Simplicity Is The True Spice Of Life

I was recently blessed with reading a post by one of my brother bloggers that goes into the topic of critical thinking versus creative thinking. There’s a lot to be said and described on this topic, but one of the important aspects that I took from that interaction was the importance of keeping things simple. This applies to all areas of life and can mean the difference between suffering and relative peace. Allow me to explain.

Critical thinking is an important aspect of life. Without it, we would likely not have a lot of the innovations and technology that modern society enjoy so freely. The ability to recognize, analyze and evaluate any given problem is how progress happens. We’re not quite “The Jetsons” yet, but we’re getting there. A hilarious side note on the Jetsons… I read a meme online that said that the Jetsons are set in the year 2062 and that George Jetson is about 41 years old, which means that somewhere in the world, he’s currently being conceived. That made me giggle a bit, especially since we’re nowhere near to living in the skies with flying cars. But I digress…

There are two basic perspectives to life and almost everyone without exception falls under one of these categories. I’m talking the scientific perspective and the non-scientific perspective. Even with science as a guide through navigating life, it’s important to recognize that the world is more than just what our six senses perceive and that at some point, if you go far enough backwards in the grand scheme of things, science fails to provide an answer. Perhaps it will, someday. But not all things can be compartmentalized and analyzed and there’s something to be said for running on faith.

Let’s take the Big Bang, as an example. No, I don’t mean the television sitcom, I mean the actual event that the title is based on. We know that at some point, billions and billions of years ago, an explosive release of energy resulted in the massive expansion of space that we recognize as our universe. So here’s the interesting question: what came before that? If one were to take the religious approach, then one would be inclined to believe that in the beginning, there was nothing until God said, “Let there be light!”

If one takes the scientific approach, we find ourselves at a loss. Some speculate that our universe is a piece of another, pre-existing universe and that something cataclysmic caused our universe to basically be tossed out and begin to expand on its own. There are a number of theories but I think we can agree that until proven, theory remains speculative. So, which perspective is the correct one? Is it so impossible to think that at some point, far enough back, a single individual or entity is responsible for all that we know? I don’t want to go off on a tangent and start getting into chaos theory, but if the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause tsunamis on the other side of the world, then…

Our self-awareness leads us to the belief that we’re at the top of the pyramid of life on our respective little blue marble, but the truth remains that we don’t know what’s out there. Or where it all came from. or even what’s to come, despite plenty of speculation on that, as well. One of my guilty pleasures is watching those YouTube simulations that show the progression of the universe until its end. How accurate those are will remain to be seen, just not by us in all likelihood. But I’m crawling FAR to the wayside of where I was going with this. Let’s see if I can get myself back on track…

When we talk about simplicity, we need to recognize that interaction is part of the human condition, and that we sometimes have to alter, improve or improvise how we perform those interactions. If I were to use employment as an example, when was the last time that you wrote a cover letter and JUST used plain language? When we want to make a certain impression, we have a tendency to “fancy” things up. I’m talking about something like describing oneself as a “master of the custodial arts” instead of just saying “janitor” or “cleaner.” Sure, it sounds fancier but it potentially leaves one open to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

There is room in this world for both critical and creative thinking. In fact, in most instances they can used interchangeably. The key is keeping an open mind. Keeping things simple in all areas of life helps to guarantee that we reduce the amount of suffering in our own lives and frequently even in the lives of others. And it also ensures better communication in the overall grand scheme of things. Keep it simple. After all, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Food for thought… ☯

A Jab In The Arm…💉

I need to start this post by premising the fact that I’m not a doctor, I’m not a health specialist nor do I have any formal medical training. What I do have is a lifetime of knowledge and skills accumulated through trial and error. And if you read that sentence in Liam Neeson’s voice from “Taken,” I applaud your imagination because that’s what I did as I wrote it. But I digress… You know that if I’m starting my post with a disclaimer, it’ll be something special. But what’s more is, this will be strictly my opinion and should be digested as such. What I want to talk about today is vaccination… (ducks and covers head, realizes no stones are being thrown and gets back up) Alrighty then, here we go!

There’s a significant amount of controversy surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. And with good reason. With the internet making the world’s news and information literally available at one’s fingertips, everyone researches and “investigates” just about everything in their daily lives before making any sort of a decision. And what’s worse, people have a tendency to suddenly turn into armchair warriors that have a loud and prominent (and oftentimes annoying) voice that would generally be silent if they had to face people in person. And that’s a problem, because these folks are contributing to the dissemination of misinformation, which is often from sources that are offering opinion based on their own experiences and not necessarily hard science.

