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September 1, 2009
Steel wire rope of the the German colliery &qu...

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This is part three of a series I started last week. (A tip of the hat to Kathleen McDade for inspiring the series)

Whenever we talk about humility and arrogance, there are two other values that come to mind: Trust and honesty. Without trust and honesty, it is hard for me to be humble. If you are honest, and I trust you, it is easier for me to be humble around you. When I am honest with myself, and I trust myself, it is easier to not be arrogant.

I’ve found that trusting others has a lot more to do with how I view myself, then it does with how they treat me. Of course, there’s the old adage, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” This implies that a) we can all be fooled; b) once you’ve been fooled by someone, don’t trust them; and c) learn from your mistakes. But I have another take on trust. Let me explain:

If I am strong in my understanding of myself, my values, my strengths, and my weaknesses, I’m less likely to be drawn into a scheme that will fool me. When I know myself, I’m not going to agree to anything that doesn’t fit within my core values. I’m also less likely to be fooled by someone who doesn’t have my best interests in mind. When I know my own strengths and weaknesses, it is easier to say yes to things I’m comfortable with, and no to the things that don’t fit me.

It’s when I don’t know myself that I am susceptible to being drawn into someone else’s scam. The saying goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” It isn’t chance, it is about being purposeful.

A roulette wheel.

Image via Wikipedia

When we are weak, or feel week and dis-empowered, we are likely to bend to the wishes and will of others. But after being burned two or three hundred times, we are likely to fall into that trap of not trusting anyone. How many women have you heard say, “All men are scum!” Or men say, “I don’t trust women.” Is this because men and women are inherently bad? Well, yes, 😉 but let me rephrase it. Are all men and women bad? No! Just some, who make bad choices.

But, if you know yourself, and carry yourself accordingly, you have little to fear. You’re not going to give into someone just because you are afraid not to. You know that no one can hurt you against your will. And you know that you choose your own reactions to how others behave.

[NOTE: This is not to discount random acts of violence that people do to one another. If you, or anyone you know has been randomly hurt by something beyond your control, I don’t want to negate that pain in anyway. Stuff happens – and I am sorry it happened to you or someone you know.]

Often, at least in my life, I put myself into situations where I am more likely to be hurt. I’ve been in a house with a drug dealer and his friends. Unfortunately I wasn’t there in an official capacity, so I didn’t have a lot of cops with guns to protect me. Situations like that can go awry, and I have been to the aftermath of those situations to treat the wounded and dying. My addictions led me to make poor choices, where I’m more likely to get hurt.

the face of emotional exhaustion (day 187)
Image by soartsyithurts via Flickr

I have hooked up with women who hurt me. Not because their hurtful behavior came out of space and randomly struck me. No, it had more to do with neither of us having a clue what we wanted out of the relationship, except immediate gratification. When the immediate was gratified, we ended up hurting one another. Not because we were evil, but because we were broken. Hurting people hurt others.

So often, instead of fixing our own insecurities and brokenness, we steel ourselves in a silo of cynicism and steel. We think that by isolating our hearts from the pain of the world, we can’t be hurt, but like the following quote explains, which a friend recently posted on Facebook, we often end up hurting ourselves more through that lack of trust:

Quoted from the book “Captivating: ‘To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do – to grit your teeth & clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest & worst – is, by that very act, to be unable… to let something be done for you & in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed.’ (The Sacred Journey)

Trust us, we're expert

Image by phauly via Flickr

The answer then, isn’t to quit trusting. But the trust has to start with yourself. If you don’t trust yourself, you can never trust others. For me, I couldn’t trust myself until I gave over my trust to a Higher Powerhowever you understand that. As my conscience, values, emotional IQ, and inner peace grew, it became easier to trust myself and the decisions I was capable of making. As I was able to trust myself, I had less of a need to be arrogant, or inflated. I had less to prove and more living to experience, within the bounds of reality.

Also, as I learned to trust myself, I had less of a need to distrust others. Really, unless I give them permission, they can’t hurt me.

It all boils down to dealing with my emotional baggage.

