perpetually clueless and miss anything and everything of importance.

I heard someone say that all of these labor saving and efficiency improving devices free up our brain from the tedium of every day existence so that we can ponder the more significant philosophical and deeper meanings of our purpose and development of human kind upon the planet. Um… BAH!!! Who knew that Angry Birds and Candy Crush were such lofty concepts. I’ve got any number of silicon chipped helpers dancing around trying to tell me everything from my next appointment to my next bathroom break and my mind is still chasing itself in circles, unable to properly focus on anything of importance. I refer to this as “the shiny squirrels that dance in my office to distract me.” The other occupation of my mind is usually frantic, scrambling panic that I have forgotten something important and assuming that my electronic guardians have maliciously mislaid the appointment slip, event reminder, or outlook calendar item.

Today was the classic example. The schedule was completely packed, and by this, I mean truly packed to the point I think I scheduled a bathroom break sometime tonight before bed… and that was as soon as I could squeeze it in (see what I did there?). Somewhere between meeting number three and conference call number eight, I looked at the calendar to see the fast approach of February on the horizon. My poor temporal lobes that sadly believe they still hold some sway in my life triggered the anxiety reflex that indicated there was something important I’d forgotten. This time, I was pretty certain it was a medical appointment . “Quick, look at your electronic pacifier to see when that appointment is!!!” And obeying the original overlords of my neuroticism, I checked my “smart phone” calendar. In a side note, apparently the phones are getting smarter and conversely I appear to be losing intellect daily. So, checking my appendage, I find that there are no appointments on the calendar for the next month. My natural distrust of the machines reared its head, and I began to panic, assuming the phone had eaten the appointment and I hadn’t the first clue when the appointment might be. I found an old, lint-encrusted appointment card from last year with the office number, and shamefully called the number, ready to throw myself on the mercy of the receptionist who would probably know what an idiot I had been.

The extraordinarily kind lady on the other end of the line did not ridicule me for being clueless. She verified my identity as per federal law, and politely informed me that contrary to my mistaken assumptions, my appointment was not until the following month. She really was very sweet as she slowly and clearly gave me the date and time. Thankfully, due to the nature of this particular doctor’s office, they are used to people having cognitive lapses (chemo brain) and take it all in stride. Bless all beneficent forces that allowed the exchange to be telephonic so that my mortification and blushing shame were invisible to my conversational companion. After hanging up, I went back to my technological tether, and sure enough, there was the appointment, all safe and sound. It was my brain that failed on this occasion, not the technology.

Perhaps, it isn’t so far-fetched that we, as humans, become completely dependent on the faster processing, greater logic, and tighter precision of the mechanical and technological tools of our society. Perhaps we are not so good on our own. However, to avoid the inevitable atrophy of my brain, I will endeavor to keep my mental faculties sharp and clear by exposure to knowledge and practice of intellectual exercise. To that end, I should go find one of those websites that claims to exercise the brain using games (instead of using the brain on the normal activities of life to keep it sharp). So glad that my adherence to electronics is freeing up my mind for the more important facets of life! Ironic that the electronics that free us from the mundane cognitive functions have fostered the dependency further to technology to sharpen the wits that we should be exercising on deeper thoughts, complex theories, higher functions, and personal principles. Thank heavens for the humor that allows us to laugh at our foibles and appreciate the ridiculousness of using technology based stimuli to undo the intellectual lassitude encouraged by same.

Vibrating At The Natural Frequency Of A Hissy Fit

I think everyone has one of those days. You know the days. The ones that people say there is apparently a right side and a wrong side of the bed, and apparently you picked the one that wasn’t on the bed at all? Today, much to the chagrin and terror of the rest of the denizens of this planet, was that day for me.

It wasn’t really any one specific incident of the waking process that I could pinpoint as the culprit to which all fault and blame could be attributed. Honestly, it seemed a bit like any other morning waking up before the sun has even made an attempt to rise and stumbling around in the morning routine of gleaning respectable appearance out of what appears to be the living dead.

