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Sunday, August 28, 2011

The adult version of “What I learned on my summer vacation “

Summer is almost over and I am taking this opportunity to reflect on some recent happenings of the last few months, both in my personal life and the world in general. And what a summer it has been!
The past few months have been more eventful and action-packed than I can begin to describe. Here in the United States, our government has certainly had a tumultuous summer to remember. Wall Street has seen its share of drama. The weather and other natural disasters has caused billions of dollars in damage and thousands of lives lost. Within this last week there have been earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and tropical storms pounding the east coast.
Globally, there is economic and political disaster looming in many nations. There are wars and famine and revolutions happening at this very moment. People are dying by the millions of hunger, disease, political, religious and ethnic violence. The past few months have witnessed bloody unrest, danger, fear and misery to multitudes of human beings. You don’t have to be a philosopher for all of these occurrences to give a person pause to think about these events and what they mean.
"Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating."
- Karl Von Clausewitz
“Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.” - Eckhart Tolle

“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” - Lao Tzu

Wiser people than I have written these words and the thoughts and message conveyed are timeless and apply to everyone. But how, in the face of all the recent tragedy and loss, can these sentiments be true or even rational?  

As we reflect on the turmoil that this summer has wrought, and the upheavals which have been taking place, we should perhaps focus on something bigger than ourselves and the immediate circumstances that can give us some measure of hope; or even the possibility of a belief in the greater good in the world. Perhaps in order to find some intellectual meaning or understanding in the “who, what, where and when” of recent events, we have to look within our own soul and our mind for the answer. But how do we find peace and calm amid the chaos and terror?

Life is not fair. It took me a long time to digest that old platitude. It seems so unbalanced and cynical, but in fact, it is staggeringly simple in its truth and complexity. Why and how is it that during a natural disaster, one house is smashed to bits and all contained inside are killed while across the street, there is no damage and all inside are safe and sound? How do we find a way to make sense of that random situation with such a tragic outcome? Well, that’s tricky.

Many people, me included, find comfort and solace in their spiritual faith and belief in a higher power. Some people find their comfort in thinking things out philosophically or practically. And some will simply have to find a scapegoat or become jaded, angry and cynical in order to quench their need find understanding or acceptance.
When all is said and done, each of us travels his or her own path to acceptance and understanding of the way the world works and the mysteries that occur every day. It is a daily struggle for most attempting to work through all the events that happen in our lifetime.

What I do believe and have come to understand, is that life- as terrifying, sad, unfair or heartbreaking on the worst day- is also filled with moments of sublime joy, astonishing beauty and unforgettable goodness. The triumph of the human heart and spirit, in the face of brutality, misery and suffering, is enough to strengthen even the most hardened person and inspire hope in the most hopeless. You simply have to open up and allow yourself to accept and have the courage to believe.

These recent events, which have brought so many people, from so many places, worry and pain, are simply a part of our imperfect world and the imperfect people who populate it. The natural disasters, while daunting and destructive, have no agenda or malice. They simply are.

Perhaps we must learn to accept that these events are a part of life, as are the individual disappointments and tragedies we encounter in our daily personal lives, in the tiny corners of the world that we encounter every day.

So, as I end my “summer vacation”, I am attempting to learn from the past few months and be as grateful, serene, compassionate and mindful of the good things, the just things, the blessings, joys and miracles around me. And to also accept the sad, tragic and disruptive without allowing the latter to drive me to cynicism, anger, or despair. Life is a beautiful and precious gift- imperfect and painful- yet priceless beyond measure.

What I have learned, and continue to learn, is that it is best to live each day as if it were your last. Love and forgive as if there was no tomorrow. And practice compassion and caring as if the world depended on it… because it does.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What does a facebook status say about the face behind it?

