Learning the Sum of Your Parts

So I was listening to ‘Dreamlover’ by Mariah Carey, and she sang, “Just want someone to belong to, every day of my life, always, so come and take me away.” And of course that set me to thinking.

It feels great to belong. It feels great to be needed. But if it’s your defining emotion, you might be codependent.

If you don’t feel like anything’s right until this happens, that might be the sign of a problem.

However, if you know who you are, and you relish that feeling, but it’s not THE defining characteristic of your life, then you understand the difference between an emotion and your core being. That’s a difficult lesson to learn in life.

Reading the Map

Emotions are powerful; they’re meant to be. And the amygdala actually releases brain chemicals when we feel emotions. It’s more than just a brain wave. It’s more than just a moment. You feel it throughout your entire body, good or bad. It can fill us with euphoria; it can flush us with dread; it can paralyze us with terror; it can make us angry and drive us to make things better when there’s an injustice. It can also make you warm and tingly, or incite passions. All of these things are real, physical reactions to emotions. Emotions are real, but they’re not everything.

You are more than the sum of your emotions; you are more than the sum of your body chemistry; you are more than just your thoughts. Your thoughts and those you choose to turn into actions are incredibly important. They may define how others perceive you, but they don’t define your whole self. You are more than the sum of all of your parts, inside and out.

So feeling like you belong to someone, or feeling like you are completed by someone; a fine line separates those two, and if you don’t understand the difference, you might be on the wrong side of it.

Feeling like you’re incomplete without someone – that’s the sign of a problem, too. If you felt incomplete before you met this person, then you had a problem before you met them, and meeting them has not solved it.

If you don’t think you’re missing any pieces in your personal puzzle, and then you find someone with whom you just “click”; someone who fascinates you, or who enriches your days and nights in any way; then you two could be a great fit!

A Brief Success Story

Meredith and I followed this last course. We were each doing well enough on our own when we met, and we had a couple of things in common from the beginning. “You know, I really liked the way you said that.” “Oh, that’s a very good point about kindness.” “Oh, isn’t that mutual friend great?” It sparked some interest. Once we really looked at each other, and we liked what we saw, that sparked a little more interest.

But then we started getting to know each other. And when THAT happened, that’s when we began to learn just how well we meshed.

Now, nobody’s perfect. But it was a lot like a zipper zipping up correctly. So many things lined up with our values and our humor and our thinking, that we’ve been together ever since, and happily so.

To Keep or Not to Keep?

Plenty of couples are simply mismatches. You may have some wild passion, or strong attraction; you may have this one cause that brings you together, but you just can’t agree on anything else…. You two are not meant to be together! You can spend time together; you can talk; you can exchange ideas; you can have great sex; just understand that this is not a relationship that’s gonna last forever and fulfill you both, if you don’t complement each other in a lot of ways.

Enough common interests to enjoy them together; enough shared values to believe that the same types of things are important in life (that’s a big one!); but enough differences to remain interesting to each other: THAT is a formula with the potential for a long-term relationship.

And I do believe in love that lasts forever. Don’t think for a minute that I’m saying anything else. It’s just that until you figure out who you are first, you’re not gonna know if you really fit someone else, or if they’re just shielding you from the things that you don’t want to face.

If all they do is keep you from being alone at night, because you can’t stand to get into a cold, empty bed – that’s another sign of a problem.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking somebody home if you want; if you trust them, you like them, and you know that there’s no commitment here, that’s fine (as long as you’re all consenting adults who feel the same way). But if you’re not actually talking about that, then how are you gonna know that you’re on the same page?

There’s nothing wrong with falling in love with somebody immediately, either. But you still should take the time to find out these things about each other. If you fall in love immediately, and you get married three days later – good luck! I don’t know how that’s gonna work out. I haven’t seen it work very often, but it certainly can.

However, if you fall in love immediately and then spend three months getting to know each other, and then you decide, “Hey, I’m gonna spend a lot more time with this person,” and then, six months after that, you get married? Congratulations! Married a year later because you know what’s right and you’ve checked all these things? That has a lot of promise. (Yes, I might know a little extra about this type of scenario!)

