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Exposing the counterfeit is of little value unless we go on to manifest the genuine.

 

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There is no doubt that life is a long journey, made up of a countless number of moments. Most of them, good or bad, eventually dissolve into a mist of vague memories.  But there are others which distinguish themselves in such a way as to become watersheds, where the very flow of our lives can be altered.  These instances ultimately come to define our journey, and often times can significantly impact the way we see ourselves and/or the way we are perceived by others.  Such an occasion is commonly known as a “defining moment”.  Just as significant as the moment itself, is how we interpret it in real time, and the lens through which we choose to view it in retrospect.

 

An example of interpretation can be found in an experience I had in elementary school. As the youngest of three boys, I struggled mightily in school, while my older brothers were both model students.  My beleaguered parents were constantly being called in for Parent-Teacher conferences, which isn’t something they had to deal with previously.  So when I managed to go for an entire 9 week period with no significant issues, and brought home a solid report card (A’s and B’s), they decided to reward me with a new Harlem Globetrotters lunchbox.  All they were trying to do was acknowledge my progress and encourage me.  Unfortunately, I was keenly aware that both my brothers had straight A’s on their report cards, and that they were getting nothing for their efforts.  Thus, I interpreted my parent’s gift as an implicit acknowledgment that I was their stupid child, which completely diffused the virtue of their intent.  Instead of encouraging me, the lunchbox became a symbol of my inadequacies.

 

This faulty reading of my parents gesture was rooted in both my habit of comparing myself to my older siblings, and the conclusion I had already drawn about myself, which was that I was in fact stupid. Because that was the lens through which I viewed the situation, it clearly colored my perception of reality.  Though my parents never openly compared me to my brothers or belittled my intelligence, I felt woefully inadequate whenever I was around them, and thus I came to that judgment on my own.

 

There is no doubt that what we believe about ourselves is far more consequential than what others believe about us, and once we draw such a conclusion, it becomes nearly impossible for anyone else to change our mind. For me, it took becoming an adult, moving away from my family, and learning to stand on my own merits, before I could gain a new perspective.

 

While we are not in control of many of the things which befall us in life, we do bear some responsibility for how we choose to respond, and we do have a choice about which moments will ultimately define us. Remaining focused on the most painful moments of our lives, pursuing people who reject us, while ignoring those who value us, seeing ourselves through the lens of our greatest weaknesses and failures, holding on to bitterness and unforgiveness for those who’ve hurt us… are all recipes for misery.  People will define us by whatever measure they choose to use, but they do not have the power to control how we define ourselves.  When we blame everyone else for our present condition, we have unwittingly forfeited the power to change it.

 

No one gets through this life without some amount of adversity, pain, and struggle. We can see ourselves as a victim, or a survivor, or maybe even an overcomer.  I believe that we have far more control over this than most of us understand.  If we don’t like the moments that have defined us thus far, it is up to us to change our course.  I have a sister-in-law who was once an addict, a convict, and judged by the courts to be an unfit parent.  She made the decision to change her life, and though it took some time, she is now a sober, loving wife and mother, raising her family.  Not long ago she was seen as being beyond help, but today, she is an inspiration.  She is living proof that if you don’t like your story thus far, you can rewrite the ending.

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The problem with continually trying to numb yourself to pain is that you eventually lose the capacity to feel anything, other than the steadily growing anxiety that your next step might hurt.

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Back in the early 1970s, Motown artists, “The Undisputed Truth” had a big hit with their song, “Smiling Faces Sometimes”. I appreciated the “Sometimes” in the title, because more often than not I believe there is something genuine behind a smile, but not always.  Aside from being a great record to listen to, the song’s lyrics contained a warning that is still worth remembering today. They said:

 

Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend

Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within

Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes they don’t tell the truth

Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies and I got proof

 

later it adds

 

Beware of the handshake

that hides the snake

I’m telling you beware of the pat on the back,

it just might hold you back

 

The fact that people can be deceptive isn’t exactly breaking news, but within our current cultural climate I’m sensing a growing level of susceptibility toward soothing and sympathetic voices. Given the terse rhetoric that dominates our societal landscape, it’s not hard to understand the desire for a friendlier, more welcoming tone, but like the song says, appearances can be deceiving.

 

Beware of the sympathetic voice that encourages you to see yourself as a victim, it may be the thing that keeps you from overcoming the past

Beware of the compassionate voice that tells you that you can’t help being addicted, it may just want to be your new drug (e.g. Suboxone, Methadone…) supplier

Beware of the benevolent politician who offers to take care of you, they may well be working on their own private pension plan

Beware of the zealot who offers you a scapegoat for all your troubles, they may be distracting you from the real enemy

 

Remember that not everyone who agrees with you is for you, and not everyone who disagrees with you is against you.

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Don’t mistake obsession for love.  Obsession will drive a person to destroy the thing they claim to love rather than seeing it belong to someone else, while real love would rather set that thing free than see it destroyed.

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One of the more positive effects of the technology revolution has been the flexibility it affords us in handling information; but this free flow of data hasn’t been without it’s perils. Accessible from so many different sources, stored in countless locations, and available in such diverse formats, we’re seeing that information is highly susceptible to corruption and manipulation.  Indeed, the emerging generation has grown up in an era where those who don’t like the history of something, can easily edit it, or simply delete the file altogether.  You see this tendency in personal interactions, where “Friends” are unfriended, conversation chains are deleted, and any photographic evidence is scrubbed from the memory card.  On a larger scale, there is a growing trend toward expunging the names and memories of those historical figures that don’t measure up to current sensibilities in regard to what is acceptable.

 

To be sure, I can understand the desire to avoid the uglier aspects of our history, both personally, and as a culture. Yet, I’m concerned that the unwitting consequence of so effectively erasing these unpleasant chapters is the likelihood that we will fail to learn the lessons taught by them, thus dooming us to repeat them some time in the future.

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The proverbial “We” or “Us” (i.e. people who share our values/worldview) have a tendency to put our hate in a different category than the hate spread by the proverbial “Them” (i.e. people who don’t share our values/worldview). We see “Them” as haters, and view their hate as toxic. While we consider our brand of hate as being justified, and maybe even virtuous. Whether it is a hatred of Donald Trump, or Nancy Pelosi, of religion, or godlessness, of Socialism, or Capitalism, of Conservatives or Liberals or any one of the million other things we choose to hate, it all mixes together to create the same poisonous atmosphere. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. We won’t get better as a society by continuing to berate, mock, taunt, protest, boycott, slander, threaten and attack each other. As Dr. King rightly concluded, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”   

 

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