Monthly Archives: September 2018

I Wish I Were Lucky and Good

Warning: This post is full of personal information about me, so if you are someone who doesn’t like to listen to people talk about themselves, you might want to skip this one. I will understand. But perhaps you can at least somewhat relate to some of my experiences – and my feelings about those experiences.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” We say it when someone gets a break for being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right person, rather than being talented enough to get the break on their abilities alone. We express a similar thought when we say, “It’s not what you know, but who you know, that counts.” I like it when good things happen to someone else – except when I wish that someone else were me. I admit it; sometimes I’m jealous of those that seem to get something they don’t deserve or that I deserve more (in my humble opinion). But don’t we all feel that way from time to time? If jealousy were a physical disease, almost all of us would be terminally ill in the hospital.

We often use jealousy and envy interchangeably, but I like the distinction Aristotle made: “Jealousy is both reasonable and belongs to reasonable men while envy is base and belongs to the base, for the one makes himself get good things by jealousy, while the other does not allow his neighbor to have them through envy.” In other words, jealousy is inward directed, and can sometimes motivate us to work longer and try harder, while envy is outward directed, and can lead to hate of another. Using Aristotle’s distinction, I’m not sure I have been envious – where I took steps to prevent someone from getting something I wanted – and although I have never thought I was a jealous person, upon reflection, I have been jealous at times, at love, at work, and at writing.

One of my favorite romantic comedies is My Best Friend’s Wedding.[i] When Julianne learns that her long-time friend, Michael, is engaged, she decides that she loves him, and does everything she can to break up the wedding, including getting another man to pretend they are engaged, hoping to make Michael jealous enough to drop his engagement. But as the story progresses, Julianne must decide if love or jealousy motivates her. Here is a classic scene near the end of the film (spoiler alert):

In my love life, I have never gone through anything quite so dramatic, but I have felt the pangs of jealousy from time to time. I remember one incident in particular. My wife, Janene, had returned from a weekend visiting her sister and told me that, while there, she had run into an old boyfriend. So far, no big deal. But then she told me that she could sense that the former boyfriend still had feelings for her. Fortunately for me, nothing happened, except with me. Someone once said, next to the atom bomb, the greatest explosion is set off by an old flame. Jealousy exploded within me, even though I was the one who ultimately had won Janene’s heart. But it was also a reality check. Although it had been over a decade since Janene and this man had broken up, he still desired her. I realized once again that I had married someone special. And I better treat her that way. Since then, I have not been the perfect husband, but it was not from lack of trying.

The classic family film, Toy Story,[ii] is premised on jealousy. Buzz Lightyear, a boy’s newest toy, threatens Woody’s status as the boy’s favorite. Enjoy this scene where Woody’s and Buzz’s battle for top toy leads to some unintended consequences:

While Toy Story is not set in a work environment, it demonstrates what can happen when peers become jealous of each other. And haven’t you felt similar jealousy when someone other than you got the promotion you thought you deserved? It happened to me. XTO Energy hired me as the number two lawyer in the department, with the promise, if I didn’t mess up the opportunity, that I would be moved to the top spot when my boss retired. Things were working out as planned until ExxonMobil got in the way, which bought XTO three years after I started there. I felt lucky to have kept my job, as typically, a company that buys another will replace existing management with their own people. But I didn’t feel quite so lucky when my boss retired two years later, and ExxonMobil moved one of its own into the top lawyer position instead of me. Sure, my new boss was qualified, but that didn’t stop me from being jealous. Hadn’t I been promised the job when I started? I knew how XTO (and its people) did things better than the new guy. And I believed I was at least as good as, if not the better lawyer. So how did I react to being passed over? Unlike Woody and Buzz in Toy Story, instead of working with the new guy to make XTO a better company, I did the opposite. I shaved my head and grew a goatee, and vowed to work only so hard as required to get the job done. I gutted it out for another six years until retirement, but work was never the same, and I never fully got over those feelings of jealousy. But now I’m retired, and he is not!

As a writer (using that term loosely), I continue to experience some jealousy. I started writing as a hobby back in the early 90s when a woman at work challenged me to write a legal thriller as good as John Grisham’s. And so, I wrote Unrighteous Dominion (you can buy it or download it from Amazon!). I have never talked to any “regular” person that has read Unrighteous Dominion who did not enjoy it (although I’m sure those people exist). But despite praise from many, no publisher or agent got behind it, leaving me to self-publish it (maybe it was ahead of its time, as the premise of it is sexual harassment, and might have gotten more attention in the current “Me, Too” movement). Surprisingly, I have never felt jealousy toward John Grisham. Although I believe Unrighteous Dominion is as well-written as many (most?) of Grisham’s novels, I am happy for any practicing lawyer who makes it as a fiction writer.

