Monday, August 28, 2017

Rights and Mistakes

I don’t get all that caught up on words, at least not until I hear people use them improperly for their own gain or avoid blame. The two that drive me the craziest are “rights” and “mistakes”, and I’ll describe what I think they mean and why other people want so much to use them improperly.

To qualify as a “right”, in my book, means two things. First, we all can, equally, have the same right. Your right to them does not, in any way, impinge on me or anyone else having the same right. Free speech is a good example. We each can have it and use it without infringing on the other’s exercise of that right. Second, rights do not involve money. I don’t have to pay to have free speech and I’m not required to pay for yours. It’s really a specific case of rule number one, but since so many improper uses of “rights” involve money being taken away from one party and given, or used, to provide the “right” to another, I think it helps clarify my definition. In my definition, health care and education are not rights. They are arguably moral obligations, but that’s a big difference. With a right you don’t have to qualify and you don’t have to oblige anything back, it simply yours, pure and simple. It’s no wonder that proponents of any given “give-away” program want to qualify it as a “right” instead of a good idea or the proper thing to do. Furthermore, taking away someone’s rights is very serious business. Putting someone in jail or drafting them into the armed forces are examples of necessary situations that require suspending someone’s right of life, liberty or free speech. Check out our Bill of Rights and you will find rights like freedom of speech, religion, assembly, search and self-incrimination. These fit my definition of a right. I find knowing the difference between a right and those “false rights”, however well-intentioned, keeps my moral compass pointed to the truth.

Also commonly misused is “mistake”. We all make them all the time. Perhaps you meant to add sugar to your coffee and grabbed the salt instead. That’s a mistake in my book. Using salt was not your intention, you really meant to use sugar. Some mistakes like this are caused by lack of attention, some by being in too much of a hurry or trying to multi-task. Contrast that with a teenager who steals a pack of cigarettes and Mom says “oh, she just made a mistake”. Really, that was the mistake? Did she mean to steal some chewing gum and grabbed the wrong thing? More like “she didn’t think she would get caught” would be the truth about the mistake made. The stealing was a choice, but not a mistake. Most people learn right from wrong at a very early age, openly displaying what they know is right and hiding what they know is wrong. But “mistake” is used instead of “choice” because it avoids placing blame and declaring fault, and then dealing with the ensuing drama and conflict. It would be much more accurate to say “kids are going to make some bad choices”, acknowledging they have more to learn about life and how we treat each other instead of closing our eyes to reality.

It’s easy to understand why these powerful words, “rights” and “mistakes”, are used inappropriately, but I won’t fall for it. If we’re to face problems in our families, communities and nation, we have to deal with these difficult conversations truthfully and not hide behind the wrong words.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Balance Is Hard

Achieving a life “in balance”, with all those things you need and want flowing together in perfect proportion, would leave you feeling accomplished on all those things that matter to you the most. Yet it appears that many of us, and certainly for me at times, fail brilliantly at this, leaving us stressed, unhappy and feeling like a failure. Why is something so desirable, healthy and self-gratifying so difficult to get right? I have some opinions on that and some suggestions that may help.

Balance is not one-size-fits-all but the exact opposite, a unique blend, custom fit for you, your desires and situation. But have you defined your “balance”, or just hoping that life will deliver it as the result of all the choices, good and bad, you make throughout the day? As they say, “a failure to plan is a plan to fail”. Like writing this article, you have to decide what goes in and what gets left out, and the left out part is really tough to figure out. Balance would be easy if there were unlimited minutes in your day or you had just enough activities. The first certainly isn’t true and rarely is the second. You need to come up with your desired end-state and compare that with where you are today. Figure out what to give up, what to add and the steps needed to get there. I doubt that’s straight line and pretty sure you will revisit your choices early and often. Balance doesn’t mean finding one blend and sticking to it forever. Shaking up your balance every so often is necessary to keeping it in balance. At least it is for me.

There are a number of “positive” reasons for getting out of balance. We like being “givers”, unselfishly donating our time to others in pursuit of their activities. It gives us pleasure to say “yes” and that’s really easy to do if it’s a future event and not an immediate request. We’re passionate about our causes, our faith and our families. Smiles and thank you’s are wonderful outcomes and we like to think we gave it our all. We like being busy, but busy and balance are very different things. Being a Type A, I like being busy, and feeling accomplished as a result, most of the time. But balance for me is being busy on the right things in the right proportion over the right time frame. As a friend of mine quite accurately stated, “When we work, we work hard and when we play, we play hard. And when we stop, we fall asleep”. Sums up my balance plan very well.

Then there are the “negatives” that drag us into a doom loop to imbalance. Thinking we have to explain and justify each decision, defend why you said “No” to this and “Yes” to that and listening to the whining and complaining and “That’s not fair!” that ensues. It’s easy in the short term to say “Yes” to everyone, avoid the arguments and give ourselves fully to other’s demands and desires. And this just adds fuel the next round, knowing you will give in with enough “persuasion”. Our own passions also get in our way, wanting only the best for our children, wanting to be more successful at work or seen as the pillar of faith at our place of worship. I’m certainly the type that can “be my own worst enemy”, always looking at how to do something better or quicker. Taming the internal beast, saying “No” to yourself is every bit as difficult as telling others the same thing.

My advice starts with another saying I’ve carried for years, “Everything in moderation, including moderation”. Life, and balance, isn't always about a little of this and a little of that, but I include those things that take too much time and effort, but only once in awhile. If you equate balance with boredom, you’re still out of balance. Indulge at times or give a project your all, then work back to towards your target. Balance is more a long term goal than a daily quest. Balance is fluid, changes with the seasons and with your mood. Take a break, start a new hobby, give up an old one, shake things up, then settle things down.

“No is a complete sentence”.  It truly really is, and it’s advice you should learn well. You do not have to give reasons, you don’t have to negotiate and you don’t have to even talk about it. Use it sparingly, but use it when the “persuasion” mounts and you’ve already made your decision. Let them whine, just tell them to do it elsewhere. Like the freedom of speech, you have the freedom not to listen.

My final advice is to have a to-do list that never gets completed, but just gets added to, crossed off, rewritten and prioritized over and over. Get used to not getting it all done because there’s always something that needs done. But getting the right things done in the time available will reduce stress and eliminate the feeling that everything on the list is equally important and that it doesn’t matter what gets done. If an item stays on the list too long, cross it off. New items don’t have to go on the bottom, it just might be the new number one . Don’t make your to-do list into a wishlist, keep those separate. Keep a bucket list for the big wishes. I have so many lists, I should probably have a list of lists. But that’s just me.

I hope one or two of these can help you on your journey to balance, if that’s indeed your destination, as it is mine.