Monday, September 30, 2013

Self-Observation is a skill that can be cultivated

Most of us have a rear-view mirror talent to see what we should have said at a critical time, like when the boss was accusing us of something we didn't do. I had a really Crazy Boss once that gave me a stern lecture about 'attempting to shirk my duties' when his boss directed me to do two different things on the same day, same time, but 500 miles apart. I could not delegate either assignment to a subordinate because both required knowledge that my 3 new employees did not have. When I asked his boss if the second assignment therefore relieved me of going to the one 500 miles away, she said yes.  That's what we call being properly relieved of the duty in military circles. 

Crazy Boss called it 'trying to shirk my responsibilities.'  Rather than argue with a crazy person, as I had seen the trend by then, I took some lumps I did not deserve.  That is self-observation and a response of not escalating a bad situation.  Instead, I waited a few days and spoke with the Crazy Boss's boss, 'apologized' and clarified to be sure she did not see my request to clarify relief as 'shirking my duties.'  She was stunned by the question. I briefly related what happened and the ranting reprimand by my direct Crazy Boss. She then shared with me that she, too, had seen the erratic behavior and was working on a solution. She asked me to 'hang in there' and it would be fixed.  It was and did not affect my performance record.

By observing myself, my reactions and managing my behavior, real-time, I avoided a situation that could have gotten me fired. I saw myself getting angry and frustrated with Crazy Boss. I stifled the desire to argue with him, which likely would have resulted in a reprimand for insubordination. I took some crap I did not deserve, but was stronger for it in the long run. Turns out the man was in the early stages of dementia and was expressing a lot of confusion and anger in the workplace.  He couldn't direct it toward his boss, so I was the target du jour. He retired soon after.

That, in a nutshell is an example of basic self-observation.  It is the ability to dispassionately observe yourself, how you are feeling, and decide how to react to both.  Freed from the shackles of blindly acting on our emotions, things change.  Here are a couple of websites that provide more info about the skill: One from Penn State and this more esoteric one. 

As I learned self-observation skills, I had some references to help identify my emotions. A great one is  The Passions (1983 version) by  Robert Solomon.  Chapter 11 is about 90 pages clearly describing a number of emotions (and strategies on responding or overcoming those emotions) in a way that you can catalogue your feelings.  Please note, this is not about wallowing in your emotions. The process of self-observation helps you do the opposite: see what you are feeling or what is motivating your behavior and making a conscious decision about whether that is likely to accomplish your goals in the interaction.  It enabled me to observe and say things to myself like "this is me getting really angry" or "I am so sad I want to cry."  I then could choose whether to show anger or cry, or say to myself that those actions are not appropriate to the situation and behave differently.  It is a tool that can enhance your self-discipline and effectiveness.

One of the first times I practiced this in real life was when I needed help from a dreaded customer support telecenter. When I was finally answered, I very calmly told the service rep that I was an irate customer and wanted to speak to a supervisor. She actually put me right though and the supervisor made things right.

Have you ever experience a situation when some one's reaction to a situation is inappropriate or really not proportional to whatever just happened? It is often from unresolved, pent-up emotion from some situation in the past where the person was hurt or wronged.  This energy is unleashed inappropriately and automatically into an unrelated situation.  It is difficult to refrain from reacting to that outburst and escalating the situation. Self-observation can help you reduce the energy and diffuse the interaction. You can learn and understand if you are doing the same thing and start to avoid the negative responses that leave both parties wondering what the heck just happened.  I have seen the technique, when used in coaching married couples, bring the couple back from the brink of divorce.

One way to start learning to self-observe is to stop yourself periodically using a timer or alarm. When it goes off, stop to jot down how your are feeling at the moment. Once that gets easier, add how you are behaving or acting and whether your observed emotion is influencing your actions or behavior. Last step is whether those actions are appropriate to the situation. Repetition of these steps will help make them automatic skill behaviors, like catching a ball.

You will need to be persistent to learn this skill, and it may never come completely naturally. Just as we make ourselves go to work or eat our vegies, just know it is something that's worth the effort.