This is one of the reasons why I take pains to cite my sources when I can and otherwise only speak to my own experiences as they relate to the content I write. But this line in the sand with the COVID-19 vaccines is something special. Given the state of the world and the situation we face, the majority of governments have made it clear that they want a certain percentage of the population to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before lifting all restrictions and allowing the return to some semblance of normalcy. At least, that’s the state of things in Canada. I can’t speak for what may be happening in other countries. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the pandemic has irrevocably changed us all. The world may never go back to what it once was. Between the acknowledgment that many if not most jobs can be performed from home, people suddenly shifting gears in their lives and changing careers, leaving their spouses and all around deciding to live it up as there’ only one life to live (according to them), the world has changed in a way that may never go back to what it previously was.

And that’s fine. Moving forward is the only way to go in life, and is important if one intends on accomplishing anything. But the choice whether to get vaccinated or not is a personal one. For example, I’ve been getting the flu shot for over ten years. Having Type-1 Diabetes means my immune system is rocky at the best of times, so it’s a smart move for me. So, here are some thoughts on the flu vaccine…. If I don’t take it, I can POTENTIALLY get sick. That illness can POTENTIALLY be fatal to me. If I catch the flu, I can without a doubt transmit it to others, who may face the same consequences as I do. People have died from taking this vaccine and others. It all depends on a person’s specific body, biology and overall health. The flu vaccine is not a GUARANTEE that I won’t get the flu; it simply helps my body to create the antibodies that will help to overcome the flu, should I catch it.

Sound familiar? It probably should, because this is all the same shit that applies to the COVID-19 vaccine. It doesn’t GUARANTEE that you won’t catch it; it simply prompts your body’s defences against the virus if you get it. Yes, there are people who have died AFTER taking the vaccine. The question as to whether it was a direct result of the vaccine or not is debatable. It’s right up there with number of deaths due to COVID-19 being argued and disputed because some of the deceased had a pre-existing condition. The internet went nuts when the Provinces were calculating and gathering their numbers, claiming that they were using death due to heart conditions, cancer and other ailments as an umbrella to claim it was COVID-19.

But I’m getting WAY off topic, here. My point with today’s post is that there has already been a shift or a societal trend, where people are beginning to ask the question; “Did you get vaccinated?” Honestly, when you get right down to it, this is almost akin to asking about ANY private, medical history. There are issues arising where employers are starting to test the waters in regards to requiring people to be vaccinated and asking about it. All of that is private information. If someone WANTS to share the fact they’ve gotten vaccinated, good for them. But people honestly shouldn’t be asking others. The other issue is the CHOICE to get vaccinated. I know plenty of people who choose not to get vaccinated against the flu. But you won’t see them posting every five minutes about how the flu vaccine isn’t guaranteed, how it’s ineffective and how it can potentially kill. But this is true of any and every vaccine. One needs to make the personal choice between choosing one path over the other. For myself, contracting COVID-19 will almost assuredly end my life. Taking the vaccine has an infinitesimal chance of being lethal to the person who takes it. So ultimately, I had to make the choice…. Go with the thing that is likely certain to kill me, or the thing that almost impossibly but could possibly kill me.

All life is choice. We choose to get up in the morning, face life and deal with the issues of the day. The big secret is that most of those choices should be kept to oneself. If you choose to get vaccinated and want to let people know because it’s something you’re proud of having chosen, fantastic. If you choose NOT to get vaccinated and want to let people know because it’s ALSO something you’re proud of having chosen, good for you. But the propaganda and misinformation should be kept out of it. Make your choice, stand by it and move on. An import aspect to consider is that since most governments require we reach a certain vaccinated level before re-opening society, some may say that refusing to get vaccinated is contributing to the problem as opposed to proposing a solution.

As I said in the beginning, this is simply and strictly an opinion. I believe in having the choice. There are a lot of aspects of the pandemic that I feel could have been done differently, perhaps even better. But as I also mentioned, I’m not a doctor. And if we stop trusting the professionals, we may as well ditch society as a whole and just go live off-grid in a cabin in the woods. Granted, some weeks that feels like the ideal solution. All I can do is make the best informed decision for me and my family and stick to it. At the end, that’s pretty much all anyone can do. ☯️

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served At Someone Else’s Buffet…

It’s no secret that I’ve been through quite a bit in the past three years. I always say that life doesn’t care about one’s plan, and I often say this because you can be prepared, trained and ready for any obstacle or issue that you may encounter and still fail. When I look at the course of my own life, I acknowledge that no matter how prepared I was, I certainly wasn’t ready for the nightmarish few years that were to follow. I can honestly say that the issues I overcame (and I DID overcome them!) shook my existence to its very core and threatened the nature of who I was and how I lived my life. Often, I wanted to blame other parties for these difficulties. And make no mistake; there was certainly and undoubtedly blame to be placed on the other person.

When facing any issue or problem in life, it’s important to remember that the cause or the “blame,” if you will, can be attributed to three involved parties. The first is the other person. This is obvious, but actions, words and/or choices made by the other person will certainly be a root cause of any problem you’re facing. The next aspect is fate. I use that term quite loosely and a better word honestly eludes me, at the moment. But it’s important to always remember that some elements of life are out of your control. Most people get angry and try to fix things when fate intervenes, but there isn’t much you can do about it. No sense getting angry at the rain for getting you wet!