Facebook, it would seem, is much more than a social media tool or a means to connect with friends- it is a litmus test and a mirror.
Consider what kinds of insights a person’s facebook status convey about that person. I think it is far more revealing than many people even notice. And inversely, what does it say when a person never has ANYTHING to say in their status? The silence also speaks volumes. In a typical year, it would be fascinating to analyze what an individual wrote each day, or didn’t, in their facebook status.
Facebook asks, “WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND?” in the status box. So, what IS on your mind? And not just IN your mind, what are you DOING that is important enough to share with all your friends and family?
 Let’s consider:
Is it always the same theme or situation?
How often are statuses negative, bitchy, or nasty?
Are statuses filled with inappropriate words, comments or questions?

How many times does alcohol present on a facebook status?
If a supervisor or co-worker saw the status, could it affect the workplace or job?
Is there a daily litany of complaints, problems or crises?
What is the ratio between positive and negative statuses?
Is facebook being used as a pseudo therapist for venting extreme anger or impulsive rants?

What is the motivation behind the statuses? Is it being used to dig at a person or hurt someone's feelings?
Does the person posting have any idea of how their status is going to be received?
I believe balance is key to using facebook as a means to connect with people on a personal and professional level.  A person should exercise thoughtful consideration and not impulsiveness when posting anything on the internet.

Having the false sense of security because you have set your facebook settings to private is truly laughable in this age of super hacking and the ability to copy material which can be forwarded.
There really isn’t any privacy on the internet and it is foolish, na├»ve and dangerous to have a false sense of security.  Assuming you have real privacy on the internet is a denial of reality.  It can be a costly and embarrassing mistake in judgment.
One doesn’t have to be paranoid or feel afraid if common sense, a little restraint and maturity are applied.  Obviously, explicitly ranting about one’s boss or clients can risk serious alienation, loss of a job or business; and actually seems a bit "over the top" to most people viewing it. It’s probably NEVER a good idea to post something about a loved one or friend in the heat of the moment. It may not be able to be “taken back” later.
Looking in the facebook mirror, and what is behind the status, can say a great deal more than one would think. It can be a study into that individual’s life, values, thought-processes, personality and intelligence and lifestyle and say far more than anything else you may know about them.

And as I said before, for those people who have facebook and have absolutely NOTHING to say, share or interact, I wonder why they even bother. Is lurking and watching others the extent of their existence? Do they have absolutely nothing to say or nothing “on their minds”? I find it astounding and a bit perplexing. 
While I believe it is more prudent to say nothing if you haven’t anything good or positive or interesting to say, in my opinion, perhaps it would be a good idea to DO SOMETHING and take a chance. Post a status, participate, join in.  Isn’t that the whole point of the application? Sharing and participating is the reason people join in the first place.  
I love facebook because it is a snapshot into the workings of the human mind, psyche and the way individuals communicate with one another. It has the power to do many great things, and it can be a platform for truly bad behavior. I like to err on the side of positive, kind, good and prudent. Of course we all have our bad days and it is a wonderful place to share our pains, sorrows, disappointments and annoyances.

I believe that moderation and balance are essential to an online life. THINK BEFORE YOU POST and don’t say ANYTHING about anyone you wouldn’t say on the front page of The Washington Post. You never know if or when it might turn up there.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Write and wrong: The tragic state of grammar in our nation today

For reasons I can’t begin to understand, there is a language crisis in this country, and I am not talking about people who don’t speak English. I am calling out the native speakers- people born in this country, into families who have lived here for generations. People with last names like Smith, Jones, Williams, and Thomas. There is an epidemic of epic proportions. It seems we are losing the war on poor grammar.
Even with more people using electronic devices which have spell checker, proper spelling has become a lost art. Grammar and usage are practically on the endangered species list and the spoken word is in such a sad state, it is almost at the failed state level. We are losing our ability to communicate properly even though more people are communicating in the world today than at any other time in history. What is going on?
I work in the communication field and I see examples of this constantly. Perhaps I am more attuned to the uses and abuses that seem to multiply each year. Sadly, many of the errors go unnoticed as more and more people are joining the ranks of Americans who can’t speak or write proper English. 
I suppose there is apathy towards proper communication which has carried over to all levels of society. There doesn’t seem to be any value on correct communication. I am very saddened by this development and I believe it has a terrible impact on our nation and culture.

