Two unrelated items of internet flotsam came across my screen this week, and I have been reflecting on both of them since the debates last night.
The first item was this picture. It was all over the Internet and people of all ideological stripes were saying how wonderful it was, and yearning for us go back to some kind of personal civility in our politics. The fact that so many people latched onto this so quickly suggests a true, widespread desire for some kind of civility and decency in our discourse. (Yes, I am aware that some say this was a fake hug. Fine. But the fact that so many people want it to be real reinforces the point).
The second item was something I had seen before about marriages. Based on research by the Gottmans, this item suggests that a marriage can withstand fighting and arguing, but not contempt. It is not the disagreements but the contempt that kills marriages.
Then came the debate. I'm not going to talk about the debate itself much. My greater concern is what came after. As I watched social media, I saw the same people who had shared and liked the photo of President Bush and Mrs. Obama turn into snarky, sneering critics who were anxious to pass on the most caustic remarks about the candidates, but even worse, about the candidate's supporters. The criticism shifted from Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton to their supporters--usually in the snarkiest possible terms. Sadly, these are rational, intelligent people who value kindness and respect, people who say civility is important to them.
If politics somehow absolves us of empathy for other people's views, if elections somehow neutralize the responsibility for what we say about others, if it removes our accountability for how we treat our fellow humans, then then it is no wonder we have two candidates who are immensely unlikable and unpopular. They reflect who we are, and I don't think that reflection is very appealing right now.
Living in a free country is sort of like living in an arranged marriage. We're thrown together without much choice, but now we have to either sink or swim together, making a difficult arrangement work. I think it can work, and I think our system is uniquely set up to allow this kind of thing to flourish. But like real marriages, I don't think we can withstand contempt, not individually and not collectively. I don't like what it does to people I respect. And I don't like what it does to me, frankly.
Leave the candidates aside. Let's talk about regular people. Reducing our opponents to idiots, villains, or cardboard caricatures, allows us to enjoy our own moral and intellectual superiority. Yes, it's a good feeling, the rush of righteous zeal as we realize we are not like them. But this masturbatory moralism does nothing in the long term but deepen the divides between us.
If those divides grow much deeper, I do not see how we can long survive with our current system. Frankly that terrifies me more than what any president can do. A healthy, collective culture in this country can withstand a bad president. On the other hand, the best president in the world would be hard pressed to lead a country with a broken culture.
At this point in humanity's history, we ought to know that pride and arrogance are fundamental, constant, elemental human failings. It is easy to see in others, but difficult to discern in ourselves. So, we all ought to consciously acknowledge that there is a far greater chance than not that a degree of arrogance skews our vision of reality. It ought to give us enough pause to simply be humble, to act with conviction but also with caution. I think we can advocate forcefully for our beliefs--that's the confidence, without assuming that those who oppose it are bad people--that's the caution.
While having a lively discourse, we ought to be open to the fact that people can disagree with us without being bad or stupid. That seems a very modest act of intellectual modesty. But that has to include conversations about those with whom we disagree. Including on social media.
Last night Secretary Clinton said she didn't think it worked very well to have things trickle down from the top. I don't want to get int an economic debate here. But that is a true principle when we think about culture and the way we treat each other. Contempt is bad. It destroys important bonds. Constant division is dangerous for us. Really, truly dangerous. We want civility. So that needs to start with each one of us. We cannot wait for people at the top to model this. They won't. They will always reflect us and what we really want. We have to be the change and hope it will trickle up.
The good news is that we don't need a law or a politician to change this. The good news is that it is completely in our power, each of us, to do this. The bad news is that I'm not sure we really want to. I think we want other people to be civil. But if it means forgoing that snarky comment or the tweet that just skewers those idiots/bigots/lying thieves on the other side? Well, that is a different story.
I got the back liner copy for The Soulstealer's Child today, and I'm really excited about it! Watch for a release day announcement soon. If you want to be notified when it's ready to be ordered, use this link here.
Can a human heart overcome a demon soul?
When soul-eating demons overrun their world, Kaelis, a young seraph warrior, uses the Queen’s ring to open a portal in space and flees with the infant heir to the throne, eventually landing on earth. Unbeknownst to him, Nsark, the demon leader follows, determined to devour the soul of every last seraph, especially the Queen’s heir. When Kaelis hides the baby, Nsark creates the ultimate weapon by fathering his own child, half-human and half-demon: a soul-stealer’s child.
