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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

We Are all Damaged

 We are all damaged

As I often do, I made a social media post which was intended to remind people of their power to control their responses to their world. In this case, the post was “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” The intent of the sentiment is that we cannot prevent painful things from happening to us, but we can choose our response to it and whether we choose to suffer in that pain or deal with it in other ways.

Some people were inspired by this post and others were offended. I was hurt by their taking offense. I understood that those who were upset read the words through the lens of their experience and took a different meaning from that which was intended. What it took some time to recognize was the source of my own pain at the misunderstanding.

In the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, the author discusses the fact that humans have so much trouble connecting with one another without pain.

He describes it by comparing it to physical touch. When healthy skin is touched, it is pleasant, but if that skin is cut or infected, then the touch is painful. We are covered in wounds from our pasts, so when we come in contact with other people, the contact is painful.

Our animal instincts are simple. Our instinct is to strike out when we are hurt. But the world is not simple. It is complex. If we have been hurt by a villain, then the response is simple. Strike back against the one who hurt you. But life is rarely so simple.

Perhaps we have been hurt by faceless circumstance. Perhaps we have been hurt by someone who didn’t know better and was doing their best. Perhaps we were hurt by someone who is repentant. How can you feel good lashing back against such a person?

Yet we are still driven to lash out. That is the instinct when we are hurt. So we create straw men. We create simple villains and strike out at them.

Consider what you see on social media in that lens.

Everyone you meet and everyone you speak to has been wounded by their past. Some wounds are deeper than others. Some are wounded by the harms they have suffered. Some are wounded by the fears they were fed. Some are wounded by the stories they heard or even by the stories they invented for themselves.

When we are wounded, we want to lash out.

This morning, I heard an interview with Bryan Doerries on On Being. Doerries runs Theater of War Productions in which he uses readings of classical stories to bring to light our modern psychic wounds. The interview was profound, and I highly recommend it.

As I listened, I was reminded of a quote I heard once: “We are all damaged goods.”

None of us came through life without scars and cuts and open wounds. Every one of us has sensitive spots, places that, when touched, cause us pain, cause us to lash out.

We are we sensitive to certain ideas? Why do they upset us so?

They upset us because we fear they might be true.

There are ideas that we teach ourselves because they are ideas that bolster the person that we most want to be. We tell ourselves these things over and over. Perhaps it is the entrepreneur who tells themselves that they are capable and competent to run their business. Perhaps it is a person who was abused telling themselves that they had no power to change their situation. Perhaps it is the doctor who tells themselves that they are doing everything they can for their patients.

We tell ourselves these things over and over and over because we need to believe they are true, and very often they are objectively true, but the real reason we repeat them is that our deepest fear is that they are false.

I tell myself that I share ideas which will help people who need to hear them. I tell myself that I can make people’s lives better. I tell myself that I am competent to coach and guide and teach.

I am sensitive to the idea that my words which are intended to heal may cause harm. I am sensitive to the idea that I have nothing real to offer people. I am sensitive to the idea that I am an imposter.

I am sensitive to these ideas because my deepest fear is that they may be true. If they are true, then who am I? What do I have left?

This is not just me. This is the nature of imposter syndrome, and almost everyone suffers from it in one way or another.

But in our modern, connected society, it becomes worse. Bryan Doerries, in his interview said, “We are constantly consuming each other’s suffering.”

Through social media, conversations which would normally be reserved for quiet, reflective moments are out for all to see among conversations about politics, health, food, pets, kids, war, peace, disease, and disaster.

The constant barrage touches our wounds on a daily basis, and we lash out. We want, no, we need to discredit the person who threatens our most important beliefs, so we attack them.

The attack does nothing to salve our own wounds, but they lead to hidden doubts in the other person. Nothing they’ll ever admit to, because to admit that the words wounded would admit to themselves their own doubts about the ideas which must be true to support their identity, so they strike back.

