Thoughts on Haters

Criticism: The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

There are essentially two types of criticism. The first is the type of criticism that focuses on thoughts, ideas and arguments. I like this. This blog is devoted to that level of criticism. The second is the type that criticizes people and their character. I do not like this. Not a fan.

If I do not particularly care for someone, well, first off, I would probably never tell the person unless there was a compelling reason to do so. Yet if I had to tell them, for whatever reason, I would focus on their behaviors, thoughts and/or ideas that I find problematic…not their character or assuming motivation for what they do.

I am a professor. I am professor with an opinion. I am a professor who openly and freely shares his opinion.  I am a very outspoken professor who invites criticism. I actually enjoy being criticized -in the argumentative sense- and challenged. I seek it. How on earth are we ever going to discover new ideas and thought forms unless we continually challenge the status quo thought forms around us? Criticism is not only acceptable…it is sorely needed for a culture to evolve for the better. Just ask Plato or Socrates.

Given this, it does not take a math major to deduce just how much criticism I get…and I love it.

The great majority of people are really wonderful in terms of their feedback towards me -positive, supportive, understanding, and, above all, quite civil and polite. I was evaluated by my peers and students this past semester and every comment received was positive in nature. I was very pleased to earn a stellar evaluation in every sense. Yes, I, like most people, need positive affirmation in my life…it feels good. It is really nice to know you are making a difference in people’s lives as you contribute to the cultural conversation.

Yet there will always be a minority of people who do not just personally criticize, they hate…in fact, they are haters. dear-haters-i-have-so-much-more-for-you-to-be-mad-at-be-patient

If you would like to see a sampling of haters, go to nearly any youtube video and read the comments. Many are mean, spiteful and angry…and, frankly, I am not sure why.

I have had my fair share of haters in my day and I totally get it at one level. In a world full of different personalities, there will be inevitable clashes…I totally get not liking someone, being irritated by someone, completely disagreeing with nearly everything someone stands for…I get that part. I have a, fortunately, very small group of people in my life that I feel this way towards. And, guess what? I rarely think about these people as they are not worth my time and energy for me to do so.

It is the proactive hating part I just do not get. Who the hell has the time?

I suppose in one sense the day you have haters is the day you realize you have achieved something in life.

One of my favorite comedic bits is Jimmy Kimmel’s Celebrity Mean Tweets in which celebrities read very hateful tweets about themselves written by others in a very self-condescending display of spiteful humor. It is fairly simple to conclude that individuals who put themselves out in a public way will be criticized, even further, hated by a small number of people who actually have time and energy for such gross negativity.

I was discussing this idea with Rene’ after she insisted I delete a very hateful comment that someone posted on this blog. I did publish it at first though she opined that it goes against the very nature of this blog -which, she correctly contends, is based on arguing thoughts and ideas- and not being mean spirited and, well, hating. After further reflection she was right, so I deleted it. Wanna hate and be mean? Go to ratemyprofessor or youtube…or find another blog to hate on. (In an ironic twist it does sound as though I am hating the haters, does it not?)

She mentioned a passage from a book she is currently reading by Elizabeth Gilbert entitled, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear who has a different take on those who criticize or even hate:

Pigeonholing is something people need to do in order to feel that they have set the chaos of existence into some kind of reassuring order. Thus, people will stick you into all sorts of boxes. They’ll call you a genius, or a fraud, or an amateur, or a pretender, or a want to be, or has been, or a hobbyist, or an also ran, or a rising star, or a master of reinvention. They may say flattering things about you, or they may say dismissive things about you. They may call you a mere genre novelist, or a mere children’s book illustrator, or a mere commercial photographer, or mere community theater actor, or a mere home cook, or mere weekend musician, or mere crafter, or a mere landscape painter, or a mere whatever. It doesn’t matter in the least. Let people have their opinions. More than that – let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing… or even their comprehension… in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business.

Hmmmm…I like this. I suppose haters are simply ones trying to make sense of their own lives and need to vilify selected others in order to do so. Thus it says far more about them then it can possibly say about you. I suppose we should not put too much stock in either high praise or the hate as people need both their villains and heroes, deserved or not, in order to make sense of their own existence.

So civilly criticize away people! I believe it was the motor city madman, Ted Nugent, who once said, “If you are not making waves, you’re not paddling hard enough.”

I like that. I think that is pretty good advice for all of us. And maybe, just maybe, you can have haters as well -in case you don’t already. And then you can have the honor of knowing you are instrumental in the making of someone else’s personal narrative.

Thoughts on Achievement, Real Achievement

As an observer and critic of culture in general, I strive to lead a consistent and rational life while frequently asking the question, “why?”—most often in relation to cultural customs. For example, if you were to sneeze in front of me I would not say “god bless you,” “bless you” or even “gesundheit” simply for the reason it makes absolutely no sense.  I have no power to bless you and even if I did, why would I do it simply because your body reacted to some dust up your nose?

I have no interest in perpetuating old wives’ tales and medieval customs.

There is another strange cultural custom which is the central thesis of this blog ….and please do not think I’m a dick (too late?).

I am at the age and stage in life when many of my children’s friends -not to mention my students who are in a similar age range -are getting engaged and/or pregnant.  I find the reactions to those individuals who announce this news –typically met with congratulatory joy and perhaps tears of happiness – rather strange and unreasonable.

Is getting married and/or having kids something we must congratulate one for doing? If so, why? When you consider most people who get married probably should not (have you seen the divorce rate?) and those who are having babies probably should not, what is there to be happy about?

