Courage – under whose authority?

Today’s world has trouble defining courage, but it has just as hard a time defining authority.

Mine was defined at home. When I was growing up, I learned to have a respect / fear of my father. He was the man in charge; the king of the household; the last line of defense at home. Essentially, he was the disciplinarian. His word was law and if I abided by his law, then I could live peacefully under his roof. That sounds fair enough, right? My mother had authority too, but it was a different kind of authority. She was more the hand to hold; the warm embrace; the ear to lend your voice to – she was the lifeline. And if I came to her with an issue that needed comforting, I could live more peacefully under her roof. Once again, sounds like a fair enough arrangement, right? Yes, it does – when things are running like they’re supposed to.

But, what if they’re not? The result looks much different. If my father’s law is skewed and his discipline unjust, then I feel the ramifications. If my mother’s lifeline is damaged or absent, then I feel the ramifications there too. And the consequences look like this: my idea of authority has been crushed. Moreover, my idea of a loving authority has been shattered. For if the people who made me – the ones who watch over me daily – can’t handle their own business, then what right do they have to govern mine?

And this is where it starts. That disillusionment with authority; that break from looking up to people and the conscious/unconscious decision to look elsewhere for guidance. Because let’s be honest, everybody’s parents mess up at some point – there are no “perfect parents” in the world; as good as mine were and are, they still had their bad days. So depending on how “bad” a parent messes up, the more work it’ll be for the child later. The more work it’ll be to fix the now disjointed views of a child who, after years of soaking in the brokenness of a broken home, has fractured more than than their view of parental-child relationships – they’ve fractured the very nature of how the world was meant to operate.

Whoa – back up, right? That sounds like a lot of pressure for a parent. But hey, let’s not forget – it’s a human life we are talking about; not a truck or a vacuum sweeper. These things, when fractured, can be easily replaced. The same cannot be said for a human life.

But, here’s the good news: fractures are mendable things. A fractured bone, for example, doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, a broken bone will do whatever it can to get back to its original state. The only thing it requires is time; time to heal and time to mend. However, if the bone is disturbed too early, then it may become further disjointed and take even more time to heal – a more painful experience than the first.

This becomes even more delicate when dealing with authority. Bad experiences with authority figures can leave a person severely jaded; stricken with little desire to trust authority ever again. And the thought of ever being “ruled” by another is seen as detestable; to be avoided at all costs. So, in order to cope with this, a peer-to-peer kind of authority is established. “You don’t tell me how to live and I won’t tell you either” is the new mantra. And if we abide by these rules, we can all live peacefully under the same roof.

Yet again, this sounds reasonable and fair, doesn’t it? It does and yet, this concept breaks down rather quickly. For if there is no one to lead, no one to establish what is best practice, then the roof ceases to exist. What’s more, one person’s idea of best practice will inevitably collide with someone else’s. And another with another. And another with another and so on. The result being the exact opposite of the original intent; the individual’s desire to be more important than the whole splits everything into pieces, which will leave people feeling isolated rather than unified.

So what to do? Well, it takes courage. Not just courage to lead, but courage not to follow. And the “not to follow” does not mean to reject authority – it merely means to reject the notion of authority being a bad thing and to reject your own perceptions as being the ultimate reality. Children reject authority because they want to have their way all the time. As adults, this concept should be understood as not practical. Or better yet, not fulfilling. But, by today’s standards, embracing this understanding has been forgotten. God’s governing hand is only relative and as long as I can Google an answer, I’m better off. No, Googling answers does not require courage. Neither do blanket comments or fact-dumping. Courage is carving in stone, not writing in sand.

Imagine a home where your stay is just and your stay is kind. It’d be a joyous home, would it not? Not the kind of place you’d want to leave. But, you can’t get to that place without first having a response – to recognize there is more to be courageous about than your own agendas.

Sounds reasonable and fair, does it not?

Desktop Update – September 2014

I’m a little late to the party with this post but I think I deserve some leeway because of what’s been going on in my life. The biggest news being that I got married about a week and a half ago. Very cool and very awesome. My wife and I are slowly starting the process of settling into life together. Moving into an apartment, getting her signed up with my last name, figuring out who gets to shower when – you know, important administrative stuff. Indeed, the road ahead is a new thing for both of us but we are excited about what’s in store.

What’s also exciting is what “post-wedding” life is like. After all the planning, the honeymooning, and the moving in together, there’s no specific blueprint for figuring out your spouse. You just have to live life together. And that can be as daunting or invigorating as you choose it to be. Yesterday I met a woman who was going on her 50th wedding anniversary. Yes, 50. I’ve only been alive for 30 years – not being married – and this woman has lived almost twice as long with another person. When I told her I’d been married not longer than 2 weeks, she immediately jumped in with advice: “It’s hard but it’s worth it.”

Simple and to the point – I like it. I thanked her for the wisdom and went on to write this post.

Which brings me to the next topic – where does that leave the individual? I’ve got a partner for life but there’s also some new things happening for me too. All kinds of changes; changes that have affected this desktop of mine, for example. I recently became the recipient of a brand new computer; a gift from my amazing wife and I’ve begun the process of transferring data from one computer to the other. It’s more painstaking than I would have imagined and reminds me how much we tend to store our lives away on personal computers. Possessing storage applications like Google Drive and Dropbox are great, but when you find you have tons of personal photos, old word documents, and other buried treasures like past resumes and cover letters lying around, it really makes you wonder how much of your life is still sacred; not hiding away on some ancient hard drive.

