Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Live to Work – Work to Live

We probably all know people that just love to work. To them, an eighty-hour work week is a joy. After a fifteen-hour work day, they rush home so they can open their laptop and do more work. They could have retired years ago, but then what would they do? Watch other people work? The purpose of life is to work, dang it.

While I admire their industriousness, I’ve always thought it’s the other way around—the purpose of work is to provide you with a decent life. And how can you have a life if you’re always working?

To make our life work with our work life, we humans are always coming up with creative ways to schedule things. In the U.S., the standard forty-hour work week traditionally includes eight-hour work days for five days, or five-eights. Some have altered that to four-tens. Then there are four-nines with a half-day on Friday. Or eight-nines plus one-eight with every other Friday off. Or three-tens plus two-fives . . . (brain explodes here.)

I once tried to convince my boss to let me work two-twenties but he didn’t go for that. I’ve also tried to introduce the “diminishing work” schedule—one ten-hour day, then a nine-hour day, then an eight, a seven, and a six. That’s forty hours but you sleep one hour more and work one hour less each day. Maybe a better name is the “emerging life” schedule. Seemed pretty nice to me, but that wasn’t approved either.

Of course, people that don’t work in an office—like police officers, firefighters, train drivers, and others—probably laugh at all these attempts to change our schedules. They often work several days straight with little sleep. And the workaholics that put in eighty-hour work weeks scoff at the idea of working any less than that.

This weekend, the U.S. will switch from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time by moving our clocks back one hour. Everyone gets an extra hour of sleep for one night. It’s wonderful. For a few days next week, people will actually arrive at work on time—and cheerful.

I think we should do this once a month. On the first Sunday of each month, let’s all set our clocks back one hour. For the first week of every month, we’ll all be much more refreshed and relaxed. After twelve months, we’ll all be going to work at 8pm, so at that point, we can just switch the AM and PM around and start over. We’d all get additional sleep and more importantly, perhaps we’d enjoy life more. Sound like a plan?

Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Become a Hero

Or: An Excellent Way to Make the World a Much Worse Place

This post is much different from my usual posts and it took me much longer to write. It's not about a personal experience. Rather, I’m writing about an interesting way we humans use to pursue our own agendas. Plus, I’m not trying to be funny or entertaining this time, and I don’t even have any photos to include, dang it. And please don’t take this post as me trying to be partisan. This is about humans, not about politics.

The maxim I want to present is this—and others have probably put this much more eloquently:
“If you create an enemy, then vilify that enemy, you’ll become the hero.”
This is an idea I’ve thought about for a long time as I see the way people interact with one another. And I think pretty much everyone does this to some extent, from young kids in a schoolyard to coworkers in an office to political figures with a global audience.

I’m not going to list references and include footnotes and all that, but I’ll give some examples of what I’m talking about. Think for a minute of what you might have learned in Sunday School or history class about the life of Jesus Christ. Whether you believe in His life and teachings or not, you know the story: He taught love, tolerance, and charity, and even performed miracles, but He was still persecuted and eventually murdered. Why? Because He was a threat to the livelihood of the politicians and attorneys of His day (among other reasons). And how did those public figures accomplish their goal? They turned Him into an enemy, then vilified Him as an evil usurper of their way of life, then those public figures became the heroes.

Many have used that same pattern throughout history. Anyone remember a young Nazi named Adolf Hitler? He created enemies—the Jews, the gypsies, the homosexuals (the vernacular of the time), and any non-Aryans. He convinced people that these enemies were evil usurpers of their way of life. Then he became the hero and leader of Germany, and millions of people lost their lives.

Mussolini did something similar through his fascist ideas of biological racism. He created a class of inferior people—the Slavs—and vilified them as barbaric, thus making himself the hero. And of course, the history of that period shows how many people were murdered, imprisoned, or killed during the war as a result.

I live in the state of Utah and our history here shows this very thing. The early members of the Mormon church lived in the eastern part of our country where they were persecuted by politicians and mobs that just wanted to pursue their own agendas. Those early members were peaceful, quiet people who had different religious views than other Christians. But mobs and politicians painted them as evil enemies and drove them from town to town and murdered their leader. Finally, the Mormons left the United States and trekked across the plains to the Rocky Mountains. Fifty years later, when the U.S. was more civilized, their territory joined the union as the state of Utah.

