Sing Me a Hateful Lullaby

Here we are in another political voting season. Against my better judgment, I decided to watch a debate online. For the most part it lived up to my expectations, but the thing that struck me was I didn’t personally like the candidate I’ll probably vote for. I wonder which candidate portrayed their authentic self? Should I vote on personality or solely on policy? Between the staged debates and endless back-and-forth commercials, I don’t know what’s real.

We’re in such an awful political climate right now, and have been for some time. Whether it ended up being Clinton or Trump, I said before the election that we’re all going to get what we deserve. The hateful rhetoric from both sides is disgusting. And both sides feel justified in their tone because they feel so strongly about the issues. YES, it’s from both sides.

John Adams is famous for predicting this problem by saying “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” But Jefferson argued that it’s the nature of man to be divided in opposition to each other. And that makes sense. We tend to be binary in most topics. Think back to arguments on the playground – how kids would congregate to one side or the other. Most questions and situations are responded to by Yes/No, Left/Right, Up/Down, Right/Wrong.

So to a large degree, opposition is natural and expected. It’s healthy, especially in government. The last thing we’d want is a single platform to rule unchallenged, without anyone questioning the logic, responsibility, or cost.

But rather than have open-minded conversations, we pick a side and sit on it. Like choosing teams for kickball – you’re either for us or against us. The President in charge gets the full support from his side and only opposition from the other. Trump actually seems to have had some exceptions to this where his party isn’t always in lock and step with him. But where his party falls short, his supporters make up in being even more solidified, blind defenders.

It’s like we enjoy the game. But how can so many people be so riled up all the time? Is it worth all the angst?

This article made me sad:

The tl;dr version is “Ten months after Inauguration Day, the trend is holding: For late-night hosts, being sharply critical of President Trump is a winning strategy.”

The author surmises that The Tonight Show ratings are shrinking because it focuses more on fun and games rather than harsh jokes. Other shows seem to be moving from monologues into lectures about the President, and from classic jokes into sarcasm and low-brow low-blows.

I’m not sad for Jimmy Fallon; I’m sure he’ll be just fine. And truth be told, if we happen to stay up and watch any late night show, it will most likely be The Tonight Show, but for the same reason this article says his ratings are going down. If I’m going to be up till 11pm (CST), I want something fairly mindless and entertaining to get me by until I decided it’s worth the effort to make it to the bed. Yes, only 11pm. Not 11:30 or later. There are only about two bands that I will stay up and risk a less-than-7-hour sleep to watch live.

What I don’t want, as I prepare for sleep, is a bedtime story about how ridiculously stupid, crazy, psycho our president is. (I could leave the name of the President out, and this blog will be relevant for years to come).

My wife insists for our kids go to sleep at night calm and happy. If at all possible, we try to avoid problems or arguments and let the kids go to sleep at peace. Marital advice commonly repeated is to never go to bed angry. One tip on how to get a better night’s sleep says not to check email late in the day in case there’s something to upset you.

We’ve all lost sleep being too upset at something. I’ve stayed awake making up fake conversations that will never happen. Why in the world then are late night shows getting ratings by people hungry for angry criticism? Is this really how people want to spend their last few minutes of consciousness for the day? Please, rock me to sleep with a snarky, hateful lullaby.

Gone are the days where politics were confined to the water cooler, barber shops, parking lots, and newspapers. Now we have Facebook algorithms creating echo chambers, and with every like and click Pavlov’s dog is asking for more. The last and first thing we see everyday is more of the same infighting.

I would like to do a better job at this myself, setting aside the first and last few minutes of the day as sacred.

To wake up like I would wake up a toddler “Good morning, sweetie. It’s time to get up. We’re going to have a great day.”

To go to sleep the same, “Did you have a good day? It’s time to lay down. Have sweet dreams.”

