Personal Responsibility

I am really proud to live in the State of Washington. I’m impressed at how we’re responding to the pandemic. I listen to Governor Inslee’s press conferences every chance I get, and he’s doing a terrific job keeping us up to date. We are not rushing to open things back up. We’re prioritizing lives over profit. I know that that is causing people to suffer, but in the end, staying alive is more important. This is a time when we all need to make sacrifices, even to the point that it hurts, in order to protect our fellow citizens.

I understand why some states are opening back up too soon. To do otherwise is probably political suicide. People are sick to death of being locked down. People are desperate to get back to work. Those things are tangible. The air is thick with impatience and frustration. Whereas this virus is invisible. You don’t actually see it until someone you love dies.

So I admire Governor Inslee for taking the moral high ground. He’s putting the people first. That’s not something you see many politicians doing these days.

The irritating thing about his press conferences on Facebook is the comments that stream past as he speaks. “You can’t make me wear a mask.” “Who are you to decide whether I open my massage parlor back up?” “Contact tracing is unconstitutional!”

In kindergarten, along with the concept of sharing your toys, it seems that we need to teach children about personal responsibility. While it comes naturally to many of us, it appears to be something that needs to be taught to others. In short: The world does not revolve around you.

You’re absolutely right. No one can make you wear a mask. And no one should have to tell you when to open your business. And while I’m pretty sure you may have to reread the constitution, I’ll admit that contact tracing is a bit of an invasion of privacy.

But you are part of a civilized society. And if you are going to take advantage of the benefits thereof, there are certain sacrifices that you need to make. That’s the contract you’ve entered into. You don’t have to like it.

Just as you shouldn’t shout fire in a crowded theater just because you think it would be funny, and you shouldn’t kneel on someone’s neck for nearly nine minutes simply because you have superior firepower, you also should not do anything else that increases the risk that people around you might die.

You’d think that would go without saying, but apparently not. Every single day that I’m at work, I sit in my bridge tower and watch the pedestrians, joggers, and bicyclists go by. Fewer and fewer of them are wearing masks. More and more of them are out and about. There seems to be a general feeling of, “It can’t happen to me, and I don’t particularly care if it happens to you.”

What these people seem to overlook is that their actions don’t only affect them. If they engage in risky behavior, they also risk bringing the virus home to their loved ones, or to their coworkers, or to the innocent schmuck who happens to pass too close to them on the sidewalk, or to the health care workers who have to risk their lives to care for us. Those are the people I worry about.

If you want to act stupid, that’s your prerogative. But you’re also making bad choices for everyone you come into contact with, and that’s unconscionable.

How American it is to think that just because we’re tired of this virus, we can ignore it and move on. Boo hoo. It’s not fun. It’s a hassle. We want to think about something else. But this virus only has legs if we give it legs. In cases like this, moving on isn’t an option.

Every day, at the beginning of my shift, I sanitize everything in my work space that I think could have been touched by coworkers. I do this for me, and for my husband, and for anyone else I might encounter. And at the end of the shift, I sanitize again. I don’t do this for me. I do this for my coworker who is about to occupy this same space. I think about his son and his wife as I clean. I think about the fact that a 10 year old boy needs both his parents to be healthy to take care of him.

No one can make me do the right thing. No one can make me do anything, technically. I do these things because I know I’m personally responsible for holding up my end of the contract of civilization. I do it because I’m an adult. I do it because I care about my fellow human beings.

personal-responsibility

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Coyotes Killing Cats

I know what it’s like to lose a pet. It’s heartbreaking. They are a part of your family, and the loss is felt keenly.

But.

Pets are also your responsibility. If your Pitt Bull is running around loose and bites a someone, that’s on you. If your boa constrictor gets loose and swallows the neighbor’s poodle, that’s on you. If your cat is allowed to roam free and gets killed by a coyote, that’s also on you. That coyote is only doing what coyotes do. (And your cat was probably killing songbirds anyway. It’s a cat.) Keep your cat inside and coyotes won’t be an issue.

I get so frustrated when people complain about coyotes. “Coyotes Killing Cats” is a frequent topic on my local Nextdoor.com page. It’s the coyotes’ territory as much as it is ours. They have every bit as much right to survive as we do. It would be great if they could live far away from people and feed on things that we are not emotionally attached to, but we’ve made it all but impossible for them to do that.

