Tag Archives: Kindness

We Interrupt This Broadcast

interrupt this broadcast

 

Hey guys.

I’ve never written a Purpose Statement for MBTTTR, but if I ever do, I imagine it will be something close to this:

To use honest storytelling as a tool to help people achieve healthy, lasting relationships by raising awareness of uncomfortable truths regarding the things commonly causing divorce and human conflict. To courageously demonstrate personal accountability with hope that others will too. To challenge the status quo. To fight for people, all of whom have intrinsic, immeasurable value and are capable of intensely heroic, beautiful and inspiring things. To encourage men to be great. To encourage all to choose hope.

A Peek Into My Life

I’m just one guy. Divorced with a shared-parenting agreement. I’m 37, but you’d never know it from my behavior patterns.

I’m looking around at piles of papers and unopened mail and unread books on my kitchen counter. There’s a frying pan on my stove top that I didn’t clean after cooking breakfast for my son and I yesterday.

We had a Cleveland Indians-themed (Go Tribe!) casual day at work Friday and I waited until that morning to hunt around my house for the Indians hoodie I wanted to wear. I couldn’t find it, until I went down into my basement laundry room and realized it was one of three sweatshirts matted down and covered in cat hair because my old pet cat Eli used to lay there all the time.

And that would be all well and good except that Eli died the day before Thanksgiving LAST YEAR.

I wake up in the morning and I go to a job for more than 40 hours per week. At that job, I have many meetings and things to do.

Additionally, I am a partner in a young digital marketing agency which we started last year, and is now officially the thing taking most of my time.

I have a little boy at home with me 50 percent of nights and weekends. A child who has homework assignments, food and clothing and bathing needs. A child who needs lunches packed, haircuts, and new clothes.

During the rare moments we are not doing things we MUST do, he craves his father’s attention very much.

My life is:

  • Wake up.
  • Go to work to pay for house, vehicle, child needs.
  • Build business in effort to create more flexible lifestyle.
  • Write here, when possible.
  • Repeat.

Things like grocery shopping, lawn mowing, house cleaning, and laundry steal time from these things. Traveling steals time from these things. The now-ultra-rare social/family event steals time from these things.

I want no sympathy. I choose to have a full-time job. I choose to grow my side business. I choose to write here.

If I want things to change, I’m responsible for making different choices. (The idea is that once my agency is my full-time work, some of these time constraints will vanish.)

This is not meant to convey that anyone should feel sorry for me. Not by a long shot.

It is meant to help you understand a little more what my life looks like.

Which brings us to…

The Comments-Section Shit Show

I do not possess the powers of omnipresence.

I don’t even possess the powers of people with average attentiveness skills.

I am a highly disorganized ADHD-diagnosed, divorced single dad who is NEVER caught up. With anything. Ever.

What that means is, I don’t see each and every comment that comes into this blog. And when I DO see comments, I am mostly seeing them out of context on my phone’s WordPress mobile app. It’s a back-end admin tool, and things don’t look anything like what they do when seeing them on your computer or phone.

So, if you read something and think to yourself: Isn’t Matt seeing this?! WTF?, there’s a pretty good chance I haven’t.

Because, I assume, the kind of people who tend to be dickless wankers in internet comments don’t often read 1,500-word blog posts about relationship-related things, the comments section of this blog has never had any problems.

Until recently.

And as a STAUNCH advocate of free speech, I’ve always been inclined to let comments stand. I’ve been called plenty of bad things, and those comments are easy enough to find if you feel like reading through 4,000+ on the dishes post, or any of the predictably cliché blame-shifting ones from butt-hurt guys in the Shitty Husbands posts.

That’s a personal belief. That truth matters. That we must navigate life even when we don’t “like” things.

I live in the United States where every time a president is elected half of everyone is pissed off. And I feel like you can be the kind of person who takes their ball and goes home when things don’t go your way, OR you can take responsibility for helping people see things your way, so that maybe next time, the candidates who share your smarter, better ideas can win.

We MUST navigate life even when conditions aren’t optimal. Conditions are rarely optimal.

Thus, I’ve been ultra-hesitant to silence voices in blog comments simply because I disagree with them or simply because others don’t like them.

This is where I write. Plenty of people have not liked things I’ve written. But I’m not going to stop, nor change what I’m writing to placate anyone who doesn’t like my ideas.

But Then There’s This Other Thing

Despite my many shortcomings, I’m self-aware.

I KNOW that I don’t know many, many things. I KNOW that I’m statistically likely to be wrong about all kinds of things.

So, when I cringe at things I read in certain comments AND dozens of people share my reactions, it’s all very hard to ignore.

I am divorced today because I denied my wife’s right to her own reality. I repeatedly told her throughout our relationship that her emotions and thoughts were “wrong” or “crazy” or “unfair.”

And I am afraid that my instincts to stand up for the rights of people to say unpopular things may be the wrong choice here.

So, Here’s How It’s Going to Be

I’m pissed about this.

I have enough life problems and tasks. And that I have to babysit these comments and take crap from people for my lousy moderation is aggravating.

To be crystal clear on this, I’m NOT saying people don’t have legitimate gripes. The gripes are totally legit. I’m saying people have unrealistic expectations.

I’m both unable and unwilling to moderate these comments to the level required.

There have been tens of thousands of comments left on this blog since it launched in June 2013, and until now, there hasn’t been problem.

But now there is.

How We Say Things Matters

One commenter in particular leaves unpopular comments with regularity. I equate this commenter to the guy I used to see standing up on park benches outside my university’s student union screaming judgments at people walking by.

He’d hold up the Bible and yell at sorority sisters, calling them lesbian whores who will burn in hell. He’d yell at groups of friends minding their own business telling them they’re frat-boy sinners who need saved.

As a baptized Christian and churchgoer, I think there is merit believing in—and living for—things greater than yourself. In loving other people and ourselves. In pursuing truth and trying to live a meaningful, spiritually healthy and balanced life.

But that guy standing up on the bench? EVEN IF every word of the Bible is 100% true, the reality of life is that you can’t communicate with human beings in that manner and expect them to listen to you. If his goal was to GENUINELY “save” people and introduce them to his faith in an effort to help people discover Truth, he was never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going to accomplish it by calling people sinners and whores.

Jesus, not one time in any recorded text, treated people that way nor taught anyone else to.

Thus, misrepresenting the faith is either an accidental disservice to good Christians, OR a deliberate attempt to fuck with people under the guise of trying to “save” them.

Either way, I don’t like it.

We have a commenter here who kind of, sort of, does that same thing. He believes certain things and shares them. Maybe he’s genuinely trying to help people consider an alternative perspective. Or maybe he’s deliberately fucking with people under the guise of trying to be “helpful.”

Either way, NO MORE.

I would—under no circumstances—allow that asshole preacher guy to stand outside of my house and yell at people visiting my home, my neighbors, or the people walking or driving down the street. Free speech, be damned.

Moving forward, if someone I know to be aware of this post and nonsense side drama writes anything that violates this…

To use honest storytelling as a tool to help people achieve healthy, lasting relationships by raising awareness of uncomfortable truths regarding the things commonly causing divorce and human conflict. To courageously demonstrate personal accountability with hope that others will too. To challenge the status quo. To fight for people, all of whom have intrinsic, immeasurable value and are capable of intensely heroic, beautiful and inspiring things. To encourage men to be great. To encourage all to choose hope.

I’m deleting the comment just as soon as I’m aware of it.

I’ll have tolerance for people who might not know better.

I’ll have little tolerance for people who intentionally engage, or bait, or flame someone whose ideas they disagree with.

It’s totally possible to read things on the internet and not reply to them.

It’s IMPORTANT to understand the perspectives of people who think differently than we do, because we get to use that information to correct false beliefs, or reinforce existing ones.

But in the end, all I’ve ever asked for is basic decency and kindness, and that’s apparently too hard for some.

Life tip: When 30 people tell you the things you say are indecent and unkind, it’s an indication of a problem.