One additional bit of wisdom gained from growing older and using these skills is that compassion does not always appear to be kindness.  It is providing appropriate help for someone who needs it, and who needs to grow. Sometimes compassion can look like being a jerk, like not giving a drunken alcoholic another drink or not loaning a chronic gambler the money to 'pay the rent.'  Sometimes someone needs to suffer through a problem of their own making for them to learn and grow.

As an aside, some of these websites reference eastern mystics or non-Christian religions. I have practiced these skills for about 20 years and find that they enhance my ability to live a more Christian life and be more charitable when needed. They do not detract from or contradict my faith at all, and have enhanced it.  For Christians, learning not to be ruled by your emotions is another potential skill toward allowing the Holy Spirit to guide your actions if you so desire.  For everyone, the skill can be valuable.

Friday, September 27, 2013

I'm confused

Is there something odd about a President that is willing to negotiate with Iran but not with his own Congress, or is it just me?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Today's "Something New"

I'm a firm believer in the old ' learn something new every day."  I figure that if I pay attention and commit it to memory, I can the go play on the computer!! Today's was so useful I thought I'd share with any of you who have allergy problems.

My allergies have long been horrible -- to the point of managing around them during parts of the year. I vacuum often, wash the bedspread once or twice a week, etc.  I stopped taking the desensitization shots about 5 years ago because of work conflicts, and am back a square one with suffering.

Over the last several weeks, I thought I was losing a tooth -- one that was crowned about 2 years ago. Not happy about that at all and the discomfort was really annoying. Went to the dentist's office, got X-rayed, etc.  No problem with any of the teeth near the pain area.  It continued to bother me so much that I actually got a second dental opinion. Same results, EXCEPT this second dentist understands physiology!  He asked about what I'm taking for my allergies and I told him which antihistamine.

He advised that I also need to take a decongestant if I start having dental pain during allergy season.  Seems the action of the decongestant reduces the swelling deep in the recesses of your sinuses and Eustachian tubes, etc. When these tissues are swollen, it can result in pressure on nerves or ligaments in the area and feels like -- dull toothache pain!

I bought some 30 mg Sudafed (which required lots of personal information being surrendered), took one, and am actually starting to get some relief!

Ya' learn something new every day!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

An open letter to Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks

Dear Howard,

This morning, I heard your request to stop coming into your stores armed. You got it. Your patrons and staff never 'were uncomfortable' with me in the stores because they never knew whether I was armed or not.  That's because here in Arizona it's not a big deal.  If you can legally own a weapon, you can carry it, or not, concealed. Occasionally, heck maybe always, I wasn't carrying.  Doesn't and didn't matter because I felt safer at Starbucks because of your past statements welcoming patrons who exercise their Second Amendment rights.

But I need you to know what I will do to ensure I comply with your request. If you don't want me in there armed, I don't want to be in your stores unarmed.  That's because you've just declared Starbucks to be unsafe. Neither me nor my fellow citizens will be able to protect me and my family.  You've just turned every Starbucks into a potential Navy Yard or Sandy Hook.  Part of why I retired from civil service was because I felt like a sitting duck unarmed in my office, knowing that help was about a dozen dead bodies away. I gave up some serious pay in the process.  I won't volunteer to part with what's left of that pay to be a sitting duck again.

Here's what else is a consequence of your request.  As a person of logic and conscience, I will stop buying your product in the grocery store, too. After your past stance on the right to carry, I switched to Starbucks for my home brew. You see, I believe that how I spend my dollars is part of my First Amendment right. So, while you are asking me to relinquish my Second Amendment right to partake of your product, I'll also exercise my First Amendment in the process and pass on Starbucks altogether. 

I realize there are lots of gun shy patrons who don't understand the Bill of Rights. I'm not one of them. I will take you up on your request, but will do so fully. In for a penny, in for a pound. I hope other Second Amendment fans will do as we do, whether they choose to carry or not.

I hope that the message from us will be as clear as your message to us.