Getting married is EASY. Super EASY in fact.  I have blogged before concerning marriage and divorce while opining that it is FAR more difficult to get a permit for a swimming pool in your backyard than it is to sign your life away to someone for the rest of your life.  This is ass backwards my friends.

Getting married is easy, yet staying married is one of the most difficult ventures a human being can make in life. Why congratulate someone for the easy part? If forced to congratulate someone, why not congratulate those who have made it through the most difficult parts –and stayed together?

Babies? In most cases they are super easy to make -very fun to make in fact.  I have no interest in congratulating anyone for achieving a successful union of the sperm and egg after an enjoyable romp in the hay. Again, that is easy since it does not demand intelligence, hard work, discipline nor much effort at all. Being an effective and loving parent is SUPER hard…it takes time, effort, and money to the point that you are now living one hundred percent for someone else.

If we must congratulate someone, let’s at least congratulate those who have successfully raised happy and productive human beings that make our culture a better one.

Yet, I would not even want to do that. Why not?  I believe strongly that we should recognize and congratulate those who have done something extraordinary in life and deserve recognition.

And here is what I am NOT saying: We should not recognize, show support, or give encouragement to these people through formal ritual…conversely, I think it is great. Yet, we must recognize it for what it is and it is not an “achievement.”

Perhaps it would be a good idea to also give recognition to those who opt not to get married and not to have kids as well. After all, they certainly will not contribute to the divorce rate nor will they raise potentially delinquent children…not to mention they will certainly not add to overpopulation.

Staying together and raising productive children should be the norm in society and does not make someone a hero if he or she accomplishes this basic cultural function. The more we congratulate and hail those who are doing what we all should be doing to operate as a functional society, the more that normal activity becomes the rarity.

Conversely, rather than hailing those who achieve the norm, perhaps it would be a better plan to shame those who do not.

My stomach turned when I saw the following meme:

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Special? Special is defined as, “distinguished or different from what is ordinary or usual.” Really? I suppose the underlying assumption is that you have to be out of the ordinary and “special” to be a good father -thus the average guy does not stand a chance while the norm is most fathers are not “dads.” Sad.

I have never murdered someone nor have committed a crime. Should I be congratulated and honored?  Or should I be seen as one who exemplifies the norm of society? No pat on the back necessary.

I want to save the fuel in my congratulations tank for those who have worked really hard and gone above and beyond to achieve an objective.  Someone who earns a college degree, opens a successful business, volunteers to help those in need or perhaps lands a great job or promotion that they worked very hard for are just some of those achievements that are worthy of honor and congratulations.

The last time I congratulated myself was the day I received a letter in the mail informing me of my newly achieved tenure.  I was proud of that accomplishment because all the work leading up to that moment flashed before my eyes -the difficulty in obtaining the degrees, the years of part-time, low paying work to build up my resume’ and the many obstacles I had to climb over to get to this new place.  As far as being a responsible citizen who pays his taxes, loves his kids and generally obeys the law (speeding not being one of them) I am pleased with these things yet I am not proud of these things.

Yes, getting engaged or having a child is certainly a marker and milestone yet it can be a very good or very bad milestone…as in, “the day I walked down the aisle was the beginning of the end.” Again, I am not suggesting we do not recognize milestones, rather let us see them for what they are, markers, that may or may not mark something special.

So as I question culture and its customs, perhaps it is high time we stop congratulating what should be the norm and save our compliments and felicitations for those who have really earned it.

 

 

Marriage

If you had an opportunity to start a business yet you knew going into it that you had a 90% chance of failure, would you start it?

Unless you are either overly optimistic or just plain dishonest, the answer would be a resounding no. Sure you might be the lucky 10%…yet not likely.

Yet, for those who are looking to get into this business of marriage, this is the approximate chance your marriage will be successful.

Allow me to explain.

While doing some research on marriage and divorce, I noticed some very interesting facts (a midst some very complicated and difficult-to-decipher statistics). For example:

  • Indeed it may seem at first glance somewhat counter intuitive, the states with the highest divorce rates, as of 2012, are the conservative, “bible belt” states.  For example, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Mississippi have the highest divorce rates of all states in the US, hovering around 4.8 divorces, per year, per 1000 people –translating to over around a 50% divorce rate over the life of the marriage (I did not count Nevada with a whopping divorce rate of 5.5 divorces for every 1000 people because, well, it’s Nevada and people get drunk, marry, divorce on any given weekend).
  • The lowest divorce rates in the US are by far the more liberal, educated states. For example, the lowest divorce rates in the country are New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Illinois -which has only 2.4 divorces, per year, per 1000 people.
  • The lone curve ball concerning the above data is that the lowest divorce state in the US is Iowa with only 2.2 divorces, per year, per 1000 residents. Go figure.

Now, trust me on this one, there exists mountains of information concerning marriage and divorce statistics, odds, etc… So please allow me to summarize as simply as possible the greatest influence in whether or not a couple will divorce:

By FAR, first and foremost: Education. Sociologist Steve Martin calls this the great divorce divide. Couples with a Bachelors Degree or higher are 30% more like to stay together since 1970. On the other hand, couples with little to no higher education are 6% more likely to divorce since 1970.  Education matters and we could theorize for days as to why…including the fact that those that can stick out an education through thick and thin are far more likely to stick out a relationship when times get tough. In addition, those with an education typically get married at an older age and, statistically, make more money –all things that help a marriage survive. According to National Affairs:

This growing divorce divide means that college-educated married couples are now about half as likely to divorce as their less-educated peers. Well-educated spouses who come from intact families, who enjoy annual incomes over $60,000, and who conceive their first child in ­wedlock — as many college-educated couples do — have exceedingly low rates of divorce.

Other very important factors concern where you live, age when married, income bracket and whether or not your parents are divorced.