I think Louis CK said it best: “When someone tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

There’s Gonna Be Some Changes Around Here

iron fist

(Image/YouTube)

I’ve been forging my shiny new iron fist and intend to wield it mercilessly on properly informed violators.

The purpose of blog comments is to provide a tool for feedback and the exchange of ideas. As a staunch opponent of censorship, and a strong proponent of free speech, I have intentionally avoided anything resembling the policing of comments.

For most of Must Be This Tall To Ride’s existence, the posts were little more than ultra-personal, first-person stories, leaving comments that might be deemed “offensive” in the camp of being critical of my ideas or insulting me.

I’ve always been okay with that, and I’m still fair game. But other people are not.

Things are different now. Human beings—real people—most of whom are kind, conscientious and respectful of others, are having ongoing conversations in the comments that live beneath MBTTTR posts. In certain respects, it has become a living, breathing community.

Communities have guidelines. Established and agreed-upon codes of conduct designed to protect the community and cultivate an environment where its members can thrive.

By allowing community members or visitors to knowingly violate the spirit and principles of the community, the community will eventually cease to exist because all of the principled people with healthy values and boundaries will find a better way to spend their time.

MBTTTR community members have always, and will always, come and go.

But it can never again be because someone who doesn’t represent the core values, mission and purpose of this place is poisoning the well.

What that means is, moving forward, if someone knowingly poisons the well, I’m going to stick my digital iron fist directly up their ass and ask them to leave.

The Case for Being Intolerant of Intolerance

“Hey, Matt!!! What kind of comments will you delete?!”

The simplest and most generic way to explain the new comment-enforcement policy would be: A comment should not grossly violate the Kindness litmus test.

Kind DOES NOT mean the same thing as “nice.” But they’re close. This isn’t about everyone liking one another. It’s about everyone treating others with the requisite amount of dignity and respect.

KINDNESS
“Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and recognized as a value in many cultures and religions.”

If it doesn’t pass that common-sense sniff test, I’m trashing it.

“Hey, Matt!!! Isn’t it possible something might feel unkind to me and others but NOT you, which would cause more disagreements?”

Totally possible.

Because I remain staunchly anti-censorship. I am anti-censorship because I believe so strongly in personal responsibility. I believe people are in control of themselves and responsible for their choices. Choosing to share an idea publicly, which is then rejected by another person or group, is a fundamental part of the free exchange of ideas. And sometimes that will hurt people’s feelings. And that will create paradoxes and situations which flirt dangerously close to hypocrisy.

But so long as I adhere to the principles about to be shared, and so long as most of you do the same, we will often arrive at a great place.

“How?”

Moving forward, we will be a tribe.

A tribe that (when exchanging ideas in MBTTTR comments, at least) is united in its effort to lift up all tribe members. More on this in a moment.

The Magic of Defining Yourself

The best thing I’ve read recently is The Book In A Box Culture Document—something that very intentionally, deliberately, and thoroughly defines the culture of Book In A Box. (An MBTTTR reader thoughtfully shared it with me, and I can’t overstate my gratitude.)

One of the most important lessons of my first year as a partner in a startup company is the power of an organization putting clearly defined ideas to paper regarding its mission and purpose.

When you define your purpose, difficult decisions mostly go away. Because a choice tends to either serve the mission and purpose, or not.

The fantastic BIAB Culture Doc served as my model for fleshing out the principles that will guide the MBTTTR tribe moving forward.

…..

Thrive

(Image/likesuccess.com)

The MBTTTR Mission, Purpose, Values & Principles

MBTTTR’s beginning was firmly rooted in the Me, Me, Me space.

MBTTTR’s future will be firmly rooted in the Us, Us, Us space.

Our collective mission, purpose, values and principles will be clearly defined while ALSO being subject to scrutiny and change when new information demands change. Those conversations will happen with the passage of time, and we will collectively adjust course as needed. Together.

Mission (What are we doing?)

To tell honest stories about the human experience—even when it’s uncomfortable and against our natural self-preservation instincts—to connect others to good people, good questions and good ideas in ways that help humans thrive.

Purpose (Why are we doing it?)

To use judgment-free storytelling as a tool to lift people up—mending hearts, enriching minds and uplifting souls—for the betterment of human relationships.

We believe human relationships are the things which most strongly influence an individual’s quality of life. That people with healthy, high-functioning relationships have measurably better lives than those who do not.

We believe human relationships thrive when individuals are prepared to contribute positively to them.

We believe a person is best prepared to contribute positively when she or he is balanced in four key areas: Mind (mental health), Body (physical health), Spirit (spiritual health), and Emotion (emotional health).

Values (What do we care about?)

1. Things that matter.

“Hey Matt! What matters?”

Who do you want to be with if you only have one day to live? What do you want to do? What are the things you’re thinking about?

Those things matter.

Here, we mostly care about the earthly thing that matters above all others—people.

2. Learning and growth.

“Knowing things is great, but the reality is that most “facts” are either an illusion, or have a short half-life,” the BIAB Culture Doc says. “The success of our tribe will not be determined on what we know right now. It will come from our ability to learn quickly, and implement what we learn.

“This means every person in our tribe must be an active and lifelong learner. We all must be curious, willing to ask questions, and most important, willing to change our minds when new facts demand a new perspective.”

Come to discussions with a Beginner’s Mind. With humble inquiry.

If your goal isn’t to find the best answer, but to win an argument on the internet, our relationship will be short-lived.

The MBTTTR Tribe cares about finding the best idea. The closest thing to Truth we can arrive at in all of our flawed humanity.

“Let the best idea win,” says PayPal founder Peter Thiel.

And it will be a guiding principle here.

The beauty lives in the trying.

3. Results.

While we celebrate, encourage and admire those who try, we value results. Another BIAB-inspired guiding principle of MBTTTR will be just that.

You get brownie points for trying. You also get divorced.

Intentions often matter. But if you’re trying earnestly to be a good spouse, but failing as evidenced by your shitty, dysfunctional and broken relationships, we think that should be taken into account.

If you don’t TRY to hurt your wife, but you ACCIDENTALLY hurt her, the following becomes true: You hurt your wife.

If NOT hurting your wife is a guiding principle in your marriage, then your intentions mean little.

Another BIAB gem: We award medals for results. Not attempts.

“While we deeply value results, results by themselves are not enough; we must get results the right way. Of course this means being ethical and honest and doing the right thing. But it goes beyond that,” the BIAB Culture Doc says. “Getting great results means that we must be focused on the experience that people have when dealing with us.”

4. We value human connection and shared experiences.

By considering the experiences of the other people we interact with, it requires us to be empathetic and considerate. It forces us to see everyone as another human, with their own wants and needs and desires, and it compels us to consider those in our actions.

The most important life lesson I’ve learned post-divorce is:

A. Ohhhhh. THAT’s what empathy means!, and

B. Holy shit. Empathy is the most important life skill people need to succeed in relationships, but few people ever explain or define it for young people.

[Author’s Note: The remainder of this document is mostly in note form and heavily modeled after the content generated from the BIAB team. For the sake of time, I need to move onto other things. I will make this document a permenant fixture as a page on this site, and I (or WE!) will more clearly define these principles moving forward.]

Principles (How do we apply our values?)

The First Principle: We before me

 

The Second Principle: Tell the truth

“Amateurs want comforting lies. Professionals want to hear uncomfortable truths,” the BIAB Culture Doc says.

Truth is about caring. Truth can be painful, but if you deliver it right—with both candor and authentic kindness—it helps people more than anything else you can do for them.

The Third Principle: It’s not necessarily what you say or do, it’s how they feel

Again: Medals for results, not attempts.

There must be room in our hearts and minds for others’ experiences. Our experiences DO NOT and CANNOT define the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and expieriences of others.

The Fourth Principle: Our goal is to find the best idea

From BIAB:

We criticize ideas, not people.

Why? Because most people tie their identity to their ideas.

