The Religion of Self-Help

A few weeks ago, I attended my first self-help seminar.  I resisted the invite but a good friend insisted that if I went in with an open-mind, I was bound to learn something.  I told him that with an open-mind, you’re bound to learn something no matter where you are.  He said there was a money-back guarantee.  He said that if nothing else, he was very interested to see how someone like me to would behave in an environment like that.  I agreed.

I went to PSI Seminars: Basic which was a 3 day seminar with about 70 other people at a middle-tier hotel in the burbs.  The group was diverse but seemed to be weighted more towards newer immigrants and the middle-class.  I also noticed that while many came in with a healthy dose of skepticism, they also came looking for help in facing their own personal challenges.

The curriculum introduced several valuable concepts like game theory, personality science, and why it helps to stray from your comfort zone.  It also included classics like the law of attraction and self-love.  The 3 days were largely a mix of lectures, group exercises, and personal exercises.  There was a lot of clapping.

When I wrapped up the weekend, I asked for my money back.  It just wasn’t for me.  I think that when you ask for your money back, they follow up to try and figure out why.  They sent my group’s ‘micro-leader’, a 20-something nice kid who I got along well with.  In our conversation, he asked me what I learned at the seminar.  I told him that I learned many things, but perhaps most significant, I learned a great deal about religion.  I don’t think that’s the answer he was expecting.

I grew up without religion.  Both my parents went to church when they were young but they had fallen out of it by the time they had children of their own.  My earliest understanding of religion was that it was unnecessary.  It was easy to see that you could be a good person without religion, and that you could be a bad person with religion.  I also knew that many religious teachings hadn’t aged well, leaving their supporters with out-dated values.  More than anything, it seemed like religion was holding back the natural progression of morality.

As I got older, I became more spiritual and started focusing more on the intangibles of the universe which connect us all.  On that journey, I started noticing that much of what I was discovering for myself already existed in religious texts.  These epiphanies of mine weren’t new ideas, they were ancient ideas.  They were ideas that resonated so strongly with their audience, that people built entire organizations around these ideas.  This was the root of religion.  Things started to make more sense.  Where I once resisted religion, I was now in a place where I could understand it.

When I was younger, I came up with an idea: The Church of Good.  I think this is the first time I’ve ever typed that out because I just saw the play on words.  Anyways… the church of good was simply a church without religion.  This would be a place where people would come to hear the inspiring stories of what real people have done to make the world a better place.  It would be a place where we could learn the ideas and practices which would help us be better to one another.  It would also be a place were people could find community among others who were motivated to be good people.  It was supposed to be the best of religion without the worst.

That idea has sat in the back of my mind for over a decade now.  For most of that time, I saw religion as toxic.  But then I kept meeting people whom I admired in many ways, who also happened to be religious.  How could I admire someone who lived their life according to something which I considered to be toxic?  There was a disconnect.  The people I admired were good, decent people.  They generous when they didn’t have much, they were kind to those who weren’t kind to them, and they seemed to be more motivated by a collective good than by personal gain.   Most of them looked at the organized side of religion as a formality, traditions within their tribe.  For many of them, it was the least interesting part.  What they all seemed to have in common though, was an appreciation for the greater good and and enjoying being part of a community that prioritized it.

For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why religion had such popularity and staying power in the face of such obvious flaws.  Why couldn’t people see that they were being lied to?  And manipulated?  And often, for the sake of those who clearly weren’t operating in the spirit of the teachings.  But then it clicked, they were learning things at church that they weren’t learning anywhere else – Important things.

When I was fired from the bank, I was forced to leave a career I had put my everything into.  My world came crashing down and I experienced suffering.  That experience offered me lessons about myself and my journey that would’ve been very challenging to grasp otherwise.  I became a much stronger and more capable person because of it.  The last time something happened like that, it was my dad who died.  I noticed a pattern: that my greatest moments of growth followed my greatest moments of suffering.  With that understanding, my perspective on suffering changed.  Suffering was no longer to be feared or avoided, but understood, appreciated, and embraced.  I mentioned this to a friend and he told me that this was a classic Buddhist teaching.  Well then.

If we were to look at all the lessons learned from all the religions, I suspect we would find patterns of morality and purpose.  I’m not saying that everything we’d find is something which should be taught today.   What I am saying that we would find a pattern of people trying to understand how to be better to one another and a pattern of people trying to understand their place within the universe.  I can’t help but think that this is the true value of religion… an opportunity to learn about the more philosophical side of the human experience.. A deeper understanding of who you are and your place in the universe.

I knew all this going into the PSI Seminar.  I had even made some connections between religion and self-help before going in.  Experiencing it first hand was something else.

I would imagine that for those who weren’t raised to be religious, turning to religion is an exercise in finding answers.  I think self-help serves that same purpose.  The people in that room were not there because everything was going well, they were in search of a better way.  But many still arrived skeptical, perhaps like you would on your first day of church.

The facilitator (who happened to be a former church minister), took the stage with all the enthusiasm of a motivational speaker (or preacher).  And after some icebreakers, he started getting into some very real teachings.  People learned.  There were ‘a-ha!’ moments.  People were making breakthroughs.  Trust was being earned.

There were various exercises where you were encouraged to build deep connections with those around you.  Almost all were strangers who you didn’t know 48 hours ago.  It was a valuable reminder that we’re more similar than we are different.  It also reminded us that connecting with one another is a rather natural experience when we don’t let our personal baggage get in the way.  A sense of community was being built.

A few rituals were introduced.  Things like a big ‘good morning!’ response, jumping up and down yelling ‘I’m excited’, or the awkward soul-train dance party.  Part of how I picked up on it was observing the volunteers.  These were individuals who had done the course previously, and were coming back to observe.  They were on-point with all the rituals.  Culture was being established.

On the third day, PSI showed how they approached the business side of self-help.  The 3 day seminar cost about $800.  People who have taken the seminar are then heavily encouraged to have their friends take it.  The general message seems to be, ‘look at how great it was for you and everyone else here, don’t you want this for your friends?’  The PSI: Basic seems to operate as a feeder for their second seminar, referred to as The Ranch.  The Ranch is a 7 day retreat (to a ranch), and about 10x the cost of the basic.  When they made the pitch for the ranch, they also made the pitch for the course after it.  Then they offered to bundle the two together for a discounted price (about  $9,000).  They said “If you think that’s a lot of money and you’re not sure, just sign up for it.  If you make the commitment, you’ll find the money.”  Then they said this deal is only available for the next 20 minutes.

You’re doing what now?

After two and a half days of learning, and appreciating, and building community… where did this come from?  At least the church focused on the collection plate.  I couldn’t sit there and do nothing.  So I piped up and asked if this was the kind of financial decision that people should probably think about for more than 20 minutes.  The facilitator agreed.

During that 20 minutes, the facilitator came back up to me and offered a different answer to my question.  I reminded him that regardless of what answer he wanted to provide, he knows that these are classic pressure-sales tactics.  He conceded.  I asked him why he went along with it.  He said that whether it was the church or PSI, there were always practices that he didn’t agree with.  That sounds about right.

When I was doing the follow-up interview with our micro-leader, I asked him what he thought about these tactics.  He said lots of other people do the same thing.  I told him he was right, that you see it everywhere from MLMs, to time-shares, to religious cults.  I asked why he wasn’t more interested in holding them accountable.  He spoke about all the good that PSI does for people.  That being manipulated into a self-help program that turns out to be really good for you isn’t really that bad.  I asked him if the end justified the means.  He said no, not really.

But he found his religion.. his tribe.. where he wants to search for answers.. and I wasn’t going to change his mind.

 

 

 

 

PSI Basic & My Experience

A couple months ago, I was hanging out with a good friend.. We shall call him Steve.  Much like myself, Steve has spent the last 10 years realizing that our universe is much bigger than the neighborhood we grew up in.  While our paths have been different at times, we still have a great deal in common.  I’d say that he probably knows me, my journey, and my direction better than anyone.

Part of Steve branching out and exploring his new universe was reading more, expanding his interests, and trying out some self-help courses.  He mentioned that he had gone to one and that it was a little weird but that he did learn a few things.  Not long after, he was headed to the states for a follow up course or something to that effect.  Maybe it was a Tony Robbins thing?

I had seen Tony Robbins on YouTube, and while I understood and appreciated the things he would say, I didn’t find them very motivational.  Same could be said for the other ‘motivational’ speakers I’ve watched.  I actually found their material rather repetitive and somewhat hollow.  There was lots of talk about waking up at 4:45 am or loading up your desktop with pictures of things you wanted to accomplish, but very little mention of how to actually navigate the obstacles I was actually facing.

I think part of it is that I’m already motivated.  When people are asked to describe me, ‘driven’ is usually in the top 3.  Another element is an appreciation that not all strategies work well for all people or in all situations.  I know plenty of people who have no business waking up at 4:45 am and are remarkably productive well into the evening.  And perhaps the biggest for me, is recognizing their BS sales tactics.  The one that sticks out for me is ‘look at my garage full of exotic cars, if you want to be like me, pay for my motivational BS’.

While I think those reasons should be enough for most people to be wary, I think there’s another level to it for me.  Not long ago, I realized that I’ve made a career out of making things harder than they needed to be.  If something was easy, there was a good chance that I would find a way to make it more difficult.  I was constantly looking to challenge myself and push my boundaries.  It led to a lot of mistakes and those mistakes often had rather significant consequences.  But I learned.  I didn’t learn to make fewer mistakes or to fear the consequences of my actions.  I learned the value of making mistakes, the lessons which were afforded by them, and how to roll with whatever consequences presented themselves.  As someone who embraces making mistakes but is fixated on not repeating them, you’re afforded the opportunity to learn a great deal.

So a couple months ago, Steve and I are hanging out at my place and he’s telling me about this self-help seminar that he did and he does a real soft-sell, asking if I’d be into it.  I do my best to keep an open mind, but ultimately reply with a soft-decline.  I tell him that most of what they’re teaching, I’ve already learned (the hard way), and that I’m not the type to be motivated by someone bouncing around on stage telling me about my untapped potential.  He suggests that it helped him with a few things and that he thinks it would be a very interesting experience for me to go through.  I say anything can be interesting with the right perspective, whether it’s worth my time and money is a different conversation.   So I ask him what the course material is.  He tells me that he’s not supposed to share it.  What?  Apparently, knowing the course material ahead of time tampers with the ‘experience’.  I suggest that this is probably a better fit for some of his other friends.  He tells me that it’s difficult to talk about this kinda stuff with his other friends.  He tells me it’s a money-back guarantee.  Hmm…  I still decline.  Then he reluctantly shares with me that part of his ‘success’ in this program is being able to communicate its value with others… and get them to sign up.  I went from being surprised that he let them do that to him, to unsurprised that this was one of their tactics, to disappointed that he went along with it.  But I could tell that it was important to him.  A money-back guarantee you say?  He says that if nothing else, he’s very curious to see what happens when you put someone like me in an environment like that.  I agree.

