Menu

Culture Posts

A letter to Evangelical Christianity: the Supreme Court decision isn’t about you, but you can help

Our enemies are sacred, too.
-Richard Rohr

WavesSeawallFrom age 17 through 25 I worked for a cause bigger than my self. At times I worked tirelessly, sometimes going 70 or more days straight without a break, seemingly always on call, available for the greater good.  I lived the Christian life. I lived the idealized Christian life. I worked to save the world, as I thought at the earlier end.

These years were some of the most rewarding periods of my life. I have so many fond memories of those moments and the bonds that were formed with those around me. At times it felt like brothers at arms, fighting a battle with an invisible force. At others we were exhausted travelers, carrying each other forward through another emotional week.

Something, however, felt stifling. It took me years after leaving a position in full time ministry to place that feeling. I just felt compelled to go, an action that caused pain for so many, including myself. I was young, immature, and not aware of the mechanisms that were required to verbalize the feeling that I was pushing against a wall that refused to budge. I would push, but there was nowhere to push.

So I left. For several years after I would duck in and out of services at various denominations. I was burned out on religious music and wrestled with feelings of anger around the language of faith. I kept an awkward toe plunged in while the rest of me was desperate for something that was missing.

Its strange to speak of something missing. I undoubtedly heard hundreds of sermons about how when you become a Christian your life would be complete. Everything in life just suddenly would come together and you would find joy by default. But I was raised this way. I didn’t know anything else. And what I felt wasn’t joy.

The truth is that I led a double life. I was not fully honest and did not know how to reconcile this. I felt an intuition that I needed something else and both denounced the intuition in public while satisfying my curiosity at home. I read and read and read. I read broadly in the sciences and nearly every meaningful text I could find. I asked questions that produced answers that caused anxiety. But yet nearly every word was like water for my curious soul.

But lets back up slightly and bring in the context of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling. I had three friends at my conservative Christian school who I knew were gay. One I flatly asked once why he would choose to be gay. He laughed nervously and got a little emotional. He told me that his father, a pastor, disowned him. His childhood friends would not speak to him. Worst of all, potentially, he hated that he was gay. His eyes got misty as he looked away while the worst treatments undoubtedly played out in his mind’s eye.

I was stunned. Growing up as I did it wouldn’t have occurred to me that this could be the case. I could not imagine having my family and friends turn against me so abruptly and harshly. The pain would be overwhelming.

The word Christian, for all of its potentially positive connotations, has a bad rap. This isn’t because Satan is sneaking around in dark shadows influencing evil men to create propaganda. The people I’ve met who have cringed most when hearing the word do so because they either received disproportionally horrible treatment from self-professed Christians or know a close friend or family member who has. And we aren’t talking someone with a “Jesus is my copilot” bumper sticker cut them off driving. We are talking the kind of hurt and pain described in the story above. For a group using the word love as often as is thrown around in Christian circles, know that it is not felt or experienced to the level that you think outside of the Church. In fact, outside of the select ministries making a big difference in their community – and there are wonderful organizations doing this – many have only had a negative interaction with the church.

I have now spent a decade distanced from the church thinking about the causes of the great separation between culture and Christianity. Part, I believe, is simply world view. It is interesting that psychologically the Bible itself is seen as a closed book. There was a period in which it was written and sometimes rewritten and added to and built upon and then… it just stopped. It was considered finished. No more. And then now you can easily say what is right and what is wrong. You can label easily and, with the right translation and notes, judge with both authority and simplicity.

With yesterday’s announcement I have read so many posts both celebrating and condemning the action. Condemnations have ranged from urging Christians to not give up hope to one who saw a second civil war coming soon. A second civil war! Why are you so afraid? What has the gay community done to you? What is so tremendously evil and terrible about two consenting adults sharing legal identification and partaking in a rich and varied cultural tradition? Despite the commonly held stance, Christianity neither owns nor has invented marriage any more than it has eating or building a house. And what does this condemnation have anything to do with the kind of practice you see presented by Jesus in the Bible?