Next up in this series: honesty

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August 29, 2009
Photo by Glamhag

Photo by Glamhag

I can’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t been accused of being arrogant. From my perspective, except for a few years in my mid-20s, it has been an unfair label. As a kid, I was just a shy, introverted, somewhat nerdy, outcast. Being born with facial deformities doesn’t necessarily endear one to others. Kids don’t just ostracize, they are downright mean. Like most, I have no desire to repeat my childhood.

I was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palette. My surgeon told my parents that it was one of the worst he’d seen, and he should know – Dr. Verner V. Lindgren was one of the finest facial plastic surgeons in the country.  We were fortunate that he worked out of OHSU in Portland. I had my first surgery within weeks of my birth, and several more during the rest of my life.  Although, as a kid, I didn’t see anything abnormal about all this. My parents and family loved me deeply, and I lived a rich life – at least until the age of five.

I remember being at the local school with my best friend Phillip Long. We were on our bikes when four older boys approached us and started asking me about my lip and nose.  At first it was friendly banter, but soon it turned into teasing, ridicule, and outright bullying.  Phillip and I were both caught off-guard.  We both stood there in fear as they called me “flat-nose” and other assorted names.  That afternoon was a turning point in my life.  For the first time, I knew I was different.  I pulled back and withdrew from others.

“Some people have scars on the inside, and some have scars on the outside. We all have scars.” ~my parents

Kids are cruel towards those who are different.  When they get a reaction, they are like sharks who smell blood.  The more the teased, or bullied, withdraw, cry, or react with anger, the more the other kids pile on.  I learned to live a life where I knew I would be picked last in sports, where other kids would go out of their way to not be seen near me, and where they made a huge scene if they had to work on a project with me.  I was “unclean.” I remember whole classrooms ganging up to make sure I was the loser in a game.  It wasn’t just my imagination, there really was nothing done about bullying in the 60s.

By the time I entered high school, I had come to expect that girls wouldn’t want to be my friend – let alone “like” me. I learned to entertain myself and avoid situations where I would be rejected.  Actually, if it wasn’t for my brothermy one true childhood friend – I may not have learned what friendship was.  He is one person in my life who truly doesn’t see the defect, but just sees me.  I will be forever grateful for him in my life.

Bilateral Cleft Baby Crying Before Surgery

Image by interplast via Flickr

But it was also in my teen years that I first began to hear the aloof and arrogant labels from others. I didn’t really understand the criticism, and I didn’t really spend much time dwelling on it then – I was just trying to survive.  Later in life, however, I began to understand where those labels came from.

Because I had learned to withdraw and be self-sufficient, emotionally, and socially, people saw me as aloof – which simply means to be “removed or distant either physically or emotionally.”  That I was – distant, and removed – I mean.  But I wasn’t arrogant.  I didn’t see myself as “exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner.”  I was just avoiding danger – emotional danger.  There is a big difference – but sometimes people confuse the two terms.

After a failed marriage and painful divorce, I attempted my first reinvention of myself.  I decided that the shy, withdrawn, nerdy, socially-awkward me wasn’t working.  Life was not working out the way I thought it would, so I knew I had to make some changes.  So, without fanfare, but with much gusto, I charged ahead towards the new me.  And, I have to admit, it was fun for awhile.

I remember walking into the day room of the fire station I worked at. Well, it was more of a strut really.  As far as I was concerned, I believed I had the world by the balls. I’d like to say that I found a good balance between timidity and arrogance – but that would be revisionist history.  I’d like to say that I achieved self-discovery and healing.  I’d like to say, that I chose good tools to achieve good mental health, but that too would be a lie.  I had become what people had labeled me.  I was arrogant and cocky.

There’s something about working in a male-dominated environment that encourages this too. A fire officer that I knew once suggested that the way to be successful in the fire service was to become an “a**hole.”  I took his advice, but being the overachiever that I am, I wanted to be the best. And this one afternoon, as I strutted into the day room, one of my co-workers jumped up from his chair and gave it to me.  Lacking any humility, or decency, or self-respect, I took the chair.  Yep, I had arrived.  I was officially an asshole jerk!

I wish I could say this was an isolated case, but that too would be a lie.  I had gone from one extreme to the other.

