You’re ‘Fooling’ Yourself

February 10th, 2009

To borrow the literary (spoken word?) device from Jeff Foxworthy, here are some ways to know that you’re making a fool out of yourself. NOTE: these aren’t slipping on ice while someone is looking on, or losing a piece of clothing in a public place or even an R-rates slip-up in a big speech. These are 100%, bona fide, there’s-no-doubt-about-it “making an absolute fool out of yourself” situations.

When you’re in a circle of people (dinner table, around the bar, corner of the function room), and you’re the only one talking, you might be making a fool out of yourself.

Talking too much is never a good idea. No matter how good what you have to say is, other people probably don’t share your enthusiasm. Instead of carrying on, ask leading questions.

When you’re complaining about an inconvenience or a set of circumstances that you’re not too happy with to somebody who isn’t a close friend, you’re probably making a fool out of yourself.

Your house burning down or loosing a limb is not what I’m talking about. Those are tragedies. What I’m talking about is the post office closing 2 minutes before you got there, or not having enough aprons at the kitchen where you’re volunteering. A bystander has much better things to do than listen to you describe how awful it is that the ATM doesn’t work or that the waiter hasn’t cleaned off the table yet. “A close friend” exception is there because, presumably, a) s/he probably knows enough about you to let this one slide and b) s/he will tell you when you’re being a whiner or acting like a spoiled brat.

When you rev your engine and try to do something showy with your car – take a sharp corner, drift through a curve, take somebody off the line – in front of on-lookers or other drivers, there’s a very high chance that you’re making a fool out of yourself.

Speeding tickets are expensive and concrete curbs hurt a lot. Save stunt driving for empty parking lots or race tracks. Seriously.

Whenever you write an angry email, leave a ranting voicemail, or complain vociferously about someone’s words, actions or personality, you’re very likely making a fool out of yourself.

No matter how good you think your intel is, you probably don’t know the whole story. You just don’t. Trust me. When something that seemed like a sure bet, something that you had completely figured out proves to be completely untrue, and the person ‘at fault’ turns out to have been right all along, you will be one red-faced fool.

Say it with me: am I talking too much? Am I acting like a spoiled brat? I better not. I probably don’t know the whole story. Repeat these to yourself when your spider-sense starts tingling, and you might just save yourself some serious embarrassment.

And lastly, in the interest of full disclosure, if you still haven’t guessed, most of these examples are personal ones. Hopefully, having others learn from my mistakes makes up for me being a buffoon oh, so many, many times. 😉

Society at crossroads

February 8th, 2009

On this blog, I hope to stay away from commenting on current events, because a) there are enough blogs, 24-hour news networks and radio talk shows that do this already and b) it’s reactive and almost welcomes arriving at incorrect conclusions. I would much rather focus on underlying truths and realities, and exploration of principles that can be applied to many different situations.

Nevertheless, the American society is at a cross-roads today, as Carl points out in The Great Reset. The way we have been living (spending more than we earn, ever-increasing demand for luxury items, skyrocketing standards of living, increasing house sizes, etc., etc.) is simply not sustainable. People have been warning us about this, but the sound of the alarm was drowned out by TV/radio/Internet/billboard/print commercials. Then, 2008 happened. And now, in 2009, everyone, including the President, is telling us that this year will be just as bad, if not worse, as 2008.

The silver lining in all of this is that frugality, spending less than you earn, actually SAVING money are making a comeback. But the marketing departments have done such a good job in the last 2 decades that coming back to a sustainable way of life is not a sure bet. That’s why our society is at a cross-roads. Will we stop paying attention to ads, and stop filling our houses with stuff we don’t need? Will we start putting aside a significant amount of money for rainy days or retirement? Will we stop buying what we cannot afford (i.e. putting it on the credit card)?

It’s hard for me to say “I hope so, and I hope 2009 is so hard for the people of America, that the ridiculous lifestyle inflation is dealt a fatal blow,” because I’m not suffering the consequences of the economic downturn. I have a fairly secure job, and I can make the house payment. The thousands who have been laid off in the past weeks don’t have the same luxury. But, hard as it may be, I really do hope so.