This attitude is toxic and destructive to creative and free discussions. We are the opposite. Confrontation is good, as long as it’s about the ideas and not the person.

We call this “shoot the message, never the messenger,” and the point is that all discussion is always about an idea, and never about a person. We discuss what is right, NEVER who is right.

However: You are not your ideas.

People must feel like their identity is safe–even if their ideas are not.

This is very difficult to achieve (it is in some ways against core parts of human nature), but if we can do it, we create an environment that has people intensely debating and rigorously scrutinizing ideas—that is simultaneously respectful of people.

This creates the best outcomes for everyone, because it means the best ideas will almost always win—which means the tribe will win.

CLARIFYING NOTE: This principle also means your beliefs must be based on facts, and you must be willing to change your beliefs if the facts change.

Feedback must be our North Star. It’s HOW we navigate and calibrate and make sure that we are serving the MBTTTR mission, the interests of the tribe, and the other people we affect. How else can we know we’re doing the right thing, unless we’re hearing it from the people we affect?

…..

For the love of all that is good and beautiful and worth caring about in this life…

Pretty please…

Be kind to each other.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Avoid Spit in Your Food and Get Your Spouse to Work on Your Marriage

Always Be Kinder Than You Feel

(Image/notonthehighstreet.com)

I lose control sometimes.

I don’t know whether I’m in the minority, or whether most other people lose it, too. I don’t go off the deep end into full-fledged insanity. I can prove it by showing you all of the non-murder and non-arson I committed following my separation and divorce.

I do feel emotional swings that probably register on the upper-end of the Emoswingomometer I just invented, but I have no way of knowing how other people experience their feelings.

Sometimes I yell at my son. He’s 7 and my favorite thing on Earth. And, even though I know raising my voice doesn’t help him learn lessons, and almost certainly contributes to unhealthy emotional responses, I still do it when I’m super-stressed and he does something that’s really, just, seven. There tends to be something really messy or broken to clean up afterward.

I say and think this a lot: Will this matter in five years? No? Then how much does it REALLY matter now? It’s a way for me to deal with anxiety or simply to keep life in perspective because everyone has their own hourglass, and their story ends when that last bit of sand falls from the Life bulb to the Death bulb, and we tend to not know when that will happen. We always assume it’s some future day so far away that it doesn’t matter, so we just live life taking it for granted. Even the most grateful person in the world probably takes being alive for granted—what?—98-ish percent of every day?

And that’s good. We shouldn’t be obsessed with death and freaking out all the time. But I do believe in being mindful of the perfect amount of death.

One of my favorite writers reads New York Times obituaries every morning in order to be mindful of the opportunity he has been given to be alive. He does it to maintain gratitude and as motivation to not squander it. Another of my favorite writers sometimes walks around imagining that everyone he sees is going to die soon as a reminder to treat them with kindness.

Morbid? A little. Foolish? No way.

What if we treated everyone we encounter as if they were going to die tomorrow?

But I Forget

I forget every day to do all of the things I’m supposed to. It’s either because I haven’t formed good habits, or because it’s impossible.

Sometimes I say really mean things to the driver of the car in front of me because they’re driving the speed limit. They’re literally doing ZERO WRONG THINGS and I call them some creative combination of the worst words I know because I’m in a hurry for something that probably doesn’t matter.

Will this matter in five years? Will this matter next week? Will this matter in an hour?

I need to get a grip. But it’s hard. I know it’s hard for other people, too. Sometimes people lose their shit and murder their entire family, and then shoot themselves, which seems like an extreme reaction to every possible thing imaginable.

I’m not going to beat myself up about it. The smartest psychologists in the world can’t agree on what REALLY happens to our biochemistry regarding emotional reactivity.

Sometimes, I even self-sabotage a little bit, like when my mom would ask me how much I’d like being grounded for a week, and I’d respond with something like: “Probably not as much as I’d like two!”

And then I’d be grounded for two weeks like an asshole who deserved it.

It feels good, though, right? To scratch that Fuck You itch once in a while?

My favorite exchange in the movie Good Will Hunting goes like this:

Will (Matt Damon’s character) is attending therapy sessions with Sean (Robin Williams’ character). Will is telling Sean about how his alcoholic foster father used to come home drunk looking to beat on his wife and kids.

Will: “He used to just put a belt, a stick, and a wrench on the kitchen table and say, ‘Choose.’”

Sean: “Well, I gotta go with the belt there.”

Will: “I used to go with the wrench.”

Sean: “Why?”

Will: “Because fuck him. That’s why.”

Whether we’re mad at a co-worker, our children, a business we believe screwed us, or our romantic partners—I think once in a while, all of us choose the wrench.

The Thing About Being Nice

Sometimes, I’m an asshole.

But. And this isn’t fair for me to say because I can’t substantiate it, but I really do believe it: I’m mostly—like, very mostly—NOT an asshole.

I care about things. I care about people. It seems like many people go through life completely unconcerned with how their actions affect others. You see it every day. Maybe you’re even the person accidentally doing it. I am sometimes.

I wanted to tell you about choosing the wrench and about me sometimes being a dick because, A. It’s true, but also B. I was hoping it would allow me a little leeway to also talk about me being nice without you thinking I was a totally hypocritical, holier-than-thou douchebag.

I think being nice is important. I think not being nice causes a high percentage of life’s problems, and exacerbates them close to 100-percent of the time.

Words Matter. Choose Wisely

Actions speak louder than words. What we do matters more than what we say. Kindness lives in our deeds, not our platitudes.

It’s why someone can punch his friend in the arm yelling: “You are the biggest dickhead I know!” and it’s fun and hilarious because of context, facial expression, and tone of voice; but the EXACT same thing can happen with it being the opposite of fun and hilarious.

But words matter, too. What we say, and HOW we say it.

Every conversation is a transaction. What do you want to accomplish?

When the restaurant server or kitchen messes up your order, what is it that you really want to happen next?

The waiter or waitress almost certainly didn’t intentionally bring you the wrong food. A member of the kitchen staff almost certainly didn’t read the order ticket and think: “I know!  Let’s give this person the wrong meal, so that maybe they’ll get mad, want free stuff, yell at us, complain about us on Facebook, and force us to throw food away.”

If the restaurant is conspiring against you, you should stop eating there and choose a different dining location. I think it makes sense to get mad at the front-of-the-house workers or kitchen staff if you can prove they brought you the wrong thing on purpose.

But restaurants only conspire against you when you’re an unreasonable prick.

So, they brought you the wrong thing and now you have choices:

  1. Try to get the meal you ordered and actually want by being nice.
  2. Try to get the meal you ordered and actually want by being shitty.
  3. Verbally abuse the server or restaurant manager because someone made an honest mistake, and you don’t care what happens with your food.

This is just one guy’s opinion, but if you verbally abuse people for one mistake when it’s illogical to believe they were trying hurt you, you’re a huge asshole. You are my least-favorite kind of person. You spend your life purposefully causing conflict and stress and making life harder and shittier for everyone around you. I try hard to figure out what motivates people to do things. It’s always helpful to understand what drives people. Sometimes when you figure it out, it makes sense, and you learn how to see things from a more balanced perspective, and then grow as a person. Sometimes people, with regularity, verbally abuse others when things don’t go their way. I understand that they have some kind of unmet psychological need to lash out. But to the rest of the world, it is merely being shitty for shittiness’ sake. It borders on inexcusable.

If you want to get the meal you ordered, but you want to be a dick about it in an effort to let them know you mean business, I submit you’re making a poor choice.

“Excuse me, waiter. I know you have the hardest job in the world and everything, but I clearly said I wanted this steak well-done. You see that? Does that look well-done to you?”

“I’m really sorry about that, sir. We’ll get that taken care of right away.”

“I’ve got an idea. Don’t be sorry. Just listen to what people are saying to you, so that maybe you can get a real adult job someday. Also, when you’re finished not screwing up my order, maybe you could bring us another round of drinks.”

