Why This Ex-Pothead Thinks Marijuana is NOT a “Gateway Drug”

I smoked a ton of weed in my younger days, then spawned aspirations of becoming a pilot and had to clean things up a bit.

I dabbled in harder drugs – Crank (snorting Meth), Acid, Ecstasy.  I never got hooked on any of it, so walking away from the drug scene was relatively easy.  But for me, smoking marijuana didn’t hatch some kind of craving for harder drugs, or even a craving for more marijuana.

My friends and I transitioned to the harder stuff because weed was illegal.  The only place we could get it was from the kind of individual who was comfortable taking significant legal risks, who also didn’t live with too much concern for our wellbeing.  Enter the drug dealer – usually someone we knew, who lived in our community, one of us – someone who was easy to trust.

A Gateway Community

We all knew a dealer, and it was super cool to have a dime bag on you, so these people became our “friends.”  They were experts at marketing – making hard drugs cool.   “Hey, let’s do a line together.  Really appreciate you.  You deserve it” they would chant.  Then they’d talk about the deal they were willing to give you because of your special relationship.

Without the dealers, who always had the harder stuff, and who were always angling to get it in our hands, none of us would have transitioned.

Marijuana wasn’t a gateway drug, it was a gateway community, and at the center of it all were the dealers.

Legalize marijuana and you take the dealer out of the picture.  Take the dealer out of the picture and exposure to the hard stuff goes way down.  And since smoking weed doesn’t cause anyone to have deeper cravings beyond junk food and a good nap, fewer people – young people especially – will go looking for the bad stuff.

Make marijuana illegal and the dealers are back in business, not just selling weed, but transitioning so many into drugs that are truly dangerous.  I’m not suggesting that legalizing marijuana will make our drug problems miraculously vanish, I’m just surprised at how clueless we are about how effective dealers are at their craft, and how legalized marijuana takes such a huge bite out of their market.

The War on _______?

As our country continues to drink itself to death, the current administration is trying to convince us all that marijuana is a terrible thing – that we need to wage war, so we can get a handle on this grave threat.  I’ve never seen anyone wreck their life from a weed “addiction,” if that’s even a thing.  Alcohol?  I’m in my early fifties, watching so many of my friends struggle – struggling myself.  If our government cared, you’d hear more about the substances that are truly waging war with our wellbeing.

But there might be an agenda here for J.B. Sessions and his squad.  While whites smoke a ton more of the Devil’s lettuce than blacks, for the last twenty years or so we’ve incarcerated far more blacks for it.  Regan’s drug war, the one Sessions is trying to resurrect, the one so many social activists call “The War on Blacks,” might have little to do with marijuana, and more to do with the spirit that’s been having its way with our country since her inception.

I haven’t smoked in 30 years but recently, on a guy’s trip to the West coast, somebody stopped at a dispensary on the way to our condo.  It was legal where we were staying so I tried a hit – one hit – and got completely annihilated, ate a large bag of peanut M&M’s, drank two G&T’s, watched 18 straight episodes of “Arrested Development,” and was reminded of why I stopped smoking in the first place.  I wasn’t attended by any cravings for more drugs, or tear-filled memories of the “good ol’ days” as a user of harder things.

While I do think that our current production methods are cranking out a vastly stronger product, and that there are some things to discuss there, I’m still convinced that the “gateway drug” argument is silly, but used to fuel fears that lead us into policies that are unjust, and distract us from more pressing issues.

The Empire’s New Clothes: How Racial Prejudice Has Evolved in the US.

We’ve healed so much from our dark history.

We ended slavery, shut down Jim Crow with the Civil Rights Act, made national heroes of Dr. Martin Luther King and other people of color. We passed laws to fight preferential hiring.  We twice elected a black president.

Many believe that if a black person can’t get ahead in this country, it’s their fault.

However, for the past 10 years or so, scholars, researchers, lawyers, and social activists have provided evidence for a different story – claiming that the preferential treatment of whites over other people of color is alive and well in our county.

It’s likely however that you haven’t heard this side of the story.  This information doesn’t tend to make the 6:00 news and certainly hasn’t seen much Sunday morning pulpit time.

Below is a quick “dummy” version – a primer if you will – of facts and figures that are critical to our understanding.  Consider the following in contrast to what many would say are common “white, evangelical” perspectives on current racial issues.

“We’ve Done Everything We Can”

Nobody would argue that blacks in particular are more educated, empowered, motivated, qualified – overall more “free” to pursue their dreams than ever before.   Yet black unemployment is currently twice that of whites.

It’s been that way for 60 years.

Regardless of the barriers that have been removed, the “leaps and bounds” we’ve made in education, hiring, etc., this statistic has held fast since we started measuring employment rates.

There’s more.

In 2004 researchers Marian Betrand and Sendhill Mullainathan sent fake resumes to 1300 employers in Chicago and Boston, targeting sales, administrative support, and customer service/clerical positions.  Half of the “applicants” had white sounding names (e.g. “Emily” or “Greg”), the other half had black sounding names (e.g. “Lakisha” or “Jamal”).  Resumes with “white” names received 50% more callbacks.

