Monday, November 21, 2011

We Adapt To Survive

Cal Lightman: I'm sorry about before. (Ria raises her eyebrows at him) Sometimes I see so much, I don't know how not to tell people.

Ria Torres: Yeah, I get that.

Cal Lightman: You're right; most people don't change. Right? I've been there, waiting for it, hoping for it, and then they just... don't. But there are a few, I think, who can.

Ria Torres: Any other life lessons?

Cal Lightman: (leans forward in his chair) When someone... bashes you around, who's twice your size, just whenever he feels like it, you learn to read emotions pretty fast. We adapt to survive. Your abuse made you a natural. He made you what you are.

Ria Torres: Well, I'll be sure to thank him.

(Cal laughs and sits back in his chair)

Ria Torres: So what about you?

Cal Lightman: Nah, I'm not a natural. I had to learn this.

Ria Torres: Why did you want to learn? What, you all of a sudden became obsessed with facial expressions? (she reads his face) I didn't think so. So who was it? Who made you who you are?

[ Lie to Me, Season 1: Episode 5, "Unchained" ]


Much like the character of Ria Torres in my favorite TV show "Lie to Me", I have a hobby that I did not consciously choose for myself, at least not originally. I am naturally fascinated with human behavior, particularly the art of being able to make reliable observations of the way people tend to act in a given situation. The goal being to predict a person's behavior accurately enough to be able to identify and avoid unwanted confrontation, emotional distress, or even physical danger.

This is not a joke or an exaggeration, I grew up in an emotionally and mentally abusive home. I learned at an early age, that avoiding my Father's unpredictable bursts of anger was very important. If I could see my Dad's mood swings coming soon enough, I could save myself the emotional, mental, and sometimes physical pain that would inevitably follow. I did not fully realize the gravity of those experiences, until becoming a father myself.

Even as a grown man in my thirties, I still live life based on the survival skills I learned as a child. I have a natural inclination to observe human tendencies under a given set of circumstances, mentally plot the relationships between those pieces of data, and then attempt to recognize the onset of those behaviors before they happen again. Given adequate observational data, I have accurately predicted what a person is going to say or do next, more times than I can count. I have "read" people from all walks of life, in many different settings- home, church, school, and even business. And in case you are wondering- no, this skill is not always incredibly useful in personal relationships which you value.

Now you may say: "anyone can make simple predictions if they have enough data", and I would agree that that is a reasonable amount of skepticism. But this begs the question, where does a person get their hands on that information in the first place? Due to the highly subjective nature of this type of information (and most importantly- the intended application of it), the individual would need to gather the majority of this data through first-hand observation and personal experience. You would have to know what kind of data is going to be useful in this application in the first place, and know how to gather it reliably.

Then you must know how to process and organize your observations in meaningful ways, and sift out as many false-positives as possible. And finally, even if a person manages to consistently (and yes I mean consistently) gather and process enough data to facilitate an informed hypothesis, you still need to know what to actually DO with it when the time comes. In other words: all the data in the world would be useless in the hands of an individual who has an insufficient understanding of how to apply that knowledge in a real-life situation. This is where being a "natural" comes in. Being a "natural" means you innately know how to do all of the above, and do it in a useful way.

Human beings are creatures of habit, prone to conditioned responses, and therefore rather predictable. However, we are also prideful, sensitive beings. Nobody likes being told what they are going to do next, even if that prediction is 100% correct. We want to feel like we are in control of our own lives. The mere suggestion that some other entity knows what we are going to do- before we actually do it, offends our sense of free will. The human psyche is rather susceptible to being obstinate and contrary- so telling a person that they are predestined to a certain course of action, will most likely taint the result. People will alter their behavior, just to disprove a prediction.

So anyway, I want to spend some more time on the practical application of these principles in a follow-up article, but for now I wanted to post this much and maybe even spark some interesting discussion on the subject.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Step Forward

So far in my infrequent and disjointed blogging, I have generally tried to leave specific personal details out of my writing. I originally decided to do things that way in order to maintain a certain amount of privacy while still being able to post my writing in public view for anyone to read.

