Communication

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
-Ernest Hemingway

I have always prided myself on being a good listener.  Too bad I was really never that good at it.  Listening is something that is hard to do; it is not the art of listening to what someone says but what they are trying to say.  Try this exercise next time that you seem to be frustrated with in the middle of a discussion with someone.  Stop after you have said something to them and ask them “What did you hear me say.”  I bet you that most of the time it will not be a verbatim version of what you say but an interpretation of what they thought the message that you were trying to convey was, what’s worse is that more often than not it will be completely different than what you were really meaning.

Marring intent and meaning onto what we are saying can be a difficult task.  One of my biggest personality flaws still is that I think I know what someone is thinking when they are talking to me.  That has lead to a lot of issues through the years because I end up being just plain paranoid about the smallest things.  I try to find intent on everything people say and that is just not a good way to do things.  Old habits die hard, or so the song says, but I have learned that I can be less paranoid and I can try to be a better listener.

Blame

“When we blame, we give away our power.”
-Greg Anderson

I like this quote about blame because it really captures the essence of how I feel about the subject. I believe that so much of what is wrong in the world right now has to do with blame. I think one of the issues that keeps racism alive is that it is a lot easier to point the fingers at others for our problems instead of being personally accountable for them.
As a controlling person I have a hard time dealing with a lot of situations. Throughout the years I have gotten a lot better at dealing with things but it has taken a lot of effort. The serenity prayer helps, but at times it is hard to apply. I take it a step further and think about reaction. How I let myself react to a situation will always affect the outcome of the situation at an internal emotional level.

We cannot control others actions, feelings or thoughts. The more we try, the worse our interpersonal relationships become. It gets even trickier when we fool ourselves into thinking that we can actually predict other people’s behavior. While we might think we know someone really good, we are not inside them and we cannot predict how a person is always going to think or act. Even if we can we should not, I think this is one of the things that stops change from going forward. People go back to their old ways because there is always that expectation of how they have always acted. Predisposition is powerful enough to make situation go in a direction it should.

Racism is fueled in part by prejudice; it is not always fueled by pure ignorance. It is a learned behavior that comes from those close to us. It comes from our environment and society overall. I have had the opportunity to grow up in a country where racism exists but it is a different kind of racism. I know that racism is a learned behavior because I have seen many different faces of it. While there is something to say about fear of those things we are not familiar with and instinct, diversity it is not necessarily the solution to racism. I never felt discriminated against race wise while I lived in Colombia, but I have felt it many times since I lived in the U.S.

Are people less racist in Colombia? Not necessarily, but the behaviors learned over there a lot different than they are in the U.S. One of the most comical difference between the two countries comes from a simple saying. “I worked like a black man” in Colombia, means you had to work really hard that day. The same sentence in the U.S. would instantly be considered racist and would not be understood.

Chicago and Midland are far apart in the racist level. Believe it or not I have felt less discriminated in a small town in America than in the big city. I have also felt a lot of racism from my own race. Dating outside my race has always been an issue for people in my own race. Racism is one of societies sickness and unless we all acknowledge it, it is never going to get better. At the same time we have to be very careful diagnosing it, because I believe there are plenty of hypochondria running out there calling racism things that are not.

“Pulling the race card” has become a cliché. It is sad that it minimizes real struggle because it makes a blanket statement of something that is a real problem and puts it right next to fear. Fear fuels a lot of the perception of racism. When you feel discriminated against you are guessing what someone else is thinking about you, and while most of the time you might be right, statistically you cannot be always right. Not every single person of a different race is going to hate you because of the color of your skin. When you constantly feel prosecuted, you develop a kind of social paranoia that makes you even more racist in my opinion than anyone around you.

I believe that oppression does exist, but the only people that can do anything to change it are the oppressed ones. They need to break the chains that bind them and I believe one of them is blame. When you blame others for your problems you are empowering them to continue their behavior. You are the only capable of changing the situation. You have control over how you look at every situation. You are the one to blame.

