Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Facts vs. framework in the big three untouchable topics

So you probably know the old saying that at dinner parties there are three topics you can't talk about:  politics, religion and money.

That's probably good advice for interactions with strangers.  But in general we grow in knowledge on a topic by thinking about it, educating ourselves about it, and eventually interacting with others about it with a balance of speaking and listening.  In other words, once we make a topic untouchable in conversation, we've put a cap on how far we can ever grow and mature on that topic.  What a shame!

I totally get why those three topics are untouchable.  They go right to the heart of our deepest personal values, in a way I'm summarize roughly as:

  Religion -- Our spiritual/moral values
  Money  -- Our material/physical values
  Politics -- How the two above are implemented society-wide

But what I'm noticing a lot right now is that people aren't able to reasonably discuss any facts or opinions in these areas because they're so locked into their frameworks.

Religion -- instead of the facts of religious history, my framework of fundamentalism doesn't allow me to listen to your faith story in an open and friendly way

Money -- instead of the facts of healthcare, unemployment, minimum wage laws or philanthropy, my framework of liberalism or conservatism won't allow me to admit that both sides might have some good points to make

Politics -- instead of the facts of congressional climate or regulatory bloat, my framework of Right vs. Left makes it a zero-sum game that I must win at all costs

At first glance this seems like a very poor way to arrange our worldviews.  After all, if my insistence on a framework of "my way or the highway" not only prevents me from learning but also creates a toxic environment where I won't be an effective persuader, why do so many people seem to approach it this way?

I have a guess and will share it soon.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kids say the darndest things

For several years now I've been collecting some of the funny things my kids say.  While I've never shared much of it on the blog, I figured today was the time to change that!

Here are some of my favorites, going back a few years:

2008 -- Jack was 3yo; Samantha was 5yo

Jack: "I'm scared, mommy!"
Mom: "What are you scared of?"
Jack: "The ribbit frogs! Do they live in my heart?"
Mom: "No, who lives in your heart?"
Jack: "I don't know."
Mom: "God?"
Jack: "Yeah, that's it. God...  so who lives in my pants?"

Jack: "Dreams aren't real, daddy. Dreams aren't real."
Me: "Nope, they're not. Sometimes I wish they were, though. Like when I dream I can fly."
Samantha: "Ooh, ooh... you know what else would be cool if it was real??!?"
Me: "What?"
Samantha: "If I was uh INDIAN!!"

Jack walked into a room to find our two mini schnauzers (Mo and Z) wrestling...
"Who started this? Did you start it (points at Mo)? Did you (points at Z)? Whoever started this... (raises his hands dramatically)... must be killed."

Church minister, during a short lesson to kids: "So you see kids, David didn't need swords, shields, spears or armor to defeat Goliath! All he needed was God!"
Samantha: "And a slingshot."
Me (quietly to Samantha): "Good point."


While camping:
Jack: "A bug! A bug! Shoo!" (starts freaking out)
Samantha: "Quick! Do karate on it!"

While playing together with action figures:
Jack: "I am Batman, and I will save you all!"
Samantha: "Oh no, please help!"
Jack: "Don't worry Hot Girl, I'm on my way!"
Samantha: "She's not hot girl! She's Wonder Woman!!"
Jack: "No, it's Hot Girl."

Samantha (coming in from outside): "What's that smell?!?! Yuck!"
RedWifey: "It's chicken soup. A new recipe."
Jack (yelling from bathroom): "The smell is also my POOP!"

While visiting Nana and Gramps (grandparents):
Gramps: "Hey Jack, I see that you're bringing a cupcake to the table. Is it mine?"
Jack: "No, it's mine."
Gramps: " How do you know?"
Jack: "Because Nana saw me lick it in the kitchen. Then she said it's mine."


Jack talking to his older cousin Daniel during summer vacation:
Jack: (balancing on one foot) "I can do this for 46. Hours. A day."
Daniel: "That doesn't make any sense."
Jack: "That's because you can't do it."

Samantha: "There's a boy in my class who leaves every day to go to special training."
Me: "Why?"
Samantha: "Because of dickslutsia."

