Monday, 28 March 2011

The Shift in Optimism

I’ve been smitten by reflections on optimism recently.  It’s great when an ad – for coffee, at that, but any ad, really – can lift your spirit; make you want to burst out in song – or tears.  Your call.

Those BrewSomeGood ads from Maxwell House, along with a few sermons and some Bible wisdom have got me reflecting on the way I perceive things; the way I connect with others.  And what have I found?  I’ve found that somewhere along my lifeline, I shifted somewhat – not a lot but still enough to notice if you’ve known me from Adam.  I’ve shifted from a default “eternally optimistic” to an abashed measure of “cautiously optimistic".

I'm pretty sure some of it may be chalked up to growing up.  As the saying goes stteo: a man's mind, once stretched, can never go back to it's original dimensions.  One really ought not to have the same mind at 30 as one did at 15, another quipped.  That doesn't mean, though, imho, that the embedded strain of optimism; that positive outlook which forms the hallmark of some persons, have to disappear with a stretched mind.  It hasn't, for me.  But, I most certainly occasionally feel that in more and more instances, it's no longer default mode.  It's kinda, "but then again..."; on second thought mode.

"At least you haven't lost it," you say. True.  I haven't lost my positive outlook; my optimism.  S'just that, of late, in the face of the aforementioned reminders, I'm realizing that I need to get back to where it's my default mode.

There are a few things that helped to usher me into this realm.  I learnt long ago - probably it was on the cusp of becoming "cautiously optimistic" - that people are people wherever you go.  If people feel appreciated, they'll likely work more willingly.  If they feel unappreciated, their morale likely will fall.  If they have been hurt, they'll likely put up their guard.  We know it takes a while to build trust and usually no more than one act of betrayal or hurt for it to come crashing down. 

Imagine how much more that likelihood is multiplied for online...relationships.  (I use the term within this context ever so loosely.)  For, connections online are, for the most part, just that, connections.  But, here's the thing (go Monk!)  whenever we venture into an online space, for social networking, hanging out, tweeting or other purposes, we are inviting other people into our sphere.  We connect with followers or those we wish to follow; we accept friend requests and all that jazz, and at the click of a key, we have taken a whole other individual into our lives.  A whole other person!  We might think that it's just their professional side or their online persona.  Let's not kid ourselves.  Try as folks might, they don't compartmentalize as well as they might think they do.  Given time and space, all their dimensions will be manifested to some degree in their "online self".  And, as for those who just let it all hang out from day one? Again, a whole other person!!!

So, when persons with whom you have a common interest (the point of the connection in the first place) begin to reveal sides of themselves that you hadn't seen coming; that conflict with your own values and belief system, what do you do? If they start to relate to the point of hurting you, what do you do? Do you just put up your guard? Start writing off people?  Online relationships carry the luxury - if we could call it that - of immediate disconnection.  No hard feelings - or so we think.  For, in a number of instances, I'm pretty certain that some folks agonize over unfriending and unfollowing - especially when it's someone you at least sorta know or someone you knew from Adam but 20something years have passed without contact between you. As a human being, most times, the act of severing ties in any relationship comes from a conscious decision to do so.  And what is the immediate thought?  "What is he/she going to think?"  or "Does this reflect poorly on me?"  The point is, there is some amount of stress/anxiety related to the decision to sever ties.

How many of us can honestly unfriend or unfollow those we are to some degree acquainted with, without a second thought?  I have found that it's not so easy.  Quite a bit of thought might go into unfriending.  Unfollowing might require a skin less thick.  (Speaking of which, I don’t want to grow so thick a skin that I start looking and snapping like an alligator!  I still want to be able to let some things through; things that will make me think and help me be a better person.  Anyway, moving on…)  More often than not, you don't know these people.  If you do have some passing acquaintanceship, it's a hair's breadth more thought that goes into it.  But, I maintain that persons should not subject themselves to disrespect, rudeness, hurt or any form of abuse online or offline.

The thicker the wall of anonymity, the harsher folks are wont to get when lashing out.  Seen some comment boards lately?  Some of them even allow the 'F' bomb - and I'm talking about (generally respectable) media house sites.

This foray into 'anything goes' on social networking sites and other media I'm sure has had its impact on my earlier mentioned shift in optimisim.  Sometimes, people are cruel and harsh, simply because they can be. They have something ugly to say and a place to say it.  I was reminded of that the other day, having ventured into a thread of comments.  I went in, realizing that mine was the sole dissenting voice trying to tilt the collective view to a different perspective.  Zilch.   Felt like I was swimming upstream against a torrent of cynicism.  I left the thread trying to put into words that which I was feeling.  Self-righteous?  No, that wasn’t it.  Perfectionist?  Nope.  Tired of all the negative and the spewing vitriol and the unbridled cynicism?  Yes. Yes, that’d be it.  As I tweeted the other day, “Optimism rocks!”  I long ago realized that I see the world through different lens.  Ugly is around.  But, I believe, beauty outweighs it by far. And I shall not lose sight of that. I'm shifting back!

As I posted on the brewsomegood tweet stream the other day - a line from a really nice poem: "I'm drinking from my saucer, for my cup has overflowed."

True that!