Devah Pager, Associate Professor of Sociology at Princeton University, is well known for her research in this area.  She and a colleague sent black and white, equally qualified, “tester” applicants for live interviews in the low wage labor markets of Chicago and New York City.  In two different studies her white applicants were 2x more likely to get a second interview than blacks.

In her concluding remarks, Pager makes note of the difficulties with our current antidiscrimination laws:

“In order for these protections to be invoked, however, potential plaintiffs must be aware of and able to document discriminatory treatment. Given the subtlety of contemporary forms of discrimination, it is often difficult to identify discrimination when it has taken place.”

The problem isn’t limited to the hiring process.  For example, studies show that blacks are the first to be fired when the economy weakens, and the “wage gap” between blacks and whites is larger than it’s been in 40 years.

“Blacks Commit More Crime”

For years we’ve imprisoned more blacks than any country in the world.  The numbers seem to speak for themselves, and fuel the perception that blacks are more likely to commit crime than any other race in the US.

While the prison numbers might support this, many crime statistics don’t.

Drugs

In 2010 Michelle Alexander published “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” introducing the disparities between black and white incarceration rates, and the stories behind them.  In 2016, Netflix aired director Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” highlighting many of Alexander’s concerns.

Nobody should talk about racial prejudice in the United States without a basic grasp of these two accounts.  Both offer, among other things, strong evidence that whites and blacks use illegal drugs at the same rates, but blacks are somehow incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites.

Alexander and DuVernay claim that these consistent, way-out-of-balance statistics are driven primarily by the same spirit that fueled slavery in the US.

Violence

“New Jim Crow” isn’t without its critics.  Yale Law School’s James Forman Jr. wrote:

“While rates of drug offenses are roughly the same throughout the population, blacks are overrepresented among the population for violent offenses.  For example, the African American arrest rate for murder is seven to eight times higher than the white arrest rate; the black arrest rate for robbery is ten times higher than the white arrest rates.”

The phrase “arrest rate” can be misleading for those of us not well versed in statistical analysis.  It’s much simpler to look at raw numbers.  How many people are committing these crimes, what color are they, and how many from each group are we keeping behind bars?

For example, in 2011, BJS reported 42,768 black arrests for robbery vs. 38,599 white arrests.  To confirm Forman’s point above – a higher percentage of blacks were arrested.  However, in the same year 8,936 whites were incarcerated vs. almost 23,447 blacks in our state and federal prisons.

If roughly the same number of blacks were arrested for robbery, how is it that almost 3 times the number of blacks were incarcerated?

Following are yearly statistics on violent crime in general – note the disparity between arrest and incarceration numbers.

While the Bureau of Justice Statistics doesn’t publicly report Federal Prisoner race/offense statistics as consistently as they do for state prisons, their detailed 2015 and 2014 reports reveal that twice the number of blacks occupy Federal Prisons for violent crime than whites.

Again, why?

One of the most prevalent narratives about blacks in the US is that they are on some sort of crime spree – they just can’t seem to reign in their impulse to break the law.  But the incarceration numbers – statistics most of us have never seen –  tell an entirely different story.

Legalized Discrimination

According to Alexander, DuVernay, and others, incarceration is only half the problem.

“Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination – employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service – are suddenly legal.  As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow.  We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” “New Jim Crow” pp. 2-3

This formerly incarcerated cross-section of our population is more likely to be poor, without hope, controlled, depressed, angry, and much more likely to commit repeat offenses than someone with a less “murky” future.

“All Lives Matter”

Many blacks have rallied around the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” citing the above issues (and more), crying injustice, and (still) calling for some semblance of equity.  Many Evangelicals have responded with “All Lives Matter.”

Evangelical Pollster organization, Barna Group, recently published their findings of a 2015/2016 survey of Americans regarding racism.  Among the participants, white Evangelicals and/or political conservatives were most likely to believe that

  • Racism is a problem of the past
  • People of color face no social disadvantages because of their race
  • Reverse discrimination is a greater threat to whites
  • Christian churches are currently playing an important role in racial reconciliation
  • “All Lives Matter” is an appropriate response to the black community’s cries for justice

We’ve come to believe that the problems mentioned above lie squarely in the hands of the black community to solve.  Having clothed ourselves with the illusion of equity on every front, we’ve become convinced that blacks have nothing to complain about.

That’s why we get so upset when some of them take extreme measures.

Brooke Hempell, Vice President of Research at Barna Group, summarized their findings with the following:

By failing to recognize the disadvantages that people of color face—and the inherent privileges that come from growing up in a ‘majority culture’—we perpetuate the racial divisions, inequalities and injustices that prevent African American communities from thriving…

There are now a growing number of white evangelical leaders, pastors, sociologists, and researchers claiming that racism is huge problem among evangelicals.  I know, we’re all tired of hearing about it, but that doesn’t make it false.  I’m currently working on a post here and hope to publish it soon.