Part of the morning ritual is to listen to the news, or more correctly the weather from the large conglomerate affiliate who has the misnomer that would lead you to think they reported the weather but predominantly spends their time discussing everything else BUT the weather. Yet, I still turn to the channel every morning hoping to catch the local information that is provided six times every hour in between snappy bits of banter and news fluff. Once the cleanliness factor and general decisions of the wardrobe are made, I also like to spend my time gathering other pertinent news information for my day from a more reliable media source… yep, Facebook. Admit it, you all do this, too. You scan through looking to see who has birthdays and who has posted a Huffington Post article or other shared story, video, completely unverified rumor. We all do it. Snopes is my validity checker when I catch hold of a story too incredible to believe. Occasionally, I have been known to get excited and share without validation, to my shame; but generally, I like to check the trajectory before I pull the trigger. However, I digress.

This morning, the perfect storm occurred to send my lack of appropriate egress from the bed into a juggernaut of negativity that would permeate my day and make me a danger to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It started with, of all things, the fact that something must have been wrong with the local feed to the national weather center, and when it came time for the hourly summary that would give me a 50% accurate prediction of what would be comfortable attire for the day… I got a national summary that told me precisely dick about the weather conditions currently existing outside my windows. Secondly, the news fluff of the day was a collection of catastrophizing reports from both sides of the platform as the pundit spoke out of both sides of his mouth damning one side of the government of their support of the economic budget, and damning the other for not doing so. I can’t imagine why the American public is particularly ignorant when attempting to formulate opinions or decisions about any aspect of our political or economic climate. Given my own current financial woes, I felt the need to vent in my usual sarcastic style with a bit of snarky satire illustrating the foolishness of our current political predicament. I chose as my own media… you guessed it, Facebook. Oh dear, was that a mistake. Once again proving that pre-coffee communication is something I should avoid like the plague, but can lead to a plethora of amusements and/or blatant despair (for my intellect and sanity) for my friends.

Sadly, it seems that predawn snark is not always understood by all my followers (I don’t really think that “followers” is the accurate, but it makes me feel so messianic). It prompted a sudden rebuttal that led to a reaction which developed into a fit and resulted in a right ticking off. All in all, not exactly how I thought that post would go. On the other hand, what could I expect when I apparently exited the bed from no side whatsoever. Add to all that a news story of completely appalling tone which indicates that despite science telling us that we have evolved as a species, the violence inherent in the system still can turn the alleged implements of law and order into hyenas that prey on the weak and ill. I was literally nauseated by the report that courts had vindicated the fatal beating of a mentally ill young man in California by two police officers. It is not that I doubt that the man with Schizophrenia was violent. I am sure that he was, influenced by his illness, paranoia, and whatever sensory stimuli his brain provided. However, I also fail to understand why it was necessary to beat him to death rather than taking a step back and using training (perhaps they don’t get as broad training over on the west coast as we hillbilly hicks in Tennessee have been providing for many decades now) on identifying the mentally ill and deescalating the situation. I don’t mean to armchair quarterback the law enforcement, but in reading the transcripts of the trial, I was just sickened by the lack of advocacy provided to the victim or his parents.

At any rate, I’m sure that you can see that my day had started off in a general confluence of love and light. Not so much. By the time I had driven through the morning commuter traffic, I could already feel the muscles attached to my jaws tightening and the headache coming on. For the love of Pete! It’s only Tuesday! Entering my humble place of work, I found that I was a staff member down for yet another day. Every job has its quotas or metrics to meet. Whether it is a productivity standard or a profit margin at market close, we all have them. The problem is that when your workforce is decreased by a third, that really cuts into the numbers. It would be just fine, I told myself, though I could hear Mary Chapin Carpenter starting to sing in the back of my head “The stars are stacked against you girl, get back in bed!”

While I won’t digress into the various troubling aspects of technology, I will remark that the day soon turned from bad to murderous as the helpless desk to which we are beholding for all things technologically broken apparently had not seen the memo that they should tread lightly around me. “Watch out for her, bro. She’s loaded with venomous darts and buckshot.” Nope. Wayne, the bane of my office existence (I do hope he somehow reads this, but I doubt seriously that he can define most of the words) is a helpdesk serf who was specially trained like a force recon ninja with the deadly skills of rudeness, insincerity, and stupidity. This, indeed, is a deadly trio. I’ve had the misfortune to deal with him twice, and both times he manages to put that soupçon of derision in every “polite” term it is obvious that he is forced by some customer service nazi to use. (Ma’am… Who knew that could be divided into 14 syllables by a Yankee?)

I honestly wondered for a brief moment if the full-blown tantrums of the young were as cathartic as they appeared, and then pondered for a moment what my employees would do if their director threw herself down in an undignified heap and started wailing away like a foghorn while kicking and screaming… And that did it. The image of myself pitching the mother of all hissy fits while my staff stood agape with horror sent me off into paroxysms of laughter that had tears rolling down my face.