That’s kind of a ridiculous example, but you get it. More often than not, people who witness it will think less of you, you’ll feel worse about yourself, and someone in the kitchen will spit in your food or “accidentally” drop it on the floor and laugh about it. And it’s a little bit hard to feel sorry for you because you were shitty.

If you want to get the meal you ordered, respect yourself, earn the respect of others, and become one of the staff’s favorite people who they want to do favors for, give free drinks to, and try hard to deliver your meal fast and spit-free, you should be nice. Smiling helps.

“Hey. I know you’re incredibly busy and have too many things to do, and I’m sorry to ask you this, but I ordered the pork shoulder, and this appears to be a fish of some kind. And, listen, I’m sure the fish is great, but I love that pork dish more than my family. Will you please help?”

“I am really sorry about, sir.”

“I promise I’m not mad at you. I understand that neither you nor the kitchen did it on purpose, and I appreciate your time and help. I probably should have told you about the pork obsession ahead of time.”

“Thank you so much for your patience and understanding. Can I bring you some drinks on the house while you wait?”

Pretty much everyone has experienced a restaurant messing up their order. We had a choice to make about how we were going to handle it.

I can’t figure out what the good reason would be to respond with unpleasant words or tones. EVEN IF you have to fake it because you’re secretly super-pissed, how does speaking and acting confrontationally improve the situation? How does it get you what you want?

This blog’s most frequently-asked-question is: “How do I get my husband to read these letters?”

Having never met any of these people, it’s really hard to answer that. I’m sure some of those guys are awesome and willing to make their wives feel secure and loved in their marriages. I’m sure there are others who are not.

In either case, how can “Ask him very nicely” not be the best answer?

“Hey Manfred. (Because all of them are obviously married to guys named Manfred.) I have a favor to ask you, but I want to explain a little bit. First of all, I love you. I love you and appreciate you for all that you do for me and for all the good things that you are.

“Secondly, I want to apologize to you. I’m sorry for anything I’ve done that might have made you feel unappreciated, or as if I was pushing you away. Because this favor I’m going to ask you might come off like I think you’re some horrible person, and like I think I’m perfect and amazing. Which of course isn’t true. I also want to apologize for not talking about this with you before. I just didn’t know how to bring it up.

“But listen, this is really important to me. This is our lives. We are not like we used to be. And I know it’s easy to shrug our shoulders and think this is just what happens to all married couples. All around us, people are falling apart because they ignore these changes. It seems like no one sees the end coming. It can’t happen to us, Manfred.

“Sometimes you hurt me. Badly. Sometimes I tell you about it, and we have a fight, and afterward I usually hurt more. But many times—and maybe you do this, too—I don’t say anything because I don’t want to fight with you, but then it just keeps hurting.

“I don’t believe you would ever intentionally hurt me. So it’s my job to help you understand what causes the pain, and up until now, I’ve failed to do that. You don’t hurt me on purpose, so some of this is on me.

“I read something that made sense to me. I don’t want to be like: ‘Hey, read this thing on the internet and then feel bad about it because you’re treating me like crap!’ I’m begging you to not take it that way. What I hope you will do is read this stuff in an attempt to understand why I sometimes get upset and you can’t figure out why. I know it’s frustrating for you when that happens.

“Please read this for me, and when you’re ready, we can talk about it, because I want to be married to you until we’re the oldest, gnarliest couple in the world.”

Again. Every conversation is a transaction. What is it that you really want to accomplish?

There’s a time for choosing the wrench.

And the other 99-plus percent of the time, there’s a time to be nice.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Secret to Life and Marriage

Guy-telling-a-secret

No. Not again.

It’s a dull, pulsing pain that starts in my stomach and runs to the bottom of the back of my head between my ears.

Unregulated, the headache starts. Very acute, sharp pain around the crown.

Almost every muscle feels engaged. Tense.

Everything hurts.

I can’t find my smile.

My face, stuck in place, just, hurts.

It’s stress. A physiological reaction to anger and perhaps my least-favorite way to feel.

Don’t forget to breathe. In, then out. And again.

If you had EVERYTHING in the world you ever wanted, but felt this way on the inside? How long could a person make it? Not long for me.

It’s poisonous. Anger. And we feel it a lot. We make others feel it.

My marriage ended because of anger. My entire life circumstances—my entire reality—dictated by the net results of angry people doing angry things.

People are Dicks

We are. Perhaps me more than others. But—and this is VERY important to me and I’ll defend myself and others with it until my last breath—I try.

In a candid moment. When no one’s watching. When it’s just me inside my head left to make whatever choice I want: I choose kindness. I intend to be good to others, even when it’s hard.

I don’t know if that makes me a good person. But I hope it makes me close.

When I’m angry, only two things work to make it go away: love and laughter. Staples of a life brimming with kindness. A life worth chasing.

I want to know what motivates people to intentionally choose unkindness and I want to know why, even though it has been documented ZERO times in human history to benefit anyone, people choose abrasiveness in their human relationships at home or at work or in some other facet of their lives.

My favorite writer James Altucher has written repeatedly about how he has cut out of his life every person who makes him feel bad on a regular basis. How peace and contentment are so hard to achieve when constantly dealing with emotional vampires.

If people don’t pass the Vampire Test? Stake their asses and walk away.

But What if You Can’t!?

It’s a fair and difficult question. Because there are many examples in life of people being tied too closely together to simply cut the cord and walk away.

In my search for answers, I kept coming back to marriage.

Why do people have so much trouble loving the people they forsook all others to love forever?

I found something beautiful and important and insightful when I stumbled on a great piece in The Atlantic called “Masters of Love” published about six months ago.

You should read it in its entirety because it’s better than this blog post. But I’d like to explore the highlights, and hopefully by doing so they’ll become more ingrained within me. And maybe moving forward it can help me be a more patient, wiser, better human being.

According to Ty Tashiro, author of The Science of Happily Ever After, only three out of 10 marriages remain happy and healthy.

You read that right: 70% of marriages either break or turn miserable and dysfunctional. Think we might have a problem with kindness and anger?

Psychologists John and Julie Gottman run the New York-based Gottman Institute—an organization dedicated to helping couples achieve loving, healthy marriages through science. They did some homework on this kindness thing.

From The Atlantic story:

John Gottman began gathering his most critical findings in 1986, when he set up “The Love Lab” with his colleague Robert Levenson at the University of Washington. Gottman and Levenson brought newlyweds into the lab and watched them interact with each other. With a team of researchers, they hooked the couples up to electrodes and asked the couples to speak about their relationship, like how they met, a major conflict they were facing together, and a positive memory they had. As they spoke, the electrodes measured the subjects’ blood flow, heart rates, and how much they sweat they produced. Then the researchers sent the couples home and followed up with them six years later to see if they were still together.

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages. When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.

But what does physiology have to do with anything? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal—of being in fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other.

The masters, of course, were physiologically calm and steady.

Giving a Shit Matters

Gottman wanted to know how the masters had achieved the emotional state of being that allowed the relationship to thrive even during difficult times, so he conducted another experiment.

He designed a lab to look like a beautiful bed and breakfast retreat. There, he observed 130 newlywed couples doing what couples do on vacation—cooking, eating, chatting, hanging out, playing games, etc.

Then Gottman discovered something I’ve never heard anyone talk about before as a predictor of marital success, but it makes perfect sense.

From The Atlantic:

Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.

According to The Atlantic, Gottman can predict with 94 percent certainty whether couples—gay or straight, rich or poor, with kids or without—will be together and happy, together and miserable, or broken up several years later.

Was my divorce a foregone conclusion?

That’s a hard idea to stomach.

Contempt is the number-one factor that tears couples apart, the researchers said.

People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman told The Atlantic, “which is this: they are scanning social environments for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“Being mean is the death knell of relationships,” The Atlantic’s writer Emily Esfahani Smith wrote. “Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Research independent from [the Gottman’s] has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.”

It’s hard to be kind when you’re pissed.

But it’s also when it’s most important.

To walk the walk under the most trying of circumstances. That’s what separates the strong from the weak.

