Friday, August 22, 2014
There's a mindset, far too prevalent in this country, that America is the absolute best at absolutely everything. If you dare to even suggest some countries are equally as good at certain things, maybe even better than us, you're decried un-American, unpatriotic and...why, you might even be a socialist!
Have you ever heard any these phrases: "American Exceptionalism", or how about "USA! USA! USA!" and my personal favorite "God, Guns and Guts made America Great!"
I'll get back to the God, Guns and Guts in just a minute, but let's first ask ourselves "what does it mean to be a great country? If great is defined as being able to kill more people than any other country, then perhaps we are the best. Personally, I'd like think there's a lot more to greatness than that.
There are many who would have you believe that every person not already in the U.S. is simply marking time through a meaningless existence, just waiting for their chance to come to America. Why? Because we're so much better than them! Should you ask these people "What are you basing this on? How many other countries have you been to?" they often snap "None! And I don't need to!"
There's nothing wrong with having no desire to travel, but you shouldn't then offer your emotionally-charged opinion that America is the greatest country in the world. It's even worse when nobody asked you. It's irrational.
Just recently I spent two weeks in the Netherlands. I stayed with friends in their apartment and was able to experience the Netherlands much like a local. From grocery shopping to visiting someone in a hospital to taking out the trash and washing dishes, I lived more as a local than a tourist.
After experiencing two weeks of life as lived by the Dutch, I came to the realization a country's "greatness" is simply a reflection of the quality of life of it's citizens. With that in mind the stage is set: The Mighty USA vs teeny-tiny Netherlands (one third the size of the state of Michigan). Let the battle begin. As a framework for our battle, I return, as promised, to "God, Guns and Guts".
God - The U.S. is one of the most religious countries on the planet. Only four percent of the population identifies itself as having no religion. Conservative commentators and news outlets would have you believe that the the ninety-six percent are in a "life and death" battle over the right of the ninety-six percent to exist. Yet, our currency says "In God We Trust". Several state legislatures open sessions with prayers and every single Federal office not related to defense, homeland security or law enforcement is shut down when Christmas falls on a weekday.
By contrast, forty percent of Dutch citizens claim no religion. That percentage will likely go higher as older generations fade away. The forty percent by and large aren't anti-religion. In my time there, the Dutch didn't look lost and aimless, nor did they look devoid of conscience. On the contrary, they were friendly, personable and helpful.
Guns - The gun situation in the U.S. is fairly well understood. There is no shortage of laws on the books, most of which are ignored. Following the inevitable annual "gun-in-school-tragedy”, the answer always seems to be more "soon-to-be-ignored" laws. I am a staunch supporter of the second amendment, but there's something much deeper that needs to be understood about the gun debate. We'll get there momentarily.
In the Netherlands you can purchase a firearm and you can keep it in your home. You must be a member of a "gun club" in order to obtain a permit to buy a firearm, however. That being said, we learned from people "on the street" that you can easily buy a gun outside of legal channels. So, on the assumption that anyone that wants a gun can get one, here's a question that demands an answer: Why is the homicide rate in the U.S. FIVE HUNDRED PERCENT that of the Netherlands? Guns are the means, not the reason. I can tell you part of the reason: anger. We are a very, very angry people. By contrast, the Dutch are largely content and happy. For starters, there seems to be much less of a class divide. Maybe guns would not be such a hot-button issue if we could figure out why we're so angry and inclined to take a life without so much as batting an eye.
Guts - My favorite topic of the three. I have first hand knowledge of guts as I am in possession of one that is far too large. The rate of obesity and overweight adults in the U.S. is sixty seven percent!!!. It breaks my heart now more than ever because I've seen the answer and it is so simple…and yet so unreachable for us here in the U.S. The answer is "move your body". For two weeks in the Netherlands, I dined out every other night. I ate dessert at many of those meals. I ate many breakfasts consisting of eggs, toast, bacon or corned beef hash. I did all this…and lost five pounds without even trying.
