Status and Schoolyard 101

I’ve been meaning to revisit what I call Schoolyard 101–the principle that sometimes you do have to fight fire with fire–for a while now. Recent discussions and articles I’ve read brought this point to mind and launch this train of thought in my mind.

The discussion that provided this impetus was the idea that much of the polarization, intransigence, and complete screaming illogic we see when people cling to certain insane and contradictory positions is the result of seeking status.

It’s a simple concept, but it makes sense. You see, some people only hold certain opinions because they believe people they perceive as high-status will approve of them.

If you can’t see how this is a problem, I can’t help you.

For those obsessed with playing the status game, having the “correct” opinion provides the intellectual shorthand for actually thinking about said position.

Facts, debates, and civility are useless against folks like this (or you or me, if we also fall into this trap). What to do if you’re attacked by one of them?

Schoolyard 101: You must retaliate in kind.

Continue reading “Status and Schoolyard 101”

Gut Instincts and Glory

I’ve already shared a story about detrimental reliance at the workplace, where I very nearly deep-sixed a matter by relying on a colleagues incorrect work.

I learned an important lesson that day: stay paranoid.

Sometimes, when you’re in the midst of a difficult task, the temptation to rely on someone else’s work exerts as strong a pull as an oasis to a dying man in the desert. But don’t do it.

Now here’s an even better story about professional failure for you. And it does not have a happy ending.

NOT the ending screen to our story.

I call this story “better” because of a very important axiom I just coined two seconds ago: THE BIGGER THE FAILURE, THE BETTER THE LESSON.

(Hey, failure is what we do around here).

This particular failure happened early in my legal career. I was maybe…a month into my first post-law school job. I had been scheduled to oppose one of our defendant’s summary judgment motions.

You see, the attorney who’s case this actually was couldn’t make it. So on short notice, I got the call.

“Great!” I thought. “A chance to prove myself!” Diligently, I told the attorney I’d get cracking on our opposition.

“No, don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll write it and send it to you.”

Against my better judgment, I agreed. Hey, I was busy, still getting my feet wet…and a little lazy.

Time passed, and I still didn’t have this attorney’s opposition. I was frantic, until the night before the hearing when she emailed it to me.

And it was garbage. Continue reading “Gut Instincts and Glory”

Free Stuff

logo

A funny thing happened on the way to being a professional: At conferences and lectures and continuing education courses, organizations just give away a ton of free stuff. Some of it is even useful, the pens and pads of paper, maybe. Others . . . not so much.

We’re talking headphones of dubious quality, tote bags that manage to be bulky and at the same time have so little available space, and drink koozies. Like, hundreds of them. You know, those things used to keep your drinks cold.

pl180520-coors_beer_koozies
Behold! The pinnacle of human ingenuity!

Does anyone actually use these? If so, leave a comment because I’m curious. They just never seemed useful to me.

Anyway, I do have a point here, and that it’s this:

Why do we feel compelled to grab something, no matter how chintzy the quality, just because it’s free? Continue reading “Free Stuff”

Interesting Times

man-facing-tsunami

It’s easy to feel yourself swept away by things, insignificant and out of control. Watching the world unfold, one question–maybe the first question–should be:

Why do you care?

The second question, then, might be:

How could you not?

Simple questions with no good answers. Simple questions that, I’m sure, human beings have been asking our ancestors first formed questions in their minds.

I imagine a caveman watching the blizzard from the relative comfort of his cave and pondering his existence. Is this all there is? Am I destined for nothing but fleeing the saber-toothed, hunting the mammoth, and finding shelter? Luckily for us, his answer, and those of thousands like him, was no.

So what’s our excuse?

Are we destined only to scrape enough to pay the taxman and the other bill collectors, to undue the sub-par education of our children, and to try and end life without running afoul of the endless laws that surround us?

It’s a reactive pose, which is why I suspect it creates such deep feelings of powerlessness.

The caveman sure thought so. It was this discomfort that eventually led to the skyscraper and insulation and central heating, the firearm, architectural principles, and the automobile.

So what’s our excuse? Continue reading “Interesting Times”

No Nice Things

Boycotts and coffee and anger oh my!