So here is my mathematical marriage disaster equation: Odds of getting divorced: 40-50%. Odds of remaining 50-60% remaining true to their marriage vows (read: cheating): Half? 30%? Odds of remaining 30% being truly happy and content in their marriage? 10%? 15%?

This leaves, pending on how nitpicky you would like to get with these numbers, approximately a 10-15% chance of having a fruitful, happy relationship till death do you part.

I believe, by virtue of anyone’s fuzzy divorce math, marriage in 2015 is a total failing institution.  Of course the US is not as bad off as some other countries, Belgium, for example, has a 71% divorce rate –compared to anywhere from 40% to 55% chance of divorce, over one’s life, in the United States.

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And here is what I am not saying:

I am not saying we should do away with marriage, no need to throw the bridal baby out with the nuptial bathwater –I am saying we have a very large social problem and we need to somehow fix it. I do abide by the notion that divorce is a terrible thing for families and society at large. It is a major problem. Thus, when society has a major problem it is in all our best interests to try and solve it.

Yet, I ask, is divorce just an inevitable path for most? Is there anything we can do about it? Not surprisingly, as one who has been pondering this social plague for many years, we do have some possible solutions.

1. Make divorce very difficult to obtain. It used to be very difficult to divorce in the United States –until September 4, 1969 when California Governor Ronald Reagan, who divorced his first wife, Jane Wyman in 1948 when she accused him of mental cruelty and, essentially, wanted to clear his name, signed the first no-fault divorce legislation in the US (a decision he reportedly later regretted). Prior to no-fault divorce, spouses seeking divorce had to prove that their partner was at fault for the marriage breakdown -essentially stripping the couple of power and giving it to the individual. Accepted legal grounds for divorce included (but were not limited to) physical or mental abuse, abandonment, insanity, or lack of sexual intimacy.  There are strong arguments for and against n0-fault divorce –though one thing is for damn certain: Divorce rates skyrocketed after this legislation was enacted –doubled, in fact. The biggest jump in divorce rates has nothing to do with a lack of morality or religious affiliation, for example, it all has to do with how difficult or easy the process is to get a divorce. I say that society is far better off making it very difficult, though not impossible, to break a lifelong vow.

2. Make marriage very difficult to obtain. Let’s think about this for a moment. If you want to put a pool in your backyard, you must pull permits, adhere to strict codes, pay thousands of dollars, all the while being continually inspected by city officials. Want to get married? Walk down to the courtroom, fill out a piece of paper, fork over a few bucks and DONE. Or, better yet, just drive to Vegas. What does it say about our society that it is easier to commit to one person for the rest of your life in an ironclad contract then it is to put a pool in your backyard? If we make divorce difficult to obtain, we should also make marriage equally as difficult.  There are two things our society has completely ass-backwards that we treat with high esteem –two things that any two dumbasses can do: Get married and have children. Why do we celebrate an act that, eventually, makes society a far worse place with its terrible ending? I say we treat those wanting to get married with suspicion and doubt. If you want to really achieve something in this life, get a college degree or start a successful business…making ill-advised commitments and spitting out kids is easy –discipline and self-motivation is not.

3. Marriage contracts. The thing I love most about the idea of marriage contracts is that it forces two people to sit down, negotiate issues and make a plan: The things every couple should do, though, typically, do not. Marriage contracts can come in a variety of forms, including options, buyouts, consequences, finances, time limits, you name it. A customary contract would be a 10 year-deal –at which time two people can sit down and discuss renewing, or not. Do I think marriage contracts are ideal? Hell no. I do believe contracts may dull the sting of two people separating because is there no expectation of “till death do you part.” At the very least marriage contracts do not place unreasonable expectations on a couple…though choosing to not extend a contract may be emotionally difficult for some, at least all things were discussed and laid out prior so there are no surprises. It is not coincidence that professional athletes in their final year of their contract have, by far, their greatest and most successful years? Why would it be any different for relationships that are about to expire? If my contract is about to expire and I want I want to renew? You better believe it is extra time at the gym and a myriad of wonderful floral arrangements on the daily.

4. Do not marry. There is a part of me that wants to make the claim this is the easiest and best route because, as they say, the number one cause of divorce is marriage–so let’s just stop doing it. However, I do believe there is hard wiring in the majority of human nature that drives each of us to pair up with someone and do life together. Therefore we can stop calling it marriage though I believe the partnering phenomena will continue regardless. With the advent of common-law marriage, also known as sui juris marriage, informal marriage, or marriage by habit and repute, where a couple is legally considered married without ever officially getting married, doing away with marriage would have little benefit. Thus, we can stop getting married yet good old Uncle Sam will just automatically do it for us. I, for one, believe the government should have nothing to do with the act of marriage. Of course part of the overall declining divorce rate is due to the fact fewer people are marrying and, if children are not involved, perhaps this is a better route for many to take, common-law marriage be damned.

5. Consider different types of marriage options. Why do you think the more conservative, Christian states have the highest divorce rates? Because, for them, there is only one type of marriage and, for them, divorce is a superior option than thinking outside the marriage box. I could not disagree more. Divorce sucks. There exists plenty of different marriage options outside of traditional ones; so many, in fact, any couple can modify and customize their marriage to make it work best for them. I have met people in freedom-based, polyamorous, child-centric, convenience, open, practical, etc…arrangements that work best for their particular situation. Of course I completely disagree with having only one traditional marriage option….but perhaps that is another blog for a different day.

As a society we can rule with reason or we can rule with emotion. Emotionally, to reconsider the fundamental, traditional act of one of culture’s cornerstone events, marriage, is unthinkable and unbearable, despite what our reason might suggest to the contrary. Of course most of us would rather keep doing what is familiar.