I hope 2009 is a huge wake up call to everyone who thought that you can keep buying bigger and better things, and you can do it NOW, without waiting, without having to work hard for it. I hope that in 10 or 20 years, the end of the first decade of the 21 century is seen as a turning point for America, where wrong decisions are admitted to, and corrective steps are taken. When a new era of common-sense and ‘pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps’ attitude is ushered in. When entitlement finally gets flushed out of our systems.

It will be excruciatingly hard, though. As people who work with kids know, it’s one thing to train up a child, and it’s another thing to train up a child who has been spoiled rotten.

One word to rule them all

December 15th, 2008

If I had to state my philosophy in 7 letters or less, I’d say “balance.” Why? Because for literally years, I’ve been noticing that virtually any part of life – relationships with family and friends, work, politics, entertainment, exercise, arts, eating, leadership, etc., etc. – requires a balance.

image by obc :)

image by obc :)

An immediate disclaimer: certain absolutes are excluded. I am not claiming, for example, that one needs to establish a balance between good and evil, or that balance is needed between believing in absolute truths and being a relativist. Rather, a discussion of balance can only be “built on” or added onto a worldview “foundation.” Although I can’t articulate the specific reasons for this, I’m sure the whole concept would disintegrate into nothingness, if a “worldview foundation” wasn’t stipulated.

Now that we’ve dodged that bullet, next order of business: instead of taking 3 pages to elaborate on all the examples, over the coming weeks, I will put up a series of smaller posts, each one dealing with 1-2 examples of how balance is important to achieve and maintain.

Who gets your vote of confidence?

November 28th, 2008

I always enjoy finding something in the Old Testament that’s relevant to today. Gives a kind of coherence to the thousands of years of mankind’s history. In recent weeks, I’ve run across a couple of passages from Isaiah that address, imho, to the current political landscape.

First, a passage quoted in Scripture Union‘s Encounter With God included this verse:

Isaiah 9:20
On the right they will devour,
but still be hungry;
on the left they will eat,
but not be satisfied.

I made a joke to a friend about how Isaiah was up to date on the 21st century American politics, and left it at that. However, several days later, another Encounter With God arrived, discussing Isaiah 25:1-12. The Meditate part of the email included this paragraph:

Israel in the eight century BC needed a “refuge from the storm” of Assyria, and would need even more a refuge from the storm of Babylon in the sixth century. Throughout her history, this small country was caught up in the rivalry of the superpowers of her day, Egypt and Mesopotamia, at the mercy of whoever controlled the trade routes along the fertile crescent and inland from the Mediterranean coastline. When she trusted in God, she was protected, but when she played a political game of alliances and military strategy, she was swallowed up in the defeat of the weaker side. Losing sight of the covenant relationship with God as King of Israel, and trusting in human kings to fight battles, form alliances and unite the people, led inevitably to defeat, humiliation, exile and, worst of all, apostasy. Abandoning faith in God led to ruin.

Doesn’t this speak to the faith we tend to put in our political parties or the allegiances we declare to individual politicians? Or, inversely, the concerns and worries we entertain when the people from the other side of the aisle win on Election Tuesday? I think it’s pretty safe to say that we take some of the attention that belongs to God and give it to the government, instead.

That’s not to say that involvement in the political process is a waste of time – more on that later. But when it comes to celebrating your candidate’s victory or mourning his/her loss, it’s good to step back and remember that the politicians’ impact on your life is incredibly infintesimal, compared to that of God. So, with the historic 2008 elections behind us, let’s remember that while some posts have been decided for the next 2, 4 or 6 years, our eternal souls will outlast any political term, and what happens with them is a lot more important than what happens in Washington, D.C.