Sixteen years later James Cordova is trying to figure out where he fits in. In a last-ditch effort, he joins the school play, where he meets Lucy Carlton. Something deep draws them together and their friendship reveals their hidden pasts: one is an angel, one is half-demon. Aware of their true identities, Lucy and James find themselves pulled into the age-old war between their peoples. Hunted by relentless enemies, and grappling with deep-seated instincts and strange new powers, the they must fight for their lives, their souls, and each other. Can they overcome what they were born to be or will one of them have to make the ultimate sacrifice in order for the other to survive?
Dear New, Overwhelmed, Slightly Worried Middle School Parent,
When I spoke to you today, I saw the familiar signs in your face and heard them in your voice. Around your friends you are putting on a good front. It's not all an act; you are excited, and you trust your child. If you are fortunate, you feel good about the school and all of that. But you're still worried. Even if you've had an older child, you realize that every child is a whole new experience. Maybe this is your first middle schooler and you hear the jokes and murmurs of other parents. "Good luck surviving middle school...." that sort of thing.
I want to tell you something: It's going to be okay. It really is. I say that as a teacher with many years under my belt, and as the parent of one current adolescent and three recovering adolescents who show every sign of productive, happy adulthood.
Your child is going to grow this year. If you can accept growth rather than ease and comfort, you are all set.
Your child will have some wonderful triumphs; your child will also mess up royally. That's okay because, if you let it, this experience will teach her something. That really demanding teacher will take points off the project, but your child will learn! It might take a few times, but having learned it in middle school, she'll not need to learn it when it's a project for her college professors or boss.
Your child will likely connect to a teacher on a meaningful, life-changing level; chances are, there will be at least one teacher who your child will not like. This teacher will seem arbitrary and unfair and unreasonable and...the reality is that this teacher will probably end up blessing your child's life as much as the more likable one. Truly. I'm not saying it's fun or joyful, but learning to deal with someone who is difficult now will be immensely valuable to your child as he goes out into the world.*
I can almost guarantee you that your child will have some social issues this year. Friends will inexplicably change and do unpredictable things that will baffle and hurt your child. This brings us to one of the most challenging aspects of middle school: it's filled with middle school students, and these children are going to be every bit as insecure and unstable as your child will be at times, and will thus act, not like mature, kind adults, but like immature adolescents. Sadly, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Malala, and Abraham Lincoln are not on the friend menu. Your child, I fear, is stuck with other children, each of whom brings their own doubts and insecurities, not to mention an evolving mind, body, and set of social skills to the equation. But it will pass. The inevitable plate tectonics of social relationships will end up helping your child develop stronger, better, deeper friendships. It will help her develop herself as a person.
I'm not saying that everything about this year will be rainbows and unicorns. What I am saying is that it will be okay in the long run. Your sweet caterpillar has just spun a chrysalis. Your embryonic adult is inside an egg getting ready to hatch. In both of these examples, it is the struggle to emerge that gives the young creature the requisite strength to flourish. A butterfly flies because emerging is difficult. A chick thrives because breaking out of that shell is hard. I can't tell you there won't be tears. There will. But tears are to maturity like sweat is to hard work (I realized I'm using a lot of images and metaphors. Humor me. You think first days of school are hard on students and parents?)
Don't get me wrong. It's not going to be all struggle and difficulty. There are going to be exhilarating moments of new freedom and new friendships and new opportunities. There will be a lot of stuff that is just plain fun. You are going to get your share of eye rolls, head tosses, shoulder shrugs, and teenage tantrums. You are also going to have new chances to connect to your child in really cool ways. There will be other people watching out for your child, perhaps unexpected mentors and guides.
But what I want you to understand is that even when things seem not to be going well, when there seem to be problems, everything will be okay. Challenges are a feature, not a bug, of adolescence and they will help shape your wonderful child into the masterpiece that she or he is ready to become.
You will feel unequal to the task at times, but I'm telling you that you are absolutely equal to it. The secret is not overreacting. Truly, you don't have to do as much as you think you do. Love your child, but allow them to struggle. Give them empathy and ideas, but don't be the rescue crew, a helicopter or a snowplow.
Please realize that every adolescent is immature. And not just a little bit. I mean, 180-proof, weapons-grade, industrial strength, jaw-dropping, heart-pounding immaturity. That's normal. It's not you. And it's not them. Not really. It's a lack of a pre-fontal cortex and key chemicals in the brain. These will all come back eventually. You need to know that. Be as calm as you can and don't panic. The irresponsibility, forgetfulness, attitude, the overwrought emotions--all of that is normal. If you can mentally put a sign on your child's mind that says, "Pardon our mess while we renovate," you'll be in the right place.
