Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fake It Until You Make It?

The phrase “Fake it until you make it” has always bothered me. I hear the cliché tossed around like it’s the wisest bit of advice a person could receive. While there is a hint of wisdom in the saying, the catchy phrase is misleading.
When analyzing the phrase “Fake it until you make it,” examine the end of it first. What does it mean to “make it”? Does that mean someone has mastered a skill to the point in which there is no more room for growth? Is that even possible?
            When people struggle with being confident, I’ve heard this advice: “Pretend you have confidence, and eventually you’ll have it!” Uh, no. That’s not really what’s going on here.
            What’s actually happening is practicing a skill. There’s a significant difference between practicing and pretending—and that’s the heart of the issue.
            When I’ve brought up this point, people have responded, “But I can’t practice what I don’t have; that’s why I need to pretend.” My counter-argument is thus: people do have a measure of the skill, though it may not be developed.
I claim that skills are better measured in terms of consistency. Most skills—like confidence—are not an all or nothing thing. They are not like light switches. Skills ebb and flow the more they are practiced or are left to wither away.
People have told me I come across as a confident person. In many situations, that’s true. But there are also times I am filled with self-doubt. In being honest with myself, I tend to show confidence more often than not. But does that mean I’ve “made it”? No, it means that I tend to be more consistent in my confidence.
            The other element of the phrase which is problematic is the word “fake.” Fake friends, fake ingredients, fake promises, fake news: which of these are better than the true, genuine option? Facades can rarely be kept up before the truth behind them is revealed. Isn’t it better, then, to acknowledge that what is being practiced is based on honesty?
            “This above all: to thine own self be true,” is a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It was great advice when Polonius gave it to his son Laertes. It’s still great advice.

I believe that people need to give themselves more credit. Yes, all of us have weaknesses. Yes, all of us have skills which we can improve. Approaching the development of any particular skill with the attitude of “faking it until you make it” is counter-productive in the long run. After all, how many other things in life magically appear by pretending?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Gender and Sex (Are they the same thing?)

Words, either written or spoken, are used to convey ideas. For example, look at the picture below. What word or words come to mind?

Was it one or more of the following? Home, house, mansion, family, neighborhood. Was it something else?

Consider a moment the difference between the words “home” and “house.” Do they mean the same thing or is there a subtle variance? The answer will differ depending on who is asked.

In 2016, in America social media (and society in general) escalated the debate on the meaning of the word “gender.”

To many, the word “gender” means the same thing as the words “biological sex.” To others, the two have different meanings. Who, then, is correct?

Both, and neither.

Again, words are simply ways to put ideas into a form to express that idea. English is a living language. Sometimes, words change meaning over time. For example, consider the word “gay.”

In some Christmas songs (and even in the opening theme to the TV show “The Flintstones”), the word “gay” means happy. In 2016, the more socially accepted meaning of the word refers to a homosexual.

One person could say, “I remember my grandpa. He was so gay.” Another person could respond, “No he wasn’t! He was faithfully married to your grandma for 65 years until the day he died!”

How a person understands the idea behind a word will influence how they will interpret it in some contexts.

Who, then, is correct in how they interpret the word “gender?”

Consider the definition of the word from the Oxford English Dictionary: “The state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones).”

Notice the difference: gender refers to social and cultural differences. Sex is connected more with the biological aspects.

To help make this clearer, consider the following: In many languages, words are either male or female.

In Spanish, for example, “la mesa” means “the table” in English. Because it uses “la” before the word, “mesa” is considered to be feminine. In contrast, “el piso” means “the floor” in English. The “el” makes “piso” masculine.

In the picture above, there is a table and a floor. Neither one of these objects has biological parts which make them feminine or masculine. Why? It is because gender is not the same as biological sex.

Here is another example of how “gender” is a social or cultural defined concept. Look below. Which color is associated with boys and which is for girls?

In 2016 in America, pink is generally associated with girls while boys are connected to blue. But it wasn’t always that way. In an NPR article on the subject, it states, “a 1918 trade catalog for children's clothing recommended blue for girls.” It goes on to state, “We think of pink as such a girlish color, but it's really a post-World War II phenomenon.”

This is another example how the concept of gender changes over the years in society.

There are many these days who do not like the current socially dictated concepts of gender. As they try to change what is the social norm, there are those who are against it for various reasons. One of these reasons is because of the confusion (on both sides) about the difference between gender and biological sex.

