The Other End of Sunset

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Let's talk about feelings....

Hello, again. How are you? I’ve missed you, my faithful reader. Truly I have.

Guess where I am? Hey, no fair cheating!

Yes, indeed! I'm on a plane! Yay!

The flight attendant is very nice, and quite good looking. The guy in the seat next to me is snoring. And I'm listening to Lagwagon. All in all, not a bad trip, as short flights go.

I got my weeks wrong. This week is a quick trip to the lovely Southwest. Next week is the trip to China. Oh, well, whatever, as long as I have the right ticket.

Hey, let’s try something different. Rather than telling you oh-so-funny bathroom stories, or talking about motorcycles, let’s see if we can talk about feelings? What do you say?

Here’s the game. I'll talk, you feel. That way I don’t have to do the feeling part. Which seems fine to me.

Come on, what do you say? I'll play your game next time, really!

Ok, let’s go. Here’s what I want you to do.

First, close your eyes.

Oh, wait. This won’t work – you can’t see what I wrote. Hmm. A conundrum, dare I say it.


Darn, does anybody remember the HTML escape code for a whistle? Surely there’s an IE extension that does that, right?

[waiting patiently, tapping my fingers in time to “After you my friend”]

Welcome back. Finally. I mean, really, did it take you that long to figure out you couldn’t read with your eyes closed? Do you do everything that I tell you? Wow, what a scary thought…

Let’s start with the hard ones. Imagine your best friend. The one that knows your darkest fears, and your secrets, and doesn’t think you are worthless. That one, you know? OK, imagine that person. Got the image? Don’t forget the smell – our friends all smell, some smell good, some not. Regardless, don’t forget the smell. Now, imagine s/he’s going to a doctor, to get a really scary test, and you aren’t anywhere nearby. And imagine s/he doesn’t come back. Like not at all. OK, with me so far? So, you are a self-absorbed POS, and you couldn’t be bothered to get the names of your friend’s doctor, or maybe the hospital, and maybe you don’t even have the time the procedure was going to be done. And remember, your friend has dropped off the face of the earth. For like, 36 hours.

Quick, punk, what do you do? How do you feel? Do you imagine that your friend thought the scrub nurse was hot and so went off for a few hours of unalloyed lust? Or do you think something far, far worse? Do you forget that it’s not about you, at all, and fail to remember that your friend is the one in trouble, you are just a self-absorbed POS? And being a self-absorbed POS, do you get angry that your friend didn’t call you? Or do you rise above yourself and let your friend do what s/he needs to do?

Can you feel it now? The monster? The one that is inside you, with its talons wrapped around your intestines, ready to strike? The fear? The sadness? Is your heart rate a little higher? Maybe a light sweat on your hands? Your pupils a little dilated? Or, dare I whisper it, do you feel … embarrassment?

What? You are embarrassed because you showed that you are a self-absorbed POS? Hmm. Oh, wait, you are embarrassed because you know, deep inside, that your friends can’t really count on you. And that’s the last thing you want to feel, isn’t it?

That’s the feeling I want you to feel. Just for a second. To taste that metallic taste in your mouth. To feel your jaw muscles tense as you clench your jaws. To feel your body do everything it can to reject this feeling.

Let’s linger here, on the edge, to see the view.

The view is your life, punk. In all its glory, power, speed, recklessness, love, pain, drudgery.

You’ve worked all your life to become the man you are today. Was it worth it? (extra points for recognizing the quote without using Google.)

// Sidenote: Do you ever wonder why I write so many of these from planes? It’s not just boredom, you know. A friend of mine who cares about information security yells at me for doing real work on planes. She yells because people sitting near you can read whatever is on your screen, and she doesn’t want people to read some of the things I write. So I write posts, rather than “work”. And, btw, the guy behind me on the right is reading this as I type. Hi, friend, it’s ok, I don’t mind. //

OK, let’s try a different feeling. Ready? This one will be easier, I promise.

Imagine another friend. This one doesn’t know your secrets. But a friend nonetheless. His dad thinks he’s a bit of a slacker. Because your friend is into music, and his dad wants him to be a scientist, so that Dad can be proud. It’d be better if Dad were proud of this smart, kind, loving, sensitive, creative man as he stands, but let’s not argue that point.

Ok, ready? So, you can imagine the dynamic here, right? But what if you got to make a single change to the family portrait – you help your musician friend get a “real” job, one where he wears a suit, and carries a computer. He might still sometimes carry a guitar, but the suit is more common.

What do you think would happen?

Well, first your friend will take a huge ration of trouble because he’s your friend, and maybe got the job in part because of you. You didn’t give him the job, you gave him a chance. He took it. And he did it all, on his own – got help when he needed it, and just kept going. Knew less than anybody else at first, but tried so hard. For a long time. And was a success at the new job. Now Dad is proud – he talks about his son with that aristocratic nose raised and chest puffed out. As it should be. Son isn’t a scientist, but he’s an important, respected man.

And remember, you made this chance happen, you pulled the threads in the tapestry.

Ok, fearless reader, look what you did! Well done. Have a cognac.

But wait, you Henry Higgens-wannabe. The story isn’t over yet. If you didn’t give him the job, why are you proud of yourself? And do you fear, in the night, that he will fail, and you will look bad? You are sounding a bit self-absorbed again, why are his failings about you? Wouldn’t it be nice to worry that he’d fail, for his sake, nor for yours? But, wait, you are a self-absorbed POS.

And the story still isn’t over.

Dad dies. Suddenly. Without warning.

Now what, punk? How is your lovely flower girl now? Would he have been better off in his beachfront frat house, playing music, living the life he chose, or was the pride of his father worth the sacrifice it took to get it?

How do you feel, right now? Don’t lie. Just talk. It’s better if you just talk. Trust me.

Want to hear more about this story? OK. I'll come clean.

In this story, the postscript is the friend thanking you for giving him his father, for a time. And looking at you with those deep, sensitive, kind eyes… and you know that he knows. He knows it all.

I have a friend who tells me, constantly, not to underestimate the impact we have on others’ lives, every day. She wants me not to think stuff like this post, she wants me to follow my instincts, try to help people, and sometimes screw up, but sometimes make a difference. Sometimes you let your friend down, but sometimes you give a father for a time.

Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky studied decision-making, and the biases that we all suffer from when making decisions. One of the bumper sticker versions of their findings is “losses loom larger than gains” – we care more about what we lose than we would care about gaining the same amount. We are more risk averse than we think we are. And more risk averse than is rational.

So, it’s natural that I'd spend more time thinking about the harmful examples than the good ones, right? The losses – the harm – loom larger than the gains – whatever good we have done.

I can feel those losses in my hands. I can see those losses when I close my eyes. Can you feel them, now that we’ve talked? I have done my best to describe them. I hope you recognize something in my stories.

Will you tell me yours? I promise I won’t judge you.

Did you judge me?

We are starting our descent now. It’s dark outside. The guy next to me woke up. The guy behind me stopped reading. I'm listening to the Vandals now.

Some things change, some remain the same.

I’ve missed you, my faithful reader. Truly I have.