Why didn’t they move to help her?

groupthink

There was coughing in the quiet of the library. I continued typing away at my laptop. After a few moments, I came out of my focus and noticed an old woman sputtering, trying to catch her breath. She was seated at a computer, and she continued her string of coughs and I started wondering how long she’d been at it. Was she choking?

I got up from my chair and made a move towards her, as did a woman who sat near me and another man who sat closer to the choking woman. We hesitated a couple of long seconds, not touching her, and luckily she regained her breath. She shook her head and muttered, “down the wrong pipe..” She coughed again and patted her chest. “I’m sorry.”

No one said anything. In silence, I retook my seat as did the other two who had stood up. I looked around. There were maybe ten others in the room who had watched the woman choking. They hadn’t moved.

I think one of our greatest qualities is we follow obediently. We fall in line and work together, without arguing over pride or ego…too much. We don’t all try to give orders. This allows us to get stuff done, as a team, as a nation, as a human society.

On the flip side, we wait on others. We wait on someone else to take the lead sometimes. We wait for someone else to do what we know is right, instead of doing it ourselves.

And this makes our tendency to follow also one of our greatest weaknesses.

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As much as it hurts, you’ve gotta fall to get higher

indoor_bouldering_utah

I was climbing yesterday. I sat at the wall and watched with envy as a guy calmly twisted his way up one of the most difficult routes. His body was almost parallel with the ground at times! It was beautiful. And I was jealous. Afterwards, I started talking to him and learned a lot, not from what he told me, but from what he did afterwards. I learned that my envy was misdirected towards what he did, and should’ve been towards what he didn’t do.

“Did you just do that black and purple route?” I asked.

“Yea,” he nodded. He had tight curly hair that covered his head and came down to form a neat beard around his face.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone complete that,” I said. “I don’t even think I’ve seen someone try it, but it’s hard to tell.”

He smiled. “It’s tough. I worked at it though. I did it so many times that now I know exactly how to do it.”

I was jealous. I was inspired, too. But I thought more about how he did it, and how I couldn’t. I didn’t think about how it was good that someone from the crew here at the wall had practiced and mastered that route. My insecurity hummed loudly in the back of my head so I didn’t really listen to what he said.

I tried another route, one that I’d been trying to get. Failure. I reached for that hold, the problem one. Slip. A short fall to the padded ground.

I sat down and let my throbbing shoulders and forearms recuperate. The guy I had been talking to was now going up another difficult route. I watched expectantly, as he reached carefully and methodically, pulling himself up. A small hold that required significant grip strength was the next one, and he reached for it. And missed. He rolled into his fall, and got back up. He said nothing and sat down. He tried again. I knew he would make it this time. But he failed. But he tried again. And failed again. And then again. Fail. And then again. Fail.

I often hear that failure makes you stronger. I hear it, but like many things people tell you that are good and right and you should do, I nod and don’t act on it. Maybe because of ego, maybe laziness. Then I have the opportunity to see someone who is skilled and how he failed. Again and again and again. And I’m reminded of how failure works:

Failure sucks. You fall. And it hurts.

And it doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished before, because at present, you’re failing. But that’s the point. If you’re not failing, you’re sitting, watching the wall, or going over and over the same places you’ve gone before, and you’re not getting better. And you know it. But at least you’re not getting hurt. At least you’re not losing face, right?

We focus on the success. I looked at what the guy did, but what made me appreciate what he did was what he didn’t do afterwards. On the second route, he didn’t make it up to the top. He repeatedly didn’t make it. And I didn’t see him make it that day. But he kept trying.

I tried my route several more times yesterday. I never reached the top. But I will. Because if you’re paying attention, failure teaches you, and then you make it. It teaches you to put in the time. Consistently. Over and over and over. And maybe that time gets you to the top of a climbing route. Or graduating from school. Maybe it’s finishing writing a book. Maybe it’s doing a lifting regime to strengthen your body, or a meditation practice to settle your mind.

Maybe most importantly, failure teaches you that things aren’t alright, and they never will be.

There’s always going to be that new route that you’re not going to be able to do. And you learn to accept that. Or maybe you learn to accept your father’s judgments, because sometimes, people don’t change. Or maybe it’s facing up to your own faults, accepting yourself so that life stops being a competition to win, and instead it’s an opportunity to learn. To help others. To spread the love, instead of hoarding it all for yourself because you just can’t afford to let any out.

And even if you don’t make it, you know something now. You’re no longer a spectator. Because you’ve put in real, intelligent effort, and you have skills that the consumers and the critics who are only watching may have some idea about, but they don’t really know like you do. Because you decided to wade into the mess.

Congratulations. You’re no longer afraid to get dirty, afraid to fail, or too lazy to try.

You are in it now.

And this is where life gets good.

Who are you voting for?