In the U.S, in the 1950s, senator Joseph McCarthy used this maxim to great effect with the political philosophy that became known as mccarthyism. In his case, he created a list of enemies that he claimed were communists. He vilified them as traitors disloyal to the American way of life. As a result, he became the hero and won the next senatorial election. But another result was the many people whose lives and careers were destroyed with no real evidence of them having ever done anything wrong.

Let’s not forget Mao Zedong and his Cultural Revolution in China. In this case the enemies were capitalists and traditional Chinese values and culture. He was so effective in creating a hero cult centered around himself, that children even accused their parents of being anti-revolutionaries and they were sent off to re-education camps. It was a very sad time in Chinese history where many people lost their lives and countless cultural treasures were lost.

I’m sure anyone can come up with more examples, such as the Ku Klux Klan, religious extremists, the subjugation of Native Americans, imperialism during colonial times, racial cleansing during modern times, and the list goes on.

Everyday people, business leaders, and political figures all fall back on this maxim to promote their own agendas. Hate the other party; hate the immigrants; hate anyone that doesn’t speak your language; hate the poor; hate the rich; hate other religions; hate other ethnic groups. As long as people are hating someone else, they’ll ignore your weaknesses and love you.

It’s probably just a simple facet of human nature that we think of those whose opinions we agree with as telling the truth while others are lying hate mongers. It’s also interesting that this is especially noticeable in religion and politics—two areas that potentially touch our lives in very personal ways. The “other guys” are telling lies and spreading acrimony; “my guys” are simply telling the truth.

How is it, though, that people are conned into believing someone is an enemy when they’re really not? Oftentimes the perpetrator uses lies. Other times, they just distort the information for their benefit. But mostly they pander to peoples’ baser emotions of anger, fear, hatred, distrust, paranoia, and similar negative feelings. These emotions are very easy to evoke whereas positive emotions like love and charity are much more difficult.

Using emotion is very effective in many areas. Think of TV advertisements you’ve seen. The frantic car salesman: “Three days only! Hurry! Inventory going fast! You’ll never see prices like this again!” He’s invoking fear of missing out on something, worry, and lost opportunities. Or the opposite with a loving mom lovingly making a lovely casserole out of processed foods for her beloved little loving kids. In this case it’s a positive emotion, but it’s the same idea.

A perfect example of how this works in our modern era is commercial talk shows on radio and television. The purpose of these shows is of course to make money. Many of these hosts make millions of dollars a year and the industry itself makes billions a year. That’s wonderful—I don’t begrudge them the money and I wish I had that kind of income.

But the method they use is not so wonderful. They’ve figured out a great formula, though: portray the other guys as evil—they’re destroying our country and way of life, they’re taking your money, they stole the election—and you evoke those baser feelings of hatred and anger. If someone gets all worked up listening to this today, they’ll be more likely to tune in again tomorrow. And the show continues to bring in millions of dollars. Remember, create an enemy (the other guys), vilify that enemy (They’re Evil! They’re Ruining the Country!), then you become the hero, or in this case, you become rich.

Certainly not all talk shows are like that. Some, including many on nonprofit or community stations, tend to foster more academic discussion and give fair time to all sides of each issue. And even some of the commercial shows invoke one’s intellect and promote the free flow of unbiased information. But most are in existence to make money, and promoting hatred and anger is the easiest way to do that.

How many times in the last decade have you heard someone claim they hate a particular politician? I often wonder, do they really hate that person or just dislike that person’s views? In many cases, it seems they legitimately hate the person, even though they’ve never met before.

Last fall, I read a short essay (written by a talk show host, no less) where the author talked about all the reasons she hated a prominent politician. About half the reasons were lies, many of the rest were gross distortions of the truth, and others were just her opinion. But none of them seemed to be a good reason to hate the person. However, by convincing others to also hate that politician, she was growing her audience and her pocketbook. And we wonder why there is so much divisiveness and anger in politics today. Again, my posting isn’t about politics; I’m just using this as one example.

I’m sure there’s no global solution to stop all the hatred and anger in our world today. I wish I had an answer. I wish I could say I don’t do the very things I’m talking about in this post. The fact is, I find it hard in my own life to avoid these same negative feelings.

But maybe if each person resolved to try to build bridges rather than acrimony, the world would slowly become a better place. Maybe when we sit around the dinner table and discuss the events of the day, we can go out of our way to point out all sides of the issue, not just those we agree with. Maybe first we need to spend time getting to know all sides of the issue. Maybe when we talk with our children and friends about something important to us, we can use less hateful language. Maybe we can make friends with people whose lifestyles are different from our own.