When the Dart Hits the Bullseye

November 19th, 2008

Sometimes, out of nowhere, somebody will say something that will make you upset, very upset.  It could be something as innocent as “Haven’t you been planning to paint this room?” or “Hey, you must have woken up to a different clock this morning!” or “Nice getup! What happened?” This could be a loved one, a friend, a coworker or even a passer-by.  And for some reason, the comment feels like a stab and sticks with you for some time; it just really gets to you.  You just don’t get why they had so say it; you don’t let go of it; it might even put a strain on your relationship with that person.

image by FadderUri

image by FadderUri

All this time, your thoughts are brewing and going through a range of emotions, from feeling misunderstood – “How could s/he say that?  Doesn’t s/he know how busy I am?” – to counter-attacking – “Oh yeah?  Well, we’ll see who’s on time to the meeting next week!  As a matter of fact, maybe I should follow him around and see how many of his meetings he’s late to!”

Think of an instance like that, when you were on a receiving side of a scathing comment.  Think of the author.  Is this person mean-spirited in general?  Does this person harbor any ill will towards you?  Was this person lashing out at you, for whatever reason?  If you can’t answer with a resounding yes to these questions, then it’s quite possible that you took the comment in the wrong way or it sounded a lot worse than it was meant to.

Now, misunderstanding is very much a part of life, and will be there so long as two or more people are interacting with one another.  What I’d like to get at is why the comment was so upsetting to you.  The likelihood is that you felt hurt, misunderstood and maybe even bitter because that comment touched a raw nerve or pointed out a flaw and you became defensive.  We don’t like it when our flaws are pointed out to us.  We’re not happy when a topic that we struggle with is broached, especially if our shortcomings/failures/inconsistencies could be exposed.

Maybe you are taken aback by the comment on your early arrival because you know that you’re late quite often.  Or you feel a little too much sting, when a comment is made about the the noises your car makes because you know you should be taking better care of it.  Or you are inclined to tell your classmates it’s none of their business, when they ask about the latest paper – the one you’ve been dragging your feet on.

So, the next time a friend or a relative unwittingly throws a dart and hits the bullseye, before you get upset or strike back, think about why the dart hurt – maybe there’s something you need to work on?

Counterintuitives: It’s all about you

November 13th, 2008
image by Heidi & Matt

image by Heidi & Matt

What you do in life affects you more than anyone else. So, while it isn’t really all about you – see Biggie #3 – your actions don’t nearly have the same impact on others as they do on you.

Say there’s a classmate, a co-worker, or just somebody in your social circle whose words or actions make him or her not very popular.  The bad rap might be well deserved, that’s for sure.  But every time you ostracize that person – even if you’re fully justified – you are not being kind to another human being.

Say you roll through a stop sign at an empty intersection.  It’s largely a technicality, right?  Nobody was there, anyway.  Well, that’s true, but what happens is that now, you’re a tiny bit more desensitized to that stop sign and to all stop signs, in general.  So, when the same intersection is busy, will you brake hard enough and early enough to not cause other drivers to worry?

OK, what about something as harmless as filling our a survey?  The interviewer (or, alternatively, is pestering you, and you’re in a rush, anyhow, and really, who cares?  They must know that half the results can be thrown out, because some people give random/false answers.  So, you decide that for today, you’re Pieter van den Hoogenband and make over $150,000, since you’re a big-wig at Vandelay Industries. The interviewer or surverymonkey still get paid, so nobody’s hurt, right? That’s true, and most people would categorize this as harmless fun.  But the fact remains that you were dishonest (even if comically), and now the needle between truth and lie has crept a bit towards the center.

These situations are harmless to others, but not so to you.  the classmate/co-worker and you will part ways, the intersection will get a traffic light, and the survey results will be forgotten.  The three choices that you made, however, will be added to the long list of choices that shape you as a person.  What kind of a person do you want to be?

The Biggies

October 29th, 2008

Here’s a living post that I will add to, from time to time – don’t worry about getting an updated version all the time, I’ll keep linking to it.  It’s a list of life’s biggies, in my humble opinion:

Biggie #1: Life is about balance.

Biggie #2: Most important things in life are difficult.

Biggie #3: Most of life is about other people (but don’t forget about Biggie #1).

Slowly but surely, I will elaborate on each of the Biggies.  Stay tuned.

Is she the one?

October 17th, 2008

A young gentleman asked (through a public Christian forum): “how do I know this girl I really like is the one?”  To help him answer that question, I came up with a 5-question ‘quiz,’ based on marriage literature (books by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, and other authors), various online resources (Family Life, Marriage, etc.) and other sources of information.

This targets guys, but could be useful to girls, as well.  So, if you’re wondering if you’re ready to do this thing called marriage, answer the following questions:

  1. are you guys old enough to be married now or within the next couple of years? will you be able to stand on your own two feet, and support yourselves as a family?if yes, proceed, if no, stop. it doesn’t matter if she’s the one – there’s nothing you can do about it for now.
  2. are you a God-fearing man, living for His glory? do you know what you’re doing in life and where you’re going?if yes, proceed; if no (to either of the questions), stop. you first need to figure out yourself, and how to live a purposeful, God-glorifying life. if you don’t have an identity of your own, if you don’t have self-awareness, and you jump into a serious relationship, you will ruin the girl’s life.  and no young woman deserves somebody who’s going to be dead weight.
  3. are you ready to give up your interests and your comforts? change your habits, how you spend your free time, and how you spend your money? are you ready to sacrificially love her, by yielding to her needs and wants?if yes, proceed; if no, stop. you are not ready for a serious relationship until the need for companionship (which God put into your heart) becomes greater than the need to be in full control of you time, money, and all decision-making.
  4. is she a Godly young woman? does she love and serve God, and is God’s regenerative work evident in her life?if yes, proceed; if no, stop.  it’s not going to work, if the two of you aren’t living for the same overarching purpose.
  5. does she make you a better person? do her actions/words or just here mere existence call you to be more holy, more honorable, more dedicated as a worker, more responsible as a future leader of a family, more devoted as a friend, more of a thinker/ponderer?if yes, proceed; if no, stop. if she doesn’t make you a better person, you’re looking at marrying down. within the first 3 years of marriage, the infatuation will fade, the rosy glasses will melt off, and you’ll realize that you have to spend the rest of your life with somebody dragging you down, instead of spurring you on.

so, let’s recap: if you’ve gotten all the way down here, you’re old enough and mature enough to support and lead a family; you’re not a dead weight, and there’s a good chance you will NOT be a man who leads a life of quiet desperation, while his wife tries to do something, anything, to get him to show some interest in being a leader of the family.  it also looks like you found a wonderful girl who can become a wonderful wife.  final question:

are you willing to be wrong for the rest of your life?

if yes, things are looking very good, indeed. if no, forget about ever getting married.

ok, so maybe that wasn’t a fair question. i’m sure that throughout mankind’s history, out of hundreds of millions of marriages and out of billions and billions of arguments, there was at least 1 time where a husband was right. there has to be, right? right??

concluding remarks: notice, no question about whether she and you are exactly alike, or, on the flip side, exactly opposite. there are plenty of happily-married people who are complete opposites and plenty of happily-married couples who might as well be twins. notice, no questions about your and her families. they are secondary to the life that you will build together. some in-laws are harder to get along with, but, hopefully, you’re not marrying her for the in-laws. notice, no questions about how many children she wants to have, who wants to live in the city and who wants to live in the country, and definitely no questions about the color of the wedding invitations.  all of that stuff is secondary. if you are ready for married life, if she is ready for married life, if the two of you will make each other better and can become best friends and soul mates, and if both of you know that this life is not all there is, but just the beginning, then you’ve got a good foundation to start on.

just remember that marriage (just like love) is not a state of being, it is action – a deliberate, difficult, day-in-day-out working out of sacrificial love towards your spouse.

The Why

October 6th, 2008

This blog started with an epiphany of sorts: I was staring at the lunar eclipse, and reflecting on how strange it was that the stars were lining up behind one another, when a gust of wind brought to my ears what seemed to be a thousand voices whispering “obc… obc…. obc……” and just then a small, decrepit, very sage-looking man emerged from the shadows, pointed at me with his crooked finger and, in a frail but determined voice said “you… must… blog…”  Then he just vanished into thin air.  So, pretty much, how all the blogs get started, right?

More seriously, though,  I had been thinking of starting a blog for quite some time (for reasons outlined in the first post and on the About page.  But for about a year, it seemed like a good idea, not something that I really wanted or even needed to do.

I have been reading blogs on self-improvement,  personal finance, and goals for almost three years now, took the first Men’s Fraternity course twice, and have generally been filling my head with thoughts and ideas that I wish I thought about much earlier.  The concepts of setting goals and living purposefully kept emerging as the front runners from all of these channels of information.  “What do you want to do, and how are you going to do it?” seemed to be the question everyone was asking.

I’d like to think that my mind is a shiny, lighting-fast Athlon X2, but it seems that many processes are being handled by a 486.  In other words, I needed to absorb a lot of information, and digested all of it very slowly.  But, one fine day, things finally clicked.

On a rainy, overcast Sunday morning, driving on mostly empty roads, I suddenly found myself facing a series of questions. “What am I passionate about?”, “What central idea does my life revolve around?”, “What brings me true satisfaction?”, and “What is my life’s purpose?”  Even six months earlier, I would have shrunk from questions like that, or wouldn’t have asked them in the first place.  But not that morning.  That morning, I was reminded of a quote by John MacArthur: “integrity is when every part of your life matches all the other parts.” So, as the question fluttered about in my head, I kept searching for something unifying or universal.  “How should my life be defined, and what do I want to be remembered for?”  Finally, it hit me: “helping people.”  This was my calling, my purpose and my livelihood.  The concept seemed to match well to all parts of my life, and it was a concept that I WANTED to be in every part of my life.

Helping my own family, by providing and taking care of it.  Helping my siblings and parents in their lives.  Helping people I work with, by doing my job well and making their’s easier.  Helping my friends and my church with my time and resources.  Helping random people, if I can.  Potentially helping people by putting down thoughts and observations about life and publishing it to whoever wants to read.  Pretty much helping in any way I can.  So, that’s what I’m going to do, and that’s why I’m hoping to regularly contribute to this blog.

Well, now that I’ve sucked all the air out of the room with my self-importance, this takes care of my “me” posts quota for the next 12 months.  See you in October 2009!  😉

To start things off…

July 26th, 2008

If there’s one thing this world is missing, it’s people expressing their opinions through an easily accessible medium. There’s just not enough noise out there, you know? To do my part in alleviating the problem, I’m starting this blog.

The What

About page provides basic background, and I will reiterate and expand on it here: my somewhat unique set of circumstances and a multitude of missteps has given me a perspective on life that I want to share, even as I continue learning about it and making (and sometimes repeating) mistakes.  Specifically, my “qualifications” are as follows:

  • Have been giving advice for 25 years or so
  • Didn’t learn about life in USA from my parents (immigrants), so I’ve had to learn it on my own
  • Authored many “don’t do what I did” scenarios :)

So, my plan is to harvest these experiences, rinse off the specifics, and, hopefully, get little gems of universally applicable wisdom out of them. With a little nugget of an action item thrown in here and there.

The Why

Still, any thinking person can draw from his or her experience, share it with company, finish the cup of coffee and call it a night. Why put this up on the world wide web? For several reasons:

  • I have gained greatly from blogs in the last few years (especially good ones will find their way into the blogroll), and like the medium as a means of information transfer
  • It’s an easy way for me to share about life with my younger siblings, because the “conversation” is at-will – nobody’s eyes have to glaze over, as I launch into yet another very serious lecture about “what life is all about.”
  • Hopefully, a few more people out there will find this stuff useful, or, at least, thought-provoking

I’ll write more about the purpose and planned content of Older Brother Complex later on; for now, I’ve dipped my toes in the water, and it feels pretty wet.