And if you decide never to marry anyone, but you simply cultivate terrific relationships throughout your life? Anything that fulfills you, that doesn’t leave broken hearts in its wake, sounds admirable and worthwhile to me!

You don’t have to fit into any mold to find true contentment or even overflowing joy. Just learn who you really are, don’t hurt anyone on purpose, and try not to hurt anyone by accident, and you’re on your way to a rich life of friends, family, or whoever and whatever you choose to fill it with.

Find yourself, forge your path, and enjoy.

Misunderstanding the Novel Coronavirus

Here’s what people seem to misunderstand about the novel coronavirus in 2021.

The Delta variant – just one of the newest variants circulating the globe now – sheds approximately 1000 times as much as the previously-dominant variant. Even vaccinated people, whose primed immune systems keep it mostly at bay, can carry this around for a time, freely sharing it among others they approach.

The more people who carry the virus around (in any variant), the more chances these viruses have to mutate yet again. The *longer* people carry the virus around, the more chances it has to mutate.

Vaccinated people’s bodies recognize and kill off the virus more quickly, limiting its life cycle despite the high shed rate of Delta. Isolating themselves after exposure, or upon ANY symptoms, or any suspicion, is the best way for even vaccinated people to avoid spreading it to others. And masks still help!

If a vaccinated person isolates for the life cycle of the virus, their body will typically overcome it fully. This means that even if a mutation developed during that time, it would be destroyed by the immune system without spreading to new hosts. But only if they don’t expose anyone else.

While Delta spreads the fastest and most aggressively, there are many other variants that are circulating around the world right now. There is a Lambda variant already, which means there are eleven NEW known variants of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The original virus mutated to a more contagious version in 2020, before we started cataloguing the variants and giving them designations like Alpha, Delta, and Lambda. But this pandemic has been going on so long, and with vaccines still too few and far between, that eleven MORE variants have been discovered and identified.

All viruses mutate as they replicate. This one is no exception. But with its incubation time, the fact that some people can spread it without ever developing symptoms, and its extremely contagious nature, it has a longer reach and a greater footprint than many that came before.

Now we are tracking at least 11 new mutations, plus the previous dominant strain, that have all established their own successful chains. Every one of them will continue to mutate as it spreads. Every variant has the potential to spawn a new, worse variety, like the Delta variant.

The Delta strain has a shed speed that attempts to outpace even an inoculated immune system. While it may not overwhelm a body that is primed to fight it off, if it keeps ahead of the body’s defenses for a time, it can keep spreading, with more chances to find an unprepared host.

The only way we will overcome this virus as a species – the human species – is if we can all work together to survive long enough to get effective vaccines to everyone. On the planet. This means that we must help each other survive from a distance: Eat. Rest. Heal. Safely.

There is no “island” in our population where people can afford to turn away from this pandemic. When the former President of the United States denied the severity of the virus, and caught it, he doubtless had the best care money could buy, and he survived. Many more have not.

Every infected person creates the potential for a new variant to beat our existing and developing defenses. No one is safe until we are all safe. We MUST work together to succeed in this. It’s NOT “just a flu”. It DOES kill people. It CAN ruin a life even if the body survives.

This is serious. This is life or death for almost everyone. If you’re lucky enough to have immunity, you may know or love someone who doesn’t. For them, if not for you, PLEASE do your part.

This pandemic continues to worsen. We are literally running out of time, and no one knows how long we have left before a new variant emerges that might get around all of our existing vaccines. Starve the virus of prey by distancing, masking, washing, and paying attention.

Everyone has someone to lose. Don’t be that loss for someone you care about. And don’t lose anyone else you love, either. Wear a mask in public. Get vaccinated. Practice physical distancing, not social distancing. Keep in touch, but do it safely. It has to be now.

Right now.

Solving For X

I have been saying for years that with decent education, genuine health care and health advice, and perhaps a diet with less meat in it than most people in the USA seem to prefer, world hunger could be reduced and probably even eliminated. But there are countless other gains to be had from taking care of our fellow citizens, too.