Case in point, look at the following picture:

Socially, gender has defined women as dress wearers and men as those who wear pants. However, this person may have something to say about that:

It’s easy to see how gender and biological sex are intertwined and connected when it comes to bathrooms—one of the hot issues with gender activities. When a sign, based on the concept of gender, is used to indicate a room based on a person’s biological sex, confusion and misunderstandings will happen.

There are those that would argue that bathroom usage should be based on gender, not biological sex. However, consider the following picture:

These urinals are clearly designed for those of a certain biological sex, not a gender. The same is true for bathrooms which contain these signs:

From a strictly logical point of view, those of different biological sexes have different body parts. Despite social or cultural views on the subject, the different body parts have different functions. Bathrooms, at their most basic, are designed around biological functions—not based on what color a person prefers to wear, or if they want to wear a dress (or any other idea which defines gender).

There are bathrooms which are designed to accommodate people of either biological sex. Yet, there are those who are hesitant to share a bathroom with someone of the other biological sex. Often, those who speak up about such reservations are labeled as intolerant or biased. Why? Because society is changing to redefine the meaning of gender—and it is gaining momentum. Media tends to lean on the liberal side which promotes change.

Ignorance of the difference between the words “gender” and “biological sex” is confusing the issue. People then go on to argue using the same words which mean different things to them as individuals.

For true understanding, and resolution to differences, to occur, the meaning behind the words used must first be established. Without that, no progress will be made as gender is redefined by society, but biological sex is not.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

Religion versus Fantasy

Darker the Shadow, my latest book, has fantasy elements. It’s not the first time I’ve included concepts and ideas which could be considered fantasy. In The Mirror of the Soul, there is certainly a fantasy element. With both books, I’ll admit I’ve been somewhat hesitant in using storylines which are connected with fantasy. Why? Because I am a very religious person.

Let me explain.

Fantasy in novels is often connected with magic—an idea that someone has a skill to do amazing things which normal humans beings lack. There are those who claim that any such skills must come from God and to not give him credit could be considered blasphemy.

Then there are others who see a distinction: religion and all things spiritual are real to them, and fantasy is make-believe. I fall into this category.

It’s the same reason I believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost, and so on. Does this mean by doing so I’m offending God? Again, some would say yes.

I am a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I believe that every human has a personal relationship with their Heavenly Father. To my knowledge, there is nothing in the doctrine of my church which condemns fantasy. After all, there are many well-known LDS authors who write fantasy.

Sadly, there are readers who will outwardly criticize a book or an author solely on their religion. Equally as sad, at least to me, are those of the same religion who criticize a book or an author because they write fantasy.

So why was I hesitant to write fantasy? It’s because of those extremists noted previously. I’ve had people of various religions tell me, “If you aren’t constantly glorifying God, you are turning your back on him.”

I disagree.

Every single book I’ve written has a moral theme attached to it. Do I bash people over the head with it? No. That would defeat the purpose of the narratives. My hope is that when readers travel along with the characters in my books, they take the time to think about what each character is facing and the choices they make. From there, I hope they consider the actions in the book in their own lives.

Yes, I wrote a fantasy book. I’m proud of it. I think the characters are interesting and the story is engaging. I also think that there is a lot of underlying elements which I hope will get people to think. Will it please everyone? No.

If you are one who thinks that fantasy books are offensive to God, I have a suggestion: don’t read Darker the Shadow. It’s not for you. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

School Buses on the Freeway

Which is more dangerous: going too fast or going too slow on the freeway? Some would argue one side, and some the other. This question keeps popping into my mind as I drive to work each morning. 

I live about 20 minutes away from work and most of the time I travel on the freeway. The speed limit is 65 almost the whole way. On any given morning, people zip by and dodge in and out of traffic as if the freeway was their personal slalom course. That is certainly dangerous, and frankly, quite selfish.

Then there are those who go significantly slower than the speed limit. The worst culprits are school buses. I’ve noticed time and again that the slower vehicles appear to have a bigger impact on the overall traffic because those attempting to drive the speed limit have to dodge these rolling barricades, or they simply slow down causing everyone behind them to go slower as well.

Most of the time, the majority of the people on freeways are doing close to the speed limit. When everyone does about the same speed, traffic flows more smoothly. It’s a beautiful thing.

Does that mean that buses should go faster? Not necessarily. There are other roads aside freeways to get from point A to point B.