The last involved party and the most important, is yourself. It is the height of ignorance to assume, on any occasion, that you have no involvement or responsibility for the problems you face. If we take a simple example, such as being late for work, it may have happened due to traffic, a passing train holding you up or some other factor. But one still needs to recognize their familiarity with the route, traffic and potential delays as well as taking responsibility for the time you left your home. This is a pretty simplistic example, but it goes to show that no matter what the situation, you also hold some responsibility for it. This is usually a hard pill to swallow for most people, as most prefer to place blame on the other individual. Whether this is because they feel better thinking they’re excused from blame or because they want a target to focus their anger is beyond me.

Once you’ve acknowledged that there is SOME self-blame involved and that some of it is out of your control, knowing who else may be responsible will often become irrelevant. And just to be clear folks, I’m not referring to an intentional, criminal act on someone else’s behalf! There is absolutely no reason for one person to commit a crime against another. But this doesn’t prevent some people from using their words, actions or choices in such a way that it causes you problems. The bottom line, whether you buy into this rhetoric or not, is that when people face/overcome any problems in life that involve another party, it usually prompts a comment that always makes me take pause: “Karma will get them!”

Karma has different meanings and connotations, depending on the religious background you follow or are familiar with. In most instances, it describes making your next life better by ensuring the sum of your actions in the current life are positive. Even if you don’t subscribe to the concept of reincarnation, karma can be considered something of a spiritual cause and effect. If you do good, good will happen and vice versa. The problem comes in when people start believing that karma is an instrument of vengeance or revenge. I have some news for you, folks. That’s not how karma works.

There are a lot of reasons why I SHOULD be angry and pissed off against the person responsible for all the grief in my life over the past few years. And despite the responsibility I accept for these issues, the person involved had no right and no reason to cause me difficulty. I have every confidence that karma will eventually catch up to this person. After all, do bad and bad things will happen, as well. But the important thing, which allows me to move on and maintain my sanity, is being able to let it go and walk away. I I were to sit and watch for this person to step off a cliff, that would make me no better and likely worse, than this person was to begin with.

I’ve had a number of people share their thoughts that I should pursue this person, sue them or take some sort of responsive action against this person. Karma is self-regulating and I am not its instrument. At least, I never KNOWINGLY am. And that’s where people need to understand the significant difference between karma and revenge. Revenge involves direct action on a person’s behalf, does nothing to fix what has happened and will only contribute to the suffering of the world. Karma eventually catches up and happens independently, with no vengeful agenda behind it.

Don’t even get me started on suing someone. I absolutely abhor the prospect of suing someone. That’s just a personal perspective, but that always seems to be everyone’s go-to, nowadays. “Oh, I’m gonna sue them…” There’s a time and place for that kind of thing and is meant to be recuperative, not punitive. And one also needs to recognize the inherent difference between “revenge” and “justice.” One has nothing to do with the other. Will karma get them in the end? I always tend to believe so. But I’ll draw no pleasure from it and it’s important not to halt one’s life to see it happen. Food for thought… ☯️

Gimme A Break!

I’m going to assume that most of my readership is too young to remember the sitcom that today’s title is taken from. “Gimme a Break” was a sitcom that aired in the early 80’s and featured Nell Carter playing a housekeeper named Nell Harper (I know, not very imaginative…) who looks after three young girls for a local police chief. Although it was mostly on because my father watched it, it’s one of those early shows from my childhood that occasionally passes through my subconscious. I can still hear the theme song…

Anyway, enough with the nostalgia! Today’s post is literally about breaks, as it relates to daily life and work. I’ve written on occasion about needing breaks from fitness routines and that still rings true. As important as it may be to stick to a routine and keep fit, sometimes you need to let your body recuperate. The same is just as true for one’s mind. This means taking a break from whatever cranial endeavours you may have your nose buried into, whether it’s paid work or personal study and research.

Last week I found myself working well beyond my scheduled shift. Although this isn’t an unusual occurrence for me, it’s one that I discourage among my staff and coworkers. The simple reason behind this is to prevent people from burning out and reducing their productivity. When we get exhausted, we tend to lose focus, concentration and make mistakes. I only realized when I had worked for almost four hours beyond my scheduled shift end that maybe I needed to back off a bit. It’s pretty easy to get carried away, when you love your job and work from home. But I digress…

It’s always seemed as though I’ve worked with one of two extremes: people who always seem to be doing nothing and the people who never seem able to shut down. The key is to find the happy medium. And with that, I can provide an example. On a particular day, one of my staff asks me if I’d like to join for a morning coffee. I have a mountain of work piling up and I think that I should likely keep at it, until a thought crosses my mind. The fifteen to twenty minutes I take to grab a coffee and converse briefly won’t make the pile bigger. AND it will allow me to shift my mind’s perspective long enough to refresh me. Breaks can be important.