Shortly after, the goddess in form of my business systems liaison suggested I cart my sorry self to the main office for the blessed (relative) peace of the main office, where there is an ever flowing stream of extra-strong coffee. I gladly accepted and spent the rest of my day contemplating spreadsheets and the continued vision of my imaginary tantrum. By the end of the day, I found myself almost human and re-read the initial rant that started my downhill slide.

Rolling with laughter, the unbidden audio tract ran through my head, remembered from a Dewars commercial: “Go back ta sleep, Angus darlin’… All hail the drinkin’ man!”

Forgive and… what was I saying?

Life is too short...

Forgiveness is a practice that very few people have mastered. It isn’t that we live in a society of self indulgent and self centered… um… ok, maybe we have failed as a culture to truly practice altruism and instead have encouraged the “Me” generations to continue focusing on self to the exclusion of behaving with kindness and understanding to the people for whom we allegedly have affection or even care.

All that being said, forgiveness is something that we do when we let go and pardon some wrong done to us. That’s all. Unfortunately, many of us get caught in the cycle of something less healthy. Unable to let go of the idea of vindication rather than true forgiveness. That attachment to vindication leads us to use the concept of forgiveness to succor a sense of superiority to those we feel have wronged us.

When I was younger, I can remember people telling me to “let it go” whenever I was upset or angry about something that I felt was done wrong to me. In fact, my mother at one point begged me to stop talking about some of the difficult times I had experienced. She said that in talking about it, I seemed to just be making things worse and exacerbating my own pain.

This was a complete contradiction of all I had been encouraged to think and believe in various counseling and psychology courses. My instructors and the long history of medical and psychological development had led me to believe that the way to resolve ill feelings and emotional conflict would be to experience catharsis through the sharing of narrative: In short, talking it out. So, following the dictates of my intellect, I attempted to gain some sort of relief of hurt feelings and psychic pain through telling… and retelling… and yes, retelling the ways in which I had been wronged by various people throughout my life. I thought that I was verbally getting it out of my system. For years, I continued to rehash old slights and new to the sympathetic ears of friends or family. And yet, I never felt any better. The old wounds ached (like an old warrior when the weather changes). They still seemed, at times, as fresh as they had been when initially inflicted. So, my self-imposed “talk therapy” wasn’t working.

So, why didn’t work? It finally broke through the hard shell of my cranium that perhaps the people telling me to “let it go” were correct. Maybe my mum had been in the right. Every time that I retold the painful conflicts and injuries suffered in the past, I was scratching off the scabs to reopen the wounds and prevent them from healing. I decided to experiment with the idea of letting go. I verbally forgave the offenders of my life. Sometimes I did it in person. Sometimes, when it wasn’t possible, I just stated it out loud to the empty air. It still wasn’t quite doing it. It was a few more drops of water under the bridge before the epiphany occurred. Forgiveness is only half of the equation.

That old chestnut about forgiving and forgetting? It isn’t just a platitude. The forgetting bit is a significant part of the success in healing. I’ve seen it over and over. People trying to apologize while justifying the behaviors for which they are offering apology, and others forgiving while rubbing the past faults of the forgiven in their faces. This violates the basic principles of forgiveness and of true and appropriate remorse. I’m still as guilty of the fault as anyone. Knowing isn’t even half the battle. It is still too much a part of human nature to want to be right, even when it feels wrong.

Not every action that wounds you will gain an apology; and while forgiveness may relieve the conscience of the apologizer when there is remorse, forgiveness is more important for the future focus of the person forgiving. You can’t move forward, without letting go of the past, it is too easy to hang onto the pain and anger of being wronged when you keep the memory of the details too fresh in your mind. Yes, our experiences make us who we are, but hanging onto the past lets the past hang onto us. We remain stuck in time and fail to move into the future. When forgiveness is the chosen path, look forward, not back. Keep the eyes focused forward and it is less likely that obstacles will trip you up or that you will end up going the wrong way. It’s hard to see a way forward if you only look into a rearview mirror.

Light a candle and stop cursing

Light a candle...

We are in the new year. I wonder how everyone is doing on those resolutions. So many people make resolutions believing in some sort of magical properties of the holidays to make wishes come true. We believe that saying it at that time will just make it happen. *poof* I personally think that this is part of the reason that the majority of “resolutions” lose their resolve rapidly as the year waxes into the full winter and we find ourselves at another turning with the same wishes for betterment still on the “To Do” list with another celebration of the year end.