“I know there’s a balance, ‘cuz I see it when I swing past.” ~John Mellencamp

Sometimes it seems like we just swing from one extreme to the other. Like the pendulum, we swing, without ever stopping at that balance point of stability. Through therapy, self-medication, and thoughtful introspection – guided by some great books – I came to see myself as no more inferior than the next guy.  In fact, the emotional scars were deeper than the surgery scars, and I was learning to let those go.  As Confucius once said, “To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.” So, I began to let go. I began to forgive.

More therapy and less self-medication would have been good. More thoughtful meditation and prayer would have been helpful too.  I do have to admit that there was some self-satisfaction in being the big dog.  The uniform, the attitude, and being really good at my job – it was a nice change from who I used to be.  But it wears pretty thin after awhile.  Like the definition says above, arrogance is just an “exaggeration of one’s self worth or importance, in an overbearing way.”

Photo by Steve Wilhelm

Photo by Steve Wilhelm

I’ve spent the last 20+ years trying to unlearn some of that arrogance. In the process, I’ve learned to be confident, self-assured, and socially aware. After a few more reinventions, I’ve learned how to be assertive, without being aggressive.  I’m still a little nerdy, and geeky, if the truth were known, but I’ve learned to downplay that in social situations.  Like most, I still have my moments of self-doubt and emotional withdrawal, but for the most part, I deal with that pretty well too.  I am driven, and I like to be right, so I still get labeled as arrogant now and then.  But I’ve learned to let go of the name-calling and bullying.

I can’t let other people’s labels influence my self-awareness, direction, or vision.  Those have to be guided by an internal moral compass.  That isn’t to say that I don’t pay attention to people’s comments.  Who can’t learn from what others say about us?  But I don’t let that influence my core values or set me on a path of self-loathing, introversionor to the other extreme, cocky self-importance.

Finding the balance, that is key.  I can’t do it on my own.  My pendulum would continue to swing from one crazy extreme to the other if it weren’t for gravity.  Gravity, at the center of my life, causes my internal pendulum to swing less wildly, and without the extremes of my youth.  The more I let that gravity have influence in my life, the more my pendulum finds a better center of balance.

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August 23, 2009

As a paramedic, one of the first things we would do in the morning is go through the rig and make sure all the equipment was in working order and the supplies were stocked.  As one who made the front page of both The Oregonian and the Oregon Journal because of a preventable equipment malfunction, I was always very serious about these morning checks.  One might say, I was a bit zealous in fact.

Matthews Alive: Jaws of Life
Image by Andy Ciordia via Flickr

I was so driven to do the right thing, that I often acted as if I were the only one who was right. One of my colleagues  shared an insight with me once, saying: “Your problem is that you are very task-oriented, while others are more relationship-focused.”  It was wise insight, that took me years to understand.  It wasn’t that I saw others as stupid, as much asI was driven to do the right thing.  I often didn’t see that others were that zealous – and that disturbed me.

Many people are concerned with doing things right, but I am more driven by the ideal of doing the right thing. Sometimes, doing things right appears to be best – but if doing good things right, prevents us from doing great things, then I’m going to speak up and urge others to do the right thing.  In other words, I’m not a fan of rearranging the deck chairs on the deck of the Titanic – I’m more in favor of getting a lot of people into the life boats.

So, back to the morning checks of the fire rescue rig. Every morning, I would go through the rig, top to bottom, front to back, inside-out.  I’d make sure there was  fuel in the Jaws-of-life, IV catheters in the medical kit, and fresh batteries in the heart monitor/defibrillator (which was the cause of the earlier mentioned media incident).  One thing that bothered me was the way Read more…

Close Encounters: What are you doing doctor?

August 20, 2009
Health care for all protest outside health ins...
Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

As we prepare to lose our health insurance benefits, we are rushing to complete various procedures that would be expensive without the insurance. As if the colonoscopy wasn’t invasive enough, today I’m going in to have a vasectomy.  Yes, the mere sound of that word send chills down my spine.  I’ve been manning up for the past several weeks as I prepared for this day – and I was doing fine, until I watched this video [WARNING: DangerThis should not be viewed by the squeamish.

I’ve read the research, considered it for years, and together my wife and I decided this would be the best choice. As a Dad, a father, a husband, and a leader – it is my responsibility to step up and do the right thing.  I know how much mental and physical capacity I have.  I know that it takes just about all I have to live my current life.  I know my love would multiply through more kids, but The Wife and I have decided, that we like our family enough to make choices to maintain our sanity.

