Writing is an Itch. This is a place to scratch.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happy and Appreciated: It Starts with You. Part 2.

By Rattus Scribus© 23 Sept 2009
(Please read part 1 below first if you have not already done so.)

I left off in my last blog post with the promise that I would give readers some tips (I'll call them rules now) when you feel used, hurt or unappreciated. In this post I will discuss two rules.

Rule # 1. Don't internalize. Refuse to internalize the insensitive and hurtful attitudes and acts of others towards you
We've all been there right? "Is that all you under those clothes?" "Sure I'd be happy to help you out; which way did you come in?" "Yes, we had to let you go; but cheer up, economists call this 'creative destruction' capitalism." "Sorry, but our plan doesn't allow for pre-existing conditions." Such words and experiences hurt, and there are many ways to respond, from silence to suing. But one response should never be to internalize hurtful displays so that they become part of our waking concerns and troubled dreams, our self-image and future destiny.

This winter it was so cold, that you could
see lawyers walking down the street
with their hands in their own pockets.

That neighbor's kid from H-E-double hockey sticks, the heartless "free" market, Mr. flesh-eating lawyer over there, private health insurance death panels (the real ones), these are things over which you and I may have no control. But we can refuse to care so much about other people's carelessness. Being unappreciated, denied and hurt may be useful if it prompts us to an appropriate action such as fighting for our rights, or learning another job skill, or working toward reconciliation. But through it all we must guard against wounds to the self, who we are, how we see ourselves and our hopes, and how we end up treating others.

Deal with externals as you must. But tell yourself, "I will not internalize this hurt or indignity. I will not carry this in me while you get to forget and move on. You are not in control of me. I am." If you say this but don't feel the conviction, then, as they say, fake it till you make it.

Rule # 2. Be more funny. Cultivate humor for well-being and war.
We have all heard how laughter is good medicine. People who cultivate humor and laugh live longer than those who don't. But humor has also long been one of the most powerful tools or weapons in dealing with conflict, disappointment, tragedy, even full-scale war.

Why is it that some of the funniest comedians, comedies and jokes are Jewish? Because, suffering as a people at the hands of so many, in so many places, for so long, they were forced to get good at it. John Morreall, Professor of Religious Studies and internationally recognized authority on humor has written on the role of Jewish humor during the Holocaust. Humor allowed the Jews to criticize their Nazi oppressors, maintain cohesiveness or solidarity among themselves, and to cope with the monstrous injustice and tragedy being inflicted upon them.

One of the most successful comedy teams ever, The Three Stooges: Moe Howard, Curly Howard, and Larry Fine (really four with the other Howard brother, Shemp), were all Jewish who had changed their names for film: Moe, Curly and Shemp were born Moses, Jerome, and Samuel Horwitz. Larry Fine was born Andrew Fienberg. Moe played the first film parody of Hitler.
Comedy, said M. Conrad Hyers, is the "stubborn refusal to give tragedy…the final say." I'm always amazed by people who use humor to completely turn the tables on a negative person or situation. Instead of being embarrassed, shrinking into acquiescence or even tears (in short, instead of being the joke), they use humor to expose and critique their "oppressor." And they do this without skipping a beat, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Booya! (drum roll) Take that! (cymbals).

When we internalize indignities or being treated as unimportant, we are essentially allowing ourselves to be brainwashed. But the good news is you have a weapon. "Research on brainwashing…has shown that humor may be the single most effective way to block indoctrination." During the Holocaust Jews used humor to criticize the Nazis and their brainwashing propaganda. Hitler's theory of the Master Race, says Morreall, was the butt of dozens of jokes. For example: "There are two kinds of Aryans…non-Aryans and barb-Aryans." A more cryptic joke against Hitler went like this. A Jewish father was teaching his son how to say grace before meals: "Today in Germany the proper form of grace is 'Thank God and Hitler.'" "But suppose the F├╝hrer dies?" asked the boy. "Then you just thank God."

The Three Stooges, "You Nazty Spy" used satire to expose TV audiences to the threat of Hitler and the Third Reich before the U.S. had entered WWII.

Among the jokes that both criticized the Nazis and built solidarity among Jews was a little gem about Hitler going to his astrologer worried that the Allies were winning. When the astrologer affirmed that he would indeed lose the war, Hitler asked, "Then, am I going to die?" "Yes." "When am I going to die?" "On a Jewish holiday." "But on what holiday?" "Any day you die will be a Jewish holiday."

History shows, and I can personally attest, that humor is a powerful coping mechanism during times of hardship, hurt and loss. Philosopher and Auschwitz survivor Emil Fackenheim said, "We kept our morale through humor." Some Jews even prayed to and questioned God through humor: "Dear God," one prayer went, "for five thousand years we have been your chosen people. Please, choose someone else already."

In Rule # 1 I had said that refusal to internalize external negatives was a declaration that you (and not all the people and things in the hurt locker) are the one in control. Here in Rule #2 you learned about one powerful means of control for needs and situations ranging from well-being to war: humor.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Happy and Appreciated: It Starts with You. Part 1.