I suppose regional idioms and expressions will always be with us, and that is somewhat understandable, even quaint. But the lack of pride or concern for one’s ability to communicate in a professional, educated or intelligent manner is one of the reasons that we are dumbing-down our workforce and lowering the standards because there are so many offenders doesn’t seem to be a valid solution.
Here are a few of the most common errors courtesy of Wikipedia:
Common misspellings
Error → Correction.
(Ordered by commonness.)
·         "alot" → "a lot". This error is so commonly made in internet forums that the blog Hyperbole and a Half wrote an extensive and satiric post on the topic.
·         "can not" → "cannot"
·         "it's"1 versus "its"
·         "who's"1 versus "whose"
·         "lets" (3rd person present simple active form of the verb "to let" as in: "Bill lets his son use his credit card") versus "let's" (contraction for "let us" as in: "Let's go to the store.")
·         "everyday" is only an adjective meaning common, ordinary, quotidian. But "every day" (two words) is the adverb (or to be precise, the adverbial phrase) meaning "daily." This mistake is found depressingly often in commercials and signs inside stores.
·         "todo" → "to do"
·         "upto" → "up to"
·         "ofcourse" → "of course"
·         "allright" or "alright"2 → "all right"
·         "allways" or "all ways"3 → "always"
·         "they're" versus "their"
·         "theirselves" → "themselves"
·         "affect" versus "effect"
·         "buisness" → "business"
·         "pronounciation" → "pronunciation"
·         "arguement" → "argument"
·         "definately", "definetely", … → "definitely"
·         "ressource" → "resource"
See Wikipedia:List_of_common_misspellings for countless others.
1 "It" and "who" are pronouns, not nouns. Therefore when they are used as possessives, they are not written like contractions "it's" ("it is") and "who's" ("who is").
2 "Alright" is a nonstandard spelling that has become heavily used due to its analogy with similar contractions such as "always" and "almighty". Wikipedia prefers standard writing.
3 "All ways" is only written "always" if you are not referring to "all possibilities." (E.g., "She is better than he in all ways" is correct, as is "She is always better than he.")
But even Wikipedia leaves off some of the most annoying errors. I’m referring  to the ones that make my ears bleed when I hear them. Here are three current top annoying errors that I encounter more than I should:
·         Nothing instead of Anything. Example: “I don’t know nothing about that.”- I know this seems impossible to believe, but I swear I hear this at least three times a week from someone.

·         Improperly using “I” instead of “me”. Example: “Please contact Mary or I if you have any questions.” – Some people think this sounds smarter and are absolutely sure they are correct.
·         Using the word “at” to end a sentence. Example: “Where are the car keys at?”- I know this one may seem picky, but it is one of my hugest annoyances. It simply sounds awful.
I could go on, but I am sure it is clear where this is going. I don’t claim to be “Grammar Girl” or an expert in the field of English, but I can’t help but notice when people with advanced degrees massacre sentences, pronunciation and usage of the language. Their primary language! It is disturbing and disconcerting, to say the least. Is it laziness, apathy or just a devil-may-care attitude? I don’t understand it at all.
It isn’t just the written word. It is the spoken word too. I sat in a meeting of about 20 people recently where one of the people giving their report to the group ACTUALLY used the word SUPPOSITORY instead of REPOSITORY.  And the worst part was how few people noticed. How is this possible?
Both my parents are English as a Second Language (ESL) people and THEY speak English better than many native speakers I know and work with. Which leads me to my main point-Is this laziness or stupidity? Why doesn’t shame have any impact on this issue?

Many years ago, people wanted to better themselves by improving their language skills. People were embarrassed by being uneducated and they worked hard to improve their speaking and writing abilities.  Now it seems that it is almost a badge of honor to speak with slang and improper grammar. Is it a rebellion or some other attempt to seem “cool”? It isn’t working. It’s actually sad and unsettling when a person who has had a chance at an education still can’t manage to speak or write correctly in a professional setting.
How is it that college- educated people are writing and speaking on the level of 12 year olds? If a professional person can’t convey a simple message without a grammatical error, something is broken in our education system that needs an emergency infusion of grammar and a back-to-basics overhaul of teaching proper speech.