However, due to the cumulative effect of some recent events, I have decided that I want to take a step forward in what I write about, and how I write it. Therefore, I will be attempting to write more frequently, and more openly from now on.

I am choosing to make this change in the way I blog partly due to a challenge issued last weekend in a global address given by one of the leaders of my church. The challenge was to not be afraid to stand up and be who we really are, to not be afraid of sharing our beliefs about the important truths we hold dear in life. To embrace our most important values in life, and share them freely with anyone who will listen.

So not that anyone actually reads my blog (admittedly there hasn't been much here to read), but here goes:  My name is Chuck. I am in my mid thirties. I have a family. I am a Christian, and I hate politics but can't resist a good political discussion. I love food, I'm a sucker for those travel shows on PBS, and yet I am often found playing video games and bobbing my head to some good dubstep, or some Chopin depending on the day.

So anyway, none of that information really changes anything, but it's a start.  :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Music Is The Universal Language

My soul resonates to the sound of a piano, the beat of a drum, the guitar that you strum, the gentle shaping of melodic airwaves as they escape the vocal chords.

Music stimulates the mind, and lights a fire in the heart.

So anyway... I love music!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Being Different

Settle for ordinary?  Never.

Why?  Because the pursuit of greatness is its own reward.

Sometimes we need to pause and remind ourselves why we are who we are, and that's ok.  Life is crazy, it's easy to get distracted.  Perhaps you are different from most people-- you don't automatically "buy in" to what everyone else is doing... something inside you believes there is more to life than being a number.  You want to be different, you want to matter.

Being different can be a lonely road.  The desire that prompts us to be more than what life hands us can leave us frustrated at times.  Don't let it get you down.  If you choose to be a rock that stands out in the riverbed, don't let the the eroding currents of social pressure discourage you.  The stone that stands against the stream can become polished and beautiful. Still, a little healthy perspective can go a long way in helping you continue being who you want to be.  Especially if what makes you happy is something that frequently leaves you exhausted, wondering if you are crazy for wanting what you want. So what can we do to recharge our batteries?

Look for beauty in simple things.

You are art.  Don't roll your eyes, it's true.  Everything you do is an exhibition of the most amazing work of art in the world: the human soul.  Everything you do is slowly but surely creating something bigger, something that matters.  The Grand Canyon was created one tiny step at a time, over a period of millions of years.  Every day your life adds up into the incredible collective that we lovingly refer to as a magnificent human being.

Greatness does not happen in 120 minutes, unlike the exciting movies that we watch.  Greatness is not a destination, is it a state of mind that takes us on a journey, and that journey is what makes life wonderful.  So if you want to think great thoughts... slow down and let it happen, one thought at a time. If you want to do great things, pay attention each day for opportunities to do something good that you could have just as easily ignored. Keep doing that every day and you will wake up one day and realize your life is actually different than it was the year before.  I use this principle in my own life to create positive change, and I can tell you it is truly a life-saver.

EVERYTHING starts with choice.  You can choose to be a little more honest today than you were yesterday.  You can choose to be a little more humble today.  If someone tells you that they did not like something you did, maybe you really weren't as considerate as you could have been.  You can choose to be objective.  By definition, being truly objective is pretty much impossible- but the act of genuinely trying to see the big picture, can stretch us like an overzealous yoga teacher.  (It doesn't sound like it, but that's a good thing!)

It doesn't matter if you are "good" at choosing to be better each day, just keep focusing on the fact that you DO have a choice in the matter. That is the most important part, because change has to start inside you.  Choice is the most powerful catalyst in the universe, yet we take it for granted constantly!  It was a human choice to research splitting atoms.  It was a human choice to use the knowledge gained from that research to build a weapon.  It was a human choice to put that weapon on a plane and erase an entire city of people off the face of the Earth. Then it was a human choice to do it more than once. The ability to choose is clearly the single most god-like power we possess as human beings, which can be exercised to positive or negative effect.