As I tried to explain this to my Darling Daughter this morning, in my best 4 1/2 year old verbiage, her first and only question – which has been foremost on her mind  for awhile – was: “But Daddy, I want a baby sister!

Here are a couple of links for your reading pleasure:

That’s really all I have to say about that.  I plan on laying low  for the next couple of days.  Your thoughts and prayers would be appreciated – and I’ll give you a follow up later.

By the way, I agree with our PresidentWe, as a  community – a country, have a moral obligation to provide quality health care for everyone.

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Oh Death, it Stings

August 19, 2009
Oregon State Police Photo

Oregon State Police Photo

There is nothing quite so final as death.  Having spent most of my adult life in EMS, I’ve seen too much of it.  I’d like to say that I’m numb to it’s wake, but on the contrary, it still hits me hard – sometimes more than others.

I don’t know what it is exactly, but even in the most obscure ways, other people’s deaths can reach out and grab us.  Other times, not so much.

As a paramedic, I would often return to the scene of fatal motor vehicle collisions – off-duty – to help process the event that occurred there. I think it has to do with my sense of empathy, I just had to process through the pain, the fear, the panic – the finality of the event.

A few days ago, four teens were killed on their way to the Oregon Coast. I don’t know them, personally, but I feel as if their lives have touched mine.  Reading the accounts of the accident brought to mind too many memories of the past.  Yesterday I drove to the scene where these four kids were killed.  There stood four white crosses with their names; and some flowers.

It was almost 30 years ago that I responded to the worst tragedy of my career. Four teens were driving in Portland‘s Washington Park, when they lost control of their car and hit a tree – a very large fir tree.  In the car were two brothers and two sisters – a double date.  The two older teens were killed instantly, but it took us well over an hour to extricate the younger siblings from the back seat.

It was a very complicated rescue that involved some very specialized equipment. I was in constant contact with the 17 year old girl through the whole endeavor.  I not only supported her body weight, but the emotional toll as she had to see us remove her now dead, and traumatically mangled, sister from the front seat.  I lost a little bit of my soul that night.

The Oregon coastline looking south from Ecola ...
Image via Wikipedia

Thirty years ago, my brother was the age of those kids in the Washington Park fatality. Now, my first nephew is the age of the kids that were killed just west of Clatskanie.  Sometimes, the images burned into my brain are just too deep to ignore.

I grieve for the families who lost their kids this weekend.  I grieve for the families who will lose loved ones in the future.

There is a cost for our auto-centric lifestyle, but sometimes we don’t realize it until it touches us personally.

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Ambient Intimacy

August 14, 2009
Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

I first heard this term a couple of months. It immediately resonated with me, and without even reading this article, I knew what it was about. If you haven’t heard the term, and you’re not a big fan of social-networking, I’d encourage you to go read this post before reading any further.

It’s OK, I’ll wait…..  Ambient Intimacy

If you’re really hungry for more, here is an excellent follow-up post: Reboot 9.0 – Ambient Intimacy

The video above became our theme as we built a start-up organization in Colorado a few years ago.  With limited resources, limited volunteers, and not enough leadership, we really were building our plane while we flew it.  It was an amazing experience – exhausting – but amazing.

Photo by David Boudreau

Photo by David Boudreau

A couple of days ago, while browsing for a video on YouTube, I stumbled across this old favorite.  It made me think about careers, social-networking, friends, and family.  Those of you who know me, know that new ideas and new technology excite me.  When my budget allows, I am the consummate early adopter.  I don’t usually have a lot of friends, but I make friends for life.  It is very hard for me to walk away from friendships – whether dictated by time, geography, or circumstances – my dear friends are never far from my heart (even if I haven’t spoken with them in ages).

Because I am not very sanguine, and more than a little introverted, most people don’t know how special my friends are to me. I rarely express these emotions.  (I also get choked up and a little teary at sad and sappy movies, but that’s another story for another day)  To make a long story short, my family moved a lot when I was a kid, and I’ve lived in five different states over the last 15 years.

There are pieces of my heart spread all over the country.