And then we have a world of people, lashing out at strangers and friends alike, wounding as we go, and seeking the visceral satisfaction of vanquishing a foe, only to discover that the foe we vanquished was nothing more than a friend trying to move in a way that did not aggravate their own wounds.

We are all damaged goods. We are all wounded by the injuries and accidents of our lives.

I am wounded by my failure to understand and effectively serve the first community I built. I am wounded by various failed relationships. I am wounded by the impression of others that I am a shiftless wanderer, drifting from project to project.

That community was a powerful force for good for many people, and I learned much from that experience, but the failure still haunts me. The relationships are long past, but the hurt I may have caused still haunts me. 

My business is now focused and is driving in a direction of growth, but I still worry that someone will look at me and see a dumb kid who’s pretending to be a businessman or even that I am simply repeating my past mistakes unwittingly. 

You see a grey haired connector and entrepreneur, but when I picture myself, I still sometimes see that 23 year old trying to figure it all and making a lot of mistakes on the way.

Next time you look at social media and shake your head wondering why people can’t get along, remember that we are all damaged. We are all wounded.

Remember that we all tell ourselves certain things every day, as loudly as we can, because we fear at a deep and visceral level that they may not be true, and we cannot imagine how we would live if they were. So we will fight with all our strength against anyone who might even suggest that the ideas should be questioned.

When you find yourself angered or triggered or feel that sensitive spot, ask yourself why. How does this idea threaten you? What are you afraid might be true that you need to be false?

Look at your own supporting beliefs. Look at the ideas which you desperately need to be true, fear they are false, but which are objectively factual. Meditate on those ideas, find support for them, and work to become more comfortable with the idea that they are, in fact real.

Having done this, you’ll start to see that the other person did not intend to hurt, but merely to touch, or was just lashing out from instinct from their own wounds. Either way, it is not their words which hurt but, your own wounds which made the interaction painful.

It is in this way that we might all get along a little better.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

On George Floyd and the Response

Let me begin by saying that I, like most Americans and people around the world, am disgusted by the murder of George Floyd. His death is inexcusable and unquestionably a murder which the law should deal with harshly.

The rage felt by his neighbors is understandable, and that's all I'll say about the protests. I would like to speak about two things I am seeing in the aftermath that are different from times before. One very inspiring and the other disturbing.

In my years, I've seen this cycle of police brutality leading to public reaction a number of times. Too often, the brutality is captured on film and everyone can see for themselves what happened. Politicians and other police will want to wait and delay while an investigation occurs. Police across the country will step up to defend their brothers in blue, no matter what the facts say.

This time is different. I read an article this morning in The Day (our local paper) in which the police chiefs of a number of towns decried the murder of Mr. Floyd as just that, a murder. Instead of standing with the murderer as has happened in the past, they distanced themselves from him. It's not just our local police: individuals, chiefs, and departments have made public statements that they are disgusted by what happened. Some have called for prosecution of the murderer and the other officers who stood by and let it happen.

Today in New London, the police chief came to speak at a Black Lives Matter rally. The local chief of police came to speak at a Black Lives Matter rally. This is huge and needs to be recognized as an important step.

Most police officers are good, honest, hard working people who do what they do in order to keep their communities safe, but as long as they defend the criminals among them, they are all tarnished by their actions. However, when they take a stand against the racists and the bullies in their ranks, that is when the culture changes and those who would abuse their power will think twice, knowing that they'll be punished just like a civilian would be for similar violence.

Police as bullies brings me to my second observation: the arrest of an entire CNN crew on live TV. Some police sometimes forget that their job is to enforce the law, and instead think they are the law. This is the root of tyranny, when police, the authorized wielders of violence on behalf of the State, see the people as their enemy to be defeated rather than as their neighbors to be protected.

20 years ago, I, as a representative of the Student Government of UMass Amherst, was standing with a group of administrators observing a riot on campus. For no reason that could be determined, a mounted officer rode over, reached down, grabbed me by the throat and pushed me back. To this day, I do not understand why this happened, as we were a safe distance from the police activity.

