Category Archives: Social Rules

YesOrNo.com

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Note: this is an older post. Seeing Netflix and a few other sites adopt an idea I’ve had forever makes me smile – as I recommended exactly this course of action several years ago in this blog post.

I’m going to start a website called “YesOrNo.” It will cover websites, restaurants, vehicles, tourists spots, movies, music and anything under the sun. It will be a testament to minimalism and focus in a world of too many options. If you are neutral to the website, movie, or restaurant, you don’t vote. No fence-sitting is allowed.

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Instead of being weighed down by too many details, there are only going to be 2 options: “yes” or “no.” No comments. No categories to obfuscate the response. No Yelp-like lawsuits alleging vote-fixing or reviews. Studies have shown that too many options reduces our happiness and satisfaction.

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Users will need to learn to be discerning with their votes. There will be neutral option. Either you vote or you don’t – but you’re going to need to decide between “yes” or “no.”

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There will be technical issues to address governing how to identify participants and/or lessen abuse of voting. That’s true of any website or business idea. Clever, motivated people combined with technology should eliminate all the major hurdles.

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With a social element, users can choose to add “trusted voters” to their logins so that they can refine their trusted opinions over time. This will allow you to ask the website to recommend a new place or experience to you, based on input from you and others who are similarly minded. In my scenario, however, the data will be limited to tallying without superfluous detail.

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Unlike Angie’s List, users won’t be expected to pay – as such services exclude much of the population. It does tend to cause an uptick in the “crazies” noticing your website, but again, technology can overcome most of the stupidity that will ensue.

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It’s so strange to see Tinder doing well. I’ve joked about yesorno.com for a long time, especially after an old-school website called “checkthegrid” died. On my old blog I had this idea designed, with screenshots and graphs. Like most people, though, my enthusiasm usually sputters at the implementation of an idea.

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At it’s heart, the website would be simple categories, with “green” indicating “yes,” and “red” equating to “no.”

 

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I Own My Story

It’s true that my memory isn’t perfect and sometimes I exaggerate to amplify a point. But the story is mine, outlining a world I created in my imagination in response to the people, places, things and thoughts around me.

If you going to visit it, please remember that if you want to play a good character, you can’t be an ass and expect a starring role. I’ll try to minimize your story arc if you’re misbehaving but no promises in this regard can be made or kept.

I’ve used variations of the above for several years, as people struggled against my right to express the content of my life, even if I sometimes made errors in its telling.

When I started walking frequently, I downloaded an insane number of TED talks and similarly-structured audio files. I was walking near one of my favorite spots listening to my second TED talk of the day when Anne Lamott’s segment started.

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

 

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This quote reverberated through my head. It conveyed almost exactly the sentiment I’d felt for years. It’s one thing to know something – and another when a bona fide voice of authority echoes your idea.

Now, I use Anne’s quote instead of my own original sentiment. Because I’m not the one who said these exact words, I can use them like a spear. Coming from someone who can be googled somehow grants the same idea some clout contrasted against my attempt.

So many people are reluctant to tell their stories. Some are worried they lack the ability to be honest and fair, while others are concerned that they lack the language skills to avoid being mocked. It’s a risk to tell a story, especially one which reveals a part of yourself to the world. It’s a risk not to, as well.

In my own world, I tend to be aware of not identifying everyone in my stories. It gives them the opportunity to continue on with their lives without my imperfect alterations. There are times, though, when I feel it necessary to describe people by name, relation or occupation. I hope it’s never out of malice but even I know that our minds behave in ways we don’t always recognize honestly.

I would hope that anyone reading this would welcome the chance to share their lives with those around them. Allowing people to experience our thoughts and lives is one of the only ways to experience a full life.

The stories are ours to share, for good, bad, or ugly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ponder: The Lesson of Karl

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I think we should adopt the word “Karl” as a code word to indicate that we love someone deeply, even as we live flawed lives. Whether we like to admit it or not, even when we are comfortable with people, ‘love’ is a catch in our throats, often reluctant to escape.

“Sling Blade” is an iconic movie. Each time I watch it, I see it from a different point of view, and not only because I am not quite the same person as the last time I watched it. As tragic as it is, it is evocative of a life of connections that I would cherish.


After Doyle kicks Karl out of the house, Linda drives up as Karl is shuffling away. “You light him up in his eyes, I’ve seen it. He wouldn’t know what to do without ye….” Karl tells Linda, referring to her son Frank. Linda calls out, “Karl?” as he leaves.

When Karl leaves Frank his books, the sum total of everything he holds to be valuable in life; inside is a bookmark with the words “You will be happy” written on it. As Karl walks away, Frank turns to the trees and shouts, “Karl?”