And while I’m personally proud of the people who showed up en masse to protest the alt-right and white supremacy, I agree with the many voices who feel like the current racially prejudicial systems are far more dangerous – not just because they affect so many lives, but because they’re rarely-to-never protested.

“Look How Far We’ve Come”

I recently sat in a meeting where a white community leader offered a personal apologetic on how far we’ve come in our journey towards equity. “I just see all the progress we’ve made and I just want to celebrate it.”

But it’s difficult to talk about progress when we’re also talking about injustice.  To illustrate, consider the following parable:

Say you and I had an arrangement where I physically assaulted you once a day.  You had no say in the matter, it was something you had to endure.  It ruined you, weakened your sense of dignity, stole hope, etc.  One day, I announce that I’ll only be attacking you 3 times a week.

Technically that’s progress, but not the kind any victim would want to celebrate.  Even if the beatings were to stop altogether, there would still a glaring issue.

One of the dominant conversations when Civil Rights legislation was first being considered centered around the idea of justice.  Even if we could get to the point of perfect equity, who should pay for these centuries of abuse?

Any victim is right to expect that 1) the abuse will end and 2) justice will be served.  We’ve offered the black community neither.

Change

Racial prejudice in the US hasn’t gone away, it’s simply changed its clothes.  Gone are the white hoods and black iron bracelets.  Now we have laws – really impressive legislation that’s sometimes effective, but complicated enough to allow our contemporary expression of racial prejudice the space it needs to keep our ancestors’ foot-to-throat status quo well intact.

That’s why so many blacks aren’t celebrating.  They’re angry, tired, hopeless.  Some get desperate and riot, to which we respond, “See?  Nothing but a bunch of criminals.”

The facts and figures cited here only scratch the surface, but are enough to kick-start a new narrative –  one that acknowledges that blacks in the US have been set up for failure.  Some succeed, and are frequently used as evidence that there’s nothing to riot about.  But the many who do fail are used as further evidence for the centuries-old narrative that there’s “just something wrong with black people.”

These stories need to change.  Our understanding of the black community and of white privilege needs to change.  And the first step might be easier than you think.

We need to talk about this – in our small groups, from the pulpit, among friends.  These truths can be spread just as easily as the falsehoods that are currently in residence.

Equity will require much more than awareness.  Injustice only answers to personal/corporate sacrifice.  But for now, since this current “style” of racial prejudice depends so heavily on ignorance, misinformation, false narratives, and naked, knee-jerk emotion, awareness would be a big first step toward something that our country has never known.

The Bible, Immigration, Refugees, Closed Doors, and God

chained_door_by_kinyin

Like most conservative Evangelicals, I’ve spent a ton of time reading/studying the Bible, and a few years in grad school learning the ancient “Biblical” languages, methods for interpreting ancient Semitic/early Christian manuscripts, etc.

My understanding of the Bible, and my understanding of the way God wants me to live, has a direct bearing on whether or not I agree with the recent developments in the US surrounding immigration, refugees, walls, border closings, etc.

God’s Immigration Policy

We should always have immigration laws, but not when they’re so extreme that they amount to closed doors, or when our borders are closed outright.

Scripture paints the picture of an “open door” God.  His world (often referred to as His “Kingdom”) has no barriers or qualifications.  The only people that aren’t allowed in are the people who don’t want to come in.

I’ve heard from many that you have to first “repent,” i.e., have the right attitude about what’s right and wrong, before God will deem you worthy.  I haven’t yet met anyone who’s been able to do that.  We’re all screwing up in big ways that we’re not aware of.

“Repent” in both the ancient Greek and Hebrew contexts most often means “turn around and go the other direction,” not “be aware of every single place you’re screwing up and feel bad about it.”

The “Prodigal Son” narrative in the New Testament is a parable that lays out in perfect detail who can come in, who can’t, and what God requires for entry.  Here’s a brief recap:

The prodigal does an unthinkable act towards his family and community, then leaves home to live a life something akin to a hip hop video (stole that from this sermon).  After he blows all his $$, he realizes that he’ll starve to death and decides to go home, not because he’s sorry for what he’s done, but because he doesn’t want to die.

He then crafts a very manipulative speech that he plans to recite to his father in hopes that he’ll be allowed back into the family “kingdom.”

His dad, so overcome with joy at the return of his son, loses his mind in a culturally embarrassing public display of affection as the hopeless sinner attempts to recite his speech.  Dad cuts it short, restores the son to his former position, and throws an enormous party that the other son doesn’t want to attend – he’s understandably pissed that his loser brother, who still hasn’t “repented,” has been welcomed home with such pomp and circumstance.

The father goes out to the mad son to try to talk him into joining the party, which is where the story ends.

Self righteous people hate parties.