In situations such as a riot, there are people, such a the media and others, who have a legitimate reason to be there. The police have an obligation to protect them so long as they abide by any instructions of the police. In this situation, the CNN crew clearly and repeatedly asked for instructions and indicated their intention to follow whatever guidance was given. They offered no resistance and only compliance. The police offered no instructions, and simply arrested them without explanation.

The officers probably thought they had some good reason to do what they did. Maybe they gave instructions previously, but there is always the chance instructions are misunderstood, and an arrest should be explained if there is time to do so, as there was in this case.

The police then proceeded to lie to the public about facts that were clearly evident in watching the many minutes of footage, broadcast live to millions of viewers.

While the image of Mr. Floyd being murdered is horrifying, it can be addressed with prosecution. The images of the CNN crew being arrested are also disturbing in another way, because they show a hubris which is truly terrifying. The hubris of arresting authorized, credentialed members of the media and lying about the details of the arrest.

It is this hubris which leads to deaths of many innocent black men. It is this hubris that leads to so many other unjust interactions with police.

It is this hubris and an effort to counter it which should bring together both the Right and the Left. When the Left says "Black Lives Matter" and the Right says "Don't Tread On Me," they are both objecting to the hubris of law enforcement when they forget that they are here to protect and serve, not dominate and control.

Of course, this is not all police. This is probably not even most police. Most police officers put on the uniform because they truly want to protect and serve. But remember, the expression is not "a few bad apples can be removed and the rest are okay." The expression is "a few bad apples ruin the whole bunch."

Sunday, December 1, 2019

On A More Effective RTM

The unique form of government in Groton, Connecticut provides unique opportunities for transparency and bringing forth the best ideas of the people. Over more than two decades of serving in numerous non profit and governmental organizations, I have seen all manner of government and governance structures. Our unique combination of a Town Council and a Representative Town Meeting (RTM) provides some very interesting benefits if the RTM takes advantage of them.

Most members of the RTM are simply citizens who have decided to become more involved in their community. They do not have particularly deep knowledge of the issues or structure of town government, and this is a beautiful thing. It is beautiful because it means that the average RTM member is asking the very same questions that their constituents have, and they are asking them on camera where that constituent can watch the questions and answers right there on TV (or Youtube). This is an amazing resource for transparency.

Bringing my outside experience to my time on the RTM, I have three thoughts on how the RTM can leverage its existing resources to serve as an even greater asset to our community: fact forward debate, embracing its role in transparency, and a creative engagement committee. I write them so that whoever is the next moderator of the RTM might consider putting them in place to create a more effective and efficient body.

Fact Forward Debate
Robert’s Rules of Order outlines a method for presenting, debating, and voting on motions which assumes that the person raising the motion is the first person advocating that motion. Because the RTM is more reactive on most issues, most main motions that the RTM votes on are initiated by the Town Council. The issue will be reviewed by the relevant committee, then the committee chair will report out the minutes of the meeting in which the motion was discussed. There is then an opportunity for questions from RTM members prior to voting.

While the minutes describe a vigorous discussion of the matter at hand, the nature of minutes can make it difficult for members to get a complete understanding of the issue, resulting in a lengthy set of questions from members as they try to understand the basic outline of the issue at hand.

A more efficient format would be to have either a member of town staff or a member of the Town Council, or even a member of the RTM, provide a clear, factual presentation of the effect of the proposed action and reasons why it should be adopted.

This is doubly important in the case of ordinances, which the RTM does not even formally discuss until a motion to veto is made. It makes little sense that a member has to rise to veto an ordinance simply to learn the background and reasoning behind the ordinance. A brief explanation of the ordinance and its reasoning could save 30-60 minutes of debating and voting on an ordinance that nobody actually wants to veto.

This initial presentation of only a few minutes could replace what is often a half hour or more of questions that are meant to simply clarify the issue. This will allow questions and debate that does occur to be more specifically directed and efficient. It will replace what is often a sense of confusion about the issues before the body with a sense of confidence.