There are those that may complain that by having everyone do the speed limit eliminates individual freedoms. I disagree.

There are many different types of vehicles on the road—most of the time, people choose what they want to drive. When I’m traveling, I can listen to whatever music I choose—heck, I even get to choose what kind of clothes I wear while driving. I have a vast amount of freedom.

This overall concept has other applications. There are rules, laws, and generally understood accepted social practices. Some people don’t agree with these ideals and therefore do whatever they want (speeders). Then there are those (slower drivers) who by inaction or stubbornness impact the freedom of others who are trying to live by following the rules.

Recently, I went to a Subway sandwich shop. The woman ahead of me insisted on picking out each individual item on her sandwich. This isn’t to say she was clarifying which vegetables she wanted. She actually had the sandwich maker show her several tomato slices and then picked which three she wanted. She did this with all of the items.

The line behind her was starting to build. The sandwich maker, to his credit, hurried when he could. The lady’s response? She told him, “Stop rushing me!”

He responded very nicely, “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to rush you. I’m simply asking you questions on what you would like.”

She became very upset. She demanded to speak to the manager. She wanted the phone number to the corporate headquarters. “I don’t like being disrespected!” she kept saying.

I did my best to stay out of it. I honestly did. But after standing there for five minutes while she threw a hissy fit, I stepped in.

“Ma’am,” I said. “I have watched this whole interaction. You are the one being disrespectful. Look behind you. There is a line of customers. You are making them wait because you felt slighted. I don’t believe you were. The worker has been nothing but nice to you. Please, just pay for your sandwich and walk away.”

She turned to start telling me off when several other people in line started to clap and cheer me on.
In a huff, she walked out of the store. After she left, the worker, tears in his eyes, thanked me. He even gave me a free cookie for being nice.

Upon leaving the store, it occurred to me that the lady reminded me of a school bus traveling on the freeway.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Joy of Telling the Story

Admit it. You’ve done this: someone starts to tell you a joke, and you stop them by either saying, “I’ve heard that one already” or *gasp* telling them the punchline before they can get to it. After all, if you’ve already heard the joke, why waste the time in letting them tell it? Right?

Maybe you are the person telling the joke. How do you feel when someone cuts you off before you can get to the end? If you are like me, it’s not the most pleasant of experiences.

It may not even be a joke—it could possibly be a story, or you could be telling about an experience you had. Personally, I get a little frustrated when someone jumps to the end, or at least what they think will be the end.

I’ve thought about why I get frustrated in situations like that. And then it occurred to me: there is joy in the act of telling the story—at least to storytellers.

My first book, The Hidden Sun, has an ending which many reviewers have stated as being predictable. I’ll admit it, it is. It has a happy ending. The good guys win. The bad guys lose. Predictable, right? Well, not really. You see, I knew the other option of having the bad guys win would not go over well. I needed to do something else.

What was my solution? Yes, the good guys win, but it is how they do it which makes the story interesting. (The reviewers who call the ending predictable also state they did enjoy the twists and turns which led to the happy ending.)

When writing a book, the most enjoyable time for me is during the primary draft—when the story is first being told. Often, the story takes unexpected twists that I, as the author, didn’t see coming. It’s pretty cool when that happens. In fact, it is probably the single biggest reason I continue to write—because I enjoy telling the story.

Granted, it’s also pretty cool when someone reads the story and enjoys it.

Next time someone starts to tell a joke or a story you think you’ve heard, let them finish. You may be delightfully surprised—not at the ending, but rather how happy the storyteller looks at the end.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Don’t Take This Personally, But …

Whenever someone starts a conversation with the words, “Don’t take this personally, but …” it seems the person being spoken to will most certainly take it personally.

In addition, I’ve learned an interesting phenomenon when starting any sentence, and in the middle adding the word “but” as a transition. It has the effect of negating anything that came before it.

For example, I may say to one of my daughters, “You look lovely, but you should really comb your hair before you go.” What did they hear? Did they hear that I said they look lovely? Most likely not. Instead, they heard that they need to comb their hair.

Here’s another one: “You’ve been a great employee all year, but due to budget constraints, you won’t be getting a raise.”

See what I mean?

Therefore, when someone says, “Don’t take this personally, but …” and then gives you bad news, criticism, or states an opinion different than your own, it’s kind of hard not to take it personally. To which, of course, the person who gives you the news says, “Hey! I told you not to take this personally!” (As if that absolves them from any fault.)

