Monday, March 24, 2014

Is it a sin to be too nice? Well, yeah!

I'm in a grumpy mood today, same as yesterday.  And I'm going to tell you why, in the hopes that venting it will be cathartic.

One of the things that really pushes my buttons is when people do the wrong thing because they're 'being nice'.  I will give you examples.

I was eating out with a group of friends and my food did not arrive as I had ordered it (I'm a picky eater, so this happens often enough).  My friends noticed that I was not eating, and asked if something was wrong, and I explained.  I then waited for the waitress to reappear.  But when the waitress reappeared, one of my friends took it upon himself to explain the problem to her.  I was so upset that I could no longer eat and left the table.  Why?  Because I was already frustrated - I had ordered the meal correctly, but they got it wrong.  Okay, mistakes are made.  But my friend, by not allowing me to fix the problem myself, made it exponentially worse.  I need to work out problems for myself, or I feel unresolved, and he took that away from me.  Add to that, that he's not my parent - so why in the world would he jump in like that without even asking?  I don't need him to take care of me, like I'm an invalid.

Many's the time I've been in a parking lot and I get to an intersection after someone else, and they wave for me to go.  And I understand that sometimes people are figuring out where to go, or whatever, and need a moment - I'm not talking about that.  I'm talking about the clueless person, who happily waves you on as if they're doing you a favor.  They've got 5 cars waiting behind them, but they're giving me the go-ahead.  And when I wave back to them that they should go - oh, no!  They insist!  It doesn't matter to them that people are waiting behind them - they're doing their good deed for the day.  Well, stop doing your 'good deed', and just drive correctly!

Which brings me to yesterday.  I was in a line, and several people cut in line in front of me.  And each time it happened, I grew more and more angry, not just that they were cutting in front of me, but because what they were doing was wrong.  And the woman manning the table just let them.  So, I waited my turn, but I decided that I would say something when I got to the front.

Meanwhile, another friend was waiting for me.  She came over and was perplexed that I was still in line, so through gritted teeth and with a little bit of swearing I explained the situation.  Her reaction?  To 'take care of' the problem.  As you can probably guess from the earlier example, this did not make me happy.  I was already angry, so some of my anger spilled out at her as I told to to stay out of it.  'Cuz, what the hell? I'm an adult.  I already have my own plan for addressing the situation.  Where does she get off poking her head in where it doesn't belong?  Don't be fucking 'nice' - just leave me alone and let me deal with the situation the way I think best!

So she leaves.  And I wait.  Finally I get to the front and do my thing.  And as soon as I'm done, I lean forward and explain to the woman that she let a bunch of people cut in line (I believe I did this in a calm and confidential voice).  She looks genuinely shocked.  Now, did she apologize?  No.  She said something about not realizing and that she was just trying to help people.  But the point is that she should have been aware.  There was a line.  People were jumping to the FRONT of the line, right in front of her.  She should have noticed.  And you know what I think?  I think she was being 'nice'.  It would have felt awkward to turn to someone who just appeared out of nowhere and ask them if they had waited in line, so she chose not to.  And whether I'm right about that or not, I think she should have apologized, as her actions, whether intentional or not, did affect me.  But she did not apologize - she rationalized.  So as I was walking away, I turned back and said, with a glare, that that was why I was saying something - because she should have noticed.

So, I was in a bad mood the rest of the day, and I'm grumpy still today.  Okay, do I wish that I were a better person?  Yes.  I wish I could just let things go and not get worked up and not raise my voice and so on.  But I'm human, and sometimes these things eat at me and sometimes my darker nature wins.

And the bottom line is that I think I'm right.  I shouldn't let my pride get in the way over it, but I am right.  And people should be more concerned about doing what is correct instead of their own warped interpretation of what it means to be nice.  You want to help someone or be nice to someone?  Ask.  'I see that you're upset - would you like me to help you with that?' or 'I'm sorry, but did you see that there's a line?'