A few weeks later, I go to a dinner-pitch hosted by Steve with a presenter from the weekend seminar.  The presenter is a mortgage-broker by trade, and says that within the first 10 seconds of his introduction (I wonder how much business he sources from this).  He goes on to introduce the organization that he’s a part of: PSI Seminars.  He touches on a few basics like the value of living outside your comfort zone, or the mind-state of a jaded adult vs. an innocent child.  He then moves on to talk about how much he benefited from the program, mentioning that his income doubled and that he has a much better relationship with his family now.  He then brings up others who have gone through the process and they say the same thing.  Then they deliver the sales pitch, referring to the cost of the seminar as ‘tuition’ and providing a discount to anyone who signs up that night.  He all but confirmed that I was walking into exactly what I thought I was walking into, but I had made a commitment to a friend and that was more important to me.

A few more weeks go by and it’s time to go the PSI: Basic, a Friday, Saturday, Sunday seminar, each day running 10am-8pm.

 

Day 1

On day one, we go through our registration and all 70 of us pile into a smaller banquet room at a mid-sized hotel in the burbs.  The music is terrible.. like crappy, upbeat country kinda terrible.  The man who takes the stage is a 50 something white guy in a boxy suit.  Right away, he establishes a rapport with the audience by poking fun at his suit and talking about how half the people in the room still aren’t sure how they were talked into this.  He shares that he was super skeptical when he went through the ‘basic’ 17 years ago.  He pokes fun at the lack of participation from the crowd at first, but once he gets people laughing, the crowd seems to relax.  Trust +1.

Then we break into groups headed by a ‘micro-leader’, someone who has done the program previously and wants to be further involved.  In our micro-groups of 5, we’re told to go around in a circle and tell each other about the accomplishment(s) we’re proudest of.  Then the rest of the group is asked to provide first impressions of that person.  I ended up with a list of qualities which I aspire to.. things like honesty, integrity, intelligence, and work ethic.  Others end up with similar positive lists.  I’m a little disappointed as I’d much rather have constructive feedback.  Validation +1.

We’re told a story about Jim Carrey, how he came from humble beginnings, and about the $15,000,000 check he wrote to himself.  Apparently this was a turning point for him because every time he reached into his wallet, he saw that check and this motivated him to be able to cash it one day – the law of attraction.  I’m someone who recognizes the law of attraction as a small part of a larger effort in achieving something.  I’m not a fan of those who suggest that it’s the only thing standing between you and all your goals.  Positivity +1

That afternoon, we do an exercise where we divide everyone into 4 groups, based on how you identify around dominance and formality.  It’s basically a limited introduction into personality science, helping people understanding that different personalities behave and interact differently.  As someone who’s been familiar with MBTI for over 10 years and is already reading Carl Jung’s works.. it was a bit light for me.  Trust +1

Later that afternoon, he tells us about the innocence of children.  How they don’t carry the prejudice, hurt, or other emotional baggage that tends to hold adults back.  He talks about undoing ‘programs’ that we’ve built within our minds.  I often see my thoughts as algorithms, and use the basic premise of re-coding to adjust my behavior.  I would’ve liked to explore that at a deeper level but this was just a brief introduction.  Trust + 1.

That evening, we were taught about the victim mentality.  That when life gives you lemons, you can either take responsibility for those lemons and make lemonade, or you can bitch and complain about how you got lemons and hope that you get something better next time.  As critical as I’ve been, it’s an important lesson these days.  At the end of the day, there’s a lot to be learned and gained by taking responsibility for things, regardless of how they came about.  I think this was intelligently communicated.  Already a lesson which is near and dear to my heart, I still appreciate them teaching it here.  Trust +1.

Leaving at 8pm, you become very aware that your only break for food was a lunch at 2pm.

 

Day 2

We start the day off with sharing things that we learned the day before.  A few people get up and say something to the effect of ‘I was skeptical when I arrived yesterday, but then the exercise that we did about ______ really stuck with me’.  Good for them.  Then this middle-aged Chinese lady with a thick accent stands up and proceeds to deliver quite the speech.  You could tell that she had come from a place of hurt and frustration in how she was talking and she went on to talk about how the Jim Carrey story had motivated her to go get that money she felt she deserved.  But it wasn’t the $15 million, she wanted $200 million!  Then she referenced the analogy of the child, saying that she was also inspired by how when children want things, they want them *now*.  She talked about how she wanted to make a movie, but that everyone around her implored her to at least start with a book.  She was fired up.  She wanted that $200 million and she wanted to make a movie and there was nothing that was going to stop her.  She also managed to say that this is why she admired Trump, because he dreamed big and he was bold.  It seemed that her takeaways from the day before were a sense of entitlement and a lack of patience.  But the fact that she was passionate, speaking her truth, and overcoming a language barrier earned her a big round of applause from the crowd.  I was hoping the facilitator would curb some of that behavior, but instead, he chose to ride the wave of applause and said “Someone get her a job at PSI!”  Really?

The next exercise was about having a better relationship with your parents.  We were told to close our eyes and take some deep breaths.  Then this Disney-esque motivational music comes on and the facilitator begins to read a script.  We’re told to imagine our parents in a few scenarios which are designed to create empathy.  The lesson is that our parents did the best that they could, regardless of how well or poorly they did.  The room was sobbing.  I had a great relationship with my dad, and said everything that I wanted to him before he died.  My mom and I had a more estranged relationship up until a couple years ago, but we’re in a good place for a variety of reasons, including understanding that she did the best she could.  I managed to avoid any tears until I was told to imagine my parents together, smiling, and happy for me.  My parents broke up when I was a young teenager.  They were sleeping in different rooms well before that.  Imagining my parents together was a brief moment of happiness, but reflecting on it now, it seems rather hollow.  Trust +2.

That afternoon, we went through another eyes-closed exercise.  This required you to visualize walking through a forest, into a compound, digging a hole… finding a chest.. and zzzzzzz.  I fell asleep.  When I woke up, I quickly figured out that the exercise was about the importance of keeping your word.  As someone who is big on keeping his word, and surrounded by people to struggle to keep theirs, I appreciated this lesson.  Trust +1.

The last exercise of the day was a game.  We were divided into two groups, given a quick set of rules, and then our group was sent off to another room for the game to begin.  I recognized it pretty quickly as an exercise in game theory so I asked the facilitator if he still wanted me to participate.  He said ‘sure, go for it’.  I asked my group if they wanted some insight, which they did, so I proceeded to give them a quick overview on what game theory was, how it applied to this game, and how it connected to everything we were talking about.  People were on board pretty quick, and both groups managed to achieve the best possible outcome for 8 of the 10 frames we supposed to play.  Then two people at the back of our group with name tags spoke abruptly and said, “the game is over, don’t talk and go back to the other room.”  Everyone was confused as to who these guys were and why the game had ended short of its conclusion.  Lots of questions were being asked, but no answers so we herded ourselves back to the other room.  On the way over, an older lady asked why I thought the game had ended early.  I joked and said maybe they realized we figured out the winning strategy and cut it short.  The guys from the back of the room were right behind us and rather loudly said, “I said be quiet and go to the room.”  My immediate reaction was to laugh it off, apologize, and proceed to the room.  Once we were back, we were told about how game theory worked and how it connects to life in general.  Someone asked why we weren’t given the opportunity to complete the game and we were reminded that we were only given 30 minutes to play.  The person asking the question said that we weren’t given a clock, and we had been asked to keep our watches and cellphones out of sight.  The facilitator snapped back pretty quick about being a victim and not taking responsibility.  He said that the game wasn’t over yet though and we would continue tomorrow.  For a lot of people, Trust +1.

On my way home, I was increasingly annoyed with the way that guy had tried to reprimand me for talking.  Being able to explain game theory to the group, helping them navigate the temptations to preemptively screw over the other team, and helping us arrive at a perfect score was the highlight of my day.  Especially because the people in the room really appreciated it.  But we were cut short of a perfect game, followed by these two randoms barking at me like prison guards.  We were told that the game was still going… maybe this was part of the game?

 

Day 3

We begin day 3 with another sharing session.  To little surprise, the Chinese lady from the day before is looking to share again.  This time she opens up about some of her failures.  She talks about borrowing money to invest just before the 2008 financial collapse.  She lost that money, and borrowed more through her credit cards hoping that the market was coming back.  It wasn’t, she lost that money too.  Then her boyfriend left her.  Her parents called her out for poor decision making, but ultimately bailed her out to the tune of $150,000.  She went on to say how when she was at her lowest, she asked god what he had planned for her.  Apparently god spoke to her, saying keep your head up, I have big things in-store for you and you just have to make it through this rough patch.  She went on to talk a lot about god, and how he loves all of us, and that his love is the only love we need.  I think it went on for about 20 minutes.  Again, to a large round of applause and more positive reinforcement from the facilitator.

I can’t remember if it was the second or the third day, but the facilitator broke protocol and told us about his background and his path into PSI.  He was a minister at a church in California.  A pretty large church by the sounds of it as he worked with the largest youth group in the city.  As he tells it, he married the wrong woman.  When he looked towards a divorce, his church wasn’t having it.  It sounded like he had to choose between leaving his church and staying in an unhealthy marriage, and he choose to leave his church.  Good on him.  Trust +1.

As we were getting into our micro-groups for the morning, my micro-leader asked what had happened the day before.  I wasn’t sure what he was getting at.  Apparently, he was told that I was starting trouble during the game theory exercise.  I had almost forgotten about it at that point.  I never expected those guys to escalate it, let alone to describe the situation as me being disruptive.  That was annoying.

For our micro-group exercise, we were asked to identify our goals, our supports, and our obstacles.  Basically, 3 people who represented your obstacles would stand in front of you and yell at you while 1 person who represented your support would stand behind you and yell supportive things at you.  My obstacles seemed to want to avoid eye contact with me… not very intimidating.  Everyone else found that they were able to tune into the positives while tuning out the negatives.  Trust +1.

During one of our breaks, the older lady from the other day came up to me and started apologizing for the behavior of the guys from the day before.  I told her that while I appreciated her apology, it was not accepted because she had nothing to apologize for.  She may have been the one to ask me the question,  but I was the one who chose to answer.  And frankly, just because someone tells me not to speak doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to it.  She offered to tell PSI about what had happened and was furious when she found out that they had already reported it and had cast me as the trouble maker.  I calmed her down, told her the guy was probably just having a bad day, and everything was gravy.

