Friday, November 20, 2009

Shades of Grey or Gray

Most of the time, to most people, situations seem awfully black and white. The thing is, if you take a step back and look at the big picture, you'll find many various shades of grey that you were overlooking.

Before I continue, I feel like I should explain my use of "grey" over "gray." When I was younger and wanted to live in a castle somewhere in Europe, I adopted the English spelling for many words. "colour" got me kicked out of my fourth grade spelling bee. I try my hardest not to add that extra 'u' in words anymore, but I still prefer "grey" over "gray". To me, "grey" represents a mixture of black and white, while "gray" evokes feelings of gloom. Maybe it's odd, but that's just my personal preference.

However you spell it, I'm constantly amazed by how many people refuse to see the shades of grey in life's circumstances. My friends seem to be dominated by a "I'm right, they're wrong" mentality. What good does that really do? What can we learn from those situations? In my mind, all it does is breed hostility and allow bitterness to fester over a situation gone awry. It's much easier on an ego to see both sides and understand that there are many ways for any situation to go. For one to expect that every conflict will end in their pure hubris. What's the harm in looking at the opposing side? Maybe, just maybe you'll start to see some flaws in your own logic that can help you build a stronger argument next time.

I used to want to be a lawyer. When I was young, I thought my communication skills and quick wit would help me get my point across to any audience and allow me to defend the downtrodden. I soon realized that as a lawyer I would be forced to defend people that were neither entirely right nor entirely wrong. I would, in effect, have to choose a side knowing full well that I didn't believe it was the only legitimate point of view. That was the end of that aspiration. To this day, I can't really defend something that I don't completely believe (so if you get in an argument with me and I'm fervently holding my ground, you may want to give your position a second thought.)

Because my extreme empathy is rare, it can make people who aren't used to it pretty cranky. When someone's pouring their heart out about how upset it made them that they were cut off by a woman on the freeway, the last thing they want to hear is that she had been trying to get to her exit, but you were driving the exact speed as the car right beside you, leaving her no opportunity to shuffle appropriately. Run on sentences aside, enlightenment like that is generally unwelcome. I try to curb my urges to paint other people's scenes in grey. Even so, that's most likely what's going through my head as I nod in support. So now you know that just because I'm not arguing with you, doesn't mean that I agree with what you're saying. I believe that life is extremely grey and that's wonderful.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lucky Me.

How many discussions have I had about luck versus skill? Though rhetorical, that question was intended to get you thinking about the relationship between the two attributes. If you could actually answer it, I'd be seriously creeped out right now. In any case, I hope you've had a little chance to form a slapdash opinion on luck and skill. Does luck exist? Is good-fortune due entirely to skill? Is it a mix of the two?

Let's take a look at luck for a moment. Could it be that the definition of luck is actually different for different people? Sure, there are events that one can influence with their actions, but what about things like the flip of a coin or roll of the dice? Please travel with me as I leave this world of logic and transcend momentarily into a cosmic fog of voodoo and mysticism.

Seriously? You were really going to follow me there? Well in that case, what I'm actually going to say should seem pretty mild. What if luck is a manifestation of karma? What if we truly do make our own luck, just with our daily choices? I had the great privileged of knowing one of the unluckiest guys from my highschool. He once had a truck fall on him while he was just sitting at a stoplight. It was really good for me to see the way the world treated him, especially because he treated the world the same way. Whenever there was a decision to be made, he didn't. Instead, he let karma determine his fate. Without having put any positive energy out into the universe, all he collected was stagnation and disorganization. That bad luck spilled over into just about everything he touched from his work life to his family life. Frustrated and discontent, he never attempted to change the direction that his life was going. He only sat in his misery and complained about his raw deal.

I saw an interview several months ago where some distinguished host was talking to an author who believed that luck was the defining factor in anyone's success. I wish I could remember where I saw it, or knew any other details, but if I come across it I'll add a comment below. In any case, the television host became irate. He was insulted by the prospect that there could be some aspect of his life that he had not *earned* through his hard work and risk. He emphasized over and over again how he had gotten where he was because of the risks that he took and that luck had nothing to do with it. You could see just how cranky this idea made him if I actually had a video link here.

I would like to propose that luck is actually a necessary portion of risk, or else a risk wouldn't be a risk at all. If you know before hand that something is going to turn out in your favor, that's not a risk, it's just an option. Risk has the inherent problem that the outcome could go either way. There are things we can do in advance to make situations less risky, but if you're going to proudly display your willingness to take risks, you cannot deny your dependence on luck.

Ah, but once I take a risk, can't I help push the outcome into my favor? Why yes, yes you can, and that's called making your own luck. Certainly if you're up for a job and you take the risk to apply for it, you can encourage the employer to consider you more seriously by properly preparing your materials and sending follow up emails. What you don't know, is what kinds of luck other people have on their side. Perhaps another applicant went to the same high school as the hiring manager. Perhaps another has the same rare maiden name as his mother.

There's no doubt that if you flip a coin 50 times it will have a fairly uniform outcome of heads vs. tails, but who knows when you're flipping a coin for something very important JUST ONCE if maybe karma has a hand in choosing how it falls.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How Rude!

"How Rude" is not just a phrase from Full House. The act of being rude has suddenly become very intriguing to me. Why is it that people can be so cosmically drawn to someone who is quite rude, but annoyed by someone who's chronically polite? How often is rude behavior genuinely incondsiderate as opposed to a benign act that is incorrectly perceived? Is it better to be rude and honest than polite and misleading? The answers to all of these questions are eluding me.

There are dozens of examples of things that are perceived as proper in one culture that are considered "rude" in others: looking someone in the eyes, greeting someone you don't know, burping during a meal, giving the thumbs-up, taking your shoes it the act or the intention behind the action that causes such an uproar? Surely something impolite is more easily forgiven if the offense was accidental. Perhaps it's the motivation behind the action that prompts such a negative response.

Sometimes it's the lack of concern for others that inspires rude behavior: someone who cuts in line because they didn't realize that others were waiting or somebody that finishes the last helping of pie without asking if anyone else was looking forward to it. Have you ever gone on and on over the phone about your horrible day, then realized after you hung up that you didn't even ask how the other person's day had gone? How many of these fauxpas can we rack up before we realize that we're just inconsiderate people?

Maybe we're meant to be rude in general. Being overly polite to someone you aren't close to can give them the impression that you feel more deeply than you do. Maybe the point is to be considerate to those who deserve your consideration and disregard what anyone else thinks. If that's the case, what about the Golden Rule? I want to be done unto a certain way, so I do unto others appropriately. That doesn't make me false. In fact, I *want* to treat people with respect and consideration. I can't understand how there are people out there who don't, but it appears that they actually outnumber the rest of us. Anybody have any words of wisdom for me on this?