We walk to the next staff’s office. We ask if he wants to join for coffee. He declines because he has too much work to do. Okay, fair enough. but the scenario is the same for that employee. The work will still be there in fifteen minutes and the break is short enough it won’t make it worse. But it may make it better and easier for the employee. After some coaxing, the employee finally decides to join us and we spend twenty minutes chatting about various things and sipping our coffees. Everyone returns to their respective offices with smiles on their faces and caffeine in their systems. Good times.

Sometimes we forget to that even when our bodies are at rest, our minds need a break as well. Even though you may spend 8 hours sitting at a desk (which is fuckin’ horrible for you, BTW. You need to get up every hour, stretch and look outside), your mind needs that occasional respite to recharge and rest, as well. That can only be accomplished by pulling yourself away from the pile and stepping elsewhere. This can apply whether you’re at a job, working from home, studying or doing personal study and/or research. It really doesn’t matter.

The mere act of stepping away and coming back with a refreshed set of eyes can often help increase or maintain your productivity. And if nothing else, it’s important for you from a mental health standpoint. I’ve often said, “When you aren’t exercising the body, you be exercising the mind.” As true as that may be, it’s also important to remember that no matter HOW you rest the body, you should also take time to rest your mind. No matter what your situation, don’t skimp on your breaks. They can pay dividends in the one run. Food for thought… ☯

When Technology Falters…

I have a pretty firm love/hate relationship with technology. On the one side, I owe my survival to technology. Just to be clear, the term “technology” does not simply mean electronic devices. Strange how most people automatically jump to that. Technology means the sum and application of science, for a specific, practical purpose. By that definition, everything from my insulin pump and glucometer, all the way to the lancets used to test my blood, are a result of the practical application of technology.

Outside of the Diabetic realm, I’m also somewhat of a slave to modern technology. I enjoy and use my laptop and smartphone to the same degree as much as other people, and even my coffee maker is the result of technology, the likes of which I usually fail to realize until the power goes out for an extended period. It’s then and only then that one truly comes to realize that we live our daily lives through the use of modern technology.

Technology has brought us far, and even more so in the past hundred years. Especially with the invention of the microchip in the late 1950’s and subsequently, the creation of the central processing unit in the early 1970’s. When you read about the development and advancement of technology, it seems as though we’ve grown in leaps and bounds. But as with all things in life, there must be a balance. And for all the positive, there can and must be some negative. Such is the nature of life…

As such, I’ve taken the time to think about some of the more negative aspects of technology. With that in mind and remembering that this is simply an opinion-based post, here are my top 5 ways that technology has made things worse:

  1. Loss Of Privacy: The Internet is a wonderful thing. Personally, I’m addicted to information and learning, and have been a fan of having the world’s information at my fingertips. I’m of a generation that got to see some of the original iterations of the World Wide Web, from the painful screeching sounds of dial-up to the wonder and immediacy of high-speed. But with the access to the world’s information comes a price. Most technology, including your smart devices, laptops, even some vehicles, track you whereabouts, your search trends and your online preferences (some of which I assume you’d rather keep private). And given that the average household no longer maintains a landline and carries cell phones everywhere, there’s no getting away from potential callers who are trying to reach you. Many long for the days that one could leave one’s house and be out of contact until they reached their destination. Simpler days…;
  2. Lack Of Customer Service: I recently had an experience where I tried to call into a company for a specific services I was trying to obtain. I was greeted by an automated representative who responded and directed my call based on my responses. Much like you would have seen on television or in movies, I had to repeat myself numerous times, even when I finally lost patience and asked for a human representative. Automation is a negative for most aspects of society. it saves money for big corporations, but takes jobs away from living people and affects the economy accordingly. Which brings me to my next point…;
  3. Loss Of Employment: As I mentioned above, job automation costs people jobs. It doesn’t help that it’s so damned handy, in some instances. For example, certain fast food chains have ordering kiosks where you can place your order on a touch screen and pay by debit or credit card. Then, your only interaction with an actual human being is to grab your bag and go. It’s reduced such places to only one cashier as opposed to half a dozen. Job loss in such instances is unavoidable, when you can pay for the hardware and technology once, then simply maintain it. It removes the necessity for human resources, staff retention and training. It certainly seems appealing from an employer’s standpoint, but from an actual economic and employment standpoint, it’s a devastating blow;
  4. It Creates Dependence: As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, we don’t realize just how much we depend on our technology until we’re found without it for a period of time. I’m reminded of this fact during a power outage we had, last February. The power was out for nearly nineteen hours. During that time, we found ourselves unable to do even the most basic of things. Make coffee, cook food, watch shows to pass time… We read books and stayed bundled up for warmth. We smartened up and made sandwiches and nibbled on finger foods, but we recognized that given the depth of winter, we were totally unprepared for an extended period without power. The eventual cooling of the house would have become dangerous. Although most people don’t think on it, we depend on technology in our daily lives more than we believe; and
  5. It’s Crippling Our Ability To Communicate: Communication is a kept skill. The less you use it, the harder it becomes to return to it. The use of electronic devices and smart phones has reduced/eliminated our ability to talk to each other in a normal manner. I’m sure you all know some of the situations that take place on social media. A person who would generally keep their heads down and scarcely say a word in public, suddenly becomes an outspoken, belligerent and even combative person. While some may view this as “developing” a person’s ability to communicate, one cannot effectively do so through the relative safety of a keyboard. If you walk down the street, you’ll undoubtedly see dozens of people going about their day with their eyes down, staring at a screen. Such has become the way of the world…