There has been a lot of debate, for lack of a better word, about certain social issues recently. While the heart of the debate may be rational and logical, emotions tend to get in the way, clouding the issue and creating hard feelings on both sides. People take it personally.

In the case of same-sex marriage, from what I’ve been told by those who support it, the heart of the issue is that they want the same legal rights as traditionally married couples. From my opinion, the problem isn’t about the legal rights, as much as the definition of the word “marriage.”

That word, marriage, connects with deeply held beliefs by many people. There are quite a number of people who support equal legal rights for same-sex couples, but don’t think it should be called a marriage.

Those on the other side of the argument, those in favor of same-sex marriage, often claim that what others believe should have no impact on them getting the same legal rights for everyone. For things to be equal, it needs to have the same name—that is, marriage.

Since both sides’ positions are tied deeply to what they believe, many take it personally when someone else disagrees with them.

The challenge, then, comes when name calling, hateful words, disrespectful activities, and other negative actions are directed to someone else—just because they believe differently. People on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue are guilty of this, and it is a shame.

In any healthy relationship, one of the key factors is learning to agree to disagree. Shocking as it may seem to some, you can disagree with someone and still treat them kindly and with respect.

Therefore, instead of saying, “Don’t take this personally, but …” may I be so bold as to suggest that honest, sincere kindness towards another person, even one you disagree with, will work wonders when acknowledging you do not agree with them.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Any Reasonable Person

NOTE! If you are looking for a blog which is going to argue the pros or cons of gay marriage, look elsewhere. This blog is looking strictly at the way information of legalizing gay marriage was presented to the public, as well as the public’s reaction.  

There is a term in advertising called puffery. Basically, it allows companies to make bold, sweeping statements which, of course, any reasonable person will see as not the complete truth.

For instance, you may go to a restaurant that boasts “the best hamburgers in the world.” Do they have proof to back that up? Nope. Can you sue them for false advertising? The answer again is no.

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has gone as far as to say, “The Commission generally will not pursue cases involving obviously exaggerated or puffing representations, i.e., those that the ordinary consumers do not take seriously.”

The idea of puffery came to my mind when I read the United States Supreme Court ruling on legalizing gay marriage. All over the internet are phrases like “Love is Love” and hashtags including #ProudtoLove and ‪#‎marriageequality.

And why not? In the statement made by Justice Anthony Kennedy, he includes the following words, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

“Where’s the puffery in that?” you may ask. Hint: it is in the last sentence. Go ahead, read it again.

(Seriously, read the last line again.)

It says, “two people become something greater than once they were.” Two people. Any reasonable person will accept that the two people are not closely related by blood, are not already married, and are of consenting age. Right?

Someone (not me) could argue that the way this was phrased means that brothers and sisters could be married. After all, they are two people. And who is to say that the love between a brother and sister could not embody “the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family”? Or is that just implied because any reasonable person would find it as unnatural?

How then, do those celebrating this case with terms like “Love is Love” (which, by-the-way breaks the common sense rule of using a word to define itself) counter when someone wants to use the same mantra to allow siblings to marry? Ah, once again, any reasonable person understands that when they state “Love is Love,” they don’t mean that.

Perhaps the president of the United States could clear things up. Let’s see, what did he say? Oh yes. He is quoted as saying on the ruling, “When all Americans are treated as equal we are all more free.”

All Americans, he said. Equal, he said. Of course, he didn’t mean siblings. After all, any reasonable person would know that.

But that then begs the question, what defines someone as a reasonable person? I’m going to propose that it is based on public opinion. Is that too far of a stretch? I don’t think so.

In 1996, a Gallup poll on acceptance of gay marriage showed only a 27 percent approval rating. In May, 2015, Gallup's findings were at a 60 percent approval rating for gay marriage. Apparently a lot more people became reasonable over the last twenty years.

The biggest problem, I see, is that the wording was too broad on the gay marriage ruling in some statements. In a sense, it used puffery.

There are those who are fighting to legalize marriage between siblings. There are those who are fighting to legalize marriage between more than one person. There are those who are even fighting to have the legal age for marriage lowered or eliminated.

To each of these groups fighting for their wants, they too, could argue “Love is Love” and that they are #ProudtoLove. But to them, there is no #marriageequality.

But that’s okay, right? After all, any reasonable person will see how misguided they are. At least until popular opinion changes.