Thoughts? Please discuss.

Cheating

Today, as I blog on the subject of relational cheating, I must say upfront what I am NOT saying: I do not encourage cheating, I do not condone cheating and I would strongly encourage you NOT to cheat on your partner. I blog today as one who is objectively looking at what I perceive to be a problem in society (and please argue with me on these perceptions!) and make some, perhaps, unpopular observations concerning the nature of relational cheating. I am trying to understand cheating and its role in society.  I am one who likes to look at what is happening without moral judgment -which tends to cloud productive and objective thinking.

Let’s get this party started, ya cheatin’ bastards.images

There is a fundamental rule I have learned in my lifetime: People are going to do whatever the hell they want to do and very little can be done to stop them.  As a society, we set up certain punishments and incentives to discourage or encourage certain behaviors with some degree of success, yet, I would argue, these punishments and incentives are not as effective as we might want to think or want them to be a great deal of the time.

Our prisons are filled with people who murder, rob banks, molest children, etc…in spite of the fact we have set up strong punishments for such people. Conversely, our government has set up certain financial incentives to save additional money in certain programs, Roth IRAs for example, yet millions do not take advantage of such programs while our savings rate as a nation is one of the lowest in the world, around 4.5% in 2013, 16th out of the 28 countries in this study.

Thus, we can conclude that for some, neither punishments nor incentives are necessarily indicators that behavior will be changed or altered. In terms of infidelity, obviously the threat of divorce or being the family pariah is not a strong enough punishment to dissuade many from cheating. In the end, the human being will act like a human being regardless of consequences. Why? We are getting there…

I blog today on an issue I once blogged about a couple of years ago–the fact that many people always have and always will cheat in their relationships. I do not want to sound like a broken record and simply rewrite what I wrote in my blog of nearly two years ago. In that blog I focused much more on people’s self-righteous indignation towards cheaters (and you will get a strong dose of that in this blog as well…at least I’m consistent), mainly directed at a website whose sole purpose is to make cheating “safe and easy.” Today I want to address the human condition of why people, of both genders, cheat, and offer my observations of the cheating world.

Today I begin with 3 fundamental questions: Why do people cheat, how many people cheat (an impossible number to figure out with great precision) and what, in fact, constitutes cheating -at least for the sake of this blog. I will work off a few basic assumptions that you may or may not agree with:

  • First off, though there are many reasons people may cheat, the primary reasons are sexual fulfillment, new emotional connections and newfound excitement in an otherwise mundane and dull relational existence. It simply spices up the main course meal of life. Many who cheat are still very much in love with their partner.
  • Secondly, the assumption is that A LOT of people cheat, much more than what we may currently think. Of course this is not a stretch as a contemporary “cheating” website was recently hacked and threatened to expose the name of all 37 MILLION, yes million, users. When one considers this is only 1 website of many, is it farfetched to conclude A LOT of people cheat, perhaps MOST people? I do not think it is. When you consider that most people who do cheat do not get caught and sure as hell are not going to tell anybody, the number of  cheaters -again, a number we can never be entirely sure of- is astronomically high. I am sure there are many more people cheating on their taxes than have ever been caught cheating on their taxes. Most of us might hate to admit it though cheating, can be argued, is a fairly normative human behavior.
  • The final assumption, for the sake of this blog, is that any physical intimacy -be it a one time make out session or ongoing affair- though certainly different in scope and potential fall out, are all considered cheating at some level in a traditional arrangement.

My first observation is this: When most people engage in a particular somewhat normative behavior, why do we demonize it and not simply accept it as part of the human condition? Maybe “cheating” is just a human being being a human being. Perhaps a more accurate term would be “human exploring,” as in, “She is one of the most notorious human explorers I know.” Homosexuality was once considered a disease, transgendered people were mentally sick and women were considered inferior to men. We evolve as a people when we let go of our biases and see reality for what it is -and it first comes with accepting the behavior of those (seemingly) different from us without judgment. Many evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and psychologists contend it is monogamy that goes against the grain of human nature, not cheating.

“But, wait Jimmy, I am human and I do not cheat.” Thank you, oh omniscient one. I’ll take your word for it…though read on. To this I respond that I am human and am not gay…though a lot of humans are. I am human and I am not asexual…though a lot of humans are. I am not into S&M…at least not tonight…but a lot of humans are. The human experience is vast and diverse -simply because someone does not share my personal proclivities does not make them any less human and certainly not any more or less moral.

My second observation concerns the indignant responses society has toward cheaters, errr, explorers (I promised you I would get there!). My thought is “thou protesteth too much.” Human beings tend to get the most riled up over issues they personally struggle with the most. Since most people have explored -or at the very least have had thoughts of exploring outside of traditional set-up- it is no wonder we project our own personal frustration onto others who have been caught. Our reactions may be generated by inward jealousy for those who have not cheated yet would love to, or, for those who have cheated it is just creating self-righteous theater to make you look like a monogamous hero. Just like the angry senator who consistently votes against gay rights only to be caught with a young male intern in a compromising position…same type of hypocrisy.

I am currently reading a book, Modern Romance, by Comedian Aziz Ansari…who wrote this book along with a number of respected academics and relational researchers. In the portion of the book dedicated to cheating, in particular the very high prevalence of it contrasted with the reaction of disgust towards it, he opines, “…when it comes to sex and relationships, what we believe in theory does not line up with what we do in practice…When you compare this level of disapproval with the data on the actual prevalence of cheating, it paints a strange picture. Do we really believe that all these masses of people who engage in affairs are moral monsters? That makes quite a lot of monsters. It seems that we reluctantly accept the act of cheating in our own lives while still condemning the practice at large.”