Back in the seminar room, we were told that the game from yesterday was over.  The facilitator fielded several questions and helped people better understand the point of the game.  Once all the questions were over, I put my hand up.  I said that some staff — “volunteers”, okay, some volunteers were rather rude to me yesterday after the game and I wanted to know if that was a part of the game.  The facilitator said, “well they were trying to get you to stop talking.” To which I replied, “you’re right, and some ways are more rude than others.”  I told him that I just wanted to know whether it was a part of the game, or if someone was just having a bad day, in which case I could resolve it myself.  The facilitator said it wasn’t part of the game, and that he assumed there would probably be a conversation to be had after this.  I thanked him and we proceeded.

I think after this was the ‘I love myself’ exercise.  We were partnered up again, told to sit directly across from someone with our eyes closed, and to tell them what love means to us, and how we want to be loved.  Again, the room broke into tears.  I may have started with love is familiarity over time, but did my best to articulate what I understood love to be and the ways in which I wanted to be loved.  It’s something I had already given a fair bit of thought to having just read The General Theory of Love, a book about the brain chemistry behind emotions.  But again, it seemed like a big breakthrough for a lot of the people in the room.  Trust + 1, Validation + 1.

I wish I could remember the exact sequence of events, but I can’t at this point.  What comes next might not be an exact timeline, but I think the conclusions will remain the same.

What likely came next was this lesson that seemed half way between you can’t solve problems with the thinking that you used to create them, and there are different ways of closing the distance between where you are and where you want to be.  Both very important lessons, but I don’t think they were effectively taught as what followed was an awkward soul train dance-party.  Basically, everyone had to line up on one side of the room and make it to the other side of the room among music and clapping.  The rule was you couldn’t do it the way someone previously had.  Most people chose to make it across with bad dance moves, some with uninspired shimmies, and a few (mostly the staff and volunteers) with way more sparkle than the situation called for. But when everyone is clapping and cheering for you.. Validation +1.

While I’ve listed most of the core curriculum here, it was 30 hours of seminar work so there’s a lot that I’m leaving out.  Perhaps the most significant of which are the ‘feel good’ moments.  There was a lot of clapping.  A lot of positive reinforcement for just showing up.  A lot of ‘believe in yourself and the world is yours’. moments  At one point, the facilitator actually said the only difference between you and MLK is that MLK believed in himself.  I wanted to throw something at him.  Just because most people who are successful are also confident, doesn’t mean that confidence leads to success.  In reality, it’s often success that leads to confidence.  To earn that success, you have to put the hours in.

Throughout the weekend, trust was being established between the audience and the facilitator.  Peppered in were all these moments of ‘I am strong, confident, and deserve to be loved’.  There were back rubs, and hugs, and lots of crying.  During various interactions, people were trying to articulate what they thought about something, and the facilitator would say ‘forget what you think, tell me how you feel’.  The room was being molded into this tribe which was exchanging critical thought for feeling good.  Not just feeling good about themselves, but also feeling good about where they were, who they were with, what they were learning, and especially about the person leading the seminar.  Hmm…

During the late afternoon of day 3, we were introduced to ‘The Ranch’.  We were told that this was the PSI Basic, and that after this comes a visit to the ranch which was a 7 day seminar somewhere in eastern California.  We were told how this seminar was only scratching the surface of your potential and that to really spread your wings and fly, you would need to attend this next seminar.  Then some of the volunteers were asked to step up and tell us about what the ranch had helped them accomplish.  Of the 5, 4 said that they doubled their income.  3 said that they then found the love of their lives.  There was definitely a theme here.  Including a 30 minute sales pitch for the next seminar during this session wasn’t ideal but it wasn’t the end of the world.  But then things took a hard right.

There wasn’t just the ranch, there was also another leadership seminar after the ranch, which together would cost about $12,000.  “but if you sign up in the next 20 minutes, we’ll knock that price down to $8950.  Now I know some of you are thinking that’s a lot of money but the best thing you can do is just go for it.  If you sign up for it now, you’ll find the money.”

As I was watching this unfold, and looking at the people around me wide-eyed and nodding their heads, I became frustrated.  These people were in such an emotional, trusting, and positive state of mind, that they weren’t thinking rationally.  Anyone who truly understands money knows that you don’t make financial decisions when in a highly emotional state.  These people were being taken advantage of.  Do I stay quiet?  Do I let this happen?  One of the core lessons of game theory is that you do what you know is right, regardless of how others might react.  Fuck it.  I’m saying something.  I reminded the facilitator that his first piece of advice to us on day 1 was to appreciate that some of the things happening this weekend would take time to digest and not to rush into anything.  I said that since this was a rather significant financial decision for a lot of the people here today, wouldn’t it make sense to think it over?  Bless his heart, he paused, and said that’s a good point.

The room was rather tense, so the mortgage-broker from the dinner-pitch stepped up from the back of the room and started by saying they get that question all the time.  The facilitator casually interjected that it was the first time he had heard that question in 17 years of teaching it.  The mortgage-broker then proceeded to string many words together in an attempt to justify what was happening.  He then asked me if that made sense, I was going to reply no, but the facilitator did it for me.

During that 20 minute break, I saw a few people going to the back of the room to sign up but really had no idea if what I had said made an impact.  A few people did approach me and thank me for what I did though.  What I really appreciated was that the facilitator came up to me and said, “I had to think about it, but I have an answer.”  He went on to tell me that his advice at the beginning was about dating or soliciting business from people at the seminar, not about spending money.  I asked him why the same principles didn’t apply.  He said something to the effect of the momentum people have going into that pitch is the best opportunity for them to appreciate what they could get out of it.  I asked how that was different from any other pressure-sales tactic.  I criticized him for helping people arrive at a highly emotional state of mind, reluctant to think critically about the money they were spending or the value they were receiving, and then giving them 20 minutes to spend more than what the average family saves in a year.  He was stuck, and said that this was how the company approached their business.  I told him that I thought he was a good person, and sensed a very genuine desire in him to help people become better versions of themselves.  He said whether it was this or the church, there were always going to be things that he disagreed with.  I pressed and asked that if he knew this is how PSI approached their business, why was he working here?  He laughed it off and said, “you’re not that good.”  Maybe not, but I would bet good money that he won’t get that conversation out of his head any time soon.  I hope so.. he deserves better.

The next activity was learning about the workshop of the mind.  I think it’s largely an exercise in visualizing, not dissimilar to Sherlock’s mind-palace.  We were told to think of someone with an illness and then share the gender, age, and name of the individual with our partner.  The partner was then asked to visualize what was wrong with them and come up with some creative solutions on how to heal them.  Both my partner and I proceeded to get ‘most’ things right about who the other person had in mind.  We were told that this was like wifi, that our bodies just had to tune into the telepathic signals being sent back and forth.  I was told about a 57 year old named Stanley.  So I analyzed the person in front of me, ended up with some assumptions on the type of person she would likely choose, and then proceeded to identify someone with salt and pepper hair, with glasses, who wore a collared shirt, pants with a belt, nice shoes but not too nice.  For ailments, I suggested lower back pain, a past knee injury, and that his liver could probably be in better shape.  Right on all counts.  But how many other 57 year old males did I just describe?  Mentalism will teach you just how much information is communicated non-verbally.  I think that to assume we can’t tap into these ‘frequencies’ of information would be premature.  To say that this exercise is a real-life example of how human intuition borders on telepathy, would be overly ambitious.  Unfortunately, I think that this exercise best demonstrates why astrology is still so popular.

Towards the end of the night, we were told about our graduation ceremony the following week.  This ceremony would see each of us graduate and receive a certificate for completing the course, and we were encouraged to invite as many people as we could.  We were told stories of how people renting 3 minivans just to bring all the people they had invited.  Then we were told that after the graduation ceremony, there would be a short presentation on the value of PSI: Basic, and that if any of your friends or family wanted to sign up, there would be people waiting at the back of the room.  Yuck.

The last exercise for the night was where we were all grouped together by who had invited us to the seminar.  We were told to close our eyes and imagine how much that person cared about us, and what it took for them to help get us here.  I immediately started thinking that they were bringing in the people who had invited us for a big final reveal, but I knew Steve was in Mexico for the week.  With my eyes closed, I was tempted to flash a middle finger to let him know that I knew he was there (probably).  I opened my eyes and there he was, fresh off his return flight.  After being asked to stare into each other’s eyes for a couple minutes, we hugged it out and called it a day.

Earlier that day, we were asked to write a letter to the person who had invited us.  It won’t be word for word, but I’ll give you the gist.  Steve knows me better than just about anyone.  He’s one of my few friends who knows about this blog and actually reads it.  He’s the one who sees me write about loneliness and makes a point of hanging out.  He’s also the one I use to hold me accountable to my goals, and the friend I bounce ideas off when those ideas are way out there.  If someone’s going to tell my story some day, they won’t be able to tell that story without writing extensively about him.  He’s my brother in the truest sense of the word and I appreciate why he wanted me to take this seminar.   It wasn’t the pressure that PSI was putting on him, or him being swindled into the cult of self-help, or the fact that he thought I needed the help.  He just wanted to see me continue to grow.. and that’s why we’re bros.

He also told me that he was talking to the mortgage-broker guy when he came in and that he was rather flustered about me speaking up during the sales pitch.  Apparently he called me a ‘little shit’ and wanted to take me aside and talk to me one-on-one.  Steve proceeded to tell him that this was a terrible idea and that I would talk circles around him.  I love Steve.  Not just because he put buddy in his place, but more so because he reminded him to stay within the spirit of what was being taught at PSI.  Yoda’s voice is echoing in my head, “Remember your teachings young padewan.”

 

Day 3+1

After it’s all said and done, our micro-group leaders reach out to us on whatsapp and start a group chat around accomplishing goals for the month.  I get a message shortly after saying that I had been uninvited from our graduation ceremony later that week because I had asked for my money back.  I found that a bit surprising as the PSI paperwork says that you must attend graduation in order to receive your refund.  Part of me was happy that I didn’t have to waste more time on PSI sales pitches, but another part of me was a little annoyed that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to support those who did receive value from the experience.

 

Day 3 + 8

I think that if anyone asks for a refund, it’s the responsibility of their micro-leader to approach them about why.  My micro-leader reached out to me and asked if we could grab coffee and chat.  We did, it was super amicable, and not much was accomplished.  I tried to impress upon him the importance of integrity when aligning yourself with organizations like this but I don’t think he was in the right state of mind to hear it.  Nice kid, but I think he’ll need to figure this out for himself.  We had  brief conversation around what I had learned.  I told him that the biggest take away for me, was having a deeper understanding of how and why religion appeals to people.  The similarities between how PSI approached personal growth and how churches approached spirituality were remarkable.  I’ll save that for the next one.

