How to be Priveleged without being a Jerk

Essays

Stop & Listen!

Start by listening to stories, complaints, and concerns, realizing that just because what you are hearing is so far outside your experience that it sounds incredible, doesn’t mean it’s not true. Consider the implications of every word they are saying being true.

Acknowledge the Difference 

Acknowledge that your life experience is different. Acknowledge that people will tend to defer to you if you are male, affluent, light-skinned, tall, classically attractive, athletic, well dressed, and/or have a college degree or official title or uniform. Continue by acknowledging that NONE of those things make your opinions, stories, or experiences any more valuable than anyone else’s. None of these things make you any better or any worse than anyone else. 

Learn about Other  Perspectives

Consider that, just as you may have a perspective that you think others participating in the conversation haven’t heard, there are as many perspectives in that conversation as there are people – and the only way to hear them is to close your mouth and open your ears.

Check Your Motives 

Consider also your motives for being in the conversation in the first place – is it to influence others to change their behavior or to discover ways you can change yours? Is it to cause others to do something you want them to do, or figure out how to apply your skills and resources for their benefit? Are you there to help others or push your own agenda? If you are really there to help, then do less talking and more listening.

Don’t Hog the Conversation 

You want to be heard. Everyone does. Realize that you have the privelege of being heard in many other ways and situations; you don’t need to make this conversation about you. Consider it a reasearch project, and learn as much as you can about the others in the conversation and their story.
Others will defer to you. They will ask what you think. Not only is it polite, but people have been taught by centuries of society dominated by the affluent, male authority, and racist values to defer to you. Do not take it as license. Be there to learn. Be there to listen. Your voice will be heard in a thousand other ways from a thousand other sources – You will have many many other opportunities to make your opinion known. That is a part of privilege. We get to pretty much say whatever we want whenever and wherever we want with little or no consequences. So use some restraint and stay silent. Politely decline to comment, and listen.

Put Your Pain in  Perspective

Lastly this – and this is the hardest part – when the pain comes – and if you are really listening it will come – when the reality of injustice prejudice and your own privilege finally hits you and your heart starts to break, realize that you’re not the only one. You’re just getting you first taste for the of what others have been dealing with their whole lives.

Acknowledge Inequality 

One of the first things you will learn by doing this is a very difficult truth to face. It is this: the playing field is not level. The game is not fair. The odds are stacked in your favor, and have been for a very long time. Are there white men who are homeless and poor? Yes. Are there white men who have been victims of injustice? Yes. But that does not mean all things are equal. Just because being a white man isn’t a free ticket to easy street doesn’t mean that we have it just as hard as anyone else. In fact, as hard as life is, as fraught with difficulties and injustices as it is, it’s still a hell of a lot harder if you’re not a white man. 

Confront Your Disbelief 

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself why. Is it because that just hasn’t been your experience? Of course it isn’t. You just don’t see it? Of course you don’t. That’s my point. That’s our privilege. That’s why I am suggesting that we stop and listen to those who have had that experience – who do see it. It’s still up to you what you think, do, and believe; but if you want those thoughts actions and beliefs to be informed and serve more than just “you and yours,” then please, stop and listen.

Take Action: Guilt Does Not Help Anyone

Finally, don’t waste time on shame or guilt – those are cop-outs and don’t excuse you from taking action. Find something to do. Find a way of using your talents skills and privilege to benefit others. Don’t give up if you can’t find anything right away either. “There’s nothing I can do,” is just another cop-out. Just another excuse. Keep listening, keep looking. You will find something. It may not be earth shattering, you may not single handedly end world wide prejudice for all time, but don’t stop. Make it part of your life. If you’ve really recognized injustice and your own privilege, then listening and acting is not a one time thing. It’s a skill you develop through practice. It’s something you just do now.

