Thirty years ago, a friend said to me, “Every time I meet a German male of a certain age, I wonder what role he played in the Nazi Party.” It kind of made my blood run cold, if I’m honest. But now that generation has, for the most part, died off.
But when you think about it (even though these things are on a different scale entirely), there are little criminals in every generation. Sometimes I look at the adults I know and I remember that all of us have gone through the stupid adolescent stage, and that means, purely from a statistical standpoint, that a certain percentage used to be dumb-a$$ little punks.
That CEO may have delighted in keying cars when he was 13. Your postman may have thought it was funny to make sexually harassing anonymous phone calls. Your spouse might have been into shoplifting.
Bullies grow up, too. Some of them outgrow that tendency. Others, unfortunately, become your supervisor. I shudder to think what antics Donald Trump got up to when he was 12. It wouldn’t surprise me if he pulled the wings off flies.
And while certain behaviors should be written off as the foibles of youth, and people really can mature and change, a lot of criminal behavior is an innate part of one’s psychological makeup, and the only reason that person is still out amongst us is that he or she just never got caught. You can never be completely sure of the content of someone else’s character.
Do you feel like an outcast? Do you feel abnormal? Do you have social anxiety? Are you lonely? Misunderstood? Having trouble fitting in? Do you have a health issue, or a fetish or an addiction? Can’t get a job? In a toxic relationship? Do you want help?
Odds are quite good that there’s a support group out there for you. Thank God for support groups. I highly recommend them. Having the camaraderie of like-minded people, who are working together toward self-improvement, is priceless.
A good support group will discuss the issue at hand. It will help individuals talk about their struggles with said issue, and also allow them to brainstorm possible solutions. It will celebrate triumphs and parse failures to redirect people toward a more positive path. The ultimate goal is to get you into a better headspace, and help you build a better life for yourself.
Self-improvement isn’t easy. It takes work. It requires commitment. There are no shortcuts.
Unfortunately, in this era of social media, it’s easy to think that there are shortcuts. For every support group out there, there’s an online forum for people who want to stay right in their toxic place. Want to remain an anorexic? There are plenty of people just like you who will be more than willing to encourage your march toward death. Don’t want to face your fear? You can simply hide in your house and interact with a wide network of people who are doing the exact same thing. Do you prefer to blame others rather than make changes yourself? You will always be able to find people who will join you in casting blame, spewing hatred, and inciting violence.
But how’s that working for you? Being allowed to vent your bile with people who agree with you might feel good at first, but has it solved your issue? Are you happier, healthier, more functional now than you were before? Or are you simply more angry?
Let’s take, for example, your basic Incel group. There are many reasons why one might be involuntarily celibate. If your self-esteem is poor, if you feel ugly or awkward or socially-inept, if you’re isolated or depressed, you could benefit from a group of others who are going through the same thing. You could learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. You could learn that you’re maybe a lot more normal than you first realized, and that would do wonders for your self-image. A group like that, with the goal of helping you find ways to form a healthy romantic relationship, would be ideal. Unfortunately that’s not what on-line Incel groups do.
Incel groups place the blame on others. It’s the fault of women that you’re not getting laid. Yeah. You’re just fine the way you are. Its them. They are shallow and only go for muscular, gorgeous men. Because of that, you are not getting the sex you’re entitled to. That attitude rapidly devolves into misogyny, and then you get people encouraging violence. They celebrate mass killers. They encourage rape and spousal abuse. They say they’d feel soooo much better if someone threw acid into women’s faces.
But the thing is, how does that solve your problem? Do you think that attitude or behavior is going to bring you love? Because I’m here to tell you that you could be the most gorgeous man on the planet, but I’m not going to find you attractive if you want to throw acid in my face. And I’m fairly certain I’m in the majority, there.
Incel groups are also based on a lot of false premises. Most women aren’t looking specifically for muscular men. In fact, a lot of us find extreme muscles kinda gross. We all have different tastes. The fact that many men, who are fat or not well endowed or deformed or have scars, still manage to find love, will tell you that most women aren’t as shallow as these Incel groups would like you to believe. We are looking for love, too. (In fact, the way these groups insult the physical attributes of women, and only prize the “gorgeous”, “unattainable” ones, show that the members are the shallow ones, not the women.)
And, uh, by the way, no one is “entitled” to sex. Healthy sex is a mutually given gift that is shared between people who respect, admire, and love one another. Love. Not hate. Equality. Not superiority or entitlement.