This was exactly my struggle a decade ago. I could not seem to reconcile the language with the ideology. I was told that God was huge, beyond reason and belief. But then I was told that the nature of what was acceptable and believable was limited, that the entire universe stretching to more galaxies than there are sands in all the oceans of the earth was merely created for awe alone, to be experienced as simply proof. GALAXIES. Each with billions of stars and planets. And all of this was created for something like a 6,000 year span of time in which it popped up on command and then moved on to destruction. And why? Because that’s what the Bible says, and the Bible as it is interpreted says it is the word of God and God can’t lie, ergo thats just the deal so get over it. So this is great for the chosen (“elect”) while being incredibly, awe-inspiringly terrible for pretty much everything else in the universe.

I believe that Christianity has put God in a box and placed that box in a safe that can not be opened. The true expanse and even logical culmination of what is said is juxtaposed with how the belief is expressed:

  • You say God is eternal, but view the lines of history as closed to only that which is expressly written and interpreted correctly; and selectively so at best.
  • You say God is powerful, but judge the world around you, shocked when culture moves in a direction different than your ideals all the while saying that God is in charge. But God clearly can’t be a God of change… expect for that part where Jesus came and kind of threw a big wrench in the prevailing structure of the time. Just that once was ok.
  • You say God is boundless, yet you restrict the realm of the possible to only certain, specific criteria already believed and rationalized by theologians a few hundred years ago.
  • You say God is omniscient, yet go into defensive mode when prayers don’t persuade the Supreme Court or alter the votes of a presidential nominee from an unapproved political party.
  • You say God is is a trinity, unified together. As a Christian, Jesus is inside of you guiding your actions, yet no two sects… whoops, “denominations”, have the same exact theology.

Instead, I propose some basic ideas taken directly from Jesus that might help form the backbone of a new theology that isn’t going to crash into culture like a rogue wave against a seawall or restrict the idea of a God that is bigger than theology could hold.

  1. Love those who make you uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean Ill love them but I don’t have to agree. It isn’t about you, its about those you are told to love. This means do good to them, not criticizing them in social media while telling lies about loving them on Sunday mornings. Open your heart. Your enemies are people too.
  2. Practice compassion. I don’t meant just handing out blankets once a year or collecting food, though those are good thing. Go to the people everyone else in your community despises. When Jesus showed compassion, you got the sense that he felt their suffering deeply. He was like one with their pain.
  3. Stop judging. This is fundamental and absolutely challenging. This is an active role. You are not the judge. Stop it. No wishy-washy qualifiers. No “I read the end of the story and know God’s heart”. You can not say that you are nothing compared to the mind of God and then proceed to say you understand it.
  4. Stop assigning sin. Related to the last one. Its not your job. Do your best to do the right thing and leave the judgement to something greater than yourself.
  5. Walk the narrow gate. The popular vote wasn’t the right one in Jesus time. Why do you think it would be now? Judging from the example of Jesus, shouldn’t mass religious agreement be a good indicator that there’s something missing? We can sing all day about Pharisees or Sadducees, but from the outside, it seems a little too coincidental.
  6. Watch out for wolves and be wise, always on the lookout. Wolves are everywhere. If, say, a political candidate gets teary eyed talking about his or her faith, there’s a chance they know that its the fastest route to your vote. Its not hard to convince a church audience (sorry, but its true and has to be said). You just need to talk the talk, throw out a joke, critique the approved common foe, and BAM: instant credibility. There are many, many people in position of leadership in government and churches with huge holes in their hearts that they will forever be patching with ego. This isn’t everyone. But they are out there and you should be very, very careful about who you trust.
  7. Ask questions. Between the answers are questions. Jesus asked questions and questions were asked of him. These were not validating questions but the ones that you have to walk away and consider for days, weeks, months, or longer. Start with the idea that you do not know and see where this takes you. What impressed the temple priests being chatted up by a young Jesus? They were impressed by his questions. And for the record, “well, thats just what we believe” is not an acceptable answer.
  8. Be careful about predictions. If you must believe in some kind of eschatological, end time scenario, fine. But know this, if you believe the Bible to be true, where it says  that no one will know the day or the hour… yea. Live it then. And beyond the end of the world alone, life is unpredictable. Causality is very, very difficult to ascertain. So saying a decision will bring about the destruction of America is not something even the best minds will be prepared to answer.
  9. Know your place. Consider for a moment that you don’t know the story, that the book in your hand is just a very, very small piece of a greater idea, that God is bigger and wider and more unknowable than theology and minds can comprehend. Consider that you are in fact the tiny speck of life on a small planet in a solar system on one arm of one of billions of galaxies in a universe that is finite yet unbounded. Better yet, know that this is 100% true, because it is. The Bible seen as a unified document today was compiled over thousands of years, a story that was constantly in development during this time. At one point we put a back cover on it and said it was complete. But the story continues, and like many of the values expressed at different times, we are different than 1st century Judea. And that’s ok.
  10. If it doesn’t hurt, if it doesn’t require sacrifice in your heart, you aren’t doing it right.