 

 

 

Equal Opportunity vs Equal Outcome in Nature

Love me some shower time… something very meditative about it.  I always seem to come up with interesting thoughts.  Just got out of the shower, and I was thinking about how equal opportunity and equal outcome present themselves in nature.  Consider this:

In a forest of trees, some trees are taller than others.  The tallest of the trees tend to absorb the most sun, allowing them to grow taller still.  The shadows which these trees cast on those around them often prevent others from becoming as tall.  Some trees won’t survive their first few years.  Others are planted and never grow at all.

Should we be upset at the tallest of trees for absorbing all that sunlight while casting shadows over others?  Should we be upset with nature for creating an environment where such inequality exists?  Is the forest that we really want, one in which all trees grow to the same size?

When I look at a forest, I don’t look at what should be, I see a remarkably complex and eloquent example of what is.  When you find that tallest tree and ask why that tree is so tall, you’ll see what I mean.  Maybe that tree had good genetics.  Maybe it was planted in just the right spot.  Maybe it was planted in a terrible spot, but a neighboring tree fell down and a terrible spot became a great spot.  Maybe someone saw it slouching over when it was younger and helped it out.  Maybe the logging company decided they’d go elsewhere.  Either way, it did the only thing that trees know how to do.  It planted roots, stretched towards the sunlight, and grew.

This is how nature operates.  It does so without any sense of right and wrong or fair and unfair.  Nature is uninterested in a forest of trees which all grow the same for the sake of equality.  Why is that?  Perhaps nature has an appreciation for the shade which we have yet to grasp.  Perhaps it’s the shade that forces us to evolve.  A tree with good tree genetics, which is given all the sunlight it needs, will only ever be a tree.  It’s the tree which grows in the shade which is forced to find new ways of being a tree.

Dating in 2018: WTF?

February, 2017 

That’s when my last relationship ended.  It didn’t officially end until the spring, but I was going through some things that made it tough for me to be in the right head-space for a relationship.  In January, I was fired from a career I had put my everything into.  A month later, I went snowboarding for the first time that season and ended up breaking my arm badly.  At that point, I wasn’t a boyfriend in any meaningful way.. I had too much that I needed to figure out.  Bless her heart, she was awesome and supportive the whole way through.  Probably the most amicable breakup I’ve ever had.

May, 2017

One of the relationships I kept reflecting on last year was with Max.  We had dated a couple years prior.  There was so much chemistry between us and so much that we had in common.  It seemed to work on every level.  Except she was bugging to go explore the world and I was committed to my career.  I was also too dominant in that relationship, more controlling than I would’ve liked to be.  There were times where her free-spirited nature was at odds with my career goals and I would try to convince her that my career goals were a higher priority than her being herself at all times.  I wish I hadn’t.

In understanding why I had been fired, I realized that it was a matter of fit.  In trying to understand where I would fit best, I realized that I needed to do a better job of understanding myself.  That journey mirrored so much of what Max had learned leaving a big 4 accounting firm and working for a start-up.  I wish I had done a better job of understanding that story.  She helped inspire a lot of growth on my part, and I thought she might appreciate knowing that.

December 2017

I wrote a blog post about her.  Flushed out every thought and emotion I had on the subject and realized a lot of things I still hadn’t considered.  It was a good experience.  At the end, I figured I would tell her about the ground that I had covered and thank her for her part in all of this.  I made a YouTube video and send it to her on Christmas.  I was clear that I wasn’t looking to get back together, but I’d be lying if I said a part of me wasn’t trying to plant a seed for the future.

January 2018

After about month of radio silence, she emailed.  She said some nice things and asked if I was up for a video call.  I said sure – and then proceeded to hear nothing from her for another month.  I knew she probably had a full plate so I eventually just emailed, “whats on your mind?”  Her reply was more direct this time.  Said she was busy, was happy for me, then questioned much of what I had said, and seemed to have forgotten about that video call.  I replied, tried to explain, but then said it would probably be easier over the phone.  No reply.

March 2018

Another month of radio silence.  All I wanted to do was let her know what I had gone through, and hoped that she would be happy for me.  Maybe I should send her a link to the blog post about her?  At least it would be the full story.  So I messaged her on WhatsApp but before the opportunity presented itself, it became a conversation.  She began to question who I had ‘become’, suggesting that I was still the same person.  It was tough trying to explain how and why over text.  But I tried.  At one point, she even ceded that it seemed like I was a whole new person.  Maybe she was just saying that hoping I would stop trying to argue my point.  Regardless, it was clear she lacked the motivation to invest the time into understanding that person.. and everything that I had felt towards her had shifted.  One of the things I appreciated about her most was that understanding me seemed effortless.  Now, not only was there effort involved, but she had no interest in putting the effort in.  A bummer at first, but it felt good to have clarity.

Right around that time, I was trying to go on a date with a girl named Mia.  Someone I dated for a bit a few years ago, and someone who I had a bunch of fun, nerdy stuff in common with.  She’s all kinds of cool, but she’s also working through some things.  When things get difficult or confusing, she hides.  She tried that with me before and I just walked away.. it’s why we stopped dating the last time.  This time, I was more interested in helping her rise above that.  So we tried to go on a date, but then she got busy.  We rescheduled, but then she got busy again.  I told her I knew this pattern, and I was happy to walk away if she wanted me to, but she didn’t – she was struggling with old habits.

April 2018

So we tried again, but work.  And again, but work.  I was on my way out this time, but did so with a link to a post I had written about her, so she would at least know what my honest feelings towards her were.  She was surprised.  She opened up to me more than she ever had, and seemed that much more motivated to see me.  Seemed like progress.  So we rescheduled.. and she ghosted again.  This time, it was because she had read the rest of my blog and found out about Max.  She was afraid that I was using her to fill a Max-shaped void.  I couldn’t hold it against her, it was a legitimate question that I also had to ask myself.  We talked it through, and agreed that we would make attempt number 6.

Had I been stood up 6 times with no difference in the context, I’d be worried about my mental health.. but that wasn’t the case.  With each time, progress was being made.  And I could tell that these were big steps for someone who didn’t have a lot of opportunities to take these steps.  Unfortunately, it was also creating an imbalance in the relationship which I knew was unhealthy.  She pleaded that work was being unfair, and that she wasn’t leading me on, and how interested she was… but she couldn’t get her actions to match her texts.  The outcome was disappointing, but I’m happy that I treated the situation with compassion and understanding instead of walking away at the first sign of getting hurt.

April 25th, 2018

The very next day, Max texts me.  Said she’s in-town, and would ‘love’ to get together.  Well then.  We book a late dinner for Sunday.  She also wants to smoke a joint together, so we plan to get together later in the week too.  Easy way to get my mind off Mia, I guess.

April 27th, 2018

Arrive to a 3-day self-help seminar on Friday.  Pretty skeptical about what I’m walking into, but doing it with an open mind and the best of intentions.  A girl catches my eye.  Was partnered up with her at the end of the day for an exercise where we’re asked to sit directly across from each other and tell a victim story while looking into each others eyes.  We spend most of that time looking at each other and cracking up, because neither one of us is any good at pretending to be a victim.  A fun introduction.  We shall call her..  Lulu.

On the way home, I text my buddy who invited me to the seminar, letting him know how it went.  He asks if I met anyone interesting.  I say everyone’s interesting if you ask the right questions (holding back from saying I met this really cute girl).  He tells me that he has another friend who’s there doing the seminar and he hopes that we have a chance to meet.. and that her name is Lulu.  As he puts it, we’re two of his closest friends and the ones he goes to for good conversation.  Wow.. that’s kinda cool.  I ask if he’s interested in her, or if she’s in a relationship.  Says he dated her for a bit way back, and he thinks she’s in a relationship with someone.  Well, never mind then…

April 28th, 2018

Saturday’s part of the seminar put me and Lelu back in close proximity.  I do my best to avoid creating interactions, but don’t avoid them either.  Our chemistry continues to build.  I text my buddy again that night, asking if he’s sure that she’s in a relationship.  He says yes.  I tell him that while my instincts around these things are a bit rusty, pretty sure this girl is into me.  He tells me a bit more about her and shows some enthusiasm around us connecting beyond this seminar.

April 29th, 2018

Lulu was definitely the best part of my Sunday seminar.  We sat beside each other a few times and ended up doing a couple of the 1 on 1 sessions together too.  I eventually asked if she knew we had both been invited by the same friend – she didn’t.  She was excited, especially because it meant that there was a good chance we’d see each other again. As the day went by, everything suggested more chemistry and more interest.  At the end of Sunday’s seminar, we were supposed to thank people who we had connected with and tell them what we appreciated about them.  She approached me and opened with “Thanks for being the best looking guy here, it gave me something to look at”, and followed with a few very thoughtful compliments.  I replied, telling her that she was the highlight of my weekend and that I hope to see her again.

Now to go directly from that self-help seminar to dinner with Max.  Along the way, I text my buddy and ask if he’s sure that Lelu is in a relationship because everything that happened that day would suggest otherwise.  He ended up taking her out for dinner and dug in.  Said she’s only been dating this guy a short while, but she doesn’t see it going anywhere.  Tells me not to worry, and he’ll connect the two of us before long.  I have no interest in being the guy that breaks up a healthy relationship, but if she’s already on her way out.. I can’t help but want to see her again.

So I arrive at dinner with Max – fancy sushi.  She gives me a big smile and a big, but not too big of a hug.    We get seated and start talking.  Eventually, she asks me about my aspirations.  I think I say something like creating the most significant positive impact I’m capable of.  She says that’s a bit vague and asks what the most significant positive impact I think I’m capable of.  I may have told her President of Mars.  She called bullshit.  That probably needed a little more explaining.

I guess for starters, I really do think that the upper-limit of the human mind is often well beyond the limits we place on ourselves.  Mars though?  I told her that the bigger the problem, the more motivated I am to solve it and I can’t help but want to find solutions to the big problems we as a species are facing today.  Ok, but why Mars?  Well, I’ve seen well-intentioned people come and go, only for their ideas to fall on the deaf ears of a system which is designed to protect itself from change.  I often think that what the world desperately needs today, is a blank canvas where a new government could be established with modern policies.  If we only had the opportunity to lead by example, how quick would the world be to adopt those good ideas?  Unless I’m missing something, Mars will most likely be our first opportunity to build something from scratch.

