Monthly Archives: December 2012

people 6

3 Key Components to an Awesome Relationship

Today Holden sent me a very insightful email that I would like to share with the world. 

I think the key to getting along and having a fruitful relationship with your spouse, family, co-workers and anyone else has three essential elements.

1. Look Beyond Yourself

The first element is, you and the person you are trying to have the harmonious relationship with need to be able to look beyond themselves. They have to be able to recognize their own bias and remove the cloudiness of their own personal perspective and see other’s perspective.

For example, I never realized just how boxed in and self centered I was until I worked at GISTech and really got my ass handed to me over and over by my two senior co-workers who were as self centered as I was. When you have three extremely self centered people who always think their perspective is the only perspective, its going to spell disaster, and I was the low man on the totem pole so I got shit on there and bullied. I think this might be where Stoicism could play a helpful role. Removing yourself emotionally to free yourself to survey the surrounding environment.

I remember I use to trash my wife’s dad the way your wife will freely trash yours, then I finally realized that despite everything I said being blatantly true and her feeling the exact same way, maybe I should just leave the bashing to her. I still take jabs at the guy, but I shouldn’t. I should just leave it to her, because she really doesn’t need me to remind her that her dad sucks. She knows it, she lived it. It took stepping outside my own little box to realize that.

2. Roll with the Punches

The next element is part reciprocation, part just letting shit roll off your back.

Sometimes people say things that really do not jive with or annoy you. You just have to learn to let it roll off your back, but the other person also needs to learn to reciprocate and return the favor when you’re being the asshole. I think my and your wife’s issue is that she doesn’t reciprocate well. I feel like she expects all of us to simply let anything she says roll off our backs, but she doesn’t take it well when we say anything that slights her in the least. Then I eventually get to a point that I stop letting things roll off my back, and she thinks I’m bullying her and hate her guts. I don’t really how to address the problem. If it were you and I we’d just tell the other to quit being an asshole.

My wife and I used to have the same problem, She’d take my bullshit all day, but then if she dished a little, I would blow up on her ass. Hell, it still happens sometimes. Its a lifelong growing process. I’m still guilty of dishing more than I take sometimes. Its just important that you don’t let me get away with it if I am.

3. Admit when You’re Wrong

The final element is admitting when you’re wrong.

When I do something really shitty (like punching a hole in the wall, throwing a tantrum… etc) I’ve learned just to suck it up and admit I’m a douchebag. Fuck it. I’m a douchebag. The first step to a de-douching yourself is admitting your own douchiness. Some people just can’t admit it. Some people really can’t stand to lose face or look foolish. You have to get over it if you’re going to have successful relationships. You have to learn to admit you’re wrong.

So, there you have it. This is what I’ve been personally working on. The lucky part of my marriage is that my wife just seems to naturally have most of this down and she’s very receptive to me just calling her out, as you are. I’m the one who needs most of the work. Luckily, I’ve grown up enough over the last few years to finally realize it. In your case, the tables are turned I think. I think you know everything I said above to be true and you follow the philosophy. The next step is just bringing your wife along with you.

Welfare in Georgia: A Rebuttal to Neil deMause

A friend sent me a link today from which was critical of the difficulty to obtain Welfare (that is cash benefits only – healthcare and food stamps are much easier to obtain) in Georgia. The principal problem the article argues: It’s too hard for Georgians to get cash benefits from the Government.

“What [Georgia’s stance on Welfare] has created is a land that welfare forgot, where a collection of private charities struggle to fill the resulting holes. For the Atlanta Community Food Bank, that means sending out more than 3 million pounds of canned goods, bread, and other groceries each month to churches in and around Atlanta to help feed the state’s growing number of poor and near-poor. The food bank’s staff also helps arrange for free tax prep services, and helps the city’s poor apply for food stamps and Medicaid.”

Poverty is terrible. I think everyone can agree with that, but the principal question I keep asking myself is: What is the author complaining about?  He’s not complaining about poverty. He doesn’t seem to be complaining about the fact the poor are being helped. Does he not like the way they are being helped? I don’t get it.

Other than being a simple attack on a conservative State’s methodology on distributing aid to it’s residents I find no value to this very popular article. If the author’s job was to bring traffic to he succeeded. If his ultimate goal was to be a journalist, a communicator of valuable information, an advocate for the poor against injustice – he failed miserably.

Personally, I find no fault in Georgia’s Welfare practices. Georgia is essentially doing exactly what their conservative base wants: asking people to voluntarily take care of their community with donations and through charities rather than via Government and tax dollars. Georgia complied to the voters and best of all – it seems to be WORKING! How can this be turned into a negative thing accept for the fact that it does not meet the supposedly “liberal” code?

