Am I better off because people aren’t lying to me anymore, and why do the worst people in my life have the best stories? Let’s take a random walk through Meyers-Briggs, Wordle and the sexual revolution…
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I know a guy who had a very troubled life when he was a kid. It was the kind of life that could have turned him into a bitter and vengeful individual, except that he made the decision to change the course of his journey and pass up the opportunity to infect his kids.
Actually, I know a few guys like that, along with quite a few more who are repeating the destructive patterns of their childhood homes. That’s what they know, they think they turned out just fine, and there’s no compelling need to switch gears.
In every family, in every home, the time-honored processes repeat until someone decides to break the chain. We’re all victims of our pasts until, maybe, one day, we’re not. One day, somebody decides that the past isn’t prologue, that “it's just the way our family is...,” is a poor excuse for doing the wrong thing again and again.
I encountered the permutations in my own family as we dove into some ancestry investigations over the past couple of years. As with all family trees, mine has a few diseased roots. We all want to discover that our ancestors slew dragons and cured diseases, but sometimes we’re disappointed to learn that we have more crooks than champions along the line. Sometimes, we look at some of our forebears and we’re very, very grateful that they didn’t have more kids.
Every family has its black sheep, but I’m more intrigued by the white sheep, the ones who changed the family’s arc for the better. We all learn how to become parents by watching our parents and we all learn how to live our lives by our families’ model. Most of the time, nothing is so toxic that we’re repulsed by it, and sometimes the toxic stuff is the only thing we know.
And then there are the unsung heroes on the family tree, the people who decide enough is enough and it’s absolutely not good enough for the next generation. They’re largely invisible, because doing good doesn’t generate much of a splash, but you can see the inflection points through the lens of time. Look back a few generations and you’ll find the person who flipped the script, who jettisoned the scourge and created a new model for an enlightened family.
Whatever our situations today, we can be pretty sure there were twists and turns along the way. A good family turned bad, a young person was led astray, a single malevolent parent created a multi-generational pandemic…until somebody broke the spell.
The people who set the earth back on its foundation can seem pretty regular, exceedingly normal, in everyday settings. You’d never suspect their heroism, because they aren’t looking for the spotlight. Instead, they’re quietly and steadily moving the needle toward sunlight, leaving the dark side behind. Maybe they deserve more recognition, or at least a clever T-shirt. The world would be a helluva lot worse without them.
If you look through your family and you can’t find the person who broke the chain, maybe this is a good time to be a hero. Just a thought.
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I don’t wanna sound like some PC cop or First-Amendment hater, but there are some words I never want to hear again. They really don’t mean what they’re supposed to mean or, even worse, maybe they do. Either way, it’s time we stopped saying…
Side hustle. I have to work two jobs to make ends meet, but I want to feel like I’m hip and cool, so I’ll call it my side hustle. No, no, and, did I mention, no. Nobody in the C-Suite has a side hustle. Nobody who owns three companies refers to two of them as side hustles. The only people with side hustles are delivering Uber Eats or trying to start a business as a way to escape their crappy day jobs. Stop. It.
Tragedy. Okay, there really are tragedies in the world, but let’s stop calling it a tragedy when some guy heads to the shopping mall to kill a dozen people. That’s not a tragedy. It’s a murder, an assault, an act of domestic terrorism, but not a tragedy. It’s a tragedy when a car runs off the road and a family is killed. It’s a tragedy when a toddler dies. When it’s a crime, it’s a crime, not a tragedy.
Conservative. Yes, there really are conservatives in the world and I count myself among them. Well, I did count myself among them until the entire term got hijacked by isolationists, insurrectionists, neo-Nazis, anarchists, and know-nothings. At least the far-lefties call themselves “progressives” and not “liberals,” so we know how to tell them apart. I believe in free speech, but we should start jailing all the frauds who call themselves conservative when they’re really just jerks.
Widespread fraud. Speaking of frauds, it’s time the mainstream media found another term to use in all their election stories. I get it. You cannot say there was no fraud at all in the 2020 election. There is always someone who votes twice or votes in the wrong precinct or votes after dying, or all of the above. Still, when the media say there wasn’t enough “widespread fraud” to change the results, they’re keeping the door open for everyone who bases their belief on any fraud at all.