Embracing the RTMs Role In Transparency
The Charter allows the Moderator to cancel any meetings at which there is not “business” to consider. But what is “business?”

Some suggest that business is anything that we are required to vote on, but if the voting is the only important part, why do we spend 60-90 minutes on reports from town staff and committee liaisons?

In an era of limited resources of local media to cover local government, the RTM’s ability to ask questions of our town staff and leadership and get insightful answers is one of the best resources to inform our citizens available to us. The reports portion of the meeting is every bit as vital to the value the RTM provides as any funds appropriation or ordinance review.

The RTM has the same power as a congressional hearing: the power to ask questions and get answers in a public forum. In many towns, decisions are made and nobody knows how they are made or what is happening. Groton’s RTM provides citizens a unique and wonderfully democratic mechanism to pull back the curtain of town government. But it only works if the RTM meets.

Depending on the way the Town Council’s activity falls, the RTM sometimes cancels a number of meetings. This past year, for example, we did not meet in July, August, or October. This made it difficult for members to get answers to key questions they were seeking. While staff is quite good about communicating with RTM members directly, the transparency of those answers being in a public forum is extremely valuable.

I would suggest that there is important business at any meeting where any member has an issue that they’d like to get answers on. Sure, this may mean that there are meetings at which nothing is voted on. That means that the RTM could fulfill its valuable duty of providing transparency in a meeting on an hour or so. Nothing wrong with that.

Creative Engagement Committee
The town of Groton is ably managed by a team of skillful and honest professional staff, and I believe that every department is run by leaders who absolutely seek to provide serve at the best of their abilities. Most of the issues before the town are not Right versus Left or otherwise ideological, but are more often simply a question of whether or not someone has looked closely enough to see if there’s a better way to do things.

The members of the Town Council are, by the nature of their duties, up to their elbows in the regular functioning of the town and tend not to have the time to dive into various elements of the town to find exciting new solutions to old problems.

On the other hand, RTM members, by their very outsider nature, have the ability to bring fresh perspectives. In the previous term, the RTM operated entirely reactively, but there is no reason it could not operate more proactively.

Naturally, some members are more interested in diving in and getting their hands dirty than others, so it would not make sense to ask the existing committees to take on additional work. I would suggest creating a Creative Engagement Committee. This committee would be comprised of volunteers interested in getting into the weeds to really see how things work and how they might work better.

This would not be an investigative committee to catch wrongdoing. Rather, it would be a resource for the town, bringing fresh ideas and perspectives. The very lack of legislative authority of this committee would be an asset. If one is not always thinking in terms of new legislation, one is often freer to have more creative ideas. Many solutions this committee might find could simply be executed by the department head.

Many of the greatest innovations have some from an outsider coming in and saying, “hey, why do we do it this way?” We have a pool to citizens who are interested in getting involved. Why not let them?

Three Ideas
Based on my considerable experience in other organizations and my two years on the RTM, I feel that these ideas would streamline meetings, improve the RTMs effectiveness at serving the people, and help make the town more efficient. All three ideas can be executed within the authority of the Moderator without any changes to the RTM rules or the Charter.

I look forward to working with the RTM for another two years as we serve our neighbors together in this wonderful and unique government institution.

Michael Whitehouse is a member of the Groton Representative Town Meeting serving the 4th district.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Fiscal Responsibility versus Austerity in Groton

The North Stonington Road Bridge... at least what used to be.
You go to a nice restaurant and you order a fancy meal that costs $24.17. The food comes out, but it's a little slow to get to your table. Your silverware isn't quite clean. The vegetables are okay, but clearly not fresh, probably frozen. Your experience is not terrible, but it's mediocre.

The vegetables were frozen because that cost a little less than fresh. They laid off the more experienced dishwasher and hired a less expensive one to save money. They are also short one guy in the kitchen, again to save money, and that's why your food was slow.

