(Mental) State Of The Nation

I’ve spent an unusual amount of time on Facebook the past three days. I wish I could say it has been an enjoyable experience, but the only thing I can liken it to is standing by and watching a train wreck. Everyone was just crashing into each other. There was no good end to anything. It just felt like … death.

taylor-swift-pressurizes-apple-to-reverse-apple-music-dealOf course, there is no shortage of things to talk about on social media these days. The Confederate flag. Gay marriage. Taylor Swift and Apple. (Okay, that last one, not so much, but there is some stuff going down there.) Instead of talking, though, most people just snipe at each other. Proponents of homosexual marriage love how the “haters” got it stuck to them. Southerners try to play up the heritage aspect of the Confederate flag. Everyone is convinced they’re correct. No one allows that they might be wrong. It’s an online shouting match.

I have my share of personal beliefs, just like anyone else, and I can certainly understand passion in people regarding the issues of the day. Everyone wants to leave this earth believing they made a difference, and being a part of a social movement is something everyone dreams of. They can say they helped, literally, change the world. Occasionally, passion may trump logic, but it is undeniable that the force of a public tidal wave of opinion is something people not only can be caught up in, but also want to be caught up in.

I am concerned about our nation, though, and it has nothing to do with what flags are flying where or who is marrying whom. I am concerned because there is a growing cloud of darkness over the American psyche today which threatens to plunge our culture into a new age of violence, hate, and depression.

Several years ago, I stopped listening to conservative talk radio. It wasn’t that I necessarily disagreed with the opinions being expressed there; rather, it was the tone of everything. Conservatives had all the right ideas, and liberals wanted to submerge the country in darkness forever. That was pretty much the basis of every discussion I heard. And I got mad at liberals. I would get to work after listening to one of these shows and not want to talk to anyone. That’s when I realized I had gone beyond anger, maybe even beyond hate. I had fallen into some type of abyss, and there was nothing good there at all.

I feel us all sliding into that abyss today, and for those already predisposed to darker moods, there may not be any Peacecamp&downhillestatejuly21st012-1way back. I have been down this weekend, and I feel heavy inside. That heaviness then begins to spread into the doubts and fears and anxieties I wrestle with on a daily basis. My mood begins to be colored in a different way, and soon I begin to let hopelessness creep in. For me, this means a deepening depression. For those disposed to violence, though, or those who possess great anger, where does it lead them? And do the hopeful become bitter? Where are we going?

I was reading an interesting article this weekend about the suicide rate in Belgium. Doctors are permitted to assist with suicides for all different types of reasons in Belgium, including non-terminal conditions such as bipolar disorder, anorexia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. According to the World Health Organization, Belgium ranks 17th internationally on the list of suicides per 100,000 people per year. By contrast, the United States ranks 50th. My theory is this: When a nation expresses a willingness to condone taking one’s own life, its citizens follow suit. Therefore, if a nation projects depression and conflict, it stands to reason its citizens will feel the darkening mood.

Maybe I should get away from social media, television, everything where an opinion might be expressed. Then again, this is America, and those opinions have a right to be heard. I just wish it could be done in a way where sides are not so starkly chosen and battle lines are not so plainly drawn. The thought of us hacking each other to pieces is a depressing one indeed.

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The Dark Side

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

– Martin Niemöller

Even before I worked as a newspaper report several years ago, I had a real dislike of people who did not at least make an attempt to follow the news. The most common excuse I heard for this was “The news is so depressing.” There’s really no arguing with that statement; the news is depressing. Countries are at war with one another, people are shooting each other, companies are scamming their customers, politicians are caught stealing and lying… Yeah, watching the nightly news is not usually a yuckfest.

Just for a moment, though, stop and think about all the “real” things that happen in life every day. Think about the events in your own life that have had a profound impact on you. Maybe someone close to you passed away. Maybe you were involved in an accident of some sort. Maybe you were abused verbally or physically by someone. Maybe someone dealt dishonestly with you.