I think she made an attempt here to bring me back to reality and asked me to connect that to a real goal.  I told her that while I have these ideas, and they seem logical in my mind, I still need to prove that they can exist outside my head.  I need to take my personal philosophies, my ideas, and my ability to execute, and make something special.  If I could make something special, that something that people can understand as an expression of my mind and my vision, people would notice.  If people noticed, they might appreciate, and if people appreciated, they might just be willing to hear what I have to say.  While that something special can take on different shapes and forms, no form comes more naturally to me than building a business.  So I told her I was working on building a billion dollar company.

She said back up the “B”.  What?  Back up the “B” in billion.  What do you mean?  She asked if I knew how hard it was to build a billion dollar company or how rare they were.  She didn’t take kindly to what she thought were grandiose exaggerations of what I was really up to.  She knew that I was working for a cannabis retail start-up, but I don’t think she understood the potential behind it.  I told her about the awards, and the industry growth, how visible our founders were, and how ahead of the curve we were.  She didn’t seem to care.  I said that if you had to pick an early winner in cannabis retail, it would probably be us, and to say that wasn’t an opportunity to build a billion dollar company was untrue.  She still didn’t believe me.  Or maybe she didn’t believe that I would do it.

I did my best to ask her about what she was up to throughout the evening.  She sounded like she was dealing with a lot, but persisted that she was happy.  She certainly valued all that she had gone through in the last year. I asked her what her goals were and she said to land a job this fall.  It looked like she was lined up for a fancy title at a mid-sized private equity firm doing some level of analytics.  I asked if she had any big goals.  She seemed less sure about this… maybe something to the effect of using big data in driving HR policy, limiting inequality in the work place.  Sounds neat.

Despite all my efforts to guide things in a positive direction, we kept finding our way back to my aspirations, and her lack of confidence in my ability to accomplish them.  I wish I had been able to tell the story of how I got from being fired to wanting to set up camp on Mars.. pretty sure things would’ve made more sense that way.

The night largely seemed like an exercise in her trying to cut me down.  I was used to her being an optimist, a big thinker, open-minded, and supportive.  Now I wonder if it’s her that’s changed or if it was just my memory of her.  I was all but convinced that who I had become was a better fit for who she was.  But as soon as I realized that, I also knew that who I had become, might not be a fit to who she is today.  I think that’s what I was facing.  Somewhere between her big corporate gig in silicon valley and her MBA, her mindset seems to have changed.  Where she was once about possibilities, she was now about limitations.  There’s probably also an element of trying to stick it to your ex-boyfriend… and I probably deserved it.

At one point, I said, “This is unexpected, you’re usually more..”  I cut myself off, and apologized, saying that it wasn’t my place to say something like that.  It threw her off, she knew what I was getting at.

It was getting late, we asked for the bill.  We hugged again outside and she apologized for being less supportive than she used to be be.  We said goodbye.

April 30th, 2018

Knowing that we had made pseudo plans to hang out later in the week, I sent her a text.  I basically thanked her for dinner (she insisted on paying), then thanked her for challenging my goals.  I said that I’m steadfast in dreaming big, working relentlessly towards those goals, and being at peace with where that takes me (I’m all about shooting for the stars and landing on the moon).  I said I’m rarely challenged on these things and if nothing else, it was good exercise.  I also said that based on our conversation, I had the impression that there were probably other people in town she’d rather spend time with and that if I was right, it was all good with me.  No response.

The day before she left, I sent a text saying I hope I didn’t upset her with what I had said.  I told her I was happy for her, and wished her the best of luck.  She responded back saying she had been busy and yes, lots of people to see.

May 1st, 2018

Speaking of radio silence, Mia messages me the next day.  Apologizes for the incoming wall of text, and the proceeds to say some very nice things.  She talks about how strongly she feels about the potential between her and I.  Then talks about her struggles and the progress she’s made.  Then she talks about her feelings.  Then she says something to the effect of, ‘and I won’t hold it against you if you never want to talk to me again’.

I agreed with a lot of the things she said about the potential between her and I, and I appreciated that she recognized and appreciated the progress she had made.  So we get into a text conversation where I thank her for opening up to me and we get into the possibility of trying one more time.  I ask her what the difference this time would be, and she says a strong effort.  I ask if that means that the last 6 times weren’t strong efforts.  She says that this time, she’s just going to go for it – be less cerebral about it.  I told her it didn’t sound all that convincing.  She reminded me that she wasn’t very good at explaining this stuff over text.  The conversation kinda fizzled after that.

Went to bed, had a dream that she had made an effort the following day to make something happen between us and I was happy about it.  Woke up to no such effort.  Decided that I was being unfair.  Told her that if she wanted to explain things to me in person, I would make the time for that.  My ask was that it was on the weekend and at my office (so if she pulled a no-show, that I could just keep working).  She was receptive.  She planned to come by on Saturday but on Friday she asked if she could move it to Sunday.  This looked familiar.  She didn’t come by on Saturday or even get back to me about Sunday. And that was the last I heard from her.

May, 2018

A friend of mine cracked a joke a couple months ago saying that I should jump on Tinder with a bio that says something to the effect of, ‘Dating is confusing, anyone wanna blaze and hang out?’  Dude is sounding like a genius right about now.

Ironically, back in April, I was talking with a couple female friends about the challenges of dating and I suggested this was why dating apps had become so popular.  One friend was in her 50s and had been married for 27 years so she had zero interest Tinder.  She said that people need to get outside and engage each other in real life.  I asked where that might be appropriate these days given all the tension between men and women.  Every answer she gave was immediately turned down by my 20-something friend.  At the gym? Nope, don’t be gross, I’m just here to work out.  At a book store? Just because I’m here buying books doesn’t mean I wanna be hit on.  In-line at a cafe? Nope.  I told them I found it all very confusing and hoped they would find some empathy for the other men out there feeling the same way.

Only a few weeks ago, my sister and sister-in-law were in town.  I asked them about the dating scene and the tension between men and women.  I get that some men are shitty people.  I’ve even lost friendships over that kinda stuff.  But this general negativity towards men seemed unhealthy.  They responded with an analogy which they were quite eager to share: Think about men like a bowl full of skittles.  One of them is poison, but you don’t know which one.  Why would you risk it?  It wasn’t the right time to tell them that they’re using the same logic as those who avoid Muslims in fear of Muslim extremists.

My mind is searching for a connection between all these interactions.  Considering the rise of neo-feminism and the #metoo movement.  Considering the impact of social media.  Considering the heightened levels of anxiety, stress, and drug use.  I’m trying to see through it and to the other side… and I can’t.  I’m not saying we won’t get through it.  I would bet that we do.  I just don’t yet see how.  I think this gets worse before it gets better and that concerns me.

Some men have learned the advantages of identifying themselves as an ‘ally’.  Some have learned that you can improve your odds by dating multiple women at the same time.  Some have learned that it’s easier to get turned down if you turn into a giant asshole afterwards.  There’s even a sub-culture of men who are downright confused and losing hope of ever figuring it out.  Everyone’s dealing with it in their own way… but none of these are about how we make it better.

This is a big problem, and I have a swell of motivation to find a solution for everyone out there that’s struggling to find meaningful connections.  I think much of the solution is based in honesty and real communication.  Not just honesty with others, but honesty with ourselves as well. We’ve also romanced the concept of love since we could first tell stories, and it’s warped our expectations of what it is, where to find it, and how long it lasts.  If we would only make the effort to understand ourselves and then to understand one another, I can’t help but think that things would get better.  To get there, perhaps we need to be reminded of why we should be courageous when facing those we fear.  Or why we should be compassionate towards those who have hurt us.

… or sex robots for everyone?

Dating: Navigating Good Intentions

I dated a girl for a couple months a few years ago.  We shall call her Mia.  She was lots of fun to hang out with and a very cool person, but was hung up on a few things.  I tried to encourage her to open up, hoping that she would feel more comfortable around me but it just wasn’t happening.  At one point, she offered to volunteer with her friends for a big event I was hosting.  She ended up having to go out of town for work and couldn’t make it.  She assured me her friends would still be there.  None of her friends showed up.  At an event where I was supposed to be socializing and enjoying myself, I was a full time janitor.  The event was a big success, but I wasn’t happy about how things went between her and I.  I told her that I was frustrated with what had happened.  She didn’t bother to reply.  After a few weeks of radio silence, I asked her if that was it.  She said something to the effect of the sex was good, but we didn’t really have much in common and it wasn’t worth pursuing.  I walked away and didn’t look back.

3 months ago, Facebook reminded me that it was her birthday so I sent her a cake emoji.  She crossed my mind from time to time, always in a positive light.  The girls I date seem to be into me for a variety of reasons… but I think it usually has to do with being a good person, driven, career minded, with a good group of friends.. that kinda stuff.  Connecting with my nerdier side happened happened much less often.  She was the exception.  Anime, cosplay, reddit, video games.. all that fun stuff was something we had in common.  These days, I really like that side of me, and it would be nice to be able to share that with someone.  Maybe that’s why when that cake emoji turned into a conversation, I was optimistic.

We made plans to go see a movie, but the day before, she went radio silent.  I don’t remember what her reason was.. maybe something about work.  So we rescheduled.  And she did it again.  I was disappointed, but never mad.  I tried to figure out what was going on and she replied with ‘why did you want to reconnect?’  Considering that our relationship before was mostly physical, I thought it was a fair question.  I wish she had asked that question before she ghosted on me twice, but these are her defense mechanisms so I did my best to be understanding.  I told her why I wanted to reconnect, that it had to do with the chemistry between us that we never had a chance to explore, the things we had in common, and just being in a place where I might be ready to take that step with someone.  I think she was happy to hear that, said she really wanted to hang out, and teased herself realizing it was a bit circle back to a date.  I was optimistic.

We made plans again, she got scarce the day before and the day of.  Something something, work ran late.  Something something, I’m really sorry.

*deep breath* 

I saw progress though, so I was willing to keep at it.  Then it happened again.  Pretty much the exact same thing.  And again, she was really sorry, acknowledged that she had issues around these things, reaffirmed that she absolutely wanted to see me, so we rescheduled again.  I was 0/4 over the course of 2 months.  I recognized that a younger me would’ve stoned-walled her after the first or second disappearing act as a function of my pride, or a need to protect my ego.. but that’s not who I am these days.  These days, I’m big on self respect, but small on ego and pride… if nothing else, this was a proving ground for that perspective.  My priority was understanding the situation for what it was, not using assumptions to protect myself from being hurt.  She continued to open up to me about things over text, saying that she missed me, that I was the only guy she was even talking to, that she really did want to spend time with me, and all the other things you would expect to hear from someone who you think wanted to go on a date with you.  And I don’t think she was lying.  I think she was very well intentioned.

