Avoiding The Pointless, Downward Negative Cycle

I’m in the Trump Trap. I doubt I’m alone.

It’s impossible to ignore the President, but paying attention to him only feeds his narcissism and seems to make matters worse. To ignore his lies and race baiting is to condone both. I argue with a friend when he says “Obama was worse,” but that doesn’t accomplish anything. How to escape this pointless, downward spiral of negativity?

My friend, while totally exasperating on things political, has redeeming qualities. Among others, he’s committed to his family, he’s funny, he cares about those he works with. Why don’t I just focus more exclusively on those attributes?

There’s a direct correlation between how people feel about themselves, more specifically how secure they are, and their propensity to see the best in others and affirm them. If you don’t feel very good about yourself, if your insecurities win the day, you’re unlikely to sing anyone else’s praises. You don’t send thank you cards. You don’t risk any awkwardness by directly and specifically telling others what you most appreciate about them.

As if life is a zero-sum game. That there’s only so much positivity or praise to go around.

We can focus on the good in others, and name it, without any cost to ourselves. At all. Focusing on the good in others, and naming it, creates positive momentum that makes political disagreements less consequential. My friend’s politics are whacked, but he is not the sum of his politics.

One can be a good teacher, nurse, or executive, and liberally celebrate other teachers’, nurses’, and executives’ excellence. One can be a decent human being and routinely celebrate decency in others. We’re apt to recognize and publicly declare the redeeming qualities in others to the degree to which we feel okay about ourselves, the degree to which we like ourselves.

A few weeks ago, I made eye contact with another driver as I pulled into the Trader Joe’s parking lot. She was an acquaintance from church who smiled at me. “Finally,” the introvert in me immediately thought, “I’m going to get a chance to tell her how much I enjoy her blog.” Sure enough, halfway through my appointed rounds, she walked straight up to me and asked if I’d eat some fancy shmancy blueberry desert that she was thinking of making for a party. “Yes.” I assured her, and then said, “Hey, I’ve been wanting to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. I’ve been enjoying cooking more and I’m amazed at your creations. And you’re really funny.” For good measure I added, “You’re a very talented writer.” To say she was touched is an understatement.

Her blog deserves a wider audience. When that happens, I will celebrate her success. Because it will not detract from this humble blog.

With respect to the President and my friend, my inclination is to ignore the President. My vote will be my proof that I’m not condoning his calculating and inflammatory rhetoric which will only get worse once the campaign begins in earnest. As for my friend, I’m going to focus more on his redeeming qualities and our common humanity.

 

 

Monday Assorted Links

1. Deputy gangs in Los Angeles have survived decades of lawsuits and probes. Can the FBI stop them? Despite being from LA, granted West LA, I thought this read like fiction. Police gangs in the open for decades supported by chiefs despite continuous community opposition. Perception is reality. Reprehensible.

2. We’re entering the era of the Tiny Wedding. For $2,000 you get a short ceremony and a small cake.

“A Tiny Wedding is also incredibly easy to purchase: When I tried out the booking process, it took me 20 seconds to select a time and a kind of cake before I got to the credit card field.”

Guessing this is a tad more popular among grooms. What is it with me and marriage/weddings lately?

3. Three Things You Can Learn From Norwegian Packed Lunch About Minimalism.

“Norwegians follow a step-by-step guide ingrained in their DNA to prepare their lunches.”

Agreed, Norwegians are lunch role models extraordinaire. But where are the pistachios?

4. Cyclists are dying in New York City.

“Across the city, 14 cyclists have been killed in crashes this year, four more than all of last year, according to city officials. New York’s streets have seen an increase in bicycling while also becoming more perilous, in part because of surging truck traffic fueled by the booming e-commerce industry. The mayor himself acknowledged on Monday that the city was facing an ’emergency.'”

