separation

I’m starting to contemplate being on my own again, after 27 years.  My wife and I are separating, and I’m going to move into my own place.

Sometimes it seems exciting, and I can’t wait to start my “new life” at 49 1/2 years old.  I like the idea of buying all new stuff for my place, furniture and the like that will be to my taste.  I look forward to doing whatever I want to do, whether it’s going to see a movie or to have a drink, or to hang a new picture on the wall, or listen to music and watch TV at 3am (assuming I have a TV).

I’ll be able to talk to my girlfriend more often, instead of only at 10PM at the end of the day, with a noise machine playing the sound of rain falling so my daughter in the next room doesn’t have to hear us.  I can text her whenever I want without hurting my wife’s feelings.  I can literally talk out loud, and freely.

I can have friends stay over, and we can stay up late.  I won’t have to circumscribe my life to avoid bothering someone else.  I won’t have to deal with someone else’s moods, just my own.

I can take guitar lessons, learn to play tennis, do more cooking, and maybe even remodel a house.  Or do none of those things.  Or start doing them with great enthusiasm, and then get bored, and do nothing but watch TV for a while, and then start again.

It’s all exciting, especially when I’m feeling positive and in a good mood, but I also feel sadness, guilt and fear.

I’m sad because I’ll miss being in the house I’ve lived in for the past fifteen years, where I’m sitting now in “my place” on the couch.  I’ll miss the “we” that’s been a huge part of my identity the past 27 years – our house, our kids, our life.  There are good reasons that my wife and I are separating, but it’s sad to think these things that were ours will now become “mine” and “hers”.

I know I’m going to miss seeing my kids as often.  Already I’m planning to be with my girlfriend in another state at least ten days out of every month, and I don’t know how many of the remaining twenty I’ll be able to see them.  I think it will be often, but there will be evenings when I’m sitting alone in my new place, wishing I was with them.  I’ve chosen to make these sacrifices, but I know they will be difficult.

I’ll miss being an “intact” family.  My parents divorced when I was eight years old, and many of my childhood memories are of pain, sadness, confusion, and anger.  I became anorexic and depressed during adolescence.  My parents’ divorce was easily the most traumatic event of my life, and I’ve been determined not to revisit that trauma on my own kids.

I’ve wanted to leave my marriage before, but I didn’t because I knew it would hurt our children.  I wanted them to grow up with the full love of both parents, feeling like they were the center of our universe.  And even though my wife and I haven’t always loved each other very well, we have done a good job of loving our kids.  They seem pretty happy and “normal”, so at least we’ve given them that.

I’ll miss and mourn this feeling of being a family, because I know as soon as I move out it won’t be the same.  Once we take that step, once we tell the kids, it’s not going to be the same again.  Even if we get together as a family, or go on vacations together, it won’t be like before.  It will seem forced, maybe awkward.  Our kids will learn, as I learned, that sometimes love doesn’t last or it’s not strong enough.  Even if they’ve known that our marriage wasn’t the most happy or loving, it will still be different for them if we’re not together.  A new reality to deal with.

I know my wife has mixed feelings too.  She’s scared to be alone, but she also doesn’t want me around anymore.  We cause each other to be angry too much, and there’s too much hurt.  So there will be an absence of hurt and anger, hopefully, but what will replace it?  I guess that’s up to each of us, on our own now, to figure out.

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I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends (Remarkable People, Part 2)

friendsI only have a few close friends, and most of them I’ve known since high school or college (which is, gulp, thirty years ago!).  All of my close friends are remarkable in one way or another, but three of them in particular share in common several things; they know what it’s like to get depressed, they are children of divorce, they have helped me through very tough times, and their first names begin with J.

I’ve known Jennifer since high school.  She was the editor of the school newspaper, and I was an exceptionally obnoxious kid who liked to piss people off.  I wrote a fake story (this was before fake news was a thing) and submitted it to the paper, and Jen published it.  When she found out I had made it up, she was furious, and rightfully so.