It really is a wonderful time. You have a fantastic adventure ahead of you. It's like a hike--there will be ups and downs, peaks and valleys. And then, you'll get to the summit and you'll have this wonderful young man or woman. Maturity will kick in and you'll be amazed at this human masterpiece.
Then she'll head to college. But that's another post.
For now, it's going to be okay.
Note: I know it's not really Monday. Middle School Mondays is a series of blog posts I do dealing with raising and teaching adolescents. It used to happen on Monday, but now, every day is Middle School Monday if the inspiration strikes. You can read past posts here
The books in the Middle School Magic trilogy are currently all available for free through KindleUnlimited. I'm not sure how long the publisher will keep them there, so snag your copies now.
I am so excited to share this cover! I've been working on this book intermittently for years now. This summer, I got serious about it and worked on intensely. My experience with Orison has intrigued me about the world of independent publishing. So, I hired a wonderful editor and cover designer (Steven Novak). Currently, I"m hoping to have the book ready in print and ebook by early September. If you want to get an email when it's ready to order, click here.
Here's a little about the story:
"When soul-eating demons overrun the home world of the seraphim, Kaelis is charged to escape with the seraph queen's heir. Unaware, they are being followed by two demons, Kaelis flees with the infant to Earth. Accustomed to a world of fiery beauty, Kaelis and the baby struggle to survive. When the demons partner with a local human gang to chase Kaelis down, he is forced to use the last of his strength to fight them. He leaves the baby with a human family and then disappears.
Determined to find the hidden seraph heir, one of the demons tricks a human woman, and fathers a child. Half-human, half-demon, the Soul Stealer's child will grow into a living weapon, a predator who will hunt the hidden seraph, driven by demon instinct and guided by human cunning.
As the two children grow into teenagers, they are drawn to each other by forces neither understands. The queen's heir will have to find the strength to love unselfishly, and the Soul Stealer's child will have to find out if a human heart can overpower a demon's soul.
Good morning! I've been on vacation and traveling. And, it always takes a few weeks for me to recharge after school gets out. So, posting has been light and, admittedly, somewhat lame. However, I do have some fun news coming up soon. For now, though, I'm having a $20 gift card drawing for subscribers to my newsletter. The catch is that you have to be subscribed to my newsletter. So...what are you waiting for? Sign up here.
I am happy to let you all know that Orison is on sale during July. Only $1.99. So, if you have been holding out for a good deal--this is it. It would be a great read at the beach, or at your mountain cabin. Or anywhere in-between, really. You can get it here.
If you have already read it, I'd be grateful if you'd leave a review on Amazon. It makes a big difference to have reviews.
An Introvert's Manifesto: Dear Extroverts, You Are Not Normal And We Are Not Strange; We Just Don't Like the Same Things.
Well, this post might seem a bit grumpy, but I don't mean it to be. I really don't. I'm just trying to communicate clearly. You see, I'm an introvert, and not just a little introvert. I'm a raging, radical introvert. I would probably be happy being a hermit, quite frankly. But that's not possible in our world, at least not for me right now.
A lot of times when I tell people I'm an introvert, they don't believe me. See, the world is run by extroverts. In order to function successfully, you kind of have to play by their rules. So, I've learned. I can engage with people for a time, and I can be funny or fun and charismatic in public. And, I genuinely do enjoy people. Some of my favorite memories are of being with friends and family at various events (such as dinners or small gatherings--I enjoy these much more than big parties, although they can be fun too).
But this all comes at a cost for me; it drains my energy, even if I enjoy it. That energy can only be renewed by being alone. By having quiet time to myself. That is the most basic definition of introversion. Extroverts gain energy by being around people. Introverts lose energy by being around people (in part because they try to share their energy with others). They generate energy by being alone. They are not necessarily shy or socially awkward (although that certainly can be connected). The thing with introverts is that they are like cars that can drive a while, but need to be re-filled up with gas. And that takes time. And quiet. And while they are refilling, chances are they won't want to do anything.
It took me a lot of years to realize that this wasn't defective, nor was it odd or selfish to want to be alone. It's how I'm built. For an introvert to want quiet time is selfish in the same way it is selfish for a mammal to want oxygen, sleep, or food.
It is not defective or eccentric unless one defines "normal" in a very specific way. And often, dear extrovert friends, you do that. It does not seem to occur to you that your preferences/needs might be just as odd to us as ours are to you. The fact is, we are willing generally to live and live. You want to go to a party every night? Great! You want to be with people all the time? Enjoy it. But can you not understand that for us, that's not really fun? And, can you not understand that your preferences are not some sort of divine, natural default setting? It's your default setting. But that doesn't make it universal.
