When you witness others fail

I’ll admit it. I’ve had times when I enjoyed watching another person fall short. It’s not that I am an evil person; I just feel like people should get what they deserve. And what they deserve, is a swift hand of punishment for their crimes. Crimes against me or someone else, of course. Like justice has been served, right? Who says that this person should have everything that he wants? Why not me? Those are the initial thoughts and feelings I may have, depending on the situation. Sound familiar to you? I’m sure it does.

And I’m also sure that in those fleeting moments, you find two very distinct voices crying out from the inside. The first one says something like this: “Yes, he finally got what was coming to him. Bout time too. Now I can get back to feeling better about myself.” While the other voice says something like this: “Why would you even think that? Imagine what he is going through or if that were you. How might others react if that had been your failure?”

Well, what we have here are two very different responses to a singular event. Let’s take a closer look.

Indeed, a question of character is raised depending on which of these voices you hear first. Moreover, which of these voices is more audible to you is also of concern. Why? Well, think of it this way: what we feed, ultimately grows. And what grows, beckons more attention so it can continue to grow. So if you’re always indulging in voice number one, then you are continuously reinforcing a concept that people get what’s coming to them. And to take this one step further, that you alone are a proper judge as it pertains to proper punishment. Yikes. God complex, anyone? But, if you are feeding voice number two, then your immediate reaction is not so self-serving. And it’s not as cynical either. Heck, it may make life more manageable too. What a thought, eh?

So which sounds more appealing? I’m sure that most people would agree with the second option. It’s a “win-win” for all parties involved, but it’s also that much harder to do. Why? Because inwardly, we can hide our intentions towards others. We can witness someone falter and keep our hidden agendas to ourselves. We aren’t required to parade around with our inner thoughts plastered to our foreheads (what a thought though!) – so we can “fake” it, if you will. There is certainly a fear of being exposed, but that fear is discarded since we know that no one else can see what we see. And what we see are our truest of intentions. Kept for us, and only us.

This appears to be the safest route, but it’s actually the most treacherous. What we keep hidden remains close to our hearts and what remains close to our hearts eventually dictates all other facets of our life. In a way, we slowly destroy relationships with others just because of a little jealousy. If I’m really honest with myself, I can say that I feel that way at times. But wouldn’t it be such a relief to not have those secret agendas? To not be worried about who you gossiped to about who? I, for one, would love to experience that daily if I could. I know people who can’t wait to share the latest news on someone else’s problems. I’m sure you know of some yourself. And they burst like a flooded dam when they’ve got the “goods” on somebody. Why though? What did this other person do to deserve such ill favor from someone? The failure alone is usually harsh enough, isn’t it?

So why not kill that self-righteous monster before it rears its ugly head? Sounds idealistic, right? As in, “it can’t be done.” Sure, of course it sounds daunting, but it’s an idea that everyone would admit to wanting while few will admit to trying. So once again, why not try it? It’s something that warrants our collective attention. Internally, externally, and all the way through.

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.

Pardon me – how is your day going, social media?

This month could be the death of me. In the midst of NaNoWriMo, seeking representation, and starting other endeavors, November is primed to stretch me in ways I never knew possible. Sleep has taken on the identity of both enemy and friend. My keyboard looks like a cruel form of punishment rather than a tool of the trade. I find myself staring at treadmills and free weights like they are lustful objects. Anything that could distract me from the work at hand would be a welcome escape.

And yet, here I am. Typing, blogging…ugh. I know I have to keep going and that’s that.

As an added bonus (and it’s a big one), I have a steady income and a home. I can wake up and not feel the sting of inaccessible internet or other crucial resources. I have a computer, fridge and a fancy Starbucks card to buy that tea I love so dearly. It’s these kinds of things that help me keep my motivation. A little gusto to keep the wind in my sails. And when I’m really bored, I check out Facebook, WordPress or Twitter to see what’s happening ‘out there’. When that’s done, I’m back to it and away I go. But when the day’s over, I try to relax. That, by and large, is a good feeling.

In light of this, I started something new. I began to ask myself a question. Not a tough one, but a crucial one nonetheless: how bad are things really? You know, if I had to make a list of horrible things that happen to me and those that are positive, what would that look like exactly?

You may imagine this being an external discussion: “Josh, just how bad is your life? Honestly?” To which I usually reply, “Not that bad, I guess?” To which my separate personality responds, “Yes, that’s right.” By this point, I stop the conversation entirely. Because let’s be honest, any continued dialogue would be unhealthy.

Like most people, I used to enjoy media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. When they were new, they were exciting. People flocked to these things like they were giving away free food and drinks. And now, more than half the world has at least one of the above accounts and checks theirs daily. Crazy thought, is it not?

