Quote

A Map of Sorrow, Part II

What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.

The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes,

ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.

All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,

“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens.
What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind!
I have seen all the things that are done under the sun;  all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1, v. 3-14

Part 1 of this post is here.

Sometimes on Saturday mornings I like to read the obituaries. This is a perfectly normal hobby (said no one ever) but I like to read them for what I think is an unusual reason. Hear me out. The little details of people’s lives always interest me; the places they’ve traveled, where they moved before arriving in my city, the jobs they held and names they gave their children; the small things that make us human. When I visit cemeteries, there is nothing left of this.

This is one of the things that bothers me most about death, when I really think about it. Not even the sadness and immediate loss of someone who was so alive and present, but the flattening of a person.

The transition from a vibrant and multi-faceted being into a list of dates and characteristics has always seemed like a disservice on top of a loss. I feel this way about people I know, and about people I will never know; almost as if I’m mourning the loss of whatever made them them, and the process that makes it so.

I don’t think this is a very normal thing to worry over, but normal is just a setting on the dryer anyway.

Reading the obituaries, even if they’re a bit flat (they usually are) or paint the person as some type of saint (they usually do) is one way I get around this.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about death, which prompted me to write these two posts. Not in a morbid sort of way, more as a reflection on the circle of life. I’ve just noticed how we handle it and don’t handle it in society (usually we don’t).

I first noticed it when an acquaintance died a few years ago in a recreational accident. What I realized about his death was how utterly unnecessary it was, and how ridiculous it was to be angry about this. Yet still, I was.

Before his death, I’d always had the idea that at least if we had to die, it would be better if it happened in the service of some type of worthy cause. I know how silly this is; thousands of people die every day from heart attacks and unintentional injuries. Still, like most people, I looked for some meaning in his death, and finding none, I was incredibly frustrated.

The years I’ve spent editing the world news sections of the local paper should have prepared me for these types of moments. One can only edit so many versions of ‘Suicide bomber attacks wedding party, kills 57’ before becoming a bit numb to the whole business of death. But it didn’t. I still felt something, if only an impotent rage at the inanity of it, the waste of someone’s life spent so early.

Who am I, you might be thinking, to determine if someone’s life is wasted? It’s a good question. If someone dies doing something they love doing, isn’t that as good a way to go as any? After all, most of the time death doesn’t mean anything, like it does in stories. It’s not saving someone from burning building or a speeding car, usually. It’s mundane, or slowly agonizing, or an emptiness so sudden we don’t realize it’s there until we pick up the phone to call someone who can’t answer.

To save this post from being completely sad, although I don’t believe in fake happy endings, I’ll leave with a bit of a poem, one that’s stayed with me ever since I read it. All we have are the moments right in front of us, with those we have now, because there are no guarantees about getting an interesting obituary.

What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.

A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

(Ellen Bass, If You Knew) 

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A Map of Sorrow

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop. There is something new to be chronicled every day. (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed) 

Part II of this post is here.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. This has been a busy year, with a new job and a lot of work to take on. I felt this week, though, that I needed to write this post.

I had a conversation with someone recently that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. This person had a loved one die, and we talked about what it was like to grieve in today’s society. Namely, that it is difficult, because people who grieve are generally expected to move on quickly from their feelings and resume normal activities and attitudes, as though grief were a temporary illness one could recover from in short order.

My own experience with grief has been nothing like that. I am not an outwardly emotional person, but I feel almost a kinship with sadness and grief; these emotions are familiar to me for reasons that don’t always make sense, but they often seem as though they have always been part of my life. I feel a deep grief for relationships or possibilities that might have been, or ones that once were treasured and meaningful, but no longer hold what they once did. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, as it seems pale compared to the grief of those who have lost someone physically. But the loss is there, all the same.

selective focus photo of brown and blue hourglass on stones
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

One of my favorite authors died this week. For a while after I heard of this, I sat in stunned disbelief at my desk, unable to process the news. She was so young, the age of my friends and I, who are in our mid-30s. Her death was completely unexpected.