INTENTION is a very important concept. One that should be used to fairly evaluate every situation and person involved.

I’ve believed it forever.

It made me feel good to see these renowned researchers agree:

“One way to practice kindness is by being generous about your partner’s intentions. From the research of the Gottmans, we know that disasters see negativity in their relationship even when it is not there. An angry wife may assume, for example, that when her husband left the toilet seat up, he was deliberately trying to annoy her. But he may have just absent-mindedly forgotten to put the seat down.”

Psychologist Ty Tashiro offers this parting advice: “Even in relationships where people are frustrated, it’s almost always the case that there are positive things going on and people trying to do the right thing,” he said. “A lot of times, a partner is trying to do the right thing even when it’s executed poorly. So appreciate the intent.”

Another breath. In, then out.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Knowledge is power.

And then I find my smile again.

Because I like knowing secrets.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Want to Make Magic?

How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas-christmas-movies-17366574-1067-800

She’s a mom.

A mom with four kids and a husband doing the best he can to provide for all of them.

She’s a sister.

A sister who lost her 28-year-old brother in an accident last year.

She’s an aunt.

An aunt now raising her 2 ½-year old nephew—a little boy who will never know his father.

The kids don’t ask for much, their mom says. All they wanted last year was a Christmas tree in their living room. But it was impossible. Things were too tight, financially.

This year, the children are asking for a tree for the holidays again. But things are still tight.

Five little kids. Three girls. Two boys. The oldest child is 9.

All of them looking at a second straight year.

No tree.

No Santa.

No Christmas.

Can I help?

We Are Not Assholes

In December 2011, a blogger who authored Martinis or Diaper Genies? was getting trolled by commenters put off by however much money they though she had. She retorted by writing a sarcastic post that encouraged everyone to leave their financial status details in the comments. Many people left joking comments, playing along.

But one didn’t.

A woman named Catherine wrote about how she and her husband were both laid off. About fears regarding how they would pay their bills. About their young child who was unlikely to have gifts to open Christmas morning.

A small movement was born. WANA. An acronym for We Are Not Assholes. The writer’s family helped Catherine’s family that Christmas and turned WANA into a tool for people to help needy families during the holidays.

She is a mother of two.

A mother who recently had to quit her job, because…

She’s also an aunt.

An aunt to her sister’s three children who she is now caring for, too.

“My husband works, but that just gets us by,” she said. “I would like to make all five kids’ Christmas magical, but it’s not looking that way.”

Can I help?

Hope for the Holidays

Fellow blogger Rachel, author of 2crazylittleboys, tried to resurrect WANA for the 2014 holiday season but was unable to track down its founder. Instead, Rachel launched her own WANA-like campaign, which she is calling Hope for the Holidays.

The mission: To put people who need help in touch with people who want to help.

It’s that simple.

What to do if you need help:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Tell your story in the comments.

How to help families:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Read stories about real people in need of real help. If it sets your heart on fire, make the connection and help in whatever way you’re comfortable.

How to help the cause:

1. Share this post from Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys on Facebook or Twitter.

2. Connect with Rachel and help spread the word by writing about her efforts to make a difference.

She is a mother of five.

Three boys. Two girls.

Her 8-year-old daughter has a chronic medical condition. She has been to the hospital 27 times in 2014.

The child’s health is improving. The financial health of the family is not.

Can I help?

If I could magically ask every single person in the United States for a penny and explain why I was doing so, I bet everyone would give me one (I would just steal them from little babies who didn’t understand my question because I’m bigger and stronger).

I bet some people would give much more than a simple penny.

If everyone in the United States (about 323 million people) gave me one penny to help people buy gifts for needy children, I would have $3.2 million, which buys a lot of books and toys.

I like to think about things like that, because sometimes people think they can’t help because they only have $5 or $10 to give.

That’s enough.

I want to give more than I take in all things. Because I think if every person does that, then everyone will always have enough and feel good and life will be magical.

Not everyone will give more than they take.

Not everyone CAN give more than they take.

But maybe I can.

Maybe you can.

I watched my son sleeping last night. His little face looking so handsome and innocent. A face free from the worries and stresses life sometimes throws our way.

My heart breaks almost every time he cries. This child who has all of his needs met and MOST of his wants.

I don’t have to look into the faces of children who do not have their needs met.

But I know they’re real.

And I can’t make them all smile. I can’t make their lives easy and beautiful.

But I can help a child or two smile on one very special morning.

I can help a parent or two avoid the misery of feeling like they failed their children when they spend every day giving all they have to give.

Joy. Because of unexpected treasures to unwrap.

Gratitude. Because we always appreciate blessings more when we don’t expect them.

Magic. Because that’s precisely what we manufacture when our hearts are on fire.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

couple fighting

Boys and girls grow up pretending to not like each other while playing together on schoolyard playgrounds.

The Boys vs. Girls theme runs strongly through the elementary school social culture.

Boys like blue.

Girls like pink.

Boys like Army guys.

Girls like Barbies.

Boys like playing sports.

Girls like playing dress-up.

When we’re children, we seem to confuse common interest with friendship. Boys are mean! Girls are silly!

We wanted to be accepted by our peers, so most of us tucked ourselves neatly into these stereotypical gender roles. As we aged, we watched what the older kids were doing and we paid attention to the boy-girl relationships playing out on television which helped us morph into whatever we are today.

In many cases, despite our obvious differences, men and women tend to like one another. Many of the decisions we make are centered around the idea of partnering up with, and having sex with, those we find most attractive.

A conversation that has happened on every park or playground in the history of mankind:

Male Friend 1: “Ooooooooohhhh! You like her!” *sings mocking song*

Male Friend 2: “No, I don’t!!! Girls are stupid!!!” (Even though he totally likes her.)

Then, the next time Male Friends 1 and 2 are with the girl, Male Friend 2 will make fun of her and be kind of mean to her to show off to his friend and demonstrate that he doesn’t “like” her. Also, because first and second graders don’t understand gallantry or charm, boys often resort to playful mocking as a means of flirting with the girls they do like.

This often continues into adulthood forever.

Mars vs. Venus

Men and women are DIFFERENT. Totally not the same make up and inner workings. I’m absolutely convinced the reason we have a 50-percent divorce rate is because so many men and women don’t take the time to learn HOW they’re different and what they can do to bridge those differences and overcome them.

Male friends make fun of one another. Just for fun. Because we like each other. Why? I don’t know. We. Just. Do.

All the time. Almost daily. Even the nicest of us sit around playfully mocking one another.

Doesn’t that make you feel bad, Matt!?!?

No. It doesn’t. Because most guys seem to innately understand that it is being done BECAUSE we are accepted as part of our social group. It is not a display of hate or rejection.

Whatever it is chemically or genetically that makes men do this, we also take into our opposite-sex relationships. And sometimes we do it to our spouses. Sometimes we do it to our female friends. We think it’s the same as when we do it to our guy friends because we’re often dense and thoughtless.

When the females in our lives take our verbal jabs as personal attacks and react emotionally, we get confused and assume they must be hormonal, crazy and imbalanced since everyone else seems totally cool about it.

“How can you treat me that way in front of your friends? Don’t you love me?”

“It was a JOKE! Of course I love you! I married you and would do anything for you.”

“Then please don’t be mean to me.”

“You’re overreacting. Why can’t you take a joke like everyone else? We were all laughing!”

…..

Shameless Self-Promotion Note About My Coaching Services

I started coaching in 2019. Clients and I work collaboratively through current and past relationship stuff in order to improve existing relationships or to prepare for future ones. Other clients are trying to find themselves after divorce or a painful breakup. We talk by phone or video conference. People like it. Or at least they fake it really well by continuing to schedule future coaching calls and give me more money. If you’re going through something and think I might be able to help, it’s really easy to find out for sure. Learn More Here.

…..

I think I’ve had that conversation, or one just like it, dozens of times. You’ll notice there was no sincere and heartfelt apology in there to the offended party.