Somehow, however, we became friends.  And as the years went on, Jen became my go-to friend when I was feeling depressed.  She knew what it felt like, but no matter how she was feeling, she always listened to me and provided non-judgmental acceptance, support and love.

Outside of what she has done for me, Jen is a selfless and caring friend, a terrific mother, and a creative talent.  She is one of the wisest, and funniest, people I know.

Jeremy is a remarkable person who would never tell you he’s remarkable.  But he is.  Another friend from high school, when I went to college he went to Taiwan and learned Chinese.  He helped a friend from China obtain U.S. citizenship.  He has done a number of different things professionally, because he’s super smart.

When I was working for myself and and by myself, I could always reach out to Jeremy when I needed to talk to someone.  He always picked up the phone when I called, even though often I had nothing much new to say.  He knew, without my saying it, how much I needed to talk to someone.  I remember when we were younger, he would describe a good friend as “a sweet guy”.  I thought, “sweet?”  But he was onto something, and realized earlier than I did the importance of compassion.

Jim, my third “J” friend, was diagnosed with a serious mental illness while we were in college together.  He had to leave school for a while.  He has struggled with mental illness for 30 years now, but he’s accomplished some remarkable things.  He has a graduate degree.  He created a dating website for people with mental illness.  His story is so compelling it nearly became a TV show.

And Jim has always been there for me when I needed him.  Several years ago, I had a meeting with Toys R Us at their headquarters in New Jersey.   I was severely depressed and in no shape for the meeting.  I stayed with Jim the night before and told him how I was feeling.  His no-nonsense acceptance and compassion made me feel better.  I was able to sleep, go to the appointment, and I got the sale!

I don’t get to see any of these close friends often, but we keep in touch via phone calls and messaging.  I don’t know what I’d do without them.  Often I feel like I’m not a very good friend.  I can be self-absorbed and short-sighted.  So I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve such remarkably good friends.  But maybe everyone “deserves” to have good friends.  It certainly makes the journey lighter when we have good company.

 

 

She triggered my shit (again)!

(note: written in June 2018) So crazy.  I called my girlfriend again, excited to share with her as usual, and then she triggered my shit again and I shut down.

She was talking about her four years of not dating, and she said how glad she was that no one had contacted her wanting to be in a relationship (until me).  She said she was grateful because she probably would have gotten into a relationship without wanting to.  Immediately my mind went to “So you would have gotten into a relationship with anyone who asked you out?  What the fuck does that make me then?  Just a guy with lucky timing?”

I even asked her, “So you would have dated someone during that four years?”  And she said, “Yes if they needed me.  You know how I just respond to other people’s needs and don’t care for my own.”

Fuck, not again.  I felt deflated right away and didn’t want to talk anymore, which was crazy because I had called her all excited.  She kept talking but I just wanted to get off the phone, because otherwise I would say something and she would get upset and obsess about it all day long, and tell me I’m too much work etc etc.

So I kept my mouth shut and now I’m trying to just process it, sit with it until I feel better.  I want to be special to her, to be the one like I tell her she’s the one.  I want her to choose me not simply because I’m another schmuck who needs her, but because of my qualities – whatever those are.  So it hits right at my insecurities, thinking I really have no particular qualities that would make anyone want to choose me.  Except maybe for looks and charm, which are pretty superficial.

The thought process goes like this: she says she doesn’t know her own needs or desires, so she’ll date (or have sex, or be in a relationship with) anyone who approaches her and needs her.  So I’m someone who approached her and needs her, so I’m basically just lucky that no one else asked her out for four years.  Nothing special about me, because she’s not picky.  I could be anybody.  Which sounds kind of harsh, but I do wonder if it’s true sometimes.  Then I think well if an attractive woman approached me and needed me and wanted to sleep with me, would I do it?  Yes I would.  I would date her for a while, as long as I liked her and the sex was good etc.  So it’s not different.  It’s a double standard for sure.