Bully. If you ever want to sound really weak and helpless and victim-y, call somebody a bully. Of course, there are lots of people who push others around and use their position or strength or intellect to cow others into submission. No doubt about it. Still, nobody has ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, had an epiphany and changed her ways after being called a bully. Frankly, the word makes me cringe, so everyone who says it is actually bullying me. Please stop. I’m very sensitive about this stuff.
Woke. So the people who hate cultural appropriation decided to appropriate a bit of Black vernacular and transform it into a way to bully people who might engage in cultural appropriation. Who could possibly disagree with that?
As long as I’m on a roll here, I’m not exactly thrilled with both sides, whatabout, triggered or poutine, either, but we’ll have to wait for my next rant on those. Gotta head out to my side hustle at Wokester's Digest, and it would be a tragedy if I’m delayed by some conservative bully.
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Back when I was a newspaper reporter covering the federal courts in Chicago, we’d end up with at least one big investment fraud case in any given year. And when we’d read the court filing, we could count on one truth: A huge percentage of the victims would be doctors.
I could understand why doctors would be targeted by the kind of upscale con artists who ended up in federal court. First, second, and third, they had money. Even the poor ones were rich. In addition, they were accustomed to being treated well, having a bit of extra access to the favors of life, so they weren’t very suspicious when someone offered them an insider’s opportunity to make a killing.
The thing that confused me, at first, was their gullibility. From the outside, after the fact, I could see 500 warning signs that they were being offered something too good to be true. Why didn’t they see at least some of those red flags and walk away from the deal?
Eventually, I figured it out and the lesson has stuck with me for many years. When you’re an expert in one area, it’s all too easy to overestimate your wisdom in uncharted territory. Doctors are smart, well-educated, and they have special knowledge that others value. It’s easy for people in that position to assume they can master other domains, whether it’s investments or spotting frauds. The thinking, as I imagined it, was: 1. I am smart enough to know a legit deal from a fraud. 2. This looks legit to me. 3. Where’s my check book?
They aren’t alone, of course. We’ve all run into people who are savants in one area and totally inept in another. Often, those people are absolutely unable to recognize where their expertise ends and the stupidity begins.
We see it frequently on the public stage, as business tycoons decide they should be politicians, politicians tell business owners how to run their companies, movie stars lecture us about medicine, and some drunk guy at the end of the bar puts the global economy back on solid footing. Sometimes we recognize it when someone has veered outside their lane, but too often we succumb to the notion that genius is a fungible strength.
Actually, we’re a little bit wacky about the whole thing. We think the people who’ve spent their lives in some arcane endeavor know less than the prima donnas who make broad pronouncements based on…on…on…what? Some of our self-declared experts don’t even claim to have read a few articles on the internet. They just know. Even worse, we nod our heads and accept their gospel.
It’s absolutely worst in politics, of course, where faith in the system has sunk so low that voters across the country are opting for “none of the above.” We decide to roll the dice on some never-tested poser on the assumption we cannot possibly do worse than we’ve been doing and then, surprise, it gets even worse. Still, in a cycle that would make P.T. Barnum proud, we do it again and again.
Like our physician friends, we’re just too confident for our own good. We think we can spot the frauds and we think we know the risks, so we trust the promises of the rich and famous, and infamous, as they lead us even further out of our lane.
On the positive side, it turns out that we’re as smart as any doctor we’ve ever met.
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The race is on, and I’m losing yet again.
Every year, I swear it will be different. I’ll be organized. I’ll resist the interruptions, the intrusions, the urgent-but-unimportant disturbances that break my stride. I’ll do two century rides, I’ll take 2,000 photos, I’ll spend 100 days with the grandkids, I’ll make this year different from the nearly 70 that preceded it.
And here I am again, with the calendar about to shed another page and the impending solstice mocking me like my first three psychiatrists. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, didn’t, didn’t, didn’t. The best we can say here is that I’m remarkably consistent.