We should treat ourselves in the same manner. Tomorrow has enough trouble of its own. There’s no point in worrying about it the night before, or waking up full of tension. Days are full of homework, drama, politics, noise, news, disappointnents and excitements. Surely, we could reserve the bookend minutes for things more fitting.

Save the dawn for “good mornings”, hugs, slippers, peace, hot showers, and coffee.

Save the dusk for “good nights”, snuggles, music, pajamas, peace, and warm beverages.

Maybe if we all did that, our political conversations would naturally morph into ones where we cared more about the people we are talking to than the points made. Maybe I’d have a clearer mind and know who to vote for. Maybe I’d see the stark contrast between the extreme scenarios and crave more meaningful moments.

Our country could use more peace. People could use more sacred moments.

Election Day Mad Libs

By this [DATETIME], you know that [NAME] has been announced as the next President of the United States. Of course, not everyone is happy about this as some of you wanted [NAME] to be President. Most of us, it seems, weren’t crazy about [NAME] or [NAME], and might have voted for [NAME] just to keep a clear conscience. But alas, we’re stuck with [NAME] for the next 4 years and might as well get used to it.

My wife and I were discussing this a few days ago and how there doesn’t seem to be an ideal situation either way. She said, “If we get [NAME], we’ll have [ISSUE] to deal with. But even with [NAME], there’s still [ISSUE] and [ISSUE].” I replied, “I know! That’s not even mentioning the [ISSUE] that’s gotta be dealt with.”

The conversation became serious and meandered into worst case scenarios for either [NAME] or [NAME]. But since we had just talked about [ISSUE], I said that she shouldn’t worry too much, because it seems that [ISSUE] will mostly do its own thing regardless of the President. Sure [POLICY] might change things a bit, but overall we’re going to go on with life. With either [NAME] or [NAME], it’s still 300 million of us to one President. It’s just people don’t realize the power we have to make changes for the better. People don’t realize that we’ve been the ones keeping [ISSUE] on track and [ISSUE] from getting out of hand.

We had just finished watching a show with a scene about [ISSUE]. And she exclaimed, “What if nothing gets better with [NAME] as President?” And I said, “Well, there’s no guarantee that things won’t be worse with [NAME] either.” She snapped back “So, what do we do?!”

“WE do what’s right. WE be better tomorrow. We smile at the lady behind the counter. We say ‘Hi’ to strangers or visitors at church. You and I have never relied on the government to dictate how we act. The problems on a national level have little to nothing to do with us.

“We know where we fit in this world and how we can make an impact. You’re helping [ISSUE] and I’m involved with [ISSUE]. And soon enough, we’ll get back into foster care.” Which then went into a totally different topic about how and when we get back into foster care now that the baby is becoming a toddler. But at least we weren’t talking about [NAME] and [NAME] anymore.

I’m sure many have had a moment of paranoia thinking about the possibility of an apocalypse with [NAME] as President. But think about the past four years and how often you cared who was President when someone personally helped you. And how many missed opportunities did you have to be better, and would [NAME] have made that happen? Probably not.

Vote when you should vote. Speak when you should speak. Stand up when it’s time to stand up. Even if you think you’re the only one or that it won’t matter. But maybe it encourages one more to stand with you. And maybe that one becomes 3, or 30, or 300, or 3000. And then when 300 million are standing at the same time, that’s more than [NAME] will ever be able to accomplish as President.

But even if our country never gets to that kind of unity, standing up for one person is still more than [NAME] will ever do for them. [NAME] won’t matter to them; you will. And you had that kind of power all along.

The Paper Cut of Homelessness

As I write this I’m currently serving as an ‘innkeeper’ at our church’s Room In The Inn. It’s a city-wide program that gives shelter to homeless people at a network of churches through the winter months. They transport groups to that day’s locations, feed them, provide showers, supplies, laundry, cots, and, of course, a roof. Please do not think I’m giving myself a halo here, I pretty much signed up out of moral obligation, while wondering about how uncomfortable it would be.