After the fourth time she stood me up, I actually shared this blog with her as I had written about her earlier.  It was a window into my mind, to give her everything that she needed to know to make the best decision for her.  There was nothing more that I could do than be honest, transparent, and communicate my intentions.  She responded well, saying that she didn’t realize how much I had going on in my head and that it gave her a new appreciation for who I was.  Progress.  She seemed more motivated than ever to see me.  Progress.  So we rescheduled again.  This time she said that she would take the initiative, plan something out, take the lead.  I was cautiously optimistic.

The night before, I actually had a dream that she ghosted again.  I sent her a message that morning saying that.  I heard nothing back.  She ghosted again.  0/5.

FML.

I sent her a message saying that there’s a difference between someone who is good and someone who is nice.  Someone who is nice tells people what they want to hear and sometimes, they even mean it.  But when it comes to doing something inconvenient or difficult, they choose the easy path at the expense of others.  Someone who is good tells people what they need to hear, even when they don’t want to hear it.  And when it comes to making the hard decisions, they do what’s best, not what’s easiest.  I was fully ready to walk away at this point and was leaving her this message hoping she would reflect on it and not put someone else through this nonsense.

She responded saying that she had read more of my blog than just the most recent article about her.  She read my posts about a previous girlfriend (Max) where I had put her on a pedestal.. I think I even called her my north star.  The truth is I had a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for what I had learned from our relationship and was letting it inspire me to be a better person.  Perhaps I should’ve also written a follow up post about the whatsapp conversation that I had with Max where I realized that she no longer understood me the way I had remembered, and that our connection was no longer there.  Mia had read those entries, and had a very real concern that I was using her to fill the void that Max had left.  Even though Max and I hadn’t dated in a few years and she was on the other side of the planet with no plans of coming back, I understood that concern.  Truth is, I had that same concern when things were starting up with Mia.  But the more I connected with Mia, the less I thought about Max.  Max became an ill-fitting memory while Mia represented an interesting path forward.  But she didn’t know that.  We talked about it over text, and even had our first phone conversation since reconnecting.  I got stood up, but there was progress.

There was a wide disconnect between Mia’s actions and her texts.  Her texts showed someone who was making a very real connection with someone who she was genuinely interested in and wanted to explore a relationship with.  They showed that she was growing, overcoming her issues, and opening up in a way that she never had with me.  Her actions were of someone who was willing to lead me on who would then look for every excuse to not actually have to show up.  I never assumed that her finding these excuses was a reflection of her interest in me, but I also had to be real about her not being honest or open about what was really going on.  She knew that my love language was action, but it didn’t seem to matter.  But I saw progress, and growth, someone who did want to spend time with me, and someone who I still really wanted to connect with.  I told her that if I walked away now, I wouldn’t feel good about it.  I asked her what she thought we should do.  She still really wanted to see me… so we rescheduled.

That was last week.  Again, she was a bit scarce during the day.  I had seen this pattern before.  There was nothing to indicate that she was taking the initiative like she said that she would.  But then a glimmer of hope.. she texted back and said that she was still on for tonight and thought that she would wrap up work around 5-6.  I was never confident that it would happen, but I was optimistic.  Then she sent me a message saying that things were running behind schedule.  I was a little frustrated, but kept that to myself, doing my best to make sure that when we saw each other, it wasn’t dragged down by all the baggage of what it took to get here.  According to the texts, she was delayed because she was doing the tear down at a convention and her team had basically bailed, leaving her to do it all herself.  Had she asked, I would’ve been more than happy to help her out.. I like being productive and helpful, and it would’ve been an excuse to spend time together.  Instead, she said that she would probably be done closer to 9.  I said no worries, a late dinner it is.  9 came and went, still nothing.  In an act of optimism and committing to making this happen, I even drove downtown to make sure to when she was ready, I wasn’t wasting what precious minutes we had left on the road.  She messaged me closer to 10 saying that she had a couple things left to wrap up, I asked jokingly if that meant midnight.  She joked back and said no, hopefully not.  I should’ve known.

At 11, I told her that I still hadn’t eaten, most restaurants were closed, and we both had work in the morning.  I was done.  I had no interest in rescheduling again.  No interest in going through the motions anymore.  No interest in going above and beyond, when she wouldn’t do the same.  I told her that I would stay downtown (sitting in my car) until midnight, and she had until then to make something happen.  She was sorry.  It was a work thing.  She didn’t expect it would be like this.  She really wanted to see me.  Etc. Etc. Etc.

I told her that her words were hollow.  All that she had said showed me that she cared, that she was into me, that she wasn’t leading me on, and was genuinely interested in exploring a relationship with me.  Everything she did showed the complete opposite.  If someone was only able to see her actions, you would see someone who lacked integrity, who was self-centered, and incapable of being respectful towards others.  I don’t think that’s her.  I think she’s very well intentioned, but doesn’t understand that there is a wide gap between intentions and actions.  Most abusive relationships are between people with good intentions.  When a man beats his wife, he says that he does it out of love.  But he still beats her.  I don’t think she understands this.

I told her that I had gone above and beyond for her to get us to the point where we could spend time with one another, but that I had no interest in being in an unbalanced relationship.  This was her opportunity to go above and beyond for me, to show me how much this mattered to her.  To restore some balance.  She said that she had some ideas, but nothing that she could do within the hour.  The truth is, all I needed was to see her make the effort.. to see her in person.  Whether that meant staying up late after a long day of work, or taking a bus to my house at 2am.. if she was willing to make an effort to see me, I would’ve been good.  But she didn’t.  Instead, she told me that I was a priority, that she wasn’t leading me on, that she had opened up and communicated with me, and complained that work was getting in the way.  I disagree.  I’ve worked a more demanding work schedule than anyone I know, and that is an excuse.  If she wanted to see me, she would’ve found a way or made a way.  But she lacked the motivation.

My last two messages to her were:

“No matter what you’ve said, it’s always amounted to the same thing.  We make plans, and you bail.  Literally 6 times in a row.  Had I been in your shoes tonight.. I would’ve done everything I could to see you tonight.. even now.  It’s even why I asked you where you were.. but I can’t help but think that on some level.. you’re relieved to not have to”

“… I guess I’m heading home now”

She never replied back.

Had the situations been reversed, I would’ve made the effort.  I would’ve said fuck sleeping tonight, I need to see her because this is worth saving.  I would’ve driven, taxied, or bused or walked to her house.  Even if it was only for a moment.. to show I was willing to make the effort.  Even if she didn’t come outside, I would’ve taken a picture and sent a text showing that even if she was gone, I made the effort.  Maybe that’s why I stayed awake for an hour after I got home, looking over at my phone every 10 minutes.

Nothing.. And I’m done.

My most honest understanding of the situation is that she cares about me, wants to explore this relationship, and is genuinely positive about where it could go.  She’s well intentioned.  But intentions are only worth so much to a person unable to act on them.  A man who intends to love his wife but beats her instead is still a wife beater.  A woman who intends to be loyal to her husband but cheats on him is still cheater.  A girl who keeps telling a guy that she wants to spend time with him but bails every time.. is leading him on.  I don’t know if she truly appreciates that dynamic.  Maybe she’s not used to facing the consequences of her actions.  Maybe I enabled this by letting it go as long as I did.  Maybe she’ll think that it’s her job that held her back but if she does, she’s overlooking all the things that led up to this.  Had that happened once or twice, we would probably be in an awesome relationship right now.. but it didn’t happen once or twice.  It happened 6 times.  It was literally 3 months of texting with 6 attempted dates, and her finding a way out of all of them.  At some point, I hope she appreciates that.

Where things go from here… I’m not sure.  It would be easy to say fuck her for wasting my time.  Fuck her for every day that I spent excited to see her, and every night that I spent on my couch feeling shitty for being stood up.  Fuck her for making me think I was a priority and fuck her for making me think that there was something here.  But I don’t do easy.  The truth is those emotions barely register… it’s just not me anymore.  Instead, my mind is always open to the possibilities of the future and if anything, I’m compassionate to the struggles she has with being open, honest, and communicating when things get tough.  But the reality is that I’m no longer motivated to pursue this.  It’s not because I don’t think we have great chemistry.. or that there’s the potential for a great relationship.. but because I’m not capable of helping us get there.  That’s not something I can do on my own.. it takes both people to get there, and as far as I can tell, she’s just not capable.  Whether that’s a function of her job.. her communication issues.. her social anxiety.. maybe all of the above.. I don’t know.  What I do know is that I would’ve been happy to support her in figuring that stuff out, but she needed to make the effort and never did.

I mentioned the situation to a friend this morning, a friend who knew what had happened leading up to this.  The first thing out of her mouth was you gotta get away from that girl.  From any outsiders perspective, especially without scrolling through the hundreds of texts over the last few months.. it’s clearly an unhealthy relationship.  But with context, probably much less so.  I wouldn’t have put myself through this had I not been capable of doing it without taking damage.  I showed my friend her last couple text messages from last night and asked if I was missing anything.  She said that if work was such an issue, dictating whether or not she can have a social life at the drop of a hat, why is she working for these people?  A valid question, but with good jobs hard to come by these days.. not always a fair question.

This is when my friend echoed where I think my head is truly at.  I’m done investing time and effort into making something happen and if she disappears because of it, that’s unfortunate, but ok.  But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be open to her changing my mind.  Just because she’s demonstrated that she’s incapable of making me a priority, doesn’t mean that she’ll always be incapable.  The problem though, is that the list of things that she could say or do to change my mind is shrinking quickly.  At this point, it would probably have to be an action.  A big one.  My friend joked and said showing up to my office with flowers.  Why not.  The truth is I don’t really care what the action is… I just need it to show me that she’s capable of stepping outside her comfort zone and capable of having her actions reflect her intentions.

The ironic thing about writing this blog post is that there’s a chance she’ll read it.  I write things like this first and foremost as a therapeutic way of flushing out my thoughts on a subject.  It forces me to be honest with the situation and honest with myself, while putting an honest experience out there that others might resonate with.  That said, I knew as soon as I started writing it that she’d probably see it.  Whether she sees this and decides to return to her comfort zone, or sees this and finds motivation to finally have her actions reflect her intentions… that I do not know.  But I would be lying if I said I didn’t hope it was the latter.