But I have never gotten over feelings of jealousy regarding my second book, a sappy little Christmas story called, The Presents of Angels. (You can get it on Amazon, too, but better yet, if you would like a copy, let me know, and I will send you one.) When Unrighteous Dominion didn’t take off like I thought it might, I followed the lead of another writer, Richard Paul Evans. He originally self-published a little Christmas book called, The Christmas Box. He then went to everyone he knew and told them if they bought one copy, he would give them another to give away as a present. That year, I received at least two copies of his book as a present from relatives. His marketing campaign was so successful a leading publisher decided to publish it. Since then, Evans has published over thirty novels, all of which have been New York Times bestsellers. There are more than 30 million of his books in print worldwide, and they have been translated into more than 24 languages. I read The Christmas Box (and at least one other of his novels), and to this day, I cannot understand its success. The Presents of Angels is far superior. I know I’m biased, but many others agree with me. I even got it published by a small publishing company. But the commercial success of The Presents of Angels has been limited. I would have been happy if I had one-tenth of the success of Mr. Evans. I am hoping my jealousy will motivate me to continue to write. That is one of the reasons behind this blog. And the sequel to The Presents of Angels is on the horizon.

The movie, Atonement,[iii] dramatically illustrates the unintended consequences of jealousy. But here, envy, more than jealousy, is involved. [Spoiler Alert!] A thirteen-year-old girl has a crush on her older sister’s boyfriend. When she catches them making love, her envy leads her to accuse the boyfriend of the rape of her cousin, even though she saw the real perpetrator. That one act of envy ends up destroying the lives of both her sister and her boyfriend. The young girl, now 18, tries to make things right in this scene:

But in an interesting twist at the end, this girl learns that it is too late to make things right, and so she attempts to atone for her envy-motivated actions by publishing their story.

One of the saddest unintended consequences of jealousy (and sometimes envy) is that the person you are jealous of often doesn’t know about your jealousy. They continue to live their lives as they normally would, while you are left to let your emotions fester, harming no one but yourself. Richard Paul Evans has no idea I am jealous of him. Janene’s old boyfriend would probably laugh if he heard I was jealous of him since I got the girl. And even if my former boss at ExxonMobil knew I was jealous of him, which he probably does, he was not about to change his position and status to appease my jealousy. My jealousy, then, only hurt me.

One thing to remember is jealousy is a normal reaction to things that happen to us and others. Experience has taught me that jealousy can be a good thing if it motivates you to do something or to do something better, such as improving a skill, talent or craft. But it can also discourage us to the point where we give up on something we do well. And envy only leads to hate and potentially the destruction of other people’s lives. I hope we will always know the difference between jealousy and envy, and only use jealousy to motivate us for the better.


[i] My Best Friend’s Wedding

  • Production Companies: TriStar Pictures, Zucker Brothers Productions, and Predawn Productions
  • Director: P. J. Hogan
  • Screenwriter: Ronald Bass
  • Starring: Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, and Cameron Diaz
  • Release date: June 20, 1997

[ii] Toy Story

  • Production Companies: Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures
  • Director: John Lasseter
  • Screenwriters: John Lasseter and Pete Docter
  • Starring: Tom Hanks and Tim Allen
  • Release date: November 22, 1995

[iii] Atonement

  • Production Companies: Universal Pictures, StudioCanal, and Relativity Media
  • Director: Joe Wright
  • Screenwriter: Christopher Hampton (based on the novel by Ian McEwan)
  • Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, and Saoirse Ronan
  • Release date: January 11, 2008

 

 

I Hate it When I’m Angry

People are going crazy over Colin Kaepernick again. This time, Nike is to blame (or praised, depending on your point of view). Nike just made Mr. Kaepernick a spokesperson for its new ad campaign on the thirtieth anniversary of its “Just Do It” ads. You would have to be living in a far away country if you are not aware of Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice and law enforcement’s treatment of minorities by his kneeling during the national anthem. Many people, though, have looked at his protest as disrespect for the American flag and the military who protect this country. The announcement by Nike in support of Kaepernick has caused some of those people to boycott Nike and even burn their Nike shoes and socks, while others have stood with Nike and Kaepernick. In short, if we listen to all the chatter, we are racist if we do not support Kaepernick, but if we do, we are disrespecting the flag and the military. There is no middle ground. How did the world get so polarized? Meanwhile, Nike, one advertising expert has estimated, has received more than $43 million in free media exposure.