They made the cuts so they could reduce their prices. Had they not done so, the price would have been $24.74.

I suspect that if you were given the choice of the $24.17 mediocre experience or the $24.74 excellent experience, you'd pick the excellent one.

One Town's Fiscal Choice

That is the choice that the town of Groton, Connecticut faces in this year's budget cycle. The current intention is to hold the mill rate the same as last year's at 24.17. (The mill rate is the rate per thousand that a property owner pays in taxes.)

But there is a cost to this conservation:

  • $1.5 million will be drawn from the general fund
  • The North Stonington Road Bridge will not be repaired
  • The Bill Memorial Library and Mystic & Noank Library will be cut, and, in later year, be completely unsupported by the town
  • The new community center will continue to have unusable water and a leaky roof.

A Town In Decline

A sign of decline.
When a movie director is trying to show that the world the story takes place in is in decline, they will show broken things. They will show the once nice things that the society could not longer afford to maintain. "We have to take the stairs. This building used to have an elevator, but it broke years ago and no one can fix it." OR "We'll have to go the long way around. There used to be a bridge, but it was washed out in a storm years ago and we can't afford to fix it."

Every "Bridge Out" sign, every closed library, every "park closed" sign is a monument to the decline of a community. It is a celebration of past greatness and present failure.

For Groton to fail to repair it's bridge, to underfund the libraries, to not have a properly maintained community center, it is saying "we used to have nice things, but we can no longer afford them."

That is a town in decline. Perhaps the town really is so poor that austerity is the only option, and visible decline the necessary cost of this, but I'm not sure everyone would agree.

Austerity Versus Investment

The cost to fund the libraries is 0.1% of the total town budget, so let's focus more on the larger maintenance issues.

The argument for holding the mill rate level is that a half mill increase this year could lead to one the next year and the year after that. After 20 years, the mill rate goes from 24 to 34, and that's not a good thing.

This sidewalk on 184 has been closed for some time.
On the other hand, Groton has a bridge out, an unusable sidewalk, etc. If the mill rate is held level at the cost of failing to fix our infrastructure as it wears out, then there is another danger. What if the mill rate stays the same but the number of highly visible infrastructure failures increases by one every year. Twenty years from now, you'd have a low tax rate and 20 unusable bridges and sidewalks and parks throughout the town.

When you have 20 "bridge out" and "park closed" signs around town, people notice. Home buyers notice. Property values fall. Tax revenues fall. Mill rates must be increased to compensate.

Under austerity, you still have to raise the mill rate and you end up with a town full of signs of neglect and decay.

What's the Cost

One mill point converts to $3,686,117 of revenue. The proposed cut to the library is about $38,000. Other cuts to agencies which provide services to Groton residents come to about $30,000. Groton's share of repairing the North Stonington Road Bridge would be $300,000. Substantial improvements could be made to the community center for $250,000.

The total cost to fully staff the kitchen, to use our example above, would be $618,000 or 0.17 mills. If we want to do it without taking money from the general fund balance, it would be 0.57 mills.

$550,000 of this would be one time capital costs. $1,500,000 would remain in the general fund to use in future years when we have harder times. Only $68,000 of this is recurring budget items.

For an owner of an average $200,000 house, the property tax based on these rates would be:

Austerity: $4,834
Fully Funded: $4,868
Fully Funded without using town savings: $4,948

Under the proposed austerity, defunding the libraries, the supporting agencies, failing to repair a failed bridge, and leaving the community center in need to improvements, the average homeowner would save $114 per year.

One hundred and fourteen dollars. To the average family.

There is a line between fiscal responsibility and dangerous austerity. I think we can see where that line is.

What You Can Do

The Town Council of Groton is a group of tremendously hard working and dedicated volunteers. They work with the best interests of the town in mind and want to be accountable to the taxpayers. They are pushing down this path of austerity because that is what they believe that the residents want. The loudest cries they hear are from those who want taxes cut no matter what the cost, and if that is what you want then you are being heard.