If I ever hurt the feelings of a stranger or one of my friends’ wives or girlfriends, I would have gone to great lengths to try to rectify the situation and make sure it never happened again.

I am guilty of thinking my wife was overly emotional. Of feeling like she misunderstood me and punished me based on false premises. I am guilty of not respecting the pain I caused. Of attempting to invalidate her feelings to avoid accepting responsibility. Of not sincerely apologizing for causing pain and never doing it again.

Most importantly?

Despite feeling like my wife was the most-important person in my life, I never demonstrated that in my day-to-day behavior.

I don’t think I can overstate the following: Many times, men have no idea they’re hurting and upsetting the women in their lives EVEN WHEN the women tell them so, because it makes absolutely no sense to the man that the thing that happened could have caused pain.

It makes men dense and stupid, sure.

BUT. It also oftentimes makes them innocent of INTENTIONALLY trying to inflict pain. I think shitty things done on accident should be handled differently than shitty things done on purpose.

However—how many times can she say it before it sinks in? How many times does she have to tell you before you’ll actually believe the words she’s saying?

At what point are you being willfully negligent?

One Wife’s Take

One of my female friends who is also going through separation and divorce married a shitty husband like me. Not a bad man. Just a guy who is bad at marriage.

Because I’ve heard so many stories about him, I knew he was the belitting-your-wife type.

The type of guy to not worry about facts in a debate. He’ll simply tear down and invalidate the person he’s debating in order to win. Even if it’s his wife and the mother of his children.

I asked her to give me some examples of things he would do to make her feel stupid and invalidated.

She wrote this:

My family is all sitting around the brunch table. We are talkers—philosophers and theologians and writers. We discuss politics, theories and ideas. My husband doesn’t like this. He finds our discussion annoying and refuses to enter in the conversation. The truth is—he probably isn’t capable intellectually but that’s okay. No one is pushing him. As the topic rolls around to the inevitable “Why are we here?”-type questions, he starts to roll his eyes. But I love this part of debate and get excited to speak. As I’m explaining my thoughts to my family, he cuts me off. “Isn’t she hilarious?” he mocks. (I’m instantly furious that he addresses me as “she” but let it slide.) He continues: “I try to tell her there isn’t some big, grand life to be lived… ha ha ha. She has so many ideas about fulfillment and striving for some greater good! Ha! This is it, hon. This is your life! There isn’t some great thing out there you’re missing out on! Ha ha ha!”

My whole family stares at him… Did he really just belittle me like that in front of everyone? Yes. Yes he did. No one knew what to say. He’d done it so many times before but never this blatantly.

Some men think it’s a joke. To tease, mock, belittle, make fun of their wives in front of others. It’s not funny. In fact… it makes women feel so so so worthless and lonely and stupid. It made me feel like that, anyway.

To feed into stereotypes that women nag, are bossy, spend money irresponsibly, are sex objects, are only good for cooking/cleaning, etc… to feed into that is to erode the heart of who a woman truly is.

Things that can be said include:

“Well, I’ll have to check with the boss before I can let you know.” (Meaning the wife is in charge of him and all he does… probably somewhat true because she has to be his mother.)

“Did you spend all my money at the store today?” (All his friends laugh like I’m some bimbo-shopping wife. WTF? It’s our money and I am the only financially responsible person here!)

“I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. She wouldn’t let me! Ha ha.” (Nag implications)

“Why would I pay for her to go to law school? She already has her hands full with the house and the kids! How on earth do you think you could pull all that off, honey?? She gets too ambitious. Ha ha!!” (Implying that 1, the money is all his again, and 2, I’m stupid for even thinking I could accomplish such a thing.)

I really think men who get their kicks from saying these types of things actually aren’t joking all that much. I think, to a certain extent, they truly believe this. And I think that is why it takes away from who their wife or girlfriend really is. If one is so wrapped up in thoughts like this… are they even thinking about the real, live woman in front of them? Who is she really? Do they even know? Chances are she doesn’t think it’s funny to joke like this. BUT, then again, chances are he doesn’t even know that.

What If?

What would it look and feel like if every single day you treated your wife like you did when you first met her and you might not have tomorrow together? What would it look and feel like if someone bad was going to come hurt her or take her away—UNLESS you treat her with the deepest respect and kindness and thoughtfulness possible?

Would she ever nag you?

Bitch about you to her friends?

Make you feel ashamed or disrespected?

Would she ever tell you you’re not good enough? If you gave it your actual best effort?

We spend so much time reacting and responding to others rather than going first. Rather than being the example.

I think maybe if everyone treated their partners (and maybe others) with love and kindness without the expectation of receiving it return, that the world would change overnight.

There are a bunch of us out here who already learned things the hard way or figured it out on our own: Don’t act like a bag of dicks.

And if you, Shitty Husband, figure it out soon enough, she won’t leave you to be with one of us.

You’re a man. Strong. Logical. A skilled problem solver.

So I know you can do it.

And I’ll continue to root for you.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 12

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13

…..

Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow MBTTTR on Twitter and Facebook.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

How I Could Just Kill a Man

We can be so cruel to one another. When we are kind, who do we choose? And why?

We can be so cruel to one another. Why are we kind to some people and not others? What’s the difference? (Image/Wallpapercave.com)

I could kill a person trying to harm my son.

I could kill a person trying to harm others I love or in self-defense.

I could kill a person trying to harm other innocent people if in the moment it was clear the act would save lives.

I may not have the physical tools or weapons to get the job done on a case-by-case basis. But I could muster the nerve. If the stakes were that high. I’m sure of it.

But what if the person causing harm was my father? Or my sister? Or my childhood best friend?

How long might I hesitate if this hypothetical person I’m so certain I could kill was someone who resides permanently on my “People I Don’t Want to Kill” list?

Who matters?

Who doesn’t?

Where do I draw that line?

Of all the things I never want to do, I think killing someone ranks No. 1. And I don’t mean murder. That should go without saying. But even a “justifiable” killing. The thought of taking a life makes me very uncomfortable.

I don’t know very many people who have killed someone. The few I do are older men who were once soldiers at war. The curiosity in me has always wanted to try to coax those stories out of them. To get a sense of the feelings those memories manifest.

But I’ve always stopped short of asking because I don’t want to ask men to relive what are likely their worst memories.

Is This the World We Want?

I’ve been asking myself the following question every day for about a week now.

What is the difference between the people who matter and the people who don’t?

Where do we draw the line? Between all of the people we care about or treat kindly or help versus those we don’t care about, treat poorly or ignore altogether?

The idea popped into my head while reading Tom Shadyac’s Life’s Operating Manual. Shadyac is something of an anti-capitalist. He and I don’t see eye-to-eye on economic theory. BUT. I do respect very much where he’s coming from when he poses the very thought-provoking question: What separates the people you are willing to profit from, from the people you simply want to help?

He argues that the mindset of capitalism—always trying to maximize profits and charge as much as possible for goods and services—makes the human experience so much uglier than it should be.

For example, he says, if someone you love very much needed help—didn’t have food or clothes or shelter—you would instantly invite them into your home, and feed them, clothe them and let them stay with you (without asking for anything in return.)

Generally speaking, I think this is true of most of us.

But then we walk around major cities, or even suburban Ohio communities like where I live, and occasionally see people asking for help.

Maybe they’re really homeless and have good hearts.

Or maybe they’re really con artists.

Or maybe they’re really drunks or addicts looking to score a fix.

No matter what the situation, I submit all of those people could use help of some kind.

Who Matters?

Everyone ranks the people in their lives relative to their specific circumstances.

But I think this is representative of the general order in which we value people.

1. Spouse/Partner/Significant other and children

2. Parents and siblings

3. Friends

4. Neighbors

5. Co-workers and acquaintances

6. Strangers who are like us (Social, spiritual, economic, cultural, geographic commonalities)

7. Strangers who are not like us

8. Known enemies

Where do you draw the line?