The weakening of resolve can be attributed to faith in an external locus of control that will somehow take away the key factor in success… hard work. As odd as it may sound, the facet of human success that is given the least amount of credit and yet should deserve the most is effort. Much attention and reward is given to factors and aspects of human existence over which we have no control. It sadly contributes to a loss of internal locus of control and a willing indolence in people who say, “Why should I make any effort? I cannot control the outcome.” From this mindset is conjured a believe in predestination and fate that smacks so strongly of arrogance that it deserves another smack… across the face. What? Did I stutter? Yes, arrogance, people! It is arrogant to assume that you have no control or impact on your own life because of predestination. That assumes (using a different part of your anatomy than your mind this time) that you are omniscient enough to know what the ultimate outcome of your life will be and so, therefore you aren’t going to put any effort into staying the course or diverting it. Wow… I must say, my own powers of divination are not nearly so well attuned. However, it makes a little bit of sense. Self-fulfilling prophecies aside, if you decide to sit around and put in no effort to achieve your aspirations or change your undesired situation, my guess is that you will likely end up exactly as you might expect… with no achievement and no change.

Now, this train of thought on which I bought a ticket this morning is no great epiphany or lightning bolt of originality. I cannot, to be honest, take credit for being the first, only, or possibly even most eloquent individual to ever ponder upon the inherent indolence of humanity. Thomas Edison was the first person to note that success is only partially explained by intellect and creativity and the majority of the credit should be given to sweat; “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Apparently Colin Powell had a more complicated recipe for success. Along with the hard work and inspiration, he also included learning from failure, and not giving up.

I must give credit to a friend and coworker for some of my own inspiration and insight this morning. He posted about the similarity of people and domestic rabbits who are happy to remain in the fouled warren of their own hutch in perceived safety than risk the unknown danger of exposure running free in the yard or home of their owner. He drew the comparison to men and women who choose to live in poor conditions even when opportunities exist to provide better alternatives because it is comfortable psychologically, less terrifying than change, and requires less effort on their part. And so, they stay and vent any frustration and potential energy to influence change in their situation by complaining impotently about the misery they choose over the fear they avoid. I responded to him that this was an illustration of the concept of “learned helplessness” originally defined by Skinner (in a horrible behavioral experiment with dogs. Look it up, because I am not going to go into it here and catch hellish emails from PETA or others believing I condone such.). What my friend was actually describing is actually a very common human experience. Fear of the unknown or expectation of adverse response is a paralyzing force that keeps status quo despite the discomforts or desire for better. Sadly, the fear of uncertainty frequently outweighs certain misery. For change to occur, motivation must come from changing that balance and reversing the conditions.

Transformation in a scientific sense requires energy to convert one thing or combination of things into another. The energy has to come from somewhere. No meaningful change will ever occur without concerted effort from the individual to manifest that change. If we want to change the circumstances of our lives, we need to provide the catalyst and energy to promote that change. If you don’t want to expend the energy, then be satisfied with the status quo and “quit yer bitchin’”. However, as Peter Benenson said, “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Resolving to Solve in a New Year

New Year's Resolution

What is it about turning the page on the calendar that gives people the urge to make drastic changes in their lives? Is it the sense of renewal that a turning year brings that makes people believe they can erase the ignominy of the past year or past mistakes with changing the last digit of the annual sum? What happened to the positive points of that year? Do we keep it all, or should we erase the whole thing and go with the New Year as a completely new start?

The New Year is a time when people believe they can make a new start and make changes to their habits and behaviors in a positive way. It is, in a way, a representation of hope that things do change and that they can be better, that we do not have to accept the status quo and continue in old patterns of maladaptive behaviors forever. That being said, where did it all come from?

Apparently, this New Year’s resolving tradition has some seriously ancient roots. The Babylonians made promises to their deities every year to set their financial balances back to rights by paying back any debts of money or honor. The Romans made promises to Janus (yep, that’s where we get “January,” people) to start their year off on the right foot. Many other religious cultures have holidays of sacrifice and atonement (though not always falling on the western calendar New Year). So, the idea of making promises to change at the turn of the recognized year is not by any means a new tradition. That being said, the time frame for which we make our lofty, or not so lofty, goals for the coming annum should be recognized for the arbitrary thing that it is.

