Our poor, poor ruffled feathers

terrypensivesm“It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and one to hear.” — Henry David Thoreau.

When Life deals the cards, we have no choice but to play them. If we do so, I have learned, Life will take us where we belong, which includes a rare form of happiness, because the talents and gifts we have been given are able to blossom in ways we could never have imagined otherwise. If the hand isn’t filled with aces, however, our tendency as humans is to do whatever we can to make them appear so to others, especially if we believe that their cards are somehow better than ours. This is the great bluff of humankind and a trap that we enter into unawares, usually to the detriment of our true selves. We are at war inside, though most people never know so. We wear masks, because we’re so desperately afraid that no one would like or accept us if we didn’t.

It is this ego game with which I wrote the book of Terry and thereby went about chasing the wind in my sorry attempt to make it real. I collapsed in the journey’s inevitable failures. I was a drunk, a womanizer, an addict of every sort, a loser of a husband and father, a lousy friend, a tax evader, a thief, a pathological liar, and mostly, I was an ignorant pretender. The journey to knowledge is lifelong, but that is unacceptably terrifying to those whose lives demand that they appear knowledgeable today.

I was a business success in the world of broadcasting, because I was good at showing off, otherwise known as marketing. I could envision news issues and stories that would resonate with the public and used that gift to create themes that got noticed and helped news ratings. This was good for the companies that employed me and good for my image, but the hard work and day-to-day grind of managing a newsroom produced a discontent that forced me elsewhere. You see, industry requires managers, and I was definitely not one of those. I dragged my family with me as I chased the wind, and that is but another element of my self-destructive character.

My friends know what happened. I crashed and burned on a hot summer night in 1998 and found myself with nothing, because I had lost it all and nearly lost my soul. That both humiliated and humbled me, but it began a journey that I am still traveling today. I need to make up for the years I have squandered, and it begins and ends with a soft heart and a teachable spirit.

Every day, I read. Every day, I study. Every day, I explore. Every day is an exercise in challenging my assumptions, because I view most of my life as one of relentless ignorance, and I refuse to be ignorant anymore. This is why I chose to blog my thoughts in 2002 and have continued to do so ever since. There is something about exposing your thoughts to others through writing that continues the thread of humility through study. I’m teachable today, thanks to 12-Step groups, friends who know me well and hold me accountable, my counselor and my faith. It is a journey of discovery. It is a journey of overcoming shame. It is living life on Life’s terms and not my own.

ameripriseI saw a commercial the other day for Ameriprise Financial starring that most believable Tommy Lee Jones. It asked the question “Will you have enough money to live on your terms?” This is a dream, because Life is in charge of each of us. For Ameriprise, it’s a nice slogan that appeals to the egos of its clients and potential clients, but it’s an unrealistic ideal.

I need to talk about this today, because my zeal to share my discoveries with others, especially about culture, change and the Internet, has turned against me. Passion is the enemy of reason, goes the old saw, and my “reasonable” readers are more often insulted than eager to learn. I’m told it’s my use of the word ignorance or ignorant. It is perceived and received as a weak, ad hominem attack, whether it’s intended that way or not.

According to Wikipedia, “Ignorance is a state of being uninformed (lack of knowledge).” Wikipedia follows that with this: “The word ignorant is an adjective describing a person in the state of being unaware and is often used as an insult to describe individuals who deliberately ignore or disregard important information or facts.” Often, however, isn’t always, and the insult part is generally the most accepted definition today, one that promises a defensive and often hostile response.

The problem with this is that ignorant doesn’t really mean either stupid or silly, not even close. It is, however, an adjective, and it’s often the noun associated with it that is the real problem, as in Dan Akroyd’s “Jane, you ignorant slut!” I’ve called some individual people “ignorant,” and that’s not right, but I’m asking for a little forgiveness today, because I really want people to see that I’m not sentencing anybody to death, for crying out loud. It’s a statement about a lack of knowledge, or worse, an unwillingness to embrace knowledge.

I was also taught through the 12-Steps to “stop feeling sorry for yourself” and to “grow a spine.” Those two attributes are keys that open doors to amazement through the practice of the presence of God. You cannot (as in, it is impossible to) enjoy the richness of today while living in yesterday through resentment or tomorrow through anxiety. Peace only exists in the here and now, and I know peace. May you find and know it, too. And those who do know 12-Step programs recognize and embrace the freedom with which we speak to each other. As I have said many times in meetings, “The difference between Alcoholics and everybody else is that we at least KNOW we’re assholes.” Everybody else is going through life pretending to be something else, but human nature tags us all as we truly are, corrupt at core and prone to error.

Courtesy, the brilliant Nick Galifanakis.

Courtesy, the brilliant Nick Galifianakis.

In accepting my own ignorance, I’ve also become bolder in my use of the word regarding some of the extreme things I hear and see my friends say via social media. When I use the term, however, I’m almost always scolded, for most people receive it as only an insult. They default to the belief that I’m calling them a dunce. Sorry, but that’s just not the case. No insult there. None. Education is the goal entirely, and along with it comes this admonition:

Please get over yourself and don’t blame me if I ruffle your feathers! That’s entirely your problem, not mine. Please “own” your reactions to life.

Examine your own heart, if you are so offended, because you’ll most likely find it seeks truth regardless of your feelings. We’ve become SUCH a culture of blame (thank you, trial lawyers, but that’s another essay) that we’ve abandoned all reason in our responses to each other. We are slow to forgive and quick to sue, and there is no such thing anymore as an “accident.”

Many other events have contributed to my education. In 1991, I spent a week in Albuquerque doing a research project for Lee Enterprises, when I encountered a Native American leader in the community. He taught me the meaning of “crossover” experiences, wherein a person is completely transformed through living in and embracing another culture. He called it “life-changing” and “mind-expanding,” and he encouraged me to explore it. I’ve had a couple of those experiences now, including living with my Arab family in Amman.

The only requirement for this form of enlightenment is that you embrace humility enough to be teachable, which brings us back to the matter of teachability. Are you teachable? John Maxwell is a leadership guru who studies effective learning strategies, and he offers 10 questions for our consideration:

To know whether you are really open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I open to other people’s ideas?
  2. Do I listen more than I talk?
  3. Am I open to changing my opinion based on new information?
  4. Do I readily admit when I am wrong?
  5. Do I observe before acting on a situation?
  6. Do I ask questions?
  7. Am I willing to ask a question that will expose my ignorance?
  8. Am I open to doing things in a way I haven’t done before?
  9. Am I willing to ask for directions?
  10. Do I act defensive when criticized, or do I listen openly for truth? 

If you answered no to one or more of these questions, then you have room to grow in the area of teachability. You need to soften

your attitude, learn humility, and remember the words of John Wooden: “Everything we know we learned from someone else!”

To those I’ve offended today or in the past, I apologize for the umbrage, but I can’t say I won’t do it again. The real problem with ignorance is our almost complete inability to acknowledge it or even get close to such an admission. In the quiet of the night, however, when we are most vulnerable to our own thoughts, truth has a way of shaking its critical finger at us. Take Mr. Maxwell’s quiz above and be honest. You might find the experience enlightening.

We’re here for such a short time, yet we squander hour after hour trying to impress everybody. The final Facebook post by my very “different” but very dear friend Brian Shields before his tragic death in late January said it well: “Selfishness is a very sticky quality of this species.”

He wasn’t talking about the other guy. He was talking about you.