Where on this list do you decide: “That person means so much to me that I want to help them with their problem,” as opposed to your cut-off point? The place where you say: “Screw ‘em. I don’t care. I have enough problems. Let them figure it out for themselves,” or worse: “That person isn’t like me, so I don’t like them and I’m going to hurt them.”

This question about who matters versus who doesn’t makes me think about the post-apocalyptic world on display in The Walking Dead.

It truly is survival of the fittest and every man for himself.

Every stranger is a threat. Someone who might steal your supplies, murder you, or murder you so they can steal your supplies.

But often, after a warming-up, get-to-know-you period—after one of the strangers puts his or her life on the line in service of others—trust is formed.

Bonds are built.

And these strangers, these random people who didn’t care about each other days or weeks ago, morph from stranger to acquaintance, from acquaintance to friend, and (if you believe as I do that you don’t have to share blood to be family) from friend to family.

These people who were threats become people you will sacrifice everything for.

There are bad people in this world. Threats. People who in a lot of ways don’t deserve our kindness, generosity, charity, help, whatever.

An irresponsible or naïve Pollyanna-like view of life benefits no one.

But I don’t know how to muster the cynicism required to not believe that everyone deserves a fair shake. That every person deserves a baseline amount of respect and benefit of the doubt before we rush to judgment.

We don’t need to write a 10-page letter to their boss petitioning for their promotion, but being courteous to the customer service representative on the phone who is NOT responsible for our problem seems reasonable.

We don’t need to invite every kid in school to our birthday party, but smiling at them, not engaging in bullying and treating people kindly doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

We don’t need to give our weekly paycheck to the guy panhandling outside the grocery store, but maybe a sandwich and a bottle of water would serve to nourish more than just his hunger and thirst.

We allow ourselves to disconnect and then we treat people like enemies.

People who, if we were stuck in a survival situation with, might become our family.

I know a little boy who—just seven years ago—wasn’t even a figment of anyone’s imagination.

And today I love him above all else and would do the unthinkable to keep him safe.

And I want him to live in a world where we don’t scream at each other and bully people on social media and hate one another because our skin color isn’t the same or because we care about different things.

Maybe we can be one little ripple in the pond. One kind act at a time.

And maybe those acts can cause more ripples because others agree that these arbitrary barriers we put up between us and other people seems like a silly reason to completely change the way we treat one another.

And maybe good spreads.

And then maybe there are fewer 12-year-old kids in Catholic school cafeterias celebrating the release of a Cypress Hill rap song called “How I Could Just Kill a Man.”

Even if those kids do grow up wanting to be part of the solution.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Phantom Traffic Jams

Traffic jam

You’re cruising down the highway, getting where you want to be.

Out of nowhere, you’re hitting your brakes.

Then, you’re completely stopped.

Sonofabitch.

You mutter a few bad words. Maybe you call or text someone to tell them you’ll be running late. Maybe your gas tank isn’t as full as you wish it was. Maybe one of your passengers has to pee. Maybe you do.

Or maybe you put a smile on your face. Maybe you grin and bear it.

I can’t control traffic. I can only control me.

Or maybe you lose your shit because you’re a person like me and are always in a hurry to get out of the car. Maybe you get irrationally upset when things annoy you while you’re behind the wheel and you turn into the ugliest version of yourself.

What the-!?!?

Usually, I mutter a bunch of horrible things that make Jesus and all of my dead relatives sad, and then I calm down and remember that I can only control me.

Eventually traffic gets moving again.

You’re super-curious.

What could have caused this massive traffic jam I’ve been stuck in for a half hour?

Eventually, you’re travelling at normal cruising speeds. There was no accident. No obstacle. No construction. No nothing.

A phantom traffic jam.

Weird.

The Power of One

Just one asshole.

That’s all it takes to cause a phantom traffic jam.

I have two routes to choose from every morning when I drive to work. One is highway. One is back roads.

A train crossing was flashing red lights at me this morning, so I turned onto the highway.

Traffic was horrible. Three lanes of horrible.

Some mornings, everything is fine. Many others are just like this. The results are generally the same on this stretch of road.

Phantom traffic jams.

I was in one this morning.

Just a bunch of drivers heading to work. Many people merging onto the highway, and pulling off on their various exits.

While we’re all human and mistake-prone, motor vehicle operation brings out the worst of humankind. And when there are a bunch of drivers travelling 70 miles per hour throughout three lanes of traffic, it only takes one mouth breather to slam on his brakes because he was texting and driving, or some attuned driver braking or swerving to avoid the girl furiously applying her makeup while talking on the phone to one of her friends while merging into highway traffic with a baby in the backseat.

“Horn (an MIT computer scientist) says it’s like a wave flowing backwards,” said NPR science correspondent Joe Palca in a radio interview that you can read here discussing phantom traffic jams. “People who study this talk about chaotic systems and positive feedback, but the practical consequences are that the amount of drivers having to slow down increases the further back you are from the original incident.”

Just one asshole.

Causing hundreds of drivers to make Jesus and their dead relatives sad.

It only takes one.

“Hey Matt! Who Gives a Shit?”

That’s a fair question.

Everything’s a metaphor with me these days. Even phantom traffic jams.

Because it only takes one incident (and that incident may have been an innocent mistake) to cause a huge chain of misery for a bunch of other people.

There’s no way to prevent these from happening. Because the world will always have selfish people taking and taking and taking, or some normal person accidentally getting it wrong.

The world will always have people who don’t care as much as others about doing the right thing.

Men who cheat and lie and abuse women are always going to “ruin it” for the rest of us.

Women who gold dig, use sex as a weapon, and abuse men are always going to “ruin it” for the women trying to do the right thing.

Naughty kids are always going to “ruin it” for the less-naughty kids.

Almost every crappy rule in the world is in place because of those select few who abused the freedom and privilege once afforded them.

Sometimes our spouses make thoughtless mistakes. Our children are clueless. Our friends are busy just like us.

We all accidentally annoy one another. Causing phantom traffic jams. Because we weren’t paying close enough attention.

We can choose to scream a bunch of obscenities and act like assholes. I’ll probably do that for at least a few seconds.

Or we can choose to be in control and make good choices.

Patience will get us through the incident at the exact same speed as if we act like assholes. And if we’re extra astute, we can choose a detour. A different route to get us where we need to be.

The road less traveled.

We can even do one better.

We can be part of the solution.

Paying attention. Keeping an appropriate distance away from the person in front of us. Keeping an eye on the person behind us.

Doing our little part to help ease the congestion by doing all the little things thoughtfully and conscientiously.

Being the change.

Making it just a little bit better for others and ourselves.

Until we’re all smooth sailing again.

Tagged , , , , , ,

To Dust We Shall Return

We're the same. And would do well to treat one another accordingly.

We’re the same. And would do well to treat one another accordingly.

Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea

All we do, crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see

“Dust in the Wind” – Kansas

The vanity license plate on the little red two-door read: “KRISTI.”

I glanced over to check out Kristi as I passed the car on my morning commute. Instead of Kristi, I saw an older guy driving what presumably is his wife or girlfriend or daughter’s car.

Something about it struck me as funny. I laughed out loud. I laughed out loud a lot.

That guy. Driving around. In that car. With that license plate. Kristi.

Hahahahahaha!

It’s because I’m an asshole and think things like that are hilarious.

When I was in first grade—the grade my son will be in next year, Oh, man—I walked in the bathroom this one time and there were two second graders in there.

“Hey! Will you pick up these paper towels for us and throw them away?”

Always eager to please: “Sure!”

And I picked up the wet paper towels and threw them away.

The two boys laughed and laughed and laughed.

“Hahaha! We peed on those! You just touched our pee!”

Then they left the bathroom.

If I had been cooler and less of a chicken-shit, I would have picked up the pee towels and cleaned both of their faces with them. But I don’t really do bad-ass things like that. And I certainly didn’t when I was 6.

That incident represents one of the only times in my entire life I can remember anyone being “mean” to me.