God’s “Kingdom” is a come-as-you-are proposition.  The doors are open, but the entryway will always be lined with morally OCD people who don’t want to attend since the guest list is so open, so “dirty.”

I entered God’s “Kingdom” many moons ago, and soon learned, despite how hard I might try to act otherwise, that I’m much more a terrorist than a saint.  I judge people, talk about them behind their back, spread anger and bitterness, lose it with my kids, my wife.  I do just as much violence to God’s world as I do good.  I want to bring healing and peace, but so many times I do the opposite, regardless of how much I might “repent.”

I’m “in,” but that’s because of Him, not me.

How screwed up I am!  Who will save me from this body that just can’t get it’s crap together? ~ Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians

Why doesn’t God kick me out?  Why does He keep admitting so many like me?  I have no right or business being part of His world – and His doors stay open.  Always.  Without condition or qualification.

Come to me, everyone who’s tired, everyone who’s overwhelmed, and I will give you rest.  ~ Jesus

The Gospel of Personal Safety

I understand why Christian folk want to build walls and close doors.  Immigration not only threatens our safety but our economy, culture, etc.  Shouldn’t we protect our God-given home?  Don’t we have a right to be as safe as possible?

According to The National Safety Council, The National Center for Health Statistics, the Cato Institute, Tulane University, and others, we Americans are

  • 6 times more likely to die from a shark attack (one of the rarest forms of death on Earth)
  • 29 times more likely to die from an asteroid strike
  • 260 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning
  • 4,700 times more likely to die in an airplane or spaceship accident
  • 129,000 times more likely to die in a gun assault
  • 407,000 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle incident
  • 6.9 million times more likely to die from cancer or heart disease

… than we are to die from a terrorist attack on US soil.

I’m not trying to downplay what terrorists have perpetrated.  I watched the towers fall, I see cultural expressions of Islam, the way we talk about them, the way we portray them, and can’t help but feel a tinge of fear. But the facts are plain; refugees/immigrants/etc. don’t pose nearly the risk advertised.

And they need a home!

And we have plenty of room!!

Doesn’t matter.  Fear has been leveraged to win an election, and has done its own violence to this home we’re trying so hard to protect.

I understand why we’re tempted to interpret the Bible as a Gospel of personal safety.  God has granted us all the freedom to think and act as we see fit.  I respect opposing views here, but given my interpretation of the scriptures, I can’t agree that the “travel ban,” extreme vetting of refugees, or a president who’s in favor of things like a Muslim database are good, especially in a country so full of Bible folk.

Doing the Shit that God Does

The Bible doesn’t talk much about personal safety.  Instead it speaks time and time again about laying our lives down for the sake of others.  Before the founder of our religion went willingly into slaughter, he commanded His disciples to a life that, for so many of them, ended the same way.  Biblical Christianity is a religion that has risk at its core.  That doesn’t mean we go looking for danger, it does however mean that we don’t turn people away because there’s a very small chance that some might be dangerous.

What God has done for us, we should do for others.

We’re supposed to act like God.  It’s only through acting like Him that we become like Him.  In becoming like Him we change the world – which, by definition, will never be a “safe” activity.

Let’s not make America “Great,” or “First,” or “Safe.”  Let’s make it God’s.  Open the doors.  And while we’re at it let’s celebrate.  Let’s throw the yugest, hip hoppiest, borderline-saturnaliastic hootenanny for these people who so many times have been through utter hell.  Let’s dance with their children, embrace their culture, drink Stranahan’s together (or maybe even Whistle Pig if we really want to be Christ-like) – give them jobs, fall in love.

While there are sure to be a few terrorists among them, you can rest assured that God will be in their midst as well.

And God replied, “Whatsoever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” ~ Matthew’s Gospel

Some Advice for Folks Coming Out to Their Evangelical Parents

fence

This article was featured in the Huffington Post’s “Religion” and “Queer Voices” section.

Before you click the link below and head over to the post, I want to add a personal perspective.

I’m honored to have people from the Evangelical and Gay communities who follow this blog, and who’ve been part of some great discussions.

I’m heartbroken however about the war between these two very huge, very influential cross sections of our world.  Both groups claim to be loving, accepting, inclusive, etc.  The hatred here frightens me.

I’ve personally decided to have a voice, best I can, in the Gay community.  I’ll write posts, make friends, build bridges, do whatever I can to say I love them and that I consider them equals.

If you’re Evangelical, you might read this post and think “He’s one of us?  Where’s the part about homosexuality being a sin?”  It’s not in there.  That’s not what this post is about.  I’m not aware of any Biblical mandate that tells me every time I try to help I have to also condemn their behavior.

I know many of you consider homosexuality to be a sin on par with something like rape or child abuse, which is why you feel the morality issue is always the first order of business.  I would too if I held that perspective.

Biblically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with a Gay person, nothing beyond what’s also wrong with the rest of us (stole that from Jenn Hatmaker).