Every "city" of any size in the Netherlands is designed from the ground up to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians as equally as cars. I was astonished to see seventy year-old men and women riding bicycles through crowded streets, in the rain, on their way to buy groceries. Young parents pick up their children from school or daycare by bicycle. I've seen the mother of twins with one infant in a basket over the handlebars and their sibling in another basket over the rear tire. This was in February! The baskets are warm and padded and have a plastic cover to keep the cold wind off the infant. Lest you think this is harmful to the child, consider that the Netherlands is ranked 18th best in infant mortality rates and the U.S. 34th. Yes, simply by living their lives the Dutch stay slim and fit.
When I returned home and realized that I had to get into a car to go anywhere, I was furious at how badly we've failed to take lessons from countries who have better ways of doing things. No need to carve out an hour for the gym each day. No need for endless pills and fad diets. Ride your bike to work. Or as many Dutch do, ride your bike to the train station, lock it up in a bike rack, take the train for a bit, get out, unlock your other bike from the bike rack in that train station and then bike the rest of the way to work. Given a choice of an hour in a car or thirty minutes biking and thirty minutes on a train, I'll take the latter every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
So, there it is. A three-round knockout. The Netherlands, with its fit, healthy population, walking around content and happy, not shooting each other like life is a video game and doing all of this despite the fact that they should so obviously be lost souls because they're just not that into religion. It is no wonder that year after year after year different polls and organizations cite The Netherlands, or Denmark or Norway as having the highest standard of living/quality of life in the world. Three countries for sure that would be decried by half of America as "socialists!!". At the end of the day, does anything matter other than happiness? I'm not saying The Netherlands is the greatest country on the planet. I'm just saying it sure the hell isn't the U.S.
So…I would respectfully submit that when people who've never been outside the U.S. declare us the best, at everything, they're shouting while having their head stuck in the sand.
You might think that so many Americans saying this nonsense would anger people in other countries, and to a certain degree it does. But mostly, they're not angry with you, America...they're laughing at you.
We have the lowest rate of international travel among the developed countries and yet have all these grandiose opinions of our place in the world.
In closing, I would ask you to make it a goal to visit countries on other continents and above all, don't define your worth and identity based on whether America is or isn't the best at something. Get out there. Travel, meet different kinds of people and experience different cultures. You'll be a better person for it.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
When we last left our heroes, I had just taken my first pill for ADD. In fact, I took it at 10:10 AM yesterday. I had a meeting at 10:30 AM and as I walked to the conference room, a feeling came over me akin to drinking 10 espressos. I felt pretty wired. Taking the pill on an empty stomach probably accelerated that feeling.
The meeting was about the design of some financial reports, a topic that would have had me fighting to stay awake and fighting even harder to focus on the mundane details of credits and debits. Instead, I felt alert, energetic and was intensely aware of the conversation. In the past, I would have drifted in and out of listening to people speak and have had to "catch up" by gleaning things from the conversation and trying to piece together things I had missed while my thoughts drifted elsewhere.
In fact, it seemed I spent half of the meeting out of my chair and pointing to the project on the screen to suggest changes to the report to make it easier to read. I left the feeling extremely excited about my new found attention abilities.
The next thing I noticed was my unwillingness to have unsatisfactory things around me. For months, the network cables that connect my VOIP phone were about 2 inchest two short, causing my phone to rest nearly on top of my laptop keyboard. I just never did anything about it. It reminds me of a joke I once heard told by the motivational speaker Les Brown. It went something like this:
A man was walking down a dirt road down south. He passed an old rickety house and on the old rickety porch sat an old man and an old hound dog. The hound dog was just moaning and groaning. The passerby stopped and asked the old man "why is that dog moaning and groaning?" To which, the old man replied "because he's laying on a nail". The passerby, not quite able to believe it said "well, why doesn't he get up and move?" The old man responded "because it doesn't hurt bad enough to get up and move".
