Monday, June 29, 2009

The Same Blame Game, It's a Shame

"Blame" for the purpose of this blog, is in a negative sense, finding fault in others, without taking the time to truly understand the situation and all perspectives. Obviously, in any situation there are parties responsible, and “blame” is justly attributed to those responsible.

Perhaps “game” is a poor choice of words considering the repercussions blame has.
Last Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to spend most of the day with the illustrious Emily Maynard. We explored Berkeley and made fun of each other all day. ‘Made fun’ might not be the right descriptor, “tried to make the other cry” is more what I’m looking for.

To wrap up the day we decided to buy a Frisbee, (Emily needed a souvenir) and we wanted to toss some disc. Knowing that I’d seen a Frisbee before at the Safeway near where I live, I suggested we stop at a nearby Safeway and pick one up. To which Emay looked at me incredulously and with all the confidence of Chuck Liddell in a street fight, tells me there is no possible way that Safeway sells Frisbees. I was sure they would and decided to prove it to her. The entire half-mile drive over we’re deciding the terms of the bet that this disagreement has spawned.

As San Leandro’s pitiful excuse for a Safeway came into view, my heart sank. I began to lose hope almost immediately that this bare essentials Safeway would have a Frisbee.
Emily’s trash talking amped up to new heights.

I went aisle by aisle, becoming more desperate by the footstep that I was going to have to listen to Emay’s gloating the entire night. Just as all hope had evacuated my soul, and we began to exit the store, there in shining, heavenly light, with a chorus of angels, was a disc! It was packaged with some other essentials for a day at the beach, much like the fully loaded Easter baskets or stuffed Christmas stockings you would find at a grocery store, just for the desperate single dad. But it was a disc nonetheless.

Emily had victory in her grasp, she could see it, smell it, taste it, feel it. And in one serendipitous, last-ditch, desperate glance, heaven shined on me instead.

Of all the adjectives that she used to describe me immediately thereafter (lucky, ridiculous, unreal, cheater – yes, cheater!), not one of them was “right.” She could not just admit I was right - that Safeway has discs.

To be honest, I don’t blame her one iota.

We’ve all seen it, since the playground, when something bad happens, someone else is to blame. This continues well on into adulthood as evidenced by the burgeoning personal liability business in America, and its near ubiquity. It usually takes a great deal of self-restraint in conjunction with maturation and personal growth to advance past this sophomoric behavior. (Which isn’t to say that Emily is typically sophomoric, being around me and my shenanigans can bring out the worst sometimes).

Why do we find it so easy to blame others, when many times it is our own fault?
The research and psychological theory attempting to explain this observed human behavior is convoluted and insufficient. Based off of the empirical evidence that does exist, what experts have come up with is not so much “why”….but more of what predictors there are that an individual will other-blame.

Predictors aren’t definite though. What do we know that is definite?

We do know that it can be controlled. We can control whether we react viscerally to a negative situation, or take a minute to analyze why we did what we did, and try our best to understand why others did what they did. Because if you’re pointing a finger informing others why its so and so’s fault, almost without fail, so and so is pointing their finger right back at you.

Between Emay and me, I can’t think of a more innocuous occurrence of blame, but it can be so dangerous. That is why I bring this topic up. Wars are fought because of blame. Lives are lost, peace is sacrificed, friendships ended, souls poisoned, all from the innate human proclivity to justify to others and ourselves our own actions and escape responsibility. I say “souls poisoned” thinking of those who embitter their hearts, holding onto the blame they have for the wrongs visited upon them.

When life goes according to plan, we are quick to accept responsibility, who wouldn’t? When those plans go horribly awry or even just hit a minor speed bump, what happens?

On Christmas day, 2004, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake whose epicenter was in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra, created a wave of water so destructive over 225,000 lives were lost.
In August 2005 Hurricane Katrina wrought havoc in New Orleans, killing over 1,800.

God was blamed by many for both.

Although some people blame God for the terrorist attacks of 9/11, most of us blame its mastermind, Osama bin Laden. Have you ever listened to him talk? He blames us. As a fundamentalist Muslim, he calls America “the Great Satan” and the nation filled with Jews (those people Muslims have been fighting with for the last 14 centuries), “the Little Satan.” America is a greater enemy than Israel.