Fault

“Find fault with thyself rather than with others.”
Ieyasu Tokugawa

Admitting that we are wrong is probably one of the hardest things we have to do in life. At times it feels like we are compromising who we are by admitting that we are wrong, yet it is the only way to really learn and grow in life.

I am not sure where in life it starts, but we seem to develop a sense of guilt during our lifetime. I have seen it in different degrees and in different situations, but it is present in almost all of us. Some people call it arrogance, others just simply finger pointing, but I believe every time that someone tries to find fault outside of themselves, they are at fault themselves.

We are not in control of the world around us, but we are in control on how we react and interact with that world. We are responsible for our own happiness, and I think that every time that we point the finger at someone else we are taking control away from us and giving it to that other person.

Professionally I have seen this behavior more than I like to admit. I have gotten to the point before that I think becoming a mason and doing brick work would be a lot more rewarding, I would then not have to deal with the so called “professionals” that are there to take every single credit but when there is any kind of wrong they are the first ones to run or finger point.

We have all heard that we have to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, but no one tells us how to accomplish that. I think the first one is to do away with the notion of fault and replace it with accountability. It might sound like an oxymoron at first since to be accountable, first fault has to be determined but bare with me. If you always have ownership over your mistakes and hold yourself accountable it will always be easier to find solutions. Once you determine your stake on the situation you know what you can and cannot do to change it.

In the end it is a lot easier said than done, but believe me I think that a lot of what is going on in the world can be at times be blamed on people always blaming others for their situation. If we could all just take charge of our own lives instead of looking at others for excuses on how they are affecting us (not us letting us be affected by them), we could all be better at making our lives better and therefore a better world for all of us.

Persistence

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
-Calvin Coolidge

I have met a lot of talented people in my life. I remember two friends that were so intelligent and athletically superior that they constantly amazed me. Both of them however lacked persistence. Persistence does not come easy to some people, and so situations in life can kill it. In the case of both of my friends I put some of the blame in drugs. A lot of people think that smoking a little weed is not a bad thing, but I have seen it kill persistence. I say it kills persistence rather than motivation, because the motivation might be there but the persistence is gone.

I learned a lot about persistence practicing martial arts. It is one of the best lessons I think martial arts can teach. Almost everyone can accomplish perfect form through persistence. Some of the most complicated movements became second nature after you kept going. I had always heard the term getting your second wind. Even though I did sports while I was younger I had never reached that level until I practiced martial arts. I pushed and pushed past not being able to do it anymore and it was a wonderful feeling to get that extra boost of energy.

I think we can apply that same second wind mentality to life. When we feel like we have exhausted every possible option in a situation, try to push on and perhaps the second wind is right there waiting for you. So what does the quote say to you?

Oprah and Crash

I have to admit that I did not always like Oprah. I had thought that Oprah was one of the feminists that I wouldn’t like, that instead of empowering woman, they trash man. Until recently I had not watched Oprah much, and I realized that she is actually a wonderful person. While I still hold on to Aaron MacGrueder’s quote; “We should all harbor a healthy fear of Oprah,” I think her TV show has done wonders for informing the public about situations all over the world and presented some of the best coverage I saw about the Katrina disaster.

Yesterday Oprah hosted the cast of Crash. If you have not seen the movie Crash and want to do it in the future, you might want to stop reading now. Crash is a very in your face movie about racism. I was very surprised to see the cast of stars that starred in the movie. This movie uses various stories that are connected via the characters. Everyone has something to do with everyone else on one level or another in the movie, ultimately connecting the various story lines together.

The movie starts with Don Cheadle speaking the following quote as his character Detective Graham Waters,

It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

When I watched this movie I found its meaning so powerful that I had to write this post about human touch. I believe in the power of human contact to express affection, and it is a topic that has been researched by many. This is an interesting article by one of the first things I heard about it back in College even thought the article can be somewhat strong.

