“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” No it isn’t a beautiful day. It Sucks.
Depends on whom you ask, doesn’t it?
Perspective is everything. You could legitimately argue that one person is delusional and simply doesn’t get it. You could also argue that the other person is going to live a really shitty life because of what they concentrate on.
Both are likely accurate. And both ways of seeing have a lot to teach us.
Just outside my window right now at 5 am the birds are singing at full volume. It’s just at sixty degrees, thank Christ, today it’s going to be close to eighty. Three days ago it was already close to eighty degrees at five am. THAT wasn’t so beautiful. However. No matter how hot, how cold, how humid, no matter how crappy the weather or oppressive the day’s responsibilities, I get my aging ass out of bed somewhere between 3:30 and 4 am. I pad to the kitchen, get a little caffeine to open my eyeballs. Pad back to bed, curl up with my ancient teddy bear GerryBear and begin my thanks.
Thanks for waking up (lotta folks didn’t). Thanks for the day. The lessons of the day, whatever they are. Thanks for the roof over my head, the food in my fridge, the body that continues to be strong and powerful. Thanks for the ability to laugh at shit that hurts. For those who love me and check on me and think about me. Thanks and thanks and thanks and thanks. For the injuries and parts that bark, for just fucking Everything.
Am I delusional?
Maybe. Probably. But I’ll bet I am happier most days than most folks are.
Yesterday I got a comment from fellow writer extraordinaire Nicole Chardenet wherein she pointed out that one writer whom we both read regularly was “unrelentingly negative.” She’s spot on. I read that writer because they’re very smart, and the insights are important. However, Nicole’s observation made me consider.
First, we LOVE our negativity. It sells. It gets us eyeballs. Those who focus on the ain’t it awful have one shit-ton more readers and followers than I do. That isn’t a criticism at all; it’s a fact. To that please see this:
Negative headlines work like clickbait. As a journalist I am well aware of “if it bleeds, it leads.” There is some sick pleasure in seeing someone else’s broken body being tended to by the side of the road. That’s why far too many of us are happy to see other folks suffer as long as we aren’t. Concentrating on how bad it is for others allows us to say, well, at least I’m not (Black. Or Asian. Or whatever). That is one reason we allow folks to suffer. It gives us this perspective on how we’re better off, even when we most certainly aren’t.
Think this isn’t you? Maybe. I dunno. I’ve been there.
Anyone who has ever done a speech or a training program which involves feedback sheets knows the drill. You get thirty-five top ratings, five stars out of five. Then one star and a comment that says you sucked.
Doesn’t matter that intellectually you probably know that the one-star commenter was probably suffering from constipation and didn’t get laid the night before. Still hurts. You still pay far more attention to the one-star review than the slew of fives. It’s what we do.
Is it delusional to attend to the negative or the positive?
Kindly, let’s discuss how easily we’re deluded.
Consider how malleable we all were about Marlboros decades ago.
Growing up, my father smoked Marlboros. He also coughed non-stop. He was as deluded about his long-term health as many others but his strong body and even stronger advertisements about the health effects of smoking convinced him that he’d be fine. He was delusional, susceptible, and wouldn’t admit it. To that:
This story about tobacco gives us insight about how you and I can be manipulated and end up deluded, and continue to delude ourselves until it costs us our lives. Dad died of cancer far younger than his siblings. My brother, a lifetime smoker, did, too. As a species we love to delude ourselves, and we will die in a ditch to be right, most particularly if we discover, to our collective horror, that we fucked up. In fact, the worse the fuckup (voting for Trump) the more likely we are to have voted for him the second time.
Then, in that uber-delusional way that the ego digs in like a forest tick, we refuse to admit having fucked up or chosen badly, and follow our delusions to the death.
A few days ago I wrote a piece about what we get so wrong about needing to be right. Part of the research for that story led me to a few blogs, and some information about how people can dig into a pile of shit even after they know it’s a pile of shit. They can’t back away, after all, for so much of our (sick) society values stick-to-it-iveness as opposed to the far more mature, intellectually important recognition that things change and we must change with them. Here’s another way to access that thinking:
From the article:
We associate consistency with intellectual and personal strength, rationality, honesty, and stability. On the other hand, the person who is perceived as inconsistent is also seen as confused, two-faced, even mentally ill in certain extreme circumstances.
The way I read that paragraph is that rigid, uncompromising people are perceived as morally strong. People who have the immense wisdom to bend and shift when life requires it, adapting their ideas to their circumstances as needed, are seen as morally weak.
This is utterly insane, and it also speaks to how we got where we are right now.
Because we and our media vilify a politician for what is in effect moral courage to admit they were wrong, politicians tend to lean into rigidity.
This very rigidity is, interestingly enough, precisely what I so deeply disliked about Hilary Clinton. She dug in on issues where she was clearly wrong, had been outed for being wrong, and could not find the moral strength to own her shit.
In that two-faced way we are as a society, we choose to forgive some folks for their mistakes, then viciously attack others for changing a stance because they learned the facts. Grew. Evolved. No wonder politicians are so fucked up. Because we are. You’re a pussy- the ultimate personal attack in a patriarchal society- for growing up, in other words.