And of course, reality hit me in a couple ways. First, I happened to notice my various thoughts and tasks on my way over here today:

It’s unseasonably warm, I’m almost sweating on my commute home
Need to remember to charge my phone ahead of time
Better grab my laptop to stay busy while everyone’s sleeping
I think I’m lightheaded from sitting at my desk too long today
Should get a snack to take with me
Should eat something before, who knows when we serve food
I’ll dress down so I don’t stick out
Do I take this pillow or that one?
This blanket or that one?
Maybe I’ll hit the local coffee shop in the morning

And then I realized, none of these guys would’ve had any of those thoughts.

Now, I know better than to look down on people. People are just people (for the most part). Same with these men. Some down on their luck, some struggling with their past, some just don’t have a support system. So I view my role as treating others as you would have them treat you. I don’t look at them with pity; I don’t see myself as high and mighty. They need a shower and a meal. I can be one of 15 volunteers to help with that.

The vans pull up and the men walk in like they’ve done this all winter. They know the drill better than I understand the written instructions. As it unfolds I’m just people-watching and trying to be available. They already know what they want to accomplish first. Some need a shower, some need clothes, some want to pick the prime sleeping spots. When dinner’s served they’re patient in line, and pause just a second to see if one of the plates has a slightly larger portion (I would too).

I must have done well with dressing down because I was mistaken as a guest instead of a volunteer. Three times by church members who didn’t recognize me, and at least once when a guest said, “you one of them or one of us,” before asking his question.

I took the opportunity to sit and eat with a few of the 24 men. They were in the middle of a political conversation and I knew my preconceived expectations were about to be flipped when the first comment I heard was “The responsibility is on the viewer to know whether the program they’re watching is news or opinion.” I nodded my head in agreement and perked up my ears.

They discussed the political race, “Rubio will drop out if he doesn’t win FL.”

They debated economics, “There were 270,000 jobs added last month; if you can’t find a job, that’s on you!”

They argued over war and gas prices, “OPEC controls the price of oil, it has nothing to do with the President.”

Race even came up: “Now I’m from California, I don’t see color.” “Of course you see color. And if you see me purple, you better be calling 911!”

I only wish I were able to transcribe the whole conversation between these four. One guy loved getting things riled up, the other almost couldn’t handle it and his friend quietly calmed him down, “you’re letting him get to you, you know better.”

Just delightful. I mostly nodded and chuckled. I failed at attempting to change the heated topic to sports with a “How ’bout them Titans!” They laughed but no one took the bait.

The rest of the night has been quiet. There are no less than five unique snores right now. I’m feeling a little uneasy. I know their lives have to be worse than they’re letting on, but maybe not. One said while defending the President, “Unemployment’s at 4.6%. You don’t see people starving on the streets. I mean, we’re in here, but somebody got money for this.” I know that I don’t have the ability to magically fix everything for them, whether or not I should even if I could. Because the point we’ve been tasked with isn’t ultimately to make sure everyone’s situation is pain-free. Pain is going to happen regardless of your financial state. My reaction to someone’s pain is the nucleus.

I heard a story (from radio’s “The Wally Show” I think), where they returned to a regular mission trip and told one of the locals “we’ve been praying for you.” To which the 3rd-world-country man replied “no, we pray for God to be with you. You have nothing but distractions and problems in America. Here… all we have is God.” It’s all about perspective. I thought about this recently when I heard a statistic about how few were afflicted with a certain illness. But if you’re the one with the illness, it’s a big stinkin’ deal to you! Doesn’t matter if it touches .01% of people. Your problem, no matter what it is, is still a problem.

Homelessness stinks. It’s as frustrating as hunger, which is as agonizing as depression, which is as sad as loneliness, which is as isolated as the death of a loved one, which is as debilitating as finding cancer, which is as empty as losing as a job, which to some threatens homelessness.