What I never feel about grief, at least at first, is sad. It’s the suddenness that gets me, every time. That phantom-limb feeling, that the person is actually still there, surely they’ll call or post online or pop up at the next family gathering. This is all a terrible dream, isn’t it? I just saw them. They can’t be dead.

Then, though I have forgotten the reason, there is spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness, of something amiss. Like in those dreams where nothing terrible occurs—nothing that would sound even remarkable if you told it at breakfast-time—but the atmosphere, the taste, of the whole thing is deadly. So with this.

I see the rowan berries reddening and don’t know for a moment why they, of all things, should be depressing. I hear a clock strike and some quality it always had before has gone out of the sound. What’s wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking? Then I remember. (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)

For a long time, I have grieved the loss of my relationship with my father. He is not dead, but he’s not part of my life and other than a few visits during my childhood, never has been. I used to think that I could not mourn something I never had. But sometimes, in weak moments, I do.

I see other people with their fathers and I wonder what it would have been like to know him. To have him come to my wedding and my graduation and see the milestones in my life that other dads cry over and chronicle on social media, as though they are meaningful events that they would like to remember. I don’t often think of this, because it smacks of self-pity and has little use. But sometimes, I wonder what that would have been like.

I grieve for the death of my favorite author because I think she provided me with something few people have; a sense of truly being understood, and welcomed despite my broken pieces. I am fortunate to have acceptance and love from many members of my family, and that is valuable beyond words. But sometimes, it is hard to feel that anyone, even those who love me, truly understand my darkest places. At the heart of that feeling is the fear that if anyone did understand, they would not like what they see. After all, isn’t that what most of us fear?

This feeling is something I grapple with on a monthly and yearly basis, not something to be gotten over and neatly put away in a drawer, as seems to be expected of people experiencing grief. That’s the thing; there is not a textbook version of how to grieve.

Many people are grieving for someone who is still alive. It may be someone they walk past every day, who is as far away from them as if they were living in another country.

If the person you’re grieving has died, it’s not as if things will be the same again, usually. A person may recover from their most painful sadness and emptiness, but the death of someone deeply loved, or the loss of a truly beloved relationship, is not something to be papered over, sanded down and forgotten.

Each person who means something to us acquires that meaning by changing some piece of us. That piece doesn’t go away because they do.

We’re resilient creatures. We’ll get up again and keep going, because what else can we do? It’s alright to remember that people who truly mean something to us will probably leave a hole in our lives for a long while. Perhaps forever.

We may move on and be happy again. We should be happy again, if we can. Or content, or pursuing something that fulfills us, because happy is a narrow definition of happy. It’s alright to admit that loss has changed us, no matter what kind of loss it is.

To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’

But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. His whole way of life will be changed.  At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again. (C.S. Lewis) 

How to listen to people you disagree with, part II

Part I of this post is here

My sage marriage advice (haha no. But it’s all I have)

When we were first married (I don’t think I’m old enough to begin a post like this, but we’re coming up on eight years together so I’m making an executive decision) I realized we had a vastly different approach to conflict.

Like so many relationship things, we assumed first and talked later. We approached arguing the way we always had and figured the other person would do the same. After enough unproductive discussions, we realized conflict meant different things to each of us.

We’ve since learned how to argue more constructively, since we both put effort into figuring out the other’s style. I won’t lie and say it was an easy overnight process.

I tell this story because I want to emphasize it took more than eight years of living with another human being to figure out how to effectively argue. It’s really difficult, and we’re still learning.

It’s okay to cut ourselves some slack if we don’t excel at it with people we barely know (here’s looking at you, angry Facebook thread). But too often, we use our uncertainty as a reason to avoid talking about things we should probably discuss.

How I argue

My approach to argument, which is different than a lot of people’s, is that argument is fun, or at least better than agreeing on principle. I enjoy hearing what people think and how they will defend their position. I often push them on a point, not to be mean or start a fight, but because I want to know more about what they have to say.

Argument is not usually personal to me. In my family it is often just the way we talk. Unless we’re discussing a deeply painful issue, arguments are fleeting. I forget I’ve had most of them within hours or days.