Incel groups are not about support. They’re about male supremacy. That gets you nowhere. Believing others are inferior isn’t going to render you more popular with them.
If you really want to improve your life, look at the people you associate with. Are they trying to help you improve? Are they a positive force, or are they toxic? Are they encouraging anger or violence? That isn’t going to do you any good.
To be clear: groups that marinate in negativity become extremists, gangs, and/or terrorists. You can do better than that. Everyone has felt like an outcast at some point. I guarantee it. But I know there’s awesomeness within you. You just have to nurture it to make it grow.
Hate is the wrong path. Take the high road. It may take some effort to get up there, but in the end, you’ll be all the better for it. Onward and upward!
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About two months ago I had a very old filling replaced, and that tooth has been giving me agony on and off ever since. It makes me wonder if I should have left well enough alone, and mercury be damned. Probably not. But I do have my moments.
At first, even the slightest contact with the tooth above would have me clinging to the ceiling like a cartoon cat. So, the dentist made a slight adjustment. Just the tiniest change, the size of the head of a pin. That was all it took.
But when you think about it, every mountain peak ends in a microscopic, pin-sized point. But when you pound on that point hard enough, the mountain feels it. (In this scenario I suppose I am the mountain, which is a comparison I’m usually loathe to make. I’d much rather be the mole hill.)
That first adjustment made a huge difference. Pressure was no longer an issue, but unfortunately heat and cold were. Those abrupt changes would send the pain radiating up to the very front of my mouth. That was no fun. So, more adjustments were in the offing. Each one made a slight improvement, and yet the pain persisted.
You have no idea how often you change the climate in your mouth on a daily basis until it causes a pain response. Mercy me.
So, yeah, the tooth is still a work in progress, getting better all the time, but it occurs to me that it’s also a metaphor for life. At least for my life.
I do stuff, hoping to make things better. Occasionally, all holy hell breaks loose. Sometimes I get hurt. So I make a change. It might seem like a small change, but it’s effective. Things get better. So I make another small change, and so on. Much of the time those around me don’t even realize that the mountaintop of my life is a work in progress, but I’m acutely aware of it.
Eventually, I hope to achieve balance and contentment. Isn’t that everyone’s goal to some degree? But it’s a process. Sometimes a painful one. I do take comfort in the fact that the one constant is that I seem to be learning things along the way.
It might be a daily grind, dear reader, but grind on. You’ll get there.
Yeah, I’ve done that mind-grind thing where I keep worrying about something and try in vain to come up with a solution. I have done my fair share of stressing out over finances, jobs, relationships, and conversations that I’m dreading. I’ve even stayed up to care for sick people and pets.
But you know what really keeps me up at night? Excitement. I spend a lot of time tossing and turning and smiling at the possibilities. I can rarely sleep just before a trip to someplace I’ve never been, for example. I can just imagine what it will be like. I also thrill to new experiences, new connections, and the opportunity to learn.
Many is the night I’ve spent staring at the ceiling, knowing that I’m about to receive the gift of newness. That’s my favorite gift of all. It doesn’t take up space in your tool shed. You don’t have to dust it. It’s usually not tangible. But you’ll be able to revel in its memory for the rest of your life.
There is nothing quite like the first time you do something, see something or realize something. Beginnings are awesome. Change is wonderful just as often as it is dreadful. The anticipation of something can be every bit as amazing as the thing itself.
It’s got to be a royal pain in the behind to change the name of an entire city. Signs must be replaced. Government departments must be renamed. Not to mention all the business cards, letterhead, newspaper mastheads, maps… It must cost a fortune. And it’s confusing for those of us who can’t seem to keep up.
This name change thing happens in India quite a bit. Bombay is now Mumbai. Calcutta is now Kolkata. Benares is also Varanasi. Madras is Chennai.
It must be awfully strange to go to sleep in one city and wake up in another. Even stranger than getting married and suddenly having a new last name, or having to write a new year on things for the first couple weeks of January.
There are several reasons why name changes happen in India. In a lot of cases (Mumbai, for example), they are simply improving the spelling of a city whose name never really changed for the native people. Bombay is just an anglicized version of what the Brits heard the locals say. There’s a lot of arrogance surrounding colonialization, but the “we know better than you do what this place is called” takes the cake, as far as I’m concerned. (But then, not nearly enough American place names reflect the wishes of the Native Americans, so who are we to criticize?)