Let me propose to you that the spiritual union you feel with your spouse is unique to you. The act of marriage, however, is universal, not limited to Christianity and never limited to just one man and one woman – not even in the Bible. Take a quick scan of historical and anthropological records around marriage and you will find a variety of terms and practices such as polygamy, polyandry, arranged, ghost, endogamy, exogamy, hypogamy, and hypergamy. My personal favorite is polyandrous linguistic exogamy where a woman takes more than one husband, but they must speak different native languages to avoid the incest taboo. Why does the will of God have to be so homogenous? Why didn’t God create just one type of rock, one species of animal, and just one planet?

You matter. But how you matter, the legacy you leave, is up to you. Do you follow your impulses and blame the outside world for the trouble or uncomfortability that is upon you? Do you follow the crowd and jump on the bandwagon? Do you look at a single granted right, such as same sex marriage, in a country we find pride in declaring as free, as the culmination of a growing evil? Or, do you, as Jesus suggested, take up your cross, do the thing that is painful and unnatural, and try something different? Why don’t you look for problems on your end, fix your mistakes, and change your community for the better? There are a million real needs in the world that could really use all of our collective help. You can sit and moan on Facebook about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket or get out there and push your values, beliefs, and actions to the breaking point to see what meaning and truth there is to find.

Read More

Dwindling Attention Spans, Technogluttony, and Three Tips for Living in the Present

Busy Florence Street - Robert A Murph

*Reader beware: This is a long post; especially long for a topic related to ADD. If you must, you may skip ahead to the part at the end where I list resources and steps to take to develop more of an awareness of the present. If you do, you will miss out on the why. Only you will know… Well, I will also know, thanks to Google Analytics. Only the strong should precede. What are you, chicken??

You’re sitting across from your friend or spouse as they begin to tell you about some strange event that happened earlier that day. For the first 30 seconds you listen to every word, staying right with the speaker.

But then suddenly, without intention, you begin to wonder if a promised email has been delivered to the iPhone sitting beside you on the living room couch or dinner table. By default you nod your head in agreement with the speaker, subconsciously picking up on and responding to non-verbal cues that the speaker is putting out.

A thought about email involuntarily leads you to wonder if anyone on Facebook has yet commented on the photo you posted of a particularly unique dinner or a cat wearing people clothing.

Your hand moves towards the device only to stop in realizing how rude this would seem. But you continue to think about it anyway.

The story you’re supposedly listening to is halfway through now and you tune in for a minute only to check out again when it occurs to you that you that the stove might be on, an assignment at work was left unfinished, or the check list from an evening of errands still has remaining items left unchecked.

You are now fully staring into space. Your mind has turned inward. You know something is going on around you but you could be in a trance. Your mental life is front and center, replaying the highlights of your day, the things you should have done, the fears and hopes you have for the future.

Your friend/partner gets to the end of the story and looks to you for a response or validation, partly suspicious that you have moved on from the conversation and care about something else more than what they are saying. The problem is, you couldn’t repeat back the master narrative if someone held a gun to your head. You utter, “Wow. That’s crazy. How did they take it?” You have a 50/50 chance that the story did involve something that went wrong for someone and now your gamble will either pay off or you will be found out. In a clear moment you realize the irony of how fully fixated you are now on the conversation.

The Greater Stimuli

I was diagnosed with ADD at an early age. I was a Ritalin kid and struggled for years with keeping present and keeping on task. I remember a teacher stemming his feet to “wake me up” out of my distraction or looking up from a test to realize I was lost in thought for 30 minutes and had to fly through the questions in order to finish.

