What We Can Learn From the Cain Train

I know, I said I wasn’t going to follow Presidential politics for another ten months, but Cain Truth is one entertaining website, and I just can’t help myself. And I know I’m supposed to assume a person is innocent until proven guilty, but I just can’t help myself.

Dig this headline from the website, “Cain Attacked by Accuser; Will Not Stop His Effort to Renew America.” Here’s what that conjures up in my pea brain. The Hermanator is walking down Main Street, suit coat over his shoulder, touching  and healing struggling business owners while simultaneously pushing a steady stream of slowly approaching bimbos out of the way. The initial draft headline read, “This Week’s Skank Won’t Sidetrack the Cain Train from Fixing America.”

Cain is a heaven sent joke in response to all the peeps, like one of my friends, who thinks all of our political problems will disappear if we’d just elect a flesh and blood businessman.

From Slate.com: Cain initially called Ginger White’s claims “more false allegations.” But stopped short of accusing White of lying. Still, he nonetheless stressed that he had never had sex with her and that he did not consider their relationship to have constituted an affair.

Mrs. Cain Train is going to love that explanation.

If we’ve learned anything about the Cain Train, we’ve learned the more it talks, the further it goes off track. “At this point I’m just simply saying these things are going to come out and until we know what they are, then my attorney doesn’t know what to respond to.” The drip, drip, drip really is unfair to his attorney. If the women were more considerate, they’d do one large group presser. If you like gore, gather round, this is going to be a long, drawn out train wreck.

In the middle of rebutting the allegation, our Business Knight in Slimy Armor pivots. If you watch closely, you can see the wheels start turning in his big business brain. Damn, he suddenly realizes, after thirteen years maybe she’s got some evidence of our non-affair. Quoting again from Slate.com. . . the Republican did concede that the woman making the claim was “someone that I know who is an acquaintance that I thought was a friend.”

That’s what I hate about women, they just can’t keep non-affairs on the down-low. Asked if he had sex with the woman, Cain responded no twice. If you close your eyes, you can see a gaggle of Saturday Night Live writers excusing themselves from their dinner guests and sprinting to their respective laptops. The gift that keeps on giving.

Again, Slate.com. . . in a written statement Cain’s lawyer, Lin Wood, took a significantly different tack, suggesting that the issue was a private matter and that it was out of bounds in terms of what the media should be focused on. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Didn’t anyone from the RNC vet this guy? Have the “skeleton” talk with him? Granted, it would have been a long convo, but why do national politicians have to re-learn the Nixon take-away over and over, the coverup is always worse than the initial mistake/crime/non-affair.

If you are thinking of running for president sometime in the future, or just want to be a more authentic human being, ask yourself, “What would Herman do?” and then do the opposite.

If the King of Kapitalism really wanted to be President, he should have begun by talking honestly about his moral shortcomings and hoped that the electorate would have appreciated his honesty and separated his personal shortcomings from his political promise.

Coping With Narcissists

Is it just me or is it seemingly impossible to get along with narcissists? Of course if you caught my betrothed after one of our spats, she’d say I’m a self-centered sad sack.

I’m three-quarters the way through Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and I can’t help but make connections between it and Whybrow’s American Mania.

Don’t know if I’ve ever been so conflicted about one person. There are at least three Steve Jobs—1) the counter-cultural Zen Buddhist, exquisite designer, artist-philosopher, modern Stoic, vegan; 2) the focused, driven, scarily perfectionist, extremely mercurial, control-freak, business genius; and 3) the sometimes cruel, heartless, empathy impaired human being.

Readers of the bio are probably most interested in Jobs 2, but I find the human nature/human being story far more interesting.

I need to finish the book and think some more about it before reconciling my schizophrenic thoughts. For now I can say Jobs 3, the uncaring, mean, empathy impaired knucklehead often repulses me. Which brings to mind Whybrow’s insights on empathy. He writes, “. . . the experience of intimacy and the stability of the attachments one has in early years ultimately shape our capacity to understand the feelings of others. Human empathy is largely a learned behavior, much as is language. . .”

So we’re not hardwired to care about others? Whybrow says empathic understanding results from “social anchors” or a “. . . wellspring of healthy families and the nurturance of supportive, economically viable communities. . .” In other words, immerse young children in caring families, schools, religious and civic organizations and they will follow the caring adults’ lead and end up empathetic young adults.

Could the fact that Jobs was adopted have compromised the stability of his attachments so much that he never “learned empathy” in the way he learned English? I wouldn’t think so because he was months old when adopted and his adopted parents were stable, supportive, and loving.