On the surface that sounds like a story of incredible laziness. But.. what if one's mind is just wired differently? In the eyes of a person with a brain wired correctly, it seems like a rational statement, but not when you're brain is miswired; not if you suffer from ADD (BTW, I do not suffer from ADHD. No hyperactivity, just attention deficit) And so, I wrote an email to request a couple of longer network cables. When they came, I calmly untangled the wires under my desk and plugged them into the phone and now the cables have sufficient slack to put my phone anywhere on my desk. I next tacked my chronically messy desk. I sorted the stacks of papers on my desk, filed everything in its place and cleaned up my top desk drawer. I'll get to the others in due time.
Likewise, when I went home, I tamed the beastly stack of weeks-old mail and magazines from the top of the dresser in my bedroom. Each day, I would check for important mail on top of the stack, but anything unimportant... I would just leave there until the stack was so obnoxious that every couple of months, I'd waste an entire evening sorting and trashing stuff. Now, I have made a stack of magazines and have resolved to skim through one a day and then discard them until the stack is gone.
Returning to the workplace, the quiz I took to determine if I may have ADD ( http://add.about.com/od/evaluationanddiagnosis/a/adultaddsymptom.htm ) mentioned that many people feel completely stressed out, that the world is moving to quickly and that what they may actually be experiencing is undiagnosed ADD. I can complete testify to this. Whenever I worked on one task, I stressed that all my other tasks weren't getting worked on. The bigger the list of tasks became the more I stressed because now I was spending ALL my time analyzing the tasks, trying to determine which was the highest priority. As a result, EVEN LESS would actually get done, intensifying the stress even more. I felt paralysed.
Now.. I am still aware that all of these projects/tasks exist. I also know I can only do so much. I take what I think is the highest priority task and I work on it until it's done, or until somebody decides something else is a higher priority. It such a relief to not feel that self-induced stress anymore.
In short, I would have to say there were a myriad of ways in which I knew I was "deficient" and now those things seem to come easily to me, without effort. In the past I'd either be unaware of them or ignore them with a nagging feeling of guilt.. "but not enough to do something about it."
In the 21 years I've been married, the words my wife (Ramona) said the most to me were not "I love you" but... "you only hear half of what I say". It was true. It was very hard to keep my mind focused on the person in front of me if my mind wanted to be somewhere else. All I can do is thank her profusely for hanging in there with a guy that must have not been too much fun to live with at times. I will make it up to you... I promise.
One last thing I thought was interesting about the conversation with my doctor... I told him that despite the fact that I have a great career and do very well, I have ALWAYS felt like an underachiever. I look at people my age or younger who are CEO's, successful entrepreneurs, governors, congressman, etc and I think to myself "where did I go wrong? I think I am fairly smart guy...what do they know that I don't know?". And I've discovered that in the great competition of the business world, I've been battling with my hands tied behind my back, relative to my comeptitors. At this point, I have no great aspirations, but it IS helpful to finally know the answer to this mystery.
OK, I lied.. one more thing. The medication I am on.. Adderall is a pretty strong appetite suppressant. Today, I ate lunch BECAUSE I know it's important to eat something, but I had absolutely no desire to eat food. I have a feeling there will soon be a lot less of me, and that's OK :) I have a bit of circular question though. If I lose a signficant amount of weight, the first explanation people will come up with is "well, you're on this medication and it causes loss of appetite. Of coure you've lost weight.. you can't help it." They may be right, but, we'll never know if that's the ONLY reason. In other words, I used to spend time on what I wanted to spend time on, oblivious to important but "mundane" things that needed doing. Likewise, if I wanted to eat, I ate. Was it a lack of "will power" or was it my brain simply focusing on what I wanted to do and not caring about the consequences. Interestingly enough, if Adderall had no appetite suppressant to it whatsoever, I think my whole approach to my diet and eating habits would be different now... now that I can think clearly and do what's right, not just want I want to do.
But, I guess we'll never know, because the medicine IS an appetite suppressant, so it will remain a mystery.
If you suffer from the symptoms I mentioned in part one of this note, please take the quiz... a much more satisfying life could be just a doctor's visit away.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Friday, April 15, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
U2 - Verigo
The Fray - You Found Me
ColdPlay - Clocks
ColdPlay - Yellow
Cream - White Room