Sounds like some pretty depressing stuff to me.

There is a great emphasis being placed these days on “positivity” and “encouragement.” There’s nothing particularly yinyangwrong with that. This week, I’m supposed to be keeping a self-esteem journal, recording positive things that happen to me each day. This is in an effort to keep my mind off of the negative aspects of myself and my daily experiences. Avoiding negativity and depressing subject matter is often a wise course of action, most definitely.

The sum experience of “real” life, however, is not always positive or encouraging. People lose their jobs. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons lay waste to entire cities. Children are sold into modern-day slavery. Dictators carry out atrocities on their own people. And money… Good Lord, we never seem to have enough money, do we?

Why we should watch the news, though, is not so we can drown ourselves in the miseries of the world. We should watch the news because the news is part of the world we live in, and, occasionally, as with the Nazi Germany Martin Niemöller described in the opening quote of this post, that world comes knocking our front doors. For instance, the local city council may be talking about raising your taxes, but if you don’t know that, you’re not going to show up at their next meeting to oppose it. On a larger scale, if you oppose abortion, for instance, and legislation is proposed to make the procedure easier to have performed, you won’t be able to write or call your elected representatives to voice your opinion on the matter.

I am the world’s worst about listening to depressing music, reading depressing literature, and watching depressing movies and television shows which just feed into my melancholy, but I don’t put watching or reading the news into the same category as those things. Listening to talk radio, yes, but not watching or reading the news. I suppose I subscribe to the philosophy of the yin and the yang when it comes to this; there’s a little darkness in the light and a little light in the darkness. That’s life … and that’s the news.

(Stop) Wasting My Time

Okay, you got me. I fell for it. You got what you wanted.

But that’s it. No more. I’m done.

columnI, like many internet dwellers this morning, checked the Yahoo! homepage this morning to find a story trumpeting the following headline: “Newspaper runs headline referring to President Obama as N-word.” Thinking that no one with editorial license would be that stupid, I clicked on the link and read the story. In short, here’s what happened: The West View News, a monthly paper in New York’s West Village with a circulation of around 20,000, ran a piece written by James Lincoln Collier on its op-ed page titled “Nigger in the White House.”

I suppose the “N-word” was what was supposed to have been so outrageous in this particular story, but there were so many other reasons to be angry. First and foremost, the piece was actually pro-Obama, which is not such a bad thing in itself, but it was another entry in the “people hate the president because he is black” series. High unemployment, soaring gas prices, questionable military dealings, secret surveillance … yeah, of course, people don’t like him ’cause he’s black. Makes sense.

It could also be pointed out that the headline was nothing more than a blatant attention-grab. Seriously, had anyone outside of New England ever heard of the West View News before today? A circulation of 20,000 ain’t exactly the New York Times. By noon today, though, its name was splashed over the internet because someone thought they’d be “edgy.” No one uses a word like that unless they want someone to notice it. It’s like an elementary school boy standing on a chair making fart noises with his armpits.

What makes me really angry, though, is that they caught me. I read the stupid story because I saw the stupid word the stupid editor decided to include in the stupid headline. Not only that, but I also gave additional thought to what the story was saying and read the comments at the end of the article (which, by the way, you should never, ever do if you want to retain even a shred of hope for the future of humankind). And it didn’t even matter. It was one man echoing an opinion that’s been voiced a thousand different times in a thousand different places. It wasn’t even an original thought.

I was reading an article recently about Joe De Sena, the guy who started the Spartan Race. I would say Spartan Race is the most de senainsane physical endurance test out there had De Sena not preceded it with something called the Death Race, which involved all kinds of crazy stuff, including eating raw onions, cutting tree stumps out of the ground, and running up mountains. Oh, and De Sena might just arbitrarily decide at the end of the Death Race to extend it by 24 hours. Or 48. Or 72. Spartan Race actually looks somewhat sane in comparison.