Cleaning house....

Cleaning house….

The good news is: new computers mean new stuff. So that’s really what I’m up to this week: cleaning house. A somewhat humorous thing if you Google the terminology online. Don’t worry, they’re G-rated.

But more importantly, “cleaning house” now means more than just my own stuff – it means somebody else’s too. Once again, exciting, to say the least.

Did I mention I was excited?

Social media is no substitute for life.

I recently went to my 10-year high school reunion. A lot of people don’t go to theirs, but I went to mine. My graduating class, 2003, had about 120 students in it so I expected to see about 15, maybe 20 of my classmates. I was pleasantly surprised to see more than that – about 25 in total – and was even more pleasantly surprised to find that most people had gone on to do things they either enjoyed (job-wise) or had families of their own (child and spouse-wise). This was very encouraging to hear. I hadn’t attended in hopes of comparing my life to everyone else’s, I just figured it would be nice to go. And the time spent doing this was time well spent indeed.

The night went on and we shared stories with one another. We laughed. We joked. We reminisced on funny moments from the past and even took time to remember those who were no longer with us. This was difficult and a sad reminder that life is short, even in the space of 10 years, but there were good words for each of the people who had passed since our graduation day. Once again, this was most encouraging to hear despite the circumstances. And so, the evening progressed onward and everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves.

But then something happened.

At one of our tables, I overheard two of my former classmates discussing their children with one another. One of the women stated how she had two kids and potentially a third on the way. The other exclaimed how excited she was and followed up with how her little one was doing. Listening to new mothers having discussions about their children is something I will never be able to relate to fully (you know, that whole pregnancy thing is something I just can’t do) but I can certainly understand the joy that comes out of new life in a family. That’s the good part of this tale.

The sad part is that I already knew all of this because I have Facebook. And Twitter. And LinkedIn. And Google+. I have most all of my social media bases covered so this was somewhat old news to me. Even if I hadn’t seen these folks for years, I already had a leg up on their lives. I had seen baby pictures; I’d ‘liked’ or commented on the new arrivals; or I’d perused old photos just long enough to discover what others were up to and how they were presently doing. I was “up to speed”, if you will. This was a little depressing, if just for that one moment, and I decidedly turned my attention to another conversation.

But then something else happened.

One of the mothers started a story about her child. And then she started another story about her new house. And then someone else chimed in about housekeeping and the lessons learned therein. And then another person spoke up about some other life lessons they had learned. The conversation went from social-media-reminder-time to normal-adult-conversation-about-life. How intriguing, right?

I was experiencing how the possession of social media was no substitute for actual life. This may seem like a “duh” statement, but consider that notion for yourself. How often are we content to just follow a person’s activity on the internet rather than pick up the phone and talk to them? A close friend or relative even. And how often do we accept commenting on a person’s status as being ‘enough’ to show support for them doing a tough time? The amount of time it takes to dial a number is the same amount of time it takes to write a post on Twitter or Facebook. There may be slight variances by mere fractions of a second, but I’m pretty sure they’re really close.

I’ve been particularly convicted by this fact as of late. I see the lives my closest of friends and family are having across the vastness of internet space and I sometimes feel like that’s good enough. Like that’s all I need to be doing to be a good friend or relative: just follow their daily posts and keep tabs on them. So long as no one is dying or in pain, we’re good, right? I’ll see you at a holiday or something and we can chat idly there too, right? Yep, that’s what we think. But of course, something will happen and I’ll be reminded of how silly that thinking truly is.

Case in point, I had a phone conversation with a high school friend (one who could not attend the reunion) a couple weeks ago. I haven’t seen him for over a year, maybe longer. We were close in high school and closer afterwards but our careers pulled us to different parts of the U.S. Now, he lives two time zones away from me. Sad? Sure, but I’ve seen his wedding photos, replied to comments he’s made online, and have read that he’s just as witty as ever in his status updates. So I am at peace and in balance with our relationship, right?

Well, after a six month hiatus from speaking, we connected via phone and caught up on everything but the photos, the status updates and the comments. None of those things really mattered at all, really. He’s fond of cooking now; something I was shocked to discover, and I hinted to him that I was to be engaged soon (for the record, not as shocking to him but exciting news nonetheless). There was much life to be had in our conversation and I left it feeling like I’d been brought “up to speed” on the last six months of his life. A life that just couldn’t be summed up in a candid photo or a sarcastic one-liner from Twitter. No, neither of those could do the conversation – the connection we made – any bit of justice.

If anything, I felt cheapened by my own presumed assumptions. I had seen a photo of him jumping in the air so I figured that he was physically alright and yet, he’d had surgery and had been couch-ridden for days on end. Hence, his new obsession with cooking. I wanted to reference how I’d seen other updates or pictures of the past six months but hearing him tell me was far more gratifying. And when I reciprocated that discussion with my own life stories, I got the same result in return. So as our conversation ended, I wasn’t left pondering about something I’d seen or read out of context – I instead knew where he was in life. And he knew where I was. That was a good feeling.

So is social media the devil incarnate sent to break our ties with the ones we know? Some would say so. I’ll choose to say ‘no, not exactly’. All I’m saying is to not treat social media as a means for being engaged with people’s lives. Sure, you can follow others on social media and that’s all well and good, but do not mistake the experience for knowing someone’s story. The real thing is much more enjoyable, I assure you. Not to mention, it’s real too.