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Saturday
Aug302014

What’s Off Limits for Sorry?

At least on the surface, I’ve written two seemingly contradictory entries about apologizing. In one, I ask people to stop saying “sorry.” In another, I argue that you should sometimes feel sorry for telling people how you feel.

Yeah, well, I stand by both posts.

Actually, the two articles don’t actually contradict each other. People really should stop reflexively apologizing, whether for no good reason or because apologizing means little without considering the reason you should feel sorry and thinking through how you can prevent harm in the future.

So, yes, you should feel sorry sometimes. Including times when you’ve willy-nilly and indiscriminately spewed your feelings all over the place.

Yet occasions must exist for which it makes sense to call foul for feeling sorry:

  • No one should feel sorry for experiencing and enjoying the fruits of his hard labor and honest success.
  • No one should feel sorry for staying true to what she likes and how she dresses and wears her hair. No one should feel sorry for his sexual orientation.
  • No one should ever feel sorry for speaking up in unjust situations, whether for herself or on the behalf of someone else, no matter how awkward it may make bystanders feel.

Perhaps you can feel badly that your success thwarted someone’s plans, winning the race and putting them in second, and perhaps you can feel sorry that, in staying true to yourself, someone’s feelings got hurt or they felt jealous. Even still, feeling sorry for the side effects doesn’t parallel to feeling sorry for their cause.

Chime in here, my friends.

For what should we never feel sorry?

Thursday
Aug282014

Crying Doesn't Work

Rarely can a movie or commercial or cheesy viral video choke up my gullet and brim my eyes with tears. Per the copious personality profiles I’ve taken, it seems I come across as cold and matter-of-fact to most people.

I promise I have a soft core. In fact, I have recent proof: Though we don’t need to enter the reasons right now, I’ve had recent occasion to dissolve into tears and sobs more than once in a few-day span.

And every time I broke down into a wet and snotty mess, I felt worse afterward. My head felt fuzzy, my eyes bleary, my body worn out. And these after effects lasted hours, even days.

Physically and psychologically, crying exhausted me.

I felt better when I managed to dam the impending flow and distract my mind. If I took a few deep breaths and changed course the moment I caught my thoughts roving into dangerous territory, I could soldier on.

Doesn’t this run counter to the widespread notion that bottling up our emotions and jamming them down makes things worse? Haven’t we all heard that we need to get things out of our systems? Don’t people say that sometimes we just need a “good cry?”

You readers know me: I go to the research.

From what I could uncover, it seems only one major academic study has assessed how people feel after crying. Though one report indicates that over two-thirds of mental-health practitioners actively promote crying as a therapy tool, researchers at the University of South Florida published research in the Journal of Research in Personality indicating that crying rarely helps.

In 61 percent of the study’s cases, crying neither helped nor hurt a person’s mood. Only 30 percent of study participants felt better after crying. And 9 percent of people reported feeling worse after breaking down into tears.

Count me in the 9 percent.

Interestingly, the researchers found that the people who reported feeling better after crying often had cried the hardest and they frequently had someone to comfort them while they sobbed. Further, tears seemed more beneficial if their trigger had resolved or passed into the past.

Learning lesson? We should give up the notion that weeping universally helps. Yet if we must have a meltdown, doing it with a loving shoulder nearby and while heartily leaning into the sobs will give us the biggest benefit.

Though neither will help with the resulting puffy face and eyes.

How do you feel after a cry?

Tuesday
Aug262014

Confidence Totems

My entry in the what-not-to-wear (at the same time) category: My go-to St. George's Cross necklace and favorite Under Armour gear. August 25, 2014.

We all have them: Little, perhaps mostly unnoticeable to others, confidence-boosting lucky charms.

When I want to invoke confidence in different aspects of my life, I have go-to clothes and accessories that make me feel strong, powerful, on my game—attractive, even.

In most cases, these totems fit one life facet more than another.

For example, in business, I have a necklace I made from a Cross of Saint George, which my mother found in an antique shop during a trip to Russia. The cross harks from the country’s imperial era, when it served as a military medal recognizing “undaunted courage” in the lower ranks of soldiers.

I don’t know who originally received the medal I have or why he received it. The cross’s engraving includes his military number; I think about him when I wear it, although I have nothing to go on in fashioning his story. I can figure that he did something brave, though. Going into a tough meeting or big presentation wearing his medal makes me feel tougher.