To my Gay friends I’ll say it again.  I’m sorry for how my Evangelical brothers and sisters deal with this issue. Please have patience with them.  Allow them to think the way they think, love them, forgive them. Don’t tolerate bigoted behavior.  If you have the courage, make friends with a few.  They’re not all bad.  Some are downright amazing.

All that said, here’s the link.

Blessings.

Mark

What I Think about God

coolwindow

I wrote this years ago in Seminary (except the last part). More true every year.

I don’t know what I want to say
It may be best to leave the words alone
But you live inside my heart
You walk about
You poke around

And I don’t hear a sound

Then you shake them from my head and lay them deep inside my heart
Your words of life and truth go coursing through my veins
Into my soul
Now I’m a man I never should have been
And though my eyes are open wide
I only see enough to know I need you more

I’m alive

My fear will not prevail against a lion
My bullshit catches fire in the presence of this king
My hardened heart will not survive
Within the clutches of a lamb
My death has breathed its last
It hung there lifelessly upon a cross

Amazing love
How can it be
That thou, My God
Should die for me

Christmas is for Losers: How the Nativity Story Rips on Power and Privilege

Drunk Santa

The nativity story is probably one of the most misunderstood episodes of the Bible. It’s an ancient Jewish story – not a modern Christian one, jam-packed with scads of cultural idiosyncrasies that are a bit difficult to understand for us modern Western folk. Nonetheless, read from a 1st century Jewish perspective, it’s a far better story than the one we usually tell. It goes something like this.

There’s these three groups of losers…

The first group is hanging out in the hinterlands of the Judean region when some really scary shit goes down. We call them shepherds and typically think of them as humble, simple folk – people at one with nature, animal lovers, passive, kind, etc. In their day however shepherds were considered by many to be the lowest of the low, though not as low as tax collectors (that’s a different but very interesting story). Shepherds would frequently sell and/or eat the animals they were charged with protecting, then lie about it, claiming that the animal(s) had fallen to the all-too-frequent predator attack.

In their defense, if I were a shepherd I would have a hard time resisting the temptation for a little snack every now and again. It would be like hiring me to sit alone and watch bacon for a long time by myself with nobody else watching. Some of it might go missing.

When the “Angel of the Lord” appeared in a blinding light, they became “sore afraid,” i.e., scared shitless, not just because angels are depicted as frightening creatures in the Bible, but also because these shepherds believe that God has finally showed up to punish them for being such horrible people.

What they get is something totally different – transformed in a flash from trash to the very Heralds of the long awaited Messiah Himself. Why? Because they were good people? Because they deserved it? Nope…  They were the first on the invite list, and given a high seat of honor – because they were losers.

If God wanted everyone to know that the Messiah had finally arrived, and wanted everyone to show up at the manger, why would he choose people who were viewed as dishonest and cowardly, then send them running through the very capitol of all Jewishness to announce the arrival of something that everyone at the time was desperately waiting for?

The next group of attendees is the triad of “Magi,” travelling from the East, expecting to meet a great king, and led by a star. Again, if you consider what Jewish people were thinking at the time, these people have no business in God’s story – maybe as the bad guys, but certainly not as heroes. To be non-Jewish, from a place populated by so many people who wanted to see Israel burn, and on top of that some kind of “magician,” is to be pagan in the worst sense.

Losers.

The third group is comprised of the three people sitting amidst the dung, smell, and conspicuous absence of human dignity – surrounded by the other losers mentioned above. There’s a baby, and that’s cute, but he’s illegitimate. The mom claims that God had impregnated her, but everyone knows what really happened and they’re probably all talking about it. Her husband initially tried to conjure up some way to get rid of her, but was “visited in a dream” by an angel and changed his mind.  That’d be a hard story to sell in any culture.

In this world the only thing worse than a woman who has conceived via adultery is a husband who does nothing about it. We might romanticize something like this, but the people of Jesus’ day didn’t. Adultery was one of the most grievous sins to the ancient Jewish mind.

Where are the powerful, important, wealthy people?

It’s understandable why there were no important people stopping by to say hello to the newborn Messiah. “This can’t be him.” “He’s illegitimate.” “He might have the pedigree if he were actually the son of his father.”  “Where are all the other important people?” “Why are there so many losers here?”  “A stable?”

Considering the general sketchiness of the whole scene it’s easy to see why Herod, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, the wealthy folk and other potentates decided to stay home that night.

These believed that they were conditionally blessed by God. They believed that their obedience to His rules, their devotion, and their wealth made them more important to Him than anyone else. The dishonest, the poor, the “unbelievers” were treated as trash because that’s how God considered them.

Sound familiar?

When Jesus reached adulthood, the powerful, wealthy, pretty people rejected him, mainly because he came from a sketchy place, and was constantly followed by the losers of his day.  But he took those losers and did something with them that he never could have done with the important people.  And they went out and changed the world.

Yet so many of his followers today have reverted back to a system that exalts white, wealthy, straight, “acceptable” people.  That might piss you off if you consider yourself Christian, but who fills the pews on Sunday mornings?  I’ve been a conservative Evangelical for 30 years, I can tell you who fills the pews.