The one part of my stance against which I always hear arguments is the cry over who would pay for the endless giveaways that some people think would result if we stopped fighting each other long enough to start caring for people who are suffering from hunger right now.

But here’s the simple truth: whatever we prioritize as a people, we find a way to address effectively.

Japan prioritized employment during a US-led currency war in the 1980s, and even though some companies suffered unbearable setbacks, one of those1 gave their employees a hard deadline of ten years to develop a new economic model with their suddenly-too-expensive technology. They tried a number of concepts until one succeeded, and no one at that company lost their job.

Canada and most of Europe prioritize health care as a human right, and those models, despite what US propaganda would have you believe, tend to result in a completely funded and completely shared structure that literally leaves no one behind. Plus, people don’t lose their homes or go into debt for years to pay for that care, because the system is built to work for everyone, not to isolate care to those with deep pockets, as we have in most of the USA. And that only considers actual health care; the US trails plenty of other “first-world” nations in many more aspects of a strong, healthy society.

Other systems work because people care about the results first, so human ingenuity and compassion combine to find a way. And this is the only way we will tackle national and global problems now. When we start with the results we want to achieve, everything else comes into focus rather quickly. These are heavy challenges to meet, and they demand a new mindset to resolve them, but sustainable, human solutions are all within our reach. We must begin to recognize this and act accordingly, if we are to have any measure of success.

 

Further reading:

  1. Journalist T. R. Reid wrote about NKK Steel’s ambitious and successful reinvention to keep everyone employed, in his 1999 book Confucius Lives Next Door (by Vintage Books, a division of Random House)

Briefly: A New (Old) Bridge of Languages

As a lifetime glottophile, I have long been fascinated by the various families of languages that modern cultures use, and of course some of their historical roots and changes over the centuries and millennia.

Today I learned of a few new groupings:

In 2014, a new research paper suggested a common linguistic ancestor between the first two families above.

I do love finding more ways to show how connected we are on this Earth, and common languages, however far back they may reach, can help light the way to a greater understanding of each other in the present.

We really do have more in common with our neighbors at home and abroad than many of us realize. And if seeing that helps anyone empathize a little better today, it seems worth sharing, too.

Briefly: Silvopasture

Silvopasture means that trees are left standing on grazing lands, and the balance is carefully managed. This hands-on practice leads to greater health for the trees, the pastures, and the animals, and is a solid improvement over clear-cutting trees for grazing turf.

My screensaver changes daily, and this beautiful cover image led me to my discovery. The USDA’s Forestry Center and of course Wikipedia both had more to add, if you’re as intrigued as I am and want to read a few more tidbits.

Expansive Thinking

Something fascinating happened to me today, and for once, I had the awareness to document the journey.

Older readers might remember actually browsing a dictionary or even reading an encyclopedia. Younger readers might never have held such a heavy hardback volume in their hands. But now, everyone with internet access can share in the joy of serendipitous discovery!

I started with a simple article on LinkedIn that looked interesting, on what COVID-19 has taught the IT industry.

After reading that through on a publication site, I found a link to an arresting title on the sidebar: Fusion Fuel Holds The Promise Of Limitless Clean Energy To Power The Planet. Not having read much on fusion lately, and then mostly just theory, the concept of new fuel research gripped me at once.

This second article referenced something else new to me: the AEC SNAP 10A reactor, a nuclear reactor that we apparently sent to space in 1965!

That historical overview filled me in and mentioned two new curiosities. Here’s where my tabs started to pile up:

I explored every one of those links in a single reading session, diving further into each until I either came to something that was so specific that I could not follow it at all, or until it made sense and left me without further inspiration (i.e. it closed the loop of my curiosity). This is one way that I love to learn, and I make clips of subjects that inspire me to return to them for writing or research later on.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to start a new reading tree with Gödel’s incompleteness theorems (a subset of the fascinating strange loop overview above). There are some terrific references to follow in the third paragraph alone!

Science fuels creativity!
Science fuels creativity!

