More Tragedy at the Grocery Store

Six people, including me, in a matter of minutes, disintegrate into selfish pettiness…

The woman in the “15 Items or Less” checkout lane with well over 20 items piles her tower of cans onto the tiny conveyor belt, careful not to look back at us.

The checkout clerk announces the 15-Item limit loudly and bitterly without making eye contact with the violator, thereby not solving anything, just being publicly pissed off.

A customer who, when an adjacent checkout line opens up, saunters past our entire line with 2 bags of ice and deftly takes the first spot.

The woman behind me runs over to the customer with the ice bags and argues that she was next line when, indeed, I was (though my dexterity is stymied by a cumbersome shopping cart and a 13-year old).

The 20-something man behind her starts commentating on the whole scene under his breath and at one point physically pokes the woman with the ice bags to get her to respond.

And then there’s me, passive-aggressively laughing at the man’s comments, because I’m pissed off and tired.

It got ugly.

I was jetlagged: in reentry mode after a fabulous vacation and a delayed flight that placed me back in my hometown at the lousy hour of 3 am.

That’s my excuse. I’m sure the others had theirs. And I’m sure they rationalized them after the incident in their own blog or to their spouse or cousin or whatever.

A curious thing happens with us humans: when someone points out something we did wrong in public, instead of apologizing and explaining our situation, we tend to dig in and lash out. This is nearly inevitable if the forced engagement between parties is short-lived, such as in a grocery store or on the freeway (hence my recurring analyses in these posts).

Had we been on a boat with just the 6 of us, this would have played out completely differently.

I believe it’s these little cuts that are killing us, particularly because, in a world where we’re steadily losing decision-making power and spending less time in our physical spaces, these few engagements are all we have left.

Although we’re millions of people, we are, in fact, on a boat. And we are in trouble.

As we slash at each other with our tiny little knives, we cut into the delicate light wood of the boat too and we’re so busy tending to our superficial wounds, we don’t notice the water seeping in at our feet.

Not yet, anyway.


Let Someone Else Store it for You

I have a tendency, particularly when in the hardware store, to buy up things just in case I’ll need them. More times than not, I do not need them.

I’ve tried to stop this behavior since my basement is getting full and my pockets are getting empty, with no real win at the end.

It’s something my daughter said to me once in her nonchalant way that helps me to stop doing these “just in case” buys.

She said: “Might as well let the store store it for you,” and then she picked up a cane and started using it like a lightsaber.

Sage advice, my child. (Her Jedi training is nearly complete.)

Why stockpile when there are tons of stores all over the city willing to hold on to this incredible stuff for me, just in case I need it?

Besides, I have to leave room in my basement for karaoke parties.


Running Around in Our Heads

Deep down we all want to be around people that tell us things we don’t want to hear.

Think about it. We’re running around in our own heads all the time, jogging by the same landmarks, getting tired in the same places. The stories we tell ourselves get old, even the ones that serve us.

It’s great to have our experience validated. Friends and fans are necessary to keep us moving, but if we want to leave the gravel loop, hop the curb, and find new ground, it’s the heckler we need, that loudmouth who tells us our shoes are ugly and our stride is off. Doesn’t matter if the asshole is accurate.

That’s the voice that sticks, because it sticks out, and whether you get angry or doubtful or distracted, you get something, something new, and, after so many laps where you can’t feel your legs anymore, that’s what makes you come free from your rhythm and look down at your feet.


The Key To Interviewing Well

When preparing for an interview, the tendency is to look at what the employer wants (i.e. the job description) and figure out how to fit into that. Well, you should, indeed, know what the employer wants, but that’s not the place to start…

Instead, go back to the basics: think about why you want the job, beyond just money and location. Think about the people, the mission, the milestones, the product, the hype. Think about the things you’ll get to do, create, fix, and discover. Think about what you want to learn and what you can teach.

Lock onto the things that fire you up the most. Write them down and circle them. That’s what’s going to carry you through. Allow yourself to get excited, to burn bright from the inside out. You’ll reveal your confidence and ambition. You’ll reach into the corners of your skill sets and find the things you want to grow, embers waiting to be stoked.

Besides, it’s the fire that employers and colleagues want to see, not the song and dance, not the well-prepared, articulate speech using their own language.

When interviewing, always find the fire first.


Too Good To Be True

I was searching for a dining room table on Craig’s List and came across a beauty that fit all of our criteria. AND it was new. AND it was priced at 75% of the retail price, which was still a hefty chunk of change.

