Archive for January, 2011
I always have the big plans, lists of things to do, priorities, and grand ideas. I imagine starting over, beginning a brand new day, being all I can be, and finally, at long last, fulfilling my potential. And then, I wake up.
And the day turns out to be just like every other day.
Anything really, really important–remembering to put out the trash, or paying bills–gets done. So do some other high-priority to medium priority ones. There is no major change in the direction of my life. None of my chronic problems get solved, in spite of every good intention. What happens?
People happen. Things break. Things take longer than expected. People take longer than expected. The unexpected happens. And I do need to take a break every now and again. So nothing ever changes. Or does it?
I want to see my life as some grand narrative, some triumph against odds–a classic story arc–when, in reality, it is more like a slice of life narrative. Well, okay, it’s more than a slice; it’s the entire pie. Nothing seems to change much. At the end of every day, I still have all the problems I began the day with. I rarely solve anything. Or so it seems.
But if I were to take a picture of my life five years ago, or ten, or twenty–then I see transformation. Some are physical, like home improvements we’ve undertaken. Some, I can’t take much credit for, like getting older. There are a few surprising changes, like that I’ve made about a dozen new friends in the last ten years. (Not bad for a card-carrying introvert.) I don’t fret as much as I used to. I’m more bold. I take things more as they are, not as I want them to be.
I’ve worked on these things. Day by day, there’s not much to show, but over time, my puny efforts do add up. Added to that effort is serendipity and the kindness of others.
When I fall into a false, grandiose narrative, I imagine that there is a right way to do things, that that way is the only way, and that it will solve all my problems. I further imagine there is a perfect solution, when in fact there is no action that does not carry with it unintended consequences.
So tomorrow, when I awaken with whatever obligations, and whatever to-do list I impose upon myself, I will not expect anything to be different. I will not expect to slay dragons. I will do the work before me, even the work I hate. Nothing will change, but somehow, I will be in the process of transforming everything.
On January 2nd, I scribbled down four sort-of resolutions for 2011, onto a tiny little yellow post-it note. If not exactly resolutions, they might be called new approaches to daily life. Number One is “Model.” I meant that I should endeavor to model the behavior I desire in other people. A “Do Unto Others” without even needing the “Unto Others” part. Just do things right.
A quick Google search on modeling behavior yields sites that deal mainly with children and teenagers. Parental modeling is a powerful tool in raising kids, but I was struck with the tone of these sites. Ninety-percent of the attention is given to modeling desired behavior specifically in order to elicit a desired behavior in others.
Anyone who has tried modeling behavior knows it doesn’t work like that, not with children, and not with adults.
I want to model behavior for others without expectation of reciprocity. I want to model behavior just to see what happens. I’m making the claim that to do so will reap benefits for me. I have a few reasons for believing so.
First, good behavior may not provoke good behavior in return, at least not all the time, but bad behavior almost never will. Once in a while, however, generosity of spirit and fair action will light a fire in my fellow human’s eye, and I will get a generous response. That is reward enough.
And bad behavior doesn’t work for me. I’ve run into a lot of assholes in my time, and although I have had my asshole moments, I’m an amateur. In any contest involving professional assholes, I will lose. I simply haven’t practiced enough. I’m safer going the other route.
Some seem to think they are giving me valuable instruction by letting me in on their own Model Behavior. For instance, if I moan to someone that I accidentally paid a bill late because it got buried underneath junk mail, the response I’m looking for is something along the lines of, “Oh gosh, yeah, don’t you hate that?” What I don’t want is a smirk and, “I wouldn’t know about that. I always sort my mail immediately. I make action piles.”
Yeah. I bet. There is, of course, a way of suggesting problem-solving behaviors that does not imply moral and intellectual superiority, and goes something like, “Oh yes, I used to have that problem too, and here’s why I did.”
Mostly, though, people don’t want to hear. They don’t want to talk about how they can improve.
If I do the right thing, many will not even notice. Some who do will think me a chump. Some, though, will notice, and will appreciate, and will know they have found a kindred spirit. A few might even be inspired.
But there I go again, back to expecting–or at least imagining–a result. In the end, I will endeavor to model good behavior because its easier on my spirit. In the end, I model behavior for one audience–myself.
In the several days since I began this post, the shootings in Tucson have occurred, and much debate has ensued regarding whether the violent words of the far right might or might not have pushed the gunman to his rampage. Sarah Palin’s web site was singled out, for the way she showed certain districts–Congresswoman Giffords’ among them–targeted in a crosshairs symbol. The question is asked if such a display in any way contributes to violent behavior in an individual. Did the gunman model the rhetoric in this case?
The most intelligent comment I have heard is that when someone is mentally ill and prone to violence, the violence is likely to occur some way, somehow. In this case, the gunman might in fact have been steered toward the attempted assassination by political rant, but had he not been steered in that direction, the violence probably would have occurred anyway, perhaps against the community college he was expelled from, or perhaps against his family, in which case, there would be no gain, only a different group of people dead and injured. I agree.
But that doesn’t let the symbolically violent off the hook.
Former Governor Palin is a hunter; we have seen her holding a rifle. She has told her followers, “Don’t retreat, reload.” And her web site pasted crosshairs symbols over certain congressional districts. Most might understand this as hyperbole, but the violently insane don’t get that. They can take things very literally, and they take things very, very personally, and very, very seriously. They don’t understand hyperbole or symbolism.
We can’t possibly predict the consequences of everything we say. I’m reminded that Charles Manson derived some sort of encouragement from the Lennon-McCartney song, “Helter Skelter,” a connection between song and deed that makes no sense at all. Nonetheless, I believe in examining what it is I’m putting out there, and asking myself if it really is something I want to stand by.