I try to imagine what it feels like to be “secure”, to feel like I’m a good person and I don’t need constant affirmation from other people.  Sometimes I get hints of what it feels like and that’s something I can aspire to.  I guess I can just practice self-acceptance, and accept my insecurity, along with my desire to be special, and just be OK with it.  Whether it gets met or not, because that’s about me, not her.  Ideally the more I can accept myself, the less I’ll need from her.  So even if she does inadvertently hurt my feelings or trigger my feelings of doubt and insecurity, I can be OK and not cause a fuss.  And maybe someday it won’t even upset me.  I’ll be like “well that’s your issue isn’t it?”  Not in an aggressive or jealous way, not trying to hurt, but just realizing.

 

Shit that goes through my head when my girlfriend talks about her exes

(note: I wrote this in May, 2018) Oh boy, I can tell it’s coming, she’s talking about that period when she got divorced and had all those affairs.  The period I know exists, but I really don’t want to know any details about, because she had sex with several married men.  She says the sex wasn’t good, and the sex we have is among the best she’s ever had, but still I don’t really want to hear about it.

I mean, I don’t tell her about all the women I’ve had sex with, do I?  Frankly, I don’t find it that interesting.  But I guess she finds it interesting, or a key part of her story, so she seems to bring it up often.  What is often?  I don’t know, often enough that I notice, that I can tell when it’s coming.  Do I say anything about it?  Not anymore – I just want to let her talk, and deal with whatever feelings I have.  Because if I tell her it makes me uncomfortable she’ll get hurt and clam up, and I don’t want that.

Why does it bother me?  Well, obviously I get jealous.  I don’t like to think of anyone else having sex with her.  Why?  Because I think I own her?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s more just feeling like I’m not that special to her.  Like if she’s slept with a bunch of married men, maybe she’s just repeating a pattern with me, because I’m married – even though it’s an open marriage.  Like the physical act of sex between us doesn’t really mean much, even though she says it does.  Even though she says she loves me, I’m afraid it’s not true.

OK, so why are you afraid it’s not true?  Because I’m afraid I’m not really lovable, I guess.  That’s why I want her to reassure me all the time that I’m special, that she loves me, and that she loves ME, not just the things I do or the gifts I buy for her, or even the sex and affection and attention.

She says there’s no end to my needs, and that I’m never satisfied, and she’s probably right.  It is my issue, or at least one of them.  I’ve been married to someone who couldn’t come close to meeting those needs, so now that I’ve met someone who at least knows what I want, it’s triggered a flood of need, or hurt, or desire to be filled up.  And I know that in the end that can only come from me, not from her or from anyone else.

So in the meantime, I will keep having these feelings.  I can’t not feel what I’m going to feel, or think what I’m going to think.  So much of that is habit.  But I can control whether I fully identify with those thoughts and feelings, and how I react to them.  The old mindfulness thing.  But at least now I can imagine what it would be like to hear her talk about old boyfriends, or husbands, and not have it bother me.  To not give a crap, really.  Because I’ve had girlfriends and sex partners, and one night stands, and it doesn’t affect how I feel about her. Shouldn’t it stand to reason that what she’s done, or whom she’s been with, doesn’t affect how she feels about me?

Wanting More

affluence+abundance+picDo you sometimes find yourself feeling vaguely unsatisfied, like you need something else to make your life better?  I sure do.  Sometimes I wonder if that is our natural state, or if it’s now part of our DNA, created by generations of exposure to advertising.  Why else would I get a thrill from buying all kinds of stuff I don’t need?

Because we want more, of course.  We are supposed to pursue happiness, dang it, and moving into the new place, or smelling the new leather car interior is going to make us happy, right?

I’m not trying to get on my moral high horse.  I’m just as guilty of trying to purchase my way to fulfillment as anyone else.  I’ll submit as evidence my closet, which contains over twenty sweatshirts of varying colors and patterns.  It’s cold where I live, and winter nights are long, so buying new sweatshirts often seems like a good idea.

I’m guilty of always wanting more emotionally as well.  If you tell me I’m good at something, chances are I’ll ask you if I’m the best.  Or if someone tells me they love me, I’ll ask them how much.  It really is a kind of sickness, this insatiability.  I’ve always envied people who seemed to be very secure with who they are, and who don’t seem to need a lot of affirmation from other people.