Eight years ago I read a few books by the world’s premier ADD expert, John J. Ratey. He describes ADD not as the weakness that I was told but rather an evolved condition that equips the brain of individuals to seek out new and exciting means for stimulation. An often used, though imperfect, analogy is of the farmer and the hunter. The brain of the farmer is satisfied being in one place and taking on a repeated action. The brain of the hunter is only satisfied wandering, looking, and exploring new places to hunt.

The ADD/ADHD suffer is equipped with lower levels of the stimulating chemicals seratonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine that our brain uses to reward actions. And our brain is continually rewarding our actions. When I do dishes, finish a project, or got to the gym, my brain is continually rewarding me for the action. Think of this as a morphine drip every time you take on tasks. As Ivan Pavlov discovered with dogs and dinner bells, individuals will choose the action that provides the object they desire. In other words, my brain will reward me for taking on actions that result in my brain rewarding me.

Our minds, addictive by nature, in the presence of a less than satisfying stimulus will look for a new stimulus in order to get our “fix”. So when I am listening to a story that, for whatever reason, is less than interesting, my mind will have the tendency to wander.

Enter New Media and 24/7 Stimulation

I find it interesting to look at human invention through the lens of human nature. We truly create objects and actions the way we would want them. Yes, that seems a bit to obvious. But we create out of nature to serve or even create a need. For example, do we need 24/7 news channels? Does knowing that an event somewhere in the world at that moment impact my day to day life such that it requires immediate and in-depth coverage? No, but I am rewarded for it. Do I need to view the latest hollywood gossip streaming to my laptop all day long every day? No, but it can result in a reward.

Do we need 24/7 internet access? Before you think of people who do require this for their job, remember that this is a new invention that the infrastructure was built around, not the other way around. We created a system that will provide a stimulating effect, upon demand, all day, every day.

In many ways, this is great. We can connect with people who live thousands of miles away as though they are in the same town. We can keep track of world events and play a part in making the life of another a little better.

The internet has revolutionized so much of what we do. But as is the case with any change, there is always a cost.

The cost here is that our brains have gotten used to this continual steam of stimulation. Have you ever sat at a computer with the browser open and invented something to look up? You didn’t have to do something but doing nothing or very little felt unnatural so you made something to do. How hard is it to read a book when we are used to the shortened, abridged version of information being handed to us in bullet points

As an online marketer I know how important it is to create content that keeps someone fixed on a point of interest. I know that I have just seconds to give a visitor what they are looking for or they will move on to the next site or re-search in Google. I know that images can be used to distract but not distract too much, keeping the mind stimulated enough to finish the post.

Technogluttony

So what’s the downside? I don’t want to be the type to cry out DANGER with the advent of new technology. There is always a give and take. The good can be great. The bad is that what was once limited to just a portion of the population, ADD seems to effect nearly everyone now. We are, largely, over stimulated to some kind of mental obesity that I would like to call technogluttony. And it has side effects that can hurt our loved ones and keep us from developing the richer, deeper experiences that take time and hard work.

What Does This Mean for the Future?

There are a few options for us. In one scenario we may choose to go the way of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra who, coming down from the mountain like an Old Testament prophet, proclaimed that the era of the human was over and our very nature would have to change. What was to come next was the “overman”, or the next evolution: aka, what we are today will not be what we are tomorrow. There would be benefits of this change, but we would lose something in the process.

For example, in Japan the “celibacy epidemic” is gaining considerable interest in academic communities as youth, after years of technology driven relationships, are losing the ability to connect both physically and mentally with others. This is a serious change. Though extreme, we are all seeing signs of changes in our daily lives.

An alternative to letting this spin out of control is to put controls on our access. Our phones, computers, and 24/7 news cycles place constant access for new and stronger stimulants in our hands all day, every day. We have not adapted as a species in order to work with the long term impact of this technology on our brains. With intention, we could learn to put boundaries on our usage and train to bring back some of what we have lost.

Thats right, train. Think of the impact of the modern diet. When we eat too many calories we have to then work them off or deal with an uncomfortable condition. Walk through the snack isle at a grocery store and see how just how determined the human mind is to eat foods that will negatively affect us. The body is in best shape when we learn to eat within our means.