Even in the electronic age where everyone is emailing and texting, we still need to be able to put down thought on paper or speak to people with intelligence and proper language. We need to bring pride and value back to the way we speak and write before we become a nation of writing and reading illiterates.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Politics wouldn’t be such a dirty business if it weren’t for the politicians

 I feel like Chicken Little. It seems that the sky is falling. It must be true because I keep hearing it on the news and in every newspaper.

So many people are confused, outraged and indignant over the state of our nation, our elected officials, and what is going on in Washington. People are so busy pointing fingers, they don't know where to lay the blame. It seems there is enough blame to go around.

Before I begin, I will state that I NEVER discuss politics in public. It usually isn’t prudent or polite unless you work in that field. Politics is such a divisive, caustic and potentially offensive subject, it is like walking through a mine field. Let’s face it, politics is a dirty business. Why? Because politics is about power and ego. Once you bring those two forces into any situation, there is bound to be trouble.

All over the social networks people are asking questions about our elected officials, like- “How can educated people, with advanced degrees, and impressive resumes be this stupid or malicious?” “Why do they (the other party from the one they like) want to ruin the country?” "I didn't vote for that person, so don't blame me!"

I am not a political scientist, but I have been around my share of politics and politicians. A lifetime ago, in a galaxy far, far away- not really, but a different marriage- I was a “political candidate’s wife”. But that’s another story. Trust me, it’s a nasty business. Have you ever met a former smoker who reviles smoking as if it were the most heinous habit on the planet? That’s how I feel about politics and politicians.

In my limited experience, the tiny bit of good I saw paled in comparison to the ugly, unpleasant, fake and nasty. I am sorry if that sounds unpatriotic, jaded or bitter, but sometimes when you have gotten too close to a fire, the heat doesn’t feel as good and you begin to notice the burning sensation.
All of our current elected officials have one huge thing in common. They ALL started out as politicians.
For the sake of civility, I will caveat the next opinions by including the disclaimer of “most” before the statements I make. I don’t want to be an extremist in anything.
So, in my opinion and experience “most” POLITICIANS:
  • Live in a world of smoke and mirrors
  • Believe their own hype
  • Will do anything, say anything and actually BELIEVE anything that gets them to that goal
  • Would walk over their families and closest friends to achieve their goal
  • Can rationalize any behavior
And, I believe, “most” politicians one and only REALITY is:
Which then translates and morphs into:
  • I  must win for the good of (again, fill in the blanks)
  • I  want to be in power
  • I  NEED to be in power
  • I  am the RIGHT person for the job
  • I  want to have my hand in what is going on
Politics is a world of wishful thinking, forced reality and rationalization. Education doesn't equal experience, intelligence, common sense or reason. Look how many elected officials wreck their lives with excruciatingly poor decisions, reckless behavior, and bad choices. The list of elected officials involved in financial scandals, sex scandals, felonies, misdemeanors, personality disorders grows each year. So please tell me, how is it that we are supposed to believe that they can run our nation or their own lives any better than one of us could?
Politicians aren’t any different than any of us, except “most” of them become drunk with power once they acquire the power and the means to act in incredibly irresponsible, irrational, and often times, criminal ways. I am not going to call out examples of specific names or crimes or incidences. We all know who and what they are. Many people think "their politicians" are the good guys and the other politicians are the bad guys.

Often people make excuses for the politicians in their own party because to criticize or call them out would be seen as disloyal or subversive. Another example of the dirty aspect of politics I can't abide.

Making excuses for the politician your party endorses no matter what. Seems a bit dishonest, doesn't it? This is one of the main reasons why I refuse to choose party affilliation anymore. There are good, and bad, on both sides of the aisle. Attempting to come close to one's own personal ideology or voting for the least offensive person is, in my view, the only sensible way to chose someone to vote for. By and large, these days the pickings are very slim.