When people’s pets start disappearing, there’s always a call to kill the coyotes. It makes me sick. If you allow your pets to roam free, you need to be willing to live with the consequences.

I can hear the coyotes howling in the park behind my house on many nights. I think it’s a lovely sound. And I never let my dachshund outside from dusk to dawn without supervision, even if our yard is fenced, and I’ve never seen a coyote inside that fence. Because that’s what a responsible pet owner should do.

Coyote

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The Devil Made Me Do It

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about temptation. I can gaze at my ever-expanding waistline and think about how miserable it makes me, and I can stare at a bag of Tim’s potato chips, feeling helpless, and I know that without a doubt, I’ll be diving head first into that bag of chips sooner or later, waistline be damned. I can resist anything but temptation.

But temptation implies that there’s some outside force acting upon me. It’s sort of a get out of jail free card. It’s not my fault. The devil made me do it. I was tempted by… fill in the blank.

This deferment of responsibility is rooted, I think, in the religious teachings that have been embedded in our culture so deeply that we barely think about them anymore. I passed a church today, and the message on their sign said, “The devil wants us to FALL.”

Many of us are taught that we are weak creatures, prone to sin, and satan is out there, hellbent on making us commit these sins. We must resist. But if we can’t, we should repent and be forgiven.

It’s really rather comforting, having a ready excuse for bad behavior. It’s wonderful to be able to blame everything on some outside source, as if we have no ability to say no. Like we’re puppets on strings. We might be doing the dance, but it’s not our choice.

I have a friend who does not like to watch true crime documentaries, because he doesn’t want those sick ideas put into his head. It’s almost as if he thinks that if he learns the motivations of a serial killer, for example, then he might just become one himself. And, mind you, this is the most decent, stand-up guy I’ve ever met in my life.

Here’s an idea. Just say, “I don’t enjoy true crime documentaries.”

Here’s another idea. Admit that every single food item that I put in my mouth is there because I am choosing to put it there. Every. Single. One.

Here’s yet another idea. Stand up and say, “I chose to start drinking/smoking/doing drugs. Yes, now I’m addicted to this substance, but the process began with a choice I made, and now I can choose to get help and/or change my behavior.”

Granted, you can be tempted by others. But even then, you are choosing to surround yourself with these people. If someone is a bad influence, maybe it’s time to cut that person out of your life, or at the very least, stop participating in his or her negative behavior.

I think it’s time that we grow up as a species, and start taking responsibility for our own actions. It may not be fun. It may not be pretty. We may have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. But we can do this.

I admit it. I have not seen my last potato chip. But at least I’ll know that the choice is my own, and hopefully I will make a better choice next time. I’m a work in progress. But the work, and the resulting progress or lack thereof, is mine, mine, all mine.

Chips

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Stop Calling Alcoholism a Disease

In the interests of full disclosure, I have zero tolerance for alcoholics. Zero. (I’ve written about this before, and you can find that post here.) I’m also not a doctor, so please don’t consider this post to be medical advice. This is just me fleshing out the unpopular side of a debate that people have been avoiding for decades, to wit,

is alcoholism a disease?

There is no other disease that I can think of that compels you to take an outside substance into your body. No one calls smoking a disease. Smoking can cause many diseases, but it is not considered a disease in and of itself. Alcoholism, too, can cause diseases. Liver disease, for example, and an alteration in brain chemistry that makes it harder to resist alcohol, which is considered by many to be a brain disease. But there is no disease vector on earth that caused you to take that first drink, or even the second one.

Yes, alcoholism can run in families, but that doesn’t make it a disease, either. That speaks to the behavioral aspect of the addiction. You learn coping skills from your family. Unfortunately, not all coping skills are good ones. And yes, your family might be more susceptible to the brain disease that makes alcohol harder to resist, but still, starting to drink was your bad choice. That brain disease couldn’t get in there until you chose to introduce that substance into your body.

The definition of disease, according to the Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. is as follows:

disease

 [dĭ-zēz´]

a definite pathological process (in other words, an organic process occurring as a consequence of a disease) having a characteristic set of signs and symptoms. It may affect the whole body or any of its parts, and its etiology, pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown.

On the other hand, the definition of addiction in that same dictionary is as follows:

addiction

 [ah-dik´shun]

  1. thestate of beinggiven up to somehabit or compulsion.