Karl knocks on Vaughan’s door and hands him all the money he has in the world when the door opens. He tells Vaughan that he would be a good daddy to Frank and that he won’t be judged for who he is. “That boy lives inside of his own heart. It’s an awful big place….” Karl says and ambles away. Vaughan calls out, “Karl?”

Of course, Doyle looks up off-screen at Karl as he raises the sharpened lawnmower blade to kill him: “Karl?” Doyle asks, after talking calmly with Karl about being killed by him.

The last spoken word in the movie by Doyle, Vaughan, Frank, and Linda is the same: “Karl…?”

As broken as Karl’s life was, he managed to touch each of those people’s souls by his words and presence. In response, each one was powerless to respond at the same level with Karl.

I think we should agree to use “Karl?” as a code word in our daily lives. Using it would be a signal that conveys our deep understanding of who and what the person with whom we are speaking means to us.

Some words are like knives passing our lips, even when coated with the warmest regard and sincerity.

Honesty is a sharp weapon and truth is a hard master. Even in love.

“Karl,” I whisper to you all.

Social Media Is Us

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Another social media friend posted about the depressing content of his or her social media. There are only two possibilities: he or she is not using the tools at hand to curate it or their friends, follows and likes are less than stellar. There is no reasonable way that social media, containing billions of people and pages, all representing every corner of the world, are the culprits in the equation. Social media is a prism which reflects the world of users, the same world that already exists. It might not be the world we desire, but it’s the one which greets us and gives both our joy and sadness.

The world might be spinning off its axis, but it is the only one we have. Generations have come and gone, each sure of its superiority over the last.

Social media is us, warts and all, smiles and frowns, fake news and authentic, gossip and compassion. Our aversion to it reflects more toward our self-recognition as a species than to the means by which we communicate.

Social media and the internet present new challenges, yet they also present new opportunities, especially in regards to engaging with one another.

It’s bizarre to me that two people can use the same technology and have disparate experiences. Social media can be a buffet of 10 million similar tv channels – or it can be a room with 10 million doors and windows, all of which can be opened by you on a whim, all leading to new worlds.

If you have friends who don’t share your values, sense of humor or worldview, be friends with them in the world instead of social media. Or hide their posts. If you don’t engage with them, at some point you are going to need to ask why you need to keep their names on a list in social media. You can still go to reunions, work, or lunch, – and hug and smile warmly when you encounter one another in a live social space. People fighting this cause themselves a tremendous amount of needless frustration in life. Friends lists are one of the new ways to hoard in our modern world.

If you find yourself getting upset or angry at what friends posts, hide their posts if you can’t unfriend or unfollow them. It’s your social media experience so take the time to make it your own.

If you are following news sites and pages which fill you with something other than interest, wonder, creativity, or inspiration, stop following them. Click “unfollow,” or “show less.” Unlike them. Bookmark them and visit them when the mood strikes, actively, instead of passively. Seeing content only when you are interested or curious keeps both you and the content fresher.

There is no danger of an echo chamber, no more than in your real life. All the tools are the same, within reach, and easy to use. If you live a full life, you are going to be exposed to a variety of languages, cultures, and ideas, whether you have a cellphone or social media.

In the same way that it almost impossible for me to ever get bored, I can’t fathom how anyone with access to the largest communication and knowledge resource ever created can feel anything except wonder. If it bores you, I promise you that you are doing it wrong.

I’ve always shared; not pictures and stories which only require a click, but words, anecdotes and parts of myself. Much of it is probably tripe to you – but that’s how it is in the world, too. I’ve seen so many eyerolls in response to my stories or comments that I started to believe almost everyone had an undiagnosed ophthalmological condition. If 1 in 10 people engaged like I do, we’d either be woefully tedious or richly engaged.

As a small part of this social media project we all live in, I wonder how you can read through the mountain of craziness I’ve produced and come up for air with a “meh.”

The internet and its biggest component social media is a box. Whether it is to be filled with a surprise of daily delights or duty and drudgery depends on you.

Stop looking at the things which make you lesser. Strike that. Stop focusing on those things. Look toward those things which remind you of what it means to be alive and creative.

 

Freedom of Discussion

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The truth is that I would love to be in a position to write freely about any topic in my heart and mind.

I know what you’re thinking: “You can can do that already.”

It’s not true, though.

Like so many others, I have a list of masters, each with a thumb pressed against my ability to speak freely.

More than luxury cars, a mansion, or the ability to travel the world, I’d like to be able to sit down and follow ideas to any destination.

The bizarre thing is that there are times when I am convinced that if I would just abandon all pretense and start writing this way without any guarantees that I probably would achieve independence.