Imagine a food you really dislike. Now, imagine that you live in a world where everyone around you loves that food."Hey, come on over, we're having some squid tongue!" Everything you do--from work to personal relationships are somehow based on liked squid tongue. "But I don't like squid tongue," you say. Those around you respond with everything from horror to amused condescension. "Of course you do! Everyone loves squid tongue!"
"You just haven't had it cooked right. Here, try my squid tongue."
"Are you crazy?"
"Maybe with counseling you can learn to like it."
Because everyone around you eats it, you learn to manage. You learn to eat it and not gag, and you learn to pretend to like it because, the reality is, sometimes you simply have to eat it. But when you go home, when you are on your own time, you don't want to eat squid tongue. You don't want to ban it. You don't begrudge others who enjoy it. You just don't want it. That's all.
Sometimes, you really don't want to go eat squid tongue, but people you love want you to. And you don't want to disappoint them. So you go. But you don't enjoy it. And they can tell. So then, they make you feel guilty; "Boy, we worked hard to make this squid tongue special for you." And you want to scream: "But I didn't want it! I told you that. I don't like squid tongue. But you forced me to come. So I did because I love you--and now you are upset because I can't enjoy it like you do. You took that as being grumpy or ungrateful. Can't you see that your unwillingness to acknowledge our differences puts me in an impossible position?"
A few years ago, I was talking to a friend. His wife has insomnia to the extent that she sleeps all day and is awake all night. I asked how she was doing. He shrugged. "She's fine. Our life works well for us. The only problem is when people decide she's abnormal and try to fix her or make her feel bad about it."
And that's all I can say about introverts. There's no malice. There's no anger. We just don't think most of what extroverts is fun. We might be dutiful and good sports, but it would be nice if you could not insist on our participation, and do us the courtesy to realize it's not that we are defective. We are not sulking or pouting. We are not being difficult. We just like different things. And when you insist we participate in things you love that we don't, you are setting us both up--we will never love it like you do. You will sense our hesitation and get offended. And then we are the bad guy. But if we refuse to come--knowing this will happen--we are also the bad guy.
Why is that so hard to understand?
If you do understand, and you want to be considerate of the introverts in your life, may I suggest a few things? Feel free to invite them to something. They might go and have a great time--and add to the great time everyone else as well. But, they might not. So, tell them--and mean it--that there is no pressure to attend. Acknowledge that it's simply an option if interested. Understand that their lack of participation does not mean they don't care about you any more than your not wanting to sit silently with them for hours without talking means you don't care about them.. You don't really need to change anything except your expectations that your introverted friend will enjoy something. The wonderful thing about introverts generally is that we tend to be happy to let others do their own thing. We won't try to convert you. And if an introvert does attend an event, allow them their space. For example, I chaperone school trips where I am with students and other adults for 12+ hours a day. During these times, I tend to find a quiet place to myself during lunch or other breaks. At some family events, such as Thanksgiving, or family vacations, I slip away for a time. I am very grateful to my wife for understanding this.
One other thought: don't try to evaluate an introvert's feelings about you based on social interactions. We might seem aloof or distant if you talk with us. It's likely that we are not upset at all. Possibly we are just uncomfortable in the situation, or just being quiet. Remember that social interaction takes effort for us. It has nothing to do with our personal affection or respect for you.
I should add that our time away from people is not only a need for us. It is a social benefit. When I am away, I am recharging. I am also thinking about my students and how I can help them. I am thinking about my family and what they need. I am thinking about my congregation at church and how I can serve them. I am planning books that entertain or bring thought. I'm planning plays that will bring joy, and I might be thinking about ideas that could help bring peace or enlightenment. That's what introverts are doing all over the world. In other words, that down time might end up bringing real benefits to people all around them.
So, go have your party. Go out on the town. Hang out with your friends. Do it with our blessing. Just don't be annoyed if we don't come. Really. We're fine. We'll be better off for our quiet time, and it's possible the world will be as well.
Update: A thoughtful friend shared this comment: "I totally appreciate the introverts in my life. But as an extrovert occasionally I feel like the introverts I know treat me as if I'm shallow and less intelligent because I'm also cheerful, chatty, and bubbly. I hope we can all see the strengths in our differences. Extroverts are not inherently shallow. Introverts are not inherently unsocial. We all just gain energy in different ways." I really agree with this statement. I often feel that as an introvert, I'm outnumbered and misunderstood, and in a defensive posture. It's important not to respond by being dismissive of extroverts. So, to be clear: I don't think of extroverts as superficial or anything negative. I admire you, honestly, and sort of wish I was like that. But I'm not. But I'm good with y'all being y'all.
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