Technology can be wonderful and has provided more than we could have ever imagined. And I’m sure that as our technology continues to advance, we’ll continue to advance with it. But the nature of life and universe tells us that for every positive, there is always a negative. As long as we can keep an eye and acknowledge the negatives and take efforts not to be overwhelmed by them, we can certainly benefit and enjoy the positives. ☯

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

What is respect? Is it having people move out of your way, when you approach? Is it having them hold the door for you or invite you to go first? Perhaps it’s the immediate and unconditional obedience of people who are under your authority… Different people have different definitions of respect but not all of them are correct or accurate. I know that for some older generations, that last one is usually the case. I can remember my grandmother, who always DEMANDED immediate and unconditional obedience and respect from her grandchildren. That doesn’t always produce the best results and in today’s modern world, respect can be a fleeting thing.

Without muddying the waters too badly, respect can be easily defined as admiring someone based on their abilities and achievements, while having due regard for their feelings, traditions and rights. So, what does that admiration entail? Is that obedience aspect a requirement? Most people would be inclined to say no. I respect my friends. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say I would obey them. Would I hold doors open for them? Absolutely. The concept of respect has the tendency to be subjective and not always clear to some people.

Let’s take one of the most commonly assumed shows of disrespect: a disgruntled customer. Now, the concept of “the customer is always right” hasn’t really been a thing in quite a long time. For the most part, retail chains are beginning to understand all too well that the phrase that was coined in the early 1900’s in order to ensure customers didn’t feel cheated or deceived, is no longer being exercised in that spirit. But that doesn’t stop certain customers from using the slogan and expecting it to be obeyed.

So, a disgruntled customer comes up to your till. You scan their items and they immediate take notice that the $3.99 item they wanted didn’t scan as $3.30 as they expected. This is an actual scenario I dealt with, back in my retail days. The customer immediately becomes irritated and agitated, perhaps even name-calling and berating the cashier, who is basically powerless to do anything beyond scanning and charging the listed price. Then, they pull the classic trump card out of their pocket… “Get me your manager, NOW! Don’t you know that the customer is always right?”

I walk up and ask the customer how I can help, who then proceeds to spit out the story in as exaggerated and emotional manner possible. All while demanding respecting (DEMANDING) as she is the customer and her patronage pays our salaries… yada, yada, yada… While she’s busy unloading a flood of verbal diarrhea on me, I send a merchandiser to check on the item to see if we had incorrectly priced it. The result was that the price was correct but the item next to it was a bottle with a lesser amount, which resulted in the lower price. I could only assume that the customer’s current bottle was sitting in the wrong slot when she picked it up.

Without getting into the law and applicable legislation that pertains to pricing on retail shelves, I could see that there was no clear way of dealing with this person as they were absolutely adamant that they were right. So I did the only thing I could think of to diffuse the situation and end it before my cashier broke down in tears: I pulled three quarters out of my pocket and handed it to her. When she asked me what i was doing, I responded that I was paying her back the difference in price. She was floored, and said she couldn’t take money from pocket as it should come from the till. I calmly explained that no, it shouldn’t because we don’t provide refunds because something was picked up from the wrong spot on the shelf. But since she believes her patronage pays my salary, she’s welcome to money out of my pocket.

This is only one example, and a pretty common one, of how this customer disrespected the employee. The irony is that the employee was simply doing her job, one in which the customer likely wouldn’t want to do. And what’s even more hilarious is when someone irate is making a total ass of themselves but yet still seems to consider it appropriate to DEMAND respect.

Respect is a fluid thing, and subjective to the person. Respect should be earned and never demanded, although there are instances where respect can be given depending on the situation. The important thing to remember is other people’s perspective. If you can respect someone else’s perspective, it makes it all that easier for others to respect yours. ☯

As Good As Your Word…

I was always raised by my family to not only always be on time, but to always be a bit early to accommodate any unforeseen circumstances that may arise. This applies to all aspects of one’s life, professional or personal. I was also raised that when you say you’re going to do something, you follow through and do it. Today’s post may be a bit more on the ranting side than anything useful, but sometimes you just have to pour it out in order to move on and lighten your soul.