Friday, 18 March 2011

"I play for the other team"

I heard a guy say that on an episode of a popular TV show the other day.  I'd first heard the term several months ago while on a course at work.  A colleague made reference to a TV host  - how well he carried out his job - then made the comment in a "but-don't-get-your-hopes-up" kind of way.

Since the first time I heard it, it has become like the recently-bought-car phenomenon.  I figured, though, that perhaps it had been said pretty often within earshot before.  Only difference was that I hadn't yet been clued in to what the phrase meant.

It makes me wonder how far "society" has come in trying to come up with "a way to say it"; "it" being as much an operative term as "a way". Given one of my roles as diversity lead in my branch, within an organization ranked as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers a few years now; an organization that is committed to non-discriminatory hiring practices, I have been involved in organizing diversity and inclusion meetings and event-planning more than the average bear.

In one of those meetings we were informed about a glossary of terms that had been made available for quick reference.  This, in light of the fact that sometimes folks who want to engage in conversations about diverse groups, might feel awkward or unsure about using the "wrong" term.  The term might be outdated or not generation-appropriate or some such thing.

I've heard someone say that when he was much younger, a homosexual male would have been referred to as a "queer" by someone outside of that community.  At that time, it was deemed derogatory.  Nowadays, however, he noted that younger "gay" men  (a newer term itself) seem not to mind the term "queer"; as if their use of it is an effort to remove the sting that used to be felt by their predecessors.

I've also learned that the acronym is pretty long, as members of the - can I say it? - queer community seek to be included/recognized.  For a few years now, LGBTQ has expanded into LGBTTIQQ2S, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, 2 Spirited. 

So, when I heard the phrase, "I play for the other team" the other day, it made me wonder about how, in one fell swoop, the term helped to shrink the long acronym, convey the same meaning and, for some, made the idea easier to convey (read: more "palatable" for the older heterosexual generation).

Question is, as is the case with all other diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism, integration and like matters that are encountered on a daily basis, how easy is it to keep up?  Navigating your way through the PC maze sometimes proves a tad challenging.  You might feel like you're constantly having to walk on egg shells. You might decide that you're not going to subscribe to the PC thing.  The choice is yours.  Still, ladies and gentlemen, such is the planet on which we now reside.

Regarding the moral debate concerning homosexuality, especially as a Christian writer?  That's for another post.  Suffice it to say, I go the route of being Christlike - loving people, and knowing that no one is beyond Christ's life-changing reach.  And I say that from a heart filled with gratitude for that reach.

Above all else, love.


Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Beyond Extraordinary

As we take a look around us, tune in (even when we don't) to media of all shapes, sizes, colours, bytes and networks, we are bound to see someone who is trying to be extraordinary - and freakishly so.  What is just as certain, is that there will also be someone who is trying to go beyond extraordinary - and freakishly so.

Of course, a few persons come to  mind: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta aka Lady Gaga; Adidja Palmer aka Vybz Kartel (or should that be "Vybz "Michael 'Cakesoap' Jackson" Kartel" - yes, a couple aliases layered inside a primary alias. Whatever! ) And, not too long out of the gate, with 2.2M+  followers behind him in under a week, Carlos Irwin Estevez aka Charlie Sheen aka Warlock (acclaimed "Winner!", drinker of "Tiger Blood" and spewer of other claims and utterances that are sure signs of an implosion happening in T minus ???)  Just hope somebody knocks him over the head and drags him into a space where he can really get the help he doesn't realize he needs; where the media can stop milking his rants for ratings.

It kinda reminds me of the line from The Incredibles:  "When everyone is special, no one is special."

So, why the push to be extraordinary?  Why the mad race to go beyond extraordinary?  What's the alternative?

The answer surely isn't "Be yourself", for those who fall in either category will be quick to tell you that that's exactly what they're doing.  They're being their own unique selves.  And others who are apparently, by comparison, bordering on "ambitionless"?  Is it that we lack the brand of fire to desire to stand out?  To stand out "that much"? To stand out "so"?

For, I imagine, that the crux of the matter might just lie therein.  The terror of becoming satisfied with being "just part of the crowd"; of being "a nobody".

Well, does the fact that "the world" - definition: YouTwitFace (as Conan puts it) - doesn't know about you, make you less than extraordinary? Keep you, and what you do, from being "beyond extraordinary"?

Says who?  Who's in charge of putting value on you, your vocation, talent, contribution...?

Yet, it's so easy to get deeply immersed in what is being fed to us through every orifice, it seems.  So easy to get and remain distracted for an inordinately long time by the self-acclaimed "value adders"; those with the "value stamp of approval"; those who, in the long run - in this long race - build the "value metre", measure us, find us wanting or not; lift us up or tear us down and so on and so forth.

Do those who strive to be extraordinary in these freakish, "celebritized" ways not soon become creatures - although, to be honest, I'm thinking more puppets - of the "value adders" et al on whose approval they feed?  Do they not constantly try to outdo their last doing, to keep energizing the masses who, in turn, keep them elevated (we bow at your feet, your extraordinariness).

Maybe it's a symbiotic relationship, after all -  i.e., if we could loosely apply the term "relationship".  

And, maybe, we're near the tipping point where they're all beyond extraordinary so none of them is beyond extraordinary.