Be Kind Again

Our country, and our world, is swimming in hatred and anger. The cause is entirely self-inflicted. We’ve backed ourselves into personalized corners of reality. In doing so, we’ve weakened our natural abilities to empathize and connect with other humans. This isn’t a right or left, old or young thing, it’s all of us. At least all of us reading these words. Which is part of the problem.

Surrounding ourselves with those that disagree with us will help, but it’s no silver bullet. Quitting the internet is not the cure, but some distance is healthy. We must return to kindness. Assuming the best in others. Seeing the potential not the threat. And we must do this both online and in-person. The internet needs to become more human. Otherwise we, or it, will not survive. 

We must remember that our world is more prosperous, safe and accessible than it has ever been. The roar we hear is artificially amplified and mostly fiction. And it is obscuring the real pain that fellow humans experience every second of every day. There are real problems but we lose them in our personalized roar.

Let’s not value our personal safety over the critical need to stick together. Let's find and fight a common enemy, not each other. 

Humans can choose how they behave. Let's use that power. Let’s be kind again. 

Thoughts On: Attachment

I’ve been really good at adding stuff to my life. Whether it be vinyl records, friends, businesses, hobbies or habits. I have assembled a pretty large gathering of objects and experiences. So much so that I often find myself overwhelmed by it all. They can weigh me down.

I’ve taken the past two Julys off from work. This time away has had interesting impacts on me. Not necessarily what I was expecting. I was thinking I would be able to come back to my work and retain the somewhat Zen state I achieved during the month off. Not really. The realities of work and life soon crash back in. But I have been able to use that month off to begin letting go. I’m getting better at quitting things.

Over this past July I quit drinking. It happened during my week alone at a cabin in northern Michigan. I was cooking dinner one night and as usual I poured myself a glass of wine while I cooked. I noticed my body became very flush from the wine. I also recalled that alcohol often made me feel flushed and tired. It appeared to be causing inflammation, something I struggle with in general. That night I corked up the bottle of wine and decided I would take a break from drinking for a while to see how it goes. That was about 6 weeks ago and I haven’t felt this good in years. It was also surprised at how easy it was to stop drinking. Maybe I was ready for it. I’ve tried in the past and only made it through a week or two with willpower. This has been relatively easy, it feels like I’m cheating somehow. Sure, maybe I’ll come back to it someday and I’m ok with that. But if I do I want to come back less attached.

Now I am looking at what else I can quit. I really struggle with attachment. I feel the gravitational pull of sugar, caffeine, sex, fear and ideas every day. They tug at my consciousness and I fall into their orbit and the attachment begins. Just as mass attracts mass I must become emotionally and spiritually lighter to reduce the gravitational pull of interesting objects and experiences. But I must also balance this with being human, present and committed to those I love. This is a tension I struggle with every day.

note: this blog is the first in a series of “Thoughts On” posts where I ramble somewhat coherently about things I am thinking about or working on in my life. 

Where Have All The Good Conversations Gone?

I’ve noticed a subtle but pronounced shift over the last few years. Great conversations are becoming harder to come by. Maybe this is just my experience but I wanted to share my thoughts and see if they resonated with others. 

I’m experiencing social interactions that consist mostly of other people monologuing. They show almost no interest or curiosity in what might be happening in other people’s lives, including mine. If I start talking they often redirect the conversation back to themselves and what they want to talk about. Usually I leave these conversations having only asked questions since anything else is steamrolled. They rarely reciprocate with questions or don't appear to notice that they are monopolizing the dialog. I feel that I am an audience watching a performance. I guess they see my value mostly as an audience, not as a partner in conversation. Maybe I should be flattered that they want to tell me all-the-stuff. 

This happens in business and personal situations. But more personally than professionally. I regularly have great conversations at work- with co-workers, clients and colleagues- and at home with my family- but socially I often find myself the audience of monologues. And I know these are good people with no understanding, I hope, of how their behavior affects others. Well, at least how it affects me. This leaves me feeling empty and frustrated. 

What should I do? Should I embrace the monologue approach and talk over people and ignore they are saying unless it fits my narrative? Or should I confront people like this and tell them what I need from a conversation? Or…?

And where does this come from? I assume insecurity but is it also rooted in our self-obsessed tech powered age? 

I know I’m not good at small talk so that may be part of the issue. And I would prefer someone monologuing about their life over discussing the weather. What I crave is meaningful, human dialog. Where everyone adds something, everyone walks away with something new and feels more connected. Great conversations usually have some or all of these elements: funny, emotional, weird, connecting and time-warping. We laugh, we feel, we explore, we connect and we step outside of time for a moment. “Have we really been talking for 2 hours?” That’s a great conversation. 

But often I feel trapped in performances. Watching someone put on a show. Maybe they had rehearsed it in advance a little. Often I’ve seen the “show" a few times already and don’t have the nerve to tell them. And I get that. I find myself doing it sometimes to, retelling stories that worked the first time around. Also, I’ve been given feedback that I have a tendency to pull dialog towards what I want to talk about- i.e. weird stuff in the eyes of others. I am trying to moderate that with being open and empathetic to what other people need. I get that people I love and care about need to feel heard. They need to feel valued. But I just wish they remembered that other people need that too.  

I Need Help

"I Need Help"

That was the subject of an email I sent a couple weeks ago to the SmallBox leadership team. I'd had a tough week. My stress levels had been high for several months, along with my blood pressure. Various health issues were perking up asking for attention. I was ending every day pretty wiped out. Things had to change. 

Although I often tell my team that they should ask for help I'm not very good practicing what I preach. The craziness of reinventing SmallBox along with numerous other commitments pushed me to a breaking point and I had no choice but to reach out for help. The problem is that I had waited too long. It had already negatively affected my health and happiness. I shouldn't have waited. I was becoming a "heroic worker".

My pride was getting in the way. Asking for help requires vulnerability which is seen in our culture as a weakness. Of course, asking for help isn't a weakness but I still struggle with that cultural construct every day. 

Asking for help means you can't do it all, you have limits and you are not a superhero. This is a truth we all know but many of us buy into the illusion that we can do it all. That we can say "yes" to whatever is asked of us. We also live with the fear of admitting that we can't do it all- appearing weak. The question becomes, what wins? Too often fear and illusion trump the truth.

There are limits to our abilities. We all need help. Hopefully I get better at asking for it.