The Extremis Virus: Modern Annoyances of the Political Ninja

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“Our age knows nothing but reaction, and leaps from one extreme to another.” ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

I should clarify this not a nerdy post about the Iron Man 3 movie or the comic arc it spawns from. Rather my focus is on the absolutist filter so many of us choose to view the world through. This isn’t the first time I’ve commented on my particular qualms with those who refuse to see the world in its various shades of gray and instead try to boil everything down to a simple black and white, right and wrong conclusion. This fallacious narrow view of the world permeates every level of our society and the reasons for why this is unwise are just as common. So instead of rehashing the complexity of life and going to great detail on why I think we need to avoid tacking to either extreme I will instead delve into a few areas where this extreme ideology is most disturbing.

Societal norms, most notably the idea that everyone needs to progress into the next stage of life by the same path is an example of a monolithic point of view that fails to recognize alternative points of view (Say that ten times fast). I find this most prevalent when it comes to the idea of marriage and family. Once you get to a certain age, it’s almost impossible to avoid the question of when are you getting married. My problems with this stems from the fact, marriage should be something entered into after a great deal of thought and reflection. Not something just assumed as a necessary part of one’s life. Every relationship and individual is different and in some cases maybe marriage is not an ideal fit. Maybe instead of viewing marriage as definitive step into adulthood, we should view it as merely one of many option one can take on their quest to a complete life.

Political discourse is poisoned by a view un-open to compromise. Listening to a debate on any policy issue and you would think each side came from different realities. I can find definitive statements with a simple google search that swear Barack Obama is a secret muslim bent on destroying the country, and in the same search uncover a claim that he is the second-coming of Christ and will lead us to World Peace. Obviously, this is an extreme example, but the debates happening on our televisions, over the internet and in the halls of Congress can border on this level of extreme rhetoric. There are many things according to hard facts are true, but most often solutions require taking ideas from both sides of the debate and finding the middle solution. The one that doesn’t suggest dramatic adherence to the left or the right, but rather sees that most often the gray areas that exist in the world often require equally gray proposals is probably the right one.

Personal disagreements always seem to devolve into “always” and “never” scenarios.  I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. We find ourselves in an emotional argument and we start throwing out statements like, “George Lucas always ruins movies” and “I’m never going to another Star Wars movie again.” Well, maybe that specific example just applies to me. The point is, we make definitive statements when we are emotionally charged that are not true, and only serve to create further discord. This becomes exceptionally problematic in cases where the individuals throwing these words out refuse to acknowledge when they are wrong. So next time before you find yourself saying always or never, stop and take a moment to remember that Mr. Lucas made a number of quality movies before he started ruining them.

So there you have it, a few specific example of when the notorious extremis virus infects the world we live in. Will this rampant definitive approach to life continue? Probably. However, if we all try to listen to each other’s points of view and recognize there may be some validity there, we can go a long way in limiting its existence. Or at the very least harness it into liquid form and create the world’s next big energy drink sensation: Extremis.

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Door Number Twenty-Three: Sit Back and Enjoy the Ride

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“Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.” ~Jon Snow

Life is a complex machine. Kind of like the Cylons, but less preachy. We start out with little freedom and even less responsibility. As we grow older, we gain more independence, but our obligations rise as well. We work hard in school to get into a good college, and then work our way through college to get a good job. Replacing the authority of our parents and teachers with the responsibilities of work and social obligations. We continue to strive for the financial freedoms and professional success only to find ourselves at the end of the road wondering where the time has gone. Which is why we must not forget to take time to step back and enjoy the ride.

You would think such an idea runs counter to everything that defines a good, productive life. If we take such a passive stance towards life, we’re likely to end up falling into the mythical 47 percent some political leaders would lead us to believe are the source of America’s problems. However, there is a large gap between refusing to do work in order to survive and being consumed by one’s responsibilities. Even the President of the United States takes time to enjoy the life he has, and he’s arguably one of the busiest people in the world. I’m not suggesting abandoning all the necessary task of life, but rather gaining a better perspective on what’s important.

As I’ve pointed out we tend to spend a great deal of time working towards something. Whether it be high-paying career or world-changing invention, we are all striving towards a goal (if you’re not, that is a discussion for another time). However, its important we recognize the destination is only a part of the equation. Life doesn’t happen in some far off future where we accomplish that which we seek. Rather it occurs every second of every day. We risk missing a significant part of our existence if we don’t find a way to enjoy the quest.