On the other hand, if you would like to see the bridges fixed, the community center improved to the level a town like Groton deserves, the libraries and agencies funded to provide great services to you and your neighbors and you understand it may cost a few dollars more in taxes to get these benefits, please contact you Town Councilors and let them know that you believe that 0.57 mills is a small price to keep all the nice things in Groton.

Their contact information can be found here.

Closing Thought on Outside Agencies

The Mystic & Noank Library, the Bill Memorial Library, and other organizations called "outside agencies" are being cut by 25%. The argument is that the money should stay in the town. This is misguided argument.

The two association libraries cost the town a mere $125,000 combined and offer tremendous services funded by donors, other towns, and a variety of other sources. Groton receives millions of dollars of value for tens of thousands of dollars of expense.

These so called outside agencies are simply agencies that are not operated by the town but provide town services. The town gives them money because the services they provide would be profoundly more expensive for the town to provide internally.

When a cut of $100,000 of expense runs the risk of losing $1,000,000 of value, it should be very closely considered. This money does not leave the town. It stays in the town and it brings friends.

Michael Whitehouse is member of the Representative Town Meeting representing the 4th District of Groton, Connecticut.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Solution Oriented Mindset

I am presently working on a new book, tentatively named "Solve Any Problem." This is the first chapter on the Solution Oriented Mindset. I'm curious to get some feedback and suggestions for points I should be sure to address in the rest of the book.

Chapter 1. Solution Oriented Mindset

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right.”
-Henry Ford

 The first step to solving a problem is believing you can solve a problem. In fact, I would venture to say that as many as 90% of the problems in your life can be solved by what you will find in this very chapter.

 Among my many careers, I was a driving instructor for a number of years. One of the most important things that you teach in driving is to point your eyes where you want to go. Your hands follow your eyes. If you are skidding on the ice, you want to keep your eyes pointed down the road because that will give you the best chance to recover the vehicle. The tendency is to look at the thing you’re worried about: the guard rail, the other cars, etc, but if you do, that’s where you’ll go.

 With a problem it is the same way. The right thing to do is to fixate on the solution to the problem, the desired outcome. If you fixate on the problem, you’ll hit the problem, you’ll stay in the problem. The longer you live in the problem, the easier it will be to tell yourself that the problem is insoluble.

 Hopelessness is a very seductive state. Doing nothing is easy, and when there is no solution to a problem, then the right answer is to do nothing. Why waste energy fighting something that cannot be fixed? Why not just resign yourself to your fate and make the most of it?

 I’ll tell you why not. That form of resignation is the definition of depression.

There is a difference between resignation and acceptance. Resignation is defeat, embracing the negative. Acceptance is recognizing the negative, but embracing the positive. It can be understood in cinematic terms. When the hero sacrifices himself for the good of the many, standing tall on the bridge of the ship as it falls into the sun with inspiring music, he has weighed the choices and accepted his decision. He will live (or die) with the consequences.

Resignation, on the other hand, is living in an unacceptable situation, crushed by the failure to remedy it.

If you are poor because you have taken a vow of poverty or chosen to dedicate your life to your art with the recognition of the lack of financial opportunities, then the challenges that you encounter from a lack of money are a test of your faith that strengthens your spirit and will. It is the concept behind the deprivations of Lent. If you give up TV for Lent, then every time you walk by the TV, you are reminded of the strength of your faith and why you choose to deprive yourself. If you fast for a religious observance, each hunger pang reminds you of your love for God.

In these forms of acceptance, you would build your life to accommodate them. If you have chosen the life of a starving artist, then you will find inexpensive places to live, learn economical ways to feed yourself, find forms of fulfillment that don’t require money. In doing so, the deprivations of the wallet will not lead to a depression of the spirit.

On the other hand, if you are merely broke because there is too much month at the end of the money, and you have resigned yourself to the idea that you’re poor because your family has alway been poor and your friends are poor and that’s just the crappy hand you were dealt, then every deprivation will be another dagger into your spirit.