The Nativity story invites us to make some drastic changes to our values system, especially as it applies to how we decide who’s valuable and who’s not. Christmas is a time to remember that God typically doesn’t see things the way we do. The people we call losers, God calls kings.

So you’d better watch out.  Folk who consider themselves to be more important than others – especially in the name of religion – can easily find themselves missing the party.

Losers.

 

Why Lectures Blow Time-Outs Out of the Water – And How to Give a Good One

I have 3 kids who have no problem telling me where to stick it. Time-outs were my go-to for a long time, but I’ve recently transitioned to a far more powerful defense.

Don’t get me wrong, time-outs are huge if you want to survive as a parent of strong willed children. If nothing else, they’re a great way to get a nasty attitude out of play so you can rest your brain and rekindle a general sense of hope. But time-outs for my kids are only temporary, short-run solutions. They’ve never effected any real change.

Up to this point I’d always hated lecturing kids, it seemed so pointless, so torturous. My wife lectures our kids all the time and it drives me crazy. They stand there like statues while she talks – forever. I always feel like I need to rescue them.
But our kids are much more behaved for my wife than they are for me, so I recently decided to give lecturing a try.

I was wrong. It works. Here are three reasons why.

1. Lecturing Forces Kids to Face their Mess

Lectures give our kids some time to stew in their transgression and consider it from someone else’s perspective. Time-outs remove them from everything; they can think about whatever they want. We control the engagement in a lecture and make it oh so difficult for them to distance themselves from whatever it is they need to face.

2. It Feels Good

Let’s be honest, when our kids screw up, when they’ve trodden upon some coveted value of ours, or destroyed our property (again), it’s easy to believe they did it on purpose, like they’re out to get us, or deliberately trying to get under our skin. Sometimes they are. Either way, just being honest, it feels good to retaliate.

Lecturing is the best way to suckle the sweet fruits of retaliation and help your kids get their shit together.

I don’t have to hit, scream, shame, threaten, etc. All I have to do is slow down, gather myself, and let fly with the most boring, repetitive speech about family rules that you can possibly imagine. They can’t stand it and I can’t tell you how good that feels when they’ve triggered one of my emotional landmines.

Best of all, it’s culturally acceptable, and it’s legal. You can do it in public, at the doctor’s office, at church, in front of the grandparents. Anytime. Anywhere.

3. The Breaking Point

My kids don’t hate the talking, or the repetition, they hate thinking about what they did wrong. We all do. That’s why they squirm and try to run away when we confront them.

A good lecture helps kids understand the impact of what they’ve done – not only that it’s wrong, or that parents are disappointed, but that others were affected. Kids don’t change their behavior unless they feel true remorse. That’s why intimidation, threats, shaming, time-outs, etc. are so marginally effective; they don’t go far enough.

The most powerful thing about a lecture is that mom and/or dad are right there in the middle of it. There is no human presence more powerful to a kid than her parents, regardless of how their attitude might suggest otherwise. Lecturing doesn’t just put the infraction in their face, it puts us in their face, and gives a ton more weight to the issue we’re trying to address.

Four Tips for a Good Lecture

1. Squirmy Kids

If my kids are fidgety, giggly, or are flat-out blowing me off, I make them sit on the ground till they’re ready to talk. This breaks them down a bit and prepares them for what’s coming. My tagline is “You let me know when you’re ready to talk, I’ve got all day.” Works like a charm.

2. Don’t be abusive

Shame, screaming, intimidation, fear, and distance all feel great, but ultimately won’t bring anything good to your kids. It teaches them that they’re worth the abuse, that there must be something wrong with them. If you prefer to have kids who are constantly struggling to control themselves, make them feel like a piece of crap, that’s the ultimate fruit of abuse.

I know we lose our tempers from time to time and we should apologize and make amends when that happens, but, as much as you can, get the abusive stuff off the discipline table.

Focus on their behavior, it’s impact on others, and keep it at that.

3. Make it a long one.

You might be thinking that you don’t have enough material to draw a lecture out long enough to make them really think. Not a problem. If you run out of words, ask questions. “You know our family rule is no punching in the face. If you know that’s our rule, why did you punch your sister in the face?” Silence is OK if they don’t want to answer, it gives you time to come up with more material.

Your speech doesn’t have to be ground-breaking, it only has to be relevant to whatever it is they did wrong. And don’t be afraid to repeat yourself, they really hate that.

It’s also a good idea to get some time alone to think about the things your kid does over and over again, the areas where they’re habitually disobedient. Craft some good material outside of the arena so you’re not always trying to come up with stuff on the fly. They’ll think you did make it up on the fly, which will make you seem even more impenetrable.

4. Be firmly on their side

Kids are more likely to listen/change if they know we’re pulling for them. At some point in my lectures, usually in the beginning, I’ll let them know I understand why they’ve misbehaved.