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A Sports Fable

Essays, Fiction, Short Story

A long long time ago in a land far far away, a child picked up a stone and threw it across a field. A second child that was with the first also picked up a stone and threw it and his went further. The two of them laughed in delight and continued picking up stones to see who could throw theirs further. This game became a tradition and was passed on from generation to generation and was a source of great delight and friendship between siblings families and tribes for many years.
One day a child was discovered to be exceptionally talented at the throwing stones game. People came from all around to see her throw and try their hand at beating her but she was always the best. Seeing her throw soon became a spectacle and people traveled for miles to witness the poise, grace, strength, and subtle technique that made her stones always traveled farther. 

Later, it came to pass that one of the people who saw her throw was so impressed by her talent, that he decided to dedicate his entire life to gaining the ability to throw stones farther than anyone else. Oddly enough no one thought this a strange way to spend your life so people supported and encouraged him in his quest. Again and again he challenged the champion stone thrower and not long after dedicating all his time and energy to the task, he defeated the champion in a stone throwing contest. The defeated champion laughed shook hands with the new champion and went on with her life. She still threw stones and enjoyed it, but the spectacle was over (somewhat to her relief actually).

The new champion basked in the attention and spectacle of being the farthest stone thrower until one day, another decided to also dedicate their life to stone throwing. This one seemed to have more natural talent than the new champion (although arguably not as much as the first) and soon this new challenger defeated the second champion and became the third.

The second was furious and shouted that the third had used tricks like taking a step forward so their throw really wasn’t that far, and anyway that first throw really wasn’t a tie – his was further by at least a finger width. Some people laughed but many of the people were so dismayed at the argument that they consulted the elders – who said they were too busy dealing with issues like the current famine and the overly aggressive tribe to the north – so the people came together and held a counsel to determine what the rules should be for throwing stones. They even consulted the first champion but she was busy with her life and told them she didn’t really care.

Soon the counsel came up with a set of rules and the contests continued with more and more individuals deciding to dedicate their lives to throwing stones (which were now of regulated weight and dimensions).

Occasionally someone would be born with a natural talent for throwing stones, but there were always so many that dedicated all their time and energy to it that competition was fierce, and unless one had a passion for throwing stones, you were called things like “amateur” or “hobbiest” or “not really serious about throwing stones.” Thus it was that throwing stones went from something fun for friends to do together, to a fiercely competitive career complete with rules and regulations and – as time went on – legal battles, social upheaval, betrayals, and tragedy of all kinds. 

Over throwing rocks. 

Because it was fun one time. 

And this is why I don’t like “sports.”

Positive Thinking: Because Everything is Awful.

Essays, Staying Happy

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of articles that are very critical of what they call “Positive Thinking” but demonstrate a very superficial understanding (or complete lack of understanding) of what “Positive Thinking” really is.

Much of the misunderstanding seems to hinge on what the goal of “positive thinking” actually is. Let’s be clear. The goal of “positive thinking” is…(drumroll)…positive thinking. The whole point of positive thinking is finding hope and optimism in a cynical world – not gaining health and wealth. Granted, health and wealth may sometimes be enhanced as a byproduct of positive thinking, but it’s not the goal. It must also be admitted that there are plenty of charlatans and opportunists out there who have hijacked some of the terminology of positive thinking in an attempt to sell easy recipes to their own brand of health/wealth based “success,” but these are counterfeits of the real article.  

True positive thinking is for the purpose of gaining a healthy mind and enriched experience of life – not miracle healing and getting rich quick – and it is based in self honesty and personal responsibility. Let me show you. Here are a couple basic principles of true positive thinking.

1. You are not a victim – a mere object of circumstances; you are a being with strengths, talents, and will that can be brought to bear on your circumstances. Obsessing over what has happened or is happening to you does not help you. Taking action and making decisions does. Focusing on what you CAN’T do doesn’t help you. Focusing on what you CAN does. Injustice and hardship are real, but you get to decide whether your story is a tragic one or a heroic one.

2. Judging or categorizing things, experiences, or people with simplistic labels like “good/bad”, “smart/stupid”, “pretty/ugly”, may seem expedient, but it ultimately dulls our ability to discern, learn and grow.

