a is followed by b is followed by c

At this time eight years ago, I was completely at ends over one of those messy, hyperdramatic, toxic, online-and-in-the-head dalliances that most have either had, or watched a friend endure. I gained more than I lost:

I was introduced to these ideas as a stream of epiphanies that arrived over the space of less than six weeks, as I was laboring to extricate myself from what I’d wrought out of a general sense of contrition.

The contrition started as remorse over the way I’d treated an ex-girlfriend some years earlier — which brought me to the ugly realization that we often treat those the worst who love us the most, if only because we can trust them to put up with our shit.

The ex-girlfriend and I remain dear friends fourteen years and counting from the end of the relationship, and the only thing that stops us from remaining constant confidants is the general agreement that I should be, at most, a backup for her husband in that regard. She and I are still waiting for him to man up and take the role that is rightfully his.

While I came out of that experience better off as a human being, the sad truth is that the experience stripped away much of my ego, neutralized much of the anger that had kept me going, and heightened my awareness of anxiety to a level that made my emotions too often unmanageable. I’m still struggling with those consequences after all these years.

Out of hiding

I sent the e-mail that sent that “dalliance” into motion, on a Sunday — one of those rare Sundays when I’d consented my grandparents to drag me to Mass. The missal that day raised Matthew 5:13–16:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Fr. Tom’s homily, workmanlike as always, drilled home the point that faith in oneself is inextricable from such faith in one’s Maker as one might hold.

That was also the first Mass I attended after learning that I was one degree of separation from one of the principals in the then-exploding U.S. Church child sex abuse scandal.

After Mass and breakfast, my grandfather was relentless; he was mystified why I spin my wheels. Even now I only rarely understand why I do it, myself.

I had cause today to point an online acquaintance at those verses from Matthew (more accurately their analogue in Luke), and it got me to thinking: what is my “basket” woven from?

We are all that salt, we are all that lamp, and we all feel tempted by the basket — regardless of belief in a Maker or lack thereof. I, however, can only speak for myself.

A catalog

When I look at myself and listen to others, this is what I find:

Guilt and shame

Toxic pride

Fear and anger

Selfishness

Conclusion

People who know me well might be surprised at my omissions, but refer back to my description of the difference between remorse and regret. There is also a list of shortcomings over which I’ve worked out my remorse, or feel neither remorse nor regret if only by dumb luck.

As for the rest… shame and fear would seem to be stealing the show.

…Now I get to find out why.

Music

Mike + The Mechanics, “All I Need Is a Miracle”
@allmusic

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Digging Through the Clutter

Digging Through the Clutter —by Ben Henick, 19 July 2010

All journal entries

  1. Talking About the Weather
  2. To the Rafters?
  3. Coming of Age with Killer Apps
  4. Race to the Bottom
  5. Meditations on Decay
  6. Net Neutrality, or the Lack Thereof
  7. Three Problems
  8. Post Mortem of a Book Project
  9. The Egg and the Chicken
  10. Yellow Dog
  11. Digging Through the Clutter
  12. Lessons from Mom
  13. Being Careful What You Wish For
  14. Out on a Limb
  15. Beliefs, No. 1
  16. Like a Chimney
  17. Does Not Compute
  18. Past Trends, Future Results
  19. Beyond These Four Walls
  20. Competence, Confidence, and Reality
  21. Anesthesia
  22. King of the Mountain
  23. “A Deer in the Headlights”

Disclaimer: This is definitely self-indulgent. If you don’t like it, read somebody else.

This nook of the Internet is my antidote for Twitter. ©2010 Ben Henick, all rights reserved.

Job, or hell?

Yesterday I happened on two links. (Good grief, I love the Web.) The first is an e-mail alideshow of sorts aimed at the guts of some hypocrite named Spencer, the author’s (erstwhile imaginary) boss. The second is an article in Slate discussing the (un-) desirability of low- to mid-level service jobs.

…And then there’s the story of the flight attendant who on Monday found a spectacular way to say “take this job and shove it” after being verbally assaulted at length by a passenger.

All three pieces are a kick. Reading them in rapid succession, as I did yesterday afternoon, is a kick in the guts. The article about jobs-in-general particularly evoked from me a visceral response.

Rich get richer, poor get poorer

The sense of entitlement to profit that I raised a few days ago is evident in every talk about compensation I’ve heard about, or participated in, in the past several years. It seems to me like the vast majority want labor for the cheapest they can possibly obtain, while remaining content to throw handfuls of money at senior management and holders of equity — even ones who, as it turns out, contribute little or nothing.

It always seems like the same old story: hire somebody with the basic minimum of proven ability in order to get away with paying them as little as possible, train them up to the minimum needed by the organization, fire the ones who don’t take comfortably to that scheme at the instant they’re identified, and work the others to the bone until they burn out.

I believe that on some level, most people recognize that this is going on. However, I struggle to understand why. It seems axiomatic to me that people who feel valued will work harder, yet the trend moves toward every possible effort to remind people that they’re replaceable and ought to get the best out of things while they can.

Compassion vs. sociopathy

The only fact that adequately explains this prevailing state of affairs is broad, unwitting subscription to the system cobbled together from the amoral rants of a mildly nutty Russian emigré. On balance that would not be so bad, except that like that ethos’ nemeses — Communism and Christianity — “Objectivism” works a hell of a lot better in theory than in practice.

I see two deep flaws with this ethos, deepening my my confusion. First, we can’t all be Howard Roark; lots of us lack the temperament requisite to that outcome. As much to the point, if we all could have and act upon that power, civilization as we know it would rapidly descend into barbarism. One man’s clear thinker is another’s cold-hearted sonofabitch, and the latter type is awfully good at inducing conflict.

Second, human beings possess and act upon compassion compulsively; the ones who habitually refuse or fail to do so are (rightly) called sociopaths. We all recognize that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and communities tend to raise the minimum when given the chance. Cutting loose that weak link instead… goes a bit far.

Meritocracy

The happy finish of the labor market’s neo-Nietzchean race to the botom can be found in two virtues that are compatible with all of the belief systems in play: honesty and fidelity.

As it stands, the realities of social (im-) mobility leave some with first-class tickets, and consign the rest to steerage barring both outstanding luck and superlative effort. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that anyone who manages to climb their way out of steerage won’t be shoved back down by some vindictive asshole.

Rewarding honesty and fidelity in the workplace — and penalizing those who lie, cheat, and habitually cover their asses — would go a long way toward making the labor market a better place for everybody.

We have the technological capacity to discover and promote out of steerage quickly the ones who’ve earned it, as a matter of course. We can do the reverse for those who feel most inclined to rest on their laurels. Why don’t we?

Music

Hey Lewis & The News, “Workin’ for a Livin’”
@amazon
@allmusic