One of the worst bits of advice I ever received was, “Consider the source.” Yeah, it seemed like great advice when the car salesman said he was giving me his best price and the real estate agent said it was the perfect time to buy a house and the Secretary of Mining from Nigeria said I could trust him to send me the money. Beyond the obvious stuff, though, that once-great rule isn’t working for me anymore.
The problem, not surprisingly, is politics. My tribe good. Your tribe must die. You get the picture.
A few weeks ago, a reporter for a cable network asked an embarrassing question about someone’s behavior during the pandemic. There’s absolutely no question about the hypocrisy of the exchange, especially when we consider the way that network has responded to similar behavior by the people they support. Still, the question was legitimate, because it’s legitimate to ask whether a leader is upholding the same standards that leader demands of others.
No one will be surprised to learn that the answers started to divide along party lines. And absolutely, positively, without any shadow of a doubt, we will not be surprised to learn that nobody actually answered the question.
Because we are considering the source.
We’re being pretty stupid these days, at our great expense. We aren’t fixing the weaknesses in our economy, we aren’t inoculating people fast enough, we aren’t reducing violence, we aren’t improving our kids’ education, we aren’t making government more responsive or effective or efficient or transparent, or or or… We aren’t making progress, in large part, because we cannot and will not discuss ideas. We identify the source, support or reject accordingly, and then move on to our next post.
In The Time Before, I went to a program about the way elections are handled in the United States, a session that covered everything from voter registration to gerrymandering to allocation of Electoral College votes. The speakers raised some good points about the ways our system fails to reflect the will of the people and they offered some solutions for our consideration. When the meeting ended, the guy sitting next to me leaned over and said, “He sounded like he might be a Democrat.”
That was it. The conversation was over. My neighbor doesn’t think his views are represented in government, but he wasn’t going to consider any solutions that might be offered by Democrats.
He was considering the source.
He didn’t care about the ideas, just the team that owned them. Four years from now, he’ll still be complaining that the government doesn’t respond to the will of the people, but he’ll be glad to learn that no Democrat solutions will be imposed.
And that kind of reaction makes him a chump. He isn’t alone, of course. Our leaders have learned how to deflect blame and responsibility and refuse to make progress for the nation by simply labeling ideas as socialist or populist or fascist or leftist or radical or Republican or Democrat.
You know why we aren’t making any progress in this country? It’s because we talk about sides instead of ideas, tribes instead of visions. We’ve decided we’re okay with suffering, as long as the other guy suffers more. We’ve decided we don’t care about leaving a better world for our kids if it means the world will be better for our rivals’ kids as well.
We have met the enemy, as Pogo said, and he is us.
Because we are considering the source.
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A guy I know is doing very well in his career, but he is out of sorts lately because he has to give up the activities that helped him build his business in the first place. He started out as a salesman, but now he’s a manager, which is not nearly as much fun and not nearly as good a fit for his personality.
I’ve written before about the changes we all go through as we move through life, and the lessons of resilience are a constant, but there’s no denying that he has lost a part of himself in the transition. His identity as the guy who could outsell everyone else is being displaced by coach and cheerleader for other reps. He once basked in the glory of a million attaboys, but now he’s the guy who gives attaboys to all the other boys and girls on the team.
The more we talked about it, the more I realized he was in mourning. A part of him, a part of his identity and career had died and he was feeling the loss. Shortly afterwards, I had some conversations with friends who were going through other life changes---divorce, moving, job change—and the patterns were the same. Nobody had actually died, but everyone was mourning a significant loss. It didn’t matter if the changes were their choice or not, or if they recognized the transitions as a move for the better. They were shedding a skin, and their new skins didn’t quite fit.
Maybe that’s a good way for us to look at all the changes in our lives, large or small. We don’t need to get dramatic about it, since it’s not really a death, but recognizing the patterns can help us better with our adjustment.
I had always thought it was George Carlin’s idea, but it turns out it was Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who came up with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As I talk with my friends about their own transitions, each of these stages seems to be present at one point or another. The order of phases isn’t always the same, but that’s probably normal. Just as there is no right or wrong way to mourn the death of a loved one, there probably isn’t a correct way to grieve over the loss of a job or a hometown. Whatever the pacing, the key is to reach acceptance and peace.
That also shifts the burden of friends and family to keep our mouths shut about how to deal with the death of a life phase. It’s pretty much never appropriate, or welcome, to begin a sentence with, “What you should do is…” and that’s particularly true in the big transitions of life. Truth be told, we really don’t know what someone else should do and we don’t have to live with the consequences of our advice.
I’m eating my own cooking on this one, resisting the urge to share my infallible wisdom about all issues of human endeavor. More than once, I suspect, keeping my opinions to myself has saved me from mourning the loss of yet another friendship.