In a nutshell, as appealing as Western technology, economic superiority, and freedoms are, they come with Western “sin” – pornography, greed, lack of respect for elders, etc. To a fundamentalist like bin Laden, his thought is “if I can’t have the good without the bad, I don’t want any of it.” So he blames us and our Western evils, and has taken it upon himself to eradicate those evils from the planet.

In America, we think what Osama bin Laden is, and what he’s done as evil and we blame him. We’re innocent in all of this, victims of a religious zealot and his demonic actions. As he hides in some cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan right now, he and many other Muslims are blaming America for all that is wrong in the world, they themselves are innocent in all of this, victims of an evil empire.

What if we’re both wrong?

What if they decided that Jihad was really the inner, spiritual battle the Koran meant it to be, not one requiring bloodshed and innocent lives?

What if we realized that the evils that they hate about America, aren’t freedoms like we think of them, but really are evils, and we would all be better off if we erased them from our lives, living purer, healthier, and with more fulfillment?

The tendency we all possess to blame others needs to be recognized for what it is: detrimental to everyone.

The hope I maintain is in the possibility that exists of conquering it within all of us. As the dissemination of information exponentially increases via technological advancements and the internet, we possess opportunities unparalleled in history to understand the perspectives of others. This wonderful epoch allows us to put ourselves in their shoes, hopefully mitigating the desire to blame.

"Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” - John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Friday, June 12, 2009

Trust Me, This Is A Shortcut

First of all, I apologize -

I missed posting on Sunday night. I spent the entire day at Six Flags, and that much sun on my pale Irish skin resulted in prostration and regurgitation the likes of which I had never before experienced. Sun poisoning is my webMD diagnosis, since I decided to hold out on going to the ER.

Until the next night…

Monday night ended up being for Ally. When the entire left side of her body went numb, it was a coin toss between the emergency room and signing her up for a cage fight. I couldn’t find any cage fights on Craig’s List….

During the day I planned on posting both of those nights; I wasn’t going to take that chance again. So Friday morning here we are. -

Insurance companies make money trading risk. In exchange for financial protection against the risk of a catastrophic loss - like needing brain surgery, or crashing a car, or having your house catch on fire – most individuals will gladly trade a guaranteed loss much smaller: insurance premiums. That is the deal we make with insurance companies every time we sign up with Progressive, or Geico, or State Farm.

But we manage risk on a daily basis, sometimes the tradeoff is hugely advantageous, that is, we give little, but receive a lot : reaching over and clicking your seatbelt, in exchange for survival in a collision. Locking your doors, in exchange for a deterrent to most criminals from breaking and entering.

Some are not.

Lockers just outside of Six Flags, that are about 1 cubic foot in size, cost $10. Not for the day, but rather $10 per use, which translates into you paying $20, if halfway through the day, you might need to access your things, and place them back into the locker for safety. TWENTY DOLLARS! I decided that this guaranteed loss was too great, and that the uncertain possibility of losing my backpack was worth the risk. I thought it through, and ultimately, my faith in the goodness of my fellow man led me astray. The backpack got jacked. Ostensibly, I should have paid for the locker, and done it the way many of the park attendees did it. If I had, I would still have my backpack after all. The fact that my backpack could not have fit in the locker aside, I’m sticking to my guns, that is, that I should not have paid for the locker. I decided to trade the guarantee of being stolen from (Six Flags), in exchange for the risk of being stolen from (hoodlums). The toast landed butter side down this time, maybe next time I’ll wise up and just bring my mom. Portable locker.

Truth be told, I’ve actually changed my mind, mid-entry. By the title, I was planning on going in an entirely different direction with this. I was about to make fun of myself for trying to cheat the system. Trying to use a shortcut, and get away with not paying for the $10. But that was assuming something as nebulous as “the system” was good, righteous, and a result of democracy. Then I realized I was being extorted, that Six Flags had a monopoly on storage lockers, and they could charge whatever they wanted. There is no competition driving prices down, there is just me being forced to bend over.


To bring it back around, instead of espousing the evils of the shortcut, and the need to do things right the first time, the new thesis is “I’m not above starting a blog to discuss serious world issues, and then hijacking an entry to broadcast personal issues.”

Friday, June 5, 2009

Making Your Mark

It is impossible to think of any powerful human word, without making relative its antithesis. If you love life, you hate death. Show compassion and you can defeat indifference. I have been so myopically focused on success, that I haven’t considered failure. I should though, for how else could I measure any of my successes? Barack (we’re on a first name basis in my blog) said -

“Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it's not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won't. it's whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”

Last night I was hit with failure like a lightning bolt.