Dirty politicians can be so protected by their constituents and party loyalists that even when they habitually make grave mistakes, errors in judgment or break the law(s), (ahem, D.C.)  for some inexplicable reasons, they  manage to be elected and RE-ELECTED for decades! Perhaps many of their constituents like having a "leader" they can relate to, even if it means they are criminals and charlatans.
Perhaps this seems like a cynical and negative rant. Perhaps it is. No different than any rant you will read daily in any newspaper Opinion section. This side calls out that side. This party calls out the other party. It is a never-ending litany of complaints, judgments and rhetoric. For me it is easy. Generally, “most” of them stink. The whole business stinks.
So in ending, I will say this- Politics corrupts the very people it employs. I am not saying that all of our current elected officials or politicians are evil people with malicious intent. Far from it. But the nature of the business creates an air of entitlement and supremacy.In general, it is about power, not service.

Perhaps it once was, though I am skeptical because human nature is human nature. History bears this out. The truly good and great ones were never as truly good or great as they were portrayed. They had their agendas and ego issues. They may have had moments of greatness, but by and large, politics is, and always will be pursued by those who love power and don’t know how to use it wisely. 
And that’s my opinion, take it or leave it. And if you don't like it, don't vote for me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Say What I Mean but I Don't Say it Meanly: When memories keep us stuck in the past, we can't ...

I Say What I Mean but I Don't Say it Meanly: When memories keep us stuck in the past, we can't ...: " “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. “ – Henry David Thoreau When I am drivin..."

When memories keep us stuck in the past, we can't enjoy the present

 “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. “ – Henry David Thoreau
When I am driving in my car and I look in my rear view mirror, I often think of Lot's wife. I know that may seem odd, but I have a great deal in common with "Mrs. Lot". (Whose name, for extra points, was Ado or Edith). 
I am not a particularly biblical person, despite my many years of Catholic school training, but I have always been fascinated with the story. Poor Edith was turned to a pillar of salt because she looked back. I understand she did so after being warned not to, but it is so easy to become hypnotized by what is behind us and so difficult to move forward. I know I have an unfortunate tendency to ruminate on sad memories or past misfortunes. It isn't that I enjoy torturing myself or being unhappy, far from it. I am an extremely upbeat and positive person... most of the time. But the siren's song of thinking of the past, and replaying those terrible memories like old newsreels can become a near compulsion at times.
I am an extremely analytical person. This is a blessing and a curse. Blessing because I can sort through problems and situations and come up with thorough and productive answers to questions, problems, and situations. I enjoy the challenge of working through the task, doing my research and knocking it out. The problem is that in my private life, I do this to a fault. I
verb (used with object), -lyzed, -lyz·ing.
to separate (a material or abstract entity) into constituent parts or elements; determine the elements or essential features of ( opposed to synthesize): to analyze an argument.
to examine critically, so as to bring out the essential elements or give the essence of: to analyze a poem.
to examine carefully and in detail so as to identify causes, key factors, possible results, etc.
to subject to mathematical, chemical, grammatical, etc., analysis.
to psychoanalyze: a patient who has been analyzed by two therapists.
Sounds great, doesn't it? Or does it? Perhaps for intellectual pursuits or a job, but too much analysis in one's personal life is a path to pain and depression.
Living happily and serenely in the present moment is a discipline I aspire to every day. I cherish the memories I have made through the years, but looking back too much, as Edith- Lot's wife, discovered is perilous and may become one's undoing. I would rather not be turned to a pillar of salt, and I would rather not focus on all my yesterdays because there is no changing them. I can stare in that rear view mirror of my life for the rest of my days, analyze it all till I breathe my last breath, and what will it do? Nothing.
Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is yet to come. Living in the present moment and focusing on what we have and are and do- right now. Putting the past behind is not dishonoring the lessons, wisdom or experience it has brought with it. Simply allowing one's focus to remain in the "here and now" and to gently push away the yearning to analyze or attempt to make sense of things that are long gone.
Giving memories too much significance, especially losses, mistakes or things that were out of our control, is discouraging, destructive and pointless. None of it can be altered or restored. I must leave it where it is- in my history, in my memories, in the past. I am a work in progress and this is one of my greatest struggles... letting go. It is scary to let go, but it is scarier to clutch on to things, people, and even memories that prevent us from moving to tomorrow.