After deciding not to marry Jobs, one of the two women he was closest to in his life found a psychiatric manual, read about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and concluded that Jobs embodied all of the symptoms. (Here’s hoping Betrothed never stumbles upon that.) She said, “It fits so well and explained so much of what we had strugled with, that I realized expecting him to be nicer or less self-centered was like expecting a blind man to see.” “I think the issue is empathy,” she added, “the capacity for empathy is lacking.

I’m clueless as to the root causes of Jobs’s lack of empathy, but the larger, more important takeaway is that empathy is learned. Whybrow convincingly argues that empathy results from a “wellspring of healthy families and nurturance of supportive, economically viable communities.” Sadly, some families aren’t sufficiently healthy, nurturing, supportive, or economically stable enough to pass on empathetic understanding to the young in their charge.

If expecting narcissists to someday be nicer or less self-centered is like expecting blind people to someday see, the best way to cope with them is to stop expecting them to return personal interest and care with similar curiosity and kindness. Far easier said then done.

Narcissus admiring himself shortly before his first triathlon

2011 Seattle Half Marathon by the Numbers

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 .1
7:07 7:05 7:06 7:34 7:04 7:11 7:34 6:51 7:00 7:02 6:55 6:54 :43
7:24 14:31 21:36 28:42 36:16 43:20 50:31 58:05 1:04.56 1:11.56 1:18.52 1:25.53 1:32.47 1:33.30

52     degrees

6       ounces of Tillamook Vanilla Bean yogurt consumed pre-race

5       times I’ve been faster

136   seconds behind 2009 time

4       pieces of pumpkin and apple pie consumed in preceding days

3       pounds gained in preceding days

1       woman who changed out out of wet top next to me post race, posthaste

How to Increase Your Living Space Without Spending a Dollar

By decluttering of course.

Jane E. Brody reviews a new book by Robin Zasio titled “The Hoarder in You: How To Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life.” Brody says it’s the best self-help work she’s read in her 46 years as a health and science writer. That should help sales.

After that endorsement, I was disappointed by Zasio’s advice, which I’d describe as decluttering orthodoxy based on Brody’s highlights.

Here’s the gist of it. If you’re familiar with the decluttering literature skip ahead a paragraph. 1A) Tackle just one project at a time—a closet, garage, room, dresser drawer, file cabinet—and stick with it until it’s done. 1B) To create positive momentum, work from the easiest project to the most challenging. 2) Schedule time for decluttering—an hour a weekday or weekend day for example—until done. 3A) Use three containers labelled “Keep,” “Donate,” and “Discard”. 3B) Brody adds her own advice here. To force yourself to decide among the three, be careful not to add a fourth “Undecided” container.

Simple, huh? So why do I predict, six months after finishing Zasio’s book, that the majority of her readers will still live clutter-riddled lives? Because no matter how faithfully one implements that logical plan, there’s still a cultural, even spiritual element to our tendency to buy far more than we need.

Every day, all day, we’re subjected to a one-two punch of extremely sophisticated and ubiquitous advertising that plays on our insecurities and to what sociologists refer to as “relative deprivation” or wanting what others wealthier (or more in debt) than us have. Regardless of whether we have the three containers labelled correctly, we want what we see advertised and and we want what our next-door neighbors have. Until we figure out how to resist those two things, our “stuff” will continue to overwhelm us.

I’m not immune to the one-two punch. I owned a Porsche once, an incredible machine, but I sold it (at a loss of course) because I felt self-conscious in it. Weird, I know. Most Porsche owners want you looking at them at the light or getting out of it at the restaurant. I was the opposite. I didn’t like pulling into the church or school parking lot. Insufficient swagger I guess. But then after reading Irvine, and getting fired up about Stoicism, I learned Stoics aren’t supposed to care about what others think of them. There’s something to work on. With that in mind, maybe I should give it another shot. The new 2012 911 looks damn nice. An exercise in applied Stoicism?

Xmas 12?

Think Legacy not Longevity

I think it was my ten year high school reunion somewhere in Orange County, California where I reconnected with one of my best friends from the 6th or 7th grade. At the start of junior high we were tight. I learned to ski on trips to Big Bear with his family and I spent a memorable week backpacking with them in the Sierras. He was a stud, a good running back and hurdler who gave both up for surfing and partying which he also excelled at. In high school, I was his designated driver.

