Been two weeks since my last post, haven’t been happy with the “authorial voice” I’ve been using (which led to a lot of second-guessing, which led to a lot of not writing). A lot of my ongoing topics revolve around me living a “decision-based life”, which can sound kind of arch and consultant-y, when all I’m trying to do is illustrate that like any philosophy it applies to everything or nothing and that it’s a continuous process.
Enough palaver, have a couple of things bouncing around the copious vacuum between my ears, that I want to think out loud about. Warning: I’m a little hot under the collar about two of these topics – primarily because of how they highlight how boneheaded Americans can be – but I try to be civil and don’t use too many mean words!
Plans are Necessary…and Meaningless
I’m a planner. I don’t LIKE planning, but I like feeling successful, and there’s no better way to guarantee that feeling than knowing you took the time to think about what you’re doing and removing known obstacles. If you never feel disappointment, stress, anxiety or self-hatred feel free to ignore what I’m about to say. The fact that plans oft go awry is not a reason not to plan, it IS the reason to plan. If you want to save money, lose weight, be a great parent, be a trusted friend, advance in your career – in short if you desire anything, plan to get it.
Plans include a few basic elements; a statement of the thing you want to accomplish, acquisition of knowledge about how to achieve it, a deadline and a plan (using the knowledge you’ve acquired) of action. Then you take the action.
Can positive things happen if you don’t plan? Of course, don’t be a doofus – what I’m addressing is the psychology of waiting around for good things to happen, or conversely expecting minimal efforts to result in profound change. In other words, being a crazy person. Plans don’t guarantee success, but not planning guarantees you’ll feel like a victim. And victim-thinking leads to passivity, and passivity leads to bad psychology.
For an example, look at the ridiculous level of planning professional football teams put into researching opponents, then planning the game in advance. Do they think everything will go “according to plan”? No, they know that almost immediately they’ll have to adjust or scrap the plan based on the situation as it unfolds. Doesn’t that mean that planning is stupid? No, it means intelligent, outcome-focused planning is the best thing you can do to protect yourself (and your goals) against chaotic situations.
A tiny example of this you’ll see below in the “Coda”, I had a day planned, a large obstacle occurred, I executed my plan adjusting to the obstacle. Without my plan, I could have easily slipped into “woe is me” thinking and blown the whole day grinding my teeth and cursing the fates.
Wah! The Confederate Flag “Debate”
The United States is too rich, too fat and too stupid. On the one hand we’re capable of slowly turning a corner on something like civil rights – the recent decision on gay marriage could easily be interpreted as “citizens have equal rights”. Which is good, but we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back too much either. Excessive praise for what should be perfunctory actions tends to make other perfunctory actions look monumental and hard to achieve.
This came to mind when the racially motivated church murders in South Carolina brought attention to the fact that the flag of the confederacy flies over it’s state capital. I’m sure I knew this somewhere in the recesses of mind, but there’s a lot of things up there and states doing stupid things (I’m looking at you Texas) don’t tend to stick out.
Perhaps I’m missing some vital piece of the puzzle, but is there a material difference between SC flying that flag and, say, Saxony in Germany deciding to fly the swastika? I’m not saying that to be incendiary, I’m saying that because it’s obvious.
States doing things is different than individual citizens doing things. States = everybody, so honoring THE symbol of a murderous, slave-loving secessionist movement while participating in the Union it sought to annihilate (beyond the cognitive dissonance) is just stupid. Removing the flag is an easy decision. It was an easy decision in 1865 when the corpses were still fresh, yet here we are.
Individuals can make the decision to stars n’ bar’s the hell out of their Dukes of Hazzard Dodge Charger’s, hats, or belt buckles all they want. In the same way they’re free to carve swastikas into their foreheads, or tattoo racist slurs on their skin – and we as fellow citizens are free to shun them. Just because a bunch of old (and young) crackers moan about losing their heritage, doesn’t mean they should be listened to.
There aren’t two sides to every argument – torturing animals is bad, pedophilia is bad and whitewashing the evils of the past is bad (no matter how great a mint julep they made or how snappy their outfits were).
Speaking of the sad horror visited on the bible study group at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston – I’m struck (as I have been for more than a decade of this in our modern multimedia age) at how the only response seems to be “get rid of guns” and “don’t get rid of guns”. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it now – we don’t have a gun problem, we have a murder problem in no way helped by the ease of access to firearms.
I did a quick, unscientific comparison using the data on the Wikipedia murder page – I had to add up the top eight Western European countries to get roughly the same population number – the U.S. wins with 14,827 murders to the paltry 2,954 Europeans can manage for the same number of citizens. Can this exclusively be because of gun laws? I don’t think so.
In the U.S., with the exception of the Civil War (see above to see how seriously we take the lessons of things like war) we haven’t had up-close, large-scale murder sprees in our streets or raining down from the skies, nor had to bear witness to the aftermath. We’re a big country, we can (and do) hide away the trauma of mass killing, not so in Europe’s case. They had to “deal” with all of it, the futility (WWI), the loss, the horror, the privation. It doesn’t surprise me that they’re less likely to turn to murder as dispute resolution. It’s the same reason soldiers don’t glorify war.
We’ll always have crazy people that kill, there’s no solution for that, but would dropping murder rates to European levels (roughly 11,873-ish fewer dead per year) be a worthwhile goal? I think so, but it ain’t gonna happen with people beginning and ending possible solutions arguing about guns.
Short of a war on our soil, is there any potential to lower the murder rate? I ain’t no Pollyanna, but we might start with education and see where that gets us. Americans used to smoke the hell out of cigarettes but consumption has fallen by more than half since 1965, due in large part to the Surgeon General’s report. Just because something’s bad for us isn’t a strong indicator we’ll change, but knowledge, combined with social pressure over time can move the needle. The complexity of the social change can’t be overstated, our fiction, our traits we find attractive in humans, our international conflict resolution, our definition of what a “win” is would all have to shift.
It’s been a long time since the Apollo missions, and there’s worse things we could put our collective energies towards than improving how we treat each other.
Saturday morning I woke to find the brakes on my truck were toast! Saturday is the only day I use my truck, and Saturday’s are a vital component to making the rest of my week run smoothly (food, cooking, clothing, etc.). It didn’t help that Saturday was also a mini-Armageddon of rainstorms making foot travel more of an issue. Nothing to do but deal, so I limped the homicide-vehicle over to the local shop then started a continuous series of adjustments as I endeavored to accomplish everything I had planned while also dealing with the new variable of getting the truck repaired. Which I did (not without a lot of zigging and zagging).
Reminding me of the importance of embracing the paradox of being both manically focused on outcome and super flexible on how to get there. (Not to mention the value of saving money – if this same incident had happened to me years ago it would have wrecked me mentally and financially).