Preach it Aziz. Perhaps the only thing worse than a cheater is a hypocritical cheater.

When faced with a wall of insurmountable facts and data, humans tend to poo poo such evidence if it makes them feel discomfort or flies in the face of what they so desperately want to believe. Most prefer a shallow and unrealistic romance with illusions over and above a deep relationship with truth -and the truth is cheating is well within the realm of normal human behavior.

My third observation concerns a troubling traditional marriage contract between two people that forbids either of them to “explore” EVER and under no conditions. Why? Do we now own the other person upon commitment? I hate to go all 1970’s on your asses though we had a saying back then that suggested, “If you love something set it free.” Yes, technically it is “cheating” because most of society has drafted an unreasonable and unrealistic contract for the majority of people. Therefore the primary problem lies in the untenable contract much more than in the human beings who are just acting like, well, uh, human beings.

Or does it?

I am not convinced that hoping and aspiring to a very difficult goal, some might say a nearly impossible goal, is necessarily a bad thing. Yet, I am not saying it is a good thing either. To aspire to an objective that separates us from other animals, keeping our baser instincts controlled and intact may be a very positive venture for society in general, particularly the family structure. Yet, the downside is pretty strong as well…by aspiring to something that is very difficult to achieve and then being devastated when it is not realized comes with a very painful emotional price tag -not to mention lawyers fees and court costs. Ahhh…the tension. Still, in the end, I would say the costs of such aspiration outweigh the potential rewards of it.

I understand that many people have been hurt by the behavior known as “cheating.” I contend that it was not the “cheating” that was devastating, rather the above-mentioned social constructs we have created that placed certain expectations on certain types of relationships. Perhaps if we rid society of this expectation, cheating would become exploring (I know I am using that word a lot and do not care for it all that much…but the English language does not have word for a “cheater” that is not laced with hate and vitriol…let’s think of one kids) and we could all calm down and accept the human animal for what it is. In other words, we could become much more European -53% of the French believe exploring to be morally acceptable. Or Chilean, 33%. America? 16%. Americans are notorious for preferring devastating divorces over empathy and understanding…lawyers are thrilled.

In most of my courses the examinations are taken online with open books and open notes. I instruct my students that it is impossible to cheat…you can use anything you wish and you can even take the test together as a group. The confused students, who are conditioned like Pavlovian mutts to finding creative and inventive ways to cheat on exams, are often disarmed and bewildered. As the professor, I am relieved of my burden of detecting, finding and calling out cheaters. It’s nice. As a result, my classes often get together as a group in our library, collect their books and notes, open their exams together and then discuss and argue communication concepts for about an hour…it is a beautiful thing to see students working together in this way. I believe that they are learning FAR MORE than if I stuck with a traditional method of examinations.

I think you get the analogy.

The goal in my courses is student learning –nothing more, nothing less. I never want convention to get in the way of student learning. For most of us, I believe our goal in life is to be happy and fulfilled yet often our convention may get in the way of those simple goals. I am not talking about a relational free-for-all, rather a basic understanding and acceptance of how human beings operate- and it’s high time we stopped the self-righteous moral outrage.

So people are going to do whatever they hell they want to do. Can we all just accept that fact and move forward and act accordingly?

Relationship advice author Dan Savage, in his book American Savage, sums up my sentiments quite nicely: “I’m not saying that being cheated on by your spouse is not a big deal, or a violation, or a betrayal. It is all of those things. But if more people understood how difficult monogamy is over the long term, and how common cheating is, and if people were encouraged to assess the actual particulars of a particular adulterous incident rather than seeing all cheating as essentially equal…maybe more marriages would survive the nearly inevitable infidelity.”

Smart guy, that Savage.

I realize arguing that “cheating” /slash/ exploring as a fairly normative behavior and should be accepted as such is a very unromantic, nontraditional, and an uncomfortable position to take. Ironically I am in no way promoting cheating…I just want to look at reality, as uncomfortable as it may be, and help save relationships. The choice seems rather simple, we can either keep aspiring to a lofty goal and continue to be devastated or we can identify the true human condition, stop aspiring and accept the human being for what it is.

There you have it. My longest blog ever. I try to keep my blogs to a thousand words…I guess I cheated, errr, explored.

 

Relationship Survey: Please Take A Minute And Provide Us With Your Response!

A student of mine is currently doing some original research in regards to relationship type measured with satisfaction. This is a very quick one minute survey. We would really appreciate it if you could contribute this blippet of time for the sake of academic research. Anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to take it. Thank you in advance for your assistance! All responses are 100% anonymous…guaranteed.

www.relationship-satisfaction-survey.com

Why? Adam Yahel Diaz: A Man Of Peace, A Man Of Community. R.I.P.

Sometimes you search and find something to write about, while at other times the writing finds you. Such is the case with this blog entry, as yesterday I woke up to find that a young man, 26 year-old Crafton Hills College student Adam Yahel Diaz, whom I had just seen the evening prior, had passed away in car accident while driving to San Francisco early Friday morning.

During the entire day on Friday, I received Facebook messages, phone calls and emails from the Crafton Hills Community, both students and educators alike, all with the strong need to process the tragedy that just unfolded before us -processing that took the form of planning events, recalling memories and telling stories of our personal relationships with Adam.

At the outset, please understand that I knew far more about Adam, from friends and colleagues, than I actually personally knew Adam. I was not a close friend nor confidante,  just a person who had occasional informal encounters with him and who frequently heard others speak very highly of him.

It seems everyone knew him.