When I get on board the “ain’t it awful” train, and make it my brand to bark at the entire world about how fucked up it is, I make a public stand that becomes awfully hard to back down from later. If I go public about how ALL men are (fill in the blank), ALL Boomers are (fill in the blank), ALL Millennials are (fill in the blank), I have painted myself into a corner.
Given how people in rigid religious systems desperately need a black and white answer in a world of billions of greys, and others who are just shit- scared in changing conditions, folks tend to be drawn to powerfully clear messages like iron filings to a magnet.
Even if the magnet is evil. Hence, Trump. Hence, Hitler. Hence, Mussolini. You get it. We perceive power, in this case, clarity, as a savior. Which is why genuinely evil people are able to manipulate others into giving them money, sex, power in exchange for the implicit promise of being protected from their fears.
People want THE answer. They don’t want to hear the truth, which is more often, It Depends.
In this regard, and as I have seen in practice in my daily life, that kind of power kills the spirit and undermines our ability to cope, thrive and find happiness. Where I have been able to choose to see things in different ways, re-frame them (Neuro-Linguistic Practitioners will get that reference) in new ways, I’ve been able to adapt.
That is precisely what Marcel Proust meant when he wrote about “seeing with new eyes.” You and I are faced with precisely the same circumstances as before. However, we can choose to perceive them differently, and as a result, we are now not as threatened, we don’t see ourselves as victims, we aren’t helpless. THAT is strength.
Rigidity leads to breakage. Resilience leads to longevity.
That is the very definition of personal growth. For my part it’s not only how I have survived some of the shit shows to which I’ve been subjected, but also how I’ve been able to turn the worst of it into comedy. I can stand loud, proud and on top of the junk heap of stupid mistakes, bad choices and shitty men and have a horse laugh at ALL of it.
It’s a big goddamned junk heap. But that’s why these days I stand so tall. It’s MY junkheap. I built it, I own it, and it built me. That’s why I’m not at the bottom of it, which is where my brother ended up, dead by suicide at 62.
That’s why it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood on ALL days at my house, even on days when it hits 112 degrees, which it did a few nights ago.
Am I deluded? Does it matter?
Part of spiritual growth is learning how to see. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Chinese inscription that invokes hoping you live in interesting times. Trouble is trouble or an extraordinary opportunity to grow a new muscle. Pain is pain or an opportunity to use it to grow courage. Loss is loss or a way to learn not to repeat a mistake.
From the Consistency Bias blog above:
You can learn from past instances where you were lured into a consistency/commitment trap and avoid the problematic behavioral consistency this time.
After you make the poor decision, ask yourself “Knowing what I know now, would I make this decision again?” If your answer is “no,” then you know you were bamboozled by compliance trickery and your compliance bias.
I know this to be true because I have used the word ‘crazy’ to describe women who I can’t control and I only have control over one person, and that’s John DeVore.
I told John I would quote him. Here’s why: this is fucking brave. This is what courage looks like. Courage is facing our mistakes, the stories we tell about the world and others and ourselves, and call them out as lies if and when we realize they are false narratives. When you and I are strong enough to own our shit and use it to fertilize a new life, that is muscular.
I just went into my bedroom to do a few of these Turkish Getups. They’re hard, because I’ve been sitting too long. They build flexibility. Flexibility IS strength. What is rigid, breaks. What resists growth, dies. What resists bending, dies. As you and I age, when we don’t work on bending, flexing and adapting, we die in every way possible.
The worst way is to concentrate on what’s wrong with us, wrong with the world around us, wrong with everything. This is how we wake up to a shit show, swim in it all day long, go to sleep with a shit show.
That’s what relentless negativity looks like. That’s depression, and how it becomes an endless cycle. When “ everything is shit” is your Big Story, you will work awfully hard to be right about it. Worse, when that theme makes money and gets you tens of thousands of eyeballs, it’s awfully hard to change your tune if you happen to have had an epiphany.
It’s one thing to acknowledge what isn’t working, and go to work on it. That’s where certain uber-popular writers on Medium provide an important role, point out the ills of society, and force us to think. To consider. To get off our collective fat asses and fix shit, whether it’s racism or equity issues or fair pay or decent housing. I didn’t say ignore those things or try to happy-dappy our way around them. Not one bit. However, to return to Nicole’s point, the relentless negativity without humor, without perspective, without even the occasional ray of sunshine isn’t functional. It can focus us so much on what’s wrong that it’s very hard to see the good, and there is plenty of good all around.
We need to acknowledge what’s wrong. But for my part we also need to celebrate what is right, and what is good, if for no other purpose than perspective. To reclaim our birthright for joy. For hope. If we can’t see what’s joyful, it’s awfully hard to put the sweat labor into doing what it takes to fix what hurts us.
What we attend to most of the time owns us. That’s another article. But to end where I began, with Mr. Rogers, here is why he’s timeless, and why HIS version of the neighborhood is the one I choose to inhabit:
It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood every day. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes there’s a fire. Sometimes my Trumper neighbor is a jerk. But I get to choose how to feel about all of that.
So can you.