The person who has accepted poverty sees a social media post of friends at a fancy dinner and can feel happy for the friends, knowing that they themselves find their joy elsewhere. The person who is resigned to poverty sees the same post and can feel only envy and resentment.

In later chapters, we will discuss the importance of properly framing the problem for finding the solution. “I don’t have any money” is a statement, not an actionable problem. When I was a younger man, I owned a board and role playing game store which was the center of a beautiful and vibrant community. I had very little money, but I had accepted that fact and built my life to accommodate it. My lack of money rarely bothered me except when it affected what was truly important to me at the time which was my ability to build and maintain institutions which served our community.

Later in life, as a family man, not having money at certain times would become more of a problem in and unto itself because I had obligations to support my family which required money.

In that earlier phase, problems which seemed to be a lack of cash could be solved by reframing the situation, shifting or reducing expenditures. In the later phase, the problems of lack of money needed to be solved with finding more money because there were restrictions on how the situation could be restructured.

The opposite of being resigned to a problem is the faith that a solution always exists. The first step in this faith is to understand that the problem is rarely something as concrete as “I don’t have money” or “my company is failing.” Most problems can be broken down to some element of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

“I don’t have money” is most likely really a problem of safety as in “I need financial security,” or in more severe cases physiological as in “I need to be able to acquire food and shelter.”

Most people fixate on the problem. “I don’t have money.” What they should do is focus on the solution. “How can I acquire financial security?” When the problem is “I don’t have money,” then the only solution can be “get more money.” If the question is one of financial security, a panoply of other solutions come into view. They could find someone who is willing to provide room and board in exchange for being a governess or housekeeper. They could live in a cabin in the woods with no rent or electricity. They could work for a restaurant and get free meals. None of these would create more money, and some might even mean less, but that is not important because it would solve the real problem.

The important thing, regardless of the particular problem, is to first embrace the idea that there is a solution. You just have to find it.

Why do you search your house for your lost keys, but you don’t search your house for a pot of leprechaun gold? You believe that your lost keys are somewhere in your house. You do not believe there is a pot of gold in the house. Why would you waste time searching for something that does not exist.

It is the same way with solutions. Why would you search for a solution that you do not believe exists? When you are searching for your keys, you first search the obvious places: the counter, the couch, the mud room where you take off your boots, etc. Once the obvious places are exhausted you search the less obvious. Are they in the medicine cabinet? Did you put them in the freezer for some reason? The fireplace? The mulch around the bushes out front?

But you will only search the most unexpected locations if your faith that your keys are somewhere in your house is strong. If you are absolutely confident that you brought them into the house.

It is the same way with solutions. If you have a weak belief in a solution to your problem, then you will make a weak search for the solution. In the no money example, maybe you check the job listings once or twice, don’t see anything and give up. On the other hand, if you have an absolute confidence that there is a solution, then you will search high and low. You will never stop looking and trying and experimenting until you find that solution. You will research it. You will ask your friends. You will pray on it. You’ll never stop until you find it.

The best part is that, in many cases, this dedication to finding a solution can lead you to find one in less time than it would have taken to make a cursory search and give up. Why? If you are planning to give up, then you make a plodding and perfunctory search. You don’t try that hard. You have already decided to fail, which perversely means that success would mean you were wrong. On the other hand, if you have decided to succeed, you will seek the most aggressively effective solutions first.

Dave Durand, who has made a study of what he calls legacy achievers, says that one of the most powerful forces in the world is that of self justification. If you believe that you will fail, you want to justify that belief. You will want to justify your resignation. It’s not laziness, it’s prudence. Why waste energy on something that is doomed to fail? See, I tried this, that, and the other, and nothing worked. I put in an effort.

If you only learn one thing from this entire book, let it be the importance of a solution oriented mindset. If you believe that there is a solution, you will find it. You will find it because there is always a solution, so if you never stop looking, you’ll eventually find it. If you can embrace absolute confidence in the existence of a solution, you will eventually intuit everything else I can teach you about problem solving.