  2. strong physiological and psychological dependence on a drug or other agent; see alcoholism and drug dependence.

So, why does society want to call alcoholism a disease?

Because the hallmark of addiction is an unwillingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. If it’s a disease, then it’s not your fault, right?

But a much more nefarious reason is that calling alcoholism a disease props up the first step of the Twelve Step program. The first step is: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Until you buy into that step, you cannot really proceed to the others.

Yes, I’ll concede that alcoholism can make your life unmanageable. That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? But are you powerless over it? No.

Yes, you are in the throes of addiction. You need help. And part of that help should lie in therapy, so that you can learn how your choices brought you to this terrible point in life, and also so that you can formulate alternative coping skills to use in times of strife. You will also need medical help to get past the withdrawal, and all the ravages that alcohol has caused in your body.

But those are actions you must take. You. No one else. So that’s your power. It won’t be easy. It won’t be fun. But you don’t have to do it alone.

Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t want you to feel power. It’s a multi-billion dollar a year industry that has weaseled its way into the vast majority of the addiction programs in the world. But their dirty little secret is that, in a good year, that program is only 10 percent effective. (Read more about these scary statistics here.)

If alcoholism is a disease and AA is the cure, and it’s only 10 percent effective, then somebody better get back to the drawing board in a dang hurry.

They also want you to think that you’re an alcoholic for life, so that you’ll continue to grind your way through the Alcoholics Anonymous money mill. But think about it. With most other diseases, there’s either a cure or, ultimately, death.

Alcoholism shouldn’t be considered a life sentence. It should be seen as a problem that needs a solution. You need to attack the behavioral, psychological and physical aspects of it, and there are ways to do that other than AA. But you can’t find them if you’re too busy working on being powerless.

Rational Recovery is the program I recommend. It teaches you to identify your addictive voice and come up with actions or responses that will allow you to be a healthier, happier you. But part of that is taking responsibility and taking action. Take back your power.

The first step is to stop calling alcoholism a disease. No more excuses. Take responsibility. You are not diseased. You are not a disease. You are not powerless. If you continue down the path of alcoholism, destroying your life and the lives of the people that you love in the process, that’s your choice. But stop hiding from the fact that there are other choices.

I know this post will probably ruffle feathers, but it has been boiling up inside me for a long time, and I had to get it out there. I wish more people would speak up.

Choices

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More Telling Than a FICO Score

I’m about to become a landlord for the first time in my life. It’s a strange feeling. It took me 54 years to scrape and claw myself up into the middle class, and now here I am trying to judge the content of someone’s character based on their FICO score.

And I must say, it’s a very telling reference point. From it you can determine if one pays their debts, does not spend beyond their means, and basically if that person is a good financial risk. You can also get a sense of their level of discipline, their ability to hold a job, their integrity and responsibility. It’s not a perfect metric, to be sure. Life happens. But it’s better than flying blind.

Of course, we are using an application and doing a credit and background check as well. I’m trying really hard to look at this as a business, not as an emotional thing. As in, “I really like that couple. I want to help them.”

It’s really hard to pass judgment on someone you’ve just met. And it’s really important to me to do my best not to be biased. It’s not easy. But someone else gave me another measuring tool that is turning out to be even more telling than a FICO score.

When a couple is looking at your rental place, how are they talking to each other? Do they do so with respect? They don’t necessarily have to be affectionate. Some people are much more private than others. But are they being respectful to one another? Because if they can’t maintain that respect with the person that they supposedly love most in the world, then they’re not going to respect your house, and may not respect the need to pay the rent on time, either.

This makes perfect sense to me. And I think I’ll be using this yardstick in other walks of life as well. Because it’s true, when I see people who tease each other to an extreme, or are downright rude or cruel to one another, as a general rule, they’re not the type of people who I want to have in my life. How you treat your loved ones says a lot about who you are, deep down.

Respect. The ultimate FICO score.

Yardstick

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Faith Ain’t Reality

I admire people who have faith. Religious faith in particular is a quality that seems to have eluded me most of my life. I would truly love to be able to let go and let God, as the saying goes.