If I argue or debate with you, it means I am intrigued by your idea and probably you as a person, and I respect you enough to start a discussion because I know, even if we disagree, that I will learn something. Plus I just think it’s fun to hash out ideas.

I’ve learned that not everyone sees it that way, and to get anywhere in conversation, I need to speak the language of the other person. But how does one do that, especially in a culture where so many norms are unspoken?

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Photo by Jeff Sheldon

Why do we do that? 

The way we view argument is shaped by our past, our identity and our personal insecurities. We bring these things with us into every discussion, whether we know it or not, and they shape the way we respond.

To many people, arguments are seen as a form of attack or criticism. They are remembered for days or sometimes years. A small thing can wound another person for a long time.

The way to respond to this is not, I believe, to be so incessantly positive that we never disagree with one another. No feelings would be hurt with that approach, but we would not discuss important issues in our lives or our culture because they might offend someone.

Arguments are often personal and painful because we bring ourselves into them. I do this too. We all do. Think about the last argument you had that was particularly painful. It probably wasn’t about the thing you were arguing directly about, like money or friendships or a choice to move. It was about something underneath that, like trust or control or autonomy or wanting a change in your life.

One reason issues like the gun debate in America are so hard to discuss is because they are about much more than guns. They pit us against each other on a more visceral level; we clash about what we fear, what we believe will protect us, and what freedoms are important to each of us.

We tie our ideology and identity strongly to an issue, try to argue it from an objective point of view and wonder why we fail. We assume it’s because the other person in the argument is too dumb to see the wisdom of data, but that’s not usually true.

Each of us is arguing from a position of deeply-held beliefs that are not easily changed, even by accurate data. If you don’t think that’s true of you, look around and think about how true it is of everyone else.

It’s not bad to have an identity or ideology. Without them we would be bland people. It’s a mistake to not recognize when these things are shaping our decisions. You are the only one who knows what all these things are.

Even you can’t see everything driving your decisions, but you can try to look for it. Self-awareness is the first step to having better arguments.

How we got here

In a recent essay for Medium, author Dave Pell argues one of the reasons we’re divided over hot-button political and social issues is because of our physical separation from each other.

Someone living in a large city experiences life differently than someone living in a small rural city. These divides aren’t always neat and tidy. We may share more views than we realize with someone in that other city, but it’s hard to tell, because so much of our communication across this physical divide is segmented, curated and tailored to show us exactly what we want to see.

masaaki-komori-562732-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Masaaki Komori

“Today we’re as divided online as we are regionally. And our regional segregation is epic. These divisions leave us vulnerable to being defined by those who — for money or for power — gain from us remaining divided,” Pell says.

“That’s why you in your rural town and me in my metropolitan city only know each other as the caricatures we see beamed through our completely separate sources of news, entertainment, and political messaging.

We only know each other through the false depictions created by those with an incentive to keep us at odds. I’m sure your version of me is as bad as my version of you. And when you are winning, I am losing. We’re not in this together.”

Technology and online communication aren’t the problem. They are part of the problem, but it would be too easy to write off our inability to have conversation with people different from ourselves by blaming it on Facebook, or Google’s filtered searches, or Russian bots. Are those things part of the equation? Absolutely, and they weren’t 20 years ago.

But fundamentally, the reason we know each other through false depictions, as Pell puts it, is because we allow ourselves to accept those instead of building real relationships with people we might not know.

I admit it, talking to someone who I know is opposite from me on a social or political issue can be uncomfortable. Even more so if they approach me in a combative or condescending way, and don’t seem to want to hear my side of the story. It’s much easier, in that moment, to retreat altogether from them or who I perceive as their type of person.

If I do that, what I know of them will be what I see in memes, inflammatory headlines, hot-take news stories, and not much else.

A whole group of people will become the sum of their Twitter jokes and Internet comments. Would you want to be remembered or known that way? I doubt it. It’s not accurate, and it’s contributing to our false perceptions of each other.

Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer of us want to socialize, date or even marry someone with different political or social views?