Much has been written about Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and a host of other great social-networking sites. Let me summarize: These are tools.  They are the medium for communication in a new age.  Long after the  invention of mail, the telegraph and telephone, we now have email and a host of other media for us to connect with one another.  It’s not perfect, but then again, neither is our  society and culture.  There is a lot to be said for living in small, rural villages – when three or four generations shared the same household, one’s extended family lived within walking distance, and everyone was interdependent on their neighbors.

Today’s society is very different than it used to be. The town square and local church do not hold their place in society they once did.  We are no longer dependent on our neighbors for our survival, nor are they dependent on us.  Nuclear families are drastically different than even 40-50 years ago, and rarely will you find multi-generational households.  In fact, extended families are often living far away from each other – we build families where we live, based on personal selection, not biology.

This is where tools like Facebook are proved to be valuable. As the author of the post above so eloquently states, no, it’s not important to hear what you had for breakfast, or that your kids are being unruly today, but as I follow your life from a distance, there is a certain intimacy that is regained in our relationship.  Ambient, yes, but intimate nonetheless.

Over the last year or so that I have been involved on Facebook, I have reconnected with dozens of friends that I haven’t seen in awhile. I generally know how they are doing – more so than I did last year.  Yes, following their posts online is not as good  as a nice two-hour phone call, but who has time for that (which is probably why we never call)?  That two-hour phone call isn’t as good as a weekend visit either – and neither of those will ever replace the times we worked or lived side-by-side – back in the day!  Still, we remain connected.

Photo by Marco Bernardini

Photo by Marco Bernardini

Yesterday, two friends posted something on Facebook that made me sit up and take notice. One of those friends I barely know in real life. In fact, our friendship has grown during our interactions online.  Because of that  friendship, because I follow his life from afar, I was able to send a brief note of encouragement.  My other friend, whom I’ve also not spoken to in ages, was definitely experiencing some life-changing issues.  I sent him a note, he emailed back, and this morning we spoke on the phone.  And because of our constant contact online, our phone call immediately went deep and real.  But without the medium of online social media, I would have missed out on a couple of significant connections.

When I surf through posts on Facebook, when I read your tweets on Twitter, and when I browse you photos on Flickr, or Picasa, I am connecting with you. It is real, it is interactive, and it is personal.  When I read your blog post about your dog eating rat poison, and then you mistakenly give him ipecac, I empathize – whether I respond or not.  When we get together, and I ask you, “How’s it going?” We don’t have to talk about your dog, the Canadian vacation you just took, or the book your editing – in the Queen’s English no less!

Instead, we can talk about how you’re really doing.

Photo by Christian Guthier

Photo by Christian Guthier

Yes, it’s only ambient – but it is still intimate. If that’s all  we can get, that’s fine.  It’s better than nothing.  Besides, we’re still building this plane, none of us really have it figured out.  At least it’s still in the air.  Let’s keep building and working on it.  Share your tricks and tips with me, and I’ll share with you.  (Twitter has a bunch of cool third-party tools that make it manageable, and Facebook has some really nifty  filters and tricks to make it really easy  to keep track of your folks.)

A couple of months ago I found a childhood friend on Facebook. Her family was really close to ours when we were growing up. My first crush was on her sister – who was also my first kiss.  They used to live on SE Yamhill St, around the block  from us, near Mt. Tabor.  It was really fun to “friend” her, catch-up a little, see photos of her kids, etc.  In fact, my heart skipped a little beat when I first saw her photo.  “The melancholy runs deep in this one,” Obiwan once said.  A month or two later, I connected with her sister, we exchanged a couple of messages, and then we moved on.  It was just nice.

It is nice to know that someone who is a part of you, a part of your past, a  part of your history, and a significant part of your coming of age – well, it’s just nice to know that they are alive and well. This is why I like the ambient intimacy of social-networking.  (Even if we are still trying to build it, at least it’s flying!)

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My Little Sweetheart

August 10, 2009

This is why I seek balance, maturity, and health – it’s for my kids.  I couldn’t say it any better.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “My Darling Daughter“,

Although my Darling Daughter was born four and a half years ago, it’s only been in the last three that I’ve really started to get my act together and not be such a workaholic.  It remains a struggle, but I know the price if I don’t invest my quality time in my family.

Here is a link to the original music video and the story behind the video.