Must have been the drugs, because at 28, he was pretty whacked out. Despite not looking especially healthy, he pigeoned-holed me and was going on and on about living to something like 125. I should have humored him and told him I was really looking forward to our 100th reunion. Pills; 1,000 calories a day; filtered carrot juice, can’t remember all the bullshit stuff he thought would get him to triple digits.

Granted, my childhood friend is more extreme than normal, but most of us don’t like thinking about dying. Many people spend lots of energy trying to delay it as long as possible.

In hindsight, I wish I had encouraged him to think legacy not longevity. It’s not the length of our lives, but the quality of them. Whether 40, 60, or 80, do you leave your world—whether it’s your family, the places you worked, the physical environment, or your community—better off?

I have to credit Peter Whybrow, author of American Mania, for this reminder. This sentence of his stopped me dead in my tracks. Pun intended:

In a collective denial of aging. . .we employ all available technologies to simulate youth, misunderstanding that the secret to immortality lies not in the individual but in the society we leave behind.

I can’t express it any more clearly than that.

Tight-Knit Extended Families Require Vision

There are only three types of families: 1) physically distant ones; 2) physically close, but emotionally distant ones; and 3) physically and emotionally close ones.

I realized this while sitting next to a man my age from Egan, Minnesota at a college swim meet recently. He was watching his son—along with his wife, brother, daughter, parents, and in-laws—a good freestyler at the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse. We talked swimming, college decision making, and Gopher football. The state cross-country meet was taking place on campus at the same time, so the GalPal and I had to take a shuttle bus to the pool from an overflow parking lot on the periphery of campus. The bus was filled with three generations of family cheerleaders too.

Physically distant families have to drive or fly for several hours to see one another. According to one writer I’ve recently read, in the U.S. at least, this family type predominates in urban centers on both the East and West coasts. My family is this type—mother and in-laws in two different states, aunt and uncle in a third, siblings in a fourth and fifth, cousins and nephews in a couple of others. Physically distant families may enjoy one another’s company, but they don’t see one another with enough regularity to truly know one another which compromises closeness.

Physically close, but emotionally distant families live within a few minutes or hours of each other, but they don’t get together with any regularity due to unresolved conflicts and/or prioritizing work and material pursuits. Despite their proximity, everyone mostly prioritizes their own nuclear families in the same manner as physically distant ones.

Physically and emotionally close families not only live within a few minutes or hours of each other, but they prioritize getting together weekly or monthly. Minnesota may have a disproportionate number of tight-knit extended families.

Modern Family, the outstanding sitcom about a physically and emotionally close family is atypical because most families today are spread out over long distances. Which probably explains the show’s appeal. Viewers enjoy inserting themselves into that physically and emotionally close family not just because the writers make them funnier than our own family members, but because they’re an affectionate and loving community of mutual amusement and support.

My dad, like most post WWII execs, always took the promotions he received even when they required him to criss-cross the country. I wouldn’t have traded for anyone’s dad, but by choosing successively better jobs that paid more money, he sacrificed a physically and therefore emotionally close family because my siblings and I followed suit, deciding where to live based upon work opportunities, personal preferences, and other things besides physically proximity to one another.

Another variable in some physically distant families is eighteen year olds going away to college. Second Born, next in line in our fam, wants to go “out of state”. When asked why recently, she initially Rick Perryed (couldn’t answer), and then finally said, “The weather.” What are the odds of me having the first teen in the history of the world to base a life decision on weather patterns? Our family, like every other one, is a subculture. She’s simply following the lead of her parents, her cousins, and her older sissy. What would be surprising is if she wanted to stay close to home.

I plan on being more intentional than my dad about prioritizing family closeness. I can’t control where my daughters go to college, take jobs, or end up living, and I can’t control the fact that twenty percent of Americans move every year, but I’m hoping that living in one community for a record-length of time increases the odds of them settling down somewhere close. This is the only home they know. We are Pacific Northwesterners.

If all goes well, ten or twenty years from now, I’ll be just one of an extended family of crazies cheering wildly for a grandchild at a pool or piano recital somewhere nearby.

Redesign and Reset


Thanks to you, last week, 2011 page views exceeded the total page views for 2010.

I participated in an on-line blogging webinar last week. As a result of a few of the many lessons learned, I decided to tweak the design in the hope it’s a little easier to comment. I recently wrote that I understood why one might lurk and never comment, but a key webinar inspired goal is to foster more participation.

I want to encourage regular readers in particular to jump into the water. What’s your perspective? What am I not considering? What have you learned that others could benefit from?

The more people comment, the less I’ll feel compelled to. It’s okay to “talk” to one another directly.

Again, thanks for reading and thanks in advance for commenting. :)