I don’t maintain friendships easily. In fact, there aren’t many to whom I am able to give that title. Maybe I’m just stubborn or perhaps my personal code of ethics and beliefs is so deeply ingrained that I don’t suffer ignorance easily, even when it applies to my friends. I’m totally on board with the concept that we can sometimes go days, weeks and occasionally even months without speaking to each other due to life’s obligations. After all, life doesn’t care about one’s plans. What bothers me, is when someone states they’ll do something and doesn’t follow through. THAT’S when it becomes an issue…

I can provide some pretty specific examples. I have a friend that I used to make efforts to spend some time with. Nothing fancy, just the occasional meeting for coffee or beer. During one meet-up, we decided to grab some dinner at a local restaurant. It was only once the menus were in our hands that it was revealed that the friend was actually short of cash and probably shouldn’t order anything to eat. I’m usually pretty game for letting people find their own way and I agree that if one can’t afford to eat out, one shouldn’t.

That being said, I could hardly sit there and order food when the friend I invited out would sit there with a glass of restaurant tap water. Even if we had gotten together for the conversation and company, it would still throw a wrench into the energy of the evening, so I offered to buy dinner. After the usual back and forth, the friend relented and “agreed” to let me buy dinner. Okay, no big deal, right? If I can’t buy a friend a meal every once in a while, then what’s the point? But there was plenty of other things we could have done that would have cost nothing and been just as pleasant, so I felt a bit off at the fact that dinner was agreed to in the first place.

On the second occasion, we decided to go out for coffee. It was agreed that I would pick up the friend so that we could make our way somewhere to relax and have some good conversation. Once I picked the friend up, I was asked to make a “quick stop” along the way… Seems the friend had lent out a vehicle to someone and it was now dead and required a boost. Basically, I was needed to reach the lent vehicle and use my own vehicle to provide a boost. Nice. After attending to that matter and spending some time out in the cold (it was deep winter, at the time) it was late enough and I had grown tired and we called it a night.

I’m a strong believer of giving people the benefit of the doubt, so I agreed to meet on a third occasion. This time, I provided conditions that worked in my favour. I agreed to meet the friend at a local pub that was only five minutes from my home and the friend would have to find their own way there. It was agreed that we would meet at 6 pm. As is my custom, I arrived at about 5:50 and ordered the first round so it would be ready when the friend arrived. 6 o’clock came and went with no appearance from the friend. Okay. 6:30 hits and I had consumed my beer, so I texted the friend asking when I could expect an appearance.

6:45 struck and I still hadn’t received a response. It’s unconscionable to waste cold beer, so I decided to start on the second round I had provided for the friend. Another could easily be ordered upon their arrival. I texted my wife and asked her opinion on how long I should wait. She replied that it was up to me but that I had already waited far longer than necessary, especially since my messages were going unanswered. Since I was on a second round, I would remain and allow some time, since I still needed to make my way home.

Shortly after 7 pm, the friend finally phoned me and provided some reasoning for being well over an hour late, despite it changing nothing of the current situation. I was asked if I was willing to wait a little bit so they could join me. I declined, since I had already consumed two drinks and still had to make my way home. The friend apologized and indicated that we’d make plans to get together on another night. Needless to say, I stopped trying after that. And this is only one of the examples of why I find it difficult to maintain friendships. There are many others.

For example, I have a long-standing friend from back home, who only ever seems to come visit me when he’s working. Seriously. He’ll only stop in if he can sit and catch up while on his company’s time, which seriously sucks. Just recently, I invited him to my home for a beer, to which he agreed. He was supposed to pop in around 6 o’clock after we had all eaten dinner. At 6:30, he sends me a text message to say that he wanted to walk his dog before driving up and would be at my place around 8 o’clock. Seriously??? With a young son and a toddler to get to bed around that time, I didn’t feel right about hanging out in the garage with beer while my wife dealt with both kids. Light knows she does enough of that in the mornings while I’m gone to work. But what’s more is it pissed me off that he only contacted me half an hour AFTER his agreed time to show up.

Why the hell would you agree to a 6 o’clock meet-up, only to change it to two hours later? Did he not know he’d be wanting to walk his dog? Was it a spur of the moment decision? Couldn’t he have either skipped walking the dog for one day and made an exception or have someone else walk the dog in his stead? Who knows, maybe I’m being the oversensitive asshole, here. I declined his later offer, since I wanted to be able to help out with the kids, plus I was kinda pissed. Just for some clarity, these examples feature two different people. So I’m not just picking on one person.

I always show up. In fact, I always show up a bit early. I consider that practical, but it’s my hang up. However, it’s important that if you say you’ll do something or be somewhere, that yo follow through. I think that’s not only an important social convention, it’s simple manners. I’ll take the friend I haven’t spoken to in a month who actually shows up as agreed, over the one who flakes for no good reason. I have one friend that I meet up with on occasion. The beauty of this friend is that if she isn’t available for something, she’s honest and upfront about it. And if we agree to meet, she always shows up. On time. Maybe that’s why we get along so well. That, and a shared twisted sense of humour.