When someone speaks reasonably about unreasonable things, they are either a genius, or a madman. Cast your vote carefully. If a person talks about spending money they don’t have, putting value in something that has no inherent value, taking away your liberties to fight an unseen enemy to protect your liberties, find another person to vote for. Gridlock ends when we elect people, from president to state rep, who will do the right thing, not follow what was done before because that’s the way things were always done.

Remember: There are many who are thinking just as you are.

Will this offensive cartoon determine how you vote?

Is this an offensive cartoon?

Thinking this way about Democrats is just as wrong as thinking that Republicans are selfish, judgmental moralists.

There are plenty of those people in both Parties.

This is funny because it is a cartoon, but it’s a lot less funny because it’s dividing us based on ideology…an ideology that I don’t see being put into practice by either party. Meanwhile, bigger issues are neglected as both parties are supporting deficit spending, market manipulation (see the last one’s disastrous result in 2008), and protecting us from unseen enemy by waging perpetual war and taking our right to trial (NDAA 2012)

What do you think is important in this year’s election?

Are you voting based on ideology or action?

How to get the job you love

Decide what you like, get good at it -if you’re not already- and then find the job.

The one way that is highly questionable to get you a job is having the government raise or lower people’s tax rates. Romney plans to create 12 million new jobs and Obama has given nearly trillion dollars to businesses to create more jobs. But you are a much bigger factor to getting a good job than what these guys are going to do. Much bigger.

Why?

Because seeking a top-down solution assumes the people on top know what’s good for everyone and they can anticipate what business and individual needs are, which sometimes change month to month…even day to day!

Quite an assumption to make.

It’s better not to assume and just do it yourself. And if you’re already doing it? Then help a brother or sister out. As a friend to them, you’re better at providing that empowerment to get them in a job than someone in an office somewhere who has no idea who your friend is.

Of course, the government spending could create jobs. How? The devil is in the details. The question is, who do you trust more: The government after their good intended actions brought down the housing market? Or yourself?

Let’s use our common sense to stop our leaders from driving our economic Mack truck into the ground. How much more do we need out of its engine? And how much more do we need out of ourselves?

Laws may fail us, but our morality will not

When government representatives allow immoral but technically legal corporate practices, are we being just as immoral in re-electing those same representatives back into office? Does more regulation help our moral standards or just focus on legal standards? Does it matter? Why do we need legal standards when the moral thing to do is not give our business to those who are doing wrong with our money?

The government announced that starting this month, they will be buying $40 billion worth of near worthless bonds from the Wall St banks every month to try to save the economy. Using our money.

Think it will work?

Willing to bet your retirement on it?

Because if you have a 401k, you already are.

Your strength is needed. Now…more than ever.

Some people think they know better than others. You know the type. They give advice on everything. They believe they have the system of do’s and don’ts that will work. They want what is best for you. And they believe they know what the best thing for you to do is. In fact, they think they know what is best for everyone.

Others believe it’s better for people to make their own choice. They believe people will strive, work, share, and care for others. Not because we’re forced to, but because in a stable system of laws, that is what we will do. They believe people should have the freedom to live how they want, but without hurting others. To choose what passion to follow, where to work, how much to pay, how much to get paid, what to buy, how to explore their own consciousness, and who to congregate with.

There are those who want a system of control because they want to protect people, not just from others, but protect them from making the wrong choices. They want to protect us from ourselves. They are cautious of people. Do they even trust people?

They like giving guidelines, and providing a program. They believe in a high standard of living, and they want everyone to have that standard, not just the opportunity for that standard, because they think everyone deserves it. And they will engineer a system using their formula of mandates that will get you this, regardless of how this effects the financial condition of the country. They will make it too affordable to pass up or they will cook it into the system so you have no choice.

These people truly want to help others.

And they believe they are the expert authority on that. And they believe in a central authority. Like a central bank that controls money, or a central insurance company that controls health care, or a central department of energy and agriculture to provide corporate welfare. Or a police authority that has taken our right to trial, so we can be arrested without charge.

Those who believe in people are different. They are courageous, because living an empowered life is damn scary. But that is why we are here. Not to make a perfect world, but to accept that life is not going to be perfect, and anything that is worth doing in life is risky. And caring about someone else is not about giving them something. It’s about being their friend and helping them face to face, not through a check delivered by a service taken from our paycheck.

We’re here to make choices, not have someone else make them for us.

We’re here to get hurt, mend, learn, and grow. And when we see someone else hurting, we’re here to extend our own hand and help them up. Not pay others to help them for us. Because people need to intimately know they are valued before they can do something of value. And because you cannot make someone care about you by forcing them to share with you.

We’re here to explore our passions and our own consciousness without being restricted on what we can do, unless it hurts another person.

We know that we cannot get as far alone as we can by joining others, but not in faceless networks. We’re here to share life in a community, because we must have the opportunity to learn that without guidelines or incentives, a rich life is one of honest collaboration with others.