I’ll end this with a quote that reminds us of this very thing. This is from former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking at the Utah Women’s Conference in Salt Lake City on October 11, 2013. The following is from an article in the Salt Lake Tribune.* (Oops, it looks like I did include a reference and a footnote after all, sorry.)

“She said it is easy in today’s world to receive news and blogs only from people who share the same views. If you find yourself with company where everyone ‘says amen to everything you say, you need to find new company,’ Rice said. Sticking only with like-minded people will cause you either to lose your ability to defend your views or the ability to see when you are wrong.

“She added that if people never encounter others with whom they disagree, they ‘start to think of them as stupid or venal because you don’t have the chance to exchange views.’”

Amen to that (ha ha).

* Davidson, Lee. “Condoleezza Rice: World needs U.S. to solve shutdown, partisanship.” The Salt Lake Tribune. The Salt Lake Tribune (Media News Group), 11 October, 2013. Accessed 14 October, 2013.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How to Impress a Guy—Not!

I'm certainly no expert when it comes to relationships, but I have a good story about what NOT to do. In fact, if you're trying to impress someone, do the opposite of this. Luckily for me, this is a story about someone else—I'm really glad I didn't do it. But it did involve me, sort of.

When my wife and I were still dating, we joined a tour group to southern Taiwan. I lived in the north part of the island at the time, where I taught English and did my best to avoid serious responsibility. This tour group was comprised mainly of single young people, and one of those was a girl I'll call Mei, because I can't remember her real name. She desperately liked another young man on the trip that I'll call Yang, for the same reason. Yang, however, had no interest in Mei. I found out later it was due to Mei's drinking problem. She was only in her early twenties, but had a serious issue with alcohol, which often made it difficult for her to impress anyone. But she definitely tried.

We took large tour buses to a small resort village next to a beautiful gorge in the southern mountains. Several dorm-like hotels sat on the very edge of the gorge. Taiwan has constant earthquakes, so you kind of wonder what the builders were thinking. But luckily, the hotels didn't fall off while we were there. Though I think after the following experience, Mei probably wished they would have. The tour leader assigned the guys to stay in one set of dorms and the girls in another.

In the evening, many in the group sat around talking and joking, with Mei kind of hanging all over Yang while she slowly got plastered. He tried getting rid of her, but she wasn't too good at taking hints. Yang finally got tired of the whole thing, and decided to go to bed. I was sleepy by then too, and the two of us happened to be sharing a room with two other guys, so I accompanied him back to the room.

Our room had two double beds in it, and Yang and I had chosen one. I suppose it seems a little odd for me to be sharing a bed with a guy I'd never met prior to the trip, but hey, life was simpler back then. Not long later, the other two guys came in and the four of us soon fell asleep.

After consuming a case or two of beer, Mei eventually decided Yang must be waiting for her to join him. Why else would he have gone to bed? So she walked into our room—which we had unfortunately forgotten to lock—and climbed in bed with Yang and me. Yang quickly scooted away from her and I scooted away from him. She then scooted closer to him, he scooted away, and so did I. This continued until I was squished against the wall with Yang squished against me and Mei squished against him.

All of our scooting wasn't just from the fact that any nocturnal activity would have been a little awkward (it was a pretty small bed). Rather, it was the fact that beer apparently made Mei sweat a lot. Anyone that says "guys sweat—girls glow" hasn't been around a sweaty drunk girl in a tropical climate. It made for a potent stew.

Yang finally gave up on scooting and climbed over Mei then camped out on the floor. Mei continued scooting until at one point she realized I wasn't Yang. So she sat up, looked around all dopey-eyed, then joined Yang on the floor. He of course quickly joined me in bed. This little dance went on for some time until Mei finally passed out, half on the bed and half off. Yang then pushed her onto the floor and we were all able to sleep. If Yang wasn't impressed with Mei by then, I don't know what more she could have done.

At five the next morning, I found out. She jumped up off the floor, tripped over the chair, and stumbled into the bathroom where she proceeded to impress Yang with the most horrible noises I'd ever heard. I didn't know humans could make those kinds of sounds. She stayed in there about half an hour and only came out because a giant beetle the size of a small bird flew into the bathroom from the open window. She screamed, tripped all over the room, then ran outside. Yang quickly locked the door and we were all very happy to finally have some peace and quiet.

And I can tell you, Yang was definitely impressed. I don't know what happened to the beetle.