3. Regret is not the same thing as shame. Enduring shame and guilt are a miscarriage of regret. Regret informs you that certain decisions or actions have undesirable consequences. Shame and guilt come in when rather than learning, changing, and moving forward, we instead label ourselves as someone who does those kinds of things and agonizes at our fate of being so terrible/stupid/whatever. Regret that gives birth to learning and change is healthy and productive – wallowing in shame and guilt is not.

4. It’s good to feel your emotions and acknowledge their source. Suppressing negative emotions does not help you to be a happier person. Our bodies instinctively react with sobs, laughter, or adrenaline based on various stimuli in a way that has served us well for thousands of years. Trying to stifle these reactions can only lead to frustration and confusion. Instead, focusing and channeling these reactions into constructive action can help these instincts to be more effective. For instance, anger signals us that something urgently needs to change (often what needs changing is our own perspective or approach to a problem) – our body gets a shot of adrenaline and our mind suddenly becomes very tightly focused on the issue at hand. If that energy and focus can be aimed at examining options and blasting away obstacles, then that is anger well spent. Likewise tears, while seeming to blind us and cause embarrassment, have been found to carry away stress-inducing toxins. Fear increases our heart rate, preparing us for action and boosting our senses and awareness. The trick is to take the reigns of these emotions, acknowledge the cause, and consider how you can best use your body’s natural reaction. Sometimes you just need to have a good cry and shed some of that stress. Sometimes you need to blast through the bullshit – the excuses, the distractions, the procrastination – and take action. Sometimes you need to stop and take stock of your situation, acknowledge any risks you are taking and be alert for new developments.

As long winded as this may seem, it’s just scratching the surface of what goes into truly positive thinking. There are so many other principles including things like “personal narrative,” “an attitude of gratitude,” and “laws of attraction,” that are not as simple to explain – often because we don’t necessarily understand why they work, just that they do. Ultimately though, if you are looking for health and wealth, positive thinking is not necessarily going to help you. In fact, an obsession with that kind of “success” will likely inhibit your ability to think positively. If, on the other hand, what you seek is hope and and a brighter perspective on life and maybe some practical tools to help you through the ups and downs, the bumps and scrapes, and the general turbulence that is every day life, then “positive thinking” may be something you want to look into.

6 Driving Habits That Could Save Your Life

Essays, Getting It Done, Trucking

Every day you plop down into the driver seat often with a mocha in one hand and a cell phone in the other with a hundred things running through your mind – none of them driving. You turn the key without even realizing it and merge into 60 mph traffic daydreaming about what you’ll do this weekend or wondering what that girl or guy really thinks about you.

Then it happens. There’s a loud noise that snaps you out of your reverie and suddenly your heart is in your throat as you realize something terrible is about to happen and that this is probably going to REALLY hurt.

If you’ve ever been in an accident or even had a really close call, you know what I’m talking about. The hard reality is that regardless of who is “at fault” in an accident, there is usually something both drivers could have done to avoid it. Tragically, even the person hurt the worst in an accident often could have done something to prevent the crash. It is so easy to forget that people – imperfect, everyday human beings – are behind the wheel of every automobile on the road and those people will make mistakes.

Here are a few tips to keep someone else’s mistake from costing you money, pain, or your life.

1. Pay Attention.
I can’t stress this enough. There are so many things to distract us on the road. Music, cell phones, passengers, stress, food – all these things can take your attention away from that forty ton truck in the lane next to you for just long enough for something really horrible to happen. The solution is to train yourself to focus first on your surroundings and second (if at all) on anything else going on. If it helps ask yourself these 6 questions as you drive:
• What’s going on IN FRONT of me?
• What’s going on LEFT of me?
• What’s going on RIGHT of me?
• What is about to happen ABOVE me?
• What is about to happen BELOW me?
• What is going on BEHIND me?
Being aware of what’s happening in these 6 areas should go a long ways to keeping you safe on the road – in fact most of the tips on this list have to do with those 6 questions.