But what started out as fun has really taken a turn, I’d say. What’s Facebook like nowadays? People post their inner emotions every five minutes – and they aren’t normally the types of emotions you’d want to read or hear. “The world sucks”; “I hate everything”; “My test was stupid”; “Why are drivers so stupid”, etc. and etc. Reading these kinds of things all day, every day, is not good for your brain. Think about it this way – if I eat cupcakes or fast food every day, I’ll become unhealthy. My energy level may go through extreme highs and lows but ultimately, I’ll be weak, dreary and tired. My diet will be off and I will suffer the consequences of my choice food. But that’s what I’m filling myself with: crap.

Now, consider the same thing as it pertains to the brain. If I read depressing, angst-ridden, angry messages every morning then how might I feel? Or even think? All those angry posts I read will get embedded deep in my noggin, which could lead to me acting out in a similar way. And even if I don’t act on them, I may begin to form the opinion that yes, everybody must be pissed off and the world sucks. Ok, yikes.

If there were a program for tracking the overall mood of Facebook globally, based on certain key indicators in status updates, I’d be curious to see the results. Would people be more upset? Or would they be more happy? One can speculate, but I’m inclined to believe the former. Facebook, Twitter, etc. – they are more like sounding boards for the mistreated rather than a handy socializing tool. Don’t think so? Go to your page right now and read the top five or 10 posts in your news feed. I’m sure you’ll find what I’m talking about very quickly.

So what’s a person to do? Be a rebel and delete all forms of social media accounts? I know some that go that route. Maybe that’s you? If so, then don’t be afraid to unplug. It could be very helpful. But if you don’t feel that obsessed, and are just tired of the same old, same old, then consider another alternative: being mindful of what you are allowing yourself to read. This goes for more than just status updates. What am I filling my head with? What am I deciding to allow in my brain for further processing? It may not seem like an important concept, but it really is. I can’t stress that enough. Try it for a day. Try it for a week. Heck, just do it. So many people give up at the first sign of duress and then wonder why things never change. What’s the downside to actually trying though?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

When you’re hit by a baseball…

…it usually hurts.

It don’t really matter who you are. The brief impact, the sudden abrasion against your skin, the force of a round object against you – all of these events are unwanted experiences for your body. And yet, if you play baseball, you’re bound to be hit by a ball sooner or later. Whether it be at home plate, in the field, or in the bleachers – there’s a good chance you’ll be hit at some point. And when you do get plunked, it won’t be enjoyable.

When we increase the amount of times we do something, we also increase the possibility that something bad will occur. Take dating, for example. The more you go out on dates and the more people you decide spend time with, the more liable you will be to have your heart trampled upon. The same can be applied to driving. Drive a car long enough and you’ll probably witness a few crashes or heaven forbid, be involved in a crash.

If you broke this concept down a little further, you may refer to this phenomenon as “probability”. Or rather, the likelihood that an event will eventually take place. Anyone who has ever driven a car knows that there’s an inherent chance that something bad might happen while they’re driving. The engine stalls, tire goes flat, and so on, but we rarely focus our energies on the one-in-a-million situation. We fix our eyes on the objective instead. “I need to get groceries”; “I need to pick up my kid from school”, among others. The goal outweighs any possible fear we may possess.

So why am I drabbling on about this stuff? Well, I got hit by a pitch this weekend and man, it hurt. I won’t lie about it. A 75+ mph fastball plunked me right in my side. If my kidneys were positioned on the outside of my body, they would have exploded. Thankfully, they are not but you get the idea.

The ironic thing about all this is how I had just been thinking that I hadn’t been hit by a pitch for a while. Honestly, it’s been about three solid years since the last time I’ve been hit. And for a guy in his late 20s who still plays on weekends, that’s not bad odds. Historically, I get out of the way pretty well, but on Sunday I just didn’t. So as I took my hit to the side, grimaced and threw my bat down, I couldn’t help but think of my earlier thoughts that morning.

You know, I don’t think I’ve been hit by a pitch in a while. That’s not bad.

And from that moment on, I was doomed. I’m sure most people can relate to this. The instance we recognize a glitch in our universe, that quick observation of our own extended bliss; we send an open invite to agony so it can return to our doorstep.

But here’s the reality – agony returned because I got lax. I was comfortable with my circumstances. Rather than keep my guard up, I was content to “ride my good fortune out”. Like I was somehow immune to being hit by a ball again. If I were really watching carefully, on guard and ready for anything, I may have dodged that ball and this blog post would have never happened. But on the flip side of that thinking, I could have reflected upon how I’ve kept my mind sharp. Not being content to let a baseball smash into me after so many years of avoiding a wild throw or errant pitch.

I didn’t though (as you know). I got comfortable. Such is the way with most people. However, I find myself not wanting to be like most people. I’d like to think of myself as someone who challenges himself daily. Moment to moment, second to second, with the understanding that I can change things as they are happening without having to sit idly by. Because if I sit idly, then I’m sure to be caught in that familiar “Hey, that hasn’t for a while, has it?” And we all know what comes next when you have one of those silent epiphanies….

You get hit by a baseball.