It doesn’t have to be that way

One of the most common misconceptions about arguing is that it’s about fighting. Healthy arguing, like innovation, is about problem solving. To get to the bottom of a problem, first we must agree there is a problem. That is a conversational risk.

Most of us, especially women, were not brought up to argue. Agreement is often seen as the means, the end and everything in between. A conversational victory in many families was one where everyone continuously agreed, or controversial matters simply were not discussed. You don’t have to have a degree in psychology to see where that can go wrong.

Examples of argument are often painted as rude screaming matches full of personal attacks to be avoided at all costs. This is what they can become, but it is their worst iteration, not their only one.

So how do we have healthy argument? Conflict avoidance isn’t the answer, but neither is all-out conversational war.

Facts don’t change our minds the way they should, because as we’ve seen, we don’t build our ideologies on facts. We build them on emotions. We build them on our hopes and fears and what’s happened to us in our past.

We depend too heavily on caricatures of other groups, partisan and niche media and other shortcuts to form our ideas about people instead of getting to know them. We’re going into arguments uninformed and angry, and it shows. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Look for my ideas for a solution in Part III, coming soon.

How to listen to people you disagree with

Update: Part II of this post is here

It’s easy to condemn those we place on the other side of some divide, but more important, commonly, to explore what we take to be nearby. (Noam Chomsky)

As a kid, I saw the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes. As a future primatologist, I was mesmerized. Years later I discovered an anecdote about its filming: At lunchtime, the people playing chimps and those playing gorillas ate in separate groups. (Robert Sapolsky)

The name of this post probably surprised you. It was supposed to be ‘how to talk to people you disagree with.’ But the more I started researching this topic, I realized that title wasn’t right.

I’ve felt the need to write about this for months, and it’s not just because of our current political climate, although that’s a big part of it. More and more, we are a culture of talkers. We love the sound of our own voices, to debate, to argue, to have the last word. We love these things right up until they make us question our own dearly-held beliefs.

Doubts and flaws are all well and good, but they belong to the other guy. We know things, and we have the funniest quips to win the argument.

The problem with all this is apparent enough (if you checked the news or your news feed anytime in 2017 you probably agree) but we keep doing it. I’d like to examine why we do, how even the most well-intentioned people can get like this, and how we can do better.

Our boxes, our selves 

We don’t like uncertainty. It makes us uncomfortable and we quickly search for a way to get rid of it. Some of this is unavoidable. Our brains simply can’t process all the information going past us at light speeds, so we use categories to help make sense of it all. That’s not inherently bad. It’s how we identify something we’ve never seen as a chair.

Categorization gets dangerous when we start to use it as a shortcut for other things, like getting to know people, or figuring out who we are.

We reach for the simplicity of boxes because they make sense, but people and the world don’t always make sense. We don’t want to spend time thinking about that, or being afraid, so we grab onto a cause or a stereotype and stop thinking.

When these shortcuts become the building blocks of our lives, we build them on foundations of sand. But usually we don’t realize this until it’s late in the game, and we don’t want to look stupid or start over. Instead we cling harder.

One thing I’ve noticed in some discussions I’ve been part of is how much people care about issues that don’t seem to immediately affect them. It’s pretty common – the straight person who’s never been in the armed services angry about the transgender military ban, or the rural resident who’s never met an immigrant who worries about illegal immigration.

Why do we get so heated over issues that don’t immediately affect us? They might, especially if a wider law is passed, but statistically the chances are low. Yet these and other issues become top of mind, ones that divide friends and even families, sometimes forever.

In his 1984 book The Psychology of Influence, Robert Cialdini discusses why we identify so strongly with things that don’t seem, in the big scheme of things, to change our daily lives.

Cialdini tells the story of a war veteran recovering in a hospital ward. The man remained silent for 30 years. One day as he heard a game on the radio being played by his hometown team, he sprang to life and yelled at the radio. After that moment he never spoke again. Why, of all things, should that have made him speak? Cialdini says it’s because he didn’t see it as a game. The vet thought he was the one losing the game, had gotten a bad call.