Late last year I read a book (or about half of a book) called Affluence Without Abundance, which was really inspirational in regard to not needing very much.  It’s about the hunter-gatherer people in Southern Africa.  There are very few of these people left, but they and their ancestors have been living essentially the same way for 200,000 years.

These hunter-gatherers do really well when the rains come and plants grow.  They’ve figured out how to survive eating nearly anything that grows or that can be captured.  And when the rains don’t come, they get skinny.  Historically, they didn’t stockpile food in good times, and they didn’t plant.  They just trusted the land, and their gods, to provide for them.  Because of this, they never over-farmed or over-harvested the land they lived on.  They had plenty of free time, and no bosses to tell them what to do.  And they get along well with each other.  Their fulfillment comes from loving each other, not from buying things.

So far so good, right?  After reading this, I almost wanted to move to Africa and start living off the land.  But then I remember that I don’t like heat.  And you can’t forage for chocolate, or key lime pie.  But I told everyone about this book, because I thought it was so cool there were still people that live like this.

For me, part of being unsuccessful is trying to be grateful for whatever I have, and to be aware of the desire to always want more.  As a salesperson friend of mine says, every month we start at zero.  He was referring to his book of orders, but I think it’s a good reminder that every day, maybe even every minute, we start at zero.  As a therapist and friend of mine likes to say, “We could always have less.”

All this isn’t meant to make you feel bad about wanting stuff.  If you really want that car, or that t-shirt, or that extra boyfriend or girlfriend, go ahead.  Maybe it will make you happy, at least for the time being.  I buy stupid stuff I don’t need all the time and if we didn’t buy stuff we don’t need, our economy would collapse.  But it also doesn’t hurt to reflect on why having more is so important.  Is it a fundamental human need? If so, how come the Bush people seem so happy without any stuff?

Why is it so hard to believe in yourself?

al-inspiring-quote-on-believing-in-othersWhen my son Alex was about 14, he attended a soccer camp geared toward high school age players.  After his first day at the camp, he called me in tears, telling me he wasn’t good enough.  I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  His fear of failure and lack of confidence was so similar to what I go through that it made me want to cry.  It’s so difficult to watch our children suffer, especially when we know that the root of that suffering is something we probably passed on to them.

***

Self belief has always been elusive for me.  At certain times in my life, I’ve felt possessed by the conviction that I can do anything.  Other times, I’m equally certain that I have no clue what I’m doing and that anything I attempt will end in failure.

It’s a mental thing, of course.  Nothing really changes that much about our ability to do certain things.  What changes is our belief that we can accomplish existing goals and set new ones.  One thing I’ve found helpful is when other people believe in me, even when I’m not feeling at all confident.   This has helped me so much, that I try to encourage others to believe in themselves as well.

***

I told Alex that I understood how he felt, but could he just hang in there another day and see how things went?  I reminded him that sometimes we all have days where we’re not on top of our game, and that’s okay.  And I told him I thought he was a terrific soccer player with lots of talent.  He seemed to feel a bit better and we got off the phone.  After the weekend was over, he was named Player of the Camp.

Fast-forward four years, and Alex is now away at college.  It’s his first year, and he’s struggling to adjust to the new environment.  His first few exams have gone poorly, and he’s feeling lonely and isolated.

This time it took more than one phone call.  We talked often, usually starting when he sent me a text that said something like “well i failed that exam”.  He was really tough on himself, telling me that he thought he wasn’t smart enough for the university he was attending, that he wanted to transfer, etc.

It was really hard for me to remain patient, because it seemed like we were having the same conversation every time.  “I’m stupid”. “No you’re not”.  “I want to transfer”.  “Okay but first just get through this year”.  “I can’t do this”.  “Yes, you can.  You’re a smart kid and you earned your place there.  You just need to get help in order to succeed.”

A few times, I did lose my patience, and he would hang up on me.  Even though this annoyed me (what about all the times I was really supportive?), I realized that he just needed unconditional support, not criticism or advice.

