Sunday, October 13, 2013

Quality of Life is a Matter of Perspective

Good, honest and honorable work.
It’s funny how a little bit of living can change your perspective. Case in point, there’s this high school friend of mine. Smarter than me. More focused than me. He’s the kind of person who, if he puts his mind to something, can accomplish just about anything he wants. But for a long time I had a problem with him.
               After graduating, he didn’t continue on to get a college degree like me. Instead he entered the work force. He chose a profession I believed didn’t measure up to his potential. To my mind, he had what it took to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, corporate executive, or even start a business. Instead, he began working the kind of gig in which he put in his 40 hours a week and was done. There isn’t a lot of heavy lifting in his work mentally, and I guess that’s what troubled me. Because like I said, he’s smart. When I first heard what he was doing, I was disappointed in him and for years thought he could have done a lot better. That is, until I looked at his whole life and compared it with mine.
               On reflection, I look back at most of the jobs I’ve held with a fair measure of pride. Sure, I’ve had my share of employment misfires – jobs I didn’t like (or know) what I was doing. But once I found my niche, I was off to the races. A lot of my work is of a kind in which there’s not enough hours in the day to keep up. Lots of early mornings and late evenings and few nine-to-fives. Over the years, I’ve had to manage of people, oversee multiple projects, work against short deadlines and endure a good measure of uncertainty.
All work and no play makes Jack (and Jill) a dull person.
               Over time, I’ve become accustomed to the irregular pace and pay. About the only thing routine is it’s never routine. Different stuff all the time. In the end, I’d say my work is quite satisfying but it does make for a lot of stress sometimes.
               Then there’s my friend. What he does for a living could be described as quite the opposite, in my opinion. Words like mundane and boring come to mind. No cool stuff like traveling, meeting new people or helping the community. No real creativity involved. Just steady work, steady hours, steady pay. It’s the kind of scenario that would drive me crazy. Then I got to thinking about something else.
               When my friend punches out, he is off work. No evening meetings, no unexpected projects or unwanted business travel. He also has hobbies; several of them. Activities and interests he enjoys regularly. He can also go on vacation and not have to think about the work that’s piling up while he’s gone. Or worse, put in a few work hours each day he’s away (hurray for the Internet.).
The pleasures of mountain biking as a hobby.
After all these years I finally figured out my friend’s work to him is a means to an end. It’s a path to a way of being that allows him to pursue personal interests without having to constantly worry about what’s next at work. He always knows. Sure, like everyone else he worries about doing a good job, getting along with co-workers, and wonders if business slows will it cost him his livelihood. But those thoughts aren’t ever present in his mind like in mine.
               Bottom line: I think I hold greater job satisfaction, but wager he’d say he trumps me on peace of mind. He might have a point. Then again, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Eliminate Hurtful Sports Mascots and Logos

Human beings with a deep, rich culture -- not sports mascots
Add my voice to the growing calls for sports to eliminate ethnically offensive names, mascots and logos from the playing field. At the top of the list are Washington D.C.’s NFL football and Cleveland’s Major League Baseball organizations. I won’t mention names. Why? Regarding the first organization, its team moniker is ghastly when you actually think about it. In the case of the second, their appalling logo is a major league insult. In both cases, the target ethnic group is Native American – human beings that have been trampled physically, mentally and now psychologically.
Many Americans cannot or are unwilling to see how hurtful these words and images are. Much of this apathy has to do with empathy, or rather a lack of it. Much of mainstream media, which projects this dreadful imagery to the public, is also to blame. So too are certain corporations. They do this by displaying the offensive logos and regularly uttering historically racist terms to millions. Regarding media, its intention, we assume, is to provide the best sports and entertainment coverage possible. Oh, and maintain ratings. And we all know what the bottom line is for corporations. But at what cost?
Intention versus impact. Powerful forces. History recounts that early European settlers immigrated to what would become known as America for the same reasons back then as they are now. Many sought a new start and better life or relief from financial hardship. For others the intent was to escape social, cultural, ethnic, or religious persecution. Still others wanted to escape political oppression.
Indian Removal Act of 1830: also known as The Trail of Tears 
While all of those intentions might have been right and justified, there’s no escaping the fact that the dreadful impact of colonizing an already inhabited land was the geographic displacement of the people already living there. This forced relocation sparked to a chain of events that led to the near extinction of Native American populations (through disease, starvation and war) and decimation of their cultural traditions. Along the way, Native Americans were demonized for being different (“their skin is red and they prefer hunting to farming!”) and for daring to resist their colonizers.
Later, the government forcibly removed surviving Native American youth from their families and placed them in boarding schools. The intention was to educate and recondition them to Euro-American standards. The horrifying impact was a harsh, oppressive experience, particularly for younger children; they were separated from their families. In nearly all ways, students were encouraged or forced to abandon their Native American cultural identities; stripped of their language and heritage in an effort to assimilate them into society. Imagine if it were your kids who were taken away against your will for “reconditioning.”
Fed Ex Stadium: cultural concentration camp
This takes us to the 1950s and ‘60s, a time in which TV and movie Westerns reinforced the most negative stereotypes of Native Americans. It also marked the early years of mass marketing, a practice exploited by colleges and professional sporting teams. Over time, offensive logos and mascots were rendered invisible by fanaticism and nostalgia on the part of alumni (in the case of schools) and other ticket buyers. Among colleges and team owners: ticket sales and t-shirts. Cha-ching!
Today, fans and team owners cling ferociously to the nearsighted intention that their team names and logos "honor" Native Americans. But the impact is something entirely different. The slurs and caricatures reinforce harmful stereotypes and dehumanize an entire people.
Daniel Snyder, the owner of the NFL team in Washington, DC, was quoted this year in USA Today: “We'll never change the name… it's that simple. NEVER -- you can use caps.”
It reminds me of a former Alabama governor whom, before changing his politics, spouted the now famous and utterly ignorant 1963 rhetoric, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
As for media outlets that still broadcast offensive verbiage and visuals, corporations that market hurtful team swag, and fans that buy it, it’s time to get on the right side of history.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Don’t Waste Your Most Precious Resource