Saturday afternoon I was driving down 36th Street NE, which as you know, is one of the rare Olympia streets without a legit bike lane. There’s only a fog line and then six to twelve inches of pavement. Two of my cycling brethren were riding side-by-side as other drivers and I came upon them, unnecessarily requiring us to move into the oncoming lane. This is a rural setting, so not life threatening, but there’s no reason to be riding side-by-side without a legit bike lane. My window was down, I thought about doing some consciousness raising, but chickened out. I had my speech all planned out, “Dudes, single-file.”

5. Matthew Boling has gone viral.

“‘The biggest worry is we just don’t want his personality to change. He’s a great kid. He’s humble.'”

The Rarity Of A Truly Great Marriage

Brooks again:

“In the United States, nearly 40 percent of marriages end in divorce. Another 10 to 15 percent of couples separate and do not divorce, and another 7 percent or so stay together but are chronically unhappy. In other words, more than half of the people who decide to marry, presumably driven by passionate love, wind up unhappy. The odds are worse for couples that marry before age twenty five.”

If that is not depressing enough:

“And there are very few things worse than a bad marriage. Being in a bad marriage will increase your chance of getting sick by 35 percent and shorten your life span by an average of four years.”

The obvious take-away is choose very, very carefully, but I can’t imagine any couple in passionate love saying to one another, “WAIT, before we consider getting engaged, we should read and think about David Brooks’s marriage advice.”

 

The Prospect Of A Truly Great Marriage

Brooks’s best paragraphs on marriage highlight Tim and Kathy Keller’s insights:

“In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller describe how the process of improvement and elevation happens. First, you marry a person who seems completely wonderful and mostly perfect. Then, after a little while—maybe a month or two, maybe a year or two—you realize that the person you thought was so wonderful is actually imperfect, selfish, and flawed in many ways. As you are discovering this about your spouse, your spouse is making the exact same discovery about you.

The natural tendency in this situation is to acknowledge that of course you are a little selfish and flawed, but in fact it is your spouse’s selfishness that is the main problem here. Both spouses will also come to this conclusion at about the same time.

Then comes a fork in the road. Some couples will decide that they don’t want all the stress and conflict that will come from addressing the truths they have discovered about each other and themselves. They’ll make a truce, the Kellers say. Some subjects will not be talked about. You agree not to mention some of your spouse’s shortcomings so long as she agrees not to mention some of yours. The result is a truce-marriage, which is static, at least over the short term, but which gradually deteriorates over the long one.

“The alternative to the this truce-marriage is to determine to see your own selfishness as a fundamental problem and to treat it more seriously than you do your spouse’s. Why? Only you have complete access to your own selfishness, and only you have complete responsibility for it,” the Kellers write. ‘If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.'”

Jives with my experience.

 

The Maximum Marriage

Man did I hit a wall a third of the way through David Brooks’s Second Mountain. Despite it weighing two pounds, I could not pick it up. Instead I watched The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things, Billions, and went full New Yorker.

But since I keep thinking I may use a chapter of it in my writing seminar this fall, I have begun reading it again, Part III in particular, titled Marriage. The first of the five marriage chapters is “The Maximum Marriage”. At the risk of creating cliche-i-cide, this is the idea that you should never settle in marriage, instead you should go ALL IN with a soul mate who completes you.

I have several problems with Brook’s marriage advice. The first is that he failed at his. Of course this doesn’t disqualify him, assuming a greater degree of reflection and vulnerability than he shows. He alludes to being the problem and explains that his ex-wife and him have an agreement not to talk about the dissolution of their marriage, perfectly understandable, but then it’s probably best not to present oneself as an authority.

Brooks is newly married to his former research assistant, a much younger woman for what it’s worth. When reading him wax poetic about maximum marriage, I can’t help but wonder what went wrong, why, and what about the references to the “art of recommitment”?