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I showed up at the final exam about half way into the class, dropped my books and started digging into the essay. After the instructor called time, I told one of my classmates I was late because I had run out of gas on the way to the test.
“Well, you won’t make that mistake again,” he said, and it made me cringe, because it was the second time I’d done it.
It wasn’t the first time, and certainly it wasn’t the last instance of me repeating a stupid mistake. Over the years, I’ve found a way to do the same dumb thing over and over, always vowing and always failing to know better the next time.
Somehow, I am not as bright as a lab rat.
We all like to think we learn from our mistakes, but most of us find a way to resist the wisdom life throws at us. I laugh at the guy who keeps falling for the latest investment craze, but I still think I’m going to get home faster if I get off the expressway and take the side streets. I shake my head as a friend tells me about a new relationship that sounds identical to the last hundred blow-ups, but every so often I’ll think it’s a great idea to split tens at the blackjack table.
I’m intrigued by my uncanny ability to absorb some lessons instantly and emulate a box of rocks about others. What is it that makes us both brilliant and chumps at the same time? Whatever the deep meaning behind our foolish consistency, it’s just another way for God to keep us humble.
We like to think of ourselves as wolves, always learning and always surviving the threats around us. More commonly, we’re dogs, repeatedly running into the patio door. Unfortunately, we never seem to be quite as happy as the family dog appears to be.
My own journey is a triumph of hope over experience. This time will be different. This time I’ll avoid the trap. This time I’ll make it work. Now that I’ve figured it all out, I’ll break the pattern. Ultimately, it turns out, my most infallible skill is my ability to fool myself.
There’s some comfort to be found in knowing that I’m not alone on the journey. As good as I’ve become at recognizing my own destructive tendencies, I’m even better at spotting those patterns among other people. Of course, it goes without saying that their repeated missteps are excessively irritating and impossibly obvious. Meanwhile, I’ve found, my own consistency of errors is charming, possibly even endearing.
Why are my flaws more cuddly than theirs? Hard to say, really, but it’s absolutely true. Regardless, I’ll try to find a way to tolerate all of their failures while making an effort to, um, refine my own charming idiosyncrasies.
I’ll give it more thought later, but meanwhile I have to polish off this pizza and finish a few more beers before I head back to the casino. I know that worked out badly for me in the past, but this time will be different.
It’s never a mistake to subscribe to Dad Writes by clicking here and, even if it was a giant error, it’s one of the most charming mistakes around.
Apologies to my neighbors and also to my grandchildren, but that 31-year-old birthday boy gets no atonement from this old guy…
I know a woman who cannot forgive her mom for something her mom did 25 years ago. I know the story, and I understand why it caused her pain, but there’s no point. In the end, she’s fighting with a ghost.
Her mother is still alive, but that mom, the woman who wronged her, is long gone. She looks much the same, but she is a different person from the one who wounded her child. If mom is sticking to her opinion, and her way of expressing it, my friend has a beef with the mom she knows today. If not, though, she’s volunteering to demean her current relationship in the interest of…what? Does she love the pain that much? Is she a big believer in parallel universes where the same person can exist in multiple forms? Is she stuck in a Schrodinger time warp herself, existing as both the person she is today and the person she was a quarter century ago?
I’ve written before that the worst days of your life can also turn out to be the best days, that a setback in one area can create an opportunity elsewhere. Recently, my daughter recalled the time I declined to increase her allowance in college, which led her to find a job, which led to her finding an internship, and a job, and a career… There’s no way to know how things would have turned out if I had acquiesced and increased her funding. Maybe better, maybe worse, but we’ll never know. All we can say now is that things turned out well, so far.
The same applies to my friend, whose attachment to the memory is likely an indication that the incident affected some of her follow-on decisions in life. She’s doing quite well now, so how can we be sure that the sting from her mom didn’t, somehow, improve her life? It’s possible that she made some changes in how she talked to her mom, how she treated other people, how she made decisions that led to more decisions that led to now. As with everything in life, you can’t get one without the other.
I’ve written before about the importance of moving past the missteps, acknowledging that people can grow as they learn more, encounter more, and empathize more with other human beings. During the quarantine period, I had the “opportunity” to review some of my earlier writings and some family videos that I would absolutely not share with anyone today. They aren’t incredibly terrible, but I cringe just a bit at my lack of awareness and the limits of my vision.
As uncomfortable as I am with those entries in my permanent record, though, I’m also gratified to see them. These reminders of my earlier worldview are a marker for my evolution since then. I’m still a work in progress, but I have absolutely grown wiser, more insightful, less judgmental. Or so it seems to me.
Just like my friend’s mom, I cannot go back into my own past and unsay anything. I cannot change the views I held or the way I expressed them. I cannot undo whatever harm I might have caused someone when I was a child and spoke as a child. All I can do, now, is to work on the person I am today and avoid the impulse to do battle with ghosts.
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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.