As is our minds.

What does mental training look like?

Training the Mind to Live in the Moment

I will not claim to be an expert in this field. I will, however, tell you what works for me. Over the past few years I have found these steps to have what I believe is a positive effect on my mind.

  • I recognize that I have a propensity for distraction
    I think of this as less an admission of guilt and more an awareness of being human. I am a person. I have the same problems that many people have. When this is admitted and even shared with others we have no choice but to take action or live in denial.
  • Cultivate an awareness
    I try to pay attention to what happens when I feel distracted. This often involves looking for the cues and the signs that I am about to float away to lalaland or feel compelled to check email, surf facebook, or just do something versus whatever is going around me. This also means developing a way of understanding what is urgent versus what is not. Not everything that comes across my phone needs to be handled then. This also means that I should give others the same space when I don’t get an immediate response.
  • Practice being present
    Four activities I’ve found help tremendously:

    • Reading: When I say reading, I don’t mean articles online. I mean books. I try to read anywhere from a few pages to a few chapters a day. This is a slower, more casual form of entertainment. It also gets the mind used to finding interest in longer narratives that take time to develop.
    • Exercise: Last year I joined a rock climbing gym. Though not for everyone, I find this exercise to be so enjoyable, both mentally and physically. I am never so present as when I am hanging by three fingers off a rock suspended in the air. My mind is fully engaged in the moment. Now here’s the kicker: if you want to learn to be present, skip the music. If you are running, look around you and see what goes by. Listen to your body and mind.
    • Meditation: I’ve been practicing Zen meditation for over a year now. Zen is defined as “a cultivation of an awareness of the present”. In other words, Zen is just about perfect for this situation. The first few sessions were difficult. Sitting for 20 minutes at a time is not easy. But the results speak for themselves.
    • Taking time away from the problem: I took three months away from Facebook and should have stayed away longer. I am trying, with my wife’s help, to designate time away from phones and screens in general. Creating space helps separate “me” from the device that my mind views as an extension of my self. It helps me understand that I don’t need these things. I only want them.

 

Read More

The Limitation of Metrics: What We Miss When We Listen Only to the Numbers

I am a statistic. Really, I’m one thousand statistics in a number of studies. I am an American Caucasian (63%), male (50.1%), married (51%), living in California (12% of US citizens) , and exhibiting some degree of religious conviction (87%). I represent/am represented by a particular purchasing class. I vote more often for a specific party. I live in a downtown area in an apartment but drive places more times than not. I use my smartphone for just about everything and try to eat locally grown, organic foods.

One could build a relatively accurate depiction of my personality from the information stated above. A skilled marketer might even get me to open a few targeted emails or click through to a website.

But this is just one part of the full story.

Earlier today I sat in a coffee shop and worked from my MacBook Pro. I looked up at some twenty other people with a nearly identical computer participating in the same action. I started thinking about the situation and what it represented. We were a demographic, a statistic. We all probably worked in similar fields but different industries. And up to this point we might all be labeled the same. But we represented an operating system minority.

I’m a late adopter. I came to Apple begrudgingly after a long life with PCs. Tired of crashing hard drives on short term use products that are nearly worthless after two or three years of use, I decided to move on to the operating system of my iPad and iPhone.

And before you think this is an advertisement for Apple, know that I was an anti-MacHead for a number of years. The cult of Mac seemed obsessed with something I found to be inconsequential. “Its just a computer” I would scoff at friends who made the move from Windows.  Why spend extra? Windows is ubiquitous! Why trade out on the popular choice?

But then I bought my first iPhone, a clear upgrade from an early Android OS. The movement was smooth. The features were rich and thoughtful. There was an appeal to the object as much as to the system. I was never more than three clicks away from whatever action I wanted to take. My first iPhone was – and I feel very uncomfortable even saying this – a joy to use. Joy. Not fun, functional, or useful. It was those things. But it was also a joy to hold and use.

A few weeks ago I watched Jobs. I know many Apple fans disliked the movie for its exposure of Steve Jobs in all his deficiencies. But what the movie showed clearly was an obsession with usability and beauty. Apple computers are and have been designed with joy and delight in mind.