Better Manners of Getting Things Done

Today I found myself in line at a big hardware store to return something that had arrived broken. Not the end of the world; it was just something that I’d hoped I could get without an involved trip to the store, but I wouldn’t have ordered a replacement to be shipped when I had weekend time to resolve it more safely. There was only one guy in front of me at the Returns line, and he was FURIOUS. But he didn’t know how to handle the problem he was facing.

If you go to Returns for something large and heavy in your vehicle, and they ask you to have the Pro Desk (at the other end of the store) unload it first – sensibly, so you don’t get a refund and then run away with it – fine. If the Pro Desk then sends you back to Returns, you don’t need to go to Returns and throw a swearing tantrum, threatening to dump your return in the middle of the parking lot and blow off your money before storming away without a resolution. Of course he did just that, which got me thinking. I’ve been in the same type of situation before, and you may have, too… at the store, at work, or anywhere else.

What you CAN do in this situation is much simpler. You thank the first person and assume they’re right until you learn otherwise. Then you get the name of the second person who sent you backward and take it to the first person or place. If the first place sticks to their story, you calmly tell them that Ron at the Pro Desk (for example) insisted on the Return being done before the unload, and you calmly ask Lynn at Returns (for example) to get hold of Ron by phone or radio and sort this out. You calmly explain that they (not you – you’re being calm and civil) have a misunderstanding and that they (not you) need to straighten it out before you go back and forth and waste any more of THEIR (not your) time. Then you smile expectantly and stand calmly and quietly in the way until Lynn reaches Ron or gets him to come to you. Once both people are in the same place or at least on the same page, you get a straight answer and have a firm plan on who will help you first. That’s all it takes.

We’re all going through a lot right now, but yelling at people who just need a little guidance and respect doesn’t really solve anything, and it can darken everyone’s day.

Manners and diplomacy aren’t taught in most schools in the USA. Perhaps they should be. There is almost always room for a better manner of getting things done.

A Slice of Unity

This is piece #2 of 21 in 21, a collaborative publishing project by husband-and-wife team Matthew D. Futter and Meredith Silverman, as we write about a series of 21 things we look forward to being different in 2021. (Read parts #1 here and also here if you missed them.) Throughout the year, we will publish pieces on the same subject, but from our own unique perspectives. You can find us both at the links above.

 

It’s hard to think of what else to say about our new President and Vice President that people haven’t already said for the last several weeks.

Since the election, which was called on November 7th (never mind that it was contested until January 6th), a lot of people have been writing their thoughts on the President, and I am far from the first to bring mine. There’s no need to rehash how his COVID-19 actions and plans date back to January of 2020. Or that a moderate President can be a truly transformative one. Or why I am much more confident about his experience than I am concerned about his age. Or that even if President Biden had to leave office after one term, due to health concerns – and he is transparent about his health and shows no significant signs of any decline – he chose a Vice President to accompany him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who is also experienced and impressive in her own right.

As the United States of America is (almost by definition) a patchwork of incredible diversity, so too has President Biden begun to build his own Cabinet and other leadership teams from a cross-section that represents more of this country than has any President who has gone before him.   

Many Presidents, and certainly our previous one, built their inner circles and installed department heads, almost entirely of white men. This is a new day. Joe Biden knows that we need something better. He stepped into office and immediately spoke of uniting the country. Sure, easier said than done. But he still stated his goal, and he’s working to build this team with transparency and diversity, and that is a plan that we can all get behind, and a team of which we can all be proud to be a part.

I am relieved and excited to have a President in office who speaks of the good of the country, not at the expense of the world, but as part of our global community. I am delighted that, in his first hours in office, he began to rescind some of the more alienating policies that his predecessor had implemented. America does not stand alone. We shouldn’t need to, and we shouldn’t want to.

The Americas, in fact, make up less than 30% of the planet’s landmass, and they only host around 13% of the world’s population on those two continents. For the United States of America, an even smaller piece of only one continent, to claim to stand above or apart from the rest of our planet, is arrogance of the highest order and unrealistic in the extreme.