It has to be comforting to think that there’s a higher power who has ultimate control. It must be liberating to not have to think you are the primary decision-maker in your own life, that the buck doesn’t stop here after all, that some cosmic being is on your side, and therefore a large amount of the responsibility belongs to someone or something else. It would be so nice to guess that your fate has already been mapped out for you. That there’s a plan. What a weight would be lifted from my shoulders! I’d also love to think that prayer could solve my problems.

I just can’t do it. I like facts. I want evidence. Proof. Otherwise, how is it different from believing in unicorns?

I wish there were unicorns. I’d love to see a unicorn. I’d love to live in a world where unicorns wandered the streets. But I live in the real world.

Here’s what gives me comfort: we’ve learned so much about the universe and how it works that it becomes increasingly easy to not rely on the great unknown to answer the decreasing number of unanswerable questions. We know what causes eclipses these days. Nothing is devouring the sun.

Now, the trick is to maintain a moral compass when you technically don’t answer to anyone other than yourself. Perhaps that’s the kind of faith I need to nurture: the concept that humans have the maturity to be capable of morality without oversight.

Wish me luck.

unicorn

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A Rant About Smokers

I’m sure that the very people who need to read this the most will be the very people who will not do so, but I feel the need to get this off my chest. I hate smoking and everything about it. I’m tired of soft-pedaling that attitude simply because it’s an addiction.

I’m quite sure I’d be just as addicted to nicotine as the next person, but here’s the difference: I chose never to start smoking. If you did not make that same choice, it’s on you. Own it. Yes, tobacco companies tend to target youth, who are more apt to make stupid choices, and heaven knows none of us are the same people we were at 14, but even so, you made that choice. Take responsibility. Stop making excuses.

And for God’s sake, stop throwing your saliva-soaked cigarette butts on the ground. It’s disgusting. I used to love to walk in the rain. It makes the world seem so fresh and clean. But the last time I did that, I had to wade through about a thousand soggy cigarette butts, and it left me dry heaving. I’d rather look at dog poop. Yeah, you’re addicted. But that doesn’t give you license to be a pig. And any smoker who tries to say they’ve never thrown a butt on the ground, not even once, is lying to themselves and everyone else. And as one of the unfortunates who has to clean up after your lazy ass, know that I’m cursing your name with every butt I have to pick up.

And then there’s the stench. You are so used to it that you probably don’t even smell it anymore, but trust me: you reek. Your house stinks. Your car is even worse. When you sweat, it oozes out of your pores. It clings to your hair and your clothes. (My mother died 26 years ago, and her raincoat, which I inherited, STILL stinks.) And if you leave ash trays around, that disgusting odor permeates the room. Many of us believe that you render yourself unkissable and undateable.

Growing up, the first sound I’d hear every morning was my mother’s smoker’s hack. Do you have any idea how terrifying that is for a child? It’s awful knowing that something is wrong with the person who is supposed to keep you safe. Sure enough, she died of cancer when I was 26.

And I suffered from chronic bronchitis because she chose to expose me to that secondhand smoke at a time when my little lungs were still developing. That’s one powerful addiction if you choose it over your child’s health. Shame on you. And don’t even get me started about women who smoke while pregnant. Would you inject rat poison into your own placenta? No? That’s what you are doing to your unborn child.

And if I hear one more smoker complain…actually have the nerve to complain about not being able to smoke anymore in restaurants or on planes or in other public places, I hereby reserve the right to slap the shit out of that person. Even heroin addicts have the sense not to gripe about these things.

The worst part about all of this is that you are an unbelievably selfish human being. You are killing yourself. You know it. Everyone knows it. You are committing suicide in the slowest possible way. And that hurts the people that you love. That leaves the people who depend upon you vulnerable. That in turn puts an unbelievable strain on the economy and the health care system.

You are shitting all over the incredible gift of life that you have been given. And because of that, while I might like you or even love you, I have zero respect for you and your effed up life choice. Zero.

End of rant.

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On Being Someone’s Person

My dog Quagmire is hysterically clingy. That’s partly due to his breeding—Dachshunds can be that way. But it’s also partly due to all that he’s been through in his life. He was found dirty and starving and wandering the streets. He spent a lot of time in dog rescue facilities, which, despite their best intentions, probably felt a lot like puppy prison to him. It’s got to be traumatic to be jailed when you’re innocent.

And then I adopted him. I became his person. Now, when I’m home, he sticks to me like glue. If I’m sitting, he’s on my lap or nestled under my arm pit. He even accompanies me to the bathroom. He sleeps curled beside me. If I roll over, he repositions himself for maximum body contact.