Joy is a difficult metric to track. As a marketer who uses an analytics platform daily, I can easily track repeat visitors. I know when a particular customer visits a website and how many pages they view. I can dive deeper in the data and look at their demographics and the type of content they find most interesting. I can see at what point in a video or survey they decide to bail and go somewhere else. And I can see when a  customer leaves to find interesting content through Google after a fruitless search.

This is all great information to have but is far form the whole story. What is missed in interpretive metrics is the intention, not the reason. The intention of the customer or website visitor directly implies a reason or desire floating around in their head for the consumption or use of something. Even the most pragmatic of us all will exhibit a purchasing bias when confronted with two or more products.

The problem is that the tech industry is often obsessed with data. Data is relatively easy (or very tricky!) to pull up and interpret. We can make assumptions and build stories out of data (I do this all the time). But it doesn’t tell you the story of the customer’s feelings.

I’m getting all hippie here, I know. But think of the last time you bought a car or computer. Remember that exciting feeling you felt when you first fired up the engine or pressed power? That rush is an emotion. Emotions guide and direct our actions. Emotions are the conduit for our decision making process, helping us simplify and filter through an array of input and choose an option. The object that can continue to delight and satisfy an emotional desire for the longest is the object that will be most likely replaced with the much the same rather than with a different product. The object that becomes just an object is easily and quickly forgotten or relegated to the pragmatic use bin and forever seen as just a means to an end.

An experience can be like a drug. Make the experience, not just the object, a joy and pleasure and you will not soon be forgotten. When was the last time you heard that one song or songs that drove you through your high school experience? That song is not just notes and words but emotion on demand. You could not forget it if you tried.

It is only when we look through a qualitative lens that we learn the intention of the customer. We can assume, we can interpret, but it is only through listening that we can truly hear the messages written in the subtext.

Andy Warhol is probably most famous for painting Campbell soup cans. When he approached this common, every day object, as many artists have before and since, he presented an object we have taken for granted. This object and design has an inherit beauty. The color, the shape, the design of the can were and are designed to convey meaning to the viewer. The objects have, as he described, lost their meaning. But the beauty is there. We receive emotion upon viewing and a marketer’s job is to tailor the presentation to create as positive an emotion as possible.

I feel something when I turn on my laptop. I have yet to pick it up and not feel a certain amazement at the beauty of such an object. My wife oohs when she picks it up and wants to move over to Apple as well. If we were judging Apple purely based entirely on ownership percentage metrics we could say that Apple is just a fad. Their products are just nice looking but the competition is more useful. If we wanted a computer that will never go out of date, we could assume, we should pick up a PC with exchangeable hard drives and upgradable memory, future proofing our “investment” for many, many years to come.

My assumption is that you can not measure joy or delight with metrics. It is mostly if not only through listening to the language, dynamics, and subtext of an individual and their culture that you can develop insights into the kind of information that will impact business success over the long haul. Metrics are ideal for measuring certain kinds of information. But businesses should listen to other insights as well, using both forms to determine an outcome.

Several years ago I became very interested in the use of Anthropology in business applications. I believe this is even more important than I did then. There are certain skill sets that lend well to different outcomes. An anthropologist, sociologist, or even psychologist will see a different world than the quantitative analyst. We don’t just need to listen to what a customer does, but what they say and mean. We need to learn their intention and hear the rich and valuable emotions that drive the decisions made.

 

Read More

The Past is Not What it Seems; or, You Can’t Go Back Again

The mid-90′s relaunch of the The Outer Limits had some interesting moments. Among the best, if I might be so bold, was an episode that took place entirely in a one room prison cell on an alien spaceship. The two main characters were human soldiers being held captive by an otherworldly enemy, the two species deep in the throes of a very long and costly war.

At some point the beautiful female character began showing signs that she was turning into one of the aliens, a reptilian species, through some kind of genetic therapy they were forcing on her. As she and the male captive had grown close he began to feel her despair as the therapy converted more and more of her features into a monstrosity. At the brink of an emotional breakdown, and fearing the worst for humans as a species, the male captive told her of a secret human force located on a distant moon that was ready to attack, turning the tide on a war that would otherwise mean ultimate destruction. Expecting relief he was stunned when she stood up and began to casually walk to the exit, knocking for the captors to release her, which they did. He asked what she was doing, these were our enemy. He told her they were trying to change her into something she wasn’t! She replied simply that they weren’t changing her but changing her back. All along she was the enemy and the war would surely be lost.