Also, in business, especially for important meetings and presentations, I won’t wear a skirt of a dress. Whether rightly or wrongly, I feel that pants put everyone in the room on the same business footing. In fact, avoid anything overly feminine when I need gravitas at work. Dresses may feel comfortable and even pretty, but they don’t give me corporate-level confidence.

I don’t have many personal-life totems, although certain items of clothing do make me feel more attractive than others. (An important consideration for early-stage dates.)

And I do feel stronger and more athletic in my favorite Under Armour gear, although I know no one’s clothes make her workouts better—and although I’ve often felt amusement that we spend so much good money on attractive high-tech workout wear in which we still look ridiculous exercising and never use to its fullest. (I’ve never seen a race picture of me that I could stomach, no matter what I wore for the event.)

Do you have confidence totems?

Sunday
Aug242014

People Do Not Come into Your Life for a Reason

Lately, I’ve had a tendency to mull popular tropes. A few months back, I looked at the “everything happens for a reason” adage. Recently, the notion that “people come into our lives for a reason” stuck in my craw.

Seriously?

How self-centered does a person need to be to think that other human existences—rich, vibrant, tragic, joyful, and often all of the above combined over the span of decades—have come into his existence to play bit parts in his biopic?

After all, extras in screenplays don’t have purposes of their own. Their lives don’t divert course to come into the protagonist’s world. Screenwriters only outline bit players enough to move forward the main character’s plot—then they can let them fall off the cast list entirely.

Yet wait: A real life doesn’t take the form of a neat narrative with a main character and extras superfluous other than their specific roles in the protagonist’s plot.

Lives have far messier trajectories than popular plotlines. We like clean, neat narratives because they help us organize our crazy world. We want our lives to make sense in the same way that the tale of an adventurer—Odysseus or Hercules, say—makes sense. Never mind that these men only ever existed in fiction. Never mind that the process of reducing even a real person’s life to a clean narrative fictionalizes it.

Sure, I’ve taken the meaning of the statement to the extreme. In many cases, people use it to imply they’ve learned something from an encounter. Good. After all, self-analysis will always prove more worthwhile than shrugging off negative incidents with the pat “everything happens for a reason” explanation.

However, the notion that people enter your life for the primary purpose of affecting you in some way—which implies that they have no further value to your story and, quite frankly, that you could care less about their journeys—has an extreme bent, if you deeply consider it. Whether someone has crossed your path for a moment, a few months, or years, they have their own agency and value as human beings completely separate from your life.

We have truly entered an entirely new level of “me” era if we can unthinkingly imply that another human’s life has diverted course simply to serve a purpose in our own—or that they have no reason for existence other than to provide us personalized life lessons.

What do you think?

Friday
Aug222014

What Turning on the Radio Tells Us about Equality

If you read this blog on a relatively regular basis, you know that I listen to a lot of rap and hip-hop. Although I wouldn’t consider myself a huge music fan in general, as I mostly listen to National Public Radio, when I do want a tune or two or when “Prairie Home Companion” comes on, I dial over to rap and hip hop stations.

I don’t fit the mold.

Given the billions of dollars spent on advertising each year, I’d bet that the advertisers know better than anyone who listens to which channels. After all, if their ads didn’t produce results, they’d place them elsewhere.

So I assume these advertisers know where to find their targets when I hear ads for hair weaves on rap and hip-hop stations. And I assume they know the right station demographics for people who pay attention to ambulance-chasing attorneys, bail bondspeople, and tire rental.

I don’t hear these ads on “Top 40” or “alternative” radio stations. Instead, the ads played on stations that offer genres of music other than rap and hip hop focus frequently on weight-loss, car insurance, alcohol, and fast food.

Do I consider the targeting racist? No, but I do consider it racial. Hair weaves? Well and good. Bail bonds, personal-injury lawyers, and tire rental (which has to serve as an option of last resort, as it cannot possibly offer anyone a good deal)? The predominance of these ads nearly exclusively on stations targeted toward African-Americans makes me melancholy. They shed light on the continued plight of a large group of people.

No matter our race, we feel better when we delude ourselves that we all—regardless of demographics or socioeconomics—have an equal chance at life. National-stage events have a way of pulling the wool from our eyes: The summer 2014 events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Trayvon Martin case provide two recent examples.

Yet we don’t need cataclysmic events that spark widespread fires of public indignation to show us the struggles of large swaths of the population. Sadly, we just need to turn on the radio.

How can we better level the playing field?

What can we do to improve everyone’s chances in this world?