Adding another layer of complexity to the situation, there are 22 official languages in India, and 1652 spoken languages. Needless to say, all these people have different ways of pronouncing things, and different senses of history for each area.
From a political and religious standpoint, there’s also some pressure to change Islamic and Christian city names to their Hindu counterparts, as Hinduism comprises almost 80 percent of the population of India.
The thing I find most interesting is that a city’s name may “officially” change, but that does not necessarily mean that the locals or the press or the international community will adhere to that change. In some cases, it’s business as usual. Apparently it’s only a big deal if you make it one. Which makes me think of that old saying: “Wherever you go, there you are.”
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This will come as no big surprise, but a very large part of me likes to avoid conflict, stress, and confrontation. Decades ago, I decided that the most effective way to not deal with the slings and arrows of life was to sleep. I absolutely love to sleep. My spirit animal is probably one of those fainting goats.
I wish there were some sort of internal switch that I could flick on and off so I could just check out when I’m overwhelmed. Kind of a Sleeping Beauty effect without having to rely on some evil witch to knock me out or some handsome fool to kiss me awake again. But then I’d probably sleep my life away. Heaven knows that I wouldn’t deem housework or errands to be adequate incentive to rise.
Even when I’m alert and functioning, in times of high anxiety I feel as if there’s a part of me that is sleeping. She wants to be left alone. She doesn’t have the slightest desire to engage. She curls up. She dreams. I’m amazed I wasn’t a thumb-sucker as a child.
Here lately I’ve been feeling the urge to wake that part of me up. I want her to come to the party. I want her to live life. She’s not happy about this. She doesn’t like change. But it’s time to grow up and face the world, and experience it.
I sense there are many adjustments I’m going to have to make in order to become fully conscious. I doubt it’s going to be easy. I’m definitely a work in progress. Wish me luck.
Have you ever remarked that a kitten has gotten quite big, and its owner is surprised by that? You haven’t seen the kitten in weeks, so its growth is obvious to you. The owner, on the other hand, has seen it daily, and therefore the change in size has been subtle to him or her and therefor easy to overlook.
We experience subtle shifts every day without giving them much notice. For example, when I was a kid, I used to drink Hawaiian Punch practically by the 50-gallon drum. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Now, I can barely tolerate even a sip of it. It’s way too sickly sweet. I couldn’t tell you, though, the exact point in time when I shifted from being a Hawaiian Punch fan to a Hawaiian Punch disdainer. It just sort of sneaked up on me.
My perception of humor has apparently shifted as well. A week ago, if you had asked me what the funniest thing I’d ever seen on television was, I’d have responded, Season 4, Episode 4 of the sitcom Perfect Strangers. Based on its air date, I must have been 24 when I first saw it. I remember laughing so hard as Larry and Balki struggled to get a piano up ten flights of stairs that I nearly lost my breath, and I had tears streaming down my face. This was TV at its best, I thought.
So I was delighted when I discovered that Hulu was now showing every episode of Perfect Strangers. I would start with that iconic episode, and then binge watch the entire series. What fun!
I fixed myself a bowl of popcorn, got into some sweat pants and a t-shirt, snuggled in with my dog Quagmire, and prepared to be entertained.
Imagine my shock when I realized just how bad the show really was. Poorly written, cheesy, in fact. Poorly acted. Predictable. What a freaking disappointment. Needless to say, I won’t be binge watching any other episodes.
But I used to love that show. I really did. What the heck was I thinking? Who was I?
Now, if you ask me what the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on television is, I’ll respond the episode of Carol Burnett in which Tim Conway discusses the Siamese elephants, joined at the trunk. I’m happy to say that that one STILL cracks me up.
We are all a product of our past. The way we cope with things in the present is greatly influenced by what we’ve experienced in our lives. Our psyches do not always know best. All they know is that it’s important to survive, and if something has worked, however twisted it may be, then, hey, let’s go with that.
Case in point, I was sexually abused as a child, and the adults around me who should have been protecting me were either oblivious or in deep denial. So now, when someone in a position of authority over me is acting irrationally and/or clearly does not have my best interests at heart, it tends to freak me out. That’s putting it mildly. I go straight into “Danger, Will Robinson!” mode.
Because of this, my coping mechanism is to speak up, and continue to speak up until SOMEBODY LISTENS! Cockroaches do not like to have light shined upon them. So I give them the spotlight, by God.