Paper cuts are the worst. Especially the bad ones. How can something so small hurt so bad? It controls your thoughts, can nearly immobilize you till the pain subsides, will annoy you till the skin fuses back together. I get shivers thinking about it. But no one would say that a papercut is worse than living in a shelter. “Would you rather have a paper cut or be alone and not know where you’re going to sleep and how you’re going to eat tonight?” Hand me the paper. But I know that tonight if I suddenly got a bad cut, these guys would stop and be concerned for me. They’re still just people. Good and bad like the rest of us. Willing and capable of giving and receiving friendship.

In one way or another, we’re all struggling with something. We’re tasked to love and show kindness. A roof or a bandaid means the world to the person who needs it.

The fruit of the Spirit (the outcome, the result, the action) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. 

Learning to say No

I am a Yes-Man to a fault. It’s so bad that I don’t even have to be asked to do something, I seem to just find myself getting involved. Sure it comes across as me helping, volunteering, or working hard. Makes me look good. But let’s be honest, sometimes it’s just my attention-needy ego. I don’t want to let people down by saying “No,” and I enjoy the occasional adoration by saying “Yes.” Being a Yes-Man will blow up in your face at some point. My time peaked around spring of 2014. I had a Full-time job, church drama, chamber of commerce, neighborhood association, a kid, kid’s school, wife, social media manager, foster care, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Semi-Finalist for World Championship of Public Speaking, and running for City Council. I list those things not to gloat (see narcissism above), but to show just how ridiculous I was in thinking I could actually do all those things well. I would advise you to not live your life in a similar fashion. In a culture where we’re deceived into thinking more is better, this is not the case, and here are a few reasons:

First, you will fail in all categories to a degree. There are 24 hours in the day. Mathematically there is only so much you can do. It is impossible to do everything you want to do; or in my case, everything I agreed to doing. To compensate, I tried to keep all the plates spinning in the air at the same time. Five minutes here, 20 minutes there. Never giving my full attention to any of the categories.

(I just indirectly called my wife a “category.” These accidents tend to happen when you over do it.)

As a result, you end up neglecting one of the items. I would try to squeeze everything in, or do double-duty. I’d practice my speech while knocking on doors for the council race. My mind was constantly on the race while at work. I would spend my after-work hours campaigning instead of being home. Then the next day I’d feel guilty for being away, and stay at home when I really should be out shaking hands and kissing babies. In the end, I lost the race but at least my wife’s happy, so draw your own conclusions. (Side note: my go-to joke while running was that I was out “kissing hands and shaking babies.” Yeah, don’t say anything, I know…)

Another risk is that you might lose respect or credibility. I don’t think I did with anyone, but I was on the verge. Sounds like the plot of a sitcom, where the main character tries to manage two dates simultaneously, hilarity ensues, but he ends up hurting both women. At any point someone might call your bluff, or at least demand the full amount promised. If that happened to me, I would have come up short. My forgiving wife was the only one to know how under water I really was.

Lastly, you’re not focused on what you really want to do. I can look at that list see that I should have dropped at least four of those things. I need a job, I love my family, after that…. what do I really want to do? If I removed the obligations, the social pressure, the ego, if I really could just do one of the things and do it well, which would it be?

To say “No” can be selfless. If you really can’t live up to the expectations or just don’t want to, be honest and allow the person asking to find someone who can. I was asked to be an officer for our local Toastmasters club, this was as my son was about to be born, so I said No. The current leadership is doing great and over the past few months I’ve realized how I can help the club in other ways. Participation in regular meetings is always a struggle and that’s totally something I can do. I’ve decided that I’m going to pursue getting a DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster accreditation) instead as part of my steps toward Public Speaking. Look! I said “No” and everything is OK! No one hates me, and we’re all better for it.

I suppose I ended up answering the “which would it be?” question for myself. It took buying a new house in a different county which forced me out of neighborhood roles, and having a baby gave me an excuse to slow everything else down. So here I am, testing the waters on public speaking. And loving every success and stumble (I stumbled today, more on that next time….)