The hand of friendship is one that should be freely given. But to an extent, it also needs to be earned. That’s what defines the difference between a “friend” and an “acquaintance.” And WHAT you do is at least as important as HOW you do it. Keep your promises. Keep to your commitments. And always show up. Believe me when I say that your friends will be eternally grateful. And if you have even one or two friends who fall under that good category, be sure to keep regular contact and treat them like gold. They’re a rare lot. Food for thought… ☯

Didn’t Your Mother Teach You To Stand Up Straight???

It’s a classic scene. You’re at the kitchen table or in someone else’s home and your mother will quietly but firmly tell you to “Sit up straight,” or “Stand up straight…” Who’d have thought that you should have perhaps listened to that advice as it would serve you well, as it relates to your martial arts journey. I’ve witnessed and trained in a lot of different styles; sometimes for fun and sometimes to add a little something to my self-defence repertoire. And of all things that I’ve learned over the decades, one of the most important ones is to maintain a proper posture and a good centre of balance.

Standing up straight and keeping your weight centred are integral aspects of martial arts and self-defence. When you lean or all your weight is moved forward over a single leg, you put yourself at risk and expose areas that you should probably be thinking about protecting, instead. It often seems that so many arts are willing to allow practitioners to overreach, stand on one leg through extended techniques or have their heads bobbing and weaving every which way… Don’t even get me started on the concept of holding your hands in FRONT of your face.

Have you ever had that ONE friend who, when you were younger would suddenly push you for no good reason other than being a jackass? No? Just me? Alrighty, then… My point is, if you’ve ever experienced this you’ll notice that you can fall over quite easily once your centre of balance is no longer directly below you. And just to be clear, I’m not referring to issues surrounding forms or pre-arranged techniques; I’m referring specifically to issues surrounding a real-world combat scenario where you need to defend yourself.

I’ve always noticed that a strong tendency with some people who fight is to bob and weave their bodies back and forth to avoid strikes. I suppose that if you’re faced with an actual fight, you’ll do whatever is necessary in order to avoid being struck and to ultimately win. But if you bend at the waist in order to avoid a punch, your centre of gravity suddenly finds itself over open air, which will leave you vulnerable in a way that’s much much than what the above-mentioned jackass would cause.

I’m going to be a bit of a bully for a moment and pick on boxers because they’re the best example. They’re definitely not the ONLY ones, but they have a tendency to bend and sway in a variety of directions and what’s worse, they do it with the torso OR the head. I’ll remind all of you that I categorized this post under the “opinion” tab, so there’s no need to lose your cool. The worst is when I’ve seen people who do that frowny, lowered head posture that they believe makes them look so bad-ass. In reality, you’re obscuring your field of vision and exposing sides of your head that will get you smacked!

In traditional Okinawan karate, we’re taught that not only are extremely high kicks dangerous, as they expose the groin and various other areas, they throw off your centre of balance. A quick, prepared opponent can take advantage of this and send you spiralling to the ground. Once you’re down, the game’s pretty much over unless you have increased skill in defending against a standing opponent who’s dropping his boot down on your head. (Cue the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi… “Don’t do it, Anakin! I have the high ground…)

The same applies to hand techniques and you head, as well. If you overreach during a strike, you face the possibility that someone quick who may have training in grappling (or even someone who doesn’t) could grab your hand and drag you forward. Once you’re off balance, you’ll be too busy trying to regain your footing to avoid the plethora of strikes that may come at you, immediately following your stumble. And anyone I’ve ever sparred against who’s taken the chance of lowering their heads to give me a frowny look has usually been rewarded with a hook punch to the visual cortex.

Although getting into a real world fight scenario is a fluid and unpredictable situation, you should bear the following things in mind:

  • Stand up straight and keep your centre of gravity beneath you;
  • Keep your hands in front of you, but don’t block your face. You don’t want to obstruct your view of the opponent;
  • Keep your head up. Avoid burying your head in your fists as you’ll be unable to see and/or block, if your opponent decides to throw a kick or some other technique at you;
  • If you’re going to perform kicks, be reasonable and keep them at waist-height or lower. High kicks may result in a loss of balance; and
  • Don’t overreach! You should be able to know the distance of your reach. If your opponent is outside of your reach, the proper recourse is to step in BEFORE punching, not try to overreach.