Because you think you're being nice, but you're not.  You're hurting someone. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

You're Monologing when you should be Dialoging

My Geeky Friend,

So, I wanted to bring something up, and I hope you'll be receptive to it.  See, I really enjoy hanging out with you.  95% of the time, we talk and laugh and discuss the things we enjoy and have in common.  But once in a while you shift into a different mode, and it kinda makes everyone else feel awkward.

You start monologing.

We were having a nice conversation, but then you got all ramped up and excited about a particular topic, and now you're going on and on and the rest of us are just a captive audience, looking around, wondering how long you'll keep going.

Look, I get it.  You've got things that you're passionate about - that's part of makes you a geek.  That is, in fact, part of why we all like you and enjoy having you around.  But, as your friend, I'm asking you to work on being more aware of what's going on around you.  Because if you've been the only one talking for the past 5 minutes, then that means everyone else has been shut down and has to sit quietly until you're done.

Perhaps you think that someone could interrupt or talk at the same time.  Maybe that's how it worked in your family.  All I can tell you is that I won't do that.  I don't tend to interrupt much in conversations, because I was taught that it's rude.  Yes, I will sometimes interrupt if I have something I feel is pertinent, and there's a certain ebb and flow to a conversation - I get that.  But if you're going on about a topic that I have no interest in or know nothing about, there's no opportunity to jump in.  Because what am I going to do?  Ask a question that keeps you going even longer?  Or completely change the topic?  Shut you out?  I don't want to do that.  I don't want to make you feel bad.

So, what I need you to do ... what I'd like you to do ... is just be a little more self-aware.  For example, don't just talk to the group at large, look at specific people while you're talking and gauge if they're tracking with you, or maybe avoiding your gaze.  Or practice thinking through what you're going to say, in a succinct manner, before you say it.

I feel weird even bringing this up, and I hope you'll receive it in a constructive, positive light.  Because we all really do enjoy your company.  It's just that once in a while thing.  And hey, I've got my flaws, too, and maybe one of them is that I need to be more patient.  So, just take it for what it's worth.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why I'm Mostly Ignoring Politics Now

I've mostly given up on following politics.  At least for now.  Here's why.

I used to love politics.  For the record, I'm a libertarian-leaning Republican.  I believe that government is best that governs least.  Over the years I've enjoyed the political talk shows, from Rush Limbaugh to Dennis Prager.  And it's not like I'm all that involved in actually doing anything - I just enjoyed following along and discussing with my conservative friends (and with more liberal friends, as long as it was a discussion, not a debate).  For me, the presidential elections were like the superbowl, but imagine a sports fan only getting that big event every 4 years!  I routed for my side to win and was bummed when my side lost.

In the last election, I really thought Romney was going to win.  Maybe that was wishful thinking.  But - and I'll try to be clear here - I think Obama is a poor president.  Not just his policies - obviously, I disagree with his policies.  And he may be a decent guy - I don't think he has any Machiavellian plans.  But with Clinton, I disagreed with most of his policies, but there's no arguing that the man was a master politician and that he was a decent president.  Look at what happened with welfare reform - he gave in and signed the bill eventually, because he was a pragmatist and he wanted to be reelected.  But notice how he got the credit for it, even though he was originally against it.  The guy's not stupid.

As opposed to Obama - I mean no offense to anyone, but I simply don't think he's good at the job, regardless of his political bent.  He's not decisive.  He often consults with political operatives instead of actual experts.  He puts ideology above the greater good.  And he's bent and possibly broken the Constitution on many occasions, whether it's in spending money that he has no authority to spend or continuing a military action past the date where it is lawful to do so without permission from Congress.  But I digress.

So I was disgusted when Obama beat Romney.  I decided to just tune out for a while - give myself a break.

And that's when something in my brain began to change.  At first, I was just surprised to find that I didn't miss it.  But over time, something new has dawned on me.  Which is that, as a Christian, it had become an idol.