“When viewed in this light, the passion of the sports fan begins to make sense. The game is no light diversion to be enjoyed for its inherent form and artistry. The self is at stake.”

These things aren’t just abstract issues affecting small groups. They’re lenses that change how we see the world. Or maybe more accurately, they’re mirrors in which we see ourselves.

Successful politicians and public figures have mastered these portrayals, pitching issues and their own candidacies as reflections of a voter’s psyche.

The reason it seems like we can no longer have rational, calm discussions about many of these issues is because for most of us, they are not rational.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt believes no one is above it.

“When it comes to moral judgments, we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means,” he says.

“And if you don’t believe that about yourself, just note how true it is of everybody else.”

If we all cling to our issues, using them as building blocks for our very identities, is there any hope for discussion or listening between people who think differently?

Forming identities is part of who we are as people, and we could no sooner leave behind these identities than we could cease to become human. It’s not wrong to find meaning or identity in things like gender, race, religion or politics.

The problem occurs when we can’t see around them, when we have certain ideas about people from other groups, or even our own groups, that grow so strong that we decide we don’t need to meet them, to listen to them, to hear their stories. The ideas become the people.

The Us and the Them 

In a recent article for Nautilus, author Robert Sapolsky discusses how easy it is to divide the world into an us and a them. Science shows it’s actually hard-wired into the way we think and react.

“Humans universally make Us/Them dichotomies along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, language group, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on. And it’s not a pretty picture.

We do so with remarkable speed and neurobiological efficiency; have complex taxonomies and classifications of ways in which we denigrate Thems; do so with a versatility that ranges from the minutest of microaggression to bloodbaths of savagery; and regularly decide what is inferior about Them based on pure emotion, followed by primitive rationalizations that we mistake for rationality.

Across cultures and throughout history, people who comprise Us are viewed in similarly self-congratulatory ways—We are more correct, wise, moral, and worthy. Us-ness also involves inflating the merits of our arbitrary markers, which can take some work—rationalizing why our food is tastier, our music more moving, our language more logical or poetic.

When a Them does something wrong, it reflects essentialism—that’s the way They are, always have been, always will be. When an Us is in the wrong, however, the pull is toward situational interpretations—we’re not usually like that, and here’s the extenuating circumstance to explain why he did this.

Despite that role of cognition, the core of Us/Them-ing is emotional and automatic, as summarized by when we say, “I can’t put my finger on why, but it’s just wrong when They do that.”

Haidt, the social psychologist, has shown that often, cognitions are post-hoc justifications for feelings and intuitions, to convince ourselves that we have indeed rationally put our finger on why.”

Getting real 

All this psychology and theory is helpful for understanding our blind spots, but how does it apply to real life? Can we face Uncle So and So easier across the table at Thanksgiving because of any of it? And where do we start?

Last summer I was camping in the mountains with my family. We had just finished a series of hikes into the North Cascades. Everyone was dirty and tired, but it was that content, wrung-out tired won only after a long, hard day of playing in the woods. A burn ban was in effect, so we huddled around a lamp instead of a campfire, toasting s’mores over a portable stove.

“So,” someone said as we settled in to talk – talking is our television in the mountains, and it’s nice – “what does everyone think about the NFL protests?”

Silence reigned around the fire as we made our calculations. It was a mixed crowd around the lamp/fire that night, not a comfortably homogeneous group of politically conservative or liberal people who held the same opinions. We only saw each other a few times a year. Yet we were friends and family. We wanted to say what we really thought and felt, but how could we do so?

That experience made me pause. Somehow, the easy camaraderie of conversation had become a field of land mines, and I wasn’t sure how to fix it. And for these people, I cared.

They weren’t anonymous images on the other side of a screen, they were people I’d known for years, who sat at my wedding, who gave me furniture for my house and helped me make eggs for breakfast that morning. We don’t agree on every social and political issue and probably never would, but our relationships transcended that. How do we navigate these relationships now, in 2017?

It’s easy, usually, to say what we think when perusing message boards and social media. Like shots fired from a military drone, our words are chosen with less regard for our targets, because we can’t see them. We can talk to more people than ever before, most who we’ll never see in person, and if the conversation upsets us, we can block, delete, unfriend or ignore.