By Rattus Scribus©, 15 Sept 2009

Hurt & Unappreciated: This is a culture where all too often one can be made to feel very unappreciated and unimportant indeed.

Top 10 signs that you are unappreciated:
10. People always seem to talk about you in the past tense.
9. You keep being asked to operate the camera for the group picture.
8. People keep trying to walk through you.
7. You’re told that you’ll go far, and the sooner you start the better.
6. Your co-workers keep asking, “May I help you?”
5. Someone asks for your opinion and immediately starts looking at an imaginary wristwatch.
4. The only "personal" mail you get are bills.
3. You’re told you’re irreplaceable, and that’s why you can’t have the promotion.
2. Even the IRS doesn’t recognize your existence.
And the number one sign that you're unappreciated:
1. There’s a retirement party in your honor and you’re not even close to retirement.

I wrote that Top Ten joke a few years ago as an icebreaker for a Staff Appreciation Day at which I was asked to speak. It is more relevant today than then.

The financial collapse of the last couple of years has thrown many out of work, out of homes, out of sorts, some even out of hope. Moreover, the ongoing trends of corporate America make it likely that (unless one has in-demand skills) many people who do find work will earn less, have less medical coverage (if at all: I know people with multiple jobs, none of which will give them medical insurance), and generally will find it more challenging to keep body and soul together than a decade ago. Like a disease we thought long ago eradicated, preventable financial disaster has come back, and with it all the symptoms that were common during the last pandemic called The Great Depression: lack of joy, of a sense of meaning, of being appreciated, that one matters.

Add to all of this the widespread frustration with many corporations and businesses that are run by very unsavory beings like the Ferengi, from the TV series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Ferengi were an alien culture that had elevated "Greed is Good" to the highest of virtues. Obviously meant to symbolize the worst of a heartless type of capitalism, the more unscrupulously avaricious a Ferengi was the more hideous his appearance. And they deserved it: Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #111: "Treat people in your debt like family: exploit them." Rule #211: "Employees are the rungs on the ladder of success. Do not hesitate to step on them."

This is a culture where one can be made to feel very unappreciated and unimportant indeed.

What is one to do? Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I will share with you some insights (psychological, historical, humorous, spiritual, etc.) about what you can do if you feel unappreciated, used and hurt by employers, other people, and the big wide world.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Rabble Rouser Vs. The Statesman

By Rattus Scribus©

11 Sept 2009

Who the heck was that, I wondered, who spat out "You lie" as President Obama gave his speech on health care reform? Behind Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi grimaced in a mixed emotion of surprise and disgust. The President stopped for a moment, then continued. He never lost his composure.

I thought President Obama's speech that night was among the most statesman-like I have seen in my adult life by a U.S. President, especially given the divisive nature of the topic. Of course, many will not agree with me: basically everyone who didn't vote for him, didn't like him then and can't like him now: "I cannot, I will not recant."

However, even if you don't agree with everything President Obama says, you have to give him this: his statesmanship is undeniable. His September 9th televised speech was like watching an episode of The West Wing, a program I used to watch and think: I wish we had a President with this kind of intelligence and desire for fair play and looking out for the other bloke.

As an American, I have been washed and rinsed repeatedly for so long by political foolery about "the real America" versus "Eastern liberal elites," or government health care "death panels" and the like, that I forgot what other-oriented statesmanship might be like. I suspect I'm not alone.

On that Wednesday night, Rep. Joe Wilson (R - SC) appeared as the polar opposite of all that. His outburst was like vomit on the clean stage of civility. A drunk pan-caking a Humvee in a wilderness preserve. Joe Wilson displayed blatant disrespect for the office of the President, he was unprofessional, even childish, certainly mean. He obviously thought he could turn an esteemed chamber of our government into a town hall shouting match (a verbal rendition of Brooks caning Sumner on the Senate floor) ironically, the very thing Obama was calling an end to.

In comparison with President Obama's call for cooperation across party lines and civility in discourse, modeled by his own calm and rational demeanor, Joe Wilson looked liked a common rabble rouser, a rustic villager in a Frankenstein movie carrying a torch and a pitchfork: "Arrrgh! You lie! Kill the monster!"

Maybe our government could get more done in the way of meaningful change if there were fewer rabble rousers and more statesmen.

Refrigerator Etiquette

By Rattus Scribus© 11 Sept 2009

Like many teachers, I bring my lunch to work and put it in the faculty lounge refrigerator to keep it fresh. Now, a community fridge may be the last place to keep anything fresh. One day I went with the usual fear and trepidation to retrieve my lunch. I opened the fridge. My senses swooned. My sensibilities violated. "That's it," I thought. "We need some rules around here." I posted the following on the faculty bulletin board.

Refrigerator Etiquette:

• Remember to check your food every few months and consider donating it to science, or dumping it.

• If it's yours, you are responsible for it leaking, oozing, smelling, growing or moving. Please adopt it, or dump it.

• If it's yours and it colonizes, fuzzily, all the other foods in the fridge, please revoke its diplomatic status, and dump it.

• Finally, if a year or more should pass and your food should become a new species or gain self-awareness and cry "Zul" when you open the fridge, please call the Ghost Busters, or, here's a thought, dump it!