The Yiddish proverb says that man plans and God laughs, which would make me the most successful comedian in the heavens. Here on earth, though, I’m not sure I’m in on the joke. My only consolation is the absolute knowledge that I’m not alone, that a life of distractions is the human condition.
What is it about us that we’re so easily distracted, lured away from the things we value most to give away our lives to the unimportant, the foolish, the transient goofiness of strangers? How do we allow ourselves to invest our reputations, our emotions, and our irreplaceable time on earth in bagatelles?
When the calendar flips over to September 1, daylight in Chicago will be two hours shorter than on the solstice and about equal to April 9, when the low was a rainy 34 and the high was a balmy 49. I’d like to say I used my days well since then, but I’ve spent more time reading Twitter than I’ve spent on the bicycle and more hours on Facebook than with my friends. Yeah, I know, they’re “friends,” on Facebook, too, but I haven’t met most of them.
Nope, I’ve blown most of the 90 days the sun spends north of the equator and I’ll miss the remaining three weeks if I don’t get moving. Now.
Sadly, I’ve been here before, and before, and before. Like all the times I’ve finished my fourth slice of pizza or my fifth beer or my sixth rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, I promise that this is the last time I’ll make that mistake and, oops, I do it again. Next time, though, that’s the charm. Just wait and see.
Okay, enough of this tomfoolery. I need to get serious if I’m going to reclaim the summer. No more lallygagging or shillyshallying or making up words like himbydimbying just to stall for time. I’m heading out right now to pull the spider webs off the bike and greet the open road. There’s no stopping me this time.
Right after I check my feed on Tik Tok.
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Sometimes, I think we really enjoy being miserable. Otherwise, why would we be working so hard to live our lives in despair?
I know this guy who’s rich, owns more than one home, runs a successful business, travels when and where he wants, and truly is better off than 99+% of the world. But he is seething, because he thinks “they” hate him. I don’t recall hearing anyone say bad things about him and he hasn’t told me who “they” are, but I have a guess. Someone on cable news, or on one of the internet sites he visits, told him he’s a victim, resented for his success and falsely labeled as evil.
He seems to believe these conclusions, coming from people who have never met him about people who will never meet him…about conversations that have never happened. His life is just a bit less happy, just a bit less peaceful, just a bit more unsettled, because “they” told him what some other “they” believe about him.
He isn’t alone, of course. I know people of different backgrounds and ages who seem to be striving to achieve a miserable life. Somebody is out to get them, to strip them of their rights, to indoctrinate their children, and double dip in their salsa. Left, right, male, female, gay, straight, Marianne, Ginger, they’re all working hard to be offended. They aren’t vocal about it all the time, but there’s a nearly perceptible hum as their minds churn over the indignities of the day.
I get it. We have major issues to resolve and major disagreements about how, or whether, to change. It’s natural to get angry about the whole thing, whichever thing we’re thinking about, and it’s easy to find examples of whatever it is that sets us on a rampage. In the end, though, we get trapped in our own cycle of outrage, anger and an enervating despair about our future. Thankfully, there are no politicians or cable news hosts or internet trolls who would stoop low enough to take advantage of this weakness.
It takes two to tango, as they say, and it also takes two to form a dominant/submissive relationship. That’s really the core of these interactions, isn’t it? We trust someone to direct our perceptions and drive our emotions in a way that provides some kind of thrill, some reward that makes the pain worthwhile. That means there must be some excitement, some validation, some enjoyment in our misery.
Or, maybe we aren't having any fun at all. Maybe there is no real payoff from all that suffering and we suddenly realize we’ve signed up for a raw deal. What happens if the misery becomes so overwhelming that we must flee the pain? Is there a point at which we’re tired of being mad as hell, so mad we cannot take the anger anymore? Can we exercise the ultimate power of the submissive and simply say ‘no?’
Misery makes us weaker, uncertain, less resistant to suggestions we might oppose, quite sensibly, in our saner moments. There’s an entire industry profiting from our misery, achieving their success through our despair. We’ve seen this movie so may times, you’d think we’d recognize the plot by now.
Spoiler alert: We don’t win.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.