I also have questions if not concerns about the concept of “maximum marriage”. Recently, an acquaintance gave up her will to live a few weeks after her lifelong husband unexpectedly died. That’s an extreme example, but surviving partners of long-term maximum relationships or marriages often struggle with how to live without their “soulmates”. Brooks makes passing references to “autonomy” when that concept, in my opinion, deserves more attention.

Brooks also breaks down the “stages of intimacy” in the manner of someone who gives too much credence to every social science article he reads. He slights the mystery of intimacy and the organic nature of how two people create intimacy and sometimes decide to team up for life. In addition to describing intimacy in too linear a fashion, he doesn’t offer young people any practical advice on how best to answer the innumerable questions he suggests people considering marriage ask themselves.

Sometimes I suggest, based upon my experience backpacking in Southern Mexico in 1986 with who would become the Good Wife on 7/11/87*, that the newly in love backpack together in a developing country. I promise you’ll learn more about one another in a month than you probably would in a year. How do they make decisions? How do they spend money? How do they deal with sketchy hostels? How respectful are they of others? Are they quick to laugh or humor impaired? And most importantly, are they kind and are you a better person as a result of their friendship?

It’s funny isn’t it, the Humble Blogger giving the New York Times writer a hard time about his book. But why quit now. Brooks quotes other people way too much. Half the time the quotes do not have the intended effect, I’m often left thinking “huh” even after a second reading, and the incessant quoting compromises his voice. Of course I’ve already argued he’s not the most credible person on the topic, but his consistent leaning on others doesn’t solve that dilemma, for me, it only adds to it.

Also, despite Brook’s fealty to all things social scientific, a glaring oddity is that he never mentions the role money often plays in failed marriages. I can only speculate that’s because his ex-wife and him never lacked for it and most of his friends and acquaintances are similarly well-to-do. How does he spend fifty pages giving marriage advice without even touching upon financial compatibility?

So why, given my criticisms, is Second Mountain a best seller? In fairness, there’s good mixed in, but I suspect a large part of it is professional reputation. Given his previous writing, and his very high profile, he gets the benefit of the doubt from most readers. Oh, Brooks is often insightful, so this must be too.

Not necessarily.

*don’t feel bad if your “Happy Anniversary” card arrives late

The Hypocrisy of People Like Me

Meaning people 57 years old, give or take a decade or two. We routinely bemoan the negative consequences of the internet, social media, and “screens” on the young.

But when it comes to an utter lack of electronic etiquette, or damn, even life and death cyber bullying, our offspring have nothing on us.

Take the case of Frank Meza, a retired doctor from Los Angeles, who spent the last few years running parts of marathons and then lying about his results. Who the hell knows why he felt compelled to burnish his athletic reputation at a time in life when most people finally stop giving a damn about others’ opinions.

That will most likely remain a mystery since he was found dead in the Los Angeles River after telling his wife he was going for a run. What we know from his family is that he was devastated by the internet-based backlash to his fanciful alternative reality. Devastated more specifically by the numerous, aggrieved, middle aged contributors to MarathonInvestigation.com who are known for ruthlessly pouncing on fake speedsters of which there seems to be a steady supply.

The are numerous lessons to learn from this tragic loss of life; among them, people from the Pre-Internet Era like me should stop pretending we have the moral high ground.

 

The Best Kawhi Paragraph

From Zach Lowe:

“And now they have the best wing combination in the league. Leonard, George, and Beverley are going to terrorize people on defense. My god. Beware dribbling anywhere in their vicinity unless you are an expert point guard. George and Beverley can split duty defending the best opposing scorers so Leonard doesn’t have to overtax himself before it counts.”

I chuckled at the lack of numeracy displayed by a current NBA player who tweeted that next season every game is going to be like a playoff game.

There has been no infusion of talent (draft minus retirements as per usual), just a drastic redistribution of existing talent. Which means some teams are going to be really bad, thus hurting the regular season. Maybe superstars on super teams will time their “load management” for especially weak opponents. Regardless, a basic math truism, the record of the most average team in the league will still be 41-41.