Crafton Hills is a community college. The nature of these institutions is generally one of transience, in that most students juggle work, school, family, while finding little time to work on building a sense of community as “real life” is just too demanding.  This is what set Adam apart from the majority of students, he not only strove to build community, he embodied it.

Unlike High School, where you have the “popular” crowd, the community college has no such social stratification. However, if you were to choose the “popular kid” at Crafton Hills, it would have been Adam Yahel Diaz. He was that guy everyone seemed to know from somewhere. Why? Because you did not go to Adam, he, eventually, came to you.

And he seemed to go everywhere. I know because Adam came to me.

Adam was involved in school governance, the arts program, campus life and just about any event that worked to build community on the campus. I had never met him, though knew of him, until early March when he approached me about delivering a speech for our campus wide event, Day of Advocacy, with a topic entitled, “Securing the Blessings: On a Healthy Relationship Between Church and State.”11061203_10155840126605131_5553587300401995126_n

This speech was so Adam. It was about building bridges between groups -in this case church and state- coming together and putting aside our differences for the sake of unity—for the sake of community. Adam had never been my student so I never really was able to coach him up in a way I would have liked. The speech itself was not always terribly clear…but that mattered so little, if at all.

Why?

Because, as I quickly learned with Adam, it was about who he was…not necessarily what he said. His spirit reverberated enormous positive energy and brilliance of light. You might not have known exactly where he was always going with an idea but, wherever it was, you wanted to go with him. We wanted in on that positive energy train—his spirit was strong, captivating, genuine and undeniable. If only all my students could tap into their inner charisma the way he did, our campus, hence, our world, would never be the same.

As my dad used to say, Adam was the kind of guy that could probably sell snowballs to Eskimos—but Adam was not a salesman. Rather, he freely gave away his positive and powerful energy to all those in his presence.

His smile was pleasantly and permanently etched on his face.

When such a tragic passing takes place, many begin the struggle to “make sense” and attempt to answer life’s deepest question: Why? It is, perhaps, the ultimate tension.

Yet, such a question might only lead one down the road of false hope, at best, and, at worst, utter frustration and bitterness.

It is not time to focus on the “why” but rather the “what”—as in what are the gifts, the lessons, the blessings that Adam graced us with and how we can we, the community of Crafton Hills College and beyond, carry these on in his honor and on his behalf?

I respect faith. In fact, I respect faith so much I would never cheapen it with my frail interpretation of how it plays out in life…and death. A wise friend of ours once told us a saying that resonated so deeply we keep it permanently displayed in our home: “I would never worship a God I could fully understand.”

Is this passing part of a universal plan? Whether it is or it is not, it makes little difference. I am the type of person who focuses on what I do know and not things I cannot possibly know -at least with any degree of certainty.

And what do we know?

I know that shortly after finding out this news, a colleague called me up in tears. “I just wrote him three letters of recommendation for three Ivy league school this past week,” she said. This only testifies to the fact he never waited for colleges or life to come to him, he always went to them. I know this.

We know Adam was a builder. He proactively built relationships, bridges, and, above all, community –a nice touch for a community college.

And now we find that real life has come to us in a tragic and powerful way. We know that we must now accept and live with this new reality that Adam is no longer among us, physically. Yet, we also know he leaves all of us with a bevy of powerful gifts, lessons and blessings that we have the duty to carry on. We have an obligation to come together as a community, express our love and concern for one another, and live in a manner that Adam desired for us all.

We will miss you Adam.

You came to us…and now none of us will ever be the same.

(A memorial will be held at Crafton Hills College on Tuesday, April 14 at 1:00pm in the LRC building. Perhaps this will be a good starting point in continuing to build the community Adam so jovially worked towards)

People Are Strange, When You’re A Stranger: Why I Love Weird People

“When pregnant people swim, they are a human submarine.”

I love different, strange and weird people. Why? Perhaps I am projecting a bit of myself onto others as I do consider myself a somewhat odd and eccentric type of person. Yet, the thing that I like most about strange and weird people is they are not caught up in the cultural mill of sameness and conformity. In an age where technology can do a lot of our thinking for us -many of us have google mental processors and Reddit, Yahoo, or Huffington Post perceptual filters- it is refreshing to hear of a person who processes, thinks and looks at life differently then the rest of us internet lemmings. In fact, I never really thought about the idea that:

“Beef jerky is like a meat raisin.”

Thus, whenever I may refer to one as weird or strange, make no mistake about it -that is a positive euphemistic gesture on my behalf…I cherish those who think differently. I am not suggesting I have a thing for, say, crazy homeless derelicts, rather for functioning and sane individuals who are not like me, or the rest of humanity for that matter.  They just process thoughts differently. They march to the beat of their own weird-ass metronome. You might say they pedal to the speed of a different bike. Speaking of which:

Bikes are acoustic motorcycles.

Perhaps the quality I appreciate most in strange people is that embracing quality of self-acceptance. Some are different and strange while being uncomfortable in that different and strange skin. The strange people I prefer are those who are strange and they not only know it, they accept it as part of their very being. They do not run and hide; they take that weirdness and call it their own. They can even be eating a simple bowl of rice and see the world differently:

Rice is great when you’re hungry and you want to eat 2000 of something.”

So I introduce you to my weird friend and strange former student, Jill-Lima Bean-Vikki, who from now on I will lovingly refer to as JLBV. JLBV is unlike any student in my professorial tenure. She is one of the sanest and smartest, yet different, students I have ever had. I have had plenty of dangerous “crazies,” of which JLBV is not a member. Insane former students of mine have taken a knife to the artwork at a college art show (as one painting dared to reveal a naked breast), while another threatened to shoot up the school campus and was later arrested for having an apartment full of ammunition. Yes, this armed student was in my class and he did not appreciate the grade I gave him on all his overtly, fundamentalist religious speeches. The point is this: I know weird and I know crazy. JLBV, somewhat like myself, is just weird. A good weird. A very, very good weird. She has paid the devil his due…or has she?