One commenter points this out:

This *could* have been an article about how ordinary Georgians are looking after their own through private means. Where does the Atlanta Community Food Bank get the resources to distribute 3 million pounds of food per month?

I am personally tired of Liberal (and Conservative) posters on popular websites twisting information to fit an agenda. If anything Georgia proves that it is possible to support the poor without demanding the Government do it for you.

In general, I think giving free cash via welfare to anyone should be tightly controlled – especially when you consider the potential for abuse in such a system. So if people are being fed, cared for, and looked after – by their neighbors no less – then why is this article so popular? Why do some people find Georgia’s methodology so immoral? Isn’t the ultimate goal to help people?

I suppose in the end it’s all about your idea as to the roll of Government. For me, I think putting more power and responsibility in the hands of the people is always a good thing. Asking the Government to centrally plan and disperse aid almost always fails and is a poor replacement for privately ran charities.

A New Year. An Old Man.

“You better give your Peepaw a hug, I don’t think he has much longer left.” I told my wife.

His eyes were watering, he was struggling to breathe, and sometimes I would see him shake a little as he was trying to move around. The rest of the house was rustling about almost like they didn’t notice the poor old man coming to terms with his own demise.

It was only a year ago, Christmas time last year, that I had spent time with my wife’s Great Grandfather. He seemed so much more alive then, but now his body seems ready to give out. To let go of the life still in his eyes, to rest.

I wonder to myself if he feels alone. The children running around the house, parents chatting about nothing, but Peepaw sits alone in a comfortable recliner enjoying what will probably be his last Christmas. My observations are full of mixed emotions.

Here sits a man who has had a full life, much better than most. He has been married to his dear wife for over 60 years, he has started and handed down a successful business, and has a wonder family surrounding him. What more could a man ask for in his final days. How much more peacefully could anyone go?

On the other hand I feel a hint of dread. The curtains are closing, his inevitable death is coming quickly, but he is alone in his journey in this. No one can truly empathize with what he must be feeling – it must be a little strange that everyone moves around so carelessly going about their daily business as he knows that these are his final hours. Literally his final moments of existence on this planet. Everyone pretends not to notice – getting dessert almost seems more important.

Of course it’s not that no one cares. He’s an 89 year old man and his death is something almost everyone has accepted – even if it’s just subconsciously. Something unsaid we have all agreed to. Inevitability. Finality.

Still part of me feels like we should all be crowded around him – appreciating the man and his life – while he’s still coherent enough to appreciate the gesture. Part of me wants to lean in and whisper a question: “What is the one thing I should know about life?” Oh the knowledge, the wisdom, he must have during these final hours. Regrets, pride, advice.

If there is any sort of afterlife. Any karma. Any higher power. Or even if there isn’t. Let it be known that a young man noticed you that day – your final Christmas. Maybe its some comfort, some justice. A young man unrelated by blood, a young man that never said more than a few words to you, a young man who only shook your hand and stared you in the eyes and tried to communicate at that moment that I appreciated your existence, noticed, cared.

I didn’t ask anything, you never lectured me, but I learned a lot from you.

I think I’m a Stoic

Recently I ran across this Wikipedia article on Stoicism. As I read through the basic tenants it hit me: I think I’m a stoic.

Reason Over Emotion

There are a few things that ring completely true to my own way of thinking:

Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual’s ethical and moral well-being: “Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature.” This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; “to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy,” and to accept even slaves as “equals of other men, because all men alike are products of nature.”

This passage rings almost totally true for me. Often when I find myself boiling with anger I think to myself : “Take a step back, think clearly, logically.” I have always valued the searched for truth with unbiased data and thinking. I especially appreciate the idea of freedom from emotion to see the world clearly.

This certainly does not mean you are free from feeling emotion. Everyone feels emotion. I think the overall point is honing the ability to transcend the emotions you are feeling and examine yourself externally for the self. Almost like an objective outsider examining the facts of your own situation.

The Stoics believed that knowledge can be attained through the use of reason. Truth can be distinguished from fallacy; even if, in practice, only an approximation can be made. According to the Stoics, the senses constantly receive sensations: pulsations that pass from objects through the senses to the mind, where they leave an impression in the imagination (phantasia). (An impression arising from the mind was called a phantasma.)

The mind has the ability to judge (sunkatathesis)—approve or reject—an impression, enabling it to distinguish a true representation of reality from one that is false. Some impressions can be assented to immediately, but others can only achieve varying degrees of hesitant approval, which can be labeled belief or opinion (doxa). It is only through reason that we achieve clear comprehension and conviction (katalepsis). Certain and true knowledge (episteme), achievable by the Stoic sage, can be attained only by verifying the conviction with the expertise of one’s peers and the collective judgment of humankind.