Our modern calendar is a great collaboration of historical conventions and narcissistic tendencies of various rulers, conquerors, and religious movements through the years. Science and fiscal convenience pretty much put the finishing touches with astronomical observations of solar year and figuring out how to balance the account of hours with appropriate counting of days. As it is, we still have to tack on the extra day every four years in February to make it all come out correctly. As our tiny blue planet does its wobbly little dance around our home star, it provides the circuit of time that provides a nice beginning and ending of that arbitrary temporal cycle that gives us a chance of renewal.

Almost half of the adults in America today make New Year’s resolutions. However, of that half, only about 12% actually make good on their promises. Sadly, only about half the people who make resolutions actually believe they will achieve the goals they set (possibly a contributing factor to that pitiful percentage that succeeds, but more on that later). Maybe it is a misunderstanding of what a resolution is? To dig into this, I decided that perhaps I should see if I could clarify matters of meaning. That word we keep using, I’m not sure it means what we think it means…

I’m going to pass over the musical references of progression from dissonance to consonance in a chord. An interesting sideline, and one that appeals to my heart, but not really illuminating for the chosen topic. We’ll also skip over the technical aspects of quality and acuity for digital media of the visual or auditory variety. The word resolution is the noun form of the verb to resolve. Not much help there. It also is a “state or quality of being resolute”… um, yeah. Ok, moving on. Being resolute means you are determined. Apparently, there are some people out there who missed that part, say about 88% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions, it seems. A resolution is also a course of action. Better. Maybe this is where we are all missing the boat, or rather where the boat is missing the destination and instead founders in the Sargaso of ill planned goals? So many people have ideas about things they want to change and positively no clue on how to go about it. Even if you know where you want to go, you need some plan for how to get there. So, finally, the last definition I want to address is that a resolution is “an explanation, as of a problem or a puzzle; a solution.” That is the best one I have seen so far. A resolution is a solution to a problem. However (and here I will listen for the groans and curses of the linguists), resolution looks like you are solving something over and over again, re-solving. Now, doing something again and again could be identified as practice, but it doesn’t always make perfect. Sometimes it does. It can also indicate if you are solving something over and over without satisfaction, that the approach may not be the best. It is possible that a different method might provide better results.

Overall, I still think I prefer the last definition. A resolution is a determined plan to solve a problem perceived in the current status of any given sector of our respective situations. We do not have to accept lack of total success as failure. It is just practice, and we can learn from the attempts.

Last but not least, making resolutions… As evidenced by the number of people who seem to lack confidence in their ability to reach their identified goals, and the actual number of people who let go of their resolutions sometime around February, perhaps there is a lack of skill or desire in making the promises of change to the New Year. In light of this potential problem, I’ve created a little instruction manual for making resolutions (and you don’t have to save them for the New Year as the steps are actually of the one-size-fits-any-date variety):

  • Identify the problem.
  • Identify what the solution to the problem might be.
  • Set a goal for the solution and visualize what the successful solution looks like.
  • Identify a realistic timeframe for the solution.
  • Think of it in terms of the present tense. Define the solution in positive, present tense, and concrete terms. I know this sounds strange, but think of it this way: If your solution or goal is for healthier living habits, saying “I’m going to start [eating better, exercising more, stop smoking],” your brain says “Great, let me know when you actually start!” Make your daily statement of resolve in a firmly determined way, “I am living a more healthy life by watching my portions” or “I am taking care of my body by exercising 30 minutes every day.”
  • Use visual cues and keep them before you every day. Pick positive images, because our brains gravitate towards the pleasant and avoid the unpleasant.
  • Identify steps and initial goals (and realistic timeframes) on the way to the ultimate solution that you can check off as you progress.
  • Reframe backsliding or relapse in a positive way as opportunity for learning. Missteps do not have to result in a plummet back to square one. They are a cue to refocus on the path to your goal.

So, this little ramble started out to be a pondering of what and why people make New Year’s resolutions. It did not end up where I thought it would. Maybe that is a lesson, too. A journey of change sometimes ends up at a different destination than originally expected, and that isn’t always bad. Sometimes the goal is not the end, and in truth, perhaps it shouldn’t be. Changes that we decide to make for ourselves should be a journey of discovery, and it is the small, measurable successes along the way that matter and will motivate us to continue on the road.

A blog about a few thing I picked up along the way… Hey driver, where are we going?!?