You can get into the proper mindset on all of those with one simple method: drills! Drills, drills, drills! Keep practicing and build that muscle memory. If you develop safe habits and techniques in training, you’ll have a much better chance of doing the same in the streets if you find yourself in a fight situation. ☯

From Coppertone Baby To COVID Baby…

Ahh, the Coppertone Baby… For those who may not be in the know, since it may no longer be a popular thing, it featured a toddler having her swimwear yanked down by a puppy to expose her backside. It became a thing in the early 1950’s and worked towards making Coppertone famous as a leading brand of sunscreen. It became their principle logo on most products and still is on some. As a child, Coppertone was a common name around my house as my mother used to slather my brother and I with sunblock in an effort to keep us from burning. Mostly due to the fact that we were white as ghosts from childhood illnesses but also because being the child of a red-headed man, I had the ginger gene and my skin didn’t fare well in the sun.

By the same token, my children are both very fair-skinned and they come by this honestly, since I carry the redhead gene and my wife is redheaded, herself. My youngest son, Alex, happens to have bright red hair. And he is what I refer to as a “COVID baby.” Although you may find some different meaning behind this term online, I use it to refer to infants and toddlers who were born into the time of the pandemic and have never known any different. My son Alexander was born in September of 2019, only six shorts months before the world slipped into lockdown. He’s only a few months away from being two years old, and he’s never known anything but a life of COVID-19 restrictions.

My son Alex and I, about a month ago

I had the opportunity to take him out a small handful of times after his birth, including trips to visit my coworkers at the office, a few restaurant outings and a couple of trips to see Grandma and Grandpa. Unfortunately, Alex has never met my parents, who live in New Brunswick. The world locked down before we were able to make it out, and they’ve been limited to photos and the few short video clips I’ve managed to send them on DVD, since neither of them can handle technology. It brought me to think about all the ways the pandemic has affected my young children. But nothing did so as clearly as what happened last weekend.

Since it was Mother’s Day last Sunday (a fact I should have recognized and posted about! My bad, Moms!), we planned on picking up some finger foods with which to have a picnic in our backyard. Coupled with some cake and time together as a family, it seemed like a very “COVID-friendly” way of celebrating Mother’s Day. We already had the cake, having done groceries the previous day. But we wanted some snack meats, cheese and pickles to pair up with some crackers prior to eating the cake. Since there were a couple of stops to make including getting the car washed, I suggested we go as a family.

Alex is already used to being in the car, since he’s been on rides every now and again when we’ve dropped Nathan off at school and on a couple of occasions when pandemic conditions have lessened enough for us to take him to groceries and such. And riding around in our family vehicle doesn’t really stretch the expectations of Health Regulations, since I was the only one attending the errands while others waited on the car. But Alex hasn’t really experienced much beyond the inside of our small home and backyard. I’m quickly reminded of this fact by the way he sometimes reacts to normal things.

After picking up an item from someone through a buy and sell site, we attended a local drive-thru carwash, where we had some music playing in the car and Nathan excitedly waited to see the “colour in the foam” (tricolour soap). He loves sitting through the car wash and enjoys seeing all the water sprayed everywhere. As soon as the water jets started rinsing off the family vehicle, we discovered that such is not the case for Alex, who started screaming and crying at the sound and appearance of the water hitting the vehicle.

It only took us a moment to realize what was happening, and I had foolishly purchased the longest wash available, since Nathan absolutely loves sitting through it. My wife was able soothe and stay with Alex throughout the process so that we could get the hell out of there and every pass of the water freaked him out. It made me realize just how little of the outside world he’s been exposed to. And one has to wonder what the long term effects this will have on all the children born during the pandemic.

We often believe that children are resilient and can adjust to anything. And so they are. But the belief that this pandemic hasn’t affected children, especially the younger ones, is a falsehood. The fact that most of these younger children will be forced to learn and experience the world through the screen of a device and spoken word as opposed to being out there and living it will have long-term damaging effects that may change the face of our society forever. Depending on how long the pandemic takes to end, it may still be a while before children get to cut loose and roam free in the world. And who knows knows how reclusive our children may have become by that point? ☯

The Many Shades Of Green

The grass is always greener on the other side. Is it, though? Humans are notorious for wanting what they can’t have, but they tend to be just as bad or worse for wanting what they DON’T have. It’s a pretty common reflex. If you want to purchase a particular vehicle that you’ve seen one of your neighbours driving, you may work towards getting it. But usually, soon thereafter you’ll see something ELSE and think, “Oh, wow! Wish I had that instead…”

Most of us have thought or felt this way, at some point in our lives. I believe the old school term is “coveting.” Although most people automatically think of the Holy Bible when they hear this term, it can easily apply to life in general. The problem is that modern life makes it likely that there will always be a “step up” from where you find yourself at or what you may possess. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I’m a bit of a minimalist and could care less about possessions. But even I find myself in that same boat, on occasion.

It’s easy to covet what we don’t have. But once you accept what you DO have and appreciate it, life becomes so much easier and peaceful. I think it was Oprah Winfrey who said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” At least I think it was Oprah. It’s similar to saying that if you wait to spot the field with the greener grass, you’ll miss the whole train ride. ☯

“Appreciate What You Have, Before Time Makes You Appreciate What You Had.”

– Vijay Raj