His grades were poor that first semester, but second semester I received only a couple of  phone calls.  Mostly I would call to check on him.  I’d ask him how things were going, and would receive the usual “alright” (he’s not particularly verbose).  He started to tell me about classes that he was enjoying, and other ones that he didn’t feel like he was doing well in “but it’s whatever.”  I didn’t challenge his nonchalance, since I figured it was a healthy defense mechanism.  He had cared too much about his grades first semester, and now he wasn’t going to let it bother him.

He did much better.  He made friends and played intramural sports.  I’m sure he partied, since that’s what kids do.  He came home for the summer feeling confident, with no talk about transferring or dropping out.

Ideally, we would all have someone who believed in us, especially when times are rough.  It’s helpful to be reminded of our positive traits and our capabilities, and to be told that we’re loved and accepted no matter what.

I’ve benefited a lot from friends and family believing in me, especially during my struggles with depression.  Their love and support allowed me to be there for my son, and hopefully for other people as well.  And by helping others become their best self, it helps me feel like my best self.  Funny how that works….

Meetings with Remarkable People, Part 1

Stop Trying To Be Perfect. Start Being Remarkable.

When I was in high school, I worked at a New Age bookstore in Austin.  I remember we had a book called “Meetings with Remarkable Men” by a guy named George Gurdjieff, whom Wikipedia says was a “mystic, philosopher, spiritual teacher, and composer of Armenian and Greek descent”.

Gurdjieff wrote “Meetings with Remarkable Men” to describe his various spiritual meanderings and the mentors he encountered during  years of wandering Egypt, Persia, and India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I’ve also had the privilege of meeting many remarkable people (not just men) during my wanderings.  By “remarkable”, I’m not referring to folks who have accomplished amazing things, although accomplishments can be remarkable.  I’m talking about people who are remarkable because of the effect they have on other people.  And it doesn’t have to be on a lot of people – it could just be one person.

I’ll start by describing how my Mom and Dad, and my wife, are remarkable.  In future posts in this series, I’ll branch out beyond my immediate family.

My Mom is remarkable because of her openness and her ability to make close friends.  She made friends when she was a grad student in history, fresh from a painful divorce.  She made friends in law school, when she was raising two kids and taking demanding classes, and she takes vacations with people she met during her legal career.  She’s very close friends with people she met in her old condo building, two or three residences later.  It takes a lot of courage to keep making friends throughout life.  Most of my really close friends I’ve known since high school.  So you’re remarkable, Mom!

My Dad is also pretty remarkable.  He’s taught thousands of students during his career.  Every now and then I meet one and they always rave about him.  They don’t just say he was a skilled teacher, but that he also inspired them and helped them in their own careers.  My Dad would probably say that he was just doing what anyone in his position should do, but that’s too modest.  If you ask me for career help, first of all God help you.  Secondly, you better hope that there’s not a soccer game on TV, or I’ll forget you asked.  My Dad is diligent though, and he follows through.  And he helps his students, whom he’s inspired and mentored, get actual jobs in academe, where it’s hard to get a job.  That’s pretty remarkable.

Finally, my wife Christine’s devotion to our son Nicholas is nothing short of remarkable.  Having a disabled son is difficult, and it turns your life upside down.  She has handled the disappointments and challenges with grace.  Some parents of autistic children can’t accept reality, and spend tremendous energy searching for cures and “fixes”.  Christine shed tears because Nick wasn’t going to be like other kids, but then she accepted him the way he is and became his advocate, though that word doesn’t come near to capturing all she does.

She helps Nick get dressed and makes his breakfast every morning.  She schedules all of his therapy appointments, drives him an hour to the child psychiatrist, and works with the county social worker to make sure he gets all the assistance he’s entitled.  She makes sure he gets his medication, that he’s doing OK at school, and a million other things.  She has adjusted to this responsibility, and like any responsibility sometimes it’s a heavy weight.  But her selflessness is inspirational, and to me quite remarkable.