2. Keep Your Distance.
Besides lack of attention, underestimating safe following distance has got to be the most common mistake drivers make. The simple rule for keeping a safe distance is this: in an average automobile the minimum safe following distance in ideal conditions is 3-4 seconds. This means when the vehicle ahead of you passes a stationary object (like a road sign, a bridge, or even the dashes painted on the road) it should take at least 3-4 seconds before that object passes you. Remember this is for ideal conditions when your attention is focused on the driving, it’s sunny and clear, and the roads are smooth straight and dry. That 3-4 seconds allows you just barely enough time to see a hazard, recognize that you are in danger, make a split second decision on how to react to the danger, act on that decision, and then finally – likely with screeching tires and smoking brakes – have your vehicle respond to your action. To avoid the screeching tires and smoking breaks, it is prudent to give yourself more than the minimum safe following distance. Here’s a Pro-Tip: in traffic keep your speed slightly slower than the car ahead of you. Cars may cut in front of you, but as they pull away, your safe following distance is automatically restored.

3. Slow Down for Conditions
Notice that I didn’t say “don’t speed.” This is more specific. The speed limit may be 75 mph but that doesn’t mean it’s always safe to go that fast. Obvious conditions that should cause people to slow down are things like rain, snow, ice, traffic, construction, etc. Not so obvious are conditions like blind curves, darkness, fog, fatigue, and many other conditions that can slow your response time or your vehicle’s response time or compromise your visibility. When in doubt, slow down or park.

4. Don’t Change Lanes.
Do you really have to pass that guy? Whenever you change lanes, you are at risk. You are either moving in front of a vehicle, into a space that another vehicle may be headed for, or even into a space that a vehicle you didn’t see is already in. In addition, regardless of whether or not you see the other driver, there’s the chance that they don’t see you (failing to signal your turn only increases that risk). Lane changes also often take your attention away from what is happening ahead of you as you check your blind spots and try to gauge oncoming traffic before you make your move. The bottom line is that lane changes are risky and the less you do it, the safer you will be.

5. Check & Maintain Your Vehicle.
The most dangerous accident I’ve ever been was on a clear dry road in the middle of the day with no other cars in sight. A tire blew causing immediate loss of control and I went careening off the road at 75 mph. Luckily I didn’t collide with anything but it was a close thing; and it could have been avoided by simply checking my tire pressure. Making sure that your wheels, steering and brakes are all in good order, as well as securing any loose parts or items attached to your vehicle is probably the easiest and yet most neglected way of preventing serious accidents on the road. Don’t skip it – the one time you do may be the one time that really mattered.

6. Don’t Take It Personally
The truth is, most of us are completely oblivious to how our driving is affecting the people around us. Driving is a very isolating experience with each driver is in his or her own little bubble so, while what the driver in front of you just did may seem anywhere from discourteous to downright insulting, chances are he or she had no intention of offending you and might even be someone you would enjoy having a beer with were you to meet them in person. There are many factors that can trigger us or make us feel threatened, from the appearance of another drivers’ vehicles to the way the vehicle sounds and moves. The driver, however, is NOT the vehicle. The driver is a person just like you or your spouse or mother or best friend. The vehicle may look and sound like it’s growling at you but it’s not. It can’t. It’s just a machine. Likewise the way someone handles their vehicle is probably not an expression of how they feel about you. Taking someone else’s driving as a personal affront is likely going to cloud your judgement and take your focus away from safely driving your vehicle. If you have trouble controlling your response to other people’s lousy driving, consider anger management counseling. It could save your life or someone else’s.

Driving is dangerous. Most vehicles these days weigh in excess of two tons and frequently operate and speeds in excess of 60 mph, very often in close proximity to other vehicles doing the same. It takes less than a second for something to go horribly wrong and the consequences could be fatal. You may have driven the same stretch of road a million times with out applying any of these tips and never had a problem, but remember this; it’s not the million times that kill you – it’s just that last one.