That doesn’t mean you should stop reading and figure everything out on your own. While you will intuit it all eventually, it is always more efficient to learn from the mistakes of others rather than making every single one yourself.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Gratitude in Difficult Times

Image may contain: 1 person, text that says "HAPPY THANKSGIVING"
This has been a very difficult year for me and my family. I have seen communities torn apart by people who placed their personal grudges, agendas, and insecurities above the good of the society of which they are a part. I have watched people we thought were friends turn against us. I have dealt with people whose word is worthless.

As we come to the close of such a year, it might be easy to say that it is not a time for gratitude but bitterness. The temptation to do so is quite strong. Too often, when there is bad and good together, it is too easy to fixate on the bad. To let the evil overshadow the good.

This year has seen a lot of destruction in our world, but looked at another way, we could call it creative destruction.

When those whom you believe are your friends turn on you, at first, you begin to doubt all of your friends. Who will turn next? Then you begin to doubt yourself. What did I do to drive them away? Then your true friends reveal themselves. Not necessarily in some great action, but simply in their continued presence. When the deceivers have all left, those who remain are the true friends, and there are many of them. So many.
The Groton Rotary club is a wonderful group of people, and
I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to
share my time, energy, and resources with the great
projects they do for our community and the world.

During the darkest time, I had blocked or unfriended dozens of people on Facebook. I was fixated on what was lost until I noticed a curious thing. After so many had been purged from my connections, I looked at my list of friends and discovered that, not only was it not lower, it was in fact higher. Much higher. I have connected with hundreds of good people in the last year.

Furthermore, as the groups that we had built our lives around and contributed our support to proved to be rotten shells destined to
collapse, we found ourselves freed to find new communities, new groups, new good people to surround ourselves with, new true causes to give our support to.

From the first meeting I visited my new Toastmasters Club,
I treated as a member of the group, and I am deeply grateful
for their fast and sincere friendship.
As it turns out, they are not new. They have been here all along, but we had been dedicating our attention, our energy, our support elsewhere. Now, as things have become clearer, we have been able refocus our energy to places where it can do real good, where it will be appreciated, and where it will make us part of a community of good people who will make our lives richer for knowing them.

Some of the amazing local people I had the pleasure to work
with. Even the folks on the Yes side we're great people. We
may have disagreed, but we all agreed that we wanted what
was best for our town. It was refreshing for everyone to care
about the common good.
In the same way that you pull weeds from a garden to allow the beautiful flowers to grow, the trials and tribulations of 2018 have allowed us to weed out the places and people who sapped out energy and our strength and allowed us to grow and develop relationships with amazing, wonderful people who will make our lives so much richer.

I have so much to be grateful for. I am grateful for the wonderful community I have found at my church over the past year. I am grateful for the chance to become more involved in the good work of Rotary. I am grateful for the chance to have worked along so many of the best and brightest in local politics. I am grateful for the new friends I have met throughout this year.

My wonderful church family at Noank Baptist Church that I
have been blessed to become a part of this year. While I am
relatively new, they have welcomed me like a long lost
relative and I am eternally grateful.
So, I suppose I should also be grateful to one more group of people. I am grateful to the liars, the schemers, and the people with evil in their hearts who brought all this upon us. They allowed me to really appreciate all the good people who are around me. They allowed me to refocus my efforts onto communities that deserve the love of myself and my family. They have allowed me to find the flowers among the weeds.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and take a moment between the turkey and the pie to be grateful for all the blessings that are around us.

P.S. I usually add the photos after I write an article. As I went to add the photos to this article, I realized that I didn't have room for all the wonderful groups. I am deeply thankful to the great folks at BVM that I work with, to various individuals I have met along the way, people in the fandom communities who are still doing the good work to bring fellowship and good times to those who wear the gears and dream of the rocket ships. I'm sure I'm leaving out someone, but, as A Halo Called Fred sings, "We Love You All!"