Once more around the sun: Thoughts on the completion of my 50th solar orbiting

Today is my 50th birthday.

That is, since leaving my mother’s womb, I have orbited our local star approximatly 50 times.

That’s not a record or even particularly spectacular, but we are facinated with mulitples of 5 and 10, so 50 is a natural milestone at which time to reflect back on the past. Since 100 is still an unlikley age to attain before shuffling off this mortal coal, 50 is likely the biggest milestone I’ll reach.

So, I’m looking back, reflecting, taking this stuff in. Take this photograph for example. When it came across my Facebook transom the a few weeks back (I only check Facebook every few weeks) bringing me back to a person I was something like forty-two years ago.

Jason Circa 1975: GDS Lower School 2nd Grade. I'm the doofus standing on the right.
Jason Circa 1975: GDS Lower School 2nd Grade. I’m the doofus standing on the right.

That’s me at the hight of the Star Trek TV excitement—when the show was huge in synidacation—but a year or two before Star Wars would reinvent geekdom entirely. I’m not sure what path I would have followed had Star Wars not happened. I remember that I was not a particularly happy child. I didn’t like myself a lot. If I was 8 today, I would probably be on mdication for ADD, ADHD, and a few other things.

But now I’m 50. I like myself a lot better than I did back then. I like myself a lot better than I did just a few years ago. But I’m still working on liking myself better every day. This is part accepting who I am and part improving who I am.

At 50, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I can survive. I can survive setbacks, failures, disappointment, rejection, brain tumors, and heartbreak. This is not to say that I have had to suffer the worst the universe has to throw at me, but what I have been through hasen’t killed me. That’s because of the other important lesson I’ve learned is to be kind. Kindness is a strength. It means looking for the positives. It keeps self-destructive anger and rage at bay.

And I still have so much more to learn!

The discovery I came to this week is that I need to listen to my own feelings on how people are treating me. There are people who just don’t think much of me, and I can generally sense that. They don’t think much of my ability or talent. They are pleasant enough, but put me off. Delay correspondence. Criticize without clarity. I used to think I just need to redouble my efforts; be more persistent; try to accomodate them; Listen more carefully to their feedback.

What I’ve come to realize just this week is that it’s not all about me. Often people just don’t want to work with me, and there is no point in trying to change that. Some people may not “get” me or what I’m trying to do, but that doesn’t make it my job to change everything for them. The upshot is that, if you are not excited about what I’m working on, I don’t have room for you in my projects. That’s just a waste of both of our time.

Instead, it’s the people whose ideas I find exciting and who find my ideas exciting who I will cultivate.

This may seem obvious to many, but is hard won knowledge for me. At 50, I’m ready to put it to good use. Now onto the next 50.

24 year’s ago tonight…

24 years ago tonight I went on my first date with the wonderful Tara (@wdr_wman). We went to the World Famous Milestone Club. We have been with each other ever since through triumph & tumult. My love for her grows every day.

Quitting Facebook is a lot like quitting smoking

I’m trying to quit Facebook, but it’s not easy.

I regularly get that craving to see how people reacted to something I posted. I surf over to facebook.com for that little endorphin rush I get when I see that somebody has liked a post, laughed at a post, gotten angered by a post, or (best of all) commented on a post. I miss hanging out with my facebook friends shooting the breeze back forth while we refreshed our screens waiting for that next rush of acceptance, of confirmation that our ideas matter and that people are interested in us.

Quitting Facebook must be a lot like quitting smoking in the 1960s: We’ve been warned, but everyone else is still doing it, we can’t really see the full extent of the harm, and, besides, it’s enjoyable. And also like smoking, it’s almost impossible to quit if your significant other is still doing it. When your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/partner is on FaceBook, asking them “how was your day” seems redundant. They’ve posted that online. They’ve shared photos of their lunch. They’ve shared the articles they think are most interesting. They’ve shared their happiness and outrage. You should already be briefed and ready to discuss, not have them rehash it all again.

Of course that can happen, but because those messages are not personalized to you, supposedly their most intimate confidant, but instead to a general audience of “friends,” the conversations are never the same than if they have to explain everything to you personally.

My wife and I now use Flipboard to share interesting articles, and, if we come across one we think the other will be particularly interested in, we send it through SMS or, even more intimately, read it to each other. We laugh together, discuss together, and experience together.