The idea of the beautiful, comfortable thing being turned into the monster is traumatic. But what is worse is that the thing was the monster all along. What was horrible was really horrible to begin with.

There have been a few moments (or really many) in my life in which a situation changed drastically for me and the others involved. Almost without warning a calm, pleasantly simple scenario was turned on its head and became something uncomfortable and different. And what is often spoken during these times was a call  to revert back to what was once just standard operating procedure. Two significant trends in the US today point to this reality: segments within Evangelical Christianity are a push back to 5-point Calvinism (called Neocalvinism) and Tea Party candidates are continually espousing a return to what is seen as the Founding principles. In both of these movements the past is revered as containing the recipe for real success and modernity the ailment. If only we could get back to the _______ none of this would be happening.

This is a dangerous and flawed ideology. Not only is this reversion impossible to begin with and worsens the situation by allowing members to revise a past and only remember the best parts, the criteria, the scenario in which the belief or situation existed is completely different. There is no going back as even the idea of going back intentionally is wholly different than the situation in which the original idea first existed.

To look back at a “better time” is truly revisionist history at best. Only the best parts are remembered. And worse, the context is only provided for the past scenario. What ever it is we face today could end up very positively for everyone or even a mixed bag result. But its also important to consider that the good times that once were might in fact have been the thing that precipitated the problems today.

Truly, the monstrosity might have always been there.

The reality is that the scenario is always changing. Time is moving forward, people are changing, culture is on the move, and every relationship in our life is being altered continually. The goal should never be to go back but to charge on forward. Accept the inevitability of change and eradicate the fallacy that a relationship, ideology, belief, or whatever once stood still for any period of time. There is one constant in the universe and that is change. In biology we call it evolution, which is just a loaded term for the propensity of all objects to shift and change into other forms. We must, like our world, evolve to accept such an inevitability.

Read More

The Power of Observation

My wife and I were watching an episode of The Good Wife last week. Towards the middle of this episode character Will Gardner was hand writing a list on legal paper. Certainly not unusual. But what was odd is that while he held his pen with his left hand (there seems to be a disproportionate number of lefties in the show in general – accidental or by design?), he held it like he was right handed with his thumb wrapped around his index and middle finger. Then in an aerial shot the pen was in his right hand. But the way he held the pen was the same in both shots and very natural.

It turns out that the actor in mention, Josh Charles, is in fact left handed and writes with what is known as a closed web space handwriting style, common with right handed people. So why the strange aerial shot? Noticing an actor’s dominant hand is not designed to dismiss or point out a flaw but rather to raise a curiosity. What was the purpose of two different hands holding the same pen? What purpose or problem did this fix?

I recently started reading On Looking: 11 Walks with Expert Eyes, by Alexandra Horowitz. The book chronicles a series of walks she has taken around New York City with a collection of experts from geologists to calligraphers. On each walk she experienced a world around her that she was oblivious to previously, all while filling in the reasons from a neurological basis.

It seems that experts are experts at seeing one thing. In a hyper-specialized world we can only process so much. But to experience the same situation with new eyes is to, in a way, become more awake.

Interestingly enough the first expert she brings is her toddler. His height and underdeveloped attention made for a clever companion on a simple walk around the block. Kids learn to see and hear everything before learning to tune out some parts versus hearing others.

A baby might early on learn to ignore the sound of a news anchor on the screen but will clearly hear a mother’s voice.  Ms. Horowitz’ son wasn’t looking for street signs and shop logos but saw shapes all around him. That openness to stimulus placed him fully in that moment, focused not to an internal monologue or list of to-dos, but in the center of a moment looking at every gate and piece of trash and bird that came across his path.

Where I do not think attention to everything is possible – we are blessed and cursed with a limited ability to process stimulus – I do think there is something magical about seeing what is in front of us for what it really is. Sometimes its helpful and meaningful to tune out the monologue or shut off the constant music and simply notice what is around us. Even the most well walked stretch of pavement between two points is full of what we do not yet know.

Read More