When I inquired, the seller came back with an enthusiastic email filled with salesy gratitude and an offer to deliver the table for free. He told me he was a former furniture dealer who got things through liquidations and sold them for cheap “in order to stay busy and to give people some happiness.”

Naturally, I thought it was a scam.

Another scenario… this time, a vacation rental. We’d found our spot, exchanged the money and then the owner wanted to refund us because he could no longer rent the place due to legislative changes. He offered to help us find another rental and sent us a link in an email to a friend with a rental in the exact same layout in a different unit in the same building. This “friend” offered a hugely discounted rate “because I was in a tough situation and he wanted to help.” He suggested I make my payment in full immediately through a private portal, unaffiliated with any of those apps we all know.

Under the stress of scrambling to find a place, I complied and sent in my credit card info. (I’m sure some of you are gasping right now!). A few days later, I came to my senses and spent the better part of the morning searching for evidence that this wasn’t a scam.

Two scenarios where goodwill is offered willingly and without request for reciprocation and my reaction is that it’s too good to be true.

This greatly saddens me and points at how our hearts have darkened, how we live in fear of losing what we have instead of living in the joy of giving what others need. In this globally connected online world of faceless identities and email aliases, every piece of communication can be a lie, and, as we’re learning, these lies are dangerous as hell.

So we protect ourselves and our valuables, even if it means pushing away the goodwill of others. Better safe than sorry.

I followed suit and questioned everything. Rather than basking in the glow a good act between strangers, I tore them apart to see if I could find the blackness inside.

Well, the Craig’s List guy arrived with the table and gave me another discount on the spot. The vacation rental person checked out too.

So I can take down my walls now and hug the sweaty Craig’s List guy. And send gushy emails to the generous couple renting their home to me as well as the original renter who found them for me in a pinch.

I just wish that first step wasn’t necessary. The distrust, the double-checking, the web scam searches… It seems imperative these days as the world gets more digitally connected and less physically connected, that we surround our festivals with metal detectors and scan our love letters for biochemical warfare.

It’s all about keeping us safe.

But we lose something in that holding tank of safety, in that moment before acceptance, when Love is held hostage and Goodwill is strip-searched.

It’s a violation like no other, a trampling of sacred ground, the destruction of a harvest, carried out by the ones who are starving.


Helping People Rocks

Man, I like helping people.

“Help” is supposedly a weak word; it’s a no-no for resumes. One should never say “Helped with account…” One should always say “co-administered account…” or “Supported account…” or something similar…

Those golden rules aside, “Help” is one of the most important words in my lexicon. I’ve built a career around it — Counseling is formally categorized as a “Helping Profession.”

I can remember far back into my childhood, finding ways to support my friends and girlfriends. That’s what gave me the most satisfaction. Still does.

But us Helping Professionals have to be careful. Helping is often a one-way trip to being burned out and broke. The “helping” experience is so good and yummy, it’s often considered compensation enough, which means it becomes the end goal in itself, which means you do too much of it and you run out of gas.

It’s hard to put the brakes on something that feels so good, but there’s plenty of reason to do so, namely to protect that very thing you love doing so much, so you can keep doing it.

In a sense, if you really value something, you have to have the discipline to put it away, lest it will wear out and weaken from being in your hands all the time.


How to Do Good When Faced with Conflict

We make our biggest impact, not by our grandest lifetime achievements, but by the little things we do every day.

There is opportunity everywhere and within every moment for you to do good in the world and to feel good about doing it. And here’s a little secret: the impact and the feeling are so much more lusciously intense when your good act comes in the face of conflict.

And, unlike building a rocket ship or an orphanage, you already have everything you need to be the hero of the conflict:

Catch Yourself

When someone wrongs you – cuts you off in line, in conversation – your body will react immediately. It’s okay, it’s your instinct. You still have a chance to get the best of it, but first, you have to notice it’s happening…

Take a Second

You don’t need to have all the answers. There usually isn’t a magic bullet in these situations, but by taking a breath, just one breath, you free yourself from reactive mode, get yourself off a linear track, and open the both of you up to an infinite array of endings.

Lose the Righteousness

You will never bring about goodness in conflict if you live in Righteousness. What is it you really want to do? Be right? Or be good?

See the Other Person

Look over at them. They’re probably yelling or scowling. They’ve become a caricature of who they really are. Moments ago, they were picking out Oatmeal, and before that, they were fixing their hair in the rearview mirror. To truly connect, for you to even *want* to connect, they have to a become 3 -dimensional person. It doesn’t take a long, just a breath.