UPDATE: Here is the link to the original Schultz letter.  Also, despite the dialogue about 'open carry' please note that the request, which was stated twice, does not single out 'open carry' but states: "requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas"
Note that the underlining is from the letter (second statement of the request), not added by me.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Monsoon Morning Walk

We've had a splendid monsoon this year with above average rain.  Flowers we've never seen before are blooming. More than a dozen native grass varieties are heading out now.  Thought I'd share a few, mostly the flowers as grasses tend to look all the same to anyone who isn't a grass nerd.

Yellow daisies, compositae, are blooming profusely now.  There must be at least a dozen different types, shapes and sizes.  Here are a few:

This last one is a native sunflower, a major source of quail food.
Other favorites are the native morning glories, especially the blue and red/orange ones. Seems desert species tend to be yellow, blue or purple and white.  The reds and oranges are rare.  These little red ones are about half an inch in diameter at the widest part of the bell. 
The blue ones are a little over an inch in diameter.

Lots of the fuzzy caterpillars this year, too.
Another sweet little flower that only blooms when there's a lot of water.
Can't remember seeing as many devil's claws as we've got this year.  They are strange plants with leaves almost the size of your hand.  Pretty but somewhat inconspicuous flower with somewhat hidden pods about the size of green chili.

Two of my favorite grasses, both are grammas.

Here are a few shots of the profusion of flowers of all types:

The purple asters are about gone for the year, but these waited around for picture day!

Signing off for today after a monsoon walk in Arizona!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Slippery Slope Toward What?

Of late I am increasingly suspicious when there is much ado about nothing.  Seems it is often one of those tricks where we're watching the right hand while the left on picks our pocket or slips an icepick between our ribs, figuratively speaking of course.  BEWARE, the following may be controversial, but I mean to provoke your thinking, powers of observation and pattern recognition.

So what about Gay marriage? Quite frankly, I'm starting to believe the whole ruckus isn't about Gay marriage at all.  I believe it is about breaking the societal and legal paradigm of "one man and one woman" constituting a marital unit. What about one man and three women? If two men are OK as a marriage, why not polygamy? Why not one man, three women and a few boys? There you go again with bigotry and biases bubbling up in your mind! NAMBLA members would certainly be in favor of a marriage like that last one! After that, we can have some 8 year old girls married off to 60 year old men and left for dead on their wedding night, as was in the news from the mid-east recently.

How about the recent short sentences for male teachers raping young female students? Judge seemed to think she had consented.  Maybe she wasn't covered from head to foot and had enticed him...ever hear those arguments from judges in other countries?  Seems when female teachers have sex with willing teen age boys, the women get long sentences.  What's OK for men is taboo for women.  Hmmm, sounds a little like Mid-Eastern standards to me, minus the stoning, of course.

So is Gay marriage a stepping stone to other types of marriage and conjugal relationships not currently sanctioned in the US? Is the virtual news blackout on honor killings of young woman part of this transformation of our sensibilities? Are we on the slippery slope toward acceptance of Islamic views on what constitutes marriage and other societal norms? If so, then beware married Gay people. You may merely be a short-lived tool to soften up a society for a form of bigotry far beyond any you've seen in the US for decades. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

You've got to be kidding me....

I don't usually get political on this blog, but today's an exception. With everything that's going on in the world, here's what my Congressman decided was a high enough priority to send an e-mail: What he's doing about 'Women's issues' and all the good girly-stuff he did on the 93d anniversary of our right to vote. No joke. Nothing about the huge national debt, or that Syria thing. Thanks for that 10 September e-mail with such timely and important info, Congressman!  Did I miss the e-mail with an invitation to a town hall about the 2014 budget while you were home on recess? Oh, never got one, did I?  Perhaps you couldn't be bothered to drive the 50 miles down here to have one.

I am so impressed that you started a Women's Leadership Council.  I'm sure they will have a major influence on your almost 100% party-line voting record. I am so glad that you reminded us of Women's Equality Day. News flash: many of us aren't that shallow. We don't need your paternalistic BS. We need you to grow a spine and get tough on the national borrowing and spending issues, defunding the looming healthcare nightmare and keeping us out of a new front in the Middle East.

I'll let you all know if I get a 9/11 e-mail.  Maybe it will be about the important steps he's taking to ensure that billboards along local Interstate highways have at least 3 colors so we won't suffer from eye fatigue.