This idea also seems naturally true to me. How many times has an eye witness been wrong based on misinterpreted data they “thought” they saw or experienced? True answers, it seems to me, come from data and examination.  Emotions are important, but they are subject to error and manipulation by ourselves and external forces.

My wife and I have arguments all the time because she says I’m emotionless and too logical while I accuse her of being overly-emotional.  She will laugh or cry easily while I can’t remember the last time I felt emotion strong enough to cry. It’s hard to feel an emotion strong enough to take action if you naturally take the “I need to think this through” approach.

My natural inclination is to stop, wait, and examine the facts.

Ethics and Morality

Even my natural deriving of morality seems to be borrowed from Stoicism.

…the foundation of Stoic ethics is that good lies in the state of the soul itself; in wisdom and self-control. Stoic ethics stressed the rule: “Follow where reason leads.” One must therefore strive to be free of the passions, bearing in mind that the ancient meaning of ‘passion’ was “anguish” or “suffering”, that is, “passively” reacting to external events—somewhat different from the modern use of the word…The eupatheia are feelings that result from correct judgment in the same way as passions result from incorrect judgment.

The idea was to be free of suffering through apatheia (Greek: ἀπάθεια) or peace of mind (literally, ‘without passion’), where peace of mind was understood in the ancient sense—being objective or having “clear judgment” and the maintenance of equanimity in the face of life’s highs and lows.

For the Stoics, ‘reason’ meant not only using logic, but also understanding the processes of nature—the logos, or universal reason, inherent in all things. Living according to reason and virtue, they held, is to live in harmony with the divine order of the universe, in recognition of the common reason and essential value of all people…

Following Socrates, the Stoics held that unhappiness and evil are the results of human ignorance of the reason in nature. If someone is unkind, it is because they are unaware of their own universal reason, which leads to the conclusion of kindness. The solution to evil and unhappiness then, is the practice of Stoic philosophy—to examine one’s own judgments and behavior and determine where they diverge from the universal reason of nature.

These ideas are beautiful. Recognize the “common reason and essential value of all people”. I wonder why the Greek people were such sophisticated thinkers? It’s kind of amazing to think people had these brilliant thoughts a thousand years ago, but they are still applicable today. It seems human’s haven’t changed all that much.

Drones and Children

Someone I know sent me this link today. It is a list of 47 children who have perished due to Drone strikes under the Obama administration.

I think this list is meant to be an interesting juxtaposition to the “crying for the children” Obama presented to the public after the tragedy of Newton, Connecticut.  Leaving many Americans wondering what makes the Newton County children any more a tragedy than the deaths of 47 innocent brown children over the past few years.

Grey Area

Of course it isn’t that black and white. Some might argue that the end justifies the means as related to the deaths of 47 middle-eastern children. They are casualties of war – a sad consequence of terrorism and radical Islam even. War is dirty and the loss of innocent life inevitable while those children slaughtered in Newton remains completely unjustified and purposeless.

Still – I can’t help wonder why Obama doesn’t occasionally take a step back and express his deep regret for every innocent life lost as result of Drone attacks – especially the children. Especially in a war against “terror” and not against any particular nation.

Doesn’t the Administration owe it to every country to apologize for the death of their citizens as result of our mission to kill a particular individual? Maybe not – I don’t know how this works. What is the etiquette in a war like this? And no doubt a legion of right-wingers would be waiting to pounce and call Obama weak at the first apology uttered.


I guess what I’m saying here is that tragedy is everywhere and we should take time to reflect on the cost of war. We should appreciate and mourn the loss of every life – not just those in our own nation.

For myself – I wonder why the death of 22 children in Newton is so much more difficult a pill to swallow than the death of 47 children in some distant land I can’t fully conceptualize? This post goes out to all 69 of the innocent lives lost as result of someone else’s mistakes.  A sad reality of the world we live.

Why I (Secretly) Love the Holidays

I have a secret.  I love the Holidays. Even the things that annoy me to a certain extent I have grown to enjoy. Christmas movies on repeat, my wife constantly listening to Christmas music, being dragged to family members’ homes time and time again.

My wife forces me to neatly put up rows of lights on my house, I find neatly placed Christmas trinkets strategically placed in almost every room of the house.  Even my desk has somehow been infiltrated by a small snowman reminding me the Holiday season has arrived.