We know that if we give leaders the authority to do things on behalf of us, we must remain aware of how they are using this power. And that we must stop them when we feel they are doing a disservice to us.

We know that we should treat everyone else how we would want to be treated. And so we act accordingly.

These people trust humanity to do the right thing.

Some might call these libertarian values.

But they are not.

They are called human values.

And I believe it is how we should live.

How to make your vote count

Many feel that money influences our representatives.

Many believe that elections are decided by money rather than votes. I think this is correct, but only in so much as we believe that is true and willingly throw our vote away or not vote. I know this because I was one of those who felt helpless and didn’t bother voting.

I was helping to creating an environment of hopelessness. An environment that promoted the idea that our neighbors are ignorant, dumb, and lazy. Then I realized something important. With this attitude, we will never elect any real change into office. We will think our personal vote doesn’t matter because it will be diluted by the mass of humanity who isn’t paying attention.

But I was wrong. I was more than wrong, in fact. I was part of the problem!

As much as people are focused on themselves and their wants and their opinions, they are also influneced by their environment. In fact, studies have shown if a person is given a test with an obvious answer, they will change their answer to the wrong one when they are put into a group of people who provide that wrong answer!

It is indeed true, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Devalue your vote and your fellow citizen’s capacity to do the right thing, and after a time, you will find that that is precisely the environment you live in.

Value that vote. Ask others how they’re voting. And why.

In Egypt (and Syria, and Tunisia, and Bahrain) people are rioting against military police because they don’t want to be told what to do by a dictator. They are being arrested without trial by secret police and being tortured because they want the right to vote.

Don’t throw your vote away.

The question to ask yourself is: What are the most important issues? And are the Democrats or Republicans addressing these issues, or avoiding them?

Remember, the power is still with us.

Engage. You don’t need to be an expert.

Do we talk to other people about what we’re doing? About what they’re doing? Do we ask why we do what we do..buy what we buy, bank who we bank with..eat what we eat..send our kids to the schools that we send them to, fund the wars that kill for goals we support? Do we not only talk, but do we listen to what they’re saying…and even more importantly, think about what they really mean?

Are we trying to be members of a community, or do we see everyone as doing their own thing, a zero sum game, as passengers on a ship out of our control? Or do we see ourselves as part of it, as responsible for it, unafraid of facing the problems of our society?

Why we don’t do these things is addressed by Meslin. He says: “As long as we believe that people, our own neighbors, are selfish, stupid or lazy, then there’s no hope.” We must recognize this, because it is the collective that is going to change things. And once we accept this, we must have a conversation.

Politics isn’t a bad word unless you’re using it to win an argument, or give yourself an identity. Politics, in fact, is probably the most important thing to talk about right now. Not partisanship…but politics. There’s only one thing more important, and that’s figuring out that you belong in the conversation because you’re not an island onto yourself. That’s what Obama meant, but couldn’t really express.

We’re not different than anyone else, regardless of what they’re doing out there. The guy between jobs, the CEO, or the small businessperson. We have the opportunity to decide because people believed so much in the idea that we’re all equal, that they were willing to die for a system that could give us the power to decide…and it DID give ALL OF US the power to decide. And we must decide, or else the institutions, corporate and government, they will do it for us. And I think these institutions have gotten too big to handle our needs. It’s up to us to start this conversation.

Now, it’s up to us.

Taking off the blinders requires learning how to ignore

I have trouble sitting down to work sometimes. My focus is on many things, and so it is on nothing. Then I realized how to let go. And it was more than simplifying and prioritizing. It was the realization that I needed to acknowledge and then ignore many things. In order to get stuff done, I needed to ask myself throughout the day, day after day, week after week: “What do you want? What are you doing?”

The other day, I was returning from the bathroom to continue my writing and saw the new handheld vacuum I had purchased recently. I like tools, and this was a bright, shiny new one. Soon, I was unplugging it, having just swept the kitchen. I stopped suddenly and thought, “What am I doing? Why am I not writing?”

Vigilance is key

Neil Gaiman has a great analogy for making tough decisions in life. If your goal is a mountain, make sure your decisions are taking you towards that mountain, not away. The mountaintop is far so it’s ok if it takes you a long time to get there, as long you’re making your way to it.

My experience would make me add this to his analogy, “Make sure you’re not circling that mountain, neither going towards it or away from it.” To this end, I think it’s vastly important to reiterate to ourselves, “What do I want? What am I doing?”

The day I started ignoring things was ironically the day I took the blinders off. I looked up from the solid foundation I was laying and noticed all the options that were open to me, from professional to social, and then I decided to stop and ask, “What do I want?” It is overwhelming, but the possibilities appear around you, and it is the first step towards accomplishing what you want.

The saying that ‘ignorance is bliss’ isn’t true. We’re not animals. To achieve bliss we must be conscious of our surroundings and taking a stand and making choices and adapting. And this requires taking the blinders off and asking ourselves repeatedly, “What am I doing? What do I want?”