“I can’t talk about things like religion or politics,” friends have told me recently, “Because it’s never a conversation. It just becomes a shouting match. Everyone assumes things about me before I’ve even started, so I figure, what’s the point?”

“Twitter is the worst,” someone else said. “It’s just people one-upping each other over and over. There’s no room to discuss anything. It’s like you get points for being mean.”

So now what? 

Right about now, this may seem dark. Our biases are hard-wired into our thinking, and studies show our reactions are usually visceral, immediate and unconscious. We can’t necessarily think our way out of them. But we’re not helpless.

We can be aware that something beyond our conscious choice is shaping our thinking and the way we perceive the world. Many people don’t think about bias, or they think everyone is biased except them. That’s not true. You are biased. I am biased. We all have lenses – let’s accept it and work on it.

We can take time to build and nurture relationships in real time, with people who might be different from us. Not to get them to convert to something or to win an argument, but just because we want to know them. No one is born with their views, they learn them. Life shapes them. So how did they get there?

Individuals and relationships are the antithesis to the Us/Them way of seeing the world. When we see someone as a person, it’s a lot harder to make them a box or a category. Your cause and beliefs may be very different than a friend’s, but it’s not your list of talking points that will change minds or increase empathy. Just knowing you does that.

Finally, we can try a little more listening. It sounds like a small solution because it is. It’s not a substitute for policy change or fixing racism or ending poverty. But big things start with small things. Governments and organizations are just people. Someone who seems worlds away from you might not be that different, if you knew more of their story. That’s the beginning of big change.

November 25: National Update Your Parents’ Net Browser Day

The Atlantic is one of the best publications out there -witty, sharp and relevant. Since I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel and I’m trying to make something that vaguely resembles Thanksgiving food, I’m reposting their great work. Enjoy your family and your tryptophan rush!

Forget Shopping, Friday Is Update Your Parents’ Browser Day!

NOV 22 2011, 1:24 PM ET 48

Thanksgiving is coming up, that time when families gather together to share food, extend gratitude, and marvel at how Dad still uses Internet Explorer 6. No, seriously, Dad, how can you be using a browser developed during the Clinton administration? That was like 10 presidents ago.This year, though, do something different. Don’t just explain to Grandpa or Mom or your father-in-law that there is a whole world of secure web browsing out there. No, take a firm stand. Tell them they won’t be able to watch funny fishing videos on YouTube with IE6 anymore. Usually, by this point, most parents are begging for help and you can extract excellent perquisites for your labor. That big bedroom your little sister got for some reason? Now’s the time to finally occupy it. While you’re at it, you will probably fix (or set up) the wifi, which you can helpfully explain is like Internet particles floating in the air.So that’s how it may go in happy families, where you’re a good kid and your parents trust you. However, stuff happens, and you may find that your parents won’t brook even the slightest change to their Internetting. In that case, wait until they slip into a tryptophan-induced coma and then sneak into the den.If a parent catches you, don’t tell them that you’re changing their web browser. Say instead that you’re checking for viruses or installing new drivers or that you’re “freeing up space on their hard drive,” which parents always seem to worry about. (And though you’re lying, if they do have viruses or are running out of hard drive space or need new drivers for some reason, be a good boy and do that stuff, too.)A little advice on the browser change. Don’t switch brands on them. No putting Chrome instead of Firefox or Internet Explorer. Keep it simple. Make sure to be on hand the first time they open up the browser to accept responsibility for the change on behalf of “The Cloud,” which you will testify has started changing people’s software without asking. When they ask you what The Cloud is, shake your head, and stare off into the distance. Then point to the nearest telephone (which will probably be rotary dial) and whisper, “Can’t talk about it.” Then loudly declare, “Those were the best sweet potatoes Uncle Ronnie ever made, don’t you think, Dad?”

In any case, you see where I’m going with this. No more excuses! These browsers must be upgraded. Do it for the web developers. Do it for the designers. Do it for your parents. On Friday, November 25, every old web browser must go.