 

Max just texted.  She’s in town for the week and would ‘love’ to see me.  Well then…

 

Dream Analysis: My First Dream in Months

Every so often, I take a break from cannabis.  I recognize that I use it as an escape, and take advantage of the fact that I can be a very high functioning stoner.  So when I want to shift gears, I reach out to a friend to hold me accountable.  I did exactly that to start April and after a couple weeks of staring at the ceiling until 4am, I was finally starting to sleep well again.  And with good sleep, I had my first dream in months.  And a weird one it was…

I’ve been reading some Carl Jung and after having read and reread his writings on dream analysis, I couldn’t help but take a crack at what was a very interesting dream.  As with most dreams, I’m not quite sure where it started or ended, but there were certainly some moments that were quite clear.  I couldn’t help but share them with that same friend who was holding me accountable for going cannabis free.  Here’s my text message to him:

“Finally had a dream last night.. first proper dream in a long time.  Got shot 6 times helping stop a bank robbery.. then got a questionable doctor on commercial drive (a street I used to live by in my early 20s) to help patch me up.. then helped stop a serial killer after she tried her roofie bs on me.  And somehow the Russians were involved.  Putin was very impressed that I did all this with these bullet woulds lol”

Here’s my best recollection of the details:

The bank in my dream was the bank that my dad used growing up.  I’ve actually been in there a few times over the last couple years and they’ve remodeled it.. but in my dream, it was the older layout.  I can’t remember too many details about how things went down but something to the effect of armed bank robbers and me having an opportunity to stop them.  I’m calm and rational enough to know that when someone just wants the money, it’s in everyone’s best interest to just give them the money and let them be on their way.  In this instance, it was more violent, and I felt that had I not stepped in, others would have been hurt.  I remember getting shot a couple times while trying to disarm one or two of them and then diving behind a piece of furniture for cover.  The robbers then shot through the furniture and I was hit a few more times.  I think they either ran away at that point or the police arrived, I’m not clear on that part.

I remember still having my wits about me and thinking none of my vitals were damaged.  I also remember thinking it absolutely sucked to have that many bullets in me, but that I was in good shape all things considered.  I collected myself, got up, and did my best to walk it off.  Knowing that I needed medical attention, I walked across the street to some sort of pharmacy or doctors office for medical attention.  From that point on, I was aware of the damage my body had taken, but I was back to being functional.

For whatever reason, the dream shifted at this point.  There was a woman of some sort, short and stout if I remember correctly.  She had some type of drug which she had attempted to use on me, the kind that would’ve left me completely vulnerable to whatever it was that she was trying to do.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think that she was able to get that drug into my system.  Somehow I was able to resist the effects just enough to maintain my awareness.  This is when I realized that she was a Hannibal Lecter type and that my life was in danger.  Remembering my training, I was able to escape the situation.

I must have gone to the authorities because the next part of the dream was a weeks long pursuit of this person alongside law enforcement.  She was a full-blown serial killer who was leaving mementos behind after each kill.  It was something to the effect of her drugging them, killing them, and leaving some crafts made from their bones behind.  I don’t think I was leading the task force which was pursuing her but I was very much involved.  I’d like to think that we caught her, but I can’t remember that part of the dream at this point.

The last part of the dream took place in my old room at the house I grew up in.  Someone else was there with me and it was either Vladimir Putin or someone well connected to him.  I was being commended for my work in capturing(?) the serial killer and was told that it was extremely impressive considering the bullet wounds I still had.  I appreciated the compliment.

And now, let’s try to unpack this:

I often ask myself how I would react in situations where my life was at risk.  Would I remain calm under pressure?  Would I have the courage to act?  Would I be selfish or selfless?  I think the scene in the bank was looking to explore that experience.  I’m not sure what to make of what happened though.  It’s nice to know that in my dream, I was who I thought I was, but I still don’t know how that would translate to reality.  I’m also slowly wrapping my head around having a hero complex.  I’ve been fascinated with super heroes since I was a little kid.  I learned values which resonated with me deeply, like integrity, perseverance, and sacrifice.  I don’t think this hero complex drives me to be the center of attention or anything like that, but I do think it’s shaped my idea of the standard of person I want to be.

I remember being shot 6 times specifically.  Part of it is because 50 cent got shot 9 times and I was a little bummed out that I wasn’t able to exceed that number.  I think this shines light on my deeply rooted competitive drive, but also my drive to overcome.  The bigger the obstacle, the more motivated I am to rise above it.  I saw that I was able to take 6 bullets and ‘walk it off’, so I was left with some minor disappointment that I wasn’t shot a few more times.  I know, I’m weird.

Something this does illuminate for me though is my sense of invincibility.  Starting in my early 20s, as I continued to rise above the challenges I faced, I started to feel more and more like an unstoppable force of nature.  I remember confiding in a few friends about this as it wasn’t something I was entirely comfortable with.  I was concerned about why it was happening, and what parts of myself I was giving up to get there.  I no longer have those concerns, just an awareness of who I am.  Like a super sayain, every time I was literally and metaphorically beat half to death, I came back stronger.  And stronger.  And stronger.  Eventually, I realized that the universe was running out of challenges which I was not able to overcome.  These days, I’ll joke and say that I’ll be invincible until I’m not.  It highlights someone who has learned to move through life without fear, but with a simple understanding that my life is not permanent.  When my time comes, I’ll cease to exist.  Until then, I’ll continue to move forward with the confidence of someone who can’t be stopped.

I think the visit to the doctor’s office to treat the bullet wounds was somewhat of an homage to Todd Orr.  That badass survived two bear attacks in the same day, with significant damage to his head and arm, and still managed to walk it off and drive himself to the hospital.  I’d like to think that I would have that same toughness and presence of mind but that’s some next level shit and it’s unlikely I’ll ever be tested to that degree.

The next part, with regards to the serial killer, I think it’s combining two elements which I think about often.  The first is the roofie and rape culture which I hear about so often but have never really seen or experienced personally.  I dated two girls who told me about times where they basically came to during sex with a guy they had met earlier that night, with no recollection on how they arrived there.  With the increased awareness and hyper-sensitivity about it today, it’s something which does cross my mind from time to time.  In this dream, a similar tactic was being used, except by a woman who was also killing her targets.  Perhaps this was an effort of putting myself in their shoes.  The second element seemed to be a function of justice and adventure.  Every so often, I think about the world going to shit and having to navigate some kind of post-apocalyptic landscape while surviving and protecting those around me.  Sometimes that seems like it would be a much more meaningful and fulfilling existence than spending a life behind a screen.  This dream was not post-apocalyptic, but it did fill that void of a justice filled adventure.

The final element of the dream, engaging with the Russians, is most likely a reflection of  two things.  First, the sheer amount of hours I’ve put into understanding Russia’s role in American politics.  I told a friend last week that trying to keep up to date and wrap my head around all the elements in play is like trying to drink from a fire hose.  I’m often on Reddit and while some of the reads from subs like r/The_Mueller are easy and mostly informative, reading through r/The_Donald or watching Fox News in search of valid counter-points can be extremely wearing.  This is a remarkably important inflection point in history though, and I can’t help but think that being able to understand what’s happening as it happens will provide me with a much deeper understanding of our world as this moment becomes a moment in history.  That doesn’t really explain why I felt good about getting a compliment from Vladimir Putin though.  In reality, I think he’s one of the most toxic influences on global democracy and prosperity.  His greatest accomplishment will likely be poking holes in the American democracy and in American culture, forcing us to face these hard truths of who we are and how we conduct ourselves.  All that said, Putin represents all Russians about as well as Trump represents all Americans.  Russia produces some tough bastards.  Khabib Nurmagomedov is one of the first people that comes to mind.  Individuals like him are born different.. raised different.. and it’s through a tough life that these individuals become remarkably strong and resilient people.  As much as I’m not a fan of Putin, I have a great deal of respect for the collective toughness of the Russian people.  To be complemented by them on my toughness was a compliment of the highest level and validated a quality which I value greatly.

Finally, something I just realized is that it’s been years and years since I’ve had a nightmare.  I used to have a recurring dream/nightmare where I was fighting a monster which I couldn’t identify.  One which I couldn’t attack.  One which I couldn’t run from.  It was always some version of the same experience, trying everything that I could with nothing working.  I don’t know if this corresponded with another life event, but eventually, I had that same dream where I was able to overcome.  I was focused, went straight at it, struck it with everything I had, and cracked it open. A bright light beamed out from inside and it was vanquished.  That was the last time I faced something in the dream world that I didn’t see as a challenge I was able to overcome.  I’m realizing that while this was a dream for me, for others, it could’ve been a nightmare.  Perspective, I suppose.

Well.  That was interesting… if anyone with a background in dream analysis ever comes across this, feel free to pick it apart.

Starbucks: Not Discussing the Complexity of Racism

Not long after it happened, a friend of mine posted the viral video of the two black guys getting arrested and taken out of Starbucks.  I had a few initial thoughts.

  1. That sucks.
  2. This is going to trigger some serious outrage from the internet crowd.
  3. I wonder what actually happened here..

As the story goes, two young black men entered into a Starbucks waiting to meet a friend.  Without buying something first, one of them asks to use the washroom.  A Starbucks employee says that washrooms are for customers only.  Instead of making a purchase, the men simply grab a seat and wait for their friend to arrive.  At this time an employee, possibly the manager asks the men to leave.  They decline, saying that they’re waiting for a friend.  Whether or not they said something to the effect of we’ll buy something when our friend arrives isn’t something I’ve been able to track down.  After refusing to leave, the manager calls the police to remove them.  The police arrive a short time after and ask the men to leave again.  They decline again, saying that they’re waiting for a friend.  After the police ask multiple times without success, they’re placed under arrest.  As they’re being walked out, their friend (who happens to be a middle aged white guy) shows up and this is pretty much where the viral video starts.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I can’t help but think that very few people are having a meaningful conversation about this.  It’s becoming formulaic at this point.  Minority is marginalized, video goes viral, internet produces outrage, company goes into damage control and *repeat*.  This isn’t how we make progress.  We have to make the effort to understand what really happened here if we want to avoid things like this happening in the future.  I’ll make that effort here.

I’ve spent plenty of time in Starbucks and I don’t even drink coffee.  When I used to work in finance, most meeting were coffee meetings and about half of them were at Starbucks.  I’ve also studied the history and operations of Starbucks quite closely for a variety of reasons.  Consider me a Starbucks pro.  I have a thing about being punctual so if I’m doing a Starbucks meeting, there’s a good chance I’m there 5-10 minutes early.  More often than not, I’ll grab my drink order when I arrive rather than waiting for the other person to avoid the perception of being a non-paying customer.  That said, on more than a few occasions, I’ve waited for the other person to arrive before placing an order and have never been approached by the staff.  I’ve also asked to use the washroom before making a purchase more than once and have never been told that it was for customers only.  This is where we need to start asking why and being honest with the answers we find.

Most of the Starbucks I’ve been to were in the finance district or in nice neighborhoods, the areas without much crime and where Starbucks employees generally felt safe.  I think that when you feel safe, you tend to care more about the well-being of others and are more likely to let things like this slide.  The neighborhood that I grew up in was different.  Washrooms at local gas stations or McDonalds would have special lights installed so that you couldn’t see your veins; preventing heroin addicts from using those washrooms for shooting up.  Employees at these establishments were much more guarded in how and when they would allow washroom access.  I don’t know Philadelphia that well, but looked up the crime rate in that area and it received an ‘F’.