De Sena grew up cleaning pools for guys like John Gotti and moved on to a successful Wall Street career before deciding to become a, um, whatever he is now. The man obviously knows how to get things done, and he’s the last person I would expect to identify with at all. He said something in this article, though, that struck a chord with me, and it had to do with time.

“When I turned 45, I realized that time is the only asset that matters,” he said. “I realized it was time to start losing some of the things that are non-core – distractions that are easy to get sucked up in. I need to get my time back.”

I wasted my time on that dumb article, and it probably won’t be the last time I waste my time filling my head with useless information. I’m 40 now, though, and I’m watching a world increasingly consumed by foolish arguments and pursuits. Paul instructed Timothy in the Bible to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” Whether you’re a Christian or not, I think that’s good advice for all of us to follow.

Victim-In-Chief

I want to begin this post with an apology for all my incessant whining over the years. I have no doubt looking back upon things that I drove many people away from me with my constantly sour attitude. In fact, even though I’d like to think I’m better than I used to be, I still let negativity take over sometimes and make myself intolerable to be around. If you are one of those people I referred to earlier, I’m sorry.

I didn’t really get a grasp on how bad this problem was until a few years ago when someone had the courage to look me in the eye during one of my moaning sessions and say, “I’m hearing a victim mentality.” Well, of course, as anyone with a victim mentality knows, the last thing someone with a victim mentality wants to hear is that they have a victim mentality. As initially occurred with me in this case, the victim mentality brain will immediately feel attacked and – you guessed it – victimized, putting the person on the defensive. Sometimes it’s a wake-up call. Other times, it’s a call to arms.

I first heard the notion of United States President Barack Obama having a victim mentality put forward by Rush Limbaugh. I’m not Obama-Frownsure if the idea was originally Limbaugh’s, but it was virtually identical to opinions set forth in a column by psychiatrist and Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow from October 2013 titled “Is Obama Locked in a Victim Mentality?”. Here’s a clip of what Ablow had to say:

“Seeing Barack Obama as someone who has a victim mentality would explain a lot. That mentality relies on believing one has been harmed, that one was not responsible for the injuries that occurred, that one could not have prevented what happened and that the person’s suffering makes that person morally right and deserving of sympathy.”

Even going back just a few days, one can find compelling evidence to suggest Ablow might be on to something. Here’s a quote from Obama regarding the House of Representatives refusal to extend unemployment insurance, raise the minimum wage, and enact a fair pay proposal:

“And they criticize me for this. (Speaker of the House John) Boehner sued me for this. And I told him I’d rather do things with you; pass some laws; make sure the Highway Trust Fund is funded so we don’t lay off hundreds of thousands of workers. It’s not that hard.”

So here is a two-fold example of victimization. First of all, the president feels he is being criticized for something that is not his fault. Then, not only is he facing criticism, he is also facing a lawsuit, something else he considers unfair. These themes are fairly consistent with wording Ablow pointed out in his column, noting the president made reference to Congress taking “hostages,” using “extortion,” and threatening to “blow up” the government.

Considering my own history in this regard, it’s difficult for me to condemn Obama too harshly for this. After all, he did not experience an ideal childhood, and he often saw those around him struggling emotionally and financially. While this gives him an empathy for those who struggle, however, the act begins to wear thin after a while. Even though no one enjoys seeing another person struggle, sometimes life will not be perfect. Money will run tight. People will screw you over. Things will have to be sacrificed. And not everyone is going to agree with you all the time, no matter how awesome you believe your ideas are.

Just today, I found myself headed down a road of negativity in a conversation, and I followed that road longer than I should have. I felt I had been slighted in some way, and maybe I had. Dwelling on it was not the answer, though, and I felt myself getting a little more uncomfortable with each word I spoke. I’m becoming uncomfortable being a victim, and I’m simultaneously getting more uncomfortable with the notion of a victim-in-chief in the Oval Office. Few good things come from that kind of attitude.

Trust me. I know.