Jack came to tell something urgent one morning while I was in the shower:
Jack: "Dad, there's a place we need to go."
Me: "Okay bud, where?"
Jack: "Mireland."
Me: "Mireland?"
Jack: "Mireland."
Me (scrubbing fog-free circle to look out the shower door): "Mireland?"
Jack: "Mireland."
Me: "..... okay. Why Mireland?"
Jack: "There's rainbows there, and if we find the the end of one, there'll be a leprechaun. And I think how it works is, uh, we keep our eye on the leprechaun and keep looking at him, and then he runs away. So we get the pot of gold."
Me: "Sounds good, man. "
Jack: (nods and walks out)

Our little Luke is now only 2yo so he's just getting started on the funny sayings.  My current favorite is his response to hearing the doorbell -- he sprints to the front door while yelling, "ERRYBODY DINDONG!!!"

Once they become teenagers, of course, I'll stop writing down the things they say...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Letting my guard down

We've been in Kansas for over six months, and every day it feels more like home.

For the first month or two, every morning I felt like I was waking up in a hotel.  Now it feels like our room.

It took until month three or four until the roads felt comfortable, and then we got used to the fact that we could get around the area about 10x as quickly as we could in Houston. 

My job has been pretty good all along but lately it has clicked especially well, and I feel at home every weekday with new responsibilities, new teammates and new surroundings.

But one area of adjustment has taken longer, and only now am I beginning to understand how profound an adjsutment it is. 

Our home in Houston was a closed-off existence in many ways:

  -- Physically, the house was well off the street and separated by a detached garage and a privacy fence.  That privacy fence surrounded the entire (small) property very tightly, and from most windows in the house you couldn't really see anything.  Many days our window blinds stayed closed.
  -- Culturally, we had very little in common with the community.  No matter how big a game I talked, I never really broke through the racial, lingual and financial barriers that separated us from our neighbors.
  -- Recreationally, much of our time was spent indoors, since it wasn't safe for the kids to play outside alone and for a good chunk of the year it was just too hot!  At night it was cooler but again, we didn't know many people in the neighborhood, and besides you couldn't even see any stars from the middle of a big well-lit city!

All of those things have changed:

  -- Physically, our house is right on the street and we have no fence blocking off our yard.  Kids from all over come to play on our swingset and are always welcome.  Every morning after I get dressed, the first thing I do is open the blinds on many windows in the house.  I can see dozens of other houses around us.
  -- Culturally, those houses are filled with families who look much like us.  There are far fewer barriers to cross, and as a result we have made fast and easy friendships.  Our kids already have more friends, and closer relationships with those friends, than they were ever able to develop in Houston.  It's just a matter of them being able to spend more time with friends, since they're only a short walk away.
  --  Recreationally, we're outside a ton.  Kansas actually has distinct seasons and we've enjoyed a fun summer, a gorgeous autumn and an uncommonly mild winter.  Some nights we just sit on lawnchairs in the driveway with neighbors.  Every night I go out on our back deck and let the dogs out, gazing up at the hundreds of stars visible from this less-lit suburb.

Obviously in many ways we're blessed and we are enjoying these changes.  The only downside I see is that it might be easy to live in a way that's less conscious, less purposeful, since for the first time we're surrounded by people who mostly share our values.  It could be easy to just go with the flow of our community.

That might be seen as giving in to peer influence.  At the moment, I see it as letting my guard down and letting new friends in.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Descending Mount Stupid

As promised, I want to explain why I was so quiet on the blog last year.  While I've noted that there were lots of lessons learned through that time of transition, the lessons weren't learned immediately.  Through my actual experience of unemployment, for example, there were distinct phases in my confidence about how much I thought I knew about unemployment:

  Before I quit -- "I know exactly how this will go, and what unemployed people should do with their time."
  Right after I quit -- "Yep, this is working just like I thought."
  Two weeks after I quit -- "Hm, this isn't quite like I thought."
  A month after I quit -- "I was so clueless.  I know nothing about this.  Hope I didn't offend anybody with my earlier confidence."
  Another month later -- "Okay, so I wasn't totally clueless, but I was close.  I'm now so much more aware of my ignorance."

