Thoughts On Life: Real Power

September 27, 2009

You don’t have to be delusional to live in a world of your own making. At least, I hope that’s true, because ALL of us live in a world we create for ourselves.

Last summer in Chicago, we were complaining about the heat. In the summer just ended, we were complaining about the cold. Was either summer good enough for us, or do we just have to insist that God work a lot harder on our behalf?

In many ways, 2009 in Chicago offered us a great summer. Cool nights made for great sleeping weather,  the wind kept the mosquitoes at bay and we saved a ton on air conditioning costs.

On the other hand, this was the worst summer you can imagine. The wind was relentless, which made it much harder to ride a bicycle, and it was so cool that we seldom had dinner on the deck without a jacket. Yeah, we had a few meals outside between mid-July and mid-September, but this wasn’t exactly the season we dream about as we put up with Chicago winters.

So which was it: great summer or disaster? The answer lies in that world of selfish, idiosyncratic, uniquely personal perceptions that all of us inhabit. Alone.

It was a great summer, or a bad one, if I SAY IT WAS. Whatever the statistics or the measurable reality, only I have the power to judge the year. And it doesn’t matter if everybody I know thinks differently; nobody else can make the decision for me.

THIS is real power, and we don’t have to be delusional to enjoy it. We can look at the same facts as everyone else, but that doesn’t mean we have to come to the same conclusions.

Just for fun, take a sheet of paper and write a few notes about your life. Put the bad stuff on one side and the good stuff on the other. Unless you decide to cheat by ignoring one half of your life, there will be plenty of both to fill several pages. When the list is complete, both sides of the ledger will speak about facts, history and realities.

Read the two columns separately. It will be like reading the stories of two completely different people. Will you choose to see yourself as mostly column A or mostly column B? After all the facts are considered, only you can make the choice.

Real Power. Enjoy it.


Thoughts on Life: If I Was Selling Health Care Reform

September 24, 2009

We all laugh at the tourists who can’t speak the local language, so they speak slowly and loudly in English in order to be understood. Failing in that attempt, they decide to speak more slowly and loudly, which is absolutely foolproof, as we all know.

I see the same approach in the endless lobbying for health care reform by the Obama administration. It’s a classic case of bad marketing. Ineffective messages fail to convince, so the volume and frequency are increased, as if the audience didn’t get it the first 500 times. Perhaps people get the messages, but the messages aren’t compelling.

For example, most people in the United States have health insurance and most of them are relatively happy with it. There are gripes and problems, but it’s the devil they know. Yeah, it costs too much and there are too many exclusions, but it could be a lot worse and, in fact, they fear that any change could make things MUCH worse. They know the United States is the only major nation without universal health care and they might believe people in other countries are well served by their systems, but that’s not a compelling reason to give up what they have today.

And most people don’t really care that much about changing the system to give a benefit to poor people. Sorry, but that’s the way it is, especially in an era of economic weakness and fearful outlooks and a talk-radio industry that profits mightily from citizen revolt.

It’s not about facts, of course. Health care is rationed today, but it’s rationed by the private sector. Insurance company executives make huge salaries, but cutting their pay to zero won’t make a dent in the total system. Taxpayers are on the hook, one way or another, for the costs incurred by uninsured people who get their care at emergency rooms. Of course, that also means the uninsured DO have access to medical care. The list goes on, but not a lot of people really care to parse the facts and arguments. They believe what they believe and that’s the end of it.

So how do you sell change to people who don’t think they need it? Talk about their problems and their fears. What scares people who have insurance? Not having it. Or not getting covered for something major. Losing coverage with the loss of a job. And….well, actually, that’s about it. Especially if the coverage is paid for by employers and the bill isn’t paid directly by the insured.

Stop talking about other countries and other people. And stop trying to micromanage by offering “end-of-life counseling” that can be twisted into “death panels.” Keep it simple, stupid, and tell me why it’s better for me, not for some other mope I’ll never meet.

People are willing to buy all kinds of things they don’t need, if the sales pitch is compelling. Perhaps the administration should hire the marketing people behind bottled water, leaf blowers or Chia Pets. Problem solved.

Thoughts on Life: Starting Over

September 13, 2009

I was hoping to do 2,000 miles on the bicycle this summer, which is a pretty lofty goal for a sloth like me. So far, I’m half-way there, which means I can still hit 2,000 miles if I ride about 125 miles per day for the next eight days. No problem.

I was at 982 miles this morning and very excited at the prospect of hitting 1,000 today. So I put some mail in my saddlebag and rode to the post office and back and proudly clicked through the readings on my odometer. But my odometer doesn’t register past 1,000, so now I’m back at zero.

That’s life, isn’t it? You get to some level and then you start over. We’re finally at the top of the heap, seniors in high school, and then, bam, we’re back to being freshmen again. Four or five or six years later, we’re finally at the top again as seniors and then, clunk, we’re hired as third assistant stapler technician.

If we’re hired at all. Can’t make assumptions these days.

Starting over can be deflating, says the guy who’s done it about ten times, but it’s also exciting and invigorating. When we begin anew, we’re wiser than we were the last time, better equipped, not as likely to make the same rookie mistakes that tripped us up before.

Tabula rasa. The blank slate. I think about this quite a bit around this time of year, with the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, next Friday. Once a year, we reset our odometers to zero and start again, hopefully wiser than one year earlier. At best, we’re mindful and grateful for the gift we’ve just used up—one year we won’t get back again—and determined to enjoy the gift we are about to unwrap.

One important note about the Jewish New Year. It begins in the seventh month. The actual calendar begins in the spring, at Passover. So why would the New Year start when the year is six months old? There are historical reasons, but I like the idea of separating the business end of the calendar from the spiritual beginning. The year resets in the first month, but WE reset in the seventh.

Spirituality and religion aside, we all have the opportunity to hit the reset button and start over at any time we want. Today, for example. Today could be the day I no longer worry about money or appearances or possessions or the future. Today could be the day I start sharing more or listening better or paying attention to the joy that surrounds me.

On Rosh Hashanah, we say a prayer that includes the phrase Ha’yom Harat Olam. “Today, the world is born.” It’s become a bit of a mantra for me. I say it almost every day when I wake up and look out the window and see the new day I’m about to enjoy.

 Today, the world is born. For each of us, every day is Today. For each of us, the world is born anew every day.

 Tabula Rasa. The blank slate. Odometers at zero. And a world of possibility.


A Reader Asks: Why are teenage girls crueler than teenage boys?

September 1, 2009

I’m not sure we can say for certain that teenage girls are crueler. It depends on whether a whispering campaign is “crueler” than a bloody nose.  A boy who was tormented by the class bully throughout high school is likely to think his treatment was worse than that suffered by a girl who was “merely” the subject of insidious rumors.

Traditionally, teenage boys engage in physical confrontations. There’s a challenge, a fight, somebody loses and the fight is over. The pecking order is established and will not change. Teenage girls have a tendency to get caught up in drama that doesn’t have as neat a finish. It can go on forever, along with the pain it creates.

We also have to consider the fact that there are fewer potential aggressors in physical warfare than in psychological battles. Not all the boys in a class will be strong enough to launch a physical attack, but all the girls can engage in an emotional one. Weak boys don’t try to beat strong boys, but weak girls can undermine stronger ones.

As with everything in life, the big issue is how the recipient of abuse responds to the attack, whether physical or emotional. All of us get knocked down, but not all of us stay down.