Something else worth mentioning is that about a year ago, there was a robbery at a different Starbucks in Philadelphia.  In the early afternoon, a man walked up to the register with a gun and told the 19 year old female Starbucks employee to empty the register.  She quickly walked away from the register towards the back room and the man left shortly after.  The security footage shows a black man in his 30s, wearing a black hoodie.  Was this person the same person that refused to leave the Starbucks a few days ago?  Definitely not.  But I think it would be a mistake to assume that this incident has no relevance to what happened last week.  I would guess that word of this robbery probably spread quickly through the Philadelphia Starbucks scene.  I would also guess that there was some kind of message to those employees about following procedure around these things.

A year later, two black men, both dressed mostly in black and appearing to be in their mid-30s enter into a Starbucks in a rougher side of town.  After declining to make a purchase and declining to leave, what should the Starbucks employee do?  Follow procedure?  Procedure likely suggests to call the police.  The call to the police was simple,

“Hi, I have two gentleman in my cafe who are refusing to make a purchase and refusing to leave.”

The message from dispatch was also relatively simple, “We have a disturbance there, a group of males refusing to leave.”

When the police arrived, they calmly and politely asked the men several times to leave.  It was only after refusing over and over that they were arrested.

Unless they’re withholding parts of the transcript, this wasn’t as much of a racial issue as it’s being made out to be.  Mostly, this was an issue of two people refusing to make a purchase and refusing to leave.  Mostly.  There is an element of racism here which needs to be discussed.

I actually began writing this entry a couple days ago but wasn’t able to return to it until now.  I’m happy I had that time as I was able to learn an important detail which hadn’t been mentioned in the dozen or so articles I read about this.  The men entered the Starbucks at 4:35.  The police were called at 4:37.  2 minutes?  Really??  That smells heavily of prejudice.  I’m having a hard time not jumping to the conclusion of racial prejudice… but for the sake of discussion, I’ll carry on.

The first question I ask myself in these situations is how would this played out had we swapped black for white?  Two white men enter a Starbucks, refuse to make a purchase and refuse to leave.  Police are called to enforce company policy and the law, and the two white men still refuse to leave.  The two white men are arrested and removed from the premises.  Would the internet have reacted the same way?  Would we have considered this normal?  If that’s the story I had heard, my first reaction would’ve been “why didn’t these dummies just make a purchase?”  Because these gentlemen were black, we dare not say it.

My understanding of racism is not discriminating based on the color of someone’s skin.  Instead you judge someone based on the merits of their actions and the contents of their soul – good or bad.  I’m a big fan of Trevor Noah and he said something interesting about this situation, “I bet from now on, they’re going to be more careful when it comes to dealing with race.  You know what, I was thinking what black people should do?  I think we should see just how far we can push Starbucks now.  Just to mess with them.  Like, ya, now we go back after they’ve done the racial bias training and just use the bathroom but take all the toilet paper home with us.  Ya, y’all have a problem with this? No? No? No? No? You don’t? I appreciate your sensitivity, ya I do.”  He went on to give several entertaining examples of ‘how to mess with them’.  The beauty of good comedy is that it communicates hard truths in ways that people don’t mind hearing them.

When I see incidents perceived as racially charged, I often ask if it’s strictly a skin color thing.  I say this because I often wonder what has a greater impact on prejudice, skin color or dress code?  How would things have played out had these gentlemen been wearing suits?  How would it have played out if it was a couple of thugged out white guys with neck tattoos?  What if it was a well dressed white guy and a thugged out black guy?  What if it was a suited up black guy and a thugged out white guy?  What if it was a couple of Latinos wearing exactly what these black guys were wearing?  When does the color of your skin just become just one variable in your appearance?

Better understanding racism is something that’s very important to me.  This past weekend, I took a friend of mine out for breakfast and we had a great conversation about this stuff.  He’s Wesley Snipes black, originally from Somalia, but has spent most of his life living in major cities here.  As he put it, nobody second guesses him when he’s wearing a suit.  But once he goes out with a hoodie and fitted cap, people start making assumptions.  The truth is, I could probably go out wearing the exact same hoodie and cap and people wouldn’t make the same assumptions about me.  And there’s no way around it, that’s racism.

And after all that, I’ve now set the stage for what I think the real issue is:  Tribalism.

I grew up tribal just like many of us, but my tribe wasn’t based on race, it was based on where we were from.  We were from the hood.  We were proud to be from the hood and dressed like it to make sure people knew.  We wanted to carry the tribal markers of thugged out gangsters, making sure people knew that we were not to be taken lightly.  Getting looks from old white people was a point of pride.  Knowing that we had made them feel uneasy humored us.  Especially because we were also raised with good morals and values.  Despite the way we dressed, we weren’t the type to cause trouble.  Ironically, we were much more the type to hold doors open for others and walk old ladies across the street.  Maybe that’s why we got such a kick out of it.  But how were the old white people supposed to know this when all they had to go on was the way we dressed?

This is where I think it’s important to discuss what I’ve started to call tribal markers.  I had a conversation with a co-worker yesterday which I found to be illuminating and extremely impressive on their part.  We’ll call this individual Taylor.  Taylor has had a tough go of it, having been bullied excessively in school for being different and not having a strong support system at home to help rise above it.  Now in his 20s, Taylor’s navigating his sexuality with what seems to be a lack of clarity and certainty.  From what I understand, Taylor’s not quite sure where he falls on the spectrum of gender or even which gender he’s attracted to.  He’s exploring those dynamics and I truly admire it.  Around me, Taylor’s always been fairly soft spoken, and very kind.  At times, I would even notice him going out of his way to be nice to me.  Picking up on some subtleties in body language and how he interacts with me, I could tell that Taylor was struggling with something around me.  I had some ideas as to what it was, but didn’t focus on it since he had always made a clear effort for things to be positive between us.  Yesterday, he apologized for being weird around me.  He told me he was dealing with a lot of misplaced hate as a result of being bullied when he was younger.  With most of that bullying coming from straight white males, Taylor learned to identify them as the enemy, and that had unintentionally extended to myself.  He apologized because as he put it, in a way, that was a form of racism.  I thanked him for bringing this up, complemented the courage it took for him to do it, and told him I genuinely admired his weirdness.  It was my most honest answer and I’m very grateful to have had that conversation.

For the record, I tried to write this without using the word ‘he’ or ‘his’ and it’s just not how the English language is built at the moment.  I’m not big on compelled speech or having to memorize 50 new pronouns, but I certainly see the value in introducing a single non-gendered pronoun.  Anyways, I’m pretty sure he’s identifying more with the male side of that gender spectrum right now so I don’t feel like a total ass.  Carrying on..

I really appreciate the perspective Taylor shared with me because it helped me confirm part of my theory around tribalism and tribal markers.  Growing up, Taylor was bullied, I assume predominantly by straight white males.  As a result, Taylor saw a pattern that was worth being protected from.  Of course not all straight white males were bullies , but if he perceived that all the people who bullied him were straight white males, where do you draw that between us and them?  Here, he was faced with someone who carried all the tribal markers of someone who would harm him, but who has treated him with nothing but respect and appreciation.  I can’t understate how much I appreciate him facing this the way he did.  Not only does it show a tremendous amount of personal growth on his part, but it gave confidence to my strategy of just being a good person and waiting this kinda stuff out.

I’m familiar with what discrimination looks and feels like because I grew up as a minority.  For the most part, that discrimination faded away in my teens and 20s.  Now in my 30s, it’s back.  This time, it’s because I’m a straight white male.  Add the fact that I have a background in finance and drive an SUV, I seem to tick all the boxes for an oppressor.  Yet I’m not oppressive… and in reality, I’m big on liberation.  I’m big on exploring and embracing our weirdness, whatever that may be.  I’m big on supporting others in their pursuit of happiness and do my best to bring positivity to the world on a daily basis.  So why is it that in the age of open-mindedness, progressiveness, and acceptance, that so many are so quick to assume that I’m such a shitty person?

Tribalism.

Throughout history, when times get tough, people get tribal.  The United States was probably never more united than they were during WWII.  Times were tough, but they had a common enemy.  My friend from Somalia said that as bad as racism is here, it’s nothing compared to the racism back in Africa.  In Africa, almost everyone’s black but there are different kinds of black.  As he put it, they’re super close with one another when they have a common enemy, but once they lose that common enemy, they go back to being racist towards each other.  In many ways, times are even tougher today.  But without an obvious enemy, we’re drawing lines in the sand for the sake of protecting ourselves from an enemy we can’t identify.  The rich vs. the poor.  Men vs. Women.  LGBTQ+ vs. Cysgendered.  Religious vs. Atheist.  Black vs. White.  Liberal vs. Conservative.  Democrat vs. Republican.  Left vs. Right.  Seriously…. when we get to the point of drawing the line between left and right, especially without any real or consistent definition of what left or right is, we need to take a second to think about what we’re doing to ourselves.  We’re picking a team and turning the others into our enemies in the pursuit of emotional safety, but in the process, we’re tearing ourselves apart.

When every major media outlet has that video of the black guys getting arrested at the Starbucks set to auto-play as soon as you visit the site, of course the video goes viral.  And when you don’t include the context of all the things that led up to it, of course people will assume that it was an act of egregious racism.  And when the internet outrage machine goes into maximum overdrive, of course Starbucks will overreact in hopes that their overreaction is more significant than the public’s overreaction and that this somehow puts everything back in balance.  This is all craziness, and doesn’t provide a solution to the problem, only more hostility towards a situation which people don’t seem to want to  invest the time into understanding.

Those two black men had every right to be the color they are and wear what they wanted to wear.  Starbucks had every right to enforce a policy of asking someone to leave if they weren’t willing to make a purchase.  The police had every right to ask them to leave and to remove them when they wouldn’t.  And those two black men had every right to choose this as a moment to make a stand.   What happened here is rich in details and things that we should be having real conversations about – but we’re not.  I wish we were..

Had I been in the shoes of the manager, I would’ve let them use the washroom and probably would’ve let them hang out even if their friend never arrived.  Had I been the black guys, I would’ve bought a coffee.  If I was the dispatch, I would’ve asked for more details and had I been told that they weren’t being violent, I would’ve suggested waiting a few more minutes before sending anyone over.  If I was the police, I probably would’ve bought them a coffee and hung out with them until their friend arrived.  But I’m not one to follow policy when it doesn’t make sense.  I’m one to try and understand the situation for what it is and act like an intelligent and compassionate human being.

… but that’s just me.