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And Now, A Word About Complaints

Among those frustrations we share in common as humans, perhaps none is as deeply pernicious as the specter of inaction in the face of a pattern of misbehavior. Each time the feeble question of “what could we have done” cuts deeper. It is difficult enough for an intelligent person to come forward at his or her own risk when silence is the easiest choice among glib options. In part, this is the major justification for pausing to listen attentively when someone steps forward with a complaint – even if no one else does. Silence, as we know, is just as likely to signify fear and distrust of the process as it is the absence of truth in the allegations. In the face of being ignored when speaking the truth, I am more surprised the table is not only pounded on with greater ferocity and frequency but also that the table is not overturned. Ignored complaints fester and make all of us lesser people.

While my post is personal and not born of any specific or recent event, I think it applies to current events as well. (P.S. Don’t ascribe motives or scenarios.)

Someone I am close to reluctantly got dragged into a lawsuit decades ago, one in which allegations against a prominent public figure were labeled as ridiculous. Those who came forward suffered a barrage of insults and distrust. As a result, the wrong side won and we will never know how much damage was done to other people.

Imagine the spectacle of that first person daring to come forward, knowing that her word was going to be questioned. Every scandal starts with an unsubstantiated allegation. Every truth starts as a heresy.

Sing In The Lifeboats

He walked by, seemingly oblivious to us.

He belied his apparent lack of attention, however, when he turned to us and said, “That guy was right. If you can’t sing in the lifeboats you are not worthy of saving.Your entire life IS a lifeboat.”

We laughed to ourselves, wondering what gave him the ability to see things we could not, even as we updated our subscription to People magazine and set reminders to record “The Bachelor.”

A Little Commentary About Social Media

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I’ve not posted in a few days because so many people who’ve never met me read my last post on my public figure page. ( My public-figure FB page….) It’s a separate FB page of mine, still using my real name. My personal FB page is at: My personal FB page…  I took the time to stop and consider every word shared with me, whether shared on social media or my own website. Instead of posting or writing, I took the time to ingest anything sent to me.

Every once in a while I write something, albeit inexpertly, which resonates with a wide swath of people. The post about “The Glass Castle” was one of those things which echoed and ricocheted. It drew very little attention on my personal FB page but it went far on the public-figure version of my FB. It is a strange thing to see total strangers react to my words and engage in a way that people who know me don’t. It led a few people to find other things I’ve written; many of them reacted with surprise at the sheer quantity of it. If they wrote, they told me that they were caught off guard by the mix of personal stories and weird humor.

None of them have gone beyond casually mentioning that my grammar is sometimes in need of a ruler across the knuckles. The internet’s usual trollish response was nowhere to be found. One person reminded me of something I wrote several years ago: “Write without the discoloration of perfectionism. Someone else can proofread and edit. You don’t need to know how to plumb your house in order to turn on the kitchen faucet and prepare a gourmet meal, do you?”

To anyone who has written, I’ve replied by including a request that they share a story of their lives, whether it is funny, serious, or unpolished. I explain to them that we have one of the best communication tools ever devised being wasted on resharing and repetition of what others produce. It’s my hope that most of them will think about what I’ve asked and use social media to tell the rest of us a story.

Several have sent me anecdotes and shared stories of their lives with me. To me, this is the essence of social media – and one which we tend to neglect. So many say they are displeased with social media, but rarely does anyone put in the effort to make it interesting and personal.

To anyone who shared, I consider it to be a gift, one of the most personal ones possible. If I can write anything which propels another person to take moments of their lives and share a little of theirs, I’ve achieved a measure of success. These types of exchanges erase almost all the animus of political and personal animosity people experience.

What total strangers continue to teach me is that it is difficult to know one’s own story in the way that others might recognize. I’m enthralled with the strangeness of social media reaching so far, through the almost impenetrable fog of the unfamiliar.

I’m still contemplating the fact that very few of my friends interacted with the post, while hundreds of strangers read what I wrote, and some then took the time to share their own stories. I got a glimpse of the power of words, even at the hands of a hack like myself.

Living in a Glass Castle

This isn’t simply a review of the movie “The Glass Castle,” nor is it simply a biographical reflection. It is, however, an unsettling hybrid of a portion of myself and the movie. Like all things observed, our own peculiar perspective discolors the content of what we occupy ourselves with: our own face and temperament are reflected in the things we deceive ourselves into believing to be mere entertainment. While I was entertained by the movie, I was also stabbed in a way that few movies can achieve.

I knew the movie preview was slightly misleading and that it had artfully avoided showing the underbelly of what pervaded Jeannette Wall’s life. To be honest, I had forgotten the memoir, even though it was a book that I very much wanted to read a few years ago. After seeing the movie, I can appreciate just how much of the grime, horror, and shock was dropped from it. People love great stories but often recoil when the truth is laid bare. When a good writer is determined to be both honest and unflinching, some stories become too overwhelming. It’s quite the art to begin telling a story that people want to hear, but cringe as they lean in to hear the words they know will hurt them in a way that’s difficult to see.