“You must have been really mad at your sister to punch her in the face.”
“I probably would have wanted to punch her in the face too you know.”

All misbehavior has something good at it’s core. An angry outburst can be the result of some perceived injustice. If they lie, it’s because they’re scared. If they steal, it’s because they really wanted something. We can all empathize with those emotions. The root of all sin is desire, not stupidity or selfishness – the behavior might be bad, but the desires aren’t. While we should always condemn the bad responses, we can connect with them by validating their desires and let them know that they’re just as human as we are.

Give it a Whirl

I don’t lecture every time one of my kids screw up – that would be impossible. Sometimes I’m too tired, or too busy. Sometimes I don’t have the emotional energy. There are times when I lose my temper, or do a “drive by” sort of consequence threat. But once I started lecturing, my kids’ level of respect for dad seemed to change, dramatically so. And I’ve gotten way better at getting them to the “breaking point.”

My kids aren’t perfect, but they know that whatever it is we’re discussing is so important that everything needs to stop, and that they’re worth stopping for. I can’t tell you how much change that’s brought to our family.

How to Build Self Esteem: 8 First Steps Anyone Can Take.

I was picked on incessantly in Junior High.  The cool kids needed someone to dump on, and I always seemed to be the closest target.  I didn’t know how to take up for myself and didn’t have anyone to talk to, so I began to believe that I deserved whatever abuse was coming my way.  It was so bad that I would go to bed at night worrying about who would pick on me the next day.

By the time I graduated High School, I decided that I had had enough.  I worked out, took steroids, defended myself – physically if necessary, changed my look, and hung out with the cool kids.  The “cooler” I got, the more I needed other kids to pick on, mainly because I was still lacking confidence on the inside.

Since then I’ve changed, dramatically so.  I’d like to share what I’ve learned – what I would consider the basics of building self esteem.

1.  Understand where your poor self image came from.

Low self esteem isn’t something you’re born with, someone has to give it to you.  We think poorly of ourselves because someone told us that we should, and we believed them.  Parents, peers, bosses, media, anything with a voice can convince you that you simply don’t measure up, and leave you thinking that you’ve got to “perform” to be on equal footing with everyone else.

2.  Spend time with good people.

If listening to stupid people got you here, listening to good people can get you out.  Folk who like themselves naturally reek of self-worth – it’s hard to hang out with them and avoid getting some on you.  These people can be found in churches, non-profits, volunteer opportunities, etc.  They’re easy to spot – they smile, help a lot, and unwittingly make you feel like you matter.

3.  Join a community where you can serve.

By listening to the lies other people have told you, you’ve come to believe that your life doesn’t matter.  Volunteering and serving can help you understand that you have something to offer, that you have just as much power to bring change to this world as anyone else.

4.  Get a Mentor.

It’s good to hang out with groups of people, but you won’t get very far in this game unless you’re willing to find someone who’ll sit down with you over coffee, someone who’s safe, who’ll listen to your stories and tell the truth about you.

“Where do I find a mentor?”  As a mentor/counselor I get asked this question all the time.  Below are some ideas, but understand that finding a good mentor is difficult, you’ll have to do some leg-work here.

Visit a nursing home.  Elderly people love to help, have a ton of wisdom/life experience,and have typically navigated more bullshit than you can possibly imagine.

Keep your eyes open for older, peaceful folk as you volunteer and serve. You’re bound to run into someone that’ll invest in you.

If you’re OK with church, join one that highly values peace and social justice.  There will be a lot of good people there.  Avoid churches that are all white, all straight, anti-this, anti-that etc. These are not typically places of peace and encouragement.

5.  Never treat anyone like you’ve been treated.  Ever.

I know it feels good to make fun of people, especially if you have low self esteem, but few things will wreck your view of yourself like disrespecting others.  If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.  Whatever you throw at others will come right back at you, so it’s always best to throw the good stuff.

6.  Tell Yourself the truth, over and over again.

The people that hurt you were first hurt by someone else.  They didn’t abuse you because you deserved it, they did it because they didn’t know how to deal with the shit they were carrying around.  So they painted a picture of you that wasn’t true, and you believed it.  Now there’s a huge gap between the real you and how you perceive yourself.

What’s the truth about you?  You bring just as much to the table as anyone else, you’re just too afraid to step into the arena because you don’t want to get hurt again, so you’ve come to believe that you’re worthless.  Not true.

7.  Get a handle on your body image issues.

Here’s the truth about the way your body looks, regardless of how you look.  It. Doesn’t. Matter.  Lose some weight if you want to.  Workout 30 times a week and get ripped to shreds.  You might garner some attention from people who care way too much about being pretty, but theirs is typically a worthless opinion.  Healthy, emotionally strong people don’t care what you look like.  It’s the weak/immature folk who’ll treat you differently based on how you look.