Mostly I love it. Sometimes it drives me nuts. It’s like I suddenly gained 18 pounds of furry fat.

But when you adopt a pet, you make a commitment. You are responsible for the health and safety of another living thing. You don’t get to take a day off. It’s like being a parent. If you cannot provide a child with constant love and security, then maybe you should not take on this lifelong task.

Once you tell someone or something that you will provide a forever home, you need to keep that promise. Ideally, you will do so happily. It’s okay to have your moments. We all do. But don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep. The damage you cause will ripple outward.

And it will also say something extremely ugly about you.

i-will-love-forever

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Adrenaline Junkies

A friend of mine recently posted this video of Dan Osman, extreme sportsman, on her Facebook page. In it, he basically scrambles up a 400 foot cliff in 4 minutes, 25 seconds. Without a rope.

While this is fascinating to watch, my first thought was, “I bet he doesn’t live long.”

And sure enough, a quick check of Wikipedia revealed that he died at age 35. He was jumping off the 1,200 foot rock formation below when his rope failed. Is it just me, or was that predictable? Physics. The great equalizer.

When I was younger, I might have admired his ability to live life to its fullest. And it can be assumed that he died while doing something he really, really loved to do. How many people will be able to say that?

But I’m not so young anymore, and I know what it’s like to experience grief. And because of that, I can only view this amazing man’s antics as a horrible waste. He left behind a daughter and other people who loved him. Was it worth it?

No man is an island… even if he is an adrenaline junkie. You don’t just live for yourself. You are living for others as well: People who need you. When people give you love, that also saddles you with a certain level of responsibility.

In this tribute video for Dan Osman, which shows some of his more hair-raising stunts, the first thing he says is “When this is all over, I’m really looking forward to spending some time with my daughter and family…” and one of the last things that is said in that video is that a friend who witnessed his death heard his final scream before he hit the trees.

When I see people, usually young men, participating in extreme sports, I have very mixed emotions. But the one that endures for me is sadness. The older I get and the more people I lose, the more I realize that life is a gift that’s more precious than any shot of adrenaline could ever be.

Leaning_Tower,_Yosemite_Valley,_Yosemite,_California.jpg

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Not My Problem

I spent the first hour of my shift today with a battery operated leaf blower, cleaning off the sidewalks and the bike lanes of my bridge. A clean bridge is a happy bridge. At least that’s my motto. I take pride in showing this drawbridge in its very best light, and in my quarterly reviews it’s usually noted that this is the cleanest bridge in the system.

Leaf blowers are fun. They give you this sense of power that is normally beyond your reach. Out, damned spot! Out I say! You just have to be careful not to get so caught up in your own head trip that you get mowed down by a bicycle. Talk about a reality check.

The only down side to blowing leaves is that you’re not really getting rid of your problem, you’re just relocating it. Which is fine, if you follow through and bag them afterward. But I’ve seen many a landscaper just blow them down the street. “Not my problem anymore.”

Yeah it is. Because a certain percentage of them are going to blow back into your yard eventually. Count on it. And if everyone has your attitude, a whole lot more debris is going to be blown into your yard by the equally lazy people up the street.

This is also why most medical funding is not focused on prevention. Even though prevention has proven time and time again to give you a much better return on your investment, society in general is much more willing to deal with the problems that have already occurred, when there is no longer a choice.

It’s the same with the environment. Does it really surprise anyone that so many people are willing to ignore global climate change? We’re doing all right for the time being. We still can fill our bathtubs and eat our avocados out of season. Why make sacrifices? And I’m not just shaming the climate change deniers, here. I live in one of the most environmentally conscious cities in the entire country, and yet even as I write this I’m looking out on a highway that is so choked with vehicles that they can hardly move. And yes, I drove home to write this.

One of the few problems with short terms for politicians is that they, too, can blow their problematical leaves down the street. “Let someone else deal with the tricky stuff a decade from now, once I’ve retired.” We now find ourselves hip deep in a political leaf storm, people. Having fun?

Humanity has a lot of growing up to do. We have to start behaving like adults. We need to take responsibility. We need to act with integrity. We need to take society’s ills seriously even if we aren’t feeling particularly feverish as individuals.

It’s time to start bagging up our leaves.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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