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Image: Wave Break Media/Shutterstock.

Doing Time

Sometimes, life hands you a big, fat reality check. If you’re lucky, you get to see someone else’s and learn from it a little. Otherwise, you get your own check, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather see Ed McMann at my door any day.

Ben and I are blessed enough to have pretty relaxed jobs -both of us work in flexible offices with people we like and (most days) work is fun. Other days, its not so great, but overall I’d give it at least a 7 out of 10. Many people we know aren’t so lucky. They work in demanding environments where 7-6 days are the norm, not the exception, and you better be at your desk during lunch.

Sure, it’s not all bad -they earn a lot of money. Many days when I’m driving my beater beast to work surrounded by Escalades, I dream of living the high life -granite counters, a big house and a car that doesn’t sound like a socket wrench in a washing machine when it runs.

Then I got to know some of these people and heard their stories. My socket wrench car isn’t so bad. The Escalade drivers have large expense accounts and recognition, and they work hard to get these things. Most of them would probably say they’re happy with what they’ve achieved in life.

What happens when you turn a corner too soon and experience a debilitating car accident, losing your wife, mother and child? What if your doctor calls to say its stage 4 cancer and its not curable? Less drastically, what if you wake up one day and realize you haven’t been home in weeks because a demanding job requires more time in an airplane than on the ground?

Is there a point when it’s no longer worth it?

All these things have happened to real people. I know them and I’ve heard their stories. Suddenly, life went from doing well to doing time. A gradual and devastating change. Luckily for them, they were able to take stock of what had been so important before and realize it wasn’t. What mattered wasn’t the hours staying late at the office and making just one more sale or finishing one more article. It was the time spent with family and friends or even for themselves, doing something that made them happy.

I realize this is veering to the dangerously cheesy levels, but I want to share my reality check. I don’t want to wait 20 years to know what’s important to me. My car is a piece and my counter tops are linoleum, but if that never changes, that’s alright. (When the car hits 300,000 miles, it may have to go.) If that car accident or cancer diagnosis is mine, I don’t want to look back with regrets.

There. It’s not Ed McMann, sorry! One reality check, yours free.

 

The Marriage Proverb

Before Ben and I got married, we heard a lot about the divorce rate, the terrible state of marriage in America, etc. Not being stupid, we knew the best way around this was to simply move into two seperate houses to lessen the pain of our inevitable seperation and divorce. No bothersome dividing of the finances when the marriage hit the fan.

Just kidding. We actually took a marriage class.

Its been great. I think right now, we’re doing alright *knocks on wood* but they say the best defense is a good offense. So there we are after church every week with about 25 other couples, talking about how to handle conflict, expectations, in-laws and other fun components of marriage. And you know what? We love it! We’ve made several friends in the class, and the stuff they teach us is actually pretty useful. The idea is to learn from other people’s mistakes. When a couple of 25 years tells us they set aside time every night to take a walk together, or have a weekly “date night,” we listen. They had the fight so we don’t have to.

They say everyone has a moment when they knew they married the right person -when he or she was “the one.” For me, that moment wasn’t on our wedding day, night or even that first six months. It was in our class one day, when we were doing something I usually hate that this group makes fun -icebreaker games.

The couple leading the game asked us to write the first half of a marriage proverb on a folded piece of paper, and pass it to the left. Without looking at the beginning of the proverb, the next person had to finish it, hopefully with hilarious results. Since levity is the name of my game, I put down what may be one of the biggest reasons Ben and I get along so well: “The sure path to a happy marriage is to let your wife hog the bathroom.” Without looking at anyone’s answers, we passed them to the reader at our table.

This is what Ben put: “The best way to make your marriage succeed is to be a guest in your own bathroom.”

!!!

We didn’t plan this, folks. It just happened. That was my moment. I knew I had married the perfect man for me.

I’m not naive enough to think we’re going to remain on the slopes of marital bliss forever. We’ll have our hard times just like everyone else. But with with some of this pre-combat training, we have a better chance of making it. Disease, hardship and financial troubles may come, but we don’t fight over the sink. What a good start!