Driving home with Ally in the truck, rain was pouring down, the sky electrified and thunder rolling, in a tempest that belonged in America’s heartland, but not northern California. A quarter mile from my house we passed a stray dog running head on in the bicycle lane towards traffic. Concerned, Ally pleaded that we turn around to stop it before something terrible happened. So I looped back and stopped just in front of it to cut the poor, scared dog off. Instead of stop it, it Reggie Bush juke moved past me and kept jogging. I decided to sprint after it. I wish I hadn’t. Three seconds into my pursuit the excited, golden brown Chow mix looked over its left shoulder, saw me mid pursuit, and veered right.

I saw the car skid, hoping it would slow enough, hoping the dog was quick enough, hoping.

It didn’t have a chance. The car slammed into it at at least 20 mph.

As much as I tell myself “it was inevitable, the dog was running into oncoming traffic…” I still remember locking eyes, and then, only then, did he veer right.

The horrific split second image must have been replayed in my mind at least 50x today. Failure is a sickening feeling. It can be debilitating. It can convince you that the potential pain is too great, so don’t risk anything, ever. Fear of failure can neuter the most impassioned. And all that other stuff B said.

I’m going to pursue the latter of B’s choices. I’m going to learn, not just from last night and all of my past failures, (deciding that the delicious tri-tip and mayo sandwich that had sat in the 120 degree heat of my truck for 6 hours was “cool” to eat) but from the inevitable ones that I will face tomorrow, and on into the future.

Ideally I will learn from the failures of others mostly, rather than take that burden on solo, buuuut it’s not an ideal world, so we’ll see. The first failure that I want to overcome flies in the face of conventional thought. It’s not my failure to bear alone; this one is spread pretty far and wide. How charities, and charitable giving fails the poor. Admit it, when you donate money, you have no idea where your dollars are actually being spent. In a generic “only 10 cents for every dollar goes to overhead” kind of way, maaaaybe, but in a real, specific, and traceable way? No way. This is a failure on the part of the charity, and you and me. Instead of taking a hard look at the prodigiously harrowing poverty that grips much of the world, and wondering: How, with these unprecedented levels of wealth that exist today, is poverty not eradicated?

Maybe that question has been posed in your mind. Until recently it’s been too convoluted an enigma for one mind to fathom. Like most problems in life, it is not as complicated as we make it out to be. I have been pouring over book after book on the same topic: Microfinance. I can summarize in one sentence what every book says. "The poor do not need charity, they need access to capital; they can break out of poverty themselves."

I plan to make my failures, my successes, and ultimately my mark, utilizing microfinance to break the cycle of poverty once and for all. Feel free to join me.

Monday, June 1, 2009


I was just about to start this inaugural blog entry with something as cliché as “Well…my name is Steve, and I’m starting this blog because...[enter some profoundly self-absorbed reason that through blind ignorance I think other people are dying to know about].” But through immense self control and moderate self-awareness, I am instead going to start this inaugural blog with a reason that is only moderately self-absorbed. Much better.

When I was 12 years old my father and I went camping. Hardly larger than a pond, Grouse Lake was not aptly named, I didn’t see a single grouse, and that was not a lake. It was, however, gorgeous – set deep within the Sierra Nevadas, the term “crystal clear” comes to mind when recalling that body of water. Bits of paper and a generic sampling litter was evidence that we were not pioneers to this ‘lake.’ Still, my father was quick to point out that he was happy those before us picked up after themselves, not a crinkled can of Bud Light, as far as the eye could see. He informed me that we were to “leave the camp ground cleaner and in better condition than when we arrived.”

Words to live by.

…but, y’know, substitute “camp ground” for “world”…

Eventually political ideology, religious beliefs, and any other box I may be able to fit into will materialize as subsequent entries are made. Believe me - I’m as excited to uncover my elusive ideologies as you must be. Unfortunately, ‘mercurial’ doesn’t do me justice. After 24 years of trying to figure it all out, I come back to only one constant – treat others the way you desire to be treated/visit no evil upon others, lest it be visited upon you/love thy brother as thyself.

The Golden Rule.

With that in mind, I realize that it isn’t enough to simply be nice to those around you. Which, sad to say, even if it isn’t what we mean in definition, is precisely how we define it through practice. This blog will be a running commentary of my attempt to do more than be nice, and to invite you to rise to the challenge of making a real and lasting impact in bettering the lives of others.