Fight for the Both of You

They may be wrong. They may be offensive. But you will both walk away pissed off and injured. So here’s the last thing. This may be the hardest part but it’s where the payoff hides: you must deliver your next lines from a place of Love. You can bet they will be surprised. And they will resist. It may take a few attempts, but it will work. It always works.

Hatred in a conflict is like a fire between the two parties. Harsh words come with hot breaths that feed the burn from both sides. Walking away doesn’t work because the other person will keep breathing and talking and feeding the fire and, contrary to what you believe, you will keep getting burned.

If you continue with your righteous argument, you will, of course, make the fire bigger and leave yourself with scars.

There is only one way to get away unmarked: the fire has to die. The hot breaths have to stop from both sides, which means one of you has to do the difficult thing of reaching out over the flames while the fire’s still growing.


Waimea Bay

There are those moments that are just perfect, the ones you’re always looking for that need no analysis, where all involved feel the same thing at the same time.

Five of us, having been so long apart in geography and time, now treading water in crystal clear Waimea Bay, only our heads above the line, talking excitedly about everything and nothing, as if our chatter, full of an impatient eagerness to connect, could stop the earth from making its way around the sun.

Just for today.


The Tug of a Child

We are snorkeling off the coast of Hawaii (yeah, life is good), searching out coral, the magnets of the sea for shimmering fishees.

Every once in a while I feel a tug on my flipper and look back to see my daughter, pulling herself up my leg and torso. She holds a fistful of my suit in her hand for a minute and then shoots ahead of me, her flippers nearly batting me in the face every time.

She sees this as her right, which I guess it is.

Each time it happens, I lose ground. I get pulled off course and pushed back by the current. I lose my stroke, come out of my trance.

The cycle of emotions at this point will be familiar to any parent:

What? Aw c’mon… oh… okay… (smile)…. you go girl… I’m right behind you.

As my family will tell you, I hate to pulled out of my trance – when I’m writing, when I’m meditating, when I’m thinking,… but sometimes when it happens and I go through this cycle and I’m done being upset …when I get back to what I was doing, I fall into it a little bit more.

The thoughts and the fishes look brighter but more than that, finding the brightest, biggest ones doesn’t matter as much anymore. They just come.

It’s as good as it gets: floating high over the ocean floor with the sun on my back, the sound of my breathing, and her kicking up bubbles in front of me.


The Job People Want When They’re Tired of Their Own Job

You’d laugh.

So many people revert to the same fantasy when they’re bummed at work. They say something to the effect of… “I don’t know, maybe I’ll just go away to some tropical island somewhere and become a scuba instructor…”

I’ve had the thought myself. I’ve always been curious why we gravitate to that profession in particular, and then I met a scuba instructor, well, a scuba shop owner, actually.

He was by far the most chill guy I’ve ever met. He had to talk with his chin lifted so he could see you out of his half-closed eyes. His hair was bleach-blonde but he was about 60 or 70, judging by the wrinkles. And the wisdom.

From his dress and his attitude, I would have thought this guy was a stoner who drifted in from the beach — indeed he very well could be — but then I asked him about the goggles fogging up underwater and he dropped a science class on me.

And he wasn’t just smart. He was happy. When I asked a question, probably the same stupid question he gets every day from people going snorkeling for the first time, he laughed a real laugh, like he was actually amused; he opened his mouth wide enough for me to see the gold caps on his molars.

He truly didn’t care if I bought anything or not. I pointed this out and he said, “I want you to dive, man.”

And when I mentioned my wife used to dive, off Australia, he brightened up as if discovering the location of a missing person. “Bring her in, man. We have a meeting, a bunch of us, once a month.”

In the end, I gave him $10 for a week of snorkeling gear, actually 8 days. Whatever.

I know I will think of this guy when I’m enjoying the waters of Hawaii floating on the surface and looking down into another world that he lives in part-time. I’ll think of the scuba instructor closing his shop, walking off the beach into the waves, swimming around down there somewhere with the fishes, big smile on his face as his hair moves around in slow motion.

Maybe all of us are right. Maybe we should quit our jobs and just go to some tropical island and become a scuba instructor.

Or, maybe we should find a way to be like the scuba instructor in our own jobs: super knowledgable, amused, humble, eager to intoxicate people with what we know, and full of a secret we keep rediscovering deep down after we leave for the day.