The office of the POTUS has long been known as the most powerful leadership position in the world. So it brings me joy, hope, and no small degree of comfort, when the latest holder of that office sees leadership as a responsibility to those who follow, and not a mantle of might to wear at the expense of those around him.

Our President was never meant to be a dictator. He is, as Dave Kovic put it so well, only a temporary employee of the people. As the Chief Executive Officer of a company may have to answer to a Board of Directors, so does the President have to answer to the citizens. And if you install the right kind of person in that office for four (or eight) years, then you can have every reason to expect that they will serve the needs of the many and not just the one.

Joe Biden’s record of public service is long and transparent. I’m not saying the man is a saint — and as a good Catholic, he would never assume that title, either! He knows he is fallible, and so we can accept him as a man who is still learning at the age of 78 and will continue to learn throughout the remainder of his career in public service. That’s a sign of an excellent leader. Knowing what you don’t know is a sign of wisdom, too. Socrates famously said this centuries ago, and it remains true today.

Vice President Harris has not been in public service for as long as President Biden has, but that means she has even more years to learn and grow and help people. Help guide us to a better place. Help us build a better country than we have now. The work has already begun! And if we all keep an eye on this North Star together, we are far more likely to stay on course.

equality, equity, dignity, honesty, truth, transparency, courage, kindness
They all point us in the right direction.

A better world is well worth the work it takes to make it real. I’m honored to pick up all the tools I have and follow these two through the trenches to help build it.

Curbside Pickup Is Here to Stay… Right??

Welcome to 21 in 21: a collaborative publishing project by Matthew D. Futter and Meredith Silverman! This is the first in a series of 21 things we look forward to being different in 2021. From the mundane to the profound, whether global or local in nature, we will write about each item (same subject, separate pieces) and publish on our blogs throughout the year. You can find us both at the links above.

 

One of the simpler things that joined our common parlance in 2020 is the concept of curbside pickup at stores. I doubt anyone reading this in the United States even had to consider what that phrase means now. A year ago, it might have drawn frowns of disbelief or even confusion, but now this service is offered more places than it’s not.

Not long ago, I saw a meme about Aldi, pointing out ways that they have been “working in the future” for years now. Five points were listed, including renting carts (for a quarter you get back when you return it) to keep employees from having to chase them down all day and night, to giving cashiers a stool to sit on while they ring up groceries (industry studies have actually shown that cashiers are more efficient while seated). While of course Aldi has also introduced curbside pickup as a safety measure, it’s no wonder why they waited until there was a solid need for this update.

Curbside pickup undoubtedly costs retailers plenty (in upfront costs and lost business from impulse buys, at least). But the overall advantages may keep it around for the long term.

Let’s consider five points of our own about why curbside pickup is SUCH a good idea, hopefully one that remains in the new equilibrium we are all still working to find.

  1. Shopper safety

Obviously physical distancing, along with some new in-store practices, helps limit everyone’s exposure to each other, limiting the spread of common infections as well as a novel one that has dominated headlines for nearly a year now. Taking this to the next level — preventing shoppers from needing to enter the store at all — naturally extends this gain even further.

Employees have less contact with shoppers this way, so they benefit, too. Healthy employees can continue to work, and healthy shoppers can continue to buy. Everyone wins!

  1. Disabled shoppers are on more equal footing now.

Almost every storefront I have seen, large or small, has extra parking close to the doors, designated for people with limited mobility. This is a design feature with which I grew up, and it just makes sense.

Curbside pickup, where shoppers need not exit their vehicles at all to receive their purchases, brings even more equity to this process.

My father suffered ten years of continually-declining mobility at the end of his life, due to a disease that slowly and inexorably atrophied his muscles. He kept a balanced view of this at most times, simply adapting to whatever new cautions or limitations were necessary to keep going.

Long before the current pandemic developed, my father LOVED curbside pickup! Not all of the stores he once frequented offered it, but those that did earned ever more of his business, because they made it so fast and easy for him to get whatever he needed.