So how do we do manage to find this balance? If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that our plans tend to overshadow all of our actions. It’s why so many people get burned out of the political process. Lofty ideals tend to fizzle out when tested against the slow march towards change. The same rings true for our personal lives. We start with grand dreams, that fall to the way side as we get older and begin to lose focus. So how do we continue our momentum in life, but also savor each moment? I wish there was a simple solution. I wish it was as easy as channeling “the force” to take out our personal “Death Stars.” Alas, the reality is it takes continued evaluation of our values and priorities. Making sure we not only believe in what were working towards, but also enjoy the every day steps it takes to get there.

As with every journey to discover one’s doors to happiness, finding the balance required to enjoy the ride is not without its challenges. We must have a clear idea of what our goals are. We must also recognize the time traveled in reaching any endpoint should be savored if we are to get the most out of our lives. In addition, we must not get discouraged when things don’t go as planned. We should embrace the unexpected. Because, in the end its the lessons we learn along the way that truly define our success.

The Complications of Employment

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“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” – Oliver Wendall Holmes

Realistically speaking, looking for a job should not be complicated. In order for society to succeed, it would only make sense that everyone should be able to find decent paying work. Unfortunately, far too often the work available (I’m looking at you service industry) doesn’t even pay enough to allow someone to pay the bills required to live in the area the job is located, let alone have extra money for savings and bit of entertainment from time-to-time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have to work to get ahead in life, I just think anyone who puts in 60+ hours of work or gets the requisite education should not need to spend years of their life worrying about how to pay the next bill or whether they’ll ever find employment in the field of their choice. And this complicated job market isn’t just bad for the individual, it is bad for society as a whole.

Take the millennial generation for example. We grew up being told a college education was the key to a successful career, but thanks to an economic crash coupled with more efficient work procedures, there are fewer jobs available than in previous years. Not only do you have a crop of individuals who are struggling to find work, but many of them are starting out at a financial disadvantage that averages around $25,000. How is that good for the economy? How can this generation of workers be expected to take any of the innovative risks necessary to address the challenges of the coming years when they are forced to spend a vast amount of their mental capacity just finding a way to break into a job market that expects more productivity for less pay? Unless we find a solution to this problem, we’re going to end up with a generation of individuals who choose to play it safe, rather than make the big leaps forward necessary for a brighter future.

Then of course there are those, who simply can’t afford the higher education to even compete in the tight job market. These are individuals who work lower-skilled (albeit just as necessary) jobs for wages too low to live on. If someone puts in 60-hours a week at Taco Bell, why shouldn’t they make enough money to pay their bills and still have some left over to save for their future? Instead, by not having higher pay for lower-skilled workers we create a gap that will never be bridged, making it not only difficult for this group to survive, but for their children to have the opportunities to climb the ladder of success. Is there are simple solution to this issue? Probably not, but in the meantime we must find ways to raise the minimum standard for income in this country and around the world.

Say you’re one of the luck ones. You have a successful job and make an ample amount of money. How is this complicated job conundrum bad for you? Well, there’s the idea that a well-educated, employed population makes for safer society. More people making money, mean more tax revenue at the local, state, and federal level, which can they be used to improve everything from infrastructure to security. Furthermore, there’s a moral imperative here. Is it right to allow society to continue to drift apart financially? So much so that the wage of the lower earners becomes further separate from the top earners, even while the economy improves. We owe it to future generations to find a way to maintain not just our personal financial security, but that of the country and world as a whole. No one should have to go to bed worried about how they are going to pay this month’s rent, or find a job that pays enough to do so. As former U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone once said, “we all do better when we all do better.”

Ultimately, finding a job that pays enough to survive falls on the individual. We need to be proactive in gaining the necessary skills. However, that does not mean the governments and corporations of society can’t do better to makes things a bit easier for those not born into immense talent or wealth. We ought to find a way to employ those of all skill levels. Furthermore, the job search should not be so difficult or hard to break into. Practices like, rejecting applicants because they’ve been unemployed for 6 months or more need to stop. We also need to be balance out the proportion of executive to employee pay a little bit. In the long run it’ll be better for everyone, and give future generations something to look forward to.