Don't get me wrong - I think some people are either wired for or called to be in politics.  And that's fine.  I don't think Christians should steer clear of being part of the process.  And I think we all need to be responsible citizens who are aware of the issues and vote our conscience.  But I've grown a deeper awareness of this truth - as Christians, we are living in enemy territory on this planet.  And despite our freedoms here in the U.S., it's true here, too.

Too often, I have looked to the political process or a particular candidate as something or someone that will help get our county back on the right path.  But it's like I'm looking for the answer to the wrong question.  Because, really, what's going to change our country the most?  It's not welfare reform (although I think that was a good thing) or any number of policies that I agree with or would like to see enacted.  You know what has a larger impact?  Being a good parent.  Being there when your friend is in the hospital.  Buying groceries for someone who's in need.  Mentoring a kid.  Each of these seemingly small things, I believe, has a greater impact on our country than any policy we could get passed.

Perhaps you think I'm using hyperbole.  I'm not trying to, and I don't think I am.  I honestly believe that taking the time to sincerely love someone ripples across the universe in ways that we barely understand.

I've been reading G.K. Chesterton, and he talks about how a lunatic's worldview actually makes sense within the world he has constructed.  For example, if he thinks people are secretly following him, and you point out that they don't even know him, he can respond that that is exactly what they would say if they were covertly following him.  See - his logic is perfect and makes sense within his world.  His world is a like a circle - it's infinite, but he doesn't recognize that he's trapped himself in a logical circle that is smaller than reality.

I think it's the same thing with most 'ism's.  We build these ideologies, and we discuss and debate; we've thought it through and we know all of the answers.  And our worldview makes sense.  But we've trapped ourselves in an infinite circle that is smaller than reality.

Happily, for me, reality broke through.


"Take first the more obvious case of materialism.  As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity.  It has just the quality of the madman's argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out.  Contemplate some able and sincere materialist, as, for instance, Mr. McCabe, and you will have exactly this unique sensation.  He understands everything, and everything does not seem worth understanding.  His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cog-wheel, but still his cosmos is smaller than our world.  Somehow his scheme, like the lucid scheme of the madman, seems unconscious of the alien energies and the large indifference of the earth; it is not thinking of the real things of the earth, of the fighting peoples or proud mothers, or first love or fear upon the sea.  The earth is so very large, and the cosmos is so very small.  The cosmos is about the smallest hole that a man can hide his head in. - G.K. Chesterton

Making Lists

I don't know about you, but I can get into a nasty downward spiral where I sit around doing nothing.  There are things I could do, but I'm too down to do them.  If I did them, I'd feel better. 

For example, yesterday I did little more than the bare minimum.  I clothed and fed myself and I did a little bit of reading and I hunted for a job online.  And I napped and watched TV and felt depressed all day.  And I know - I KNOW that if I just got out of the house or wrote a blog entry or worked on my book that I'd feel better.  When I get out of the house, there's movement and sunshine (or, even better, rain), even if it's just going for a walk.  And if it's an errand, all the better.  And if I work on something, then I feel constructive and like I've done something worthwhile - like I have worth.

But I get into that spiral.  I don't want to do anything because I'm depressed.  And I'm depressed because I'm not doing anything.

To the rescue - the To Do List.  It's such a simple thing.  But I know that if I make a list of things to do for the day, I'll do them.  So, this morning, I made a list.  It includes some simple, easily doable stuff like taking a shower and doing the dishes and reading the books I'm reading - stuff I probably would do anyway, but now I get to check it off of the list.  And it includes stuff that I'd probably blow off if they weren't on the list - writing this blog, working on my book, errands.  So, nothing earth-shaking.  I didn't include exercising for an hour or knocking on the doors of 20 businesses to see if they're hiring or becoming an astronaut.  But by the time I finish my list, I'll feel like I could almost fly to the moon.

In fact, just knowing that I was going to make a To Do List put a pep in my step this morning.  Ironically, the most important thing I'm going to do today is not on the list - because it is the list.