Between better digital ordering and pickup in their own cars, I hope that more shoppers are able to access a wider variety of stores these days, and more easily, too.

  1. A little more exercise is good for staff, especially in a country where we don’t usually let cashiers even have a stool (except at Aldi, of course, on their well-researched European model).

This one might sound strange, but I have a reason for it. Really.

I have been in the workforce for decades. During that time, I have worked in a grocery store (on my feet all day), in an office (seated all day), in a warehouse (moving 75%, driving/sitting 25%), and in the office of a factory (sitting 80%, moving 20%). In those four positions, I learned that standing still all day can be difficult and dissatisfying, while sitting all day is exhausting for other reasons.

My best balance comes with less sitting and more walking. Happily, I have this at my current company, with a convertible standing desk and lots of zipping about in my work (almost all on foot). This keeps me limber while avoiding fatigue, and I imagine the best case for most retail employees probably falls along the same lines.

Moving in and out of the store, either with carts or carrying only lightweight packages, helps keep the heart and lungs in shape. In decent weather, sharing time between conditioned air (and comfort) to natural air (and health) is probably beneficial overall. And in worse weather? Well, that’s what coats, hats, and umbrellas are for… and every curbside employee is probably wearing some sort of gloves these days already, so there’s that, too!

  1. Introverts win!

Okay, now you MUST think I’m joking. Unless you are an introvert yourself, in which case you know I am completely serious, and you’re probably grateful someone else gets it.

Introverts, by their nature, are drained of energy by interacting with other people. Going to a store might involve a greeter, countless other shoppers, employees asking if they can help you, a cashier, a bagger, and even security personnel. That is a LOT of interactions for just a single shopping trip, and it can wipe out an introvert for hours if not all day.

Extroverts may not understand this at all, feeling energized by engaging with more people. But introverts have the opposite experience.

Limiting contact to just one store employee, maybe through a car window and a smartphone app, can save an enormous amount of energy for introverts, giving them more to use on the rest of their day. Yes, I know, humans are social creatures by nature, and we do need each other. But certain patterns are draining for some people, and this is one shift where introverts are more likely to celebrate the new format than to mourn the time and energy that was once lost with a simple shopping excursion.

  1. Opportunities for stores to show off improved service and win greater customer loyalty

Let’s bring this back to the first question of cost and benefit for a moment. Curbside costs stores more, at least up front, right? This is where we get to the stores’ less obvious gains.

In dealing with a large company or store chain, customers often feel like they must take the services offered or leave them, going someplace else if their needs are not being met. While some people like the challenge of getting a retailer or a service provider to accommodate their demands, plenty of people simply don’t have the energy for those battles, and they are used to accepting the offer or doing without, at least until they can find another company who does things differently.

Now every company is getting the chance to show people that shopper safety matters; that their convenience matters to the store in the form of dollars spent and time saved.

Stores that step up to the challenge, making online ordering easier and curbside pickup possible, are showing their customer base that they care about these things. And customers who appreciate being able to protect their own health (and that of those they may live with) AND shop more quickly, are customers who will keep coming back to those stores, virtually or physically.

Once the pandemic is under control (however long that takes), I am far more likely to remember the stores who made it possible for me to support them safely during these times. Those companies will get a lot more business from me for years to come!

One retailer I had hardly used for several months prior, transformed their game so completely in response to these challenges, that I now patronize them almost weekly. A number of my favorite stores have improved their responses, and so I always look there first for whatever I need. Of course there may be great deals elsewhere, and I do still comparison shop, but when I don’t have the time or energy to do that, I feel confident in supporting these companies that I know are spending their time and money to help keep ME safe and happy. This way of doing business can earn dividends that far outlast the troubled times we are working our way through right now.

In summary…

These points begin to show what a huge benefit curbside pickup is for many people with different preferences and needs. Why fight your way through a crowded store when you only have to go in for a few things? Why spend hours shopping when you could spend minutes instead?

Whether filling your car for a month or scooping up that one thing that you have to replace suddenly, a safe and easy pickup is good business for everyone involved. I do hope that curbside pickup is here to stay.