Sadly, the support for, and outrage against, Kaepernick and Nike is only one example of the times in which we live. If you are a public person, a company selling goods or services to the public, or even a “regular” person who uses social media, it is hard to even breathe without someone praising you or despising you. An executive of Twitter recently had lunch at Chik-Fil-A and posted his lunch choice on Twitter. Social liberals went crazy, calling him all kinds of names and criticizing him for supporting a business whose owners are outspoken against same-sex marriage. How does picking a place to eat mean that you are either for or against LGBTQs? When this particular executive later apologized for his lunch choice, others criticized him for caving to pressure from social media on something as insignificant as his lunch choice. Maybe that’s the point: a lunch choice should be considered insignificant – not important enough to tell the world about it, and not an indication of one’s views on an issue. Similarly, In-and-Out Burgers recently made a $25,000 donation to a GOP candidate. Immediately, the Democratic Party called for a boycott of all In-and-Out Burgers. In short, we have lost our ability to tolerate those with opposing views to our own.

I once thought the world was getting kinder, with the civil rights movement, the Me, Too and equality for women movements, and the growing acceptance of the LGBT community. But lately, we have taken some giant steps backward. Now, it seems, you can’t even order a latte without someone going ballistic, as illustrated from this scene from Kicking and Screaming[i]:

Buddha once said, “You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.” And the resulting punishment of our anger is that turns into hate. Or in the words of Cicero, “Hatred is settled anger.”

It often starts innocently enough. I recently re-watched the thought-provoking film, Changing Lanes,[ii] where a lawyer and an insurance agent have a fender-bender that escalates into a feud. Here is the accident:

Each of the men reacts negatively to the actions of the other until this happens:

Like the characters in Changing Lanes, the anger that we direct against another sometimes starts out having little to do with that person. We are dealing with other issues that we can’t control or just having a bad day in general. When our lives seem to be spinning out of control, we direct our anger against someone or a situation we think we can control. In short, our anger or hatred often is the result of simply trying to understand the world. When life seems to have little meaning or rationality, we want to lash out against someone, something – anything – to help us make some sense of it all. I often feel like Ben Affleck’s character in this additional scene from Changing Lanes:

How do we learn to respect and be more tolerant and accepting of others? Although I may not be the most tolerant person in the world (although I’m trying), here are some things I try to do.

When I disagree with the words or actions of others, at a minimum, I try to realize anger is not the answer. As Lawrence Douglas Wilder said, “Anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything.”

Next, I try to determine what’s really behind the anger and hate. Someone once said, “Anger is a natural defense against pain. When someone says ‘I hate you,’ they mean ‘You hurt me.'” So when I feel like lashing out at someone, I try to remember to take a breath and find the real cause of my building resentment and anger. If my anger is due to the actions of the person I am angry with, rather than lash out, wouldn’t it be better to talk it out?

When talking it out, I have learned it is better to use “I” words rather than “you” words. In other words, I try to express how others’ actions make me feel, and not lecture them on what an idiot they are to believe a certain way. But even this technique is no guarantee that anger won’t result, as illustrated by this clip from This is 40[iii] (sorry for the language):

In closing, please remember two things. Just because we don’t agree with a person’s view on a certain subject does not mean that we support the opposite view. Everything is not black and white; there is a middle ground. And tolerance does not extend to bad actions. All of us are entitled to believe what we want, to our own set of beliefs, values, and perspectives, but our actions should never hurt other people, regardless of their beliefs – or ours.

Being tolerant can be uncomfortable, but even tolerance should not be our final goal. Acceptance and love of others should be what all of us should aspire to. We are taught to love our neighbors as ourselves, even those neighbors that annoy us, those we don’t understand, and those that frighten us. As we take the time to get to know others, their cultures, their perspectives, and why they believe the way they do, I have found that those neighbors become less annoying, and less frightening, which leads to greater understanding, acceptance, and love. That song from the 70s is just as true today as it was back then: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. No, not just for some, but for everyone.”


[i] Kicking and Screaming:

  • Production Company: Universal Pictures and Mosaic Media Group
  • Director: Jesse Dylan
  • Screenwriter: Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick
  • Starring: Will Farrell, Robert Duvall, and Josh Hutcherson
  • Release date: May 13, 2005

[ii] Changing Lanes:

  • Production Company: Paramount Pictures and Steve Rudin Productions
  • Director: Roger Michell
  • Screenwriter: Chap Taylor
  • Starring: Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson
  • Release date: April 12, 2002

[iii] This is 40:

  • Production Company: Apatow Productions and Forty Productions
  • Director: Judd Apatow
  • Screenwriter: Judd Apatow
  • Starring: Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann
  • Release date: December 21, 2012

 

Choose Change

I believe in reincarnation!