Oprah invited Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock and Ludacris to this panel discussion. They began by showing a clip of the movie where two young black man(one of them being played by Ludacris) are having a conversation about how white women (the one in the scene played by Sandra Bullock) will, upon seeing them, hold a little tighter to their husbands arm as they walk down the street. The conversation is about racism and it makes some excellent points, only seconds later you learn that the two black man are carjackers and are stealing a black Navigator from that same couple. This scene sparked the conversation about racism and fear. Racism can come from fear, fear based on prejudice. Prejudice is dictated not only by our environment but also society. Animals have instincts, when a gazelle out in the plains smells a lion it instinctually will run for its survival. Does the same rule apply here? Is that prejudice such a bad thing when you are just trying to protect yourself and your family?

The movie does a great job at posing those questions. It makes you look int the mirror and see that whether you like it or not you live in a society where stereotypes are as common and numerous as our clothes. Take me for example:

I am Colombian so I should know a lot about drugs, coffee and violence.
I am a gamer therefore I have no social skills and am an overall loser.
I am a biker so I must constantly break speed limits and get into a lot of bar fights.
I am a computer programmer, which makes me a geek incapable of discussing any subjects outside of software.
I have a tattoo, which makes me almost a criminal, and up to no good.

I have been a victim of all the generalizations before at one point or another in my life. Our society does not concentrate on individuals but on labels that categorize things around them. Anything different or out of the ordinary can make people nervous and in the end become prejudice. Now, how can we break down those barriers? One of the things I try to do is meet people from all walks of life and look at them as individuals. I am not perfect; I still fall prey of prejudice-fueled thoughts and stereotypes all the time.

Oprah continued showing clips from the movie. The next scene shows Matt Dillon playing a racist cop that takes care of his ill Father and then has to deal with, what seemed to him, an unhelpful and incompetent black insurance worker. Matt takes out his frustration on a black couple that he pulls over because they are driving a vehicle that meets the description of the recently stolen Navigator. During the stop Dillon dehumanizes the black couple played by Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton by humiliating the husband as he fondles his wife, feeling powerless and overtaken by a mixture of fear, shame and impotence. This is described as another “Crash” moment during the movie, a moment where people collide and race takes a forefront instead of the characters humanity. The movie has several twists and turns and some of the people get to see each other again under different circumstances. A lot of the situations are racially charged and will make people very uncomfortable, some more than others because of the emotional impact they carry. While all the characters play their race stereotype we can also see their human side and how we, even if we are not from the same race, can relate to their emotions.

I had seen Terrence Howard before in a couple of movies. I did not think he was an excellent actor before and I was dismissive of his work. After watching this movie and this interview I have a new respect for him as an actor and as a man. He has had a couple of “Crash” moments in real life. One as an adult when he was arrested after standing up in a plane to take his daughter to the bathroom, the incident was blown out of proportion and he spent a week in jail. This happened pre 9-11 and if you hear the full story you cannot feel anything but sorry for the guy. The other “Crash” moment is even sadder; while in a Santa line in the mall back in 1972 his Father was assaulted and then killed a man in self defense ending up in prison. His parents were both mixed, but his Father happened to be more Caucasian looking than his mother. His Father was saving their spot in the Santa line and when his wife and kids came back a man behind him complained to him about letting the n**** cut in line. His Father replied, “She is my wife.” The white man preceded to choke his him against a wall and started to beat him down… he fought back eventually killing the man and went to jail. I cannot imagine being an actor that has had to deal with so much racially motivated pain playing the scene where the cop feels up his wife.

The rest of the show was excellent; racism was discussed and defined by an expert. One fact that I learned is that 97% of women are raped by their own race. Oprah also brought up the use of the n**** word and how she wants to abolish it… surprisingly Don Cheadle feels that it should be ok for the word to be used between black people.

In conclusion Oprah presented us with an excellent panel that discussed a very good movie about a very touchy subject. I wish I could have told people to watch the show before hand, you can check out some of it on Oprah’s website or wait for a rerun. In the mean time go rent or buy the DVD.

buy at Amazon.com
Crash.
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