I have recently been invited to join a book club in my home town and was pleased to receive the invitation. I respect and like the members of this group. I did have some trepidation about accepting since I don’t often have time to do all the reading I would like. And If I were obligated to have read a book in its entirety each month to speak intelligently about it, I would feel guilty about being unprepared for the critique and discussion about the assigned book.
It has been two months now since my induction into this group and I consider myself a complete failure so far. The first author who was chosen is a writer of thrillers, not my most favorite genre. I tried. However I found him to write in such a fashion that I never became interested in any of his characters. So how can I read a book about people for whom I don’t give a hoot? I voiced my opinion and sat silently listening to those who did enjoy the book. Sigh!
This month the chosen book is The Wizard of Lies the Madoff story. Again, I felt like I would be in above my head. I know nothing about stocks and bonds, converting convertible bonds into common stock, mergers, accuisitions, tax-write-off, etc., etc., etc. Never mind, I told myself, I will read this book to find out why Madoff became the criminal, thief, and robber that he is. You see, I am interested in people and what makes them become who they are. Is it some thing in their environment, in their upbringing, some experience they may have had, or what? Why did Bernie Madoff become the Bernie Madoff who destroyed hundreds of people’s lives and who now rots in prison? This will be interesting, I said to myself.
Wrong again! Sadly, it disappointed me. It was written more like a historical treatise about his family background, not unusual or pathologic, and then the steps he took in his career that led him to the ponzi scheme that we know as the mother of all ponzi schemes.
The book failed me in showing me Bernie Madoff as a person, someone who not only thinks and plots, but someone who also loves and hates and plays and feels. The book fails to do that and I shall attend the next book club meeting once again without having finished reading it.
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I was in the beauty shop last week getting a haircut. It was on a Friday and the business was booming; every one of the half dozen chairs was occupied with customers and operators working as fast as they could to process as many clients as possible. I often enjoy looking at the costumes of beauty shop operators because I think that they think they must be in punker garb to be successful. Purple and orange hair. Rings in noses, earlobes, belly buttons. You get the picture.
My beautician is dressed normal. She is fifty years old and perhaps that makes a difference. I don’t know. During a lull in my conversation with her, I overheard a customer at the other end of the row of chairs speak to her beautician. I couldn’t see either one of them since my head was tilted down so that we could cut around my neckline, but I heard, “I met this guy and he’s great. He owns his own business and he’s a Republican.”
It made me laugh and I said to my own beautician, “Never mind that he’s divorced because he beat his wife and cheats on his taxes, but he’s a Republican!
Of course, I know many people who have different formulas for whom they like. For example, mothers who don’t want their daughters to go out with anyone other than Jewish men, Mormon men, Catholic men, Armenian men, Germans, Swedes, Poles, and, of course, Democrats or Republicans. Need I go on?
What has happened to the time when we decided to like someone who was kind to others, ambitious for their families, charitable, intelligent, hard-working, lovimg, open to new ideas, or just simply nice.?
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I’ve often wondered why so many of the public figures in our society say “I take full responsibility for this problem.” These public figures may be congressmen, evangelests, actors, businessmen, and the list goes on. Their actions may be to abuse power, steal funds, or take part in unacceptable, and sometimes perverse, sexual behavior. Currently the inspectors of the nuclear plants in Japan admitted they haven’t done it right for years. The air traffic controller at the Reagan National Airport fell asleep, leaving two incoming planes to fend for themselves. Luckily no one was hurt. Where was the FAA in all of this? They haven’t taken “full responsibility” for the incident either, except to say there will be a “full investigation.” The controller has been fired, but we haven’t heard a word out of him.
I wonder why no one has ever come out and said, “I’m sorry.” It must be that saying I’m sorry means that you admit you have done something wrong. It implies that you must feel some guilt about what you have done. It makes you look bad. In Japan you will “lose face.” But if you say, “I take full responsibility for this catastrophe or problem,” it implies that the problem may have been caused by some other person, perhaps an employee, a spouse (for a failed marriage), an adolescent (whom you haven’t monitered closely,) a neighbor, a colleague, anyone else other than yourself.
I have always thought saying I’m sorry showed strength of character. It shows a person is confident enough in himself to admit to others his mistakes and feels he can overcome the problem and still be accepted. Perhaps I feel so strongly about the importance of saying, “I’m sorry” because my father never, ever in his whole life admitted he was wrong or had made a mistake about anything. That is, not until he was ninety-seven years old and was caught red handed in a mistake he’d made. I am so glad that happened. I can now remember him better for all the positive characteristics he had, and they were many.
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I still have Bosses, Leaders, and Power in my mind. How could I avoid thinking about it? Every day that I put CNN on for the latest news, I see the kind of Leadership, the kind of Boss, and the Use of Power that the Lybian leader, Ghadafi offers his people. This also effects the rest of the world actually. Just go and fill up your tank at any USA service station and you’ll see how his every move impacts all of us. Ghadafi is a tyrant, for sure, but what I want to know is how there are so many Lybians who support him, who fly his plane and tanks and kill their fellow citizens. Have they been so crippled by having their own ability to think taken away from them for many years that when they are finally given a chance to exert themselves, they are unable to do so? Is this the same kind of brainwashing that we had seen among Hitler’s “judend namely the German children, who cheered for him blindly? This is all very scary stuff, as far as I’m concerned.
But I’m also worried about the leadership of the countries in the rest of the world that stand by lamely and don’t use the power in their hands to stop the Hitlers and Ghadafis and Mubaraks and … and … and …
Is this also a problem on a much smaller scale? For example, how many parents dominate their children, how many husbands and wives dominate their spouses, how many siblings dominate one another, how many bosses dominate their employees to the point that they are unable to express their own free will? Not a small number, I would imagine. I think leadership qualities can be identified in childern as early a nursery school. Perhaps we should find a way for those who are being bossed around to learn early on how to deal with those who rule over other in negative ways.
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In one of my earlier blogs I talked a bit about thinking that most people want to be liked. It probably varies a little from one person to another as to how much they want to be liked, or maybe even to the extent of certain people not caring a hoot about being liked.
I think I even wrote about a newspaper in my home town of Portland, the Oregonian, which ran a column when I was a teenager telling people what to do to be liked. Their formula was to have people give compliments to others to achieve great popularity. I couldn’t do that then or now.
My dad’s formula was to agree with everybody, whether he did or not. That didn’t work for me then and it still doesn’t. However if I do disagree I usually don’t start battle with them; I just let it go and move on to speak to someone else .. until last weekend.
I was at a dinner party having a grand old time when the conversation got around to politics and the world situation, or should I say mess, that we are in right now. The talk got to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which my particular group of dinner partners thought were wars “not worth fighting.”
Then someone commented, “I think no war is worth fighting for.
If you’ve read Becoming Alice you would know immediately why I would disagree vehemently with that statement. I hesitated. If I expressed my contrary opinion, would I lose that person’s friendship? I like her. I wouldn’t want to that to happen. What to do?
“I must disagree,” I said finally. “The threat of having to live under the rule of Hitler caused a war that was necesary and worth fighting for.” There! I said it. My grandparents were killed in that war. And if Hitler would have succeeded, which he almost did, I think a whole lot more of us would have been killed.
No one responded to my challenge. The conversation took another turn. I have yet to find out if I’ve lost a friend. But, if I have, she is not someone I would want to keep with the group I respect as my friends.
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In my last blog I wrote that it is common for one person to be the decision maker, leader, boss, or, whatever you want to call it, in a relationship. Sometimes that person is aware of it and takes advantage of his dominance; sometimes it comes about in a very subtle way, as I described in many European marriages I witnessed as a child.
The whole subject got me thinking about the person or persons who are being dominated, be they wives, children, office workers, farm hands, secretaries, etc. I think sometimes people are content to be bossed around because it takes the responsibility of making decisions away from them. It is my feeling about people who follow certain religious leaders who dictate to others how they are to live their lives.
Most usual, in my opinion, people are not happy to be controlled in any way. How do they then deal with their discontent? They may seek to dethrone the dominant person by fighting for his/her position as in a family, business, law office, etc. Perhaps they will do as I did when I felt I could not live being dominated by my father. I left the household and moved to another city. I have known others who have left their religion, their job, and even their family.
For me it is clear that being bossed/dominated does not work in the long run. What I didn’t know was that my family members would eventaully follow me to me new home city, forcing me then to take over the leadership position. I hope I didn’t abuse that power.
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Being liked is such a subjective feature that I went to the dictionary to see the deifinition of the word like as it pertains to people’s relationships. It states: To regard with favor or have a kindly or friendly feeling for a person (or group, etc.)
I don’t think about being liked at all any more. It doesn’t really matter to me, although I’d rather be liked than disliked. In any case, there isn’t anything I’d do to encourage or discourage any other person’s thinking or feeling about me. As I often say now, “It is what it is” and ” I am who I am.”
But that was not always so. If you’ve read my memoir, Becoming Alice, you’d know that I would have jumped through hoops to get anyone to like me. I even religiously read a column in my home town newspaper that instucted people who felt left out, what to do to get others to like them. Their advice was compliment everybody you come in contact with. They wrote: Tell them you like what they’re wearing, you think they look good, you think they are smart, you like their house, their car, their garden, their cooking, etc. etc. etc. You know, I think they do have a point. It probably works some of the time.
On the other hand, I think that tactic brought to the extreme can be counter-procuctive. Ever heard “kissing up” to your teacher, your friend, you lover. or anyone else. Not pretty.
Another annoying tactic was one my own dear father used. When in a social situation, he’d agree with whatever anyone in his immediate company said. It ususally came with a broad smile and, “Right you are!” Then after the party left and we were in our own kitchen, he’d say, “Did you hear what that idiot believes? How stupid can you be?” Sometimes I wonder if either one of those tactics got anyone a friend who actually liked them.
Personally, I think one has to just plod along being themselves and hope for the best.
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My little granddaughter is twelve years old right now and entering her teenage years. She already has a group of girl friends that mean the world to her. I remember raising my own girls and learning that when in the full bloom of adolescence, their friends meant more to them than their parents.
I got to thinking about the fact that most people want to be liked … throughout their lifetime. But the intensity of that desire seems to change in a bell-shaped curve during a person’s life span.
Think about kids in nursery school who relate to one another in terms of playing with a toy or fighting over the possession of a toy. They ususally want to have things going their way … at all costs without worrying about how the other might feel about them. Forget about being liked.
As the years pass, they begin to start wanting to be both liked and respected. They want their classmates to think of them as “nice” or “smart” or “good athletes” or “good at the trombone,” etc. etc. In adolescence being liked is linked to being “cute,” “beautiful,” “a hunk,” “popular,” and “part of the in-group.” Being respected has not yet become a big deal. The most brilliant kid in the class could be a “nerd.”
Then in adulthood, being respected is as important as being liked. It involves ones success in whatever career they may have, as a breadwinner or homemaker/stay-at-home-mom. One alone is not enough to achieve happiness. The most brilliant, respected doctor who is disliked by his patients isn’t going to get very far. And the “nicest” guy in the neighborhood who can’t keep a job to support his family also has a problem.
Then there is old age. Of course, if you haven’t enough money to retire and take care of yourself, you aren’t in very good shape, no matter how “nice” you are. But if you are are okay financially, you probably don’t give a hoot if people like you or not. Take a look at all the “grumpy old men” out there who are forgiven their behavior because of their age. Or, the “old biddies” who are accepted as they are.
I guess the lesson learned is that if you are lucky enough to make it into old age, it doesn’t really matter if others like you or not. Hope I get there someday!
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I belong to the Ventura County Writers Club (California) which has an annual short story contest. This year I have been asked to be one of the judges to read the entries that have come in. I met with some of the committe a few days ago and after we went over the format by which we are to judge the entries, we each had a cup of coffee and got to know one another a bit better. In time, our conversation drifted to sharing stories about our children.
I spoke a bit about one of my daughters. My fellow judges told me that I should write the story. It is a fascinating and interesting one, I will admit, but I’m not sure how my daughter would like for me to make public any of her history. I suppose I could fictionalize it somewhat, but I know that if she were to read it, she would know that it is she that I was writing about.
Recently I read a blog on the site She Writes in which the author spoke about how difficult it was for her to write about her twins. Mind you, the twins are three years old. I think I would have no trouble writing about toddlers. I think I would have fun writing about babies. Their antic are cute and funny.
The antics of my daughter were neither cute, nor funny. Sometimes I wonder how I survived them. Even more important, I wonder how she survived them.
The good news is that she did in fact not only survive them but ended up being the most admirable of all human beings. Perhaps I will write about my daughter.
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