I have a friend who’s over 6 feet tall, gangly, and can never seem to cinch his belt tight enough to keep his pants up.  He’s changed more lives than you can imagine, including mine.  He’s a prolific speaker and teacher, a published author, and a respected leader, both in the U.S. and the U.K.

He’s also good friends with the lead singer for Mumford and Sons, just to throw that in.

I’m so glad he didn’t decide to curl up in a corner and cry himself to sleep every night because his body is what many would consider “ugly.”

Our world is full of fat, gangly, less-than-attractive world-changers who decided that “pretty” is a waste of time.

8.  Never stop pursuing this

Like any great pursuit, failure is part of the deal.  Some of the world’s greatest leaders see failure as little more than evidence of a good effort – if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.

What’s not acceptable is quitting.  When we have a poor self image, it’s easy to see failure as proof of the problem and an excuse to stop trying.  You’ll need to get “I quit” out of your vocabulary.

The people who’ve managed to crawl out of the low self esteem hole are people who’ve tried over and over until they figured out how to see themselves properly, and then lived accordingly.  They’re not people with some unique skill set, they simply made the decision to unconditionally persevere.

I did it.  So can you.

Why blaming everyone else for your crappy life is killing you

Blaming everyone and everything but yourself for the crappy things in your life is is typically referred to as “playing the victim.”  It’s a popular way to respond when things don’t shake out as they should because it feels good, it’s easy, and everyone else does it.  And, if you want to live a truly crappy life, this is the best place to start.

I should know.

I’ve been married for almost 15 years now.  My wife, like every human on the planet, has habits, personality quirks, and character flaws that make my life difficult.  It feels unfair to me that I should be forced to live with them.

For our first 10 years together I decided that it would be best for her to change.  What I soon learned is that the worst things about her are not easily changed.  Many of them are well-rooted, and, like everyone else’s junk, the result of something painful she experienced long before we met.

Imagine my shock when I also learned that I bring some not-so-savory things to the marriage table.  Unorganized, irresponsible, angry, overly sensitive, smelly, snorey (full list provided upon request).  It’s just as downright unfair to her, and she’s spent just as much time as I have trying to change me with similar affect.

So we’ve both spent a fair bit of our marriage playing the victim, believing something akin to “I can never be happy here” and being completely miserable.

I know people that hop from job to job with the same spirit – “So and so is hard to deal with,” “I need to leave,” “I can’t be happy until I have the right job.”

I have a friend who frequently says that the wrong job is one of the best things you can experience.  Learning to be un-miserable in a bad work situation is key to learning how to live an un-miserable life.

We play the victim in our relationships, with our kids, even our hobbies.  Every time a bad situation pops up, it’s tempting to view ourselves as the hapless pawn, completely unable to find happiness until things change.  The reality is that there will always be something crappy in our lap – something that will be hard to deal with – completely out of our control.

I came to an understanding recently in our marriage that I brought some very difficult things into our relationship that were there before I met my wife, that these things were within my control to change, and that I have a better chance of changing myself than changing anyone else.

I’ve also discovered that compassion, forgiveness, patience and growing in my ability to love Elaine without condition are very powerful tools, all of which I can wield at my whim.  They’re heavy, but not impossible.

The more I do this, the more my eyes are opened to her true beauty, as well as the power and majesty that is my own life. I’m not as distracted by crappyness as I used to be, and far less miserable.

Our best life is waiting for us, just inches beyond our greatest challenges.

Playing the victim, on the other hand, leaves us miserable because a) things usually don’t change and b) we’re so busy trying to change things we can’t change that we miss out on the good stuff flying around within arm’s reach.

A good life requires strength, the kind of strength that can only be gained by facing the hard things of life head-on, doing our best to get through (getting a mentor if we don’t know what that looks like), and not giving up until the storm has subsided.

Got a bad relationship?  A bad job? A bad marriage?  The best way to live un-crappily is to stick it out – work out your “deal with it” muscles, stretch yourself and be less affected the next time something bad comes up.

What we’ll find in the end is that these bad situations aren’t what make our lives miserable, it’s the miserable way we deal with them, and our failure to find the good life that lies just ahead.

Rest Your Brain to Boost Productivity

stress2

No matter what method you try, or what advice you take, if your brain is worn out, you’re screwed.

Many believe that stress is good – you have to get that adrenaline flowing to get anything done. But stress keeps your brain on red alert, firing neurons like pistons on the Space Shuttle and releasing all kinds of stress-related hormones and making you a really tired person. When your mind is tired, you’re not functioning at full capacity, and you’re sure to get behind. It’s ironic really, the harder you try to be productive when your brain’s worn out, the worse it gets.

Why Stress Management Doesn’t Work

Let’s be honest – stress is fear. If you reflect upon the things you’re stressing about, you’ll quickly understand that there are all kinds of things flying around that are scaring you. “What if so-and-so outperforms me?” “What if I don’t meet my deadline?” “Who am I if I can’t rise above my peers?” We like to call this “stress” because it feels…

I wrote this post for Lifehack.org. You can see the rest here.