While totally disgusting, it is kind of hilarious.

“Wait. You peed on those towels and convinced another little kid to touch them!?!?”

Heck, I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.

Everyone has moments where their friends or family members or total strangers make them feel bad. I’ve been very blessed to not have very many of those.

It’s in large part due to the fact that I work very hard not to hurt people’s feelings, myself. I would NEVER make fun of someone to their face, unless we were very close and I was confident they knew it was in jest and understood they were among my favorite people. Guys who are friends do this with one another a lot.

But behind someone’s back? I seriously do make fun of people all the time. For cheap laughs.

It’s kind of sick, I guess.

Like the guy in the “Kristi” car.

Like wannabe professional wrestlers.

Like other kids in school.

Two eighth-grade classes from two different Catholic schools in neighboring towns combined to make up my freshman high school class.

Our class doubled in size from junior high to high school.

That meant there were a bunch of new people I’d never met before. It was still a small class relative to what most American students are accustomed to (I graduated with about 75 kids), so it didn’t take long to get to know everyone.

One of the girls in our class (who was very nice and liked by pretty much everyone) had a large mole on one of her eyebrows near where her forehead met the bridge of her nose.

Because we were Catholic—and total dicks—a bunch of boys in our class nicknamed her “Ash Wednesday.” I thought it was hilarious because I’m not a very nice person.

She eventually had the mole removed. I hope that made her feel better and less self-conscious. She eventually won a large lottery jackpot with her husband, and I hope she is living happily ever after with him and her children.

We called her “Ash Wednesday.”

*shakes head*

There was another girl in school, too.

We called her Unga Bunga. Like the words a caveman might say: “Unga Bunga!”

It wasn’t very nice, either. But it was very funny.

Her last name had the prefix “Unga-” and combined with Crood-ish looks, it made the Unga-Bunga nickname an absolute winner.

I think about those little moments sometimes.

I wonder whether those people think about them, too. Whether they feel bad when they do think about them. Like how I feel when I think about picking up peed-on paper towels. Except maybe a lot worse. 

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Today is Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar. Traditionally, Catholics attend mass and a priest or someone else will use ashes to draw a cross (which generally looks like a huge black smudge) on our foreheads and says: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

It’s a good reminder.

That we’re all made from the same stuff.

The same stuff that makes up that tree over there.

The same stuff that makes up the fish in the ocean.

The same stuff that makes up the stones on the ground.

And all those plants.

And all those animals.

And all those people.

Connected. Built by the same materials. Powered by the same fuel regardless of what we choose to believe—both physically and spiritually.

There’s something beautiful about identifying those connections. Those commonalities.

It breaks down the barriers in our lives.

All the bullshit we use to divide us. To fuel the senseless hatred and bigotry.

Social cliques.

Politics.

Religion.

Race.

Sexual orientation.

Geography.

Class warfare.

Sometimes I laugh at people. Like the guy in the “Kristi” car. Or “Ash Wednesday.” Or “Unga Bunga.”

I hope I can still be a kind person even though I do that.

And even if I can’t be, I hope I can instill thoughtfulness and kindness into my son. And perhaps the grace to handle any unkindness eventually directed his way.

We’re the same. You and me. And that person over there. And that other person over there. And that person on TV. And that TV. And the furniture you’re sitting on while watching that TV.

We’re all built from the same stuff.

How much better would we all treat one another if we never forgot that?

Don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, all your money won’t another minute buy

Dust in the wind, All we are is dust in the wind

Everything is dust in the wind

Tagged , , , , , ,

Being Nice Isn’t Enough

Kindness. That's where peace lives.

Kindness. That’s where peace lives.

For years, I wouldn’t hear it.

The complaining. Some men call it “nagging.” Or “bitching.” Or “PMS-ing.”

She must be crazy.

“How is it that I get along with every person I’ve ever met, but the one person I love above all else is the only one complaining about me?” I’d say. “Why am I never good enough for you?”

And it’s that easy.

You use cognitive bias to alleviate yourself of all responsibility and put the onus on the other person to shape up like the rest of the world.

That’s how you spend years never taking responsibility for your own actions.

That’s how you stunt your own growth.

That’s how you destroy families.

By being nice.

That’s the problem. I’m a nice guy. Legit.

And I always thought that was enough.

What do I mean by “nice”? I’m well-mannered. Polite. I hold doors open for people. Say “please” and “thank you.” I treat strangers well. I’m very friendly. I tend to make good first impressions in social situations.

I’m not for everyone, I’m sure. But the vast majority of the time, people just like me. Or at least act like they do.

And I figured it out young. If I act like this and use good manners and be generous and say funny things and don’t be mean then people will like me!!!

So, that’s what I did. From whatever point in grade school I figured it out, until now.

I can work a room.

It works against me sometimes. If you meet people who have been burned by “nice guys” in the past, they sometimes react negatively. Others probably think I’m too obnoxious. Or that I’m fake. Insincere. Putting on a show.

But usually it just works. Being me yields positive results. So, I never change. And I’m not sure I could if I tried.

The only way to know whether I am who I say I am is to really get to know me. To see how I treat people when no one’s watching. To see how I behave during conflict or in the face of inconvenience.

I fall short. I can raise my voice. Morally outraged. How DARE you say I’m not nice!!!

But it’s all bullshit.

Not the me-being-nice part. That’s true.

But the part where acting like being nice gives me some kind of Get Out of Jail Free card anytime someone has a problem with my behavior or the way I made them feel. Most specifically, my wife during our marriage.

Being nice? It’s not enough. Not even close.

Nice – adj.good and enjoyable; exacting in requirements or standards; socially acceptable.

Kind – adj.having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others; wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.

Kindness.

I try to use that word now. Over and over again. Kindness.

Being kind is different than being nice.

Axe murderers can be nice.

Rapists can be nice.

Child abusers can be nice.

But only truly decent people can be kind.

It’s a critical distinction. And I’m trying so hard to choose kindness. Because sometimes nice doesn’t cut it.

Sometimes nice will leave you sad, angry and alone.

She Must be Something More

She must.

Your spouse. Or partner. It really applies to everyone. All genders and sexual preferences. I just view it through the prism of husband-wife stuff.

But she can’t just be another person. Every single day, she must be treated like the most-important thing in your life.

We get so frustrated with one another. We take each other for granted. We use unkind language. Because: “She’s not leaving!”

A. Don’t bet on it.

B. Don’t you want to treat your spouse like the most-important person in the world? Why on Earth would you have married her otherwise? (And to be clear, the partners need to give back in return. THAT’s how you make it work. Choosing love, and out-unselfishing one another.) Please lead by example.

C. Even if you’re selfish and only care about yourself, I have a secret for you. *lowers voice to whisper* Your life will be infinitely more pleasant if your wife and the mother of your children is madly in love with you, wants to treat you well, wants to pleasure you physically, wants to make you happy. EVEN IF you don’t want to do it for the right reasons, why not try to do it just to make things better for yourself?

You can be nice and hurt her with words.

You can be nice and hurt her with inaction.

You can be nice and hurt her with self-centeredness.

You can be nice and hurt her when you politely decline an invitation to join her in bed.

You can be nice and hurt her when you leave her alone to watch a Reese Witherspoon movie while you’re off doing your own thing.

You can be nice and hurt her by dumping the lion’s share of child-raising duties, housework, errands, and other responsibilities on her lap while you sit well-mannered, watching football, playing video games, sitting at the computer, or doing whatever else you like to do.

You can hurt her accidentally.

You can be physically present but not really be there.

You can love her on the inside, and she can still feel unloved and abandoned.

That’s what leaving your wife alone in your marriage looks like. No matter how nice you are, that’s a one-way ticket to divorce. Or her having an affair. Or both.

Goodbye normal life. Goodbye kids. Goodbye everything.

Hey Matt! I just don’t understand how a woman could ever leave such a nice guy like you!”

Well, thanks. But I do.

It’s because just being nice isn’t enough.

And it never will be.

Tagged , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: