Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 2011: I Didn’t Get the Memo

Last year some time, I used the word Oriental in referring to someone from, well, one of the countries of the Orient.  A friend quietly pulled me aside and told me in a polite, helpful, and instructive way that Oriental is considered offensive and the proper term to use these days is Asian.  I was glad to hear this as I had no intention, whatsoever, of being offensive.   I was also completely unaware of this change.  I never got the memo.
I wrote in a blog piece recently about gay marriage and kind of did a logical extension that if gay marriages are now cool, why not polygamy?  In that piece, I wrote “The majority, not all that long ago considered it [gay marriage] an abomination against God.  Now?  It is not.  Whoever decides what God thinks simply changed their view.”  I never got that God changed His mind memo either.  
Maybe I don’t get the religious memos because I am some kind of heretic, the kind of sacrilegious soul who believes that God is probably very consistent and it is men that change their view of what God says to suit their own social and political agendas.  Gee, if I were them, I would not be sending me any memos either.  Maybe I just don’t like the idea of people telling me what God thinks when telling me such is strictly for their own benefit.
I was debating whether to actually write about this not getting the memo idea, after all, it is just a slogan.  Is the phrase that popular, is it important, would anyone actually care to read about it?  Then two days ago, I was walking to a meeting with two IT guys.  One of them, Tom, told me, “I guess you didn’t get the memo.”  I was marveling at the sign from the aforementioned divine giving me the green light on this month’s letter topic so much, that I had no clue what Tom was talking about.  He pointed out that we were all wearing brown slacks and wearing sweater vests.  Their vests were navy blue.  Mine was maroon.  In this case, I got neither the memo nor the innuendo.
When Facebook was first becoming popular, my children were in high school and college.   When people my age were just starting to sign on and inviting me to do so, I asked both children what they thought about me joining Facebook.   Aram and Armene both sent me very clear memos stating that it was unacceptable for me to join.  My son went on to say that if I joined he would be obliged to terminate his account.  OK, that was pretty clear.  I had no problem complying as Facebook was truly the realm of the young back then.  Since then, Facebook has gone main-stream to become the primary social interaction site for many people threatening to make social email addresses obsolete.  Facebook has become a primary internet marketing vehicle for many businesses.  I guess it is OK for me to sign up now.  My kids, however, never sent me that memo giving me the green light.  If they did, I never got it.
I recently took a trip to New Jersey.  As I went by plane, I had the opportunity to go through security and experience, once again, the joys of that experience.  My routine is to be prepared by putting all metal objects in my briefcase keeping only my ID and boarding pass.  I placed everything on the conveyor for inspection.  As I was about to go through the metal detector, I took out my boarding pass to show to the agent.  On the outbound flight, the lady told me “we no longer require you to show your boarding pass at this point.”  I replied “Thank you” and thought “hmmm... I did not get that memo.”  On the return flight, I put the boarding pass in my briefcase.  At the same point, the agent asked to see my boarding pass?!  I said, “I was told by another agent that this was no longer required.”  He replied, “That is not the case.”  Either he didn’t get the memo, or the other agent made up the contents of a memo that never existed.  I would be more confused except that the TSA is involved and somehow that makes this all explainable.
The question is, why am I not getting the memos?  First off, it could be that I am, in fact, expecting a memo.  This mode of communication has most definitely been supplanted by emails.  So I rephrase, why am I not getting these emails regarding changes in appropriate politically correct vocabulary, changes in style and fashion, and religious dogma?  Is it because I have so many email addresses?  Is it going to spam?  Am I not keeping up with my correspondence?  Am I just a moron... oops... I mean stupid er... mentally challenged... OK then... special?  
See I am clearly not getting the memos.
Sometimes I get one memo but fail to get the follow-up that negates the first.  I remember when eggs were all but taboo.  I got a memo saying something about that they were laden with cholesterol and should not be eaten unless one wanted to be a social outcast and treated as a kind of dietary leper.  Then, I have no clue when, eggs were all of a sudden incredible and edible.  I never got that second memo even though several people have pointed out that I must have simply by virtue of using the words:  incredible and edible.  I have no clue what they mean by that.  I suspect I may have gotten this memo and forgotten all about it.  (Memo to self, try to remember to write a blog piece on... what was it?   Oh yeah, memory.)
Sticking with the food theme, the same thing has happened with coffee.  It’s good for you.  It is really bad for you.  It won’t hurt you in moderation.  This is an interesting case, I have been getting these memos but they simply confuse the heck out of me.  Drink coffee?  Don’t drink coffee.  If you must drink, avoid caffeine and drink only de-caff.  Avoid de-caff at all costs.  Sheesh.  It makes my head spin.  In this case, I actually ignore the memos, throw them all in the trash can, and continue to drink a few cups of coffee a day.
Most of the memos I never get are fashion related pure and simple.  I never got the memo letting me know that wearing expensive jeans and a dressy shirt with big flowery embroidery is acceptable for any social engagement.  Heck, I don’t even know where to buy such shirts.  That information must have been in the memo.   I somehow got the memos that ties were passé, I guess the flowery embroidery replaces the design flair men’s fashion used to get from ties.  
I wear baseball caps practically year round for all but the dressiest occasions.  Judging from the comments of others this fad may well have passed peaked and I never got the memo.    Sunglasses used to be big and then they got smaller and narrow.  They have kind of become big again.  I never got either of those memos.
Sometimes I get the memo but it just confuses me.  Our company email is Google based.  It used to have a separate sign-in page complete with our company logo.  It worked very well.  Sometime last year, Google decided to incorporate all emails in to the same standard Google sign-on and applications.  Sounds great.  It did not work for me for some reason.  As we actually pay Google an annual fee for our own email addresses and system, we get support.  There is no 800 number or anything.  Everything is done by email.  They sent me an email explaining how to fix things and move forward.  I have read that email several times and simply feel... um... incompetent which is even worse than being confused.  I would have provided an excerpt of the email but for fear that everyone but me would understand it.
We wrote back the Google people saying their email was confusing.  They sent an email back apologizing and telling me exactly what to do.  The explanation was marginally more understandable, at least enough that I thought I knew what to do.  So, I proceeded to execute the instructions.  The results?  I think the proper word to explain this is the Yiddish word - bupkis.
Who writes these memos?  When do they write them?  Who keeps the database of recipients?  How are they sent?  Is there a big building that houses an organization dedicated to crafting and sending these memos to all but the likes of me?  Do people get degrees in memo writing?  If so, what universities offer such courses and degrees?  Simply, I am not in the loop of this entire process.  Maybe I am not as smart as I think.  I have heard murmurs that the memos are actually secretly transmitted in TV shows, embedded in newspaper and magazine articles.  I probably should watch American Idol, Survivor, and Dancing with the Stars.   It is all right there in front of me and I may be just too thick headed to see the veritable writing on the wall or video monitor.
Surely as we age there is a real risk of hardening.  Certainly, we all know of the hardening of the arteries.  But there is a mental hardening as well.  Our attitudes, vocabulary, and way of looking at things can also settle and harden. We get stuck in our ways.  We eschew change.   While, I think that I am open and amenable to change, certain changes just irritate me to no end.  I hate the constant upgrading of software on my laptop.  I really hate ERP system upgrades and the chaos caused by new versions and new modules.  See how thick and hardened I have become?  Perhaps, these ethereal memos are wafting their way to me and just bouncing off of my hardened sensibility and fall by the wayside.
Speaking of hardening of the mindset, I truly believe people become resistant to change.  I am not against progress, life today is full of many wonderful tools and technologies that make life easier.  Part of me just wishes that we could just keep some things just the way they are.  I kind of enjoy things like newspapers, books, and music.  I liked music when records and radio were the only real formats available to me.  I embraced cassette tapes though I never did like the very concept of 8-track tapes.  I saw the value in CDs which finally provided a format that did not wear out.  Now, with the digital mp3 and mp4 players, I can carry all my music with me wherever I go.  Each change was amazing but also kind of a pain in learning something new, buying the music all over again in the new format, or transferring everything over to the new format.  In these kinds of cases, I want to issue a memo back to all saying I have to approve of every new change.  My growing resistance to such change sometimes makes me feel old.
Going back to the first example, I actually never meant anything bad by using the word Oriental.  I never even took it as anything negative.  There are negative terms that people use when referring to Asians.  I have seen the World War II and Vietnam War movies.  I worked in the auto industry when the Japanese were kicking our behinds.  I really never use any of those words.  When referring to the peoples of the Asian countries, I used a word that I had heard in polite society and school growing up:  Oriental.  I even knew that Europeans and Americans (the kind that emigrated from Europe) were referred to as Occidental.  The terms are Latin in origin.  Orient meaning to rise, i.e. where the sun rises, in the east.  Occident means to fall or set.  The sun sets in the west.   The terms were, I believed, innocuous.  I believe the memo on not using Occident came out well before I was born.  How is it, I even know this term?  Perhaps it is this bit of pun phrase:

Columbus discovered the New World by Occident

Needless to say, I had to Google the title of this piece:  I Didn’t Get the Memo.  The number one hit was from urbandictionary.com.  The definition provided there is “To be or to remain uninformed, especially about something that is common knowledge to everyone else.”  Well I seem to have gotten that memo as that is pretty close to how I would define it.  The website even tried to entice me to buy items with the phrase “didn’t get the memo” or the entire definition.  There were coffee cups, beer steins, t-shirts, bumper stickers, hats, and even greeting cards.   Will I buy any of them?  Nah...
I close by asking all of you to do me a favor if you would.  Henceforth, when you get one of these memos forward it to me.  I would be most appreciative.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Youth, Money, and God

I was on the stationary bicycle this morning.  It was 5 am.  As usual, I was pedaling in front of the TV.  Often, I watch part of a movie.  I try to find something I like that is closer to the end of the movie than the beginning.  I hate getting into a story only to have to cut it off when my workout is over.  Many times I will simply watch a movie I have seen before and liked, e.g. The Waterboy, as I can watch any 30 or 40 minutes of it without wondering how it began or how it will end.  

This morning, there was no movie that caught my eye.  The History Channel was still in their overnight infomercial mode (who watches those things in the middle of the night?), so I ended up watching Real Sport with Bryant Gumbel on HBO.  I had never watched that show before.  I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging the stories were.  It is kind of a 60 Minutes dedicated to sports related stories.  http://www.hbo.com/real-sports-with-bryant-gumbel/index.html

One segment that stuck with me was a report on the number of NFL players who are broke, declare bankruptcy, and are divorced shortly after their careers end:

  • By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.


The Real Sports story centered on two players that were being paid $5M a year who can barely make ends meet now.   Players think the gravy train will never end and that the huge amounts of money they have is unlimited.  They do no believe they could ever spend $5, $10, or even $20M.  Apparently,  somewhere in the neighborhood of 78% of NFL players do.  They buy too many homes and too many cars.  They invest their money in shaky and risky ventures that include their own restaurants and night clubs.  The players’ associations and leagues warn them but the great majority of the players are extremely self-confident and falsely believe that the domain of their confidence and invincibility is not limited to the playing field.  They believe that confidence is all they need to master all aspects of life and financial management.  It is a cruel and rude awakening for them and a sobering lesson for the rest of us.

I have long quipped that one of the reasons I believe in God is that I am thoroughly convinced there has to be a divine being with the infinite wisdom NOT to give me unlimited wealth or ridiculously good looks.  I am not at all sacrilegious here.  I am serious with a humorous twist.  I know that if I had had unlimited funds, or say several million dollars, at the ripe age of 18, 20, or even 22, there would have been a very high probability that I would have gone insane and spent it all.  I would have had a great time, but I would have spent it all.  I know that I was simply not mature enough back then.  I am not so sure I am now.

When I think of professional athletes and the humble beginnings most of them have had, I am not surprised to hear stories of them losing it all almost as fast as they earned it.  I was shocked at 78% figure cited above.  It seems I should be more impressed with the 22% of the athletes that manage their funds to preserve and grow the rewards they have earned.

I want to talk sense into the 78% but as stated on the show this morning... they just don’t listen.  I know I wouldn't have at that age.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Songs to Aging Children

It is New Years Day.  Among watching the college bowl games, I thought a bit about it being 2011.  It occurred to me that this year marks the 40th Anniversary of my high school graduation. This quickly turned into a chain reaction of thoughts that end at the resurrection of an old idea that I think I will put into action.  I am almost ashamed to say it may be, you know, something akin to a resolution.

What is the idea?  It is to create a blog for people of my generation as a follow up to a piece I wrote in November 2008, http://thissideoffifty.blogspot.com/2009/01/november-2008-was-it-weirdest-of-times.html.  My premise was that coming of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a unique and weird time to grow up.  We were of the Woodstock Generation in which we, well at least I, bought into the notion of creating a better world where peace reigned and where everyone was supposed to get back to the land and live a natural style of life.  It was a time of great social change led by a combination of the Civil RIghts and Anti-War movements which in turn led to Women’s and Gay Liberation.   It was complicated by the popularity of drugs and emergence of Free Love.  It was a unique, weird, and exciting time to come of age.

We are  that generation.  We are the baby boomers, the first generation in the world that grew up with television.  We were the first generation where having a college degree supplanted the magic and need for just a high school diploma.  We were the optimistic generation.  We could change the world... nay, we believed that we would change the world even given the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.  We were the Levis generation that wanted to buy the world a Coke.  And to top it off, it was fueled for the most part by some great Rock N’ Roll music that peaked in that great Summer of Love.  

Since I wrote that November 2008 piece, I have wondered how others in my generation (Talking ‘bout My Generation) felt about what they were thinking then and how things actually turned played out forty years later.  So, I am thinking of creating this blog space and encouraging everyone and anyone that wants to express their story.  I think it would be a great forum for expression and discussion.  Here are some thought starter questions that I would to see this blog explore.
  • What did the movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s mean to you?
  • Did you believe in the ideals of that era?  Do you still believe?  If yes to the first and no to the second, how and why did your beliefs change?
  • Did you sell out to the man or even become the man?  How do you feel about that?
  • Did you buy into the generation gap?  Did it strain your relationship with your parents?  How did it feel watching your own children pass through adolescence?  Did you become your parents?
  • Did you hit any of the major events?  Woodstock?  The peace protest in Washington, DC?  Were you in San Francisco in the Summer of Love?
  • What did you learn in those days that remains an integral part of your life today?
  • What did you learn, do, or think back in those days that you are quite happy are not part of your lifestyle today?

I encourage anyone that is motivated by this topic to submit a posting.  I will moderate and approve the postings.  I may also suggest some editing to make your posting more interesting and engaging.  You can post under your own name or anonymously.   The point is to get some good memories, good reflections, and good discussion going in this area.  

I am going to moderate the comments because, quite simply, I want this to be a positive experience for all.  If someone posts something honestly maybe as a catharsis or to get something off of their chest, I do not want to see them berated in the comment section.  As was Bill and Ted’s motto:  Be Excellent to Everyone.

So, what do you think?  Is this a cool idea?  If you think it is a cool idea, take a shot and express yourself.  I would love to hear what other people are thinking and reflecting on our adolescent and college years.
Songs to aging children come,
Aging children, I am one...
Maybe Joni Mitchell will even post something...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Here is the new blog:  http://songstoagingchildren.blogspot.com/
The posting here is also posted there and should be the only joint posting.
Consider submitting your story, your thoughts, your reflections, and reminiscences.  Send them to mgavoor@gmail.com
 

Monday, January 10, 2011

STFU!

On December 20, 2010, I posted “Curmudgeon or just a Crumb?” on this very blog.  http://thissideoffifty.blogspot.com/2010/12/crumudgeon-or-just-crumb.html It is probably worth reading that before this one.

It was not an overwhelmingly popular posting.  But it did resonate with several friends.  I have come to realize, without the benefit of any statistical polling mind you, that there is a large number of people that do not want to be told what to do.  They are tired of getting unsolicited advice from others.  I came to realize that it is not just me.  A fair number of people feel this way and silently endure.  

I believe that Richard Nixon was absolutely correct;  there is indeed a silent minority.  This silent majority is pestered and verbally prodded by a very vocal minority.  They are told that they ought to quit smoking, lose weight, be more assertive, and that they ought to do this or don’t do that... blah blah blah.  The silent majority is overly preached to and preached upon.  The preacher could be a spouse, another family member, a self-appointed leader of a social group or clique i.e. a friend, a boss, a co-worker, and, yes, even a bona fide preacher.

I am not talking about legitimate warnings like “the roads are a sheet of ice” or being pulled out of the way of a falling safe or piano.  I am referring to the busy body rants and raves of people that have the need to hear their own voice telling others what to do.  The silent majority, for the most part, endures quietly and passively, nodding, and saying just enough to get through the advice as quickly as possible.  They are preached and dictated to because they are passive and meek.  Sometimes, however,  it builds up and the lamb turns into a lion and lashes basically telling the blowhard to stop.  There are many ways to say this but at the very core is a universal command that resonates oh so well in these cases:  Shut The F*ck Up (STFU).

STFU... I like it.  Why not make it a movement.  It is kind of my own TEA Party kind of thing but not really political.  Well, that is not quite true, if some buttinski is berating your vote or view, you just say STFU!

  • “My those pants are really tight on you! You should..”  Stop them right there with a STFU!
  • “You need to be more of a team player” - STFU!
  • “Why don’t you consider...” I do not want to hear it, STFU!
  • You are  barbecuing and every male family member and friend is giving you advice on how and when to turn the meat, how high the flame should or shouldn’t be:   STFU!
  • “Haven’t seen you in church for awhile buddy.”  “That is because I haven’t been here for awhile”- STFU!”
People will leave you alone.  They will change their approach and tone when they talk to you.  No one wants to be told to STFU just as much as you don’t want to experience the largess of their lame unasked for and unwanted advice.

STFU!  Say it.  It feels good.  You can say it sharply, loudly, and with a twinge of anger.  You can also drag it out.  No matter what it should be a little louder and a little angrier than your normal tone.  It is akin to the Howard Beale rant, “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore,” in the the 1976 movie Network.  You will feel good letting people know where YOUR limits are for them telling you what to do.  I have seen it done several times before in my life but never fully realized the pure liberating power of it.  Relationships change when this method is used properly.   There is an art to knowing just the right time to say it in just the right tone.  I had a boss once that was simply overbearing and loved lording his position over me.  (Yeah, yeah, I know, I allowed him to do that... STFU!)  But, one day it reached a limit and I lashed out with something akin to “Stop Being such an a-hole!”  Our relationship changed after that.  He was much nicer moving forward.

It should be noted that the STFU! flare up is just that:  a flare-up.  It is about releasing negative energy like a primal scream and then returning your normal temperament.  It is a flare-up or eruption that releases pent-up energy and anger that results from incessantly being lectured and dictated to.

OK, maybe the F word isn’t for you.  That is completely understandable, I would not presume to tell you how and what to say.  That would makes me as bad as that vocal minority.   In this case, you might just stick to:

  • Shut Your Pie Hole (SYPH):  I like the venereal tone of this acronym.
  • Stop Telling Me What to Do (STMWTD):  The acronym is too long in this case.
Of course, you can just go with the basic Shut Up.  Keep saying over and over again, faster and louder each time until the offender gets it through his or her thick skull that you are about to come unglued.  There has to be dramatic effect to truly make STFU! work.  The drama can be real or feigned, it really doesn’t matter.  If feigned, you just need to know how good of an actor you are and respect those limits.  If you are perceived as over acting, the lashing out will have much less impact.

What is it that makes people want to tell others what to do?  Is it genetic?  Is it conditional?  Were they not loved growing up?  Or on the contrary, were they told incessantly how very smart and oh so special they were?  Often times the perpetrators have no clue as to just how annoying they have become.  They are shocked when confronted with an angry STFU backlash.   How can they be so oblivious?

Actually, how could I be so oblivious?  Oblivious to what you ask?  Until I wrote that Curmudgeon post, I did not have a clue as how people were victimized by the Vocal Minority.  Silly me to think that all the nice people were naive.  I assumed that none of this bothered them.  I believed it bothered me because I was mentally defective in some way.  Others in the Silent Majority were just nice and meek in the inherit the world beatitudic fashion.  It was an eye opener to hear others feeling the same way I was.  It is amazing that you can be alive in this world and interacting with them on a day to day basis and still know so little about humans and human natures.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  I should have studied psychology back in college... STFU!

So, there may be a real basis for the STFU Movement.  Heck, it could be a media, marketing, and promotional bonanza.  I can see:

  • STFU! - The book
    It would be one of those delightful little who ate my cheesy kind of books in parable form.
    Maybe the Oprah Book Club could pick it up.
  • STFU Seminars
    Did you see the Jim Carey movie - The Yes Man?  This is what I am talking about.
    Standing in front of hundreds of people having them yell STFU! and me saying, in my best drill sergeant voice, “I can’t hear you...”
  • www.STFU.com
    Complete with videos, blogs, and case studies.
  • @STFU
    The twitter feed in case you didn’t know.
  • Facebook
    There is no need to say anything more.  Facebook has become the be all and end all of internet social media.
  • The STFU! clothing line
    Think of the Life is Good product line.  As positive and uplifting as that brand is, STFU! I would the STFU! line of shirts, hoodies, caps, and jackets to be just as angry and liberating as Life is Good line is uplifting and positive.
Yet, when I think about it, there is something oxymoronic about this.  I am actually telling the meek, the mild, the Silent Majority what they should be doing?  I would be actually dictating to them how to stop others from... well... dictating to them.  It just doesn’t seem right.  There is a cosmic imbalance in this.  The STFU! movement needs to be benign and yet powerful, inert and yet viral.   Maybe just tasteful STFU! lapel pins is what we need.

Since I started this silly bit of fun, I have become more aware of just what I am saying to others from co-workers, colleagues, and friends to family.   I feel like I can write almost exactly what I want to say.  Yet, I get lazy in emails and verbally.  Why is it easier to do in writing?  Simply, because I have written 500 words a day since June 25, 2002.   Maybe it is not lazy as much as it is lack of practicing to do better.

There are many ways to say things and give people advice.  Simply being polite, not challenging the other person, and practicing the Golden Rule allows one to be able to communicate suggestions and advice in subtle helpful ways thus minimizing the probability of getting a STFU.  As stated above, lecturing others on how not to be lectured to seems wrong in concept.  Lashing out with a STFU! and the following Golden Rule seem like opposites.  Perhaps, they are opposities but in yinny and yangy kind of way.   

What motivated me to improve my writing?  Sure the daily writing honed the skills but before this daily writing regimen, I hated writing.  I wanted to write and express myself.  It was a gut wrenching experience simply because I wanted to be as precise as possible.  Simply having the words in black and white where others could read and interpret and re-read it again made me want to take great care in what I said and how I said it.  Conversations are more spontaneous.  The words are uttered and then evaporate into the air... or so was my belief.  As for e-mails, I treated them as written conversations and in treating them as such, I am cavalier in this communication channel as well.

Can I hone my verbal and email communications?  Sure I can, if i put my mind to it and pay attention to both.  The emails should be able to improve as they are written.  I have to just keep reminding myself to have the same mindset when I dash off an e-mail.  As for speaking, I am doing that all day long, I can practice in real time, all the time

Sure saying STFU! is good get others to behave with more civility.  But, maybe this idea of STFU! can be a movement not to insult people but more a reminder that if you are not thinking about what you say and how you say it... STFU!  This is how I am going to proceed.  I will try to lead by example.

How about you?  Would love to hear your comments on this.