Remarkable people aren’t perfect.  They have faults and weaknesses, and they make mistakes.  But when you think about what makes people remarkable, even the people you see every day, it can put things in a whole new light.  Focusing on what’s remarkable about someone tends to cheer me up.  It makes me think of the person that I admire, and the person I want to be.

Like Gurdjieff, I love to travel, and going to India in search of wisdom seems like fun.  But I can find remarkable people around me every day, if I stop to notice.

 

 

How to Be Unsuccessful

beach-1.jpgIt has taken me a long time to realize that the key to my happiness is to be unsuccessful.  In doing so, I have had to unlearn many things that I was taught by my parents, my peers, and my culture.  I’ve had to learn to value love over money, compassion over status, and humility over pride.  It’s been a struggle, but I hope one day to be extremely unsuccessful.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve often felt like a failure.  I told myself that I had failed in corporate American because I didn’t get promoted, and I had failed in running my own business because I didn’t become rich.  I beat myself up for being lazy and unmotivated.  I compared myself to my friends who had become rich in the toy business, or had been promoted to Vice Presidents in their corporate jobs.  I’m smart enough, I thought, but I just must be a loser if I can’t achieve as much as these other folks.

My parents are successful people, Dad a professor and Mom a corporate lawyers.  Both of them are well-known in their fields.  I compared myself to my parents, and beat myself up for not achieving as much as they had.

Before I started learning how to be unsuccessful, I wasted a lot of time worrying about success.  I worked for eleven years in the corporate world, hating it nearly every day.  My attitude was poor.  If I didn’t like my boss, I’d fight with him or her, and as a result I didn’t get promoted.  People with sunnier dispositions (and who were more diligent about doing their tasks) rose up the ranks, while I languished.

As a creative outlet, I started a toy business and it grew, eventually allowing me to quit the rat race.  Finally! I thought.  Now I don’t have to deal with the annoying corporate b.s.! I’m free!  I’ll never have to look for another job again!

I did enjoy the freedom to set my own hours, go to the gym every day whenever I felt like it, and stay home and hang out with my family.  But I felt anxious and lonely almost from day one.  Anxious because of the need to make sales all the time, and lonely because I worked for myself and by myself.

 

During six years of running my own business full-time, I was able to support my family.  However, I suffered several bouts of debilitating depression and anxiety.  Two years ago, I took a full-time job again, and since then my mental health has been a lot better.

 

Since regaining my stability, I’ve thought a lot about what constitutes success.  I choose to work now at a low-stress job, because I don’t want to be anxious and depressed.  I still have my business, but I only dedicate time when I have to, and I rarely make any sales calls.  I focus mostly on the creative parts of the business, which is what I enjoy.

Success isn’t about making money or getting promoted.  For me, success is about finding balance in life and enjoying it.  It’s about spending time with people you love, doing things that you love to do.  Working to live, instead of living to work.

We worship success in America, and we usually define success as making money or achieving in the workplace.  But too often this sort of narrow focus makes us short-sighted, selfish and even boring.  We don’t read, we don’t know our own history, we don’t appreciate art or travel.  The world is too big, and life is too short to spend worrying all day if you made that sale.  Who cares?  When you’re dead, who is going to care whether you made that sale or not?

I’ve had it with success.  Give me failure any day, if it means I can hang out with my kids or my girlfriend, take a walk outside, cook some delicious food, and watch the World Cup.  Life is too short to be successful.  I spent many miserable years bemoaning my lack of success, and now I look forward to many years of being joyfully unsuccessful.

 

Should We Have Compassion for Trump?

800px-Phra_Ajan_Jerapunyo-Abbot_of_Watkungtaphao.

I’m sorry to talk about you know who. I know you see his name all the time, and see his face on TV and online, and hear his voice (unless you turn the sound down, like I do – full disclosure: I’m a liberal Democrat). But like it or not, Trump’s presidency dictates the public discourse in America today. How we talk and feel about him is a shorthand for defining our own values. So I’m going to talk about him. If that’s enough to make you want to read no further, believe me I totally understand.
 