So anyway... don't pressure yourself about things that inherently take time, that is why new year resolutions fail.  Learn to see the beauty in simple things.  Celebrate the art of being yourself.  Be patient, enjoy the journey for the valuable experience that it is.  Respect your power to choose, use it to do something good every day.  Don't let it get you down if being different from the masses is lonely or frustrating, remember: the pursuit of greatness is its own reward!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.


 --Reinhold Niebuhr

Saturday, January 1, 2011


About two years ago I was working as a well paid senior programmer and systems analyst at a mid-size banking services company.

After staring at a computer screen so much during the often 50-60 hour long work weeks, it appeared that my profession was finally taking it's toll on my eyesight. My eyes often hurt by mid afternoon, and my vision was becoming noticeably blurry. I went to the optometrist and he prescribed glasses for the first time in my life. Since I had always had 20/20 vision, this was new and strange to me, but I thought: "oh well, I guess I'm getting older or something."

Not to be outdone, the rest of my body began doing strange new things too. Horrible insomnia plagued my nights, coupled with seemingly random pain severe enough to render me completely unable to function at times. By the end of the year, I had used all my sick leave, and every scrap of my vacation time as sick days. I had just turned thirty and was starting to feel like I had somehow skipped a couple decades where my body was concerned.

Not surprisingly, the relationship with my employer became rather strained over time. I couldn't blame anyone for wondering what was wrong with me... I wasn't particularly happy about it either. Eventually, despite frequently being recognized for my actual work performance, I was invited to seek employment elsewhere.

Next I went to work for a cutting edge digital media firm. It was a very dynamic and fast-paced environment, with high profile clients, interesting projects, and charismatic senior developers who were often found jetting across the country for important design meetings or technology conferences. This was the type of job I could really sink my teeth into. I was very excited.

But I was having a hard time concentrating, and unusual difficulty remembering things. Names and facts that I normally should have been able to recall instantly, often took me 5-10 minutes to bring to mind. I couldn't type as fast as I used to, my hands were always aching and my overall output was just plain sub par. Something was not right. My coworkers seemed to like me just fine, and were impressed by my work, but contrary to my normal level of performance- I just wasn't keeping up with the pack. A month later I was laid off in a "reduction of force".

So now what? It seemed there was a trend developing which I was having a hard time getting a grip on, let alone knowing how to "fix" it. I had no idea what was happening to me, but clearly something was wrong. I felt stuck in an intensely frustrating state of limbo: unemployed and battling the fear that when I went back to work it would only be a matter of time before I was rejected again. Months passed by with plenty of doctor visits, a few job interviews, and no answers.

In my early twenties, I had an accident that left me with a lower back injury, causing a lot of pain and functional issues in my legs over the years, but what was happening now was different. I had already experienced over a decade of learning coping methods for my back problems, becoming extremely familiar with my hips, legs, and spine. So when new problems arise that I have not experienced before, they stand out to me quite clearly.

I have numbness, weakness, and pain in my arms and hands on a regular basis now- usually lasting several minutes, sometimes lasting hours, or even days. One evening I was standing in the kitchen having a conversation with my wife, and my fingers decided (on their own) to stop holding the drinking glass in my hand- sending it crashing to the floor. Then suddenly my hands and forearms were overcome with waves of painful muscle spasms. It felt like having a "charlie horse" in every muscle of your hands, all at once.

All this trouble with my body is really starting to scare me. I am finding myself in need of help with the most mundane tasks, because parts of my body are not working properly, or due to overwhelming pain. Admittedly, I am particularly bad at asking for help, especially when it involves something that I feel I should be able to do myself. Thank God for my wife, though- she is an amazing person. She has this super-human aptitude for taking care of others, she wants to be the person to render aid when she sees someone in need. So despite the difficulties in my journey thus far, I have definitely been blessed in many ways.

So anyway, here I am... taking one day at a time, having no idea what my life holds in store, needing answers... learning more about the significance of the "serenity prayer" than ever before.