This doesn’t always serve me well. For a start, it makes me look crazy and/or hysterical and/or like a trouble maker. Most people really don’t want to hear about injustice. They’d rather let bullies do their thing, as long as that thing is being done to someone else.
I can’t do that. I just can’t. It’s not in me.
On the other hand, I have a friend who grew up with an abusive alcoholic, and the way he learned to cope was to pull his little turtle head into its shell until the storm had passed. He will do or say whatever it takes to appease his abuser, even at the risk of his own dignity. And to my shock, this actually seems to work rather well for him, self-pride notwithstanding. People in the vicinity of a confrontation absolutely love it when the situation is “fixed” quickly. Even if it isn’t really fixed.
I could never be like that. Not in a million years. Clearly, we are at opposite extremes of the coping spectrum. I set great store by integrity. He sets great store by peace. But does that mean one of our strategies is better or worse than the other? Not really. We are who we are. We do what works for each of us. We are both wounded, and doing our best to keep those wounds from further infection.
I guess my point is that when you see someone reacting in a way that confuses you, try to remember that the war that person is waging (or choosing not to wage) is one that he or she has been fighting (or not fighting) for many years. There’s history there. There may be wounds that you can’t see at first glance. And while change may be possible, it can’t be counted upon. Look deeper. Understanding is a step in the right direction for all concerned.
I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that I’m not who I was as a teenager. Sure, I have many things in common with that girl, but frankly I don’t think I’d want to be stuck on an elevator with her. She was so dramatic it exhausts me to think about it. She was also very, very damaged and love-starved and therefore made a lot of really bad choices. Looking back at myself makes me cringe.
But we all have a past, don’t we? Some of us have more regrets than others. On the other hand, some people actually wish they were their young selves again. These people fascinate me. It must be sad to think that it’s all been downhill from there, that in the intervening years no progress has been made and no lessons have been learned. It must take quite a bit of effort to not move forward, even an inch, after years of living.
The other day I was thinking about the boy I went to school with who listed the KKK as one of his clubs in my junior high school yearbook. I didn’t know him well. I can’t imagine we moved in the same circles. Not even a little bit. But I wonder about the man he became.
Does that man look back at that yearbook entry with pride or with shame? What has he done with his life? Does he have kids? Have they seen that yearbook? My mother’s yearbook entry simply says, “A sweet and simple lass was she.” I suspect that’s a much easier legacy to live up to. It certainly doesn’t require justification or explanation.
I thought about trying to track that guy down, but to be honest, I’m afraid of what I might find. It would be wonderful if he came to his senses and dedicated his life to some form of public service, but I’m afraid that, with such a rotten core, the resulting apple might not be particularly healthy. Hate warps you. Then again, people can change. Who knows.
But then, having come from an educational system that allowed someone to list the KKK as one of their clubs in the yearbook means that none of us, from that rural southern town, had the best start. I think many of us turned out well in spite of, not because of, that twisted beginning. Your role models help to set your stage, but only you can star in the play that is your life.
I am who I am partly because the teenage me was who she was. But I’d like to think I’m so much more than that now. I’ve had life experiences. I’ve grown. I’ve evolved. She was just a part of the overall process. Because of that, I’m grateful for her. But I wouldn’t want to be her. I just wish I still had her pert little behind.
Every day on the way to work, I pass some graffiti on the highway by someone who calls him or herself “Sliz”. I choose to pronounce that “Sleaze”, but there’s nothing sleazy about this person’s artistic abilities. Just from the calligraphy I can tell he or she has a lot to offer the art world.
Since my commute is a long and boring one these days, I’ve kind of created a whole persona around Sliz. I think of her as a skinny 16 year old girl who hides her hair under a ski cap and wears an army jacket and ratty jeans and some well-worn Chuck Taylor high tops. She’s really pretty, but she has decided that it’s much safer to hide that. Sliz has a lot to be angry about. She’s had it really rough. And her graffiti is just a way to express that fury in a non-violent, albeit property-destructive way.
I wish I could meet Sliz and encourage her to use her talents for good. For example, a nice big “Love is the Answer” in bright colors on the freeway overpass would hit the spot quite nicely. Maybe an image of people of different races holding hands. Or a psychedelic peace sign. Even some beautiful imagery would be cool. We all need more beauty in this world.
For all I know, Sliz is a violent gang member with a severe drug addiction. But I like to think that that artistic instinct means that there’s a glimmer of hope. And I’d also like to think that each one of us can nurture our own glimmers, in whatever form they take, into positive forces for change.