I believe in compassion. Compassion is the common value in Buddhism and Christianity, and indeed every major religion exalts compassion as an important spiritual practice. I know that compassion is the way to feel like we’re all part of a common humanity. Practicing compassion makes me feel fully human and more connected to other people.
 
Compassion is sometimes easy and sometimes really difficult. It’s easier – usually – if the object of our compassion is a family member or someone we like. It’s easier if we’ve experienced the same sort of pain that is making someone upset, so we understand why they are suffering. However, it’s more difficult to feel compassion when the person is someone we don’t know. And even harder when the person we’re supposed to feel compassionate for is not a nice person, and doesn’t acknowledge their own suffering. And nearly impossible if the person lies constantly, is verbally abusive, harms people for fun, and never apologizes for his conduct.
 
I believe that compassion should be the default stance with regards to our fellow humans, but does that mean I’m obligated to feel compassion for a total jerk like the current President?
 
The same goes for Trump’s supporters. Do I need to feel compassion for these folks who parrot his racism and his lies, and who seem to take sadistic satisfaction in the cruel treatment of (dark-skinned) immigrants and other non-white people?
 
The answer is yes. Compassion isn’t easy. And compassion is most meaningful, most unexpected, and probably most effective when it’s given to people who do and say things we abhor.
 
The standard reaction to Trump and his supporters that I see from my friends is horror, followed quickly by denigration. “He’s a piece of crap.” “They’re all idiots addicted to opioids.” “Red states are full of inbred, racist morons.” “Those people need to crawl back under their rocks.” Have I said things like this? Absolutely. Racism, bullying, misogyny, xenophobia, dishonesty – all of these things make me angry, and it makes me angry to see the effect they are having on this country.
 
I think or say things like “what is the matter with these people?” or “why are they so pissed off, and so mean and stupid?” This anger feels satisfying. I feel like I’m on the right side of the moral divide. I feel righteous and energized. Nothing like a fight, and nothing like being right, right?
 
But this feeling of being right, of winning the argument, of defining myself as having a higher moral purpose than someone who just stumbles through life, scrolling through Facebook to pass the time, is ultimately unproductive – if my objective is to create more love in the world.
 
It’s worth thinking about why people are susceptible to a message of anger and division, why they will believe seemingly anything if it’s what they want to hear. What place of pain are they coming from? What happened to them to make them so angry?
 
Even Trump himself deserves compassion, although admittedly this one is very difficult. All bullies cause harm because of their own pain. The man has billions of dollars and he’s the most powerful person on Earth, yet he’s perpetually unhappy. Nothing is ever enough, because the cause of his misery is himself. It is truly a tragedy, not only for him but for the country.
 
I can hear the “yeah, buts” now. Yeah, but those people are doing real harm. Yeah, but Trump and his supporters don’t want our compassion, and they don’t show compassion for anyone. All true, and this is how I feel much of the time as well. However, the only way to bring people to your side is to show love.
 
Anger doesn’t work, condemnation doesn’t work. Jesus gained followers because he preached a message of love. Gandhi and MLK succeeded because they showed love, not hate, to those who opposed them. We can’t expect to be like those men – though reading their biographies shows they were also flawed and full of self-doubt – but we can learn from their example.
 
So I will try to to show compassion to Trump and his supporters, even if they don’t want it and even, if as many people will argue, it will have no effect on their behavior. I won’t do it for them – I’ll do it for myself, because that’s the person I want to be.

How to Get What You Want

Great post!

Normal in Training

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Here’s a fact that will save you a lot of self-criticism, and help you to understand why people do things that don’t make sense: we are not as rational as we think. That might not seem comforting in a culture where it’s important to be reasonable, stoic, self-sufficient, and in control, but it’s true.

Let me illustrate how illogical we can be. I’m going to give you some examples of how people try to get what they want from others. But let me first say that, if you are relying on others to get what you want, you have already given up some control, because we have far less control over other people than we do ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I can barely get myself to do what I want.

Nevertheless, we still try to get what we want by getting other people to change their behavior…

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