The genius cartoonist Zach Weiner over at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal summed it up beautifully with a graph titled "Mount Stupid":

For the rest of 2011, I was descending Mount Stupid in a lot of areas:

  • Work -- I wasn't sure about my own career or next step, let alone what other people should be doing in a complicated 21st Century economy
  • Economics -- I studied a lot in this area during 2011.  And it finally made me feel a lot dumber.  None of the PhDs seem to be able to agree on anything, so how could an amateur like me offer a valuable opinion?
  • Faith -- I studied this some more as well and came away equally humbled.  Whether it was a look at doctrine, languages or cultural history I became amazed again at how little I knew about any of it. 
As I hit that trough in the valley after Mount Stupid, I became totally silent in that humility. 

And then I kept studying, kept learning, kept moving.  And while I may be ready once again to share some thoughts on topics such as faith and economics, I'll hopefully be doing so in a style that's more inquisitive than it is authoritative.

Because that graph doesn't show what happens as you keep moving to the right, but I think I know what comes next.  Yet another decline down Mount Stupid #2, and the cycle repeats...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Five life changes I learned from in 2011

My family knew that 2011 would likely hold a job/career change for me.  I was no longer a fit for the company I'd been with for five years and needed to make a move before they were forced to fire me.

Little did I know that the job change would trigger all sorts of domino effects for us, most of them stressful at the time but very beneficial when looked upon with some distance and perspective.  Thankfully Jamie and kids willingly hopped aboard the ride and we went through it together.  Here's the lowdown:

Change #1 -- I quit my job in May

Obviously that's kind of a big deal, especially when you're the sole breadwinner in a family of five during a recession marked by terrible unemployment rates.  But my family was behind me all the way, and may have even been ahead of me, waiting for me to catch up and make the bold move that they already knew was necessary.

     What I learned:  Sometimes you're too close to a situation to make the decision that's for your own good.  Listen to someone you love and trust them.

Change #2 -- I was unemployed for two months

This duration may seem laughable when so many people have been out of work for much longer.  But it was good for my spirit and my humility to detach from vocation as a form of self-identity.  I had no job -- what would my answer be when someone asked, "What do you do"?  And it allowed me (forced me?) to get real about what had gone wrong at my previous job, and what I would look for in the next one. 

     What I learned:  It's easier to use a compass after you hop off the merry-go-round.

3.  Change #3 -- I took a job that was different in almost every way from what I did before

I went from managing 11 people to managing nobody.  From a low-technology company to a software development firm.  From a very small company in decline, to a larger company in its second decade of consistent growth.  From a huge office with amenities and four weeks of annual vaction to a cubicle with no prestige and very little vacation.

     What I learned:  Just because you climbed the ladder in one building doesn't mean there's an elevated tunnel to the next.  You might have to climb down, walk across the street ,and start over again from the ground floor.  And that can be a good thing.

Change #4 -- We moved over 800 miles to a new home... a half-mile from where I grew up

I never thought I'd be back where I lived as a teenager.  That my kids would be zoned to the same high school I attended, in a midwestern suburb, and I would again be able to live so close to my parents.  But here we are! 

     What I learned:  Be very careful about the "nevers" in your plans.  Someday you might have to eat those words.

Change #5 -- For the first time in our 13 years of marriage, we experienced financial stress

We moved and bought a house before our Houston house was sold.  Actually it still hasn't sold, but things have worked out and some good friends of ours are renting it for a while.  That period of making two mortgage payments and incurring moving expenses drained our liquid assets pretty quickly.  This was a new source of stress for us and has been so educational.

     What I learned:  Your level of financial hardship is often relative to where you've been before.  This is deceptive.  A middle class family can freak out when the checking account gets low, while others feel blessed eating three meals a day. 

These five things combined to spur a new type of change in my spirit, which I will illustrate and explain in the next post.  It will show why I was so quiet on the blog in 2011.

Grace and peace!