Perversely, I was relieved to know that my instinct about the movie being sanitized was accurate. Much of the nuance was powerful and authentic; as a student of family violence, a couple of the scenes seemed disjointed to me. Perhaps it is madness to expect continuity in craziness but once you’ve filtered out the normalcy, even lunacy has its rules.

In the movie, Woody Harrelson as the dad is arguing with his daughter, insisting that she’s a revisionist to history. This pathos is one I’ve long held close to my own heart in my adult life. While I sometimes fail to steer away from revisionism, I at least know that I’m not impervious to the tendency. So many others, though, they cling to their idealized fantasies about people in our lives. They frequently take out their acquired masks and repaint them, all to tell themselves that the monsters in their past weren’t really monsters, just tormented and troubled people. People who do their best to tell their stories and to unmask their monsters are a threat to their self-identity. I want to see the monsters, both in my own life and in the lives of others. It does no one an injustice if you are sharing a piece of yourself. Each one of us owns our stories, even those pieces which darkly silhouette our lives.

I’ve written before that sometimes I observe the world and am amazed that most people seem to be unpoisoned by their own secret boxes, the ones some of us have managed to swallow, surpass, and mostly overcome. In my case, I judge most other people to be novices regarding human violence. Knowing the box is there at all robs me of a portion of my ability to live freely. It’s ridiculous to assert otherwise. If you don’t have such a box, feel glad, rather than doubtful that others had the necessity of constructing one to avoid fragmenting into incoherence.

 

After the movie and during the credits, the dad Rex was shown in grainy black and white, peering out of an abandoned building’s window, ranting about capitalism and property. It was clear that he was much angrier, unmoored, and detached than the movie would have us assume. My wife wouldn’t know it as she sat mesmerized beside me, but it was a visceral punch for me. The flash of recognition I experienced in seeing Rex as he really was versus Woody Harrelson’s impersonation of him almost untethered me. Seeing his as a ‘real’ person somehow unmasked the subtleness and veneer of the movie. Gone was the pretense of nobility or great acts. I could only see the residue of a base life, like the yellowish tint which permeates a smoker’s life. No matter what good Rex Hall might have done in his life, he was a part of what allowed children to be damaged. That any of them took this stew of disaster and emerged with great lives is a testament to our creativity and resolve.

So many of us had family members who would only marginally fit our definitions of what it means to be human. We individually adjust, trying to come to terms with the insanity of anger, knowing in our own hearts that some people are permanently damaged. We fight against the ignorance of others, the ones who insist that forgiveness and acceptance are on our plate and must be consumed. We know that anyone who hasn’t been in a room with a family member and suffered the inconvenience of knowing that our loved one truly might kill us in that moment cannot ever be reached on an emotional level. Until you’ve felt the metaphorical knife, the blade is just a vague unknowable threat.

One of my demons in life has been my aversion to a return to the crucible of anger and those who live there. I’ve been happiest when I’ve been able to reject such associations and cut the strings, and in some cases to stretch them. It’s always a fight, though, because those still melting in the crucible fight to keep you tethered to it as well. I no longer judge as harshly as I once did. Each of us decides for ourselves how our lives should proceed. Seeing the strings is all too often the first step to either severing them or ignoring them. I don’t take kindly to the angry insistence that I pay homage to the monstrous portions of my own past. I’m well aware that I have more than a few people who would gladly bash my head against a stone if it would mean they could resume believing the fantasy that my stories expose as untruths.

I know that intelligence forces us to do strange things with horror and mistreatment. Most of us buttress our sanity by converting these things into humor. It’s a skill I’ve honed for a few decades. As the credits rolled, I watched as Jeannette’s brother joked about his father’s memory, even as he sat at a table with his siblings who shared his past. I can’t speak for him. I do note, however, the brush of nostalgia in his words. Time is what grants us peace and the ability to laugh. Because life goes on, the fists and shattered bottles on the kitchen floor fade. We count our scars, both seen and unseen, and put one foot in front of another.

And sometimes, we watch a flawed movie that somehow reaches a talon inside our clenched hearts and ruptures a piece of what we’ve imprisoned away from the light. Because I know that the author of “The Glass Castle” had a life which was much worse than the movie revealed, my memory is slightly more forgiving. It makes me glad that the grandmother’s legacy has been forever stained and that some things were allowed to slither out from under the rocks to be viewed.

That a memoir such as “The Glass Castle” was written warms my heart. Jeannette Walls overcame and used her gift to sling arrows out into the world. Arrows are both weapon and tools, and she has done a great service to her own survival. The discomfort people might feel is an acknowledgment of how much suffering happens in the world. Next door, across town, wherever people live and breathe.