If you don’t pay your exorcist then you get repossessed.”

Jill-Lima Bean-Vikki has 3 names because in the first class she took with me everyone in class agreed she looked like a Jill…so she gladly went with it. In a second class she took with me I had students give me the name they preferred to be called…she chose Lima Bean. Finally, I guess Vikki is her parental given moniker, her Christian name you might say. All this being said, if you were to try to find her on facebook, it would be under the name Thrill-Seeker. Ah the many faces of JLBV! Regardless of what you call her, she cannot even go grocery shopping without thinking of something weird…really weird:

When you go food shopping you are just buying supplies for this week’s poops.”

I guess I never really thought of it that way before.

If you have not guessed it so far, these italicized quotes are “JLBV-isms” coming straight from the mind of her strange self.  Not surprisingly, JLBV works in the circus among other freaks just like her. She is a delightful, chill to-the-max, mellow young lady who is pleasant as all hell to be around.  You cannot NOT like her, as there is nothing about her to dislike…unless, of course, you dislike weird…and those who can play fun games with words:

French pancakes give me the crepes.

I have always found this “A” student to be a different type of delight. Then, in an Interpersonal Communication course one day last year, she revealed to the entire class, in one of the most interesting and informative speeches I have ever heard, that she is asexual… meaning that she has no sexual desires for either males nor females. In other words, if she were at a restaurant serving sexuality, when it came her turn to order she would tell the server, “I’m good.” She also knows how to ask the right questions:

Do you think babies get cold? Or are they womb temperature?

There are a lot of misunderstandings and myths surrounding the orientation of asexuality that this article and accompanying comic clear up.  Yet JLBV is the first one who will clear things up for you as she is open and honest about her orientation. Personally, I believe asexuality to be a really sweet orientation in terms of simplifying one’s life—as sexual attraction can be the knife-in-the-heart, really fuck-your-life-up activity that carries great reward at often times a very steep price. Frankly, her asexuality is neither here nor there in terms of what makes her unique and special, it is just another cog in her wheel of being different as she constantly questions what is and what is not socially acceptable:

Apple sauce is just baby food that is socially acceptable for everyone to eat.

So, with my tribute to the one and only JLBV, it may seem she is in some sort of trouble or has a life ending illness or some shit. Nope—at least none that I am aware of. She is good. Healthy, happy, hardy and hip…she is doing just fine.  Much better than some chemicals, because:

“When chemicals die, they barium.”

So why do I write of her? I think we all can learn things from interesting people. From JLBV, we can learn the importance of being our unique self, embracing our unique self and offering our unique self as a gift to the world. To 858690_10202219558478576_3050842345386289969_oaccept self is the greatest gift we can give to our self…this is not to suggest we do not all have some sort of character deficiencies we need to work on and fine tune, though the very essence of self needs to be embraced, loved and nurtured. JLBV is a great example of this.

OUR CULTURE NEEDS WEIRD!! We are turning into Social Media robots…save us JLBV!! Perhaps my final JLBV-ism sums up good advice for the rest of us:

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into it… I just don’t think being an adult is gonna work for me.”

Sage advice my friend. And my advice to you? Stay weird…we love it and need it.

We need new and original thought forms. So perhaps it is ironic that I summarize this blog with a particularly poignant quote from another brilliant mind:

“To thy own self be true.”

 

 

 

 

Hedging Your Bets In The Gamble Of Relational Probabilities: The 7 Do’s And Do Not’s Of Finding The Right Person For You

Towards the beginning of each semester, I lecture on the basics of the communication process (one semester I even did it with a go pro on my head).  Each time I give this lecture I am reminded of a very basic communication principle – a principle that if followed, will do everything but ensure a successful long-term relationship.

Fine, there are no guarantees and perhaps that last sentence is a bit too “headliney” and advanced to sell papers, yet who would not like to hedge their long-term relational bets a bit in their favor?

The key is experience; as in, similar and shared experiences.

If you should drop me off in the middle of China and demand I communicate with someone, I would fail miserably. For starters, I do not speak the same language and, outside of the fact that we would both need to eat, drink, and defecate, there is very little else that I would share, experience-wise, with this other person.

It is no different with our relationships within our own culture.  We may all share the same dominant culture experience (I am an ‘Merican), yet there are great experiential differences among all of us. For example, I may share the same denotative, linguistic language with another person in my ‘Merican culture yet that does not mean we share the connotative language.  I may share the same grammatical principles with, say, an 18 year-old dude, yet that does not mean my utterance of the word “sick” means anything close to his definition –I use it to address an illness while he uses it to address something very cool and nice.

Language is just one small part of everything that constitutes our varying experiences, be it schools, religion, travel, family structure, or educational level -the list goes on.