I am no Luddite. I have been a tech trailblazer since the 1980s when I was one of the first students to take computer programming classes. I was also one of the earliest non-college students to get onto FaceBook over ten years ago, and have rekindled friendships long forgotten.

But my knowledge of technology has made me credulous, not naive. I have never wanted a “smart watch”, for example, because it can’t do anything my phone or iPad can do, and are actually less convenient than a simple watch and the disadvantages (expense, battery life, information overload, etc…) all outweighed any advnatages.

Facebook long ago reached the point of disadvantages outweighing advantages, but, still I persisted. Fortunately, both my wife and I have been gradually drifting away from the social media behemoth. She has now left completely, while i still check in a couple of times a week. I’ll give the occasional comment or thumbs up, check and see if anyone has left messages, but, quite frankly, I no longer know why.

One huge problem is that I have no idea why I see what I see. A process that should be transparent is opaque. As we have learned since the last election, Facebook is easily gamed. Another thing I have noticed is that as I interact less and less with Facebook, it interacts less and less with me. I still have posts automatically sent to Facebook from this blog and using a service called Buffer—which I can send an article I’m reading to and have it cross posted on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook. Yet, as much as a I post, fewer and fewer people interact with those posts. My suspicion is that, as I interact less with others on Facebook, Facebook surfaces my public posts less. I can’t prove that, of course, but the positive is I check less and less.

And now, I won’t be checking in at all. Instead, I’ll share my thoughts with my own personal blog (jason.cranfordteague.org), which I’ll still have posted on Facebook —as well as Google+ and Twitter— automatically, with with the invitation to come and respond directly on the blog article page if you want to say something to me.

I wish all of my friends the best, and hope to stay in contact through other means. But for me, I’ll now go silent on Facebook.

jason@cranfordteague.org | jason.cranfordteague.org

DON’T “do unto others”. Just be kind

Far be it from me, a mere mortal, to question the teachings of a messiah and son of god, but something has always struck me as fundamentally flawed with the golden rule.

Several verses in the Christian report of Jesus of Nazareth claim he said something along the lines of Mathew 7:12:

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

This is commonly paraphrased as The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I think the assumption we make when we read this is that how I want to be treated is how others want to be treated. There’s a huge problem here, and I hope I’m not the first to notice it: some people don’t want to be treated the way I want to be treated.

Putting aside the masochists and other perverts who want to be actively abused, if you don’t think a behavior is appropriate, then you have no problem persecuting that behavior. For example, if you are homophobic, even if you follow “the golden rule,” then you don’t see any problem with hating homosexuals, because if you were gay, you would hate yourself. On the flip side, there’s a lot of behavior that we might want from others, that they would find abhorrent. For example, Harvey Weinstein would have probably really liked for any of the Woman he harassed and attacked to masterbate or shower in front of him. He was just doing unto them as he would want done unto himself.

As I approach my half–centenary, I have placed a lot of effort into studying my own short comings as a person, and I admit to many. I realized that treating other people the way I want to be treated is amazingly narcissistic. It’s not about me. How I want to be treated may be nothing like how others might want to be treated.

So, after careful consideration, talking to my amazingly empathic partner, and watching a lot of Doctor Who, I realized that the answer was right in front of me all the time: Just be kind. That’s it. Just kind.

Kindness means recognizing the needs of the people around me and trying to meet their needs, not forcing my needs upon them. I fail at this constantly, but, again, IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. I have to keep trying, keep thinking about the people around me, think about how I can show them kindness.

This is utopia thinking, I know. It’s completely unrealistic and might even be against human nature. But it is the very definition of what we call humanitarian. It means that in order to understand why homosexuality is not a crime to be persecuted DOES NOT require that I personally know anyone who is gay and empathize with them, it simply means that I be kind to everyone.

But be warned, although the answer is obvious, the solution is difficult. Kindness is not something that is as easy as all that. Being kind for most of us takes a lot of effort to put aside our own needs, biases, and pre-conceptions. It means that we have to not just put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes, but it means letting down our guard, listening to them, and stepping outside our own perceptions.

There is, of course, a limit to this. I need to preserve myself, and not do things to others that I don’t want done to me. However, I’m finding the rewards for kindness are great. I am calmer, less anxious, and I like me more. So, this winter solstice time, when the shadows are longest, I invite you to start practicing kindness to others and see how they treat you back.

Pax Vobiscum