But not in the Hindu sense. In my last post, I discussed the miracle of birth in connection with the birth of our fifteenth grandchild. Today I want to consider the miracle of rebirth, which, in my mind, is more important than birth. Or, as Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Some of my grandchildren have T-shirts that say, “Choose Kind.” That expression comes from the movie, Wonder, where Mr. Browne teaches his students about the precept (sayings to live by) first stated by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer: “When choosing between being right and being kind, choose kind.” One of my favorite precepts is: Do not fear change, for it is an unchangeable law of progress.

I recently retired from 39 years of practicing law. In those 39 years, I changed jobs eight times and moved 12 times. It really wasn’t because I had a hard time keeping a job. Early on, I had adopted this philosophy in connection with new job offers that came my way: everything else being equal, always choose the new job. Why? Because it is through change that we change – or at least have the opportunity to. But change just for change’s sake, is not progress any more than noise is music.

So with my retirement, comes change. We moved into a new home to be closer to most of our kids and grandkids. Moving has been hard, but in the long run, the move will be the easy part. The harder part will be how we handle a new neighborhood, and worse, a new lifestyle. I worry about making new friends, I consider whether I should attend a new church congregation, and I question how to spend my new free time. (I know, “first world” problems.) In short, will I take this opportunity to make some new music in my life, or will I just be making noise? Will I actually experience a rebirth of sorts, or will I be Exhibit A to what Tolstoy once said: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Fortunately, I find some inspiration in movies. I love films where the main characters reinvent themselves for the better: Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (or Scrooge or Scrooged or Ebenezer), Frank Abagnale in Catch Me if You Can, or Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.

Of course, the first thing we must do to make a positive change is to get off our butts and do something, as illustrated by this clip from Into the Wild[i]:

But we never want to confuse motion with accomplishment. Some people (as well as many organizations) experience paralysis through analysis. We are busy, busy, busy analyzing and reanalyzing a situation, but we never decide to do anything about it. So let’s get in motion first, and then worry about whether our movement is accomplishing anything.

Sometimes we don’t know what to do to change ourselves. An easy way to start is to decide the kind of person we want to become and act as that kind of person would. Or we fake it until we make it. It’s a cute little saying, but it actually works.

If we tell ourselves we are a particular type of person and start acting that way, we begin to fool others, and more importantly, ourselves. One of the best examples of this is the classic film, My Fair Lady[ii], where Henry Higgins determines he can turn even the poorest, most backward Cockney flower girl into a princess merely by teaching her how to speak, dress and act correctly. Here is a short clip where Higgins shows off his accomplishment:

If you are old, like me, you’ll remember what Michael Jordan (and Nike) taught us back in the 80’s. If you wanted to be a good basketball player, all you had to do was wear Nike Air Jordan’s. The ads showed Michael Jordan making some impressive play and then told us repeatedly, “It’s gotta be the shoes.” Although many of us bought Air Jordan’s, few of us bought the idea that shoes alone would make us great basketball players. But we still wanted to “be like Mike.” And who is to say that a new pair of shoes won’t do wonders for our self-image? I admit I’m a shoe guy. As a poster I once read says, “Life is short; buy the shoes.”

This talk of shoes reminds me of one of my all-time favorite films, The Shawshank Redemption.[iii] First, here are Andy and Red talking about what they would do if they could change their circumstances:

Andy then decides to “get busy living” by doing something to change:

Like Andy, sometimes we must go through a figurative half-mile of sewer before we can improve. Habits are hard to break; new character traits are hard to build.

Sometimes, the change we hope for remains out of reach. We don’t quite reach our goals. In those situations, we need to remember that often the journey is more important than the end result. In those situations, please remember these inspiring words from Coach Carter[iv]:

Remember that someday is not a day of the week. Let’s choose change today.


[i] Into the Wild

  • Production Company: Paramount Vantage and Art Linson Productions
  • Director: Sean Penn
  • Screenwriter: Sean Penn (based on the book by John Krakauer
  • Starring: Emile Hirsch, Vince Vaughn, and Catherine Keneer
  • Release date: October 19, 2007

[ii] My Fair Lady

  • Production Company: Warner Bros.
  • Director: George Cuker
  • Screenwriter: Alan Jay Lerner (based on the play by George Bernard Shaw)
  • Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, and Stanley Holloway
  • Release date: December 25, 1964

[iii] The Shawshank Redemption

  • Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment
  • Director: Frank Darabout
  • Screenwriter: Frank Darabout (based on the short story by Stephen King)
  • Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, and Bob Gunton
  • Release date: October 14, 1994

[iv] Coach Carter

  • Production Company: Coah Carter, MTV Productions, and Expedition Films
  • Director: Thomas Carter
  • Screenwriter: Mark Schwahn and John Gatins
  • Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Rick Gonzalez and Robert Ri’chard
  • Release date: January 14, 2005