Therefore, I have created my list for increasing your chances of long-term relational success, based off the principle of shared experience. Hence:

The 7 do’s and don’ts of long term relational success:

The 4 Do’s:

1. Do commit to someone close to your age. Yes, I have blogged in detail about this before, though allow me to summarize that blog right here and now: The further away you drift in age from a potential long-term partner, the less likely you will experience long-term success…and vice-versa: The closer you are in age with a significant other increases the chances of relational survival. Now, like with all the rest of my do’s and don’ts, I must qualify each one with the  term, “probability.” Please do not tell me that you married someone your exact age and it failed, of course this can happen and often does. We are talking increasing chances of success, not guaranteeing it. Frankly, there are so many studies that support this “no brainer” suggestion that I do not know where to begin. How about here? Or here?  The explanation is rather simple when viewed through the lens of shared common experience: Those of the same age simply share more of the same experiences together. I was alive for John F. Kennedy’s assassination (yes, I was 6 months old though you get the point), Richard Nixon’s impeachment, Jimmy Carter’s peanuts, Billy Beer (google it), John Lennon getting shot, and much, much more. My students today tell me they barely remember 9/11. Is it absolutely necessary to share the witnessing of all these events? No, though it certainly does increase our shared field of experience and decreases our chances of miscommunication, which is the budding seed of relational dissatisfaction.

2. Do commit to someone who grew up within 5 miles of your childhood house. Alright, perhaps in this transient age this may be next to impossible for many, yet I hope you get the idea. When you commit to someone who grew up within 5 miles of your house, or at least in a similar neighborhood to your own, you likely share the same schools/types of schools, perhaps many of the same friends, similar socioeconomic status, community values, and shared stories. Why 5 miles? In my hometown of Burbank, CA. we had two high schools; one was for the flatlanders, John Burroughs High, the Indians, and one was for rich kids in the hills of Burbank, Burbank High, the Bulldogs. Yes, we all grew up in the same city yet my group, the flatlanders, shared a far different socioeconomic experience than our hillside counterparts. We would work at the businesses the Burbank High kids’ families owned. The distance between John Burroughs and Burbank High Schools? About 5 miles, give or take.  Am I suggesting a Burroughs High School person cannot have a long term relationship with a Burbank High snob? Of course not. I would bet my last bitcoin there are many inter-high school successful relationships. However, if you are a betting man? Take the Indian-Indian and Bulldog-Bulldog relationships over the Native American-Canine one.

3. Do commit to someone who shares your deepest philosophical views about life. The key word here? Deepest. Life has a strange and mysterious way of making unspoken beliefs and issues surface into the forefront sooner or later…and it is usually later. For example, the fact you may be a hardcore atheist while your significant other is a moderately strong believer in a higher power may not mean a whole hell of a lot in the early and mid-stages of a relationship, yet eventually these fundamental differences are going to meet and collide head on. Another example of deeper, stronger views individuals typically held (yet usually do not realize it till a child comes along) concerns parenting styles.  Now this may not mean a lot during courting and the early stages of relationships, but can be complete deal breakers once the little ones are conceived. When it comes to parenting, most of us resort back to the dreaded, “That is the way I was raised and look at me, I’m fine,” bullshit philosophy that assumes that what your parents did was the right way and you are currently the best person you can be because of it. People, parents are often wrong. Why? Because they are people first and parents second. It is healthy to have differences in opinions and beliefs yet the deepest and most sacred values are best shared with the other. Two people can only negotiate the dynamics and aspects of their relationship to the extent they share the same fundamental values.

4. Do commit to someone whose parents you have taken into consideration. I remember back in the day when Rene’ and I were starting to get serious and seek counseling. At that time we would often be counseled that you are not just committing to each other, rather, you are committing to each other’s family as well. I not only committed to Rene’, in addition, I am committed to her mother and father. I am not certain how much I adhere to this philosophy presently, still I agree with the spirit of the sentiment, which is, “Parents Matter.” I tell my kids that if they want to know what their significant other is going to look like in 25 years, check out mom and pop for a fairly good indicator. Likewise, temperament is not a whole hell of a lot different. Am I suggesting we are all helplessly locked into our own parents’ mindset? Hell no. I am saying that if you are having doubts about whether or not this person is for you, a quick parental evaluation may tip the scales one way or the other, particularly the younger you happen to be. Parents are not to be ignored.

Now on to the negative: The 3 Do Nots:

1. Do NOT commit to someone solely because you share similar interests and have fun enjoying these activities together. Sure enjoying activities together is fun and exciting, yet, like sex and attraction below, they are not relational priorities you can hang your long term relational hat on. Often times it is more exciting to possess dissimilar interests not only for the purpose of maintaining healthy autonomy in the relationship, but also to expose each other to your various worlds at times. The worst thing in the world for me would be to have a partner as obsessed about working out as I am…that would spell disaster as we would drive each other crazy. Imagine if I played piano? Don’t get Rene’ started…

2. Do NOT commit to someone because the sex is off the charts. A healthy and exciting sex life is awesome and inspiring though not a prereq for long term commitment. I look at good sex as frosting on the cake, a bonus for a relationship gone terribly right. Often times poor sex is an indicator that something else is askew in the relationship…you cannot blame the sex. Good sex can come and go; loving companionship is the gift that keeps on giving.

3. Do NOT commit to someone because they are exquisite, mysterious and intriguing. We spell these kinds of relationships this way:  D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R. The strong, silent type can morph into the uncommunicative prick in very little time while the man of mystery turns out to be a loser with some really weird ass secrets. And the exquisite lady whose eccentric preoccupations have you smitten? In 20 years she is one of those weird cat ladies with 100’s of felines with fecal matter running about her house. In the same way I counsel people not to own the special, pure bred, shitzu-something-or-other canine pet and to stick with the tried and true retriever or lab; a life partner should be selected with the same strictly vetted process. Exquisite pure breeds vomit and have massive amounts of diarrhea, while the tried and trusted mixed breed pups can eat shit for breakfast, lunch and dinner with no digestive problems. So, unless you really want to clean up after someone else’s excrement… you get the picture.

That is my lecture for today kiddos. And this one is on the house. Like Vegas, there are no guarantees though you can hedge your bets with the house’s money.

Your future happiness may depend on it.

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