For starters, let me say that (1) I fully support boycotts, because people can do whatever the hell they want, (2) it’s nigh impossible to make “voting with your dollar” have any impact if there aren’t enough dollars involved, and (3) your pious market-worshipping friend who can’t stop pleasuring him- or herself to Kirk’s ten principles can cram their bowtie up their rear end as they whine about “stooping to their tactics.”

Don’t you get it? Croaking “muh principles!” as your side–whatever your side may be–continuously loses while you righteously complain is worse than useless.

People who hate you and everything you stand for tend not to respond to self-satisfied virtue, no matter how forcefully asserted. In fact, your principles make them dig in even further. People respond best to pain. And I’m a civilized society, economic pain is far more preferable to physical pain.

This is why we “can’t have nice things,” as the cliche goes. This is also why I am a full proponent of retaliating in kind. Every single side in this sick, sad country will not learn until we’re all poorer, more unhappy, and less-willing to share what we think.

Yes, this means things will get worse before they get better. Boo hoo. The world is not a perfect place. Deal with it.

Continue reading “No Nice Things”

What Owns You

Hands in chains

Compulsion. We think it’s a disorder–OCD. Most of us, we say, are above it. We’re in control.

But really, that’s a delusion. So many things control out lives. And adding more irony is that we are keenly aware of it.

The device you’re probably reading this on: How many times a day do you check it? If you’re an average person, the answer is 80 times per day. Eighty! Who’s in control?

It’s no great revelation that the stuff we own ends up owning us. But it’s helpful to occasionally remind ourselves of this.

Tyler Durden Fight Club quote the things you own end up owning you
People knock Fight Club, but the book and movie resonate for a reason.

Lots of these things are vampires, leeching us of or time, money, and energy. Time, money, and energy that could be put to more productive use. It’s bad enough that we don’t really own much of the stuff we think we do . . . and then, this stuff turns around and owns us.

I know that I myself have several things that own me, physical good or otherwise. These keep me from doing what I really want to do and know that I should do: write, read, pray, work out, play music, think, and so on.

Bela Lugosi Count Dracula

A caveat: These things don’t interfere with family time. When I’m with my family, the screens are out of sight. That’s an iron clad rule, and it’s one that’s easy to follow, because my wife and I keep each other in check (this will be important later on), and quite frankly it’s embarrassing wasting so much time on this stuff. Continue reading “What Owns You”

Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days

The logo from the Marvel comics The Inhumans

What is it about tragedy that brings out the worst in people?

I know what you’re thinking: Tragedies can also bring out the best. We have seen how America has banded together in the wake of the terrible devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose.

But then, there’s the recent Las Vegas shooting.

I’m not going to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say an incredibly evil man shot a bunch of people at a music festival, killing close to 60 and wounding hundreds of others before turning the gun on himself.

Once again, the reaction to this act of inhumanity is nearly as inhuman as the act itself.

No, you see, it wasn’t the killer who bears responsibility. It’s the NRA. It’s NRA members. It’s the Republican Party of the United States of America. It’s any lawmaker who didn’t vote to enact laws (that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway).  It’s anyone who supports the Second Amendment. It’s anybody who likes country music. It’s anybody who voted for Donald Trump. It’s Donald Trump himself (for God’s sake, the man is living rent-free in 60,000,000 people’s heads. Why does anybody let a politician control their thoughts and emotions?!).

The impulse to immediately start casting blame at people who had nothing to do with an act of violence instead of blaming the actual perpetrator is terrifyingly inhuman and evil. 

It’s sick and it’s wrong and it explains so much of what is going on in this country.

This attitude explains why there seems to be no hope of communication, no hope of reconciliation. One group of people wants the other to actually die.

How do you overcome this? How do you get over hatred, which seems to be one of the easiest, most enjoyable emotion to succumb to?

For starters, you have to imagine the other person as a human being with a soul and inherent worth. This might take a hell of a lot of imagination, but it can be done. And once it’s done, you start to extrapolate what would happen if this person were to die:

  • Do they have wife? Children? A family?.
  • Do other people enjoy spending time with them? Are other people relying on them?
  • How would other people’s lives be impacted if this person were to die?
  • What about the important people in your life? How would they be affected if you died?
  • How would you feel if someone that you cared for were murdered merely for their beliefs or opinions?

Really, it’s no different than the old cliche of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These are really basic, human questions to act. And yet humanity seems in such short supply. Continue reading “Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days”