Waste not want not.
I'm nobody's ecologist, but it recently occurred to me just how wasteful we can be. Often in ways we don't even think about. Even if it’s unintentional it’s still a waste. There are countless activities we engage in during our lives that waste resources. Sometimes precious resources. In fact, a lot of us are wasting the single most valuable resource and don’t even realize we’re doing it. We’ll get to that in a moment.
               There are dozens of situations in which we are wasteful. For instance, drying your hands in a public restroom. I don’t know about you but until someone brought it to my attention, I’d snatch three, four, sometimes five paper towels to dry my hands after washing. What a waste. Another example is at restaurants. The sign says, ‘all you can eat,’ not ‘more than you can eat.’
               Here’s one: leaving your vehicle running for no other reason than you’re too lazy to turn it off. You’re not listening to the radio; it’s not so hot or cold that you need climate control. You know it’s going to be a while but leave the motor running anyway.
               At home, leaving on the lights in rooms you’re not even in is wasteful. How about keeping more clothes then you'll ever wear? My closets are packed with clothes I’ve only worn once or twice, or in some cases not at all. I tell myself, “There might be that one time, that special occasion...” Of course it never comes, but it might. Yeah, right after the aliens return to reclaim the pyramids.
"We have returned to claim the pyramids."
               Let’s talk water. Ever leave it running while brushing your teeth? What about turning on the shower, then watching TV until the next commercial break or starting breakfast? Your reasoning might be to ‘get the water hot’ but come on, 20 minutes?
               Then there’s the biggest waste of all. Time. Many have learned it’s a priceless gift. Others believe their supply is endless. It’s not. Then again, it’s theirs to spend. But they're wasting what’s surely the single most irreplaceable resource known to humankind. And when you combine wasting time with wasting talent, it borders on criminal.
               Still, this isn’t some lecture on shoehorning each and every life moment with something outwardly meaningful and productive. Porch-sitting, lying in bed staring at the ceiling and other ‘quiet’ sorts of downtime hold important inward value. Such activities help recharge our mental and/or emotional batteries. So although it might be considered idle time, it’s not always a waste of time.
               That said, squandering time is the worst form of human waste known. That's because I believe we all are put here for a divine reason. Central to that purpose is to help each other. What form that help comes in depends on the person. The trick (and it can be a big challenge), is figuring out what you’re meant to do here on this earth in the short but important time you’re here. There is no greater calling than for us to be engaged in or actively thinking about what it is we are meant to do in our lives.
"Time waits for no one, my pretty..."
Last week is gone; so is yesterday for that matter. How was the time spent? Helping yourself? Helping others? Don’t wait until the end of life before starting to think about what you woulda’, coulda’, shoulda’ done. That’s hell on earth, if you ask me. Instead consider now, this moment; what can I be doing that’s meaningful. You might be surprised at what you can come up with – that is, if you take the time to think about it.