Sometimes I’m annoyed by the constant bombarding of commercials begging me to purchase this or that, knowing that I have to attend yet another family event and exchange courtesies to people I only make an effort to see once a year, and watching money drain from my bank account and a sometimes alarming rate. I don’t hate it though.

I thoroughly enjoy watching my wife open the gifts I have so carefully picked for her. She has the warmth and innocence of a child sometimes and that’s something most adults lose rather quickly. I don’t even mind seeing family at a little too frequent basis from November to January. My Mother-in-Law’s cooking and my Father-in-Law’s good nature make up for it.

Even coming home after work some days after dark is a pleasure. The Christmas lights sparkling on my house, a fire going in the fireplace, and a freshly ground cup of coffee waiting for me accompanied by an excellently prepared meal lovingly  given to me by my amazing wife. Those are the evenings that make the Holidays a very special time of year. The atmosphere makes watching even the worst  Christmas movie tolerable.

Good food. A little wine and beer. Friends and Family. Santa hats and tacky sweaters. A roaring fire and even a corny Christmas song playing in the background quietly reminding you of the days of your youth when you believed in Santa. I guess those are the things that make this time of year enjoyable.

I love the holidays.

A Religious Journey: Searching for Faith

I’ve struggled with religion and faith my entire life. My studies began early and continue today. It started before I can remember as my Parents dropped me off at Church. Some of my fondest memories are those in a little Baptist Church as a child. Sunday school, church plays, and of course the plethora of Southern banquets featuring some of the finest dishes Grandmothers from around the county could muster.

Religion and the church community gave to me what everyone desires in life. An absolute truth, the warmth of love and affection, family, the kindness of a stranger smiling at you from a few pews away, and of course belonging. In a word: Comfort.

But from the time I can remember “believing” was always difficult. I would constantly struggle with the nagging feeling religion is make believe. I felt out of place and wondered how everyone else seemed to believe so whole-heartily and so easily while I struggled with my faith constantly.

I didn’t give up. As in life, the things that didn’t come natural to me (faith), I worked twice as hard as the next person to achieve. So I prayed daily for God to help me “believe”.

“Dear God – Please help me with my struggles in faith. Please help me find the evidence I need personally to find strength in my faith in you. I am sorry for my lack of faith and I am working hard to  find it.  Please put me on the right path.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

So my days would go from about the ages of 12 – 18. There were even times I believed strongly that God was there. Sometimes my hard work seemed to be paying off – though my doubts were never far behind.

Search for Faith

When I first arrived in college I decided to get serious about religion. I started watching videos that I hoped would strengthen my faith. I met a “preacher” who taught young people. And so intense self-indoctrination began – seemed to work – but eventually failed.

At one point I was ready to testify to my fellow college students on campus. I had almost convinced myself it all made sense. I painted an almost clear picture of what I had come to believe. But what I found mostly radicalized me and I saw in myself the symptoms of any individual induced to delirium.

Most of what I found I could not reconcile with my own personal thoughts and feelings.  Everything seemed overly radical, lacked evidence, and seemed almost loony. Though I learned many good lessons – those lessons were not independent to Christianity and proved nothing.

There were young earth creationist, those that claimed religion was about faith and not proof, those that claimed man and dinosaurs roamed the Earth together, and worse. Even those whom I admired failed in their efforts to provide reasonable evidence.

So, as a college student I decided to seek knowledge the best way I knew how. I enrolled in a few religion classes and finally I found what I was looking for, but not what I expected to find.

The scholarly approach to Religion was exactly what my personality craved. I learned about the history of the Bible, I found evidence of scholarly research, and was surrounded by people seeking the same information I desired. I had Christian Professors, Professors of different faiths and belief systems, and Professors with no beliefs at all.  I was truly left to gather the evidence and for the first time decide for myself rather than be told what I should believe by a Spiritual/Intellectual leader.

My Decision in Faith

I have become comfortably Agnostic. I’m an Agnostic because after years of searching for the information to strengthen my faith in Christianity, after giving it all I have to feel the right emotions, and after an entire youth spent in the indoctrination process of religion – it all failed.  I still came out hopelessly unable to believe.

I’m an Agnostic because I am a Scientist of sorts. Not a Rocket Scientist, of course, but a Scientist in logic and methodology. I am open to new evidence, new ways of thinking, and new interpretations. For or against religious belief.  Thus far all evidence points toward the non-existence of a God – especially the one described in Abrahamic religions.

I’m an Agnostic because for the first time in my life I feel like I am not lying to myself. I’m not struggling to force myself to feel a certain way or to believe a certain idea because that’